A Story of a PhD, Sugar, and the Tao: how can I overcome this impossible obstacle?

Today I’d like to tell you a story about angel cards.

Picking and reading angel cards is easy. However, taking immediate guided action can be challenging!

That's because the next right step is often not clear in the beginning.

We can get stuck waiting to understand the whole big picture, which often causes us to procrastinate and delay our guidance!

This is a tale of angel cards, a PhD student, my inability to give up sugar, and a Chinese wisdom text written 2400 years ago.

The story starts with a client I’ll call Katie.

Katie was struggling to decide whether or not to complete her PhD program. She had put time and money into the course, but she felt unmotivated to continue. 

“I constantly fall asleep when I open my books!” Katie complained to me. 

“I don’t even want to register for the next module. What’s wrong with me? I have a huge dream and I can’t take these baby steps.” 

When she brought up her problem, I felt a huge wave of empathy.

In fact, I was going through something very similar, but in a different area of life, health!

For weeks, I’d been trying to start a new eating program, but I couldn’t do it.

My blood glucose levels had come back as "pre-diabetic," and my doctor insisted I drop all sugar.

Every day I began with good intentions, but by lunchtime, I had already broken my promise to myself.

"What was wrong with me? Was I destined to feel nauseous for the rest of my life?"

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't force myself to start and keep going.

Katie's words echoed, "What's wrong with me?"

When Katie and I said the prayer to open her session, I also asked for help. I asked my Guides for a card that could apply to my own problem as well.

I prayed that Katie would be able to study again, and that I would be able to drop sugar.

Phrasing the question is always an important part of the process. The question needs to follow the four P’s:

Personal

Proactive

Positive

Present

So, even though Katie wanted to ask, “Should I quit my PhD program?” that could give us a double negative answer, which would be harder to interpret.

I coached her to ask:

“How can I finish my PhD?”

We shuffled the cards together. She spread them out across the table in a straight line, and the deck broke in the middle, revealing one card. 

The card Katie pulled was: Art

We read the text of the Art card together:

“Take an ugly situation and make it beautiful.

Be creative.

Transform it.

Put your name on it.”

I asked her what this message meant to her.

“One reason I’m not loving my classes is that they are boring and dry,” she admitted.

“I also don’t identify very strongly with the teachers or the other students.

"I feel like I don’t fit in.”

Katie’s Guides nudged me to observe what she was wearing: a patterned dress, with colorful earrings, and colorful sandals as well.

The colors looked just like the graffiti on the Art card.

I mentioned this out loud to her, and she agreed.

“What would happen,” I asked her, “if you put your name on the dotted line, which means sign up for the classes, and you made the coursework beautiful, in your own special and creative way?”

“Hmmm,” she pondered. “I am creative, but I’ve been holding back in all of my coursework, because I think the real academics won’t accept my style.”

She still felt overwhelmed, which takes us back to our opening point: what do you do when you know you need to take immediate action, but you’re still stuck?

I suggested that she include stories within her essays. She could design her presentations in her own way, with colorful slides and illustrations.

She started to get a little bit more excited.

“I wanted to do that for my last project,” she said. “I even had an idea to set my slide deck to music and give it more of a narrative.”

That’s exactly what her Guides were communicating with her.

Wisdom from Ancient Times

To close her session, I heard from Katie’s Guides that we needed to read from the Tao Te Ching, written in about 400 B.C.E., a Chinese text of great wisdom that still applies today.

The Tao (pronounced "dow," rhyming with "how?") means "the way."

41

"When a superior person hears of the Tao,

they immediately begin to embody it.

The path into the light seems dark,

the path forward seems to go back,

the direct path seems long,

true clarity seems obscure,

The Tao is nowhere to be found.

Yet it nourishes and completes all things."

(translation by Stephen Mitchell, 1995)

I read the passage aloud, and Katie sat quietly for a moment.

She nodded and spoke thoughtfully: “It sounds like sometimes we need to do the opposite of the conventional way, in order to find the way.” 

“I’ve been trying to force myself to be a 'real' academic, but I’m actually an artist at heart. I know that after I get my PhD, I’ll be leading programs to help people in new and innovative ways.”

I agreed with her.

The Tao Te Ching tells us that the Tao, or The Way, is not easy to understand, nor easy to walk. 

In fact, the right way forward often looks like the opposite of what we want and what we expect. And yet, it’s the guided, correct path.

My turn: how to defeat sugar, my mortal enemy?

When Katie left, I turned to my own problem: how to drop sugar and tackle my health issue.

The Art card told me I had to put my name on it and get creative.

Looking at the first line of reading 41, I needed to “embody” the Tao.

The ordinary way, the conventional way, would be to go on a strict diet.

I had tried that day after day, but it had never worked. Too boring! Foods I didn't even like! How could I take things in the opposite direction?

Put my name on it … if I could open up my own, personalized restaurant, called Shannon’s Kitchen, what would I include on the menu?

Street food, just like the wall spray-painted with graffiti! 

I love street food from Mexico and Vietnam and Thailand. 

If I could make my own versions at home, with no sugar in any of the ingredients, would it satisfy me with enough variety to keep me on track?

I wrote up a menu: souvlaki and shwarma, steak kebabs, roasted red peppers on a stick, poke bowls … and then I found recipes, and I learned how to cook them at home, with my own homemade sauces (since store-bought sauces all have sugar).

Results?

After three months and another test, my blood glucose dropped to an acceptable level. My doctor gave me the all-clear, and said, “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it. It’s working.”

Katie emailed me about a year and a half later.

I did it! I finished my PhD thesis, and it’s been approved! I did it my way, and I negotiated (a lot) with my supervisor. Sometimes he said I went too far, but I was proud of myself. I finished. I’m done!”

Katie's family was thrilled for her. She'd found a new job that used all of her skills and would, best of all, allow her to act as her own true self.

What worked, for both me and Katie?

  1. We asked for help.
  2. We used divination to receive specific guidance.
  3. We interpreted it.
  4. We took guided action.
  5. When stuck, we sliced those actions into thinner micro-actions.
  6. We did things in a different way. A personalized way.

There was nothing "wrong" with either me or Katie.

We just needed help and a loving nudge in the right direction.

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