Who: Elizabeth Dolma
What: Zen Buddhist Tarot Card Reader
Where: Cincinnati, Ohio
At the age of 70, Elizabeth Dolma believes her life’s journey – along with its very diverse paths – has led her to become a Zen Buddhist Tarot Card reader. After failing out of the philosophy program at Indiana University, Dolma’s professional life took an array of twists and turns. She worked as a Montessori schoolteacher, a counselor at the YMCA, a Reiki master and a waitress. She wasn’t introduced to the art of reading cards until she began waitressing. Dolma says she became a card reader on a whim after her boss no longer had time to read coffee grounds for customers – an act similar to reading tea leaves With her boss’s encouragement, Dolma learned to combine an energy healing school of thought called Reiki with card reading. Ever since, Dolma has devoted her life’s work to studying Buddhism and reading cards for a living. According to Dolma, the general public misinterprets card reading – something she works to correct by giving her clients compassionate, positive experiences with each of her card readings. She currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she continues to offer card readings out of her home. She feels each of her life experiences have made her a more intuitive and compassionate card reader. This article was originally submitted to The Verge Magazine.
My interview with Elizabeth marks the third of (what I hope to be) many interviews with women from whom I find inspiration — or women I think are just plain badass, admirable, or hilarious. Probably a mixture of all those things combined. These women can be anyone — artists, mothers, professors, bloggers, career women — who is awesome in some way, shape or form. I’ve interviewed a number of women in the name of journalism over the span of my time at UC. Each and every one of those interviews has inspired me and validated my own experiences, choices and passions. I hope to inspire readers in that same way with my series: “Interviews with (Super) Women.”
Q: How did you become a card reader? How have your life experiences led you here?
A: Well, I feel as though it took all the different steps I took in life to become a card reader. At first, my adult life consisted of studying in a convent thinking I was going to become a nun. Then I became a philosophy major. After that didn’t work out, and then I worked in Montessori school – I learned there that everybody had a different way of learning. I was taught to shut up and be quiet and really listen to other people and honor their way of learning – to pay attention and focus, and that’s the most important part of my life.
I lived in New York and opened my own Montessori school there. And then I moved to Cincinnati, went back to school and got a master’s in counseling and did all the doctoral work, but of course never finished my dissertation. I did counseling for seven years, then I went out to California and stayed in a Tibetan Buddhist healing center, went to DePaul and spent time there in a monetary learning about meditation.
Eventually, I wound up back here in Cincinnati where I taught meditation classes and did a lot of Reiki training and a lot of Reiki teaching. Since then, the readings that I do are about spiritual guidance and about trying to help people. Underneath it all, we are all enlightened and all fabulous, so when people come and they have struggles in their lives or things they want to achieve, I try to help them develop tools and techniques to work on those things.
The cards that I use are very evocative and that’s why I use them – it’s like they really can see what I see and what I’m talking about when I use them. It’s amazing to look back on life and see that things that I wanted but didn’t get wouldn’t have taken me here or taught me what I wanted to learn. It’s almost like something was pulling me down this track to get right to where I am – and that’s probably true for everybody. If we could all just find that thread that makes you think, “Oh, something in me knew what I wanted to know my whole life,” you know? I always wanted to learn how the mind works and how we become happy, so there’s always more to learn.
Q: How did you begin to use the type of cards you use instead of traditional tarot cards?
A: I really don’t remember exactly, but it must have been one of my mentors who used them. When my children were little, we always had different types of cards in the house – you know, fairytale cards or “inner child” cards…just fun kids’ stuff. I never thought I read them, but I guess I did. Somehow, just always looking around, I must have run into the Zen Buddhist deck in my travels or something. Every reader who I’ve ever read for – they usually stop whatever it is they use for their card readings and go out and get these cards instead. They just give you a clear sense of what’s going on with you.
They’re different from tarot cards because – well, with tarot cards, you have to read them intellectually. You have to know those cards on an intellectual level because they don’t actually give you a clear image. They’re very vague and often negative. That’s not who I am. My cards are very visceral. You look at them and they tell you something immediately. The whole thing is about actually helping people help themselves. I can tell them things that I think are true, but there’s no reason they should believe me unless it actually resonates with them. When they look at my cards, though, they get to see what they mean for themselves instead of just taking my word for it. It’s very different.
In regular card readings, the card reader shuffles the cards and lay them out. In these types of card readings, the people can pick which cards they want for themselves – without seeing the front of the card first, obviously. It’s much more of shared experience. I will say something about a card and they will be able to tell me what it reminds them of, too. It’s very different, I think – there’s more of a connection.
If people come to me and say, “Well, you’re a reader. Tell me what you see,” … Well, I’m not a psychic. I’m not in here to prove something to anyone. I’m here to help people if they want help.
Q: How a card reader different from being psychic, then?
A: Like I said, they have to tell me what they need guidance in or what they need help with. They have to send intention out to the universe requesting what they want help with. I want to help, not to prove myself. I’m not a fortuneteller. I don’t make predictions. I turn the cards back on them by saying, “You know, here’s the issue they brought up, and here’s what the universe is saying about that issue through the cards. Here are some options and ideas.”
Nine and a half out of ten people who come to me over the years leave their reading feeling more empowered and like they can have a handle on their life. And that’s what I want – I want them to feel better. I want to make people feel more empowered and have some strategies to deal with their issues or worries. I’m not here to judge. I’m here to help. I feel like that’s different than a regular tarot card reader because I’m not here to scare you or be negative or make predictions. I’m here to use my cards to point you in a good direction or guide you with compassion.
Q: Where do you think that guidance comes from?
A: I think I can do it personally because of my training in meditation and Montessori training – I think it opened up other area of my mind and of my brain that allow me to be more intuitive and in touch with the universe and whatever higher power is out there – I can interpret the guidance. It comes from the universe, not from me. Not from being psychic or anything like that. I’m not psychic, just intuitive. I believe that everybody is connected and that I’m connected to each of my clients.
I feel more from my heart than my mind. I feel like being psychic comes from more of a mental thing instead of a heart thing. I have to connect with somebody on an emotional level before I can help him or her through a reading. It comes from connection rather than from just…you know, just from my head.
Q: What are the other things you do besides card readings?
A: I focus just on readings now, pretty much, but before, I did energy healings through Reiki, I taught people about energy and how to use their energy to heal or help. I do a lot of meditation, but I don’t really teach it anymore. I used to, but I’m old, you know? It’s all had phases. And then the counseling has played a part, too. So did the teaching.
Q: What is a misconception you run into about being a reader?
A: That this kind of gift comes from a dark place. Or that it’s of the devil or something. Which it isn’t at all. I was raised Catholic and wanted to become a nun for a long time, but none of my experiences have led me to ever believe that this line of work is from anything other than something positive. It comes from a positive place of compassion. And a lot of people really do think that it’s fortunetelling. I can’t read people’s minds like that. I can only go off of what they come to me with and what I see in them and what the cards bring about. I can’t make predictions about the future, I can only help you with the now.
Q: How do you structure a typical card reading?
A: We start off just talking. I ask them what they came for and what is on their mind. It depends on the person, you know? Sometimes I’ll do a little bit of astrology if a person is hard to read. Something to get us started, but I don’t even need to do that much anymore. I just ask them to tell me whatever is on their mind and to just keep talking until I feel connected. Once we get started, I don’t want a person to talk too much, though, because it will break my connection with them. It takes me to a different mindset or space. That’s how I get the insight.
Then we do fifteen minutes of cards, usually. I talk for about a half an hour and they listen – well, they can talk some, but like I said, I don’t want to lose the connection. It should take 45 minutes, but it always ends up taking longer. It’s about getting to know them. I personally do my Reiki symbols in the beginning of a session and open with a prayer that we both are open to receive guidance from the universe and at the end, I always thank whatever has helped us throughout the session – the universe, our connection, the different energies at work.
To me it’s very sacred. The bookends of prayer are an important ritual to me. They pull ten cards and they always, always, always reflect the topics we were talking about before we even pulled them. People always say, “Oh, you rigged it so those cards would come up!” But I don’t. It’s a conversation between me and the person I’m reading for and the energy that guides me.
The readings aren’t ever negative – that’s another misconception about card readings. Every one of my readings – except for one single woman – have been positive. People come to me scared that a negative card will come up or that they’ll get the death card or something, but that doesn’t happen. For one thing, there is no death card in this deck. I don’t believe in negative readings, which is another reason I don’t use traditional tarot cards. I feel like tarot card readings are often judgmental – that’s not what the purpose is. It’s why I don’t want to be associated with those types of cards.
Even if I were to see something negative, I would say, “Look, this could possibly happen, but if you solve it this way or do this thing, it won’t.” It’s about creating solutions, not causing problems. People are powerful, and my readings are about showing them that power from a place of compassion, not judgment or negativity.
Q: Do you think your ability to do readings or connect with people on that level comes from a higher power?
A: I do. Here’s my metaphor: the world is like a Christmas tree and the string of lights is all of the energy. We all have our own individual energy – each of us is an individual light on the string, but we all are connected through the string. If you go down to the string’s cord, you discover that we all are powered by the same electricity; the same energy. The trick is to be individual and connected at the same time. I don’t know how you do that, but I try, but when you tap into the part that’s all connected, you can use your heart to connect – and that’s where I think I get the power to do readings from – that cord; that connection.
Q: What do you do when you get skeptics who want you to read for them?
A: There have been just a few of real – you know, arrogant people. I just give them their money back and tell them I can’t connect with them on that level if they come to me with that kind of intention. But I can never actually get them to leave. They always want to be good enough to read for or something, after that. If they don’t let me in, I can’t help them. We always end up getting somewhere after I’m honest with them about that, though. It just takes longer to get to that kind of place. It’s very rewarding, though.
Q: How is it rewarding?
A: Oh, just to see people come in feeling scared or depressed or angry and then to see them leave feeling happy and hopeful. And then to have people come back and just talk about how their life is different and how much better they feel – most of the time, that happens. If somebody doesn’t leave feeling more empowered and better, then I have not done my job. It’s just the best. It’s even way better than therapy. It just reminds me of when I was a teacher – helping people. To see people working on something and see that they’re having trouble and help them learn to help themselves. It’s a sacred experience. Just like teaching or counseling. I just love it.
Q: Is it ever exhausting – making that many connections to people on such a deep level?
A: Absolutely. And the older I get, the less readings I do – well, I just spread them out more, actually. I used to several a day, but now I do one a day and I’m tired. Especially since I’m going through lots of physical changes, anyway, and my energy isn’t what it used to be. It’s tiring. I have to give it my all, though, even if it puts me in bed for a week. I give it my all.
Q: Is it ever hard not to judge or to come from a place of judgment?
A: Sometimes. If people are defensive, it is, but I think one of the best parts of being a teacher and a counselor or a reader is learning patience. You just keep going, and everybody has a soft spot. Sometimes it just takes longer to build a connection. But, even if it’s challenging, I can always find a place to start. That’s where the patience comes in.
Q: What drives people to contact you and have their cards read?
A: It depends on the context, but most people come to me because they have some sort of problem or issue that they want help with. Underneath, there’s always a serious reason. I think most people want guidance and reassurance that they’re OK and that they can handle what’s going on in their lives, even if they feel lost and don’t know what to do. That everything’s going to be OK.
Q: What’s your highest hope with each reading?
A: I hope that when they leave they feel more hopeful and joyful about life. I can see such a weight lift after they leave. People have problems, but problems are life illness in a way – there’s always an antidote for it. There’s always medicine. If you’ve got a problem, you can solve a problem, and that’s what I work to do with each reading.
Q: What has doing the card readings taught you?
A: Gosh, so many things. Well, first of all, the joy of feeling connected to other people on that level. And there probably are exceptions, but in my experience, if you’re open enough and are willing to set your ego aside…everybody’s really wonderful underneath it all. Everybody’s working and doing their best, even if they’re bitter and angry. It’s shown me the beauty of life. I see life starting to flow more through other people, and one of the great things for me is that doing readings takes me out of my own ego and validates that there is more going on than just my little mind.
I can’t tell you what it is exactly, but when I make those connections with other people, it’s just like, “Oh, thank you, God! There is more to this world than just what’s going on. It’s the same energy in all of us. It really affirms life. And it’s taught me to be more accepting and compassionate.
Dolma continues to do card readings out of her home in Cincinnati, Ohio near the University of Cincinnati. She offers a special rate for local students. She can be contacted at (513) 861-0712.