Living the Tower Card: Watching My Life Crumble Around Me

There’s a card in the Tarot known as the Tower.  It’s usually the sixteenth card in the Major Arcana.  The classic imagery is of a, well, tower, that has been struck by lightning to its total destruction.  There are sometimes images of people falling from the tower to their demise, too.  It’s a pretty intense card.

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image courtesy of pinterest

Here’s what Aeclectic.net has to say about the Tower card:

In a moment, it is over. The Tower is rubble, only rocks remaining. Stunned and shaken to the core, the Fool experiences profound fear and disbelief. But also, a strange clarity of vision, as if his inner eye has finally opened. He tore down his resistance to change and sacrifice (Hanged man), then came to terms with Death (Death); he learned about moderation and synthesis (Temperance) and about power (The Devil). But here and now, he has done what was hardest: he destroyed the lies of his life. What’s left are the foundations of truth. On this he can rebuild himself.

Many people read the Tower card as negative, and fear it’s presence in a spread.  I, however, almost always see it as a good thing.  For most of my readings, the Tower card tells about a complete breaking down of the foundational beliefs and perceived truths upon which we once built our lives, making space for the rebuilding of new truths and ideas that more accurately reflect the evolved person we have become.  It’s sort of like the old Etch-A-Sketch toys that erase everything previously drawn when you shake them up a bit.

I bring this up here, because I am currently living the Tower card.  Fair warning:  This post is going to be raw and real.  There will be no sugar-coating here.  If you have no interest in reading about the intimate details of the lives of others, you may want to click over to a site featuring kitten memes, or whatever you’re into.

I am not exactly sure when the lightning bolt actually struck my tower.  Well, that’s not entirely true, if I really think about it.  Perhaps it would be best to say that my tower has been sustaining some pretty potent damage over the past couple years.

My time at Kanekiki Farm on the Big Island of Hawaii was definitely instrumental in creating some cracks in the foundations.  I experienced an entirely different way of being in the world while I was there.  I was fully submersed in a supportive, cooperative community.  I was encouraged to, and given the resources to, take a long, hard look at how I was living my life, how I was connecting with others, and how I was sharing myself with the world.  On the farm, our foods were raw, our emotions were raw, and our interactions were raw.  It was simultaneously glorious and heartbreaking, terrifying and exciting.  And my experiences there really ignited a spark of new awareness deep within me.

After Kanekiki, I spent the rest of the year traveling the globe, sometimes with a companion, but mostly solo.  With every new country visited, I felt new shifts in my foundations, new cracks in my walls.  I found myself hastily patching rents where I could, but my heart wasn’t really in it.  This was simply the reflexive response to the fear brought on by the drafts from these chinks in my shelter.

Instead of feeling the freedom I was craving, I found myself feeling more and more trapped.  I was living in the most stunning exotic locations, and all I could focus on was how miserable I was feeling.  I would be surrounded by new people, new opportunities, new experiences, and instead of reveling in it, as I had expected to, I found myself shrinking in a mindset of lack, of loneliness, of fear.

Oh, the shame of it all!  Shame of feeling these dark and heavy feelings in these light and beautiful places weighed down on me.  It was so heavy and so brutish that it began to shake the walls of my tower of identity, leaving me with real concerns about whether or not I could sustain it all.

There was a brief reprieve when my sister joined me in Greece for her birthday.  But soon that came to an end, and, with it, my time of wandering the world.  Things just got shakier after that.

I returned to the States with no real plan, no money, and no idea what to do.  I knew I had changed so profoundly since leaving my home for Hawaii all those months ago, but I hadn’t really had time to process who I had become or, rather, who I was still becoming.  I was lost, but I took refuge in my tower.  It might not be as sturdy as it once was, but it was familiar, and that felt safe.

After several months of questioning, wallowing, and job-hunting, I finally decided to start my new life in Austin.  I arrived with a job, but no place to live, and still no money.  But I was feeling determined to make it work.  I spent three months living in my compact sedan.  I kept telling myself that it was an awesome adventure, but when I got really honest with myself, I was met with embarrassment, discomfort, a strong sense of failure, and yet more shame.  I didn’t choose to live like this.  I was living in my car because I couldn’t afford to live anywhere else.

How could I be living like this at my age?  What’s wrong with me?  I have no house, no partner, no kids, no community, and no clue.  Why can’t I get my life together?

This, I believe, was the final lightning strike that collapsed my already shaky tower.  It kindled that inner spark born at Kanekiki, and the whole thing went up in flames and came down in a tumble of stones and bones.

Knee-deep in rubble, I realized that I have been living my life half asleep for a very long time.  I have been operating from a place of knowing what I didn’t want, but having no idea what I did want.  I will never be able to cultivate a life that makes me happy until I understand what it is that will make me happy.  Out of the debris of all the challenging experiences during my journey, I was able to start piecing together a new picture of what I want my life to look and feel like.  I began to have a clearer understanding of what I want.  And in that moment, I began the slow and steady process of rebuilding my tower.

I’ve made some progress, but, as with any construction gig, there have been setbacks.  And I really have no clear idea when my completion date will actually be.  I’m still undergoing some pretty intense moments of destruction, too.   It’s like I’m now in the dance of one step forward, two steps back.

Once in Austin, work was slow to start, but with just a little time, I built a strong base of wonderful and loyal clients.  (Add a new layer of bricks and mortar!)  This allowed me to find a better living situation.  I still didn’t have a ton of money, and Austin is a crazy expensive city, but I was lucky enough to find a room for rent in a home in one of my favorite neighborhoods.  It was in walking distance to a grocery store, to my job, to downtown, and to a free public natural springs swimming pool.  It was unbelievably cheap, too.  (Yes!  Add a brick, please!)  I would be living with two other folks around my age – an artist and a yoga instructor/musician.  (Awesome!  Another brick!)  It sounded amazing.  I was so grateful to be out of the car, and into a proper house.  But I soon realized that, while the price and location were perfect, the living situation was not.  One housemate was great, but the other, the one who was there all the time, was very, let’s just say, difficult.  I was doing my best to hold space for him, to send him love as a fellow human being who was doing his best in this world.  But, I was sitting in a pile of rubble, man!  I just didn’t have the internal resources to manage that crap.  So, my fledging foundation took another hit.

Then I decided to move to Asheville, to be close to my sister and her new baby.  Meeting my niece for the first time really filled me with love and provided some unexpected clarity.  Moving here, and seeing her nearly everyday, continues to do so.  More bricks in the walls!  Hooray!  

But, my new job, which seemed so bright and shiny before I moved, is starting much slower than I’d hoped.  And no one working there is ever as busy as I was at my job in Austin.  This concerns me.  Potential damage could come of this, though I’m trying my darnedest to stay positive.

Another wrecking ball came to tear down some of the new building when my car, Gertie, finally gave up the ghost.  So, now I have no car, a job that has yet to convince me it will pay my bills, and no second job – as my second job was as a delivery driver … which kinda requires a car.  (More rubble.)

Luckily, my sister has offered to share her car with me, so all is not lost.  (And … add a few more bricks, thank you!)

But, still, here I sit in a construction site of a life that looks like it’s being overseen by Animal from the Muppets.  My life is a mess.  Nothing is certain.  I can’t read my blueprints because I’ve been crying.  A lot.

But this is what happens when we are letting go of old limiting beliefs, old structures of identity and old paradigms of perceived truth.  Those old thoughts and behaviors fight back.  We have to struggle with them a bit in order to get them to release.  Sometimes it might seem like they are winning, and this is when the tower begins to falter.  But other times we can subdue them and make some real progress in the reconstruction of this new tower, this new life, this new identity.

It’s like Jen Sincero writes in her book, You Are A Badass:

[Your Ego, aka. your old limiting belief system] will do everything it can to stop you from changing and growing, especially since you’re attempting to obliterate the very identity that you and everyone else has come to know as “you”.  Growth ain’t for weenies, but it’s nowhere near as painful as living the life you’re living right now if you’re not really going for it. 

I’m determined to stay with this rebuild as long as it takes, but I sure do hope there’s more progress than regress from here on out.  I’m using my Summer of Reinvention to experiment with new practices and routines that will help me to be more productive, more actively engaged, and more blissful (of course!) in my life.  I’m feeling really hopeful.  And I am feeling some momentum.  And that feels good.

Have you ever had an experience in which everything you held to be fundamentally true about your self/life completely fell apart?  If so, please feel welcomed to share your experience, and/or what tools you used in your rebuild.  I’d love to hear from you and connect over this shared experience!

Thanks for taking the time to make it all the way to the end of this long and confessional post.  I am so grateful for you!

Wishing the most blissful of experimenting,

melanie

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Ashes to Ashes … Dust to Dust

 

(This post originally appeared on my professional website:  www.experiments-in-bliss.com.  Find additional information for living the blissful life of your dreams there.)

Transformation has long been a recurring theme in my life.  I feel like we are all always transforming, always evolving, growing, changing in some way or another.  Some of us do this with awareness and intention, others with complete obliviousness.  Still, change is constant.  However, sometimes change gets upgraded to CHANGE.  There are moments in some lives that herald intensely profound, fundamental, life-shifting transformation.  In Shamanic traditions, these profound shifts are often called dismemberments.

This is just as it sounds:  It is a total dismembering of the Self and Soul in which we tear apart the life and self-image we’ve spent a lifetime building to create space for the re-creation of a new life that more closely aligns with our soul’s true purpose.  It is sometimes light, easy, and enjoyable.  But, for many, it can be a heavy and confusing string of gut-wrenching challenges that can drag on indefinitely.  This puts me in mind of the Blondie lyrics:  “She’s so dull … come on, rip her to shreds!”

According to Tim at Alchemists Journal, “there are likely many degrees to which we experience a dismemberment reflected in our daily lives.  I’m sure it is often not even noticeable, just a graceful shift in course.  Sometimes, however, much greater transformation seems to be required, one in which every aspect of our lives is offered up for possible demolition.”  Either way, the outcome is a shiny new life of purpose and contribution and, presumably, bliss.  Tim continues:  “That’s … the reason we ultimately surrender to it:  Our soul is already awakened to the potential we are in the process of fulfilling.  As we are laid bare, reduced to the most fundamental aspects of ourselves, our soul’s calling can be much more easily heard.”

According to Nancy Sherwood of Traveller’s Joy, “dismantling anything takes time, and the ego does not like this loss.  But the Spirit can be strong, and can transform apparent death into rebirth.”  I liken this experience to the Tower card in the tarot.  It’s about totally leveling the foundational structures we’ve built for ourselves.  Everything we know to be true is challenged, questioned, scrutinized, and either validated, or deemed no longer relevant and discarded to make space for something better suited for the current environment.  Many people view the Tower card with fear and disappointment when it appears in a spread.  But I have always revered it as a great harbinger of Hope.  It’s an opportunity for refinement which, if taken, can lead to beautiful new experiences and greater ease on life’s journey.  Keeping this attitude during a period of dismemberment can be decidedly helpful.

Sherwood also makes an interesting point here:

“Space is defined as a feminine aspect in Buddhism, and form a masculine one. The dance between the two is what takes place here on earth, where form has been given such a major role that it is dismembering the earth itself.”

I understand her to be observing the imbalance created in our ‘civilized’ modern lives.  Where once we had much more balance between the feminine and masculine aspects of energy in our world, we now offer much more weight and power to the masculine – form over space, action over reception, external over internal, and, accordingly, extrospection over introspection.  Under this paradigm we are not only faced with the challenges inherent in a lack of natural balance, but our resources for how to process information and experience on an interpersonal level is diminished.

From a macrocosmic perspective, there seems to be some dismemberment work taking place in the world of late.  The #metoo movement, #blacklivesmatter, natural disasters, and upheavals in the political arenas are clear evidence of this.

On a personal, microcosmic level, I have been experiencing a very profound dismemberment adventure.  Upon my relocation to Austin, I joined a Shamanic women’s group in an effort to meet people, and reconnect with the spiritual community in the city and the spiritual community within myself.  Our group meets regularly for Shamanic Journeying as well as Goddess Culture exploration and celebration of the Divine Feminine.  It’s been very powerful and healing for me to be a part of this circle of women exploring our relationships to Spirit.  The journey work we do is very similar to the Internal Family Systems work I was doing just before I left Durham.  I’ve missed doing that IFS work, and am grateful to be exploring this kind of self-guided, but guide-supported internal work again.

During the past two journeying sessions I have had experiences of my physical body being completely dissolved into ash and crystal glitter dust, respectively.  Neither experiences were frightening for me. In fact, they were liberating and beautiful.  I felt safe and loved and protected the entire time.  When I shared my experiences with the group, one of my mentors told me about dismemberment journeys within the Shamanic school of thought.  This was the first time I had heard this particular phrase; though, of course, the idea of death and rebirth are shared by many of the world’s religions, myths, and cultures, and was very familiar to me.  Having this new lens through which to view my experience has been very enlightening.  I already was aware of the fact that I am in the midst of a long and drawn out transformation of some kind, but I, in my Ego-driven mind, assumed it was because I was actively making choices to create change.  And, while, to a certain degree, this true, it’s also hubristic.

When I look back over the past couple years, noticing the plans I’ve had and the way those plans were (or were not) made manifest, it is clear to me that I am not the primary driver here.  Every day I become more aware of new opportunities to come more fully into what I can only describe as my True Self.  And while it’s very hopeful and exciting, I also notice myself dipping into my bag of tried and true modes of avoidance.  These behaviors that I’ve picked up along the way to distract me from the discomfort of deep and powerful Change always show up when my Ego is feeling challenged for control of my life.  I am grateful for the awareness of it.  And I am hopeful for the strength to dismember those disruptive patterns, too.  I know my Soul is fierce and strong.  I also know she has the courage and fortitude to be soft if I can only let her.  (It’s this that seems to be most challenging for me.)  So, these visions in which I am being reduced to nothing but tiny bits of earth, and rebuilt as a more complete, updated version of myself provide me with invaluable encouragement that I am on the right path and I am equipped to succeed through this part of my journey.  I have a spiritual community available and willing to act as my support system.  I have a physical community available and willing to act as my support system.  And I can do this.

Should you find yourself in the midst of a dismemberment journey, whether gentle or brutal, you may find the following tools to be helpful.  Either way, I wish you love and strength and softness on your path!

TOOLS FOR NAVIGATING POWERFUL LIFE TRANSFORMATIONS:

  • Seek out a professional guide.  This could be a Shamanic Healer, a mental health professional, a certified counselor, a religious teacher/advisor, or a group experienced with navigating big life changes.  Having this kind of trained guidance can not only provide comfort and structure to your transition, but it can make the experience much safer, too.
  • Find some personal person support.  Tell a friend or family member what you are doing, and enlist their help when things are feeling challenging or during those times when you need to establish new routines and new ways of integrating with others.
  • Practice some form of meditative strategy.  This can be Shamanic Journeying, or any other kind of meditative practice that resonates for you.  Since these kind of life-altering transformational shifts are often initiated by the Soul, it is helpful to have a vehicle in which you can regularly converse with your Soul in its own language.  Any ‘meta’ practice will do as long as you feel a connection to the spirit realm, or soul level, when you practice it.
  • Document your experiences with Spirit.  I really enjoy journaling post-journey to document my experience.  I gain added insights when I go back and read, and re-read, those entries.  Some people like to paint, compose music, or choreograph dance.  The possibilities are endless.  Choose a form of documentation that feels powerful to you and that allows you to express your experience in a way that gives you access to it again and again.
  • Pay Attention!  Start to notice your life more fully.  Be aware of new opportunities opening up for you.  Notice people, relationships, experiences coming into or leaving your life.  Be mindful about any learned habitual responses to the discomfort you may be experiencing.  And even search for signs of discomfort that you might be trying to bury in shadow.  This is a time of Change, and watching it all unfold with focused awareness can make for an incredibly rich and informative experience.
  • Get out of the way.  It can be tempting to try to control everything that’s happening during these times of intense transition.  And it’s perfectly fine to be an active participant in your life.  But there’s a fine line between active participant and steamroller.  If you find your attempts at directing energy in a particular way are being thwarted at every turn, then maybe recognize that there may be a better direction for that energy.  Get out of the way and let Spirit guide you toward what that new direction is.
  • Keep calm and carry on.  It may sound trite, but, really, the best thing you can do during this time, in my humble opinion, is to relax into it.  Try to keep a positive outlook, remembering that your Soul is guiding you to greater heights.  You are never asked to do anything more than what you are capable of doing.  And it really is going to be fine.  Sometimes when we stop struggling, we realize it was the struggle, not the situation, that was making things so unpleasant.  So, shift your gaze to the positive.  Become your own Pollyanna.  And enjoy the ride.