Surviving Your Tower Moment: Reframing the Tower card for awakening (Part 1)

Since the start of the pandemic, we have heard the words “change”, “pivot” and “adapt” so many times that it feels like these concepts have almost lost their meaning. We swim in hopelessness and rage but also are finding our voice of courage and purpose, but if I have to hear “in these unprecedented times” again, I might hurl.

The pandemic has accelerated growth for many of us. We’ve had to face down old wounds, grapple with injustice, refine how we communicate. Some of us have even abandoned old careers and discarded faded dreams. In my own life that meant I shifted from nonprofit management and disability/poverty law to a more spiritually-centered leadership and trauma-informed coaching practice. I am building a new career from scratch, leaving behind the decisions driven by fear and paranoia to a role that models hope and vulnerability. I’ve critically examined so many areas of my life, thanks to the isolation of the pandemic, that I feel like I’ve had no choice but to finally inhabit a space that looks and feels a lot more like me.

Which normally would have excited me – for most of my life people have known me as a “catalyst for change”, the lightning that strikes the tower and brings about intense change for people, situations, and laws. I am especially effective with those who are weighed down by false pride, stinging shame, and oppressive processes. I always had considered bravery to be best exemplified by letting go of the familiar and the safe by pushing outside of one’s comfort zone. And so, the pandemic was that for me – a glorious chance to imagine something new even if meant saying goodbye to the structures and ideals that once comforted me.

I was primed for change even before the pandemic began. I was ready to retrieve lost parts of myself. Challenged to become more of who I really am, to shine brighter, to draw more people into the fold of my energetic embrace and acceptance, I had no choice but to embrace change. I have always leaned into change, unafraid to examine my shadow self, to wrestle with my own demons. But some memories have been too tender to touch, some messages too poisonous to consider. This pandemic demanded that I face these final tendrils of my past head-on or continue to live in misery only to be forced to do this later.

On the surface, if you see me in photos, it might appear as if nothing changed. But I no longer use Esq. after my name, I no longer look over my shoulder waiting for the other shoe to drop. I am no longer paranoid about my work product or concerned about telling people no. I’m not apologizing for my existence (or at least not as much). I no longer keep myself awake at night with the worries of what other people think of me. I no longer suppress my needs and desires in order to cater to the opinions of others. There is a lightness about me now, a radiance that only comes from letting go of the structures and constructs that kept me small, silent, and stuck in my spirals of overthinking.

I lost my dad, grandpa, and dog in a three-month span of time, like three wrecking balls coming through my household one after another. And the only way I survived was by leaning into the change, allowing myself to be swept into the adventure of figuring out who I am in the world without them. I dug deep and found reconnection and guidance in the imagery and framework that resonates with radical, intense, personal, and global change: The Tower.

Time lapse photo of the milky way looking up through a forest framed with a light blue line. Cursive writing that says, "Courage is the power to let go of the familiar." a quote from Raymond Lindquist.

For those already familiar with tarot, you might have a strong reaction to the imagery of the Tower card often considered one of the “scariest” in the deck, one of the cards you’d be least likely to want to see. And yet, because I have spent most of my life as a catalyst for change, a siren of reform, a muse of transformation, the imagery of the lightning that strikes that tower, speaks so deeply to me. It hurts to let go of our illusions of security, stripping away the false assurance we’ve backed into our world, both internal and external. That kind of shake-up is what I love to do, whether it be legislatively or interpersonally. So where others might stubbornly hold onto their old beliefs and frameworks, I’m eager to tear it all down to make room for something even better.

One thing I found when I was writing the Spider Queen series (Part1, Part 2, Part 3), is that my biggest fear is being stuck, trapped in patterns that keep me and others miserable. And unlike other times in my life where I was held back by some belief others had crafted for me, this time I was the one holding myself prisoner with guilt and bitterness. Now, I choose to tear it all down if it means I continue to evolve into an even brighter, more aligned version of myself.

The past year has been an intense lesson in the Tower for all of us and we have a choice as to where to go from here. So, I particularly felt called to share the imagery that has helped me survive change, not only as an intuitive/mystic but as an advocate and mediator. When we lean into change instead of resisting it, we are able to construct new ways of living that are better suited for Who We Really Are.

This is just the start of a longer book on the subject, a study in our human constructs. So here I introduce the imagery of the Tower card as I conceive it. Later posts will distill it into a practical and conceptual tool for growth.

My relationship with Change

I have lived most of my life between two dualities. I was both white and Mexican. I liked both boys and girls. I was at the juxtaposition of several communities and identities all at once, but never truly belonging to any one group. I’ve had to find comfort in the midst of duality, navigating a world with flexibility to find the pockets of people, places, and ideas that included someone like me. This perhaps gave me a greater comfort level in balancing my spiritual calling for service with the global movements for equality and justice, especially when my calling started to diverge from Church teachings. I grew up comfortable in my own beliefs, perhaps a little too self-assured in the righteousness of my worldview. Even as limited as my world was while growing up in Pueblo, Colo. when I entered high school I was confident that my beliefs could withstand the harshest of challenges. 

Or so I thought until I started an honors philosophy course my sophomore year of high school. I was one of two sophomores invited to join that year. While I learned how to critically analyze and respond to arguments with logic (even though most of my own arguments were deeply personal and passionate), I was so unprepared for how the material would not only challenge me intellectually but also spiritually. Ranging from Plato and Marcus Aurelius to Nitchze, Descartes, and Siddartha, I was exposed to such a variety of ideas about human existence that it was inevitable that I started seeing cracks in my own belief systems.

We had to turn in journal entries to track our progress with the material. I remember dissecting the effect that being exposed to various philosophers and arguments were having on me. I pictured it as a wrecking ball coming through my “tower of self”, the structure that my family, community, and religion had all created for me. I was defensively clinging to ideas that were more about them than they were about me. My teacher encouraged me to use that image to connect the abstract with the concrete descriptions. I envisioned the bricks, the décor, the structure that once was there, and to ask myself whether those things still belong when I choose to rebuild. What will I keep, what will I discard and what form will it take. I learned how to examine the bricks of faith, the colors of my calling, the very design of my heart, and decide what to bring with me into the future I wanted for myself.

That titular moment became a core value for who I am. My teacher helped me reframe the intense and scary change that was happening in my life. As I stood within the emotional rubble of my shattered beliefs – it felt impossible to rebuild. But this is a natural part of evolving our consciousness. We can always build something better.

I imagine my first tower looking a lot like this castle from My Little Pony. I loved this as a kid and played with it constantly.

I needed to step outside the fiercely dogmatic thinking and embrace a Socratic inquiry into my own self, to have the courage to face what had once defined me and allow myself to let go of some of those sacred ideas to better embrace an even bigger vision of the world. The Tower visual just made the impossibility of the meaning of my life make some sense. I started using this visual to reframe not only the current challenges to my faith but to support a deeper quest for autonomy and authenticity that would guide the rest of my life.

By looking at these challenges as essential components of growth, I embrace these “tower moments” as meaningful opportunities to redefine who I am, eliminating the misalignments and uncertainties that tainted the towers that came before.

The POwer of the Tower

The Tower of Self is how I refer to those sacred institutions, behaviors, beliefs, reactions, judgments, etc that we use to internally process where we stand in the outside world. Whether it be religion, sexuality, expectations in friendships, family values, whatever, we each have our own little Towers that house our background and beliefs. Organized belief structures dictate where we lay the foundations, the blueprints serve as a guide the floorplan of our emotional and spiritual containment. The walls are alive with enchanted, ancient wisdom – the memory of our lineage. Lessons of struggle are carved sigils in the wood of the staircase. Layers of wallpaper and paint cover up the cracks in the rules, the fractures winding through to the foundation.

And when we sense that our Tower is under attack, we defend it. We build up our armor, we resist the arrows of truth that expose our vulnerabilities. But eventually, we will see that some beliefs can’t withstand scrutiny. Instead of admitting defeat, we often attach ourselves to the hollow, unsure structure. We become more susceptible and reactive to threats against our belief systems when we are in denial about having outgrown them.

Image what your own Tower might look like:

Bricks are laid in a pleasing pattern but might be faulty, unsupported or cracked from years of neglect. Walls are painted the same colors as dad’s alma mater, which you never attended. Chicken wire reminds you of how overprotective he was – he used his trauma to build emotional fences to protect his kids. The modern fixtures are imbued with mom’s passion for philanthropy, but there is an aroma of soured resentment that lingers in the hallways. The windows are placed to show parents in their best light, but without blinds so you are scrutinized at all times. The doors, which all have your parents’ religious symbols, are locked to prevent us from accessing forbidden knowledge and experiences.

Imagine if you were given this structure by your parents at birth?
Do you think you might eventually outgrow this?
Castle on Cliff in Sea wallpaper by FireN

Families can’t help but infuse the space with their own unique dynamic – a stifling alchemic reaction of conflicting beliefs, paranoias, passions, failures, rewards, traumas, rituals, lessons, shames, and successes simmering in cauldrons that had brewed up self-hatred, white supremacy and patriarchy just a generation ago. The flavor that permeates everything you consume in your first years is influenced by their experiences and aspirations, grudges, and norms.

And regardless of the competence and care of your first caretakers, you eventually outgrew that first space. You changed, whether superficially or substantively. You needed to inhabit a space where you were understood, where you felt safer, freer, or just more comfortable in your own skin. Some of you might have kept some of the same structure or features. Others might have razed it to the ground and used the stumps of the foundation to create something new. Eventually, you created a Tower that became entirely your own.

I’d love to do a study one day – but I think around the time we found out whether Santa is real, is the first time many of us even sense a crack in the structure created for us (if not a full on wrecking ball/Kool-Aid Man busting through the walls). We begin to question what is real. Is God real? Do my parents actually love me? Why do other families do this but we don’t? It happens throughout all of our adolescence until eventually, the bricks start to come down and we either outgrow that structure or wait for a wrecking ball to do it for us.

The question will inevitably become “how do we rebuild”? For this is the very foundation of resilience – of the human experience – the ability to rebuild ourselves when all we knew falls apart..because it will.

Change is the very essence of human growth.

When I frame the “wrecking balls” of my life like this, I can better recognize the crackle in the air as my belief systems start to fail me. My behavior patterns start to show themselves for the tired, burned-out coping mechanisms they’ve become. I set my heart to proactively examining where I stand, whether the structures of my life actually support my goals or if they’re interfering with my power. I can’t prevent all things from happening, but if I can recognize and heed the warnings, I can vacate and already begin my remodeling. It is usually quite clear what needs change and the Tower gives me motivation to do it. When I surrender to change, I take ownership over my own narrative and process instead of letting the universe do it for me.

This framework has been an essential tool for my own growth and development and one that I think can help all of us reframe the big, inevitable changes and realizations to become powerful symbols of freedom and empowerment instead.

Various versions of the tarot card. Source: unknown

Reframing the Tower Card

I had already integrated a different contextual framework when I first met the tarot and the Tower card. I was finding empowering ways to survive the painful disillusionment of old hopes and dreams that no longer served me. Each brick of these structures mimicked my surrounding influences in some way – from habits and values around family, government and friendship to standards for grooming, food, and recreation and I was tearing them all down, bit by bit. These identities, these inclinations, and characteristics were woven into the fabric of who I am. I knew that while these things were an important part of my experience, not all of them would be able to remain, or at least not in the form they first started. Change just wasn’t something that scared or intimidated me – staying stuck did.

The woman who taught me tarot understood the fierce chingona in me, so it didn’t bother her one bit that I responded with loving curiosity to the Tower card instead of the dread she had been taught to interpret. I saw the Tower card as a last-ditch evacuation notice before the self-destruct sequence counts down, before the wrecking ball engines whir to life. This is our last chance – leave this confining, useless structure or prepare to go down with the ship. Either we choose to embrace change or it will be forced on us.

Instead, because of my framework, I welcomed change with a chagrined compassion. While I may not love when a wrecking ball is looming, I’d much rather voluntarily dismatle my own belief towers on my own terms than be subject to an indifferent universe violently crumbling them into chaos without at least my input. So, even for a control freak like me, when the Tower card comes up I welcome it as a familiar friend, an omen to be obeyed with a sense of humor, duty, and ultimately, faith in myself.

The biggest thing I’ve learned from the Tower card over years as a tarot reader is that we either change or we die. We either adapt or we fail to survive in the form we once knew. We can choose to listen to our intuition to leave a bad situation or change a major systemic belief, or we can be consumed by the weight of its failure. Because these structures will fall, whether we want them to or not. None of us can escape the disruptive ripples of change in our lives, but we can choose to honor the signals when they present themselves and help others rebuild when their Tower Moment comes.

My badass Sagittarian spirit would much rather dismantle a system brick by brick with my bare and bloodied hands than ever find myself trapped under the rubble of worn-out beliefs that I’ve stubbornly held onto. At my core, this is who I am: I’d rather be wildly vulnerable and fiercely authentic tearing down my own tower than live a stifled and docile existence inhabiting a space that’s become toxic.

At its core, the Tower tells us where we can shove our stubborn systemic loyalty. This is the last signal before we are forced to change. And it is precisely our reluctance to change that makes this card so scary for most.

When we start to see the Tower from the perspective of bigger picture belief systems, behavior patterns, and choosing our authentic selves, we can find the courage to endure the vulnerability of letting go. We then get to embrace the adventure of aligning with our best and truest selves even if it is scary to abandon the sacred ideals of an ill-informed youth. The Tower reminds us that we have a larger duty to own our own light.


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