In the Tarot, there’s a card called The Tower. It’s traditionally illustrated with a tower falling. The meaning of the card is destruction, chaos, danger, crisis, and unforeseen change. And liberation.
By K Mitch Hodge on Unsplash
Some years ago, in the months before I moved from Colorado to Maine, my life unraveled in several painful ways. During those months, I pulled The Tower card from my Tarot deck (78 cards) time after time, though I always shuffle and cut the deck thoroughly before I draw cards. I couldn’t get away from it.
It didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. I felt for a time as though my life would never be anything else. I would never escape the falling tower. I didn’t think much about the liberation part, because when our lives are toppling we don’t think about anything except surviving the collapse.
I had a crate of odds and ends of wood from building a privacy fence and a deck. I pulled it out of my shed and built a tower on a table on the covered deck outside my front door. I hadn’t played with blocks since my children were young. The chunks of wood were in all kinds of odd shapes, and building the tallest tower possible was an absorbing task.
When my tower was finished, I left it standing for a few hours or a day or so, enjoying it as I went about my life and in and out of my little log cabin. Then, when the time was right and I needed an outlet for my fear and frustration, I would knock it down. Hard. Loudly. I would obliterate it, sending the pieces of wood flying, sweeping the tabletop clear. It was a practice of surrender. If the tower was inevitably going to fall, I wouldn’t try to prop it up. I’d create a glorious, earth-shaking, no-holds-barred collapse. I wouldn’t look away or pretend it wasn’t happening or try to escape or soften the situation. I would face my fear.
After a while I built it again.
I did that for months. I built and knocked down more than 100 towers while I pulled the card over and over again.
I had a dream a couple of weeks ago about wandering through a field of rubble from a fallen tower. In spite of the destruction, it was a peaceful, sunny, summer landscape. I felt no sense of dread or doom. There had obviously been a violent and frightening collapse, but it was over now, and all was serene. I found some scattered objects amongst the stone rubble. Some things were intact, but others were smashed to pieces. I was thinking about sorting through the wreckage and salvaging material for a new tower and a new life.
I wasn’t scared. I was peaceful.
I was starting again. I’ve done that before. The fear and anxiety, the feeling of oncoming disaster, were past. The worst had happened and now I was on the other side of it.
I was excited about piecing together a new tower.
When I woke, I thought, “That damn tower!” and smiled to myself.
We are now working with a fifth contract for the sale of this property. That’s right. Number 5. Gas has more than doubled from last year’s price. The cat food shortage goes on and on. Prices for everything are skyrocketing. I just received our power bill, which has doubled from last month, though our usage is slightly less. We are on the edge of war, thanks to Russia.
I remember this feeling of the tower falling.
Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash
But I also remember the liberation on the other side. I remember starting afresh. I remember taking a long journey into health and healing, into creativity, into an entirely new life. In some ways, for the last seven years I’ve been working in a field of rubble, carefully salvaging and sorting the usable from the discards. I’ve thought long and hard about the kind of life I want to build now, and about my needs and resources.
I’m not on the other side yet. One of these days I will be, and I feel that day coming closer, though I don’t know how or when. I lie awake on windy nights and wonder if, metaphorically speaking, the wind will knock down the tower. Or will the rain take it down in the end? Or a spring ice storm? Or a completely unlooked-for earthquake, fire, or flood?
Or will it gently collapse, stone by stone, falling quietly into ruin around me?
Whatever happens, there will be debris and rubble. Some material will be salvageable.
I will start, as I have before, with what I have, with what remains, with myself.
When my last tower fell, I learned two important things. One is that a home, no matter how beloved, is not a life. It cannot keep me safe, happy, and secure for the rest of my days. It cannot substitute for my connections, contribution, or self-love. The place I live does not define me.
The second is that I am not my things. My security, identity, memories, strength, courage, and creativity do not reside in objects around me, the clothes I wear, the furniture I use, or the dishes I eat off of.
Many people new to the Tarot fear The Tower card. Few of us welcome destruction, chaos, danger, crisis and unforeseen change. However, change does come. Towers do fall. And once the terror and tumult have passed, we find ourselves in a new world with a chance to make a fresh start.
We might not have wanted to be liberated from anything. Or, on the other hand, we may have longed for liberation. In any case, we are suddenly dropped into a different life. The tower fell. We take some time for recovery.
Violence, self-destruction, despair and human rights violations are rampant in our world. We can choose our favorite flavor: Climate change, racial and ethnic problems, gender ideology, immigration issues, terrorism, food production and diet, religion, capitalism and the economy, and a multitude of other issues clamor for our attention.
Who is to blame?
Everyone? No one?
Our global social problems overwhelm me. They’re too big for one person to deal with.
As I explore blame, I’ll zoom in to an example from my own life.
A long time ago I married an abusive man, and he abused me. (Big surprise, right?) My experience of abuse was quite real. I realized his behavior was not okay. I realized domestic violence is a huge problem, and I realized it can happen to anyone.
I found a way out, and I could have stopped there and just carried the identity of a victim of domestic violence and an abusive man. It’s a big club. I could find validation, support groups, therapy and other assistance. I could compare stories with other victims, seek revenge, stalk his Facebook page, bad mouth him, have bad dreams and feel ashamed every time I flinch away from a sudden movement a man makes in my vicinity.
I could have turned my experience as an abused woman into a demon, a chronically bleeding wound, a source of darkness, fear and impaired trust. I could run from it, avoid it, try to forget it and stay stuck in power loss. I was victimized. It was unfair. That’s how the world works.
But what’s underneath that reality of being an abused woman? Why was I an abused woman?
Because men prey on women, men are entitled, it’s a man’s world and women are not granted equal power, recognition or rights.
It wasn’t my fault. I was a victim. End of story.
A victim is a person harmed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action. Notice that powerlessness is not part of that definition, which is paraphrased from Oxford Online Dictionary.
I was an abused woman because I thought that’s what I was worth. That’s my truth. I don’t shame myself over it, but I own it. All men do not prey on women. All men do not feel entitled. Men do not define the world unless women allow them to, and the only person who can give away my power and ignore my rights is me.
And, at various times in my life, I have.
Blaming is easy, and we all do it. Managing personal power is a lot of work, a daily practice if we want our lives to work well. Blaming is quick and socially acceptable, especially in this age of hyperreaction to any hint of victim shaming.
The problem is that blame is a dead end. It keeps us firmly fastened in what has befallen us rather than what we’re going to do now. We can blame all we like, but it doesn’t bring us justice, resolution or healing. It doesn’t help us understand the complexities of our situation. We can’t learn from blame. It’s not useful or productive in any way. Blaming is an abdication of responsibility, power and resilience.
This is even more true when we blame ourselves. Blaming myself is what put me in an abusive relationship in the first place. I am not responsible for the behavior and choices of the man I was with, but I chose to be with him – for a time. I believed it was what I deserved because of my guilt and shame over previous choices.
If we are victimized by a crime, accident, or other event or action, and all we can do is blame, we’re effectively embracing a victim mentality, and that kind of thinking goes nowhere.
Sooner or later, we’re all victims of something. Sometimes our own choices lead to our victimization, sometimes we get hurt through no fault of our own, and often the situation is a complex mixture of choices, actions, and events impossible to disentangle.
It’s what we do with our experience that counts. Are we going to blame someone or something and stay stuck, or take appropriate responsibility for ourselves and problem-solve?
We’re not responsible for what other people do or random events we’re caught up in, but we’re always responsible for what we do in response. Healthy boundaries help us discern the difference between the places we have power and the places we have none.
Taking responsibility is not the same as blaming. Responsibility is a powerful tool for problem solving. It’s forward-focused. Blame is backwards-focused and solves nothing.
Being or feeling victimized is no fun, and it’s not a place I want to pitch a tent and call home. I refuse to identify as a victim, and I don’t victimize myself or others. When I catch myself blaming, I know I’ve stepped out of my own power.
Being victimized is a teacher for me. It’s not about blame and shame. It’s about using the feelings and discomfort of the experience to learn, to grow, to find new resources and to reach out to other victims in a supportive, constructive way. Making a healthy contribution out of our experience of victimization heals our wounds and helps other victims find their way to healing. It helps us reclaim our dignity and power.
It’s a lot more work than blaming, which any toddler can do.
Blaming signals disempowerment, and I refuse to go back down that road. In a perfect world, we’d all be held accountable for our victimization of others, but it’s far from a perfect world, and the only choices I’m in charge of are my own.
I may be, at times, a victim, but I’m always in charge of my own power.
From Seth Godin: “When we adopt the posture of commitment, something extraordinary happens: The lessons get more profound and useful. The questions asked get more specific and urgent. The connections that are made get deeper.”
“The discipline is to invest one time in getting your workflow right … Hacking your way through something “for now” belies your commitment to your work …”
This year I decided I was going to build a more secure life over the next three years, and I began to work on a business writing plan using a holistic management template created by Allan Savory. I’ve been writing about this process as I grope my way through it.
I’ve spent a great deal of time asking myself questions, writing notes, identifying obstacles, defining the whole I’m trying to manage, listing resources, outlining my holistic context, and thinking about interconnection and ecosystems.
A concatenation of recent events and more closely identifying my needs and resources led me to find a new hosting company and migrate the blog from one host to another.
My skill level is way below this kind of data transfer, so I researched and chose a new hosting company, gave them my credit card number, and sat back to let the tech wizards do their thing.
After the transfer, everything looked good. I had a minor problem with my header image that was obvious and easy to fix. I immediately went back to weekly posting and plodding through SEO work.
A week ago, it came to my attention that all my internal links, the links from one of my posts to another, were broken. This amounts to thousands of links, and is a major catastrophe for SEO rankings.
I had chosen the new hosting company based on, among other services, the availability of 24/7 tech support and their advertised expertise with WordPress, which is the platform for this blog. Everything had worked perfectly on the old server and I was sure this link problem was a glitch in the transfer process. I called tech support.
I called tech support three times that day, in fact. I explained the problem to each person, gave them examples, and told them what I’d done with the previous support person, but I quickly lost track of who was suggesting what changes and got more and more confused and desperate with each call. I followed all recommendations. Nothing fixed the links.
I struggled all week with tech support, in between work shifts and a power outage. I didn’t post or do SEO work, because I began to have trouble even signing in to WordPress, let alone working on the blog.
Later in the week, during my fifth call, the support person said that she’d never seen links break the way mine had before, she didn’t know what to do, and the hosting company doesn’t actually work on internal links anyway! But to please call back if I continued to have problems and would I stay on the line and take a short survey about my support experience?
The depth of my distress over this is hard to overstate. I had not realized how much this space means to me until it seemed to be irrevocably broken. It’s not that I have a big audience or an intimate social community around it. It’s not that I get a lot of comments or feedback. It’s not that I think it will make me rich.
I think it’s that this writing is the most authentic, truthful thing I do in the world that’s in the public view. It’s also a significant exercise in self-discipline, courage, and commitment. I love my paid job and the people I work with, but I’ve had many beloved jobs and made satisfying contributions in my work before now. I am not the job.
I am the writing. The threat of losing it made me realize how meaningless my life would seem without it.
The part of me that’s so good at stepping back and observing from the corner of the ceiling has been watching all this. In trying to take some forward action and gathering the courage to make a true commitment, financially, internally and publicly, the blog broke. The financial commitment of a new hosting company didn’t pay off. I couldn’t find the support I needed. Not only that, whatever went wrong wasn’t a normal problem, but something (supposedly) never seen before. All my old beliefs about being a burden and broken in profound, ugly, and no-help-for-you ways sprang into life again.
One of my goals is to build a support team for my writing. Was this a message that my writing and I are not worth supporting and will never be successful? Was it a message that there is no support for such as me and I must find a way to learn and do it all?
I was beyond discouraged.
Then, in less than an hour, an extremely bizarre string of events occurred. My partner unearthed the business card of a web designer from whom we bought drums off of Craig’s List about five years ago. We met her in a parking lot in Portland. She and my partner hit it off and she handed him her card. He came home and added it to one of his innumerable piles.
He remembered that card, found it (perhaps the biggest miracle of all), called her at GreenLight Websites, and left a message. She called him back, he explained the problem, gave her the login information, and within half an hour she emailed me that the links were fixed. The fix had been so quick and easy, she said she didn’t need any money for her work.
I checked, in between mopping my face and blowing my nose, which I’d been doing for days. She was right. The links were fixed. Free of charge.
The links were fixed!
In the process of leaving a review for her business, we realized she hosts as well. Her prices are much higher than the host company I originally chose, as money is a very limited resource for me right now, but she specializes in WordPress (backed up by action this time), she’s local, she’s a successful female small business owner with an amazing portfolio, she’s a drummer, she has green hair, and she’s my age. She also does all kinds of web design and consulting.
We considered for about 10 seconds before deciding to host with her.
Nowhere on my wish list of a writing support team was a web designer and consultant. I’ve been looking for an agent, editor and publisher.
I’ve lived long enough to recognize this as one of those completely unexpected journeys we take as we’re carefully plotting and planning a straight line move from A to B. I made a commitment, and those who know me well will tell you once I make up my mind everyone might just as well get out of my way. I think Godin is right, though. The act of making the commitment causes things to start happening.
It was not my plan to start spending significant amounts of money before figuring out how to make some money, but here I am.
It was not my plan to include a web specialist in my support team, but here I am.
It was not my plan to have the blog break down and temporarily undo all my hard SEO work, but it happened anyway.
Progress is a funny thing. Sometimes it looks like collapse, breakdown, and reversal. Often, it’s not going in the direction we had in mind, but in another direction entirely. The purpose of Savory’s model is to accommodate unexpected, edge-of-chaos events and unintended consequences in whatever our situation is.