The Tower, the Rules, and the Hidden Gift of Losing It All

The gifts that may be concealed in disasters.

It can be hard to find anything positive to say about The Tower card in the Tarot.  It shows a tower being struck by a lightning bolt and the inhabitants of the tower plunging to their death and destruction.  When you draw the card in a reading, it symbolizes total disaster, either on a physical or a psychological level.  Everything that you believed in and held dear is being blasted into debris and smoke.  It gives any Tarot reader a real case of the heebie-jeebies.

Most people don’t experience that kind of total destruction.  That’s not to say that they don’t have terrible or traumatic experiences sometimes.  Usually, though, most of their world remains intact.  A person’s partner may leave, but she still has her children.  Or perhaps she’s fired from her job, but she still has a sizable savings account.  Or her house burns down, but it was fully insured.  Yes, we all experience disasters of greater or lesser magnitude, but it’s rare to have everything fall apart at once, to be left with nothing but a shell of our life.

When that happens, we lose our sense of being in the world, our sense of living in a sane, orderly, safe universe where we fit in and life is predictable.  It’s literally like being in a psychological and spiritual earthquake, where previously solid ground has shaken and shifted and split apart and left you standing in ruins.

In his book The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness (Penguin Psychology), R.D. Laing refers to what he calls, “ontological insecurity.”  Ontology is the philosophy of being, of studying how we, as living beings, fit into and exist in our world.  Ontological insecurity, then, is the pervading sense of not fitting into the world, of not belonging.

We can see a mild example of that when someone travels overseas.  Every society has unwritten rules that the citizens just take for granted.  There are macro-cultural rules like the fact that in America we drive on the right hand side of the road and we mostly speak English.  There are also micro-cultural rules like the fact that people who live in the Southern part of the United States make eye contact and smile as they pass strangers on the street and people in New England don’t.  A woman on the East Coast may wear skirts and heels to work every day while a woman in California wears jeans and a blouse.

Whatever the rules are for that particular society, they are so comfortable and so well known by the people who live there that they operate on an almost unconscious basis.  People take the underlying rules for granted and because of that they fit in.  They know their place in the world and how to behave in it.  That’s ontological security.

If you were to take one of those people, though, and parachute them into Thailand or Indonesia or India, their ontological security would vanish.  Suddenly they’re in a place where the language sounds like gibberish, people drive on the wrong side of the street, buildings aren’t, “right,”, bathrooms aren’t right, the beds are weird, and the money makes no sense.  

In other words, they don’t know the rules.

There’s very much the same sense of angst when your whole life blows up in your face.  When you lose your life partner AND your home AND your job AND your family walks away from you.  Not only are our lives shattered, but, even worse, we’re left with a sense that the world just doesn’t make sense anymore, that nothing is safe and orderly and predictable, and that no one is trustworthy.

In other words, we feel like we don’t know the rules anymore.

And that’s ontological insecurity.

R.D. Laing was working primarily with severe schizophrenics and, unfortunately, many of them never come back from whatever hell-scape they happen to be living in.  With those who did come back, however, he likened their illness to a shamanic journey, a deep, spiritual pilgrimage to strange dimensions where our ordinary sense of reality, our, “rules,” of behavior simply don’t exist. 

Having the underlying fabric of your life destroyed can feel very much like that sort of a descent into madness.  Unfortunately, when we’re faced with total disaster, most of us can’t stand to live in that space for very long.  It’s too threatening, too scary, too overwhelming to face the fact that our lives are built on a very thin veneer of rules and normality which really have no substance to them.  And so we begin to reconstruct our lives as rapidly as possible using the same template that failed us in the first place.  

Your wife died?  No problem – get remarried.

You lost your shitty job? No problem – get another shitty job.

Your family deserted you?  No problem – join a social club or AA or a church and make a synthetic family.

We desperately want to get back to our sense of safety but, in doing so, we lose the gift of the loss, the gift of the shamanic journey into darkness.  And make no mistake, losing everything can be a magical gift because it can make us realize that we never really had it to begin with.

When we realize that everything we treasure can vanish, then we can begin to reconstruct our lives with things that are real and won’t disappear in the next disaster.  Love.  Compassion.  Inner wisdom.  Peace.  Tranquility.  But first we have to relinquish the safety of our, “rules,” and our so-called normal lives.  As Pema Chodron said in When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times/p>

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. ”

The gift of The Tower is to be fully alive and fully awake, to live without our previous illusions.  If we choose to take the gift.

The Moon Card, Lunacy, and Multiple Realities

I have an ex-relative who is bipolar and – in the time honored tradition of many bipolars – about every two or three years he decides to stop taking his medications and blow up his life.

After a certain amount of sleep deprivation during the manic phases he’d start making statements like, “A coven of witches is sending energy beams at my head.”  And, because of my belief systems, I’d have to actually stop and wonder, “Well . . . IS a coven of witches sending energy beams at his head?” And, no, they weren’t, probably because he was an obnoxious, shallow, self-centered twit and why bother to curse someone when they’re doing such a good job of it themselves?

It did start me thinking, though, about so many of the things that we take for granted in New Age terminology, things which would have been considered totally loony tunes about 75 years ago.

Auras. Energy fields.  Spirit Guides. Telepathic communication.  Totem animals. Chakras. These are all so commonplace and accepted today that you can actually go into your therapist’s office and discuss them with him or her.  Perhaps they’ll even recommend a therapeutic massage to clear a blocked second chakra.

It was a far different story in the 1950s, though.  If you told a psychologist that you saw glowing auras around people, or that you were receiving guidance from invisible entities from another dimension, or that particular animals communicate with you telepathically, you’d be on your way to the nearest locked psych ward.  And there you would be rewarded for your beliefs with electroshock therapy or insulin shock or even a lobotomy if you continued to cling to your, “delusions.”

It actually makes me wonder if some of the mental patients back then were simply experiencing phenomena that our society had no explanation for or grasp of at the time.  Maybe they WERE talking with angels. Who knows?

A few advanced thinkers such as Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing emerged in the 1960s and suggested that perhaps schizophrenics were actually experiencing EXACTLY what they were reporting and the best, “treatment,” was to just care for them and let them heal on their own.  For the most part, though, if you held New Age beliefs in the 1950s or the early 60s, you were MAD, darling. Quite, quite mad.

The Moon is the Tarot card that has traditionally represented psychosis and delusion.  The light in the card is murky and objects are out of focus and ill defined. A crustacean crawls out of the still pool of the unconscious while a dog and a wolf bay at the glowing orb overhead.  A rope on the ground might be mistaken for a snake, a dark bush for a lurking beast. The lines of reality are blurred and indistinct.

That may well have been the way that a person who was channeling or highly sensitive to psychic phenomenon would have experienced the world in the 1950s.  So what happened between then and the emergence of New Age philosophy in the 1970s?

Well, the 1960s happened, obviously.  A fairly substantial number of people took a fairly substantial amount of psychedelic drugs and began to view the world and life as magical rather than mundane.  There was a reemergence of occultism, Tarot cards became commonplace in any hippie household, and people began to talk a lot about astral travel and, “vibrations,” of energy (“I’m picking up bad vibes, man.”)

I think one of the most defining moments, though, was the publication of, “The Teachings of Don Juan,” by Carlos Castaneda in 1968.  A new term entered the common lexicon:  “nonordinary reality.”

As Castaneda employed it, it was used to describe the three worlds that shamans pass through on their journeys, but it fit so perfectly with all of the spiritual views that were emerging in the 1970s.

There was suddenly an acceptance that there isn’t just one consensually shared reality.  That there can be many, many different realities and they can ALL be just as true and just as valid as the, “reality,” that most people cling to.

Today we recognize the sacred connection that The Moon has with the human body and mind.  We watch Her cycles, draw down Her energy, and gather together to celebrate when She’s at her zenith.  The,”lunacy,” of the past has become the sanctified vision of the present.

We can finally share those, “nonordinary realities,” with each other and continue to grow and evolve spiritually through that shared knowledge.  How sweet is that?

“I’ll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours.”  – Bob Dylan