Here’s another article sprouting from my preparation for an InsightTimer Live talk. I’m enjoying exploring these ideas a little more deeply before presenting them. Please pardon the places where a well-written article is replaced by rambling. I give myself a short timeframe, then it must be released, for better or for worse. That said, let this tower, too, be struck down, its inhabitants defenestrated, its lessons learned. Thanks for reading!

Hear this article read aloud on Spotify and other podcast places. Read on Substack

When I was a young man, flailing about for some kind of identity, spiritual and otherwise, I remember being attracted to the tower card from the tarot. I think I got a reading one time where that card showed up and the reader zoomed in on it. It likely appealed to some absurd, post-modernist malaise I was experiencing at the time. I even wrote a song called “Burning Tower” for the band I was in (an ok song). But the many years since has given me some perspective- the irony of embracing and elevating this symbol, the hubris I can remember in me that points right back to the meaning of the card, the towers built and flattened since. I’m conscious even now of the fact that reflecting on these words some time in the future will likely make me squirm. But, hopefully some refining process is taking place in the building and inevitable destruction. So be it.

Some interpretations connect the tower tarot card to the Tower of Babel from the bible. In that story, the hubris of man leads to building a tower to the heavens in defiance of God. God witnesses the foolishness and causes people to break out into different languages, leading to confusion and the fall of this kingdom of folly. [I hope no theologians read this] As for the tower tarot card, A.E. Waite assigns it these attributes: “Misery, distress, indigence, adversity, calamity, disgrace, deception, ruin. It is a card in particular of unforeseen catastrophe”. Combine that with some human traits that can lead to these tower problems- ignoble action, hubris, carelessness, conceit, tyranny- and you have a nice picture to work with, and some hints about a way to translate that into a topic for meditation practice.

It can be helpful to pose questions around what towers we have in our lives. What are they based on? How vulnerable are they? You might say that all concepts have a degree of “Towerness”. In Buddhist philosophy we deal with mental constructs, fabrications, thoughts; and then there are physical structures (including the body), relationships, organizations, jobs, belief systems, etc. Consider the analogy to my relationship with my dog. On one hand, it’s uncomplicated and it’s based on love. There is a level of time constraint it places on me, but it’s a good trade off for what she brings to our family. The worst thing about owning a dog, as everyone knows, is that they don’t live very long. The tower of our relationship will end relatively soon. The aspect of the tower archetype that’s perhaps most alarming is the suddenness of the destruction. In the case of a relationship with a dog, usually the end will not be particularly unexpected. However, in any relationship there is some potential for unexpected loss. The degree to which a relationship resembles the tower archetype is the degree to which an unexpected shift feels like total catastrophe, as opposed to grief that is understandably hard to reconcile, yet not beyond the pale. Presumably, though I don’t claim to have this power, even the ending of the closest human relationship can be handled with grace, given the appropriate perspective.

An example of a different kind might be something like a financial collapse: imagine the big scramble to shore up the tower before it becomes universally known that there was no basis for the wealth of the system. When it finally crashes, it is to the ruin of many, especially the most directly implicated in the fallacy and the most vulnerable under the system (unless a new tower is quickly constructed or a bigger tower holds up the smaller tower). This example more clearly illustrates that there is some level of illusion in “the towers” of our lives. The motivation for meditation in this case might be to witness if what we are constructing is true. While Buddhist thought puts all of our creations in the category of “fabrication” or sankharas (formations, that which is put together), not all fabrications are created equal. Fabrication is not equivalent to intentional falsehood. In fact, the path itself is composed of fabrications. We are taught to “exert a fabrication” to counteract hindrances to the practice- greed, hatred, and delusion. The end of the path is characterized by seeing even these wholesome exertions as, for the sake of this analogy, a tower which must be abandoned.

If we take the Babel story to one possible conclusion, you might say that refraining from building a tower is akin to faith in God. God might say, “Why would you build a tower to heaven when the only way to heaven is through me?” The freedom promised in meditation theory has a similar flavor of abandoning constructs for that which is true- there is a level of faith required, in a sense. In later Buddhist theory, the non-dual perspective might be considered similar to an experience of God, particularly a Unitarian perspective (though there are towers of books arguing these points… moving on). So there needs to be a basis for what kind of fabrications we should exert. As I mentioned in an article on karma, there is an emphasis on engaging in the present. Being faithful to the present moment limits the risk of building unwholesome towers. However, it’s very difficult to be present all of the time, so while not all towers are Babel level, we should know to the best of our ability what is being built and at least make sure it is aligned with goodness (good will, compassion, generosity, etc.). From the Judeo-Christian side you might ask, “Would this tower please God?” Or, as the Buddhists might say, “Is this a thing that the wise would criticize?” Or maybe, “What would Mom think?”

The proliferation of seeming paradoxes becomes a cunning spiritual tool, bringing humility to our projects, even while we maintain a sense of ardency around our path. The self is essentially our main project in this realm, and we are given the “not self” teaching to inspire prudence about what we construe as I, me, or mine. On the Christian side we might recall the phrase, “thy will be done”, which places the through line of our lives in the hands of higher purpose. There is both the call for working toward mastery, training the mind, walking with God, and there’s the understanding of our inherent limitations and the preponderance of mystery in this life. This can be inspiration for compassion for those who suffer and seem lost (including ourselves), and joy for those who have realized some grace, peace, equanimity, or release. It is hard to live here (except when it’s not), and through the hardness it is also potentially exquisite. We can find some solace in the fact that we are meant to witness the destruction of old worlds to make way for the new- or as a teacher of mine once said, “the truth destroys the world you used to live in.”

And so it is with my current understanding of things. While I feel solid in my ideas compared with my early 20s, I try to keep the illusion at bay that I have built a storm-proof tower. I hope you enjoyed the contemplation. Please join one of our InsightTimer Live sessions, check out some of my guided meditations on InsightTimer, YouTube or direct download from my website,, which links back to all of these things. As always, please leave feedback and questions- I love reading your input and it often inspires me for future subjects.

Image: The Confusion of Tongues by Gustave Doré (1865)

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