On Excavation and The Tower

A tight fear, like a fishing line, hooked upon something that must, inevitably, be dragged from the depths.
— Hannah Kent

I’ve spent the last week with low-level anxiety on needing to write this blog on excavation. It seemed like the more anxious I got the less able I was to form any thoughts about what I wanted to say. The word excavation has been on my mind since January; I started thinking about it during my own processes, then it started coming up during readings with clients, and then I’d hear random people say it on podcasts or in passing. Excavate, in my process, is a significant part of shadow work and taking personal responsibility.

First, we encompass the willingness to do the work and then as we enter into the work, we dig up, grab by the roots and pull, we do cord releasing exercises, we unearth what lurks in the shadows. 

I realized as I was falling asleep the other night that the reason writing about excavation is so hard is because I’m constantly in the process of it. It’s not a one time deal. If our subconsciouses were a single cabinet, maybe excavating our wounds and traumas could be simpler, but our subconsciouses are huge filing systems, huge apothecary cabinets containing our smallest hurts to our biggest traumas. The new moon in Pisces on March 18th rocked me pretty hard in the realm of career and money. Money shadows have been coming up a lot and I’m energetically encompassing the Tower. 

When I first started reading tarot years ago, I’d see the Tower as a card of ultimate destruction and as a card to be feared. I think this is not simply because the imagery of a burning tower can be scary but because a lot of books and websites interpret this card as such: explosion, chaos, everything has fallen apart. Those interpretations are true, but it’s not that simple. When I look at the Tower now, I can see that this is a card of dismantling old belief systems, pulling at the roots of dead trees, burning off the dry brush to begin new growth. So much of tarot, in my mind, is giving us permission to make changes, to move on from the people/places/ideas/beliefs that no longer serve us. In that sense, the Tower is one of the most powerful cards in the deck and it is doing exactly what pains us the most: excavation. 

When we look at the shifts that are happening on a large scale, like Trump’s presidency, we see the Tower in action. So many old wounds are being brought to the forefront thus perspectives are shifting, old systems of beliefs (ahem, white supremacy, gun violence, sexual assault) are having bright lights cast upon them and it’s not at all pleasant. Systemic oppression has been in place since colonisation, it’s not like Trump invented all these modes of violence, but it’s through his behaviours that people are waking up to it. 

The Tower isn’t here to coddle or have a good time, the Tower is here to shake things up so hard that the bricks crack and people are thrown out of comfort and into the water below (hello emotional depths, hello broken ivory tower). When we engage in shadow work, we are putting ourselves in incredibly uncomfortable positions. While we watch the news, feelings of terror can arise bringing on feelings of isolation, anger, hopelessness. We have to remember that when an established thought, belief, institution crumbles, it makes space for new ways of life to be built. It might be slow and violent, but this is how we crack open the shell and examine the ugly mess hidden inside.

On a personal level, I’m in the water surrounding a tower on fire. I’ve already been thrown from the safety of ignorance in regards to my lack mindsets around money. The Tower came up for me in a recent reading because I’m stripping away my old views on money and working towards figuring out my true beliefs. It’s tricky and it feels scary and uncomfortable. Sometimes we are dealt an entire deck of Tower cards all at once, sometimes we’re flung from our coping mechanisms and we try desperately to hang on, but the unearthing must continue, it’s how we heal. 

Astrologer and writer, Chani Nicholas tweeted, “each time we consciously work with our pain we are working towards a more nuanced understanding of ourselves.” This rang so true for me; every layer of pain uncovers something beautiful and complicated about us and our unique histories. We have the ability to re-write the script on what the story of our lives our in order to not be defined by suffering. This is empowerment. Consciously working with our pain is the delicate handling of shadows and triggers working behind the scenes in order to find solace and perhaps even joy. Although there is valid terror embedded in our emotional bodies that ultimately affect our physical bodies, we have been conditioned by our own narratives of not being able to do anything for ourselves. Sometimes we can’t do things to help ourselves, because of disableist, racist, oppressive systems, but what about what we can do? 

I’ve spoken about pain and how excavation is unearthing the triggers we’ve smashed down in us, but what about unearthing joy? For many of us, “happiness” and “joy” are undefinable because they have never been experienced. Sometimes resisting joy was a coping mechanism in a dysfunctional family which then resulted in a deep wounding. If we can hold onto something comforting as we shine the light on our own behaviours, it can feel a little less scary. 

It’s complicated and time-consuming and triggering to do this work and we can show up for ourselves by being gentle, by taking our time, by remembering that our soul lessons span lifetimes even if we want to believe we can rush and heal everything right now. Excavating our smallest hurts first give room to start managing the larger pieces of pain. We can do this with therapists or healers of other modalities, with trusted friends or family members, with our spirit teams and divine selves.

It is possible to heal. It is possible to drag out the muck we’ve been drenched in. It is possible to do this with support and love. It is possible to face our shadows and look ourselves in the mirror. This process alters our lives in dramatic ways, it pulls out toxicity and offers a space for connectedness. When the Tower has crumbled and the dust settles, we can look to design a new way living. Instead of avoiding our feelings, we can look into ways that help us open up. Maybe we pick up a spiritual practice (hey, tarot is cool! Astrology? Spiritual practices of your ancestors?) to feel connected to our spiritual self. We can join 12 step groups or a book club to find connection, we can write letters to ourselves or get a pen pal. There is a real grieving process that happens when we pull out an old belief system or coping mechanism, I mean if it wasn't deeply embedded then it wouldn't be so hard! When we've had something be part of us for so long, it can bring up sadness when we choose to remove it. It's ok to grieve old patterns and old ways of thinking, it supports our healing to acknowledge the sadness that comes up and properly mourn. 

The Tower gives us the opportunity to build what we weren’t able to before. Our lives may have been dictated to us by our parents/guardians and now it’s our turn to take what we’ve excavated and integrate it into our new world. Now we can look at the Tower as a gift; an extremely uncomfortable and scary one, but a gift nonetheless. Sometimes we need things to fall apart in order to get us looking at ourselves. Here’s that chance. What has been sitting in the back of your mind weighing you down that needs to come forward? This is your moment to think of our friend the Phoenix, maybe a cliche at this point but so powerful: we combust so that we may rise again. 

This post is part two of a three part series on willingness, excavation, and integration. 

*cover photo via Unsplash


Nic Alea