One day, I was sitting on my back porch. I was looking at the sky. As the fluffy clouds slowly drifted overhead, I felt the need to touch them. To walk among them became my goal. This is what I was put on Earth to do. I said to myself, “Self, you’ve lived this life as a drop in the bucket. You’ve spent every day this summer staring at these clouds drifting overhead. Now… Now is your chance to do something.”
I drove down to the hardware store. I bought rebar, I bought quick pour cement, I bought cinder blocks, I bought the tools to implement them. I brought them back, and I started to dig.
First I dug the foundation, it was fifteen feet by fifteen feet, I filled it with rebar and concrete. I laid the first layer of bricks, in the round, with a four foot doorway. I laid two bricks to be the first step. My two cats, my life companions, came out to watch and keep me company. Normally I’m the kind of person who needs to play music, or a podcast to do things like this, but I felt so focused. This was my destiny, this is who I am, this is what I do. I laid the second layer. Then the third. The staircase began to spiral around a central column. When it reached the left edge of the door, I started to insert rebar into the cinder blocks to support the weight of a person. Each day, after I got home from work, I fed the cats and I built the tower. On the weekend I woke up at 9 A.M. and laid bricks until 9 P.M. I didn’t feel tired. This is what I am meant to be doing, this is who I am.
After the first week, my friends became concerned that they hadn’t seen me. They knocked on the gate to my backyard. I invited them in, and brewed tea for them. They seemed concerned, but less so than they were when they got here. I started to lay more bricks, and they watched. Every day after that a different one of them came to keep me company. Some days they brought their friends. Some days those friends brought their friends. My destiny stretched above the fence now, by a few feet. That Sunday, people from the church across the alley saw me working, and came over to watch. I climbed down, I brewed them some tea, and I went back to work.
At some point my tower was as tall as my house. Thirty feet I think? When I got to this point, I sat on the central column, and I looked out at the people gathered to watch in the church parking lot. I took a deep breath. I went back to laying bricks.
My friend Annika expressed some concern about me working at that height without a harness. I wasn’t worried, but it bothered me that she was. I went out and bought pitons and a harness, and from that day I anchored myself to the central column. I realized that after the first seven feet or so, I had been worrying the onlookers. Once I was harnessed in, the looks of shock which I misinterpreted as awe went away. The concern turned to admiration, and my flock grew.
I looked out from the top of my tower one day and say that it was level with the church’s spire. I took a deep breath. I installed rebar buttresses on the side of my tower. I began to lay a ten foot by ten foot platform. Around the platform I built a three foot-high wall. Above that, four pillars which rose to four feet above my head. I went to the hardware store and bought roofing. I installed a roof.
My cats had joined me up on the platform. It was Sunday afternoon. The last Sunday in Summer. We looked out onto the world. To the East we saw Shaw’s Hill, a grand city of glass and steel in the distance. To the North, we saw the River, with all its strength, we saw the marks of its change on its banks. To the South we saw acres of farmland, prowled by mechanical creatures who maintained the crops day and night. And to the West we saw the sun, the source of the energy which organized my body, in turn this tower. I took a deep breath.
People still came to look at the tower, even though it was completed. It could be seen for miles around. It stood there all Autumn. I climbed it less and less each day. I began to resume my old life. This went on for a few months. My friends would ask, why did you build that tower? I told them the truth. I don’t particularly know. I just did. I felt like I was supposed to. Like something told me to.
On the last Sunday in Autumn, I looked up at the tower from my backyard. I saw it tower over me. I saw it tower over the neighborhood. I thought about how my neighbors were concerned it would collapse and destroy their garages. I thought to myself, “Self, why did you build this monstrosity? Why did you build this monument to your ego? Was your goal to make the rest of the neighborhood know about you? Was your goal to feel important in this world? Tear it down.”
I bought mountaineering gear, and I spend the winter undoing everything I had done. I dismantled the tower, brick by self-satisfying brick. Every time I saw it standing out in my backyard I thought about how I had spent three months of my life in an auto-erotic fugue. Each week, I managed a few feet of tower. It iced over, the winds kicked up, the tower was covered in a foot of snow, but still I managed to dismantle it. By the last Sunday in Winter, it was done.
I again, spent that Spring living my normal life. I would go out with my friends and they would ask, “Are you okay? You’ve now spent six months on that tower, building it and then tearing it down again.” I told them, yes, it was a weird time, but in some way I’m proud of what I did. It made me feel like I had purpose, going in both directions. That Spring I felt invigorated in everything I did. My work was impeccable, a few of my short stories were published in high-caliber magazines. I loved myself, and I loved who I was. In a way, though, I knew I had to thank the tower for this.
On the first Sunday in Summer, I was sitting out on my back porch, and I was looking at the sky. I thought about how happy I was. I thought about myself, and how far I’d come in the last year. I thought to myself, “Self, you’ve lived a good life for the last year. Let’s do it again. Build the tower again this Summer, and tear it down again next winter.”
I did this. I spent another six months of my life on that tower. It was pleasant, but not as invigorating as last time. It was the first Sunday of Spring, and I was talking to my friends about this. A number of them had stopped answering my texts, but my closest friends remained good companions to me. Even they, admitted that the last two years had been weird.
On the first Sunday of that Summer, I sat on my back porch again, and I looked at the sky. I saw the clouds drifting overhead. I thought to myself, “Self, now is the time to rebuild the tower.” Now that this had happened to me five times, I noticed something. This thought was not my own. This thought was an outside influence. I thought at it “No. This is ruining my life, and it’s pointless.” I thought to myself, “Self, what is wrong with you, you are so obsessed with the life you lead, that you cannot see that this tower is lightening your soul. You cannot see the forest for the trees, you are ignorant of the truth. You are blind, but from the tower you can see.” Now it was clear that these thoughts were not my own. I don’t talk like that.
“Who are you?”
“Self, you are going insane trying to fight this truth. You are but an ant on the surface of a book. You see only strange lines along your ground, you cannot read the truth.”
“Seriously, who the fuck are you and why are you trying to trick me into wasting my life?”
“Self, you are again concerning yourself with the material world. Through the tower lies enlightenment. You being is enriched.”
“This isn’t about the material world. I am losing contact with my friends, with the people I love. In those two years, I could have learned to love even more people. There is nothing in this universe but the material. Nothing can enrich my soul more than my loved ones. Hell, even my cats don’t look me in the eye anymore. Two years ago, when I sat on this porch, I had just been out on a date with someone that I really connected with. Do you know what she’s doing now? She’s married to someone about whom she really only feels lukewarm. You’ve sucked happiness out of this world, and not all of it is mine.”
“Self, your obsession with love and success is vapid. Your life may be improved by these things, but beyond this world there is enlightenment. Beyond this world there is serenity.”
“Bullshit. Enlightenment is just a vague term that people use to justify their egos. People who have wasted their lives seeking something greater use the idea of enlightenment to rationalize their mistakes. When a person dies there is nothing, the life is the only time in which a person can experience happiness. When an ‘enlightened being’ looks out on the world, and sees all of the people who live their lives without seeking something greater, they think to themselves that they are superior. The ‘enlightened being’ sees the world as a separation between themselves, and the rabble. Their conceptions of themselves are so wrapped up in the time they’ve wasted chasing something greater than life that they cannot see the most important thing about the ‘sheep’, that they are actually happy, and the ‘enlightened being’ is miserable.”
And so, I was at peace.
In order to achieve enlightenment, a person has to extinguish the three fires which blaze within the soul. The fires represent three philosophical poisons. These are passion, aversion, and ignorance. Passion being the root of misunderstanding, conflict arises from passion. Great enjoyment and happiness in this world also arises from passion. Love arises from passion. Scientific achievement and understanding arises from passion. Aversion is the root of hatred, the root of avoidance. Without hatred how could we stamp out oppression? Without an aversion to violence how could we bring ourselves to protect the vulnerable members of society? Even on the small scale, a lack of aversion keeps people in loveless marriages, it keeps people attached to each other through a sense of duty, when both people’s lives could be improved by just allowing that aversion to manifest. Ignorance is the root of self-centeredness, the root of the enlarged ego. In particular, an ignorance of the truth of the world, the metaphysical reality which connects people. Without that ignorance, we not have skepticism. We would stand, contented with our beliefs about the truth of the world, instead of venturing out into the universe and seeking real truth. Truth which can be verified through science, rather than through a never-ending chain of sophistry and confirmation bias.
To become wrapped up in the metaphysics which is told to you by a guru is ignorance. To accept it blindly is aversion. To devote your life to it is passion. To avoid your passion is aversion. To ignore your aversion is ignorance. To pretend that the world is better without passion is ignorance.
I’d like to say thank you to a Rebecca Howard, who gave me the idea for this weird, spiritual rant. I’m sure it went in a different direction than she was expecting.