Upon a solitary hill, the great tower stood alone and robust, layered in heavy stones and sutured with ancient grout. The man who occupied the monolith was proud of his home, of what he had built: strong walls, security, safety, and wealth. Kings and queens visited the grand structure, their expression clear with admiration while people of the low lands gazed from afar with envy and awe. The man often spent hours staring out his high windows very satisfied by his own creation.
One day a maiden, hair of gold and tiny as a wisp, appeared out of the pearly mist. She saw him in the window and waved. The gesture took the man by surprise and when he waved back, his movement was awkward and unnatural.
The woman plucked a red poppy and placed it behind her ear. “Why do you sit in that tower?” she called up to the man.
“Why?” He echoed, her impertinence annoying him. “Why would I not?”
“Because it is cold,” she answered. “You do not feel the sun or hear the birds. I do not like your tower, sir. I find it quite ugly actually.” Her sweetness washed over the words for no cruelty laced them.
The man’s jaw dropped and his voice rose. “My lady, this tower is safe. It is strong and secure. I am visited by royalty. Within these walls, I have art by the great masters. I have silver trays overflowing with jewels and gold coins. What, prey tell, do you have?”
“Freedom.” The wind blew her silken hair around her neck. “Joy. Beauty. Happiness. Passion.”
He shook his head and chuckled before closing the curtains. Foolish girl, he mumbled. She knows nothing about life.
The next day, the maiden returned. “Come out and sit with me,” she called out.
He rolled his eyes and dismissed her. “I am working.” The man shifted his body from the window but from the corner of his sight, he watched her, the warmth and trail of her presence heating his skin. Suddenly, the ground shook and he braced against his chair. A large stone tumbled from the wall and landed at his feet. The fear rose swift and fierce. He quickly pushed the rock back into place and shoved his chair against it.
On the third day, the maiden appeared again. She was dressed in white and sparkled as dew. She sat among the deer and stroked their ears. The man felt a pressing against his chest, a surge of warmth within his limbs. The woman glanced at him, a sly grin upon her lips but he turned away, held his head between his hands. She should not look at me in such a way! The world shook fiercely again. The tower swayed, dust rained down and the rocks pressed from the strong walls and showered his fine tables and priceless art.
He stormed to the window. “Go! Do not come here another day!” he shouted to the woman. “My tower is breaking because of your spell!”
She rose from the deer, stood taller than before, a tower in human form. “You create a prison from dust and stone and blame me for crumbling it. You dwell in structures while I dwell in life.”
“Your life is not real!” he yelled. “You live in the mist under rainbows. You do not understand the way of this world, of reality.”
“Do you find your walls more beautiful than me?” she asked, her voice lean and stately as a lioness.
Oh, this woman! She made no sense. “Why do you speak in riddles?” he begged. “Why do you curse my home and torment my head?”
“I speak in truth, sir. It is only your mind that twists it.” She smiled one last time. “I scare you because I ask the questions you will not ask yourself.”
“Just go,” he ordered. And she did, for good. She was not a woman who would look back.
The maiden did not return. The man cursed her and watched for her at the same time. The pain in his chest grew and stung, made his features tight and his muscles heavy. Come back, his soul whispered but the meadows remained silent and still.
The man sat on the floor of his great tower. The gold coins and jewels appeared tarnished. The faces in the fine oil paintings mocked him. The rock walls were grey, hard and dead. Come back, he whispered from his depths. The tower shook roughly with the words but this time he didn’t care. Come back. The ceiling cracked, the stairs dissolved into powder. He closed his eyes and fell into the darkness. The dust stung his eyes, shards of rock bit his skin, the noise deafening. The man was jostled and tossed, bloodied and bruised as the tower broke beneath and around him. He slipped into unconsciousness.
Until he woke. Slowly, he opened his eyes, and then closed them again as the full sun set its beams upon him. The tower was gone. The gold was buried, the art destroyed. The pressure in his chest evaporated. He knew kings and queens would never visit him again and he laughed. He touched the grass and heard the birds from their nests. His heart swelled and fluttered as if with wings.
He stood - wobbly at first but then stronger. He had nothing to offer. He had nothing left but the grass and the flowers and the swirling, sparkling light. His heart soared, the chains broken from a tethered life. He faced the sun and headed into the mist to find the one who set him free.
Zen Bit: The mind builds walls – the heart tears them down.