I awoke, eyes still closed, feeling the warmth of my thick blankets, like the fur of a bear.
My lover’s skin kissed mine and I intuitively drew closer. Nestled in a comfortable cocoon, we listened to the sound of dripping water, remnants of last night’s rain. Before dawn’s words uttered from our resting lips, the nourishing heat of our bodies’ bond took precedence.
Simple, yet sacred.
Stirring more into wakefulness, I opened my slumbering eyes, desiring to find his. I reminded myself to pay attention and savor the beauty beheld in front of me, because not all mornings start out like this.
Intimate relationships terrify me as they conjure up a deeply exquisite tenderness, a divine intervention of sorts.
Some days, I rise with a heaviness in my heart, tunnel-visioned and caught in a sticky web of fear. Revealing itself in the form of raw, primal emotions, fear’s first language speaks no logic. The invisible, yet palpable, discomfort kicks up a livid storm.
I forget how to breathe.
I forget to hold space for myself, and anything that gets in my way is tested. I can either gather enough information through processing on my own to receive a sense of groundedness, or if no understanding is found, I hit a wall so hard that my vision goes blank. A story is created around these instinctual sensations, and my lover either becomes a sounding board or target. Instead of communicating the deepest truths of how I feel, even if that means having no words to express it, I lose myself in hurtful behaviors, like lashing out or being quick to judge about petty things, instead of just exclaiming, “I feel this way and I don’t know why!”
In those moments when I can’t find the bridge to healthy communication, I become self-destructive. As I’m becoming more aware of this—due to my own desire to dive into my subconscious, along with the guidance and support from my counselor—I am finding a powerful yet subtle practice of building a more solid and visceral dialogue with the orphaned children within me who represent fragmented aspects of my psyche that are caught in a loop.
When I lose the ability to hold a loving container for the experience to be moved through with surrender and grace, it shows me where I allow the traumatized child to take the lead. That piece is yet to be integrated in me.
When something is really understood, it is felt.
Practicing this form of reintegration allows me to get a different perspective on why I do what I do. The simple desire to want to feel more myself takes trial and error. Mindfulness expands slowly. Taking pause becomes a more natural response. Breath and body become the anchor.
When I finally reach that moment of being with the inhale and exhale, claiming the power I feel in my whole being, without judgment, I receive a kind of proprioception to the emotions within me and the space around me.
Our body gives us an existential terrain to be with whatever experience is happening, within and without, defining our boundary with other human beings and the world. It can be used as our way through the tangled mess, the thick fog of complexity, and into a little more of the simple, naked truth. And tending to our psyche like we tend to our physical well-being can offer perspectives to learn more about ourselves.
This reminds me of an Inuit tale of healing, most famously shared by Clarissa Pinkola Estes from her book, Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. She presents a chillingly transformative story as her foundation to coupling the characters to archetypes represented in our psyche. The narrative of Skeleton Woman brings great wisdom to journey us through the many layers of why we do what we do when given the opportunity to experience true vulnerability.
I will only dip into a little taste of this masterpiece. And so it goes:
“An ancient, hideous she-creature had been brewing for eons deep down in the bottom of the ocean, finally to be drudged up, unknowingly by a hunter-fishermen in the quiet depths of one winter night. The air eerily lingers as he fishes for his feast in the misty, haunted sea.
Casting and hooking his line, he snags her rib cage, feeling the weight of something heavy and resistant. Ah! Eyes wide open, hungry for his big catch, he begins the dance, oblivious of the music. As dark waters thrash and his small kayak sways, her defiance to release from the rope tangles her up even more. He struggles to continue pulling up this well-earned treat.
His inmost urge would invoke his deepest terrors.
Finally reaching for his net to capture his prize, he sees her!
Shocked and disturbed, he begins his fierce escape, desperately hurrying back to shore, running with all his might. And, she…well, she effortlessly and ravenously follows.
Having thrown all his fish and dry meats off his back in order to lighten his load, she devours what she needs, filling her body little by little with scraps. And finally making his way back into his snow-house, free from her sight, he lights his whale-oil lamp to find her again, contorted and twisted in her own boney complex on the icy, cold ground.
Something in him stirs.
He craves to untangle the formerly frightening muse back to her original anatomy. Gently and meticulously, he unravels and frees her. Using some of his hair to then strengthen the fire, he sits, nodding off to sleep.
Bone woman then continues the ceremony of her embodiment. She initiates satiating her soul by singing and filling her insides not only with the drum of his heart, but a tear from his sleeping eyes.
Calling herself back to fullness, she crawls into his arms, coiling her supple body around his.
Lush entwinement ensues for a time longer than ever dreamed.”
Skeleton Woman represents the continuous cycles of life and death.
Her presence triggers our deepest fears, yet she is the infrastructure of a sustainable relationship. Not only with intimate partners, but with our families, endeavors, and everyday decision making. Like the fisherman, we are bewildered by all the baggage dragged up at first. We want to escape, and goodness knows how far we will go to sabotage what requires worthy time and energy.
It’s the part of our psyche where we have either not come in contact with or have mistreated our “Life-Death-Life” nature, as Estes describes in her book. This nature represents our ability to let what must live, live and what must die, die.
Without processing the breaking and tearing down of what is no longer working, life is at a standstill.
Creativity and growth cease.
Curiosity has no blaze to forge a new path of discovery.
The “other” reflects for us the hidden facets going on inside our private universe, including our deepest insecurities. It’s a risky opportunity to see ourselves up close and personal from a different point of view, but the aching, barebones chant of death within life and life within death beckons us. Allowing the devalued and not-so-beautiful parts to emerge and be claimed is a recognition of this instinctual nature and part of embracing our humanity.
For me, learning how to hold holy space has deepened my ability to connect and communicate more genuinely with my lover, offering us both patience and presence for our numbed, sometimes excruciating wounds.
This is an open invitation to meeting ourselves, others, and the world with love and care embroidered in authenticity and integrity.
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” ~ Joseph Campbell