Do you live "life to the bone?"
Dear Sweet Friend,
If I were to say to you, “when was the last time you let life enter you to the bone,” would you know what I meant? The bone of life…that deep letting go into experience where you lead with trust and let your chosen path, surroundings, and decisions soak into you—deeper than skin, not stopping at thought or sensation, but penetrating your very essence?
We are good at that when we are young because we have no choice. We are as open as a sunny sky, as permeable as rain, as ephemeral as a nasturtium flower. Being alive is an agreement to be entered and the willingness to accept the changes it creates in you. In our 20’s and 30’s we are still willing, still able to be flexible. We open ourselves to hope, able to trust even though we’ve gained a bit of experience. But what about when we’ve grown into adults? Or after we’ve been bruised deep in our hearts, or felt our first failures? Or after grief, or illness, mental illness, divorce, after the accumulated tides of debris...how can we remember to feel “to the bone” once more? How can we remember what it feels like to let life enter us, change us?
This is our task: to find a way to open back up all the way “to the bone.”
In a book I love and think every woman on a healing journey should read, The Wild Edge of Sorrow by Francis Weller, he talks about a meeting with a mentor of his, a learned therapist, who one day placed his hand over a stone which sat on his desk and remarked to Weller that “this is the pace of the soul, the pace of stone.” Stone and bone obviously rhyme, but my point for you to consider is: At what speed does your life unfold? At what depth? Assessing this can be a primary access point into moving deeper towards the bones of your life.
Most days, as adults, we learn to live only skin deep, perhaps it’s the depth we’ve learned to be comfortable at. We pass through days from waking, to breakfast, preparing ourselves and sometimes loved ones for the scheduled routine of the day. We placate our children when they are upset and move to the next demand, never once dropping beneath the surface.
There is, of course, nothing essentially wrong with this. We all must respond to what life puts in our path, and we all live according to the structures of our culture, giving our energies to those around us and to our jobs. If we are lucky, we also get to be engaged in something we are passionate about. But we often long for more.
I recently went a first date. Over the course of dinner it became apparent that this man had not yet discovered the bones of his life. His life, he said, had been unmarked by loss or emotional challenge. He grew up fortunate. Had loving, educated parents who encouraged him and gave him every opportunity. He sailed through one of the best Ivy schools in the country, met his future wife, moved with her to the opposite coast and got a doctorate, an incredible job, had three children.
As we sat together at dinner that night with napkins spread on our laps and a fireplace beside us, he shared with me two remarkable things, 1) that his best friend was now struggling with cancer and, 2) that after witnessing the death of his only pet he’d vowed never to get another.
Now, I am someone who has been touched by loss at every stage of her life and in myriad ways. I was stunned both by how fortunate and unfortunate his circumstances seemed to me. How amazing to be so loved and conditioned towards success, and how unfortunate to not know what loss and redemption feels like! How tepid the life that never requires for us to move beyond the comfortable flow of the level of skin. I could, however, see things brewing for him. Life eventually comes to see what we are made of, and it would come calling for him.
So, while I knew this man was not my match, he did give me deeper appreciation for where I’ve been and how resilient I’ve become. Once we learn the strength of our bones we long to be still again, to slow our pace so that we can become a complete human being—skin to bone.
The process of opening up to our full range of experiences can be daunting when we are out of practice, but when we slow ourselves long enough, we can hear it call. And, if we are lucky and unafraid enough, we learn how to strip ourselves bare and take the plunge into all we really are. Believe me, you are more than you think, and wiser. You only need enter the abyss that holds both your greatest griefs and fears, because there too will be your greatest joys.