Sorting the Bones

“This is our meditation practice as women, calling back the dead and dismembered aspects of ourselves……”–Clarissa Pinkola Estes


In her dream, a woman finds a pile of bones out behind the place in which she is living.  This is a disturbing image–with its suggestion of a crime have been committed, an act of brutality, or harm having been done.  Although the dream does not provide information about the actual events that occurred, it marks a dark history.  The remnants of that history–the bones–have been left in a heap.

The particulars of this dreamer’s life are not mine to share.  But I can attest to the fact that many of the women that I see in my therapy practice have been harmed in some way.  Our culture does not protect the feminine well.  Women experience injuries to their bodies, their minds, and their souls.  Many carry these wounds silently within themselves–shame or lack of support keeping them quiet–pretending that everything is okay.

The psyche is not fooled.

Despite our best intentions, one day the soul lets out a cry and we dream of bones behind the place where we live–behind the façade, the persona. Something breaks through to the surface (prior to this dream, in fact, this woman had had another dream in which something buried was being dug up).  Something wants our attention, our love and our care.  The psyche brings us an emotional truth in our dreams.

And so the bones are above ground–no longer buried in the depths of the unconscious.  This woman has made a discovery within herself.  She is now aware of the pile of bones behind where she lives.  The bones are up.  Whatever issue they represent has now come to the surface.

It is at this point that healing can take place.

It is not possible to heal when something remains buried, underground, away from consciousness.   Only the discovery of the bones–the discovery of our own injury–can allow us to find our way back to ourselves.  Once we have seen the bones, we can no longer pretend or turn away.  We can begin to retrieve and process our memories, our history.  We can feel our grief and anger and allow our feelings to flow.  Most importantly, perhaps, we can tell our stories and feel our pain and be witnessed.

But first the bones must be sorted.  For this dreamer they are all in a heap.  In other words, experiences, memories, feelings are all jumbled together.   Processing a pile of bones is not an easy thing to do–it can feel overwhelming, frightening, or numbing.

That is why the bones need to be sorted.  Sorting is a particularly feminine activity.  It has its own rhythm and timing.  In the tale of Eros and Psyche, for example, Psyche is given the task of sorting an enormous pile of seeds.  Sorting allows us to process and make sense of–make meaning from–our experiences.

Each bone in the pile has a story to tell.  Each bone must be examined and held and put in its proper place–related to in a way that feels emotionally authentic.  This sorting takes time.  It cannot be rushed.  There is no formula for how long it takes to grieve injury or pain.  We need to honor the bones–to sing their songs and ritualize their place in our lives.  They mark our wounds and our hurts.  They also form a key part of who we are in our wholeness and our humanity.  We need to come into right relationship with our bones.

Only then can we give them the resting place they deserve.