Close to the Bone
Life-Threatening Illness as a Soul Journey
10th Anniversary Revised Edition
Jean Shinoda Bolen
Reviewed by Angela Hutchinson
When one faces a life threatening illness, it changes the way we view life, death, relationships, everything we knew about feeling secure in the world. Dr. Bolen shares her theories and experiences with readers to extend a compassionate hand to those currently suffering from the many facets of illness. As many historical figures before, Bolen finds meaning in mythology and relates it to this specific soul journey. Her stories are empowering and can quite possibly bring solace to those who are dealing with the enormous task of life and death circumstance.
The author begins Close to the Bone with the lotus, "a symbol of soul development because it rises through and above muddy waters to bloom". Out of our suffering, may bring the possibility of soul development. Each experience brings us an opportunity to move toward a deeper wisdom, beyond words, from another realm.
Bolen writes, "The premise of this book is that illness can be soul evoking and that the soul realm is one akin to dream or reverie, a source of personal meaning and wisdom that can transform life and heal us." When one first discovers an illness, it is as though the "ground gives way". In the book, we are introduced to Greek mythological character Persephone and her journey into the Underworld. The Underworld may be depression, grief, and the shock of life taking a much unanticipated course, although Bolen describes it as a "place of great inner richness." She directs the reader to keep a journal and be still, staying aware to the soul's message. One never really knows how they will respond to the news of an illness or how life will change. Priorities tend to shift and we must decide how we will respond to this sort of "underworld". The patient must collect information of treatment options while dealing with relationships that are affected. It is a daunting time to say the least. Bolen urges those enduring this challenging time to conserve energy and to tend to self as much as necessary. We must learn how much we can extend or how little we can extend to others.
There are many challenges in this journey that we must almost be as "warriors". "Difficulties are soul shaping, depending upon how we respond. They can be lessons that lead us to know who we are, and they can stretch us into becoming larger souls and more authentic human beings than we were before." Inanna, a mythological goddess, descends into the underworld, to be with her sister, goddess Ereshkigal, who was suffering and in mourning. Ereshikigal represents that part of us that is denied, unheard, that suffers silently until it can no longer go on in silence; it may be the illness that manifests or the parts of ourselves we repress only to have them consciously or unconsciously control our reactions to life. Inanna decides to descend to the Underworld in order to listen and be witness to her "sister" and in return, she is healed after Ereshkigal is finally heard. "In life as in this myth, to cry out in pain and anger at our lowest points and be cared about and not rejected, is healing. When Ereshkigal's suffering was transformed into gratitude and generosity, Inanna could come back to life."
As a response to an illness we may begin to listen to that lost part of ourselves, or acknowledge the dreams we denied to please other people. We must recover and integrate these qualities into who we are and what we want our life to hold. We are questioned in Close to the Bone…what is true for you? What is your bliss? These are the priorities of the soul.
Bolen writes of the mind body spirit connection and how our thinking can alter our physiological health. Our belief in recovering may indeed increase our ability to heal more fully. "Neuropeptides are messengers, small molecules of emotion, that can go to all the cells of the body and change them." "Sometimes a person really does need a story-one that provides hope, nourishes the will, or provides meaning- to stay alive." The author indeed serves the reader well as she shares her knowledge of myth and the psyche.
She also writes of prayer, visualization, supportive relationship connections, healing touch, healing energy, affirmation, and creating ritual in the journey.
Ultimately, it is not necessarily what enters the life; it is how we respond and interpret it. What do we make of this challenge? How does it change us?
Close to the Bone is an amazing lot of information given in the form of myth. It goes beyond the superficial and exterior, extending inward to the Bone of who we are and what we know. It is a time to gain Soul wisdom; to sit quietly and let the Soul chant to you in the sacred language of its own. This book will penetrate what you thought you knew and bring you into the world of your own Myth.
"I have come to my own personal conclusion that the timing is not what matters. What we do between being born and dying is what matters. The point, it seems to me, is to live a meaningful life, however long or short it may be. If a life-threatening illness or a chronic disabling illness is what the soul encounters, then this is the itinerary of the soul journey."