Category Archives: psychology

Skeleton Woman

So I’ve been talking with clients recently about the book Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Est├ęs. I’ve been reading it with a friend, and there is a chapter on a myth/story/concept she calls “Skeleton Woman.”

The story goes there is a fisherman who is fishing when he catches something. He hauls it up, and finds a skeleton on the end of his line. Frightened, he runs. But, of course, the skeleton is attached to his fishing line, so as he runs away (holding the fishing pole) he looks back and the skeleton is “chasing” him. Eventually, he stops and looks at the skeleton and realizes what is happening. So he untangles the skeleton from the line and goes on his way, unhindered by his previously hidden skeletal burden.

So it’s a great psychological metaphor; we all have things that we’ve buried or repressed that we don’t want to look at. And by burying or repressing it, ironically, instead of helping ourselves we just give the skeletons in our closets more power to frighten us. So what should we do?

In Tibetan Buddhism there is a powerful tool called the Eight Verses for Training the Mind. (Or the Eight Verses for Training the Heart, the Tibetan word is lojong (blo sbyong), which means literally means practicing or training the mind. But Tibetans (at least historically) think that the heart is the seat of the mind–which is not a crazy idea, once you realize the mind is not the brain. Anyway…) The first verse goes:

With a determination to achieve the highest aim
For the benefit of all sentient beings
Which surpasses even the wish-fulfilling gem,
May I hold them dear at all times.

How do the other people we meet in our lives function as surpassing an Aladdin’s lamp? (The wish-fulfilling jewel is the same concept; a jewel that grants wishes.) Because we’re so limited in our thinking that we don’t even know what we should wish for. And the story of the skeleton woman proves that this is true. Because we’re not aware of all the things that are limiting us. I’ll give you an example.

Say there’s a person at work that irritates you. They always do that thing that you hate. So what do you do? Well, you avoid them, you complain to your friends about them, and maybe even get angry at them or treat them badly. All in order to protect your ego. So how does that work out? Well, first you’re unhappy, then you want to change jobs, maybe you get a bad review or even fired for fighting with this person. It’s a no-win situation, because even if you manage to get rid of the other person somehow, what will happen next? Someone else will start to irritate you.

Because that person, in the way that they irritate you, is your skeleton woman. They are only reminding you of something that you don’t like about yourself. So if you untangle that, figure out why that person bothers you so much, you will untangle the skeleton from your line and stop dragging them around with you. This is the only way to get free.

But would we wish these irritating people on ourselves? If I gave your a genie lamp with 3 wishes, would your first wish be, “I hope to meet a person who irritates me so that I can grow and become a better person.” Would you? If you wouldn’t, I fearlessly predict that you will meet many people in your life who irritate you.

But instead, open your heart and mind to the possibility that all the people you meet are trying to give you a perfect gift; the gift to grow in love and understanding and appreciation for life and what it has to offer, more fully and completely. If you can do this, I fearlessly predict that you will meet few people who irritate you, and you learn to experience life with the full love and joy that comes from being able to be present with others.