The Lovely Bones: The Sacred Marriage

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Bright Light

It is said that – at the moment of death – one is confronted by a bright white light which, if unrecognized, is met with great confusion and fear. Typically, it lasts for but a moment: a brief flash depicting the nature of one’s life and its passing. And then it’s gone. Leaving no trace of it’s appearance on the one who serves as its witness. Which is why so many who find themselves in death’s embrace remain stuck, unaware of what has happened to them or the new kind of existence that patiently waits, just around the corner.

This light – this flash of insight – can be considered the mind’s "original" wisdom, already attuned to what has come to pass, although it typically takes days, months, perhaps even years for the conditioned mind to catch up with it. Only adepts, those trained and practiced in the requisite skills for meeting one’s death, are in a position to  recognize the light and the message it brings. The rest of us, like Susie, stumble along, doing our best to navigate the terrain with which we are met, consulting whatever sources of wisdom we might happen to find along the way.

Holding On

And so, rather than embracing the bright vision, Susie will grab onto the slender thread of existence that remains, resisting the sparks of light pulling her in the opposite direction. For the words she later comes to shout give voice to the dilemma within which she’s caught: the wisdom already in her possession, as well as her resistance to it. The exasperation palpably tearing at her very being.

What am I now, the dead girl?
The lost girl? The missing girl?
… I’m nothing !!

Which is how Susie winds up in the In Between, a place that is neither here nor there, neither Heaven nor Hell, but a bit of both. And it is in this nowhere land where she will learn to recognize her fate, its relation to the life that’s been left behind, and the path that will take her to her yet-to-be-discovered destination.

Travels and Visions

It is said that, despite the decaying body, those in the bardo state remain in full possession of their senses. It is also said that, without the familiar weight of a physical body, one can travel anywhere. Just think of a place, and you will be there. Close your eyes, imagine a person, place, or event, and you will find yourself precisely where you had imagined.

Like anyone else Susie’s position, this can be thrilling. For the new "world" with which she is met can be adjusted at will. She can go anywhere. Visit her childhood home to see her family or go to the cemetery or sinkhole to check-up on Ray and Ruth. Neither are these travels restricted to her past life: a whole new cosmic domain has opened up to her, vistas she would never have imagined. A playground for adventure and enjoyment.

Fire

Or so it would seem. For in addition to the pleasure and delight she is able to extract from the new worlds within which she finds herself, Susie remains tied to the past in ways that are far from a source of joy.

If the ancient texts are to be believed, this other side of her experience is nothing other than the slow dissolution of her (conditioned) body and all that accompanies that process. We first witness this transformation when she fails to reach her vision of Ray waiting for her in the middle of a quiet lake. For it is at that moment that we see earth transform into water, seemingly swallowing her whole, pulling her to what can only appear as her death-bed at the bottom of the sea.

And later, as we witness water transmute into fire, Susie comes to be enveloped in a prison of another sort, one from which she will only be able to extract herself once she learns to let go, particularly of the kind of justice she has so desperately sought but which, cruelly, seems fated to remain beyond her grasp.

Lighthouse

As if this were not enough, Susie will find herself continually returned to the house that haunts her dreams upon which is mounted a revolving beacon, an echo of the bright light from which she had so desperately fled, before.

In fact, in addition to the dissolution and transmutation of one’s earthly body, this play of light and dark is another of the defining features of the In Between state. For as her body – and consciousness – undergoes these transformations, her senses will experiences subtle shifts as well. And it is the bright light, wherever she may find it, that will draw her to where she needs to go. At first, its appearance will be subtle and easy to miss. And frightening, as well. But over time, as she becomes acclimated to her ever-changing surroundings, it will become stronger and more insistent, although still intermittent, like the beacon atop the lighthouse in her dreams.

The sacred writings describe this rhythmic light as something akin to the effect of watching fireflies in the night. On. Off. On. Off. Here, and then gone. As if something were about to register on one’s consciousness, but then disappears.

Taking Refuge

Under normal circumstances, especially if she had no structure within which to work, this experience would be both frightening and overwhelming. Raised in an age when the teachings about how to face one’s death had all but disappeared, receiving only hints about the nature of the path from her mother and grandmother, Susie is left to improvise along the way, as best she can.

Significantly, even as her journey has just begun, we see Susie taking refuge in an eight-sided structure, the gazebo where she was to have met Ray. Perhaps it’s just a reflex but it’s an important one, nonetheless: the journey through the In Between is a treacherous one, and seeking refuge is a vital and necessary preparation for what is to follow. For in the absence of this, all travelers will invariably be lost.

It is the place that will become the center and pivot for much of what follows, the perch from which she peers into the life that has already passed, as well as the dilemmas that continue to haunt her, long after death.

Grasping

It is said that this eight-sided structure is located adjacent to the heart, sometimes called the wheel of phenomena, precisely because, strange as it might sound, that is where the mind is located, as well. And so, as we witness Susie’s struggle with her afterlife, this structure comes to be the site of remembrance and a certain kind of grasping. Reaching for what has passed and what’s too painful to let go. Grabbing at visions of what once was and longing for what might have been.

It is from this place that she first saw Ray meeting the girl who went to the mall in her stead, her other consoling the one left crumpled by the absence of her passing. It is also the place from which she would reach out to her absent father, seeking to soothe the ache that tugged so mightily at her heart.

When water turns to fire, it is also the place from which Susie will be confronted by the necessity of letting go, the kind of act some would call renunciation. Actively choosing to withdraw the call for reassurance she had sought from her protector, discovering that the clash of forces summoned by her will could only end in disaster.

Dissipation of Fire

Almost immediately, as if this relinquishment produced its own autonomous effect, Susie’s protective perch collapses under the force of a gale-force wind, and the fire of hatred and revenge is replaced by what can only be described as a replica of the sinkhole with which her story began. Emptiness, and an absence.

Her surroundings will mirror this change, as well, no longer suffused by the lively colors with which she was first met, an indication that her body-mind is undergoing a further transformation. Freed of the desire that has kept her tethered her to previous cycles of existence, Susie will find herself transported once again to the flickering light that has beckoned her from the beginning. But this time, with a crucial difference: given all that has come to pass, she no longer fears the prospect of her extinction or the possibility of non-return.

Which is a certain kind of liberation. Freed of the kind of apprehension that has kept her immobilized, unable to confront the hole around which her life had been built. Perhaps coming to the realization that this gazebo, itself, was but an illusion.

Exploring Desolation

Which is precisely how she finds the strength to walk into the Murderer’s home and find what was hidden below, behind curtains opened and closed according to the rhythm of a mechanical existence. There she will find the bodies of the other members of the sisterhood to which she belongs, fellow travelers of the In Between  who so often remain invisible in the eyes of others, seemingly doomed to eternal damnation of a ghostly afterlife.

As the wind whips through the air and surrounded by barren branches reminiscent of the denuded Tree with which her journey began, Susie finds the remains of his first victim, his "landlady," a sign of what he had killed within his own home, and the corpse that would lead to the trail of younger bodies that were to follow.

Including her own.

Extinguishment

As if to underscore the effect of this confrontation, immediately after Susie’s descent into the Murderer’s basement where she finally "sees" him for the kind of broken man that he is, we witness a candle extinguished by the force of the wind. No longer a symbol of remembrance, nor a sign of what ties a daughter to her father, the burning flame comes to its natural end. And at long last, Susie will have found the freedom to shed a mournful tear for her (former) self instead.

And if it hasn’t quite quite registered for her, perhaps it will have become obvious to us: this dissipation of fire marks another momentous transmutation. For until this point, the Murderer had acquired the status of a God, a deity wielding a certain kind of power over Susie, dictating the terms and conditions of her existence long after death, even if only evident in certain evasions and compulsions of which she might have been only dimly aware.

But in finding the wherewithal to confront the ugly underbelly of his existence – and neutralize his sway over her mind – she has found a way to negate that power. And in the process, she discovers something else, unexpected.

Heaven

And that "something else" is the other face of her sisterhood, not merely a silent and haunting memory of the awful secrets buried in the past but the possibility of rebirth. The flickering light of the revolving beacon, even the reflected light of the moon, now replaced by the rising sun. And as she stands beneath the Tree of Paradise, she will see her sisters emerging from the murky waters that line the golden field of grain, coming together in wonder and celebration.

This glorious moment marks a signal achievement that only the few (and brave) are able to accomplish. For what he have witnessed until now is the succession of possible rebirths available to Susie, each of which she has chosen to avoid. For as it is written, those who have passed through death’s door will be presented with opportunities for reincarnation, and the decision to be made revolves around which womb will be chosen for the life that’s yet to come.

In reaching this point, Susie has succeeded in by-passing the lower realms of existence: the animal realm (ignoring one’s death and destiny’s calling), the realm of hungry ghosts (in which craving and desire reign supreme), the realm of the angry gods (defined by the violence of retribution), as well as hell itself (the dark night of suffering without end). The Heaven which she now faces is nothing other than the outcome of opting out of such pleasures and pains. For when she listens, she hears a voice telling her that there’s more to be done, instead.

Turning Back

So why would she turn her back on this Heaven?

Surprising as it may sound, it is said that this place is but another realm of cyclic existence, despite the glorious light that suffuses its surroundings. And while it’s a definite advancement over the others with which she’s been faced, it still remains short of her ultimate goal. For the harmony and peace she finds here are liable to lull one into a stagnant existence, unable to recognize that there is yet another stage in one’s future, one even more marvelous than the fields of gold.

And so, as Susie turns around, we are witness to another decision on her part, choosing to block this most alluring of wombs, selecting another destiny, instead.

Virgin Mary

And as we discover, it is to Ruth that Susie turns, her other from the very beginning. The one she first met at the edge of the sinkhole so long ago is now, after her arduous journey, recognized as her very own. So while Ray was initially the one she had watched during the days that followed her death, it is now Ruth that has taken center stage in his stead.

As we have also surely noticed, Ruth and Ray have become constant companions, beginning with their meeting at the crowded mall. Also obvious is the fact that Ruth has also come to acquire a certain status in Ray’s eyes, despite the distance that remains between them, whatever the reasons for that may have been.

The nature of this relationship between the boy and Susie’s other is not-so-subtly marked by a statue belonging to a different religious tradition, a measure of his devotion and a sign of what she has bequeathed to the world, as if through a virgin birth. So it is with a degree of awe and respect that he holds her in his gaze, precisely because of what she has helped bring to the world of man.

Sky Dancer

Among others that honor her, she goes by many names. Given her affection for what can be gleaned from the dead, she could be called the Queen of the Charnel Ground. Others call her She Who Traverses the Sky.

The (seeming) contradiction suggested by these names makes little difference for, in the end, they are the same. After all, listening to the voices of the dead requires a certain capacity, freed from the pull of gravity, that allows one to traverse the heavens. But this is not merely about "travel," as the term might seem to suggest, but a kind of levity necessary for confronting the demons that so frequently haunt the living and the dead.

In some ancient depictions, she is portrayed as a dancer adorned by symbols and relics that signal this capacity, some of which are quite frightening. (For who has the courage to mingle with the stench and the horror associated with the dying and the dead?) Yet, beneath her dancing feet are precisely the figures over whom she has triumphed, no longer beholden to what, for the rest of us, so often remain terrors to be buried away and hidden in the dark.

Dakini

And so, when the disembodied spirit of Susie approaches – and then merges – with Ruth, what we are witness to is the singular achievement of only the bravest and the most sincere. Until this moment, Ruth had existed as but a marginal figure in Susie’s world and imagination. Someone with whom she was intrigued but little more. But now, as air transmutes into space, she if finally able to recognize her other as her self, able to assume the source of beauty and wisdom she thought would always remain foreign to her.

This transfer of consciousness from one "body" to another is the true measure of liberation from the jaws of death. For in achieving this, one is no longer trapped within or beholden to the body-consciousness that defined the past (or one’s death). By virtue of the elemental transformations that have gone before, the mind is no longer anchored to the crimes of yesteryear, no longer caught in the dilemmas associated with that body.

It is said that during the initial stages of practice, one begins by visualizing this Sky Dancer as if she were a deity, one who embodies qualities so different from one’s own that she can only be seen as a object of envy and aspiration. However, over time, with persistence and dedication, her externality slowly comes to be seen as one’s own. For given the nature of Susie’s travels, who else is the one who traverses the sky? Who is the one who comes to conquer death, if not Susie herself?

Sacred Embrace

And directly on the heels of this, we are witness to another convergence which is no ordinary conjugation. The angel at Ray’s back marks this sacred occasion. For just like the earlier transfer of consciousness – when Susie actually becomes Ruth – there’s something else happening here. Something more than a mere kiss.

What we are witness to is the sacred embrace of an awakened one and a consort. Two becoming one. Two becoming as one. One an antidote to the other’s previous affliction. Each coming to possess the qualities of the other and making them their own. At which point, the distance that had once separated one from the other disappears into oblivion, for the transmutations – on either side of the In Between – have laid the ground for a different kind of becoming.

It is said that she is Wisdom and he is Skillful Means. Emptiness and Compassionate Action. Two sides of the same coin only able to recognize the other – in fact, only able to become the other – once its own own essence has been secured. When these two meet, putting an end to the dual illusion, such are the conditions of bliss.

Light

And so, as the camera pans across the vast landscape and tilts up into the sky, marking the final leg of Susie’s journey, space itself transmutes into light. Its hue not so different from the one with which this story began. Except, now, it’s acquired its true and original face. And her faith no longer has cause to waver.

For Susie now speaks in a different tongue. No longer railing against the gods, no longer caught in the grips of death. Instead, she speaks the language of loving-kindness, repeating the words of another she had once heard long ago but which, now, have become her own. For the sun is no longer on the distant horizon. And she has finally found her home.

And the opposition between the Real and the Not-Real, between darkness and light, collapses in that wondrous moment. No longer banished from the world of the living.

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~ by mistified on September 28, 2010.

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