The Lovely Bones: The Gift of the Daughter


Trapped, Yearning for Light

At one time or another, we’ve all been there, stuck in a world that’s ended and increasingly obsessed with the “light.”

At moments like these, we’re trapped (like the penguin). But far from being perfect, it feels more like a prison or an underground vault, smothered by a blanket of gloom. All that’s left is the trace of a memory – an imprint of a feeling – and the overwhelming desire to recapture what was lost. It’s an impulse we all share, a measure of lonely desperation.

But when yearning turns into obsession, an invisible portal opens into an alternate reality, one that few have been taught to navigate. Entering the netherworld invites no small dangers, not least of which is the threat of insanity. Which is why scientists of the mind recommend leaving its secrets buried. If the threshold must be crossed, best to find a teacher who knows how to keep madness at bay.

If the loneliness and dejection can be sustained and tolerated, without surrendering to the lures of the imagination, our eyes will adjust to the dark. And once this happens, faint outlines begin to emerge. And as they become clearer, a map will present itself, one that describes the origin of the darkness and the way to escape.

This is the challenge depicted in The Lovely Bones, especially for Susie and her father. In the aftermath of her dying, both clung to the other in order to dampen the pain of what was lost. In the end, each had to recognize the limits of their clinging.

And it will be the daughter who teaches the father the trick for letting go.


A simple family diagram reveals the basic features of their triangular dilemma. Husband and wife were estranged, depicted here as a blocked relationship. Susie’s death didn’t change this; it only highlighted the problem that existed before. What was lost in Susie’s passing was the child who helped stabilize their marriage. As for Susie, she lost her only stabilizing influence, the only thing that made any sense.

Whenever a couple reaches an impasse in their relationship, they’re stuck with an excess of emotion, expressed as anger, depression or a physical symptom. When it can no longer be contained, one or both will turn elsewhere for relief, not knowing how else to solve their problem, not knowing what else to do.

On the outside, their daily routine continues, maintaining the facade of normal life. Inside, emotionally, the marriage crumbles since their source of joy disappeared. For the Salmons, this is probably when father turned to his hobby (and Susie) while his wife turned elsewhere, estranged from daughter and husband, and feeling increasingly lost.

The process is called triangulation: when a third is recruited to relieve the difficulties experienced between two. The third (“outsider”) isn’t always a person. It could just as well be a career (for the workaholic), a substance or activity (an addiction), or anything else that provides relief.

Sometimes, children are recruited for this task, asked to fix a problem that isn’t theirs to solve. When they’re rewarded for their participation, some nadis are opened up rather than others, giving birth to ways of interacting with the world and ways of understanding the self. For many, this is way their desire is born.

Introduction to a Perfect World

This pattern is just one of many, frequently enacted without any ill intent. Women, for example, are just as capable of this kind of maneuver, like the mother who recruits a child to replace her distant husband. Over time, the child – often a son – becomes a surrogate, someone she can talk to because he’s been trained to be responsive and taught how to understand.

Neither will be fully conscious of this process or how it works. It’s just the way of their family, their definition of normality. Because of this, everyone’s blinded to what’s happening, even while the subterranean tensions continue to grow. But the “third” helps stabilize the marriage, used to sustain a relationship that’s already the equivalent of an emotional divorce.

In this way, the child is used as a narcissistic object, rewarded for attending to the needs of an adult. Later in life, this will produce an extreme form of neediness since the child was never provided a mirror, never encouraged to individuate. Left without an ego, without a sense of who she (or he) might be outside the triangle, the child will feel lost in a world that’s organized differently.

As adults, their lives will be consumed by a never-ending search for intimacy – looking for psychic fusion – since that’s the only thing they’ve ever known. But the search will end in failure, if not tragedy, since a fusional ideal was inserted in place of an identity: an ideal derived from their triangular training, blinded to the nature of the self’s reality.

Not only were they recruited to ease another’s anxiety: as children, they were introduced to a certain kind of intimacy, drawn into another’s interiority.

From One Generation to the Next

Most families consist of more than three. Nevertheless, the triangle is the basic emotional unit that describes what happens when anxiety gets out of control. The larger the group or family, the more triangles that can exist. But the dynamic remains the same: displacing emotional energy because it can’t be tolerated, shifting the tension to someone (or someplace) else.

This pattern is also inter-generational, where unresolved issues get passed down through a family. Husband and wife were once children, after all. They too were shaped by triangular relationships, which might be why certain illnesses run in families, how certain predispositions get expressed. Whether it be alcoholism, cancer, or madness, these maladies tend to run through bloodlines, crippling one generation after the next.

This transmission of inherited disease becomes more likely when cut-off from the extended family, haunted by a unhealed rift. (Susie’s mom barely spoke to her mother; her dad’s family was nowhere to be seen.) When this happens, everyone – but especially the child – is robbed of a support system, but also the opportunity to learn about the family’s emotional and genetic code.

When isolated in this way, it’s almost like living in a cult – no outside influences, no relatives, no family gatherings – which is when unsupervised triangles are most likely to exact their cost. When ghosts from the past are suppressed – hiding behind the facade of normality – they inevitably express themselves in the geometry of threes.

Wanting to Escape

For the recipients of others’ anxieties, one of the strongest impulses is the desire to escape. So overwhelming is the sense of suffocation, little does it matter where they go. Only later does it become a heartfelt question – what place is calling me, and who shall I be? – eventually coming to realize that the answer lies far beyond their reach.

Without a sense of self to sustain them, they flounder, lacking confidence for completing even the most basic of tasks. And by virtue of their triangular training, they’ll provide easy prey to those who feed on the unprotected who want nothing more than to be loved, looking to others take them in.

Because Self was never nurtured, it will be sought somewhere else. For those who’ve been denied, it’s the prize they chase with a tenacity beyond compare. But because the geometry of their upbringing, it’s sought where it can’t be found – in someone else – leading to dead-ends and heartbreak, forcing them to wonder whether it’d just be easier to die.

While reaching for heaven, they feel stuck in hell: continually seeking fusion or, out of the need for stability, settling for second best. Frustration and anger worm their way into life’s spaces, gradually swelling until there’s nothing else. All because of a form of recruitment they haven’t yet learned how to escape.

According to systems theory, the family triangle is powerful enough to produce psychosis, especially when it focuses upon a child. This doesn’t always happen, of course. But according to the experts, this confluence of energies is as close a recipe for madness as there’ll ever be.


For some, it’ll take many years, perhaps decades, before recognizing what happened. It only comes after ties have been broken and the yearning restrained since both have the effect of hiding the memory from consciousness. While grasping seeks to fill the void, Sadhana attempts to divine its hidden secrets. Pratyahara is the pivot that helps shifts the aspirant from one to the other.

For Ruth, the insight came at the very place where this story began. By then, she’d already spent many years there, quietly listening. (The novel describes the shack as her sanctuary and hideaway, a place where she could get some peace of mind and escape her crazy family.) In the end, her discipline and perseverance finally paid off.

Her work required tapping into an ancient memory that escaped her. Obviously, it wasn’t an easy task. For it was Susie who held the memory, not Ruth, and it wasn’t something Susie wanted to face. Not only was it painful, it also meant relinquishing her Dad. Only afterwards was she able to follow the light to the Murderer’s door; and after entering his house, only then could she see the sisterhood to which she already belonged.

Ruth’s memory was finally jarred when she saw her father with the Murderer, muscling the vault toward the sinkhole and heaving it over the edge.

Connecting the dots in this way is a singular experience. It only happens once in a lifetime and when we’re prepared. For it requires tuning one’s senses to the screen of existence while paying attention to the subtle vibrations that resonate within. When Ruth found the connection between past and present, that’s when Susie returned, putting an end to their yearnings. Finally complete.

Muladhara Manipura

While the upward pointing triangle is usually associated with fire and masculinity, in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, the chakras defined by male energies are marked by triangles that point down. (Only in the heart and the crown is the triangle found reversed.)

Within Muladhara is one such triangle, secured by the stability of the square. Within it lies Kundalini, wrapped tightly around the “self-born” lingam, as if its very life depended upon this grasp. Only after it’s been loosened, however, only then can the triangle be traversed.

The same (downward) triangle is found in Manipura, but this time presented in its fiery essence. Since it’s closer to the source, the energy is larger and more forceful, although still directed “downward” toward the earth.

With each ascent, consciousness expands. So powerful are the transformations, it’s difficult to believe that there’s still more to come. But the chandra-bindu atop each seed syllable is a reminder of this fact, pointing to what lies beyond the crescent moon. Until the crown is reached, there’s always a remainder, more that waits to be unveiled.

If the downward triangle indicates the operation of a “masculine” energy, its lowest point can be described as a “feminine” position, uniquely placed to receive the triangle’s power. Since this point is where the vehicles are located, the “feminine” position is also the place where the triangle’s force can be inverted and ultimately transformed.

For women, this involves reclaiming the masculine in their quest for completion; for men, it involves a willingness to place themselves in the “feminine” position, if they ever hope to become whole.

A Father's Healing

After Susie learned to let go, her father was forced to confront his pain. At first, it would appear to be the distress of losing Susie or, more superficially, the injuries he sustained at the hands of the boy who was defending his girl.

But if he looked closer, he’d discover that the pain came earlier. Susie’s death merely returned it back to him. Over time, he’ll recognize how his reactions were constitutional, a measure of his elemental nature. In examining the roots of his grief, he’ll also wrestle with his beginnings – his emotional and genetic inheritance – and the triangles that came to define the ground of his being.

His convalescence gave him the opportunity to review his life’s story, to ask about the place Susie acquired in it, but also why it was so difficult to let her go. And in tracking these questions and answers, he’ll find himself approaching the Void, learning to recognize its power over him and, perhaps, becoming curious about how it came to be.

When “she” finally returns – it could be his anima or his wife – she’ll find a man still bruised from his beating: when he gave up his struggle, he allowed himself to feel broken, letting the urge to fight drain out of him.

And yet, while marked by his frailty, she’ll recognize a strength that hadn’t existed before: a man who recognizes his limits and better understands himself, no longer plagued by an unfulfilled yearning, no longer needing to lash out in revenge.

And no longer would he find Susie’s absence haunting or allow it to overshadow the one standing before him: the woman he once asked to become his wife.


~ by mistified on November 20, 2013.

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