Jean Shinoda Bolen: Other Side/This Side: Reflections on the Meaning of Life


Jean by Carole 2013photo[2] (2)This is season of memorials for me. Part of having lived this long is noting that there has seemed to be clear-stretches where people in my life stayed put here, and then times when there were multiple exits to the Other Side. Such is how it is now, including the loss of two good friends within weeks of each other.

Women’s friendships that span decades see each of us through phases of our lives with its u-turns, transitions, heartbreaks, and joys. We talk about the people who matter to us and over time, know what happened to parents, sibs, our intimates, our now-grown children, our dreams, disappointments, and health. These two friendships were enriched by taking time out of our usual lives to travel or lead workshops and pilgrimages together. It is our longtime friends who support and witness us. We become aware of their meaning to us when they die and because we are still here, we may muse upon the meaning of our own lives.

Elaine Viseltear and Jan Lovett died in April. Elaine died last Saturday, her memorial was held just days later in Connecticut. Her son Jason called me on Sunday and sent what he said to her circle of friends, who were there with others–a book group that has been meeting for more than a couple of decades, which she spoke to me about. He was speaking to them when he spoke from the heart a truth that any one of us who have shared our lives with a good friend or in an ongoing women’s circle know the truth of . . . “And so I’m jealous of you. Not her. But you. You who knew her so much better than I. And yet she and I were not strangers. Nor are you to me. Nor am I to you.”

In an email to my daughter Melody, I wrote:

“Elaine Viseltear, my housemate in Sausalito during residency died last Saturday. Her mind was clear, her body gave out. I had been thinking of her last week and was going to call her to see if she might be up to coming with me to Kripalu Center in the Berkshires. Over the years, she was my travel companion when I had a workshop at Kripalu, Omega in New York, Jung on the Hudson, Jung in Ireland, and on some other adventures in Europe over the past three decades. She was one of my bridesmaids. She met Arthur, and I met Jim at a Thanksgiving dinner, the third person, Richard Rawson knew both Arthur and Jim and Elaine and me, and arranged the group. It led to two marriages within the year. Elaine’s two boys (Jason and Bennett) were born in 1970, and 1972, same years as you and Andy. Elaine and Arthur moved to Connecticut, and her husband died two-three decades ago.

My other good friend and co-leader, no longer in life, was Jan Lovett-Keen, musician, massage therapist, and an all around delight for me to do what we did together; leading workshops at Feathered Pipe Ranch in Montana, Esalen at Big Sur, and on pilgrimages to Ireland and England, to Egypt, Malta, Peru and the high desert of Chile to see a solar eclipse. Wherever we were, I could put into words something evoked by the place or by those in the circle, and she could improvise musically on flute, drum, and song. We had fun and did our kind of magic. She died of early onset Alzheimers, and had held on to playing her flute and being happy in the moment, while memory and mind left. She was in hospice before she her spirit could be free of the body-mind that remained. She died three weeks ago. More of my longtime good friends are on the other side now, and I am still here, knowing the time we have is precious.”

I believe that we are spiritual beings on a human path, and that this brief time on Earth is a soul journey. I trust this premise and believe that if we are still here, then there is still more for us to experience here, more for us to do, to know, to learn, and to love before it becomes our turn to exit.

With love, hope, perseverance, trust, and optimism,


~Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D, is a psychiatrist, Jungian analyst, author of thirteen influential books in eighty-five foreign translations. She is a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, was clinical professor of psychiatry at UCSF, former board member of the Ms. Foundation for Women and the International Transpersonal Association. The Millionth Circle Initiative was inspired by her book and led to her advocacy for a UN 5th World Conference on Women. She has a private practice in Mill Valley, California.

Copyright © 2016 Excellence Reporter

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