Image of the Week
The Sleep of Trust
© DURGA YAEL BERNHARD
The Sleep of Trust was inspired by a folktale of the Inuit people of the Arctic, as retold by renowned author Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her book Women Who Run with the Wolves. The book was enormously popular when it was first published, and I fell in love with it. As a longtime student of Jungian psychology and dream analysis, I loved Estes’ choice of tales, penetrating exegesis, and eloquent writing style.
This particular story, “Skeleton Woman”, was no fairy tale. It is a stark, transformative tale, in which a lonely hunter/fisherman sets out to make “the big catch”, but instead of pulling up a great fish, he pulls the tangled bones of Skeleton Woman up from the bottom of the sea. This symbolizes the uncanny tendency for people to attract the most difficult partners who manifest whatever is unresolved from the depths of their unconscious. At first, our soul mate can be the last person we want to know. Terrified, the fisherman flees from the hideous creature, but she is caught in his fishing line and he unwittingly drags her behind him. Finally the exhausted fisherman stops to examine his ghostly catch, and feels a glimmer of compassion. He thinks to untangle her, and as he does so, he begins to sing. Life begins to stir in the discarded woman, who is profoundly lonely herself. The fisherman is still afraid of her, but he is so tired, he allows himself to fall asleep in her presence. He sleeps the sleep of trust, and as he does so, a single tear of compassion falls from his eye. With her bones in order now, Skeleton Woman quietly moves to drink the tear, then reaches to feel the fisherman’s heart. The beat of his living heart brings her own heart back to life, and the flesh of a woman begins to grow on her bones. When the fisherman awakes, he discovers a full-breasted, warm-blooded woman and realizes at once that he loves her. His compassion and patience have brought her back to life and given her a heart that beats in accord with his. The strange is transformed into the familiar, giving birth to a handmade love that will surely endure.
When I read this story, I thought of how difficult it is to fall asleep in the presence of that which frightens us most. It’s not easy to trust. Yet it is paradoxically this trust that is required in order to love. In my painting, the sleeper is a woman who has surrendered herself to a snake. The snake crawls all over her as she sleeps, but does not hurt her. Woman and snake transform each other, evident in the changes of color that appear wherever they overlap.
The Sleep of Trust is a small gouache painting that I painted in 1993. It’s posted in the “Dreams & Visions” section of my website gallery. Over the years the painting has elicited some very interesting responses. People have strong reactions to the image of a naked woman intertwined with a snake!
What do you think of this painting? I’d love to hear your response!
Order The Sleep of Trust as a POSTER this week, and get a free greeting card (of the same image)! $10 for the poster and card, shipping included. It will be blank on the inside, so you can use it for any purpose. I hope you will send the card to someone you care about. This is my way of spreading my art around – because people who read my posts and like my art are generally people who like receiving a hand-written note in the mail (and a colorful picture). I like that.
Order your poster here!
PRICE DROP: Good news! I’ve taken the plunge and bought my own printer. As a result, I’m able to lower the cost of my posters. 8.5″x11″ posters are now just $10 (down from $12) – including shipping within the continental U.S.
Thanks for your interest in my art! If you want to be removed from this mailing list, just let me know. Otherwise, see you next week!
D Yael Bernhard
Author / Illustrator of