Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Marion Woodman: Dancing in the Flames

The evolution of Jungian psychology owes a great deal to the work of Marion Woodman, a renowned analyst and author who is a pioneer in the understanding of the role of feminine principles in the healing of the human psyche. Her life and work are chronicled in Adam Greydon Reid's striking documentary Marion Woodman: Dancing in the Flames (Capri Films, 2010), which I highly recommend to anyone with an interest in depth psychology and to Woodman fans especially.

Through dynamic conversations with mystic and political activist Andrew Harvey, Woodman shares the personal and professional experiences that fuel her belief in the importance of cultivating a sacred connection to the feminine—meaning to body and to earth—in order to facilitate personal, cultural, and environmental transformation. She teaches that opening to change requires a willingness to surrender to the archetypal processes of death and rebirth, and asserts that even our very Earth is going through such a process now; it's up to us whether or not the Earth is reborn.

With sparkling eyes and her trademark passion and grace, Marion details how she became intimately acquainted with psychic death through her struggles with anorexia and cancer, both of which she overcame by working with her dreams, particularly by learning to integrate the emotional energy of her images into her body. The story of her recovery from cancer is an exceptionally moving testament to the miraculous healing power of making the unconscious conscious.

Probably one of the most poignant and inspiring aspects of the documentary is its exploration of Marion's 50-plus–year partnership to her husband, Ross. Reflecting on the many shifts that have been a part of their journey to mature intimacy, the Woodmans joke that they have had four marriages. Each stage of the relationship has involved the shedding of increasingly deeper levels of projections—a process their marriage is still undergoing, Marion reveals.

As Marion speaks, her words are at times illustrated by the evocative animation of Academy-Award–winning artist Faith Hubley. Hubley's whimsical, at times surreal, images do a wonderful job of bridging the gap between intuitive and intellectual understanding of Woodman's philosophies, and also reflect the dreamscape from which many of Woodman's ideas originated.

All the elements of the film—dialogue, animation, and music—seamlessly work together to capture the fiery spirit of a woman whose desire to become conscious—to dance in the alchemical flames of her soul—saved her very life. Longtime fans of Woodman may find, as I did, such an intimate portrait simply sublime.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Michael Meade on Fate & Destiny

I wasn’t expecting to get blissed out at a lecture on mythology, but since Michael Meade was the one speaking, I should have known better. A thoroughly engrossing storyteller, Meade made his presentation in part to promote his new book, Fate and Destiny: The Two Agreements of the Soul (GreenFire Press, 2010). He began the evening by using stirring stories from his own boyhood to illustrate the compelling nature of the topics of his book. Here’s an example: When Meade was on the verge of adolescence, he asked his aunt to give him a history book as a birthday present. The aunt obliged, went to a bookstore, and standing on the tips of her toes, grasped for a book on the top shelf of the history section. Her blind reach, however, resulted in a fateful mistake. When Meade opened his present, he discovered not a book on history, but a volume with a flying horse on the cover, and the word “Mythology” announcing itself as the title. The aunt apologized and offered to exchange it, but Meade, struck with wonder, insisted on keeping the gift.

Not too long after this event, Meade got a glimpse of the life-sustaining roles that story and myth were to play in his life: One night at the movie theater Meade was attacked by a bunch of knife-wielding boys seeking retribution for an act committed by one of Meade’s friends. Terrified, Meade found himself weaving a story, the words for which seemed to appear from thin air. He told his attackers about the life of the boy they were angry at, about his troubled relationship with his dad, and other difficulties the boy had experienced. Perhaps because the description of the boy’s life so mirrored their own misery, the gangsters became mesmerized and put down their weapons, freeing Meade.

And so was the beginning of the life of one destined to become a mythologist-storyteller-healer. Via his nonprofit, the Mosaic Multicultural Foundation, Meade now uses the gift of storytelling that he once used to free himself to help at-risk inner city youth liberate themselves from the circumstances of their lives. And it was obvious from the wide eyes and dropped jaws at the lecture I attended that his yarn-weaving magic extends beyond the work of his nonprofit to anyone longing to discover the purpose and meaning of their lives.

Go to www.mosaicvoices.org for more of Michael Meade’s work, including a great video of Meade speaking on “Fulfilling the Genius Within,” a topic of his book Fate and Destiny: The Two Agreements of the Soul.