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The Pin on the Wall

Learning from Marion Woodman and Robert Bly

This article appeared in the December 1995 issue of M.E.N. Magazine

Bert H. Hoff
Bert H. Hoff

The Robert Bly and Marion Woodman workshop, "On Men and Women," here November 18-19 was difficult for me, because it offered me unexpected challenges. The learning was delivered with the gentle love and support that Marion and Robert provide so generously from their hearts and their souls. But the lessons aren't easy. I know, because as I write this, the night after the conference, I feel that my body is just beginning to absorb them. I thank Robert, and especially Marion, for the gift of their wisdom.

The metaphor for me was the pin on the wall. Those of you who have seen the videotape series, On Men and Women, know it revolves around the Russian fairy tale, "The Maiden Czar." In that tale, the tutor has placed a pin in young Ivan's tunic, making him sleep when the Woman with the Golden Hair sails up but is unable to claim him as her betrothed. Later in the story, Ivan has successfully encountered the Baba Yaga and is taken by the Firebird to the house of the old woman, the Crone. The Crone turns him into a pin and places him on the wall, to sit in silence as the foster sisters of the Maiden Czar reveal the secrets of the treasures they have, and Ivan is able to find the oak tree, the coffin, the hare, the duck, and the egg that holds the secret of her love for him.

How many of us men are willing to absorb the wisdom of the Crone, and sit in silence and stillness, to give the sisters the chance to express their true selves and their inner desires freely? I know that this is a real challenge for me. As Marion was elaborating on this, I felt her eyes piercing my armor with her gentle, loving energy, and felt her words bypass my intellect and fly straight as an arrow to pierce my soul.

Marion modeled this energy of stillness beautifully at the conference. She asked us to notice that she was relatively silent in the first tapes, as she was in the first part of the conference, because she is giving undivided attention, support and love to the others at the conference to allow them to emerge. She does this with her analysands, as well. She then said that she told Robert she couldn't sit and admire him for two hours while he read poetry. He said, "Well, why don't you join me? Read some Emily Dickinson." That would bring forth her heart's desire and her deepest passions, but the prospect of doing this was terrifying. She did it anyway, and what gave her the strength was Robert's silent strength and support for her as she did so.

I find it difficult to hold this energy. I find it difficult to be silent-or to be still. At the conference itself, for example, my enthusiasm led me to jump in and offer my contributions even before my body had fully absorbed the teaching. As I write this, I can also feel my body telling me to be still, to allow what it has absorbed to emerge. My wife, Bernetta, who is often much wiser in these things than I am, is moving quietly around the house and focusing on preserving the stillness that she experiences as the gift of the conference. She gives me that gift of stillness, and I take some moments to sit still and to feel. I find it difficult to simply sit and hold that stillness. I reflect on the number of times that I jump in with advice, suggestions, and expressions of support. Frequently the advice may be good, and people thank me for the elder energy. The expressions of support are appreciated. But because I cannot sit still and simply hold the energy, I don't know how much more supportive I could be if I simply sat like the pin on the wall and focused on building in silence the sacred container that Marion described so well.

Bernetta tells me she often feels that she is not heard in the world-or by me. It would be unwise of me to deny it. When Marion met separately with the men, she told us that this is a common experience for women. Women frequently have difficulty giving voice to the energy of who they are and where they are. When a woman-or a man-is first giving voice to this energy, it emerges in a crude and indirect form. I asked, what if this energy emerges as a volcano, and you are hurt by the eruption? Marion's advice was to stand firm and say clearly where you are. The worst thing that I could do would be to be patronizing, or attempt to protect my partner from her feelings. "It's OK, I understand." She described a woman who came home and decided, for the first time in 30 years, that she was going to lounge on her bed rather than prepare the evening meal. She told her husband she was tired of preparing the meal. He went down, prepared a beautiful tray, and brought it up to her room. He said, "I understand, you've had a hard day, and you're having your period." He wondered why he got a trayful of food in his face. He hadn't heard her.

I don't relish the thought of a trayful of food in the face, nor do I relish an eruption of the woman's energy matched by my standing firm and shouting where I am. Maybe Marion's model offers a more useful alternative. If I could ever learn to be the pin on the wall, to sit in silence and stillness and hear Bernetta's voice, I could learn where I am and where she is, and we could focus on supporting each other to be our full selves.

One of the images that comes to my mind as I sit in stillness and absorb the conference is an image of blessing. Perhaps that energy of stillness is the key to blessing. Years ago, Bernetta and I hosted a Chinook Learning Center seminar by David Spangler, one of the "voices" of Findhorn. The "homework" for one week was to envision ourselves as angels giving blessing. It would not work to envision ourselves as a pope or bishop laying a hand on the head and speaking sacred words. People would think we were weird. What works is to give energy and encouragement to others to fully be themselves. A blessing is a gift of energy, encouragement and empowerment. Many of us in Men's Work recognize this in the generativity of the Sacred King. I receive blessing from other men-and women-when they praise my work on the magazine, or thank me for the work I do. This feeds me, and keeps me going. I attempt to give blessing to men and women who seek to speak their voice in the magazine.

In Men's Work, we have spoken of standing shoulder to shoulder with other men-of supporting other men. We have spoken of elder energy, and of mentoring. At the 6th Wingspan Men's Leadership Conference in Chicago over Veterans Day, there was more talk about the spiritual aspects of the work we do. The word "blessing" came up several times, but we did not yet allow ourselves to sink into the concept and absorb it. My intuition is that in Men's Work in the future, there will be more focus on blessing as a way of supporting each other and building community. I feel that the imagery of blessing will be powerful imagery for Men's Work as it focuses on elder energy and mentoring.

Marion's imagery completed a cycle of learning for me about what blessing involves. She described the power of the feminine energy to build the sacred container and provide the energy of full attention, full support, and full love, to allow the voice of creativity, of full expression, to emerge. Giving blessing does not involve jumping in to give advice and expressions of support. It involves absorbing the energy of the elder, specifically the energy of the Crone, in order to be the pin on the wall-to sit in silence and stillness, in order to hear the voice of the person being blessed and encourage that voice to reveal the secret of the treasures that person has to offer to the world.

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