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.