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Norman Allan
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A Meeting with Marion Woodman


 There’s a story that goes with my paper, Mind/Body Dialogue in the Clinical Setting

In October 2006 Jill Lazenby suggested I submit a paper for the conference she was working on, on Mind Body Dialogue, a conference at Toronto University’s OISE given in honor of Marian Woodman, who would be the principle speaker and receive a “lifetime achievement award”. The conference would be held in June 2007.
     Oh wow! Have I got some things to say about “dialoguing”?
     I spent November writing and rewriting - I usually need to tweak and tweak for weeks and weeks - and by December I had a paper I was proud of. And it was accepted! The paper was little long. It’s most of what I know about “dialoging with the body” in 10 pages, but if I really motored I could deliver it in 20 minutes. Twenty years in twenty minutes.

As the conference approached I looked at the schedule on-line. Ooh oh. Apart form the keynote speakers, all the other papers would be delivered in divided up “paper sessions”, eight at a time, in separate rooms. I had had visions of standing on a podium lecturing a full hall. Never mind. I was going to make the best of this.
     This reminded me of a “trade show” a year before when I hadn’t “make the best…”.
     My friend John worked as the “Wellness Coordinator” for a very large concern just down the street from my office. John, from the time he met me, spoke about organizing a little wellness trade show (for me?) at his institution. He took him a year, and when it happened it was a triumph, for the most part. He had about 18 exhibitors in a small hall in the cooperation’s home office. He put aside a special place for me at the back of the hall so that I could consult and treat. And then he arranged tables in front of me in a separate row so that nobody could get to me. I suggested the row needed some rearranging, but that didn’t happen. Perhaps a third of the people who came into the hall walked past my table. Two thirds never even saw me. No biggie, maybe, but I didn’t grin from ear to ear. I made due.
     At the end of the conference I congratulated John, I thought, very warmly, for his event, all in all, was a great success.
     I didn’t speak to John for a few weeks and when I did he told he that I was the only one to complain at the event and the only person who did not phone him, as a follow up, to thank him. Up until this time John and I used to lunch together every other week, and I visited his country haunt not infrequently. After this, though, we’ve met twice in the year and only on my initiation. Ho hum. “So it goes.”
     So at the mind body conference I was not going to repeat these mistakes. I was going to make the best of it I was going to be a real “half full glass” guy.

Now, my story, my paper is awesome, I think. Take a look, I say laughing. So it was a quite a let down to find I wasn’t going to deliver it to a throng. And then the first keynote speaker talked in circles about very little. And the first paper session, tiny audiences and in the session I chose, one guy talking about a project on “talking circles” in the native tradition and he did a study, focus groups. He got to talk to three, three! people, and generalize from that. (Stop being so negative, Norman. It was a good intent. Nice people. The second paper was a study with just as small a population, unfinished work, and empty… but I listened, I listened , I was present. And I talked to people. And I had a good time, virtue being it's own reward and all.)
     That first day, Monday, the conference started late - the subway wasn’t running for a while in the morning - so after another, for me, empty plenium session paper (the professor sang and played guitar! with modest talent), I missed the workshop session (divided again, eight to choose from) to go home walk and feed the dogs before going to try and catch Marion Woodman’s address to the conference that evening in the auditorium. But, it was my birthday and I had another engagement, so I couldn’t stay long.
     First a head of a department delivered a eulogy and biography - fascinating, yes, but a flat delivery and thirty five minutes.
     Marion Woodman, at 45, decided to go to Zurick to study to become a Jungian analyst. She went on to become an icon to the new age with her work on the unconscious and, particularly, her work on the feminine. I’ve not (yet) read Woodman, and I’d not yet seen her ever, but knew of her and her work. If someone says “Joseph Campbell” (the grandmaster of myth), I’d probably think, “and Marion Woodman”. She was a luminary figure in certain sections of the counter-culture. But before she got to the stage there was a presenter to present the lifetime achievement award - another five minutes, and my time was running out, but I was cool. Making the best.

Marion Woodman is 81. Dignified, but no hard edges. It’s all these privilege words that come to me: aristocratic, noble.. Marion started by thanking the presenters, and, two minutes in, it was time for me to leave. Still I felt filled just to see this presence!

Tuesday I arrived early, again, to make the most... Through the long window I saw Marion Woodman arriving. I went to the foyer. Found her free. Offered her a copy of my poetry chapbook, “Incarnations”. A pleasant, but not significant, meeting.
     That morning Ms. Woodman was to lead a plenium workshop. Move the chairs, she said. Lie on the floor. Find a dream image.
Now, I couldn’t find a decent recent dream image, but a childhood nightmare came to mind. A ten, an impressive dream about a great hole, and I’m on a ledge inside it, to deep to escape… and then I drifted off. (I’ll have to ask Jill about the workshop!)

So to my paper delivery. An audience of six! And it didn’t take 22 minutes. It only took 18. I could have gone slower. Oh. Anticlimax. But I have the paper to post on my website where who, where who will read it?
     My co-deliverer in this session had some interesting things to say about consciousness from Yogic-psychology perspective. I’ll blog it later.
     And in a little workshop in the afternoon it was pointed out that in speech it is vowel that carry most of the emotion.
     So I learned stuff, a bit. And I met people, a few. And it was a good conference. But now it was over. My incisive paper unheard, virtually. I’d read to half a dozen pairs of ears and the wind, bit I was making a much better go of it. I was making the best.

So finally I’m in the foyer - time to go home - and I think I’ll just take one last look in the library where all the plenium session were. .

Marion Woodman was sitting in an armchair, in the library, talking to a middle-aged follower or protégé, who was gushing and saying good-bye. Two younger enthusiasts, whom I knew from the conference, warm people, sat near. Their was space on the sofa opposite Marion, so I sat. The leave-taker finished and left and Ms. Woodman turned to me. “You wanted to talk to me?”

“Well yes, but I have no context,” I said.

She beckoned me over. “So what brings you here,” she asked.

I told her of my friend’s invitation and my paper on mind body dialogue. “That’s an important subject,” said Marion. “Do you have a spare copy.”

Yes! Instant karma for my (relatively) good attitude. I had to glow. What better audience could I ask for?

We talked for five, ten minutes. Mostly I talked, trying to elaborate very briefly on my thought that spirit is actively suppressing “scientific investigation” into the fringes of science and the paranormal (I will write of this at more length). And then Marion Woodman said to me, with just a little pomp (perhaps she introduced it with, “I’ve something to tell you”). “In any meeting,” she said, “the most powerful presence there is the unconscious.”

In any meeting, the most powerful presence there is the unconscious.
     “Yes,” I said, having my own little flash of insight, “because it connects to spirit.”
     And I had another insight. The snippet of a dream, the big trench, the big hole, it was “the unconscious”.
(I was telling this story to my therapist, Phil Walsh, about being stuck on the ledge in this pit above the unconscious, Phil says he would advise me to just jump in. “Into all that shit and fire?” I demurred.
     “You can flick off the shit,” said Phil, “and fire purifies.”)

So that's the story of my meeting with Marion Woodman. What a blessing. Thank you.