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Bly/Woodman: On Men and Women

Powerful Videotape Series on Men and Women

Review of a Robert Bly-Marion Woodman Videotape Series
Book review Copyright © 1994 by Bert H. Hoff


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Bly/Woodmen On Men and Women(Toronto, ON: Applewood Communications, 1994).


Robert Bly and Marion Woodman

The Maiden King
Read their book
The Maiden King: The Reunion of Masculine and Feminine

based on "The Maiden Tsar," the tale used in this videotape series.
Audio book, too

Last winter Canadian viewers were treated to a powerful six-hour series On Men and Women, featuring Robert Bly and Marion Woodman. The Applewood Center (1-800-361-0541) has made the videotapes of this series available, and Robert and Marion have prepared a 28-page study guide. This is not a series you view, it is a series you experience -- in your body.

The story is told of Beethoven, or Mozart, that after he conducted the first public performance of a symphony, was convinced it was a total failure. He lowered his baton, turned, and faced an absolutely silent audience. The audience sat there, stunned and overwhelmed. Only after an interminable silence did they break out in applause and "bravo!"

My wife and I had a similar reaction to this series. The first two episodes were interesting, and I thought to myself that they had a refreshing insights on ideas I had heard before. We were totally captivated by the third and fourth episodes, and saw even more reflection of what we experienced in our own lives. After the fifth and sixth episodes, all we could do was sit in silence for half an hour, absorbing the experience.

In their recounting of the Russian fairy tale "The Maiden Czar" Robert and Marion lead the viewer on a journey toward inner balance, personal fulfillment and deeply rewarding relationships. In the first episode Ivan finds, then loses, his heart's desire through the treachery and collusion of his step-mother and tutor. Robert was very clear that our educational system, from kindergarten to the Ph.D. thesis process, is dominated by false tutors who stamp out our creativity. Even as we first begin to recognize our deepest desires, most of us, like Ivan, have pins inserted by society's false tutors and jealously protective parents. Through our need for approval, feelings of inadequacy, addictions, or a perception that our dreams are unrealistic, we sleep.

In Episode 2, "The Betrayal," Ivan comes to realize that his life's dream has been drifting away as he sleeps. He learns of the betrayal of the false tutor, and he learns how to awaken and seize control. Like Ivan, we must empower our "inner warrior" and cut off the heads of our false tutors if we are ever to awaken and pursue our own dreams. In Episode 3, "The Descent," Ivan has begun his search for fulfillment. He seeks a path through the uncharted darkness that will eventually open to fulfillment. Finally, awake, we now face -- alone -- the darkness which will lead us to the light, the oft-times frightening prospect of the inner voice of our own creativity and desires.

In Episode 4 Ivan comes face to face with the Baba Yaga, the witch with the power to consume him if he falls into the trap of oppositional thinking. Only by confronting the destructive energy within us -- that which is most horrible -- can we overcome our own deadly limitations and find our voice.

In Episode 5, "The Firebird," we will learn how inner creativity can carry us far from the Baba Yaga end ever closer to our heart's desire. Ivan's successful confrontation with the Baba Yaga -- his facing and accepting the negative energy within his own soul, has freed his voice and given him the power to experience his desires. Once we recognize the negative within us as well as the positive and accept both sides of our nature equally, we can harness our creative energy to fulfill our most cherished dreams.

Episode 6, "The Sacred Marriage," celebrates, through dance and joyful ritual, Ivan's spiritual rebirth and the marriage of masculine and feminine. Ivan's successful encounter with the Crone enables him to find his heart's desire. He experiences a joyous "inner marriage" -- the merging of his inner masculine aspects with his inner feminine -- and thereby gains the power to love unconditionally.

Robert and Marion are delightfully animated as they recount the tale. Robert's ad-libbing, for example eating the flowers Marion handed him, constantly caught Marion by surprise. They live and breathe the story as they tell it. At one point, as Robert/Ivan mounts the firebird to rise from the ashes into his creativity, Marion/Baba Yaga clutches just three feathers from the firebird's vest and falls to the floor with a scream of anguish. We learn later that this was not planned; that Marion felt the Baba Yaga's pain of barely missing her chance at creativity.

The storytelling and seminar participation is interspersed with interesting focusing dialog between Robert and Marion. There, too, their creative interplay manifests itself. As Marion starts to speak of "archetypes," Robert bursts in with, "I hate that word. That's not a word. Bread is a word. Beer is a word." Marion stands her ground and continues, while Robert puts his fingers in his ears.

By Episode 5 the tension mounts. At one point a woman participant challenges Robert: "If you want me to hear you ... please hear me." She and other women cry out, "I've always had to listen to Dad and say he was right, even when he was dead drunk on the floor!" The men sit in silence, then one finally says, "I don't understand a thing about what's going on here." Robert, anxious to move the discussion to a talk about the wisdom of the Crone, says, "Let's move on." Marion says, "We are moving on!" It is clear that there is to be no moving on until the women and men have had the opportunity to express their grief, their rage, their frustration. A message delivered long ago in Episode 3 become real for the facilitators and participants alike: "We have to feel the rage, yes we have to feel the grief ... but we also have to forgive."

While Robert and Marion do a stellar job facilitating, it is the participants that made this series a very real and moving experience for my wife and myself. They all shared freely in the discussion as it was taped, even when they were in obvious pain. The women consented to have their body work and dancing with Marion -- a powerful and very personal experience -- filmed. We felt that we really came to know the participants, as we shared their experiences with them. And, through this, we felt that we were participating in the seminar, not just watching a t.v. show.

Marion summed up the conference nicely. "Love is not need, and not dependence, You'll be looking for, and the unconscious will be finding, a person who also has developed their inner marriage. I see it as The love is just pulsing between them, because anybody who has gone through this process has really suffered, and there's such a love when you look at another human being, and you see the soul trying so hard to be seen and heard."

The best measure of the conference's results is to be found in the views of the participants. One man described the closing ceremony. "Robert Bly talked about how women were always put down and how they always feel so frightened and insecure, so small in the world and how they are so powerful. 'Let's honor them and show them how much we honor them.' So when we were standing in that circle and they were coming in, my heart was just bursting. I felt such pride and such joy for the women in the world, for femaleness. When they came in I just started to cry, and I was filled with a sense of joy that these women were now there and that I could celebrate their being women, their femaleness and what it brought into my life, what it added to who I was as a man. If the world could get a taste of that, the world would stop, the raping, the molesting, the putting women down, putting men down. It would stop in an instant. There would be such respect, such honoring, for our differences and what we can bring for one another."

A woman stated, "I think the one clear, unequivocal experience that I took away from here was that moment, that knowledge, that it's possible for men and women to get through all the thousands of years of suspicion and oppression and distrust and come together at a human, an almost transcendental level. Because it happened. It was there, and we saw it." Another woman added, "Everyone has their own woundedness, and it's useless to blame anybody. I think eventually you get to the point where you recognize that we're just all here, wounded. The world's wounded, and we're wounded. It's when we meet at that level of our woundedness that mystery occurs. It's that holy moment of coming together."

Here is a videotape series that can help us recognize each other's woundedness, and from that point of pain and learning, find the magic and the mystery of men and women walking parallel paths, profoundly respecting the essence of the other, honoring their differences, and giving each other space to develop their own uniqueness.

The Applewood Centre for Spiritual Studies Applewood, producer of the Robert Bly/Marion Woodman videotape series "On Men and Women" reviewed in this magark, has a Web site prividing resources for the inner journey, soul work and transformational learning. Home of the Bly/Woodman and Sam Keen video series, Applewood also offers on-line "learning circles" guided by exceptional facilitators.

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