Bone: Dying into Lifeby Marion Woodman
On November 7, 1993, Marion Woodman was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Here, in journal form, is the story of her illness, her healing process, and her acceptance of life and death. Breathtakingly honest about the factors she feels contributed to her cancer, Woodman also explains how she drew upon every resource-physical and spiritual-available to her to come to
On November 7, 1993, Marion Woodman was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Here, in journal form, is the story of her illness, her healing process, and her acceptance of life and death. Breathtakingly honest about the factors she feels contributed to her cancer, Woodman also explains how she drew upon every resource-physical and spiritual-available to her to come to terms with her illness. Dreams and imagery, self-reflection and body work, and both traditional and alternative medicine play distinctive roles in Woodman's recovery. Her personal treasury of art, photographs, and quotations-from Dickinson to Blake to Rumi-embellish this unique chronicle of a very personal journey toward transformation.
Poetry and pictures soothe the mind. But can they cure the body? In Bone, an unusual new memoir, Jungian analyst Marion Woodman reflects on the medical value of imagery and science during her passage through cancer. In her bare, honest journal, Woodman allows readers to share in her struggles with disease while she searches for the purest way to cure herself. She considers the worth of both radiation therapy and imagery, exploring the harsh cures of medicine alongside the more diffuse benefits of visualization. Using both, Woodman shows her readers how to push through physical trials thoughtfully and how to enjoy life despite them.
Woodman has long been renowned for her insightful, earnest studies of the human experience. In books such as Addiction to Perfection and The Pregnant Virgin, she has led multitudes of readers through the tricky jargon of analytic theory into a deeper understanding of feminine psychology. But in Bone, Woodman has attempted something entirely new. Here she offers a deeply personal look at her own effort to understand -- emotionally and physically -- what she has studied for so many years. In Bone, all of Woodman's beliefs in a body-soul connection are put to the test as she becomes drenched in the painful confusion of life-threatening illness.
The journal tells this story candidly and poignantly. When Woodman was first diagnosed with cancer, in 1993, she was shocked; she had never suspected her illness. In her journal, she wonders how she, a woman who has spent her life honing a connection between her body and spirit, could be so happily unaware of an enemy inside her cells. She admits: "There is a loophole in my psyche that I could slip through into death." So, although Woodman wants to heal herself through visualization, nutrition, and prayer, she finds that her faith in the power of mind is not strong enough. She decides to pursue radiation therapy, a burning cure that ravages the immune system. Her husband and her doctors seem satisfied.
But despite Woodman's decision to follow her doctor's orders, she still tests her own ideas against those of the oncologist. She visits her local naturopaths, Helga and Zeca, who fill her pockets with essiac and nutritional advice. She listens to chanting and meditates to regain stillness. And she speaks her beloved poetry in lieu of pain medicine. She insists: "I know when I speak the poetry I love, energy quickens my cells. My body comes alive.... This is subtle body work -- attunement to a new vibration." By following these simple methods, Woodman manages to fight through cancer's pain to new happiness; as she puts it, she "dies into life."
Woodman uses her background as a psychoanalyst and teacher to explain why visualization and naturopathic methods can supplement traditional medical care. She describes for the reader how these practices help her stay strong, while she records how they help her to find renewed delight in life. As she undergoes a half-hour meditation session, she explains: "The purpose of this journey is to find the voice of the deeper wisdom, the one not connected to the rational voice that keeps throwing up the ifs." And through these meditations and prayers, Woodman finds her way back to well-being. She regains excitement in her garden, in her friends, and in the simple warmth of an Egg McMuffin. Through Woodman's fight against cancer, she rediscovers what she is fighting for: pleasure.
Bone offers readers an honest and thoughtful account of the struggle for life. Woodman's reflections on alternative therapies provide useful guidelines for those who are fighting disease and for those intrigued by natural healing. But Woodman's journal also offers insight for all readers who want to enjoy life more. By following her passage through cancer and its troublesome treatments, readers can find new ways to balance their minds and new ways to enjoy their bodies.
Read an Excerpt
November 2, 1993
Ross and I returned from England yesterday. Stayed overnight at my studio in Toronto. Awoke in darkness, drove home to London through November mists, watched the dawn rise on bronze and burgundy trees.
I was not unaware that I was to meet a new doctor this afternoon. When I checked out two tiny appearances of blood with Dr. Cohen before we left Canada three weeks ago, she immediately made an appointment for me with a gynecologist for this afternoon. I couldn't do anything about the problem right then, so it didn't spoil our trip to Old London.
Went to Dr. Fellows at 2:00 P.M. Read Time magazine until 2:25. Walked into his office. He took a sample from my uterus, showed me little wormlike shapes bobbing in the vial.
"Cancer," he said.
"I have terrible pain in my back," I said. "Isn't it possible that pain could be causing the bleeding?"
"I don't think so," he said.
"But I'm in good contact with my body and I feel well," I said.
He left the room and returned. "You may have misjudged this time," he said. "We'll send this to the lab to be sure...."
Returned to the waiting room. Someone was reading Time magazine. I envied her innocence. "Cancer," I said to myself.
As I left the hospital, I could not connect with the thought that I had cancer. I still believed that the grinding pain of bone on bone in my back had somehow caused the bleeding. Still, I have to admit that in my imagery work I cannot make the light go through my connection to my leg on my right side. A sullen, dark weakness in the lower part of my abdomen blocks the energy.
What to do with such a blow? Drove home, told Ross. At a conscious level neither of us could take in what was happening. Will wait until next week for the verdict before beginning to worry.
November 4, 1993
Returned to Toronto, aware of not quite belonging here any longer, but still very at home in my blue, pink, mauve, and burgundy studio. Finished mail. Not worrying. In fact, the opposite is happening. That 16-year-old in me is rising up and throwing her arms to heaven and shouting, "Free at last. No one can any longer expect anything of me. I'll never have to do anything again."
My common sense tells me that's a paradoxical response to a cancer diagnosis, if indeed it is cancer. Think about that tomorrow, Scarlett Honey.
November 5-7, 1993, New York
Merry weekend working at the Manhattan Center-all pink and orange and bathed in amber light. Robert Bly with his poetry and bazouki, David Whetsone with his sitar, Marcus Wise with his tabla drums, and Coleman with his poetry. What creative fun we had! Ranee's Indian dancing was profound, every finger and toe articulating the poetry as we read.
One of the poems I chose to read was "The New Rule."
It's the old rule that drunks have to argue
and get into fights.
The lover is just as bad: He falls into a hole.
But down in the hole he finds some things shining,
worth more than any amount of money or power.
Last night the moon came dropping its clothes into the street.
I took it as a sign to start singing,
falling up into the bowl of the sky.
The bowl breaks. Everywhere is falling everywhere.
Nothing else to do.
Here's the new rule:
Break the wine glass,
and fall toward the glass blower's breath.
-Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks)
Coleman's focus was a laser beam on me. He sensed my bowl was broken. Afterward he came to me, looked straight into my eyes, held me in his arms, and never spoke.
Robert and I analyzed "The Maiden Tsar" [fairy tale] with the group. Aware of the dark feminine energy of the Baba Yaga as never before. As Death Goddess she has fearsome eyes.
November 7, 1993
Talked to Ross on the phone when I returned to Toronto at midnight.
"The news is not good," he said.
"Cancer?" I asked.
"Yes," he said. "I didn't want to tell you while you were in New York. The surgery will be on the eighteenth."
He had the same tone in his voice when he told me that Fraser [brother] had cancer. All the bells of Earth tolled backwards when he told me about Fraser. I don't feel that for myself. I don't feel that fatality. Thought for a long time lying in bed. Thought of how my intuitions were all operating last spring telling me to let the office go in June '93 and how I had my notification cards printed last August saying that I was closing my practice in June '94. As I designed them, I was haunted by dear Hamlet, "there's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all." I signed them "the readiness is all"!
When I went into my office last week, the violets were purple hallelujahs in the morning sun-and pink and white-but the room seemed abandoned. I think I did leave it, in spite of myself, last June.
November 8, 9, 10, 1993
I am dealing with the knowledge that I have cancer. (I have to keep telling myself that I have cancer because I feel so well, better than I have felt for two years.) After four months on crutches, I am walking again without agony in my hip and leg. I am now free to dance.
BANG! There is a loaded gun. CANCER. This time the gun is pointing at me. Hard to take that in. I deal with the knowledge by cleaning my apartment, making it as pretty as possible when I should be preparing my speech for Washington. But then, I'm not sure I am going. So I took clothes to the Goodwill, books to the secondhand shop, went to the dentist, got a new telephone answering machine, sent out letters to my analysands canceling sessions until Christmas, made decisions with Doris [secretary] and with Chalmers [lawyer]. Yesterday Marion [niece] came over with Aidan [grandnephew], then came over alone today to help me get off to Washington. I am so used to doing everything for myself that it is good to have my precious niece beside me.
These are strange days, knowing I have moved into Destiny, knowing I am in exactly the right place, agonizing as it is. I think the high spirits come from that shout that rose up in me when I fell, "Free at last." I pray to God that I may live that freedom. It is very difficult to take in that one does indeed die.
As I refurbished my pinks and purples, bringing color back into my bedroom after its summer white, I did a lot of thinking. Why? Why? Why? Not why me. I feel no shame or guilt for my cancer, but that I need to take responsibility for a new future. What is the lesson to be learned here? What factors may have contributed to my dis-ease?
1. Did I betray my femininity by doing too much-too much traveling, teaching, answering mail? Was there an undercurrent whispering, "This isn't living"? I know the weight of the mail was more than I could carry, though I love writing to my friends. Still, however much I did, always another bag turned up. The mail took two hours out of every day-two hours of making decisions, two hours that once were soul time for dancing, writing, playing.
2. Was I unable to carry the Mother projection any further? Mothering is not primary in me. I do it. I take the responsibility, the duty, the slugging density of body. I love cooking, creating beautiful space-but that is not the essential me. I do not thrive. I become a loaded-down, bloated mass. My body eventually says, "NO, I want to play." And play for me is creativity. I never played "mother" with my dolls. Moma and Topsy were my students, along with the rest of my imaginary class. In life I did not become a mother; I became a teacher. Maybe in my work I carried the Mother projection beyond the point where it was creative for me.
3. What is essential to my life is the dynamic of the archetype of teacher/student. When I watched Joseph Campbell come alive with light as he taught, watched his energy build instead of diminish, I knew such an archetype existed and I knew the teacher/student dynamic was my life source. My primary relationship to my father was teacher/student. The blackboard I used from four to sixteen was the focus of my constant inner dialogue, question and answer. So was the microscope. So now are the flip chart and colored pens. The thought of never teaching again withers me. I woke up shuddering in Zurich at the thought of never teaching creative drama again. The sheer creative delight!
4. I think my connection to that creative and spiritual source is threatened. That archetype was operative between Fraser and me; for sixty years, on and off, we were teacher/student to each other in creative relationship. As adolescents we knifed our poems on each other's doors to make sure the message was adequately received, sometimes with bloodstains for emphasis. Who knows? Who knows by what Destiny we both taught at South Secondary School in London, Ont., both directed creative drama, went our own ways, and found ourselves once again coming from different directions to the C. G. Jung Institute in Zurich and even to 223 St. Clair in Toronto after graduation. None of the moves ever seemed planned by us. But they happened.
Then suddenly in '91 he had cancer. The ferocity of the Death Mother in destroying him, his death in '92, the shattered dream! Much as I tried-and try- to express the shock and grief, I know they linger in my body.
5. And there were other losses. Everything in me believes that without consciousness there is no hope for the world. I couldn't hang on to my vision, my hope, my plan. The creativity that fed those inner fires went out, exploded into nothingness. I remember waking up one night with a blow in the solar plexus that forced me to get up in order to breathe. My chest seemed to be pulling apart. I tried to keep walking and dancing, but my heart was not in the movement. It was weighed down by endless contracts, the estate, taxes-so many issues that demanded energy, issues that I was no longer interested in. The immense energy that had been going out collapsed, and turned against my body.
6. I believed, and still believe, that consciousness comes both through spirit and through matter, Jung's psychoid archetype. Life has taught me that my head consciousness does not necessarily release my body consciousness. My work has taught me that I am not alone in this split. All my energy for ifiteen years poured into the possibility of creating a physical space in which body could be honored equally with psyche-honored, explored, researched in terms of new scientific discoveries. However, the time was not right. God's timing and mine were not together. Kairos was not present.
I knew my vision of bodysoul work was not yet acceptable. I accepted that in my head. I decided to hold the tensions of the opposites until a reconciliation unknown to me found its way into consciousness in a welcoming world. I could not. However much I tried to accept this in my mind, my body, born in rejection, received it as heartbreak, which my mind interpreted as defeat.
The physical toll was horrendous. I was simply alone. No one to talk to about the inner reality of what had happened. I needed someone who could be depended on for confidentiality. That person was Fraser. He was canny enough to see the inner dynamics, and he could keep silence.
Helga [naturopath] and Heather [bodywork practitioner] kept me functioning through the crisis. I remember being unable to endure the pain of hearing a lullaby-singing a baby good night. I chose to sing Fraser into the night from which he would never return.
Meanwhile my body fell into despair. Although I did all I could to release the pain, I wasn't connecting. Even my breath ceased to come in fully-as if I would break down if I really breathed, as if I would start to cry and never stop- crying for what was no longer a part of my life. "It is all right," my body said. "This is the way it is. Nothing can be done about it. I can accept it." But in accepting it, she was also withdrawing from life. In April and May she gave up any desire for food, for sexuality, for dancing. She remained very, very still. She made no effort to reach out. Even as I write that, I can feel the hand pushing down on my chest-relentless, ruthless.
Meet the Author
Marioin Woodman, Ph.D. (Hon.), is the author of many acclaimed books that bridge the fields of analytical and feminine psychology.
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