dancing in the flames

Dancing in the Flames screenshot

Image of Marion Woodman from the documentary Dancing in the Flames, copyright 2009.

I’ve been writing about ritual for several days, and part of me feels completely inadequate for the task. I feel like I’ve been spinning my words around and around, without really getting anywhere. Why is this so important to me? What am I trying to tell you?

I’m searching for meaning in my own life – have been for more than 30 years. I’ve read hundreds of books and articles about self-development and self-improvement, Eastern philosophy, psychology, and so on. Sometimes different authors contradict each other. Some say analysis is the key. Others say meditate and surrender. Others say positive thinking is what’s really necessary for a meaningful, fulfilled life. Sometimes there seems to be a common thread running through most spiritual works… but like a slippery fish pulled fresh from the river, I can’t hang onto it long enough to cook it and eat it.

The more I search, though, the more I keep coming back to Jungian or depth psychology as a useful tool for realizing wholeness. Reading or listening to the work of Marion Woodman and Clarissa Pinkola Estés leaves me feeling really nourished. And Woodman, especially, talks about how vital it is to re-integrate conscious ritual into our lives. When ritual is left discarded and unconscious, it comes in the back door through addiction, because we can’t understand the symbolism. We mistakenly think that we want to make our longing real – concrete – and so we cling to alcohol and drugs and sex and food and work. Meanwhile our soul withers, because what it really wanted was spirit and the natural rhythms of rest, death and rebirth, and creation.

I’ve been wanting to watch a documentary called Dancing in the Flames, based on the work of Woodman, since I first saw the trailer (below). I couldn’t believe it when I discovered it streaming here a couple of weeks ago. I highly recommend it, especially because in it Woodman explains – much better than I can – why ritual is so important.