These days, when we are so aware of how we have wounded the earth, it is a treat to read a book that reminds us that the earth can heal us. Marcus’ journey to Iona is an inward and outward voyage of the soul, a contemplative adventure triggered by the tender presence of Iona’s shores and windswept plains. Marcus’ fine-grained prose sings and dances the reader toward a full embrace of what that time and place meant to her, and what a heartfelt return to landscape could mean for us.
Norman Fischer, Zen priest and poet, author of Sailing Home: Using the Wisdom of Homer’s Odyssey to Navigate Life’s Perils and Pitfalls.
This is a travel book in the truest, deepest sense. In describing her sojourns on the luminous Scottish island of Iona, Clare Marcus also moves us to journey into our own inner world. There we discover, as she does, the importance of place: how we have been altered and enriched by the landscapes of our lives. Draws from archetypal psychology and her love for this living Earth, the author’s personal story becomes the most trustworthy of guides.
Joanna Macy, author of World as Lover, World as Self.
In this hauntingly beautiful memoir, Clare Cooper Marcus traverses the liminal spaces of the landscape of Iona and the inner terrain of the soul with a sensual eloquence. Through this pioneer in the field of therapeutic landscapes, we encounter a personal story of transformation and healing that points beyond itself to the numinous power of place, unfolding through memory, insightful reflection, and a rich tapestry of dreams .
Susan Williams, Jungian Analyst. Teaching faculty at C.G.Jung Institute,San Francisco.
Clare Marcus has given us a pilgrim’s way, an invitation to take the deepest hero’s journey – to go into the unknown landscape of nature and of memory, and to return home healed, and whole. Marcus’ own memories take her back to displacement in wartime and to unresolved relationships, and yet in remembering there is also resolution: a field of daffodils in childhood, she writes, “pulls at me like a favorite love song.” Marcus finds peace on a remote island, and charts the course for us, if we dare to go in search of our own solitude, our own love songs.
Pat Schneider, author of Writing Alone & With Others and founder, Amherst Writers & Artists.
Clare Marcus’ poetic prose draws us gently into the widening circles around the human heart, in this deep journey of personal healing. We go with her, to the sacred landscape of the remote Isle of Iona to discover that it is through her experience of profound identification with the natural world in this particular place that she can rediscover her own authentic heart and, in resonance with the sea and sky and spirit there, be healed. This is a beautiful book of discovery by a remarkable and brave woman.
Carolyn North, author of Ecstatic Relations and Voices out of Stone
Through Clare Cooper Marcus’s poetic landscapes we are transported to Iona on a journey of transformation and healing. Mythology, dreams, the wisdom of rock, tree, and sea all weave a fabric of inspiration and guidance, where at the end we meet ourselves and become whole. Magical, poetic, and uplifting, this book will sneak into your dreams and beckon you to set out on your own path of inner exploration. Clare is a talented, intelligent, and lyrical writer.
Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D., president of the National Association of Memoir Writers, author of The Power of Memoir—How to Write Your Healing Story, and Don’t Call Me Mother.
Do you wish for a special place that is a wise and loving friend that empowers you, heals your illness, soothes your worst fears and disappointments? A place that holds you in its embrace and makes you whole? Clare Cooper Marcus writes of her such place and in so doing instructs us to discover places where we can be fully alive. In turns literary and primal, Iona Dreaming will imbue you with sensuous reasoning and change you forever.
Randolph T. Hester, Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, University of California, Berkeley; author of Design for Ecological Democracy, and Cultivating Sacredness in the Everyday Landscape.
This is a fascinating book about an impressive woman who ‘turns within’ after retirement from a prestigious academic career and life threatening bouts with cancer to make peace with herself, nature and, yes, even God. Exquisitely written and self-revealing, Clare Cooper Marcus’ chronicle of her journey to the Scottish Isle of Iona provides real insight into what ‘inner life’ means and what rewards await those who cultivate it.
Roger Doudna, PhD, Findhorn Foundation Fellowship Coordinator
Clare Marcus’s prose lifts us beyond intimate contact with this magical island into the spaces in our own hearts that we have closed off. Her touch, her eye for light, her honest memories of old pain, her joy in birdsong and small woodland plants—these open us to the power of place and we are healed too.
Louise Dunlap, author of Undoing the Silence: Six Tools for Social Change Writing
This is an enchanting book about geographies of the heart, sacred landscapes of desire, longing and memory. Clare Cooper Marcus invites us to accompany her to many landscapes of her remarkable life’s journey — from the childhood terrors of wartime England, to hippie California, and finally the rugged solitudes of the Scottish island of Iona. Clare’s acute perceptions balance her warmth and compassion as she describes Nature’s many healing qualities in facing life-threatening illness and the many challenges experienced in a life well lived.
Wendy Sarkissian PhD, author of Kitchen Table Sustainability.
Both personal and professional experience illuminate Clare Cooper Marcus’s deep understanding of an important, over-looked truth: the quality of our lives depends on our relationships not only with people, but also with places. On her journey from her childhood’s English countryside, to healing gardens in America, to the magical island of Iona, she shows us how to look past our own fragile boundaries to the great world outside, where we can find unsuspected strength, wisdom, and joy.
Winifred Gallagher, author of The Power of Place: How Our Surroundings Shape Our Thoughts, Emotions and Actions, and Rapt: Attention and Focused Life.
Clare Cooper Marcus was the first person to alert me to the emotional meaning of our environment. In this moving memoir, she turns her writerly eye to the power of place in our spiritual, emotional and physical healing. Eloquent, evocative, and original.
MJ Ryan, author of Attitudes of Gratitude and This Year I Will…
Ask any reader her definition of a riveting book and she will tell you it is one which causes her foot to fall asleep, or one which causes her elbow to become sore from leaning on it for a long time. Or, as happened to this normally gregarious reviewer, to be asked what has been keeping her quiet for so very long. Iona Dreaming, by Clare Cooper Marcus, should come with a warning: Clear your calendar.
A common dilemma these days relates to the experience of the newly un-or-underemployed. Is there life after we’ve turned in our Blackberries? What happens to us when we no longer can measure ourselves competitively? Will we cease to exist if we aren’t “out there”?
Clare Cooper Marcus has been there, done that, and brought back the teapot. However, the reader should begin by knowing that Iona Dreaming is by no means a quick read. Rather, in its nearly four hundred pages, Clare Cooper Marcus tells the story of how she dealt with two bouts of cancer just as she was retiring from a distinguished career in academia. As many people are discovering, “Retirement had left [Prof. Marcus] dangling.” (p. 22) After a full life in the “publish or perish” academic world and single-mothering two children, she describes a comfortable post-retirement existence; still, something is nagging at her and her bouts of cancer turn up the volume of this inner voice. So she accepts the offer of house-sitting for a summer on the Scottish island of Iona.
Marcus had already experienced the island’s particular pull for her. “I had felt a powerful attachment to the place,” she writes, “as if it were the home of my forebears, which — as far as I know — it isn’t.” (p. 22) That familiarity, with both the topography of the island and of its life cycles, comes across clearly; through the author’s evocative prose the reader can almost hear the bleating of the spring lambs calling to their mothers.
Like the infinity symbol Iona Dreaming moves out and circles back on itself; a chapter on her cancer is followed by her musing on Iona, followed by a chapter about her childhood. Born in England, the author was evacuated from London to Ascott and her chapters on her life during the Blitz left me longing for a memoir dedicated solely to this period of her life. Mixed in with these recurring themes are stand-alone vignettes including of tales her life as a professor at Berkeley during the Sixties, and most enjoyably, the chapter “Waitressing Practice” which describes a summer job on Iona.
Throughout her life Ms. Marcus had pursued vision quests and sought out spiritual guides to help her make her interior life as successful as her professional and personal ones and she is certainly is not alone in finding it challenging to live in the moment. By honestly sharing her experiences in learning to “go with the flow,” Ms. Marcus has provided her readers with an example — if a woman with a resumé like hers can learn to appreciate life at a slower pace, there is hope for the rest of us to do so as well.
Kyle Z. Bell
Review in January – April, 2011 issue of SageWoman , a print-primary (and ezine PDF) quarterly magazine of women’s spirituality, continously published since 1986, with a paid circulation of 15,000 readers. http://www.SageWoman.com
While still living in London, a friend introduced me to the work of Clare Cooper Marcus, a Professor in the Departments of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley. Her book, House as a Mirror of the Self (1995) was inspired by her reading of Jung’s account of building his stone retreat at Bollingen on Lake Zürich. For Jung, building the tower at Bollingen played an im- portant role in the “self-realization of the un- conscious” (1963, 3): “I had to achieve a kind of representation in stone of my innermost thoughts and of the knowledge I had acquired. Or to put it another way, I had to make a con- fession of faith in stone” (1963, 223).
Marcus, a pioneer in the psychological and social implications of design, explored the ways our psyches are shaped not only by our attachments to others but also by emotional ties to our physical environment—and in particular, our homes. While reading Marcus’ work in my North London flat, I found myself unusually curious about the author’s house in Northern California. Five years later, I find myself sitting in a kitchen in a large Berkeley home, looking out onto a lush yet rambling English-style garden, engaged in an interesting conversation with the woman who is renting space in her home to me, following my move away from London. I learn that she has recently pub lished a book titled Healing Gardens (1999), and when I ask to see it, she replies, “Well, I wrote another book, which is more Jungian, that you may enjoy even more.” I am taken aback upon hearing that the title is House as a Mirror of the Self. Just a few years earlier, I was in my London dwelling, immersed in this same book and wondering about the author and her home, only to discover that I am now living in it!
This startling synchronistic encounter with the author, which has had a lingering resonance, takes me to her recently published memoir, Iona Dreaming : The Healing Power of Place. Here, she shifts her focus from the house as a personal symbol to the vibrantly infused natural world, where the personal spirit can experience its link with the anima loci, or soul of the place.
In her latest book, Marcus has retired from a brilliant academic career and soon finds herself facing a life-threatening illness, which leads her on a six-month solitary retreat to the island of Iona, a ruggedly beautiful island in the Scot- tish Hebrides. The illness, we later discover, is cancer, though this is not yet another cancer memoir. Rather, it is a story about the healing power of place, reminding us that we not only go to people for healing, we go to places and to landscapes that awaken the ineffable in us, to settings where we can link past with present beauty with pain and truth, and to spaces that allow something new to enter us.
Marcus’ beautifully written memoir also opens with a synchronistic encounter. While standing in line for lunch at a conference in Scotland, an unknown woman turns to Clare and says, “I own a house on Iona. It’s yours,” and then she walks away, leaving Marcus dumb- founded as she secretly yearns to return to the island to live and write. Later that week the woman elaborates, “You know how thoughts drift through your mind and most of them you don’t say out loud? . . . Well . . . I knew I had to tell you that I have a house on Iona.”
In the initiatory rites of tribal and traditional societies, one must heed the call and leave behind an earlier life to move toward a new constellation. Joseph Henderson, a founder of the C. G. Jung Institute of San Francisco, furthered Jung’s exploration of the parallels between the psychological and spiritual searching of the modern-day individual with religious rites of passage from earlier eras. Thresholds of Initiation (1967/2005), Henderson’s seminal study on this subject, theorizes that there is an “archetype of initiation” that is still alive and operative in the lives of contemporary persons.
Iona Dreaming draws the reader into a modern-day initiatory story of a woman in her sixties heeding that call. Leaving behind the familiarity and comforts of career, home, family, and friends, she opens her soul to the rhythms and magic of the island of Iona; to the value of solitude and silence; and to the animated world of landscape, stone, sea, tides, birds, and animals. In Celtic lore, there are “thin places,” where the veil between the worlds is thinnest and where something of that other invisible dimension can seep through. Iona is one of these places. Legend says that the Druids once came here for initiation and that the potential priestly initiates were set afloat in an oar-less boat. Where the boat landed indicated whether they were ready or not for the initiatory experience.
Here, with this landscape as backdrop, the author surrenders to a rich tapestry of dreams and synchronicities along with memories that surface of a childhood in wartime England. The author along with her mother and brother were evacuated from war-ravaged London to the English countryside, where they were housed on the Rothschild estate. There, Marcus was awakened to the holding capacity as well as the soothing and healing power of the natural world. The link between this childhood refuge and the place she journeys to later in life to face all that was left behind is potent.
So, Marcus muses, “why are we endlessly fascinated by the meeting of land and water, the edge of things?” (2010, 183). I, too, am drawn to that question. The early Celts had a sense that living on edges—boundary places—and within liminality is particularly powerful for one’s spiritual development. The island of Iona is made up of places with evocative names—the Coire Sianta (Sacred Hollow), White Strand of the Monks, Straidnam Mavbh (Street of the Dead), Sithean Beag (Little Fairy Mound), and Hill of the Angels, reminding us that we are traveling in a place and state of being, where the usual lines between the mythical and modern day-to-day reality intermingle.
Throughout this journey, Marcus’ weekly phone sessions with a Jungian analyst serve as support and guide as she faces hard realities, including her wartime experience, the aftermath of two diagnoses of cancer, along with the words never spoken to her deceased parents and ex-husband. We get a feel, as well, for the atmosphere of Berkeley in the 1960s and 1970s, and the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, which took the life of her ex-husband and father of her two young children.
The book is structured into four sections beginning with “Journey to the Island,” where the reader senses the author’s initial excitement and apprehension about living on a remote island with no outer demands and few possessions. It is not just worldly comforts, friends, and family that she must leave behind, but the tyranny of a questioning mind that has typically found its answers through the intellect. As she settles into the slow rhythms of island life, Marcus discovers some of the lessons that come from being quietly and intimately attuned to the natural world; as well as lessons that come from her “Zen-like practice” as a waitress at the local hotel (2010, 46).
The flashbacks that surface of her World War II childhood are particularly evocative. Graham Greene wrote, “There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in” (1940, quoted in Mar- cus 2010, 56), and for this author, one need only look at this story to see how the acorn or seed of that truth has fulfilled its destiny in one woman’s life work. When the author recounts John Fowles’ experience of being evacuated with his family to the Devonshire countryside, Fowles’ words echo the paradox of such an opening in a time of devastation:
“Despite the horrors and deprivations of the time, they were for me fertile and green-golden years. I learnt nature for the first time in a true country- side among true countrymen, and from then on I was irredeemable, lost as a townsman. ” (Fowles and Horvat 1979, quoted in Marcus 2010, 56)
In the second section of the book, “Looking Back,” Marcus recalls her state of mind after two bouts of cancer and the challenges to her body image following a mastectomy. In the chapter “Grasshopper Teaching ,” the one I found most compelling, the author draws the reader into a moving account of turning into, rather than fleeing from, overwhelming fear while on a Vision Quest experience facilitated by three Jungian analysts in the Canadian wilderness. When paralyzed by crippling fear on a ropes course, she is eventually able to overcome the terror and move forward, through the solid yet sensitively attuned presence of the man who later becomes her analyst.
Though there is clearly an idealizing transference toward her analyst, this account made me think of the healing capacity of an analytic relationship that has the potential to offer something that was missing in our early lives as well as an awakening experience of what we long to move toward. For Marcus, this analyst offered an antidote to an absent father during an earlier time of terror as well an experience of erotic awakening and a fuller engagement in a life that has the potential to link the experiences of the body and the mind with the soul.
The final two sections of the book, “Approaching the Mystery” and “Dreaming with Eyes Wide Open,” take us further into the lessons of island consciousness, with both the analyst and the landscape serving as anam cara, the Irish or Gaelic word for soul friend. This is a compelling and insightful confession of faith that points beyond the personal story to a numinous experience of the healing power of place.
The author does not seem to be suggesting Iona as a travel destination for others in search of healing, but rather appears to be inviting the reader to find their own landscape or experience of anima loci, perhaps in a spirit similar to Jung at Bollingen:
“At Bollingen, I am in the midst of my true life, I am most deeply myself. . . . At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the splashing of the waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, in the procession of the seasons.” (1963, 225)
This fascinating memoir offers much beauty and wisdom. What lingers for me are the words she quotes from an anthropologist who studied the Western Apache. I take these words as a reminder of how we come alive in certain landscapes and must return to that well from time to time to drink from and be nourished by that place.
” . . Wisdom sits in places. It’s like water that never dries up. You need to drink water to stay alive, don’t you? Well you also need to drink from Places.” (Basso 1996, 126–127, quoted in Marcus 2010, 55)
Basso, Keith H. 1996. Wisdom sits in places: Language and landscape among the Western Apache. Albuquerque, NM : University of New Mexico Press.
Fowles, John, and Frank Horvat. 1979. The tree.
Boston: Little Brown and Company.
Greene, Graham. 1940. The power and the glory. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Henderson, Joseph. 1967/2005. Thresholds of initiation. Wilmette, IL: Chiron.
Jung, C. G. 1963. Memories, dreams, reflec- tions. New York. Vintage Books.
Marcus, Clare Cooper. 1995. House as a mirror of the Self. Berkeley: Conari Press.
———. 2010. Iona dreaming : The healing power of place: A memoir. Lake Worth, FL: Nicholas-Hays, Inc.
Susan Williams is an adult, adolescent, and child Jungian analyst in private practice in Berkeley, California. She trained and practiced in London before relocating to the San Francisco Bay area, where she became a member of the C. G. Jung Institute of San Francisco in 2003. She is on the teaching faculty of both the adult and child analytic training programs. She has a special interest in the relationship between home, landscape, and psyche. She has lectured and taught on infant mental health, aliveness and deadness, and autism and autistic states of mind. She is an assistant editor of Jung Journal: Culture &Psyche. Correspondence: 3120 Telegraph Ave, Suite 12, Berkeley CA 94705, USA. E-mail: email@example.com.
This review opens with a story of the reviewer’s uncanny, synchronistic meeting with Clare Cooper Marcus, a pioneer in the psychological and social implications of architectural design. Marcus’ recently published memoir, Iona Dreaming : The Healing Power of Place, is an initiatory story of a woman in her sixties, following retirement from a successful career, who is facing a life-threatening illness that leads her on a six-month solitary retreat to the island of Iona, a ruggedly beautiful island with a rich Celtic history in the Scottish Hebrides. Marcus’ journey of self-discovery and healing, guided by her work with a Jungian analyst, helps her link past with present and reconnect to more soulful and healing relationships with nature, landscape, and body. Memories of a childhood in war-ravaged London and a subsequent evacuation
to the English countryside illustrate how some of the seeds planted in the author’s childhood have blossomed into a rich and powerful life’s work.
anima loci, architecture, Bollingen, cancer, Celtic, dreams, healing, house, illness, initiation, Iona, Joseph Henderson, C.G. Jung, Jungian analysis, landscape, memoir, nature, power of place, Scotland, soul, spirit, synchronicity, Vision Quest, World War II
Review in Jung Journal: Culture and Psyche Fall 2011 Volume 5, Number 4