Belly Laugh Blessings: Marion Woodman and the Dalai Lama

Flickr (Creative Commons)

“I had a dream about you, Marion,” I said. “I typed it up.” I handed Marion Woodman an envelope with the dream inside when we passed each other on the conference center stairs. I’d had this dream before arriving at a weeklong BodySoul Rhythm Workshop in 2003.

“We’ll make time to talk about it,” Marion said, taking the envelope. A few days later, she asked me to meet her after dinner. We sat knee to knee. She was wrapped in a soft grey and pastel scarf and wore little make-up.

Marion and Elaine, 2003

“Tell me the dream again,” she said. I began.


In Canada at a Marion Woodman intensive, Marion sits in a cushioned chair in the middle of the room. I sit near the wall, making myself small. “Elaine, I’m so glad to see you,” she calls out. “Come closer.” I kneel at her feet and look into her eyes. She wears thick maroon lipstick, crimson rouge, and dense layers of sparkling dark blue eyeshadow. Her make-up is garish, like an ancient clown crone.

She leans forward, puts her open mouth on mine, and exhales into my mouth with a high pitched noise. I inhale her breath before exhaling into her mouth with a deep belly sound. We inhale and exhale into each other, until she slowly pulls away. She offers me a sweet and I take a cookie, but I’m too overwhelmed to eat. I nibble the crust and it dissolves in my mouth like a communion wafer.

Wind flies through open windows knocking over a jewelry display. Marion laughs, deep from her belly. I notice her maroon lipstick is gone, transferred to my lips. It’s a blessing and sacrament, but I can’t stop giggling.

“I have this effect on some people,” dream Marion says.


Photo by Ursula Carsen

When I told the dream to Marion that evening and said she looked like a clown, she roared with delight, just as she had in the dream. I wondered if it was sometimes tiresome to be the revered teacher.

I told her when I worked with the dream image, I’d giggled until I peed my pants. Her clown face was hysterical and so was timid dream Elaine. We laughed about the communion cookie and flying wind, but the exchange of breath was different. Quiet and sacred.

“Your dream laugh was from the belly,” I said, “from the place where you recite poetry.”

Dalai Lama (Flickr)

“Have you heard the Dalai Lama laugh?” she asked.

“Many times,” I said. “Your dream laugh was like that.” The two of us chortled and grinned as she asked a few questions about the dream, but she wasn’t interested in interpretation. She wanted to enjoy laughing and being a clown.

“I love the blue eyeshadow and maroon lipstick,” she said, throwing her head back again and holding her belly as she laughed. “It’s good for me to look like a clown, and maybe it’s time for you to stop feeling small.”

(Below is a one minute compilation of the Dalai Lama laughing. I dare you not to laugh with him.)

Two decades later, I still need help laughing at my imperfections. Should I buy Magic Maroon or Hot Pink lipstick? How about some pointy elfin ears? It’s way past time to embrace the Fool.

Pixabay (Public Domain)


How are you doing with taking yourself too seriously? Pandemic isolation and unrelenting hearing difficulties make me self-critical in a way that only made things worse. I’m working on self-acceptance, but hearing loss is isolating and frustrating. Can I learn to laugh at myself? Marion Woodman knew how to endure and also laugh at life. The Dalai Lama is an expert at perseverance and laughter. Can you laugh at yourself? How did you learn to do that?

For other posts about Marion Woodman, see The Black Madonna Wore Pink: Marion Woodman, 1988.  For a post about struggles with hearing loss, see Hearing Our Determined Hearts. (With immense gratitude to Ursula Carsen for permission to use her photography of Marion laughing.)

  1. What a lovely story, dear Elaine, and what an interesting dream. I have seen how Dalai Lama loves laughing, and I love it too. And so far I know Marion, she was also a cheerful person.
    There might be moments in which we’d be serious in our life, but laughing and being happy like in our childhood will help us carry on this life much easier. Take care, dear friend and laugh.

    • Thank you, Aladin. I was with the Dalai Lama for a weekend in about 1986 and he was super serious the whole weekend. That was a new experience, but he was focused on the suffering of the Tibetan people. Marion was full of cheerful enthusiasm and laughter. It was good to be with my sons on Mother’s Day because they make me laugh. I can get much too serious and depressive on my own, but Nature and my dogs and many friends help me laugh. I’m glad you love to laugh.

  2. You inspired me to laugh more today. Usually, I take myself way too seriously unless I’m with my sisters. Then we laugh up a storm!

    Yes, I truly believe the proverb “Laughter is the best medicine.” It massages our innards and helps us live in the NOW, if only for a minute.

    Thank you for the video belly laugh, the clown photo, and you looking happy with Marion. She certainly had a vast repertoire of techniques and was in tune with your particular needs. What a caring, intuitive she has been to you, Elaine.

    By the way, I look forward to your writing about your Mother’s Day weekend with your sons soon. I hope you had a wonderful time . . . and plenty of laughs! 🙂

    • I love thinking of you laughing with your sisters, Marian. My brother and I laughed some, but the person who made me laugh the most was Vic. I’ve found that aspect of our relationship hard to replace, plus fast repartee is difficult with my hearing. I miss too much. It helps when my sons are around because they have Vic’s sense of humor. Marion felt like a spiritual mother to me and to many others who spent time with her. She didn’t put herself on a pedestal and she was approachable for everyone. I’ll probably write about Mother’s Day with my sons next time because Vic’s presence/absence was a big part of our time together–and I’m now coming to the emotionally loaded time of year with our wedding date on May 18, 1968 and his death date on June 3, 2008 not long after our 40th anniversary. Best way for me to digest that time is write about it.

  3. Okay, I’m definitely one of those who needs to laugh more. Maybe I need to learn how to laugh. I remember hearing my mother laugh when I was a young kid, and being frightened of it, later being embarrassed for her for her laughing. And I can remember a couple of times when I, myself, laughed so hard that it hurt (and maybe I even peed my pants). But it’s been way too long since I laughed any at all. But just yesterday I told a friend on the phone that I missed being with her because she was one of a few people who made me laugh. I know who makes me laugh. And I love them for it.

    • Robin, I have to seek those people who make me laugh and I also know who they are. My hearing makes it all much harder because, for example, when my sons were here, they were constantly joking and jiving, but I miss much of what’s said because joking is fast and I hear “slowly.” There’s a translation process going on with cochlear implant hearing and it doesn’t go at full speed. So my sons know and when they want to talk to be about something serious, they look at my face so I can read their lips and slow down. But sometimes the best thing for me is to let them joke the way they always did with each other and with their dad and enjoy the sound of laughter. I hear laughter just fine.

  4. A great reminder, Elaine. I tend to be so serious that I could certainly use some lightening up these days too. Laughter is so freeing and healing. I loved the video of the Dalai Lama. What a sweetheart! Blessings, Jeanie

    • Jeanie, maybe that’s where grandchildren come in for you. For me, my pup Disco makes me laugh–and there are no words for me to understand in relating to her. Isn’t the Dalai Lama video fun? There are photos on Facebook of him with his mother, and he looks just like her. I loved that. (Here’s the link:
      Blessings to you, your book, and your award. Now that Nautilus Award must have brought out some peels of laughter along with all kinds of emotions.

  5. Wonderful post. The dream ceremony, inhaling the blessing of a teacher or a teaching, wonderful. The laugh seems to be a surprise, maybe that we can let go of what creates the tension in us, the separation or isolation. Let go the sense of burden and not being enough.
    Anyway, thanks.

    • Thank you, Ira. I loved the breathing part because I was taking in so much of her and giving her my own breath. Here’s to laughter and delight and joy. The Dalai Lama is an expert and so was Marion Woodman. She knew how to have fun and laugh at herself.

  6. “How are you doing with taking yourself too seriously?”

    Ha ha. Funny Elaine. It’s even worse than trying to eradicate persistent weeds, because that is at least (theoretically) possible. But in the last few years, I’ve learned, as I learned from beloved organic gardeners that seem to have taken residence in my life-stream, not to use harsh toxic chemicals. As long as I’ve fought against “taking myself too seriously,” it has become more entrenched and persistent, as if it’s feeding on the battle. Yeah, it goes underground for a time, but as I said, perennial. So what to do? Recognize it and let it go when it shows up? Engage it in dialogue? Try to penetrate the roots of it (The Ego) by heroic spiritual practice? Analyze it for the “deeper meaning?” Weave stories around it? I’ve done all of those things and more, including the awful default mode of self-loathing; none of it forces it to leave, enticing me into thinking that taking myself too seriously is a prerequisite to living on earth! Better to let it be. Better to let God (yeah, there’s usefulness in religious faith) apportion it as The One sees fit, and to live in the best harmony I can muster in the “just what is.” Love to you . . . ~FW

    • Dear Fred who knows me so well,
      I’m not responsible for dream messages, but there it was with a nudge. The laughter plus me making myself smaller than I am (via self-criticism and self-doubt). Laughter feels like the best antidote to me and when that’s not available, always Nature. Sending you love from the land of green.

  7. I always feel the Dali Lama’s laugh like bubbles coming up in a spring inside of me. The joy it brings never ceases. Great story.

    One Halloween party at Nepenthe, a restaurant that hugs the Pacific coast in Big Sur, I went dressed as a fool. I was about 19. It changed my life.
    Behind the mask and costume I could play full out. I could mimic and leap about freely. I could dance and make jokes. I saw how people reacted and could test how far I could go with them and myself. I lept on men’s backs and pretended to ride them. I took women’s hats and paraded around with them. I spouted Shakespeare in the central courtyard and lay on the ground unmoving as if dead. Whatever came into my head I did.
    And, I laughed at myself as I did it. I had made the break from the identity as Lauren who never would have attempted the things I did that night.

    It broke something inside of me that held me back from expressing myself and I found after that night, even when not in costume, I was much more free.

    There is a slim wedge that has to slip in that will allow you to see yourself from a distance. I suspect some could get there from a conceptual understanding that we impose our own limitations on ourselves. And that by searching for your own “I” you cannot find it. It opens up the question of who do you want to be?

    For me, it was actions like this that started me on the path to being able to laugh at myself.
    LSD was the cherry on top. It became vividly clear that I was trapped in a world of my own making. And that to take myself too seriously was trap in itself.

    Perhaps a session of exaggerating the faults/foibles. It might help with finding them funny.

    Example: My daughter and I are trying to loose weight. She is better and more disciplined than I am. We decided to take a break from our more strict diet and have a bowl of popcorn one evening. I made a lot. At one point she said perhaps we shouldn’t eat the whole bowl. Oh man did I growl at her. I was SO enjoying one of my favorite foods and here she was asking me to stop? I was not pleased. We got into a bit of a spat.
    The next day I realized I had been like a dog protecting its food bowl. So I exaggerated my reactions, growling and snapping. Soon we were both laughing to tears.

    It is a great question and one that is relevant always. Thanks for reminding me. Need to keep it light.

    • Lauren, I remember Nepenthe in Big Sur Esalen days. LSD also had an opening effect on me during those years. Jill Swenson was just here for a three days and before that David (and Anthony). I’ve had lots of company and laughing this week. I remember a Halloween gathering 30+ years ago where I dressed as a belly dancer and Vic dressed in long robes. He had a collar and the leash was attached to my hips so I was in charge. We had so much fun creating those costumes. My life has much less laughter without Vic but I’m less concerned about being a fool than I used to be. With hearing loss, ya gotta risk being foolish or you’re silenced and isolated. This dream from years ago helped me enjoy or at least accept my foolishness but I need to work on ignoring or laughing at the inner voice that makes me feel small or inadequate–a little different than feeling like a fool. That’s a lifetime challenge for me as it is for many others. I miss laughing with you.

  8. What a wonderful dream and dream ceremony, Elaine! Laughing is certainly a spontaneous way to get that extra breath medicine into our lungs, along with great diaphragm massages! Wise bodies of ours, wise and fun psyche of yours! Cheers, Ursula

    • Thank you, Ursula, and thank you for allowing me to use your photo of beautiful Marion. The ecstasy of the breath exchange with Marion is indescribable, but she infused me with enthusiasm and spirit. I have such gratitude for all she gave as long as she possibly could, and I think of her as I begin a new project. As she wrote when I was working on my first book, “DO IT!!” Complete with capital letters and exclamation marks. She wasn’t interested in holding back. I need that enthusiasm again.

  9. Wow! What a truly mesmerising dream Elaine! At first glance it looks like you received a mother’s or maybe lover’s kiss, but I think I’m with Ira and his “inhaling of a blessing” explanation with the joyful, clownish Marion channeling, passing the Word on through the chalice of her mouth on yours, forming the letter and symbol “O” as you imbibe her spirit.

    In spite of huge suffering inflicted upon my mother for decades she liked to laugh, a lot! And this is how I remember her today, following her death on Sunday, just laughing! Although it wasn’t Mother’s day in the UK, it was in the US, a day which didn’t go by unnoticed. I’ve posted a photo of her, me and my sister on Twitter. Love and light, Deborah.

    • Ah, your mother died on Sunday. I’m stunned and didn’t know, Deborah, but just went to Twitter to see the photo. Are you the baby in her arms or the girl at her side? So much beauty, potential and pain.

      My son visited (I hadn’t seen him since October) and we had lots of remembrance and hugging to do. The day after he left, my dear friend and book development editor Jill visited for 3 days. What an amazing thing it is to have visitors in my home again, to sit outside in sunshine or shade, and have time to take in love and laugh. My sons and Jill love to laugh and we did plenty of that. Mother’s Day is a commercial holiday which I don’t love, but it also has meaning infused by so many people. Marion was my spiritual and psychological mother in so many ways and when I found a copy of the letter I’d written her in 2003, I had to write about it. She was giving me a blessing for that time but also for now as I imagine and embark on a new writing voyage. the Marion within tells me to stop feeling small and breathes life, courage, and spirit into me. The “feeling small” issue has become pronounced with my hearing difficulties, but I’ll keep breathing and remembering Marion telling me to go for it and let myself be a fool.

      I send you love, dear Deborah. I imagine you’re doing lots of inner digestion right now. May there be peace.

      • Me, I’m the 18 month old girl at her side looking with wonder down at my new sister. I weep at your words, “so much beauty, potential and pain”. My mother was around 21 years old in this photo. She died aged 77 years old. She was many things, but often described as “bright as a button” such was her fierce love for life and seeking knowledge.

        What treasure in your life Marion became! Now, then and always. I love how even today she’s inspires you with a new writing project. Your dream was extraordinary! And so it makes sense to know she remains your spiritual and psychological mother. How wonderful to have visitors, I saw the photos on FB and was happy for you last weekend.

        Yes, lots of inner digesting going on here! And feeling lost but that’s OK. I’m not going to fight it just go with it. May was always my favourite month of the month and has just become more astonishing than ever! Sending much love and light from the land of green.

        • It’s another big transition moment for you in a year of hard transitions. It’s no wonder you feel lost. How many crossroads does Hecate have? I don’t want to make my outer relationship with Marion sound like more than it was. She poured her love on everyone. It’s the inner relationship and her approach to body and the feminine that helps and holds me.

          I know you know how to deal with this transition more than most anyone and I’m glad you are surrounded by the beauty of May. Your poem to Sophia reassures me and I need to read it a few more times before commenting. Here’s the link:

  10. Just lovely Elaine! This sounds so like Marion not only in your dream but in real life too. I loved these words “We laughed about the communion cookie and flying wind, but the exchange of breath was different. Quiet and sacred”. For in among humour there is gravitas … and in gravitas, there is humour …

    I remember my mother’s laughter, always a delight to hear. I love to laugh with my sister when I see her, infrequently though it is. My husband makes me laugh, my sons make me laugh. I laugh at myself and often have to remind myself not to take myself so seriously. I watched the Dalai Lama clip – lovely too. I once attended a laughing class which, in the beginning, I thought was ridiculous. But in next to no time we were on the floor laughing so hard. What a great release …

    Great to hear that you had a lovely laughter-filled Mother’s Day with your sons!

    • Yes! Marion in the dream and then me talking to Marion about the dream at a workshop. Both those things happened. The dream is in italics and the rest was in waking consciousness. You describe the gravitas and humor so well. A laughing class? I can almost imagine it. Disco is my laughing class right now, and my sons and a few friends. Vic loved to laugh. I miss that.

  11. Truly the best medicine Elaine. I envy how vivid your dreams are. As hard as I try, I just can’t remember mine. 🙂

    • There are techniques to help us remember dreams. One is to drink a glass of water before sleep and then pausing before getting up in the middle of the night and being quiet to see if anything rises. I always keep a notebook and pen right next to my bed. Sending you comfort and peace at a hard time.

  12. What a beautiful, delightful, and healing dream, Elaine! As is often the case for me, your posts arrive with such a feeling of synchronicity. I had a dream recently where I was meeting with my “inner healer” and he was saying that we had completed the first phase of treating my illness (including trying different medications, supplements, acupuncture, neuroacupuncture, PT, cranial sacral therapy, somatic therapy, vestibular therapy, breathing exercises, etc.), and then he said something that just made me belly laugh. I can’t remember what it was, but I had the realization of what he was doing and said, “oh, now it’s time for laughter therapy!”

    And then shortly after this dream, we adopted two puppies! (We are only keeping one and fostering the other for our son and his family until they are back from a month-long trip to visit family.) We had forgotten quite what it was like having a puppy (though reading about Disco this past year has been a bit of a reminder), let alone two. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much, though of course it’s also overwhelming at times ~ great practice for letting go and being with what is.

    Thanks also for including the compilation of the Dalai Lama laughing which is, indeed, impossible to listen to without laughing. It reminds me of a story Sharon Salzberg told (in “The Irony of Attachment”):

    “I attended a Buddhist-Christian conference at Gethsemani Monastery in Kentucky. At the conference, the Dalai Lama was speaking about how impressed he was with the monastery’s ability to support itself through the manufacturing of cheese and fruitcakes. Suddenly, in the middle of his presentation, the Dalai Lama made a confession:
    “I was presented with a piece of the homemade cheese, which was very good, but really I wanted some cake.”
    He proceeded to laugh uproariously and repeated his regret:
    “It was so unfortunate! I was really hoping someone would offer me cake, but no one did!”

    And (this is Anne again) I laugh every time I think of that. Laughing is healing, and learning to laugh at myself may be the most healing of all–though, as you wrote, “I still need help laughing at my imperfections.” I vow to keep practicing as long as I am alive.

    • Anne, I’m just writing a piece about my struggles with Meniere’s Disease although I doubt it will become a blog. It’s more venting and protesting and remembering “tonglen” practice is my friend. Your list of what you’ve tried hits close to home. I’m writing about the emotional toll and my resistance and resentment–so not the laughter response, but you remind me that’s the best medicine. I called my doctor this morning and made an appointment to get referred to a physical therapist. “I know what to do,” I protest. “I used to teach balance and strength.” I took a few falls this week as I did my usual lugging around heavy ceramic pots for plants. (I didn’t break the pots or the plants or my bones.) But I need help and motivation and a new approach with Meniere’s, so I’ll add laughter to the mix.

      Laughter is necessary, and two puppies will do it. No playmates needed and I hope they can be outside much of the time. I can’t imagine house training two, but maybe it isn’t that much more challenging. Disco is an undemanding pup now as long as she gets a morning walk and an evening hike. I LOVE your Dalai Lama story. It’s 100% him. He would howl and others would laugh with him instead of feeling embarrassed. I wonder how many cakes me got that night. Sending you love, chew toys, and dog treats.

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