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What We Really Need to Learn from Leonard and Marianne

Over the weekend,  I decided to take a sabbatical from dancing and seek my own muse related to love and relationships.  Mercury retrograde forced me to pause on editing my book and I thought that the inspiration about the great lyricist, Leonard Cohen would be just the ticket to helping me access my creativity.  Leonard and Marianne is billed as a documentary about a love that lasts a lifetime.  Perfect! 

And then reality hit when I took out my cell phone in the middle of the movie to check the time.

The documentary was more about Leonard’s artistic prowess and Marianne’s insecurities.  It should have been a story of empowerment and strength by one of the most powerfully inspiring female creative role models of our time.  As annoyed as I was by the way the story was told, I wasn’t surprised. We have love affairs with the creative genius who can’t quite commit to the love of his life, often dismissing the gifts and skills of the “other” romantic partner as insignificant in comparison.

We have this love affair because we don’t really understand what a soulmate actually is nor do we understand what a real muse is.  

A soulmate doesn’t always last a lifetime, they show up to rip you apart and force you to heal your toxic insecurity. There is little doubt that both Leonard and Marianne had a lot of work to do in that area and, fortunately for both of them - they recognized the opportunity. Their legacy, provides some of the most important lessons on love and relationships.  This, unfortunately, was not fully explored in the documentary as, like our culture, the filmmaker gets distracted by Leonard’s career and drug use and fails to pull back the curtain to fully see the genius in Marianne.


Difference Between Using a Woman and Inspiration by a Muse

Throughout the entire documentary, Marianne is called Leonard’s “muse.”  We are familiar with the term. Most of our greatest artists have credited their greatest life work to a muse - usually a woman.  Many have claimed that the experience of love won and then lost and perhaps won again is the greatest artistic inspiration there is.  Perhaps it still is but I suggest that we begin to take a look at the difference between a creative genius taking the energy of a person whom he deems as his muse versus the genius of being in the presence of true creative inspiration.  For example, I would argue that Picasso’s women were anything but muses. He sought out young and beautiful women who did not have the gifts of true creative inspiration.  He often left them broken, angry, and in one case, with a tale of unflattering stories that was published in the form of a memoir.  He left his family devastated due to his narcissism. His granddaughter, Marina, reported that Picasso:


“... submitted them to his animal sexuality, tamed them, bewitched them, ingested them, and crushed them onto his canvas. After he had spent many nights extracting their essence, once they were bled dry, he would dispose of them.”


Picasso is NOT the story of an artist using muses - he was a predator that stole the beauty from others and used it for his own selfish purposes.  

Leonard and Marianne’s story is quite different. It shows it can all be done with a type of love that transcends time.

Where did the term muse come from?

In Greek mythology, there are technically 9 different muses, whose job was to be the holder of different artistic talents.  They were the daughters of Zeus, king of the gods, and Mnemosyne, goddess of memory.  Muses were not only beautiful but had the healing power of transformation.  When their powers were bestowed upon a mortal, it is said that this person presents as drastically different from others who simply want to take from the artist.  The muse Clio, is often shown holding a scroll or books. Her job was to make artists famous. She was a source of inspiration to poets.  

If we had to choose which ancient Greek muse Marianne represented, Clio would come to mind.  There is little doubt in my mind that Leonard never would have become who he was without the incubation and transformation he went through as a writer and a man while living with Marianne in Hydra.  Her creative inspiration was powerful enough to encourage a man, still stuck in the academic notion that he would become a novelist, to change direction. Had it not been for her and his need to seek out money to take care of his family, he would not have been motivated to seek a new direction.  Couple this with a break down following a major literary failure, it is clear that Marianne was part of Leaonard’s spiritual and creative awakening.  

True muses are not just beautiful, they often have gifts that we simply do not acknowledge as equally important to the creative process. Marianne possessed the warmth and unwavering support that a struggling artist needs to breakthrough to the next level of success. From the outside, they are usually recognized as the one romantic relationship that does not succumb to the stardom of the artist.  Marianne was described as “different” in the film and boy was she ever.


Marianne was the epitome of the real deal

Marianne was a genius in the realm of creative inspiration and yet, like most women, sacrificed her true gift and talent to solely romantic love.  I hate to think how many world class artists this woman could have inspired to move past their fear and step on to the stage of greatness if she realized that was actually her purpose in the world! She inspired others by simply being who she was and that is a powerful gift to share! Unfortunately, her self doubts and insecurities interfered with her own ability, at least at a young age, to see her powerful gift.

Marianne’s greatness will always be clouded by Leonard’s great success and the story that he tells, through his music, of their great love.  The documentary starts off doing a relatively good job trying to find the balance in the love story between the two - one that starts with Marianne ending the karmic relationship with her first husband, novelist Axel Jensen, who abandoned her and their son for another woman.  


Marianne’s Wound

Marianne’s real story and lesson for all of us started in childhood.  A creative soul in an uncreative family, she early on stated that she wanted to be an actress but without the support of her family, she abandoned her dream.  Like so many young, sensitive women whose soul’s have been crushed by well meaning family members, she did what you could to find your freedom in the 1960s - you left and found yourself in an expat, artistic community.  You left and got married to the first person artistic soul you find.


Her own soul was trying to force her to fly.  Her doomed relationship, as all karmic ones are, was trying to teach the lesson - that she could squelch herself into mediocrity or she could realize that she was probably the one true artistic talent among a bunch of men who benefited from her creative energy.  Dealing with loss, heartbreak and a lack of support, it is easy to get swept away in a love affair with a true artistic genius. I believe, and the documentary argues, that Leonard was there to heal her soul - something that he did for almost a decade before they both realized, in the shadow of his fame, that the relationship could go no further. Leonard wasn’t ready and Marianne knew she needed more support.  It is unfortunate that the film does not go deeper into these aspects of the relationship - there is so much for the rest of us to learn from these details!


At the officially ending of their relationship, it really was supposed to be Marianne’s time to realize that while Leonard was a soulmate, his job was to encourage her to also take the chances on her dreams.  Leonard didn’t seem to understand that his role could have been more active in encouraging her creativity and pushing her to face her fears. Life took over. Unfortunately, with a son who was struggling, her duties as a mother came first and Leonard had moved on to another long term relationship. Marianne sought stability in what the documentary kept calling an “ordinary” life.  And in this one life decision, Marianne’s gift would never be shared with the world again. Rather than fight for what she really wanted, she got stuck in the shadow side of her soul purpose and ran away. She could have been the rebel with a cause and really have shown Leonard what he was missing out on - but she was unable to face the fears and got swept away by the responsibilities of life. This is what happens to many of our true creative souls.


It is always one thing to look at these relationships and realize what the purpose of them are in our lives.  Soulmates does not mean forever in the traditional sense. We trap ourselves into definitions of what a relationship is supposed to look like - often causing deep pain and sorrow.  I believe that the relationship with Leonard broke her in many ways. His inability to fully commit his attention to her must have been deeply painful and yet profoundly spiritual. There is little doubt that these two were supposed to have met, it simply breaks my heart that Marianne didn’t see her own artistic genius and own her ability to inspire creativity in all of us.  She was supposed to learn and incubate herself as well. She never fully got that chance to do so with other artists and I can only hope that she produced a beautiful body of work with her painting that the wold, one day, will be able to see.


Why We All Needed Marianne

Marianne was the creative inspiration we all need and still need.  Never someone who needed to be in the spotlight, she was a woman who did her best to live life on her own terms and in her own way.  She did not follow the rules but yet succumbed to them in the end. Mediocrity rather than true exquisiteness snuck in simply because her view on two of the most significant relationships of her life may have been focused on the pain and not believing in herself.  A karmic relationship breaks you and a soulmate shows you what love is. Perhaps her real victory was in living the rest of her life in the stability of a healthy and happy marriage. We don’t know yet. But if she had channeled what she learned from those relationships and realized her capacity for true creative inspiration, our entire world would have been a better place.  Had she shown up in her true exquisite power - that love story may have turned out very differently. Leonard needed a woman truly committed to her soul purpose and unafraid to take the risks to move him out of his own spiritual narcissism. Marianne needed a spiritual warrior with the strength to help her move past her fears about being the true creative rebel.  


Marianne’s Lesson For Us All

Marianne was the real deal - Leonard was just the genius who recognized it. Let’s make sure we don’t miss those exquisite diamonds standing behind those in the spotlight again.  Let’s reach out to support them in moving past their own fears. A true muse for a creative genius is not the person who sits idly looking beautiful, it is the person that consciously brings the gift of creative transformation.  That is Marianne’s legacy. We could all learn from Leonard and Marianne that it takes not just talent to rise to the top but openness to true love to transcend mediocrity to open the door to greatness.