I have survived a Dancing Mindfulness retreat! If you’re familiar with Dancing Mindfulness, you might look at that sentence and wonder what the big deal is or ask, “What on earth is so hard about surviving any form of expressive art at whose very core is non-judgment?” My response to that would be: absolutely NOTHING. And yet, at the very first Dancing Mindfulness class offered by its creator, who is also my best friend, I was quaking in my little yoga pants. I’d like to hope I would have been there even had I not been working as her Gal Friday at the time, but if I’m to be completely honest, I’m sure I would have found a way to pin my absence on my children if I could have. But since I was the mastermind’s assistant, there I was: participating but not embracing—feeling awkward in my own skin, as I always have; lacking inspiration in how to move from points A to B without looking like a total dork, judging nobody except myself, and harshly at that. The irony here is that DM was created to not only bring about mindful awareness, but also to heal the participants of issues like those I was afraid to face in myself and so many others. Give me choreography or give me death (unless you want to see my own personal rendition of Steve Martin’s character in The Jerk learning to dance when first hearing jazz!)
A little background on me: I’m a recovering alcoholic/addict, victim of molestation, rape and abuse, child of addicts, survivor of a parent lost to suicide. I’ve also had an abortion and am a screwball in general. In short: I’ve been in therapy for years due to having a lot of traumatic baggage in need of healing. Let’s face it: we all have stories and baggage, some of which was dumped on us by others, but it’s up to us to do the work necessary in order to heal. I’ve been #blessed in life to have several close friends, the cosmic joke being the bulk of them are therapists. I’ve found myself inspired by them countless times over the years, and have followed some of the suggestions given by them and those I’ve seen professionally, but I’d kept DM at arm’s length. I have rather short arms, giving me a T-Rex complex to boot, so you’d think it wouldn’t have taken me so long to finally give in to my friends in the DM community asking me to show up for more than a cameo appearance, but I took my sweet time. Despite the countless testimonials I’d seen and heard, despite seeing the growth of a community of the most incredible women (men as well, but my closest pals involved has been a sisterhood of sorts), despite the indescribable glow radiating from the participants. “This just isn’t my thing. You dance and I’ll update the website about how amazing you all feel.” My children eventually grew, making it possible for me to get away: nevertheless I resisted. This isn’t designed for Baryshnikov and the like, it was made for everyone to move however they wanted—but that was my very problem. What hit me this weekend was the realization that while I’m a creative person, I’ve had no consistent outlet for my creativity for decades. As a child I was frequently told I either wasn’t allowed to express myself or that, when I did, I was wrong/ridiculous/stupid/insert negative synonym here—and it took taking part in this retreat to realize that it wasn’t just my speaking that was affected by this load of crap I actually believed for the longest time. That hurt. A lot. Old beliefs I thought I had worked through were still right in the heart of me with exactly what was needed to release them right there in front of me FOR YEARS. Normally, this kind of proverbial bitch slap from reality would leave me questioning all the work I’d done over the years, eventually leading to a tailspin of depression and calling myself a failure. Lucky for me, I was in exactly the right place to process all of this. So many creative outlets twirling, painting, chanting, singing past me, well within my reach. I’d beat myself up over this like i usually do, but I’d rather heal.
Dancing Mindfulness IS MY THING. It’s for everyone and I finally understand that at soul level after having heard those very words too many times to count. I feel like Scrooge waking up on Christmas morning, elated to have his second chance. When your tribe is as amazing as mine, it’s hard to not be influenced by their positivity, and I acknowledge some growth on my part since they’ve come into my life; but I feel like whatever wall of resistance I still had remaining has been blown to pieces. I feel my heart exposed, and vulnerable at the thought of it, but loving the blank canvas of my life for once. I have a tribe, a safe place where I can be me and loved unconditionally for it, I can move from points A to B however I see fit to, and I’ll fucking thrive.
I love you with an old-fashioned heart
Maybe the leftovers of another lifetime
My God, loving you was easier then
In this time, in this place
I am just another misfit with an
Old-fashioned heart and an even
Older soul who hopes we can one day
Find ourselves on the same page of
Our tattered storybook
A single tear runs down my face
Smearing the ink off my lonely page
Soon there will be an empty canvas
And I do not know what will be created
A solo piece, or a call and response
For now, the not knowing must be enough
Photography of Jamie by Ellen DeCarlo (2004)
The process of unfolding and creating is gifted to us to gain a new perspective on our wholeness that already dwells within. Though the human mind, the human spirit may only feel this connection to completeness for a sparing blip at a time - let us have faith and find comfort in the ever underlying vibration that dwells in us all.
Let us thank the Universal Power for all creation around us: the sun, the moon, the stars. The trees. The grass. The people and smiling faces who surround us. Let us give thanks for our own god-given ability to harness a piece of this creation to birth mementos of Joy, release, validation, and collaboration into the world. And in so doing, may we remember that our own lives are a delicate brush stroke on the canvas of life.
Thank you Divine Source. Thank you for eternal, unconditional love. Thank you for harmony. Thank you for balance in the Universe. Thank you for all of your creations and blessings. Thank you for bringing us all together this weekend to share our uniquely divine gifts.
Attune me to today
Let my words
Be your words
And may I respond
To life's challenged
From the fusion of
My humanity and
When I started in the a 12-step programs I was immediately taught the history of AA and the incredible “coincidences” that transpired to bring the co-founders together, along with the pieces of the puzzle to finally find a solution to alcoholism. I was taught that Roland Hazard was one of those pieces. He spent a year studying with and being treated by Dr. Carl Jung in England before returning to New York and influencing Ebby Thatcher who was a childhood friend of Bill Wilson. As a result of Carl Jung explaining to Roland that he was a hopeless alcoholic who needed a “vital, spiritual experience,” another piece of the puzzle was put in place.
When I started my master’s program to get my clinical social work license, there were endless research papers required for the program. I repeatedly saw Carl Jung’s name as a reference. More specifically, they were quotes from his Red Book. So, I therefore asked my husband for the book for Christmas and he surprised me and bought 3 different books about or from Carl Jung.
In Carl Jung’s book Memories, Dreams, and Reflections there is a chapter named “Confrontation with the Unconscious.” The name immediately drew me in, because having have been trained in EMDR, which addresses our unconscious and the trauma that is stored in the body. I was determined to become the best therapist I could be, but also knew I had my own healing to finish. I felt resistance from within to dig deeper. One day while praying on the resistance, I saw this book Memories, Dreams, and Reflections, sitting on the shelf and immediately turned to the chapter about the unconscious. In the chapter, Carl Jung discussed facing his own internal struggles with his subconscious. He stated:
“The dreams, however, could not help me over my feeling of disorientation. On the contrary, I lived as if under constant inner pressure. At times this became so strong that I suspected there was some psychic disturbance in myself. Therefore, I twice went over all the details of my entire life, with particular attention to childhood memories; for I thought there might be something in my past which I could not see and which might possibly be the cause of the disturbance.” (p. 173)
He went on to discuss a memory from when he was 10 or 11 years old, stating, and stated “to my astonishment, this memory was accompanied by a great deal of emotion.” I related to the memories that still hold emotional charge. I still am run by so many of my fears developed in childhood. The work I did in the recovery programs had brought me so far and I was living life like I had never experienced before. I had also developed a relationship with God, as I understood God, but my internal world needed more help. I firmly believe my God brought me to EMDR and the Institute of Creative Mindfulness to further my healing and to use my experience to hopefully help others find the same healing. I knew even reading this chapter in Carl Jung’s book was led by that Higher Power. The last line in this chapter that convinced me I needed to do EMDR myself was when Jung discussed his own resistance to looking at his negative emotions and what it was costing him to look at them. He felt he had no choice, but to go deeper and stated, “A cogent motive for my making the attempt was the conviction that I could not expect of my patients something I did not dare to do myself.” (p. 178) I felt my path was paralleling his in some way, and I “had no choice”, but to continue this journey.
Soon after starting my own EMDR sessions, I went to a weekend retreat to learn about expressive arts. We learned to used paints, pastels, dance, writing, poetry, and yoga to encourage the healing and express what our parts inside needed to say. If Jung was not describing dissociated parts, I don’t know what he could have been describing. Jung stated,
“The essential thing is to differentiate oneself from these unconscious contents by personifying them, and at the same time to bring them into relationship with consciousness. That is the technique for stripping them of their power. It is not too difficult to personify them, as they always possess a certain degree of autonomy, a separate identity of their own. Their autonomy is a most uncomfortable thing to reconcile oneself to, and yet the very fact that the unconscious presents itself in that way gives us the best means of handling it.” (pg. 187).
When I returned came home from the retreat, I returned to Jung’s writings because I remembered he had discussed using his imagination to play. He also used yoga to ground himself:. “I was frequently so wrought up that I had to do certain yoga exercises in order to hold my emotions in check.” He used this exercise to calm himself and then he would go back into the emotions. This is just like we do while reprocessing in EMDR. Again, recognizing the parallel to our paths brought me comfort that I am not on this journey alone. Yes, in 1914, they did not call it EMDR or Expressive Arts Therapy, but even then the solution was the same.
I have still not found comfort in painting or drawing, but I enjoy reading, writing, and singing. All of me becomes one when I am listening, feeling, playing, or experiencing music. This is my comfort, my joy, and my journey. I am about to attend another retreat to learn more about myself and take another step towards healing. My internal world has always made me feel separate or alone, but knowing a great mind like Jung followed this journey and my new friends at ICM, I am no longer separate and I can celebrate my “weirdness."
For years I was scared to buy paint. One of my college roommates was an art major, and it captivated me to watch her paint. She had the capacity to create such beautiful, museum-quality pieces with her amazing talent. I loved to watch her work her magic! To this day I am proud to have several of her pieces and prints in my home, as I’m reminded of those beautiful memories of watching her in-the-zone.
Like many people I’ve worked with through the years, my barrier to painting and to most visual art came from a sense of “I can’t do it,” or “I’m not good enough.” I never seemed to have this issue with music, dance, theater, or writing where there was at least some evidence of my competence, usually in the form of compliments or accolades received. I never had a problem calling myself a writer, for instance, winning many awards throughout middle school and high school. And then came the books…
But to call myself a visual artist? To call myself a painter? Hell no! After watching my roommate work, I still felt you had to have a special artist license to even buy paint…
There is one visual form I felt reasonably comfortably approaching: collage. Born out of my love for making travel scrapbooks, collaging spoke to me because there didn’t seem to be competence involved. And I very much enjoyed the process of taking scraps and allowing them to develop into something meaningful when put together. As I began working with my own expressive arts mentor Christine Valters Paintner, I began to get braver about working with visual arts. Sure, I’d long kept some basic drawing materials in the office for my clients and out at Dancing Mindfulness retreats. Yet when I began working with Christine and realizing just how much Dancing Mindfulness as a program connected with the all-of-the-above nature of the expressive arts, I got braver about exploring my edge as an expressive artist.
I continued with collage and ventured into working with pastels and markers. I quickly found that visual arts had even more to teach me because I didn’t approach them with any kind of expectation about the quality of the product. There’s something to be said about being the worst kid in art class who was never chosen for any shows. Because competence was never my focus in visual art, I was naturally more open to just enjoying it, to being in process, and learning from what making just for fun revealed.
I credit crossing the paint threshold to my ex-husband after he saw how much I liked coloring and pastels. When I was going through an especially rough patch in the Fall of 2016, he bought me a paint-by-numbers kit. Although initially skeptical, I soon found that I enjoyed it even more than coloring books. There was something soothing and containing about having lines in which to work, yet my hand responded to the sensation of moving paint along a canvas. I loved everything about it; the colors, the smells, and yes, even the feeling of accomplishment when I saw the final product. There was some leftover paint and while at my local craft store on a run for some other supplies, I bought a small canvas and decided to use the leftover pain to express something original. I painted a mandala and it spoke to me very much.
I continued with this process for the next few months—finishing paint-by-numbers kits and then using the leftover paint to create something original. After a couple rounds of this process, I got brave enough to order some of my own paint off of Amazon and continue with my explorations. I approached it as something fun to do, something that let me play with color and texture and sensation and not be bound by the shackles of outcome.
A few months into this journey is where the painting that graces the cover of my latest book Process Not Perfection: Expressive Arts Solutions for Trauma Recovery revealed itself to me. And in this revelation came what is perhaps the greatest lesson that I ever received about the power of process: be open to where the unexpected, even the failures, may guide you. A pleasant surprise may blossom when you shed these expectations.
I laid down a foundation in gauche, the first time I ever experimented with this unique form closely related to watercolor. I also played around with using some shimmery paints that you can apply with a spray bottle. I liked the mystical ocean of color that was coming into existence! Then the idea came to me—paint a Hand of Fatima! This blue magic would certainly be an ideal backdrop for this symbol I’d come to adore. I printed out a copy of the hand online to follow. This unique pattern, sometimes referred to as a Hand of Hamhsa, seemed relatively easy to copy or trace, even for someone as unskilled as I. When I looked at the lopsided result of my attempt to paint the hand in white acrylic with a fine brush, I was disheartened.
“See, I ruined my cool blue background,” I huffed in frustration.
In the spirit of process, I rolled with that frustration, angrily ripping away a paper towel and I just started rubbing. I hoped that enough of it would come off so that I might be able to salvage some of the base. What emerged was the cool, rather mystical white outline of a flower that you now see on the cover of the book.
“Wow, the hand now looks like a cloud, or a flower,” I said.
I noticed that my raging by paper towel maneuver also made some very interesting patterns on the canvas that I just began filling in with gold… and then with green. And then as I noticed the flower take shape, I finished off the core image with some of the pinkish-magenta that now composes the flower itself.
I stood back in amazement, declaring, “I did that! It’s beautiful!”
And it was totally an accident, the fruit of staying in process and not being fixated on outcome.
From the moment I began writing Process Not Perfection, I knew that this image would be my book’s cover. For being in the process that birthed this painting is when I truly fell in love with the magic of expressive arts. I adore how the practices of expressive arts therapy invite me into a focus on process rather than perfection, and I am so grateful to be surrounded by a community of other expressive artists who inspire me to carry this lesson into all areas of my life.
To the process, my friends! And to the inevitable magic that will unfold from living a life in process…
I’m tired and
I just want to go home
I am hungry all the time and
I constantly yearn to be touched
Not just by anyone--
By the one I adore more than I should
I crave the things I cannot have and
I resent having to wear this meat suit
My soul is already home
My body longs to catch up
My body is exhausted
My body still wanders
My body constantly feels teased
My body is hungry all the time and
My body yearns to be touched
Can’t she just get with the program?
I know I am not my body
My soul is who I truly am
When I recognize this truth, I am at peace
And it’s so fucking hard to stay there
When I live in this human shell
I am not my limbic brain and yet
I have a limbic brain, a brain that is tired
And just wants to go home
One of the things I love so much about our Dancing Mindfulness community is our inclusiveness. We celebrate members of all shapes, sizes, colors, belief systems, spiritualities, genders, sexual orientations, and career paths. I think this is one of the things that makes us strong and creates the safe container that we value so much within the community.
And yet. Sometimes I see things that feel exclusionary happening in our community, that seem clique-ish. Others have mentioned similar experiences of feeling excluded, feeling like outsiders. I don’t believe that members of our community deliberately set out to exclude others, but sometimes it happens, regardless, and I strongly believe we need to guard against such behaviors.
I get it. When I get around my safe people, my close friends, I want to be greedy and get as much connection with them as possible in the time we have. Some of them I don’t get to see nearly as often as I’d like. Sometimes I feel extra needy, because safe, healthy connections like I experience with these people were few and far between before I found this community. I want to make the most of it when we are together.
The reality is that even within our community, there is a hierarchy. Some of us have been in the community longer than others. Some of us are closer to the “inner circle” by virtue of geographical proximity or affiliate status or working directly with Jamie. Maybe the inner circle people, or the people who are close friends, need to find ways to spend time together, just us, more often than we have been. When we come together with others who are further outside the inner circle, or others who are only just coming into contact with our community for the first time, each of us is in a position of power over those newer or more distantly connected members. We need to behave accordingly.
Which means things like, we can’t all collect at one table that doesn’t offer enough seats for everyone. We can’t all cluster in small groups all the time we are together. We may feel that, of course we welcome anyone who wants to join us, so what’s the problem? The problem is that not everyone will feel welcome to sit there, not everyone will feel brave enough to approach what feels like a clique or a closed group and ask to join. It doesn’t matter how open you believe you are to letting anyone join you if they don’t feel able to approach you. If you console yourself by saying, “I welcome anyone and if they don’t have the courage to ask to join, that’s their issue,” then you are misunderstanding or misusing your power within the community. Because when you’re an affiliate and they’re not, you have more power than they do at our gatherings. When you’re a personal friend of Jamie’s and they’re only an acquaintance or trainee of Jamie’s, you have more power than they do at any event where they are present. When you’re a Dancing Mindfulness facilitator and they aren’t, you have more power than they do when they’re in the same room with a group of community members.
That may sound harsh and it is not my intention to shame, blame, or guilt anyone. It is my intention to bring awareness to the fact that even within our open, welcoming, inclusive community, there are power differentials. When we ignore them, we are excluding people. We are making people feel like outsiders. We look like cliques. And that is not what this community is about. We all bear the responsibility for exemplifying the messages of our community. Please be mindful of the messages you’re sending, even with an action as seemingly innocent or mindless as choosing a seat at a table. Please choose instead to reach out with invitations of connection to everyone who comes to our community events. Let’s keep our web of connection growing and expanding and make everyone welcome. Not all will choose to accept your invitation, but those who need us, those we need, will find us.
Gut feelings and intuition run my life. Always have and always will. I can’t ignore them because they are loud fuckers and do not like being ignored. Either the gut feelings grow louder to the point I cave in with a defiant, “FIIIIIIIINE!” Or tossed an, “I told you so,” when proven correct. My life would go a hell of a lot more smoothly if I didn’t argue with it so much. Gladly, I did not argue with it when I found Dancing Mindfulness.
How did I stumble upon it? I had an undergraduate professor who always spoke about mindfulness practices and how healing they were. She was big on walking meditation. This piqued my interest because walking and listening to music is something I’ve done for as long as I can remember. During the cluster of my life, it remained the only escape I had at the time. Curiosity eventually won me over and I began Googling the benefits of walking meditation.
During this Google escapade, I stumbled upon Dancing Mindfulness. Initially I was put off. Body’s natural healing properties? Fuck no! The sheer mention of body sparked distaste in my mouth. Did I enjoy dancing? Hell yeah. I went clubbing all the time just to dance. It was my escape. Who wants to be in their body? Not me apparently. Turns out, you cannot escape your body. Something about being human and what not.
Although I had that reaction, my gut was loud and clear. This was something I had to do. This was something I had to get trained in. It was so clear and distinct that I couldn’t argue with it. However, I did not seek out Dancing Mindfulness until I was in graduate school. So it was a curiosity that had time to brew. Eventually I saw there was a holiday class in December. At this point in time, I never made plans to do anything for myself. It was always for others. It was nothing short of a miracle that I allowed myself to attend the class. However, this warm, fuzzy thread of intuition tugged me along.
Driving to the class, I felt sick with anxiety. My flight response was in full gear; however, I am quite stubborn and made myself get out of my car. I felt small walking into the building. I felt small walking up the steps. Into the building. Passing people. I watched the floor as I walked and found myself at the correct room. Before walking into the room, my surroundings were a complete and utter blur. It was like I couldn’t look up, otherwise the realization of attending the class would sink in and I’d take off. When I stepped into the room, my surroundings sunk into high definition. The sun was pouring in from the windows and viney plants were basking in its rays. People were coming and going from the room and I stood there trying to figure out what the hell I was doing. At this point, the warm, fuzzy thread was the only thing keeping me there and telling me I belonged. My gut feeling and I argued about the whole this-is-where-you-belong. Long story short, the gut feeling won and I stayed.
The warm, fuzzy thread is also what had me jumping in feet first and engaging in a conversation with Jamie (Pragya) about being a facilitator. I must have come across as a nut, because I had never engaged in Dancing Mindfulness and said I wanted to be a facilitator.
“Have you ever attended a class?”
Now I did partake in the class. It was the first time in my life I was safely in my body. This just made the warm, fuzzy thread of intuition a certainty. I will always credit Dancing Mindfulness for my jump start on healing and kicking me out of freeze/dissociation mode. Always. I will always credit the incredible tribe that comes with Dancing Mindfulness as being my main supporters in learning how to connect with people safely. That healthy connections exist. Always. It started with intuition, which lead me to the class, which lead me to Pragya who immediately introduced me to Ramona as my trainer.
Ramona and I agreed on doing individual training, because I couldn’t fathom myself around a group of people. I couldn’t fathom myself getting close to anyone and being vulnerable. Not that I told her any of that or that I felt guilty making any time for things that interested me. I had work. I had class. I had a partner to keep happy. I had a house to clean. I had pets to care for. I had all these reasons to negate going to a Dancing Mindfulness weekend training. Honestly, I probably would not have survived the group training at that point, because I wasn’t ready. At that moment, I needed that one-point person that I could keep coming back to over a period of time rather than a weekend. Honestly, I probably would have disappeared. So, Ramona and I worked together over the course of a couple months. I do not regret not taking the group training because it was not what I needed and not part of my path at that time. It turns out, that time spent with Ramona turned into a beautiful friendship and she has been an integral person in my life and someone I view as family. I don’t think my walls would have fallen if I approached training or Dancing Mindfulness in any other way.
Dancing Mindfulness has become my tribe and I’ve met so many wonderful people through it. It has been a catalyst for so many wonderful changes in my life both personally and professionally. I don’t know where I’d be without it. It’s been the base point where I have found EMDR therapy, Expressive Arts, my family, my friends, and healing. All of these things have led me to connecting with my body, the courage to leave an unhealthy relationship, connecting with people, finding my voice, learning to have fun. That my body, me, should not take the brunt of my learned shame. It’s amazing how providing the space to move and really listen can have such a profound impact.
Each retreat and each class, Dancing Mindfulness helps me learn something new about myself, about the world. It helps me connect more with my body and heal. What I learn about myself and how it works, I turn around and share with others with the upmost excitement. I don’t know how else to describe Dancing Mindfulness’s impact on me besides, life changing.
And to think it all started with a gut feeling.
Marnie Cram LPC, LCDC III (pronouns They, Them, Theirs) is a Dancing Mindfulness Facilitator, EMDR Therapist, in the Expressive Arts Therapy certification program, artist, and life-long learner. They received their MSEd in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Youngstown State University and is currently the Outpatient Program Supervisor at Valor Recovery Centers. Marnie is also a Reiki lvl 2.
I want nothing.
Nothing pleases me.
I celebrate nothing.
I love nothing.
Nothing beckons me beyond the urge to strive,
a constant yen to stave off Zen.
I want no sound, no taste, no smell,
no color, shape, or texture.
Nothing has plenty of nothing,
respite for my senses,
and that is what I want,
for a bit of time every day.
- Velma Lee Barber
Dr. Jamie Marich
Curator of the Dancing Mindfulness expressive arts blog: a celebration of mindfully-inspired, multi-modal creativity