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.
I have this vivid memory from when I was about four years old of me laying on the grass in my backyard. My arms were spread out to the sides and my legs were slightly apart. It was summer and I had shorts and a t-shirt on. I could feel the grass on my arms and legs, could smell the flowers from the garden, and had this amazing feeling of being content and connected. I imagined in my head the world spinning and knew that I was a part of that, that everything was completely in harmony around me. The feeling in my body was light and I could feel a slight tingle. It felt almost like I was moving on a gentle wave. The entire world felt right and I knew that my place in the world was to be a part of the connection of everything. Some may call this a g-d moment while others would argue that I just had an amazing imagination.
It makes no difference to me what others think. The important part was how I felt. I have spent a lot of my life trying to recreate this feeling, but the only time I could even come close was when I was dancing. I started dance classes at age seven, going on eight. By this point, the world had tainted my feelings of pure content and connectedness. I was watching my godmother die of breast cancer, beginning to really understand the term "being bullied," and had an overwhelming sense of being horribly different from my classmates. In spite of my troubles, I quickly learned I LOVED dancing more than I ever thought. From the time I could walk I knew that life was better with a little saunter in my step. Joining a dance class and being surrounded by others laughing and dancing was pure joy for me. The only thing missing was that feeling of connectedness that I just couldn’t seem to grasp again.
Fast forward a decade. I was now a well-versed mental health client, full-fledged self-injurer, and budding alcoholic/addict. Dance class still brought amazing joy to my life, but was no longer enough to break through the darkness that took over my life when I left the studio. I threw myself into theatre at school, and that helped, but my overall joyous outlook on life was gone. I was living a double life- out as a lesbian at school and straight at home, the "perfect" CCD student in church and devout pagan with friends, and happy at dance and drama club, but miserable the rest of the time. Leaving high school, I knew I would probably never live to see my 30th birthday.
I spent years searching for the answer. I came out of the closet fully, I moved across country (and then back), I tried new religions, and I got married. All the while still dealing with depression, self-injury, and avoidance-based substance abuse. After a particularly bad time in my life, I decided that I would do anything to find myself and be happy. On a whim, I signed up for a retreat in Pennsylvania. Living in New Jersey I thought, "how far could it be?"
Six hours on the road, and several stops at beloved convenience store, later and I found just how far Pennsylvania goes. I did quite poorly in geography and so I found out the hard way that it borders Ohio. That first night of the retreat I rekindled my love for dance, which had gone by the wayside for years. The first experience of Dancing Mindfulness I had was powerful. I had tears in my eyes as the opening dance session came to a close. I knew I had found something I needed. Within the three days of the retreat I made closer friend connections than I had ever experienced before and spent hours deep in conversation with Lexie, a woman who I now fondly call my twin.
Somehow between Lexie and Jamie (founder of Dancing Mindfulness and co-leader of that retreat), I left the retreat with plans to be trained as a Dancing Mindfulness facilitator. I didn't have my BA (I had been working on it for 10 years at this point) yet and didn't consider myself a valid part of the mental health world, regardless of my years of work in the field. I couldn't understand how anyone would think I was capable of facilitating such a deep practice.
Facilitator training changed my life. I came out of it with a deep passion for a part of the practice known as Dance Chapel. It's a non-facilitated practice and the way I experienced it during that training brought me back to my youth, when dancing and laying in the grass brought me comfort. The world was blocked out and it was just me and the music. I didn't realize it then, but I was beginning to feel that universal connection again.
I took the concept of Dance Chapel and ran with it. At first I attempted to start a community class and offer a public Dance Chapel once a month. When my small following began to dwindle and the relationship between the studio hosting me and I ended, I turned to my private Dancing Mindfulness practice. I found solace in making playlists for myself and playing with what songs fit where. I woke up at 4.30 am during the summer and drove to the shore to dance my playlists as the sun came up. I played music and danced everywhere. Finally I began to feel that comfort that I had felt as a four year old laying in the grass.
This feeling continued to grow as my relationships with those in my Dancing Mindfulness family deepened. I learned to accept support and love. When I finally realized I was abusing substances, my Dancing Mindfulness family was there to support and help me through the process. I learned to dance through withdrawal, hard emotions, pain, and success. I have danced into sobriety, out of my marriage, and into the unknown. Mindfulness is now a part of my life; I am aware of what I am doing in every moment instead of distracting myself from reality. My body, my mind, my soul, and my image of Spirit are all now connected by the power of being able to connect to my emotions through dance and movement.
It has been almost three years since my first experience of Dancing Mindfulness at that fateful retreat. I dance every day in whatever way I can. Sometimes I set aside time to dance a full playlist and sometimes I just dance around wherever I am (home, car, store, et cetera). I have found myself again. With the help of Dancing Mindfulness, and the family I have found in this community, I have celebrated my 30th birthday, found sobriety, and created a life I am excited to live.
Dr. Jamie Marich
Curator of the Dancing Mindfulness expressive arts blog: a celebration of mindfully-inspired, multi-modal creativity