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.
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.
Intuition Knows Best: My Introduction to Dancing Mindfulness by Marnie Cram, LPC, LCDC-III
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.
The Wisdom of the Body: Review of Christine Paintner's Newest Book with Link to Teleconference with Dr. Jamie Marich (3/10/17)
What an honor and privilege to interview Dr. Christine Valters Paintner, a graduate of our Dancing Mindfulness facilitator training program as she celebrates the release of her 10th book, The Wisdom of the Body: A Contemplative Journey to Wholeness for Women (Sorin Books, 2017). Christine is the abbess of Abbey of the Arts, a vibrant and active ministry. Although based in Galway, Ireland, the abbey is global in its outreach, especially through a variety of courses, retreats, and other offerings made online (including the popular Facebook group, Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks).
In Christine's latest book, built from decades of personal experience of her own journey with embodied healing, readers are led through a self-directed retreat experience. Various topics of struggle for women are covered, such as desire, emotional expression, and depletion from true nourishment. Each chapter invites readers into a series of exercises where they can explore, and if they so choose, embody the content inherent in this journey. Expressive arts practices (including conscious dance), yin yoga, and invitations to reflect on wisdom of the ages (presented through Christine's own vibrantly lived experience) make this content come alive. A special feature is that in each chapter, Christine offers a sacred feminine guide for the journey. Women like St. Hildegard of Bingen, Eve, Amma Syncletia, and many others are presented in refreshed light so that modern women may be inspired to draw on these guides, and their teachings, as sources of wisdom.
I had the distinct pleasure of offering Christine consultation on her manuscript (and am delighted to be included in the acknowledgments), specifically in the area of trauma-informed presentation. Although Christine writes from a Christian ministry perspective and as an expressive arts educator, I believe that her work should be required reading for therapists who work with women. There are so many solutions offered within The Wisdom of the Body that can help women in their healing, especially from legacies of trauma that wreak havoc on the body.
Listen to an interview that I conducted with Christine on 3/10/17 (a live teleconference) as we talked about her own experiences with learning to honor her body, her work with Abbey of the Arts, and of course the newest book. The interview wraps up with a dynamic discussion about why this work is so relevant for women in modern times. Learning to love and embraces one's body in the face of cultural messages suggesting otherwise is a supreme feminist action! -Jamie
Listen on Website (above) or Download (below)
People who know me well can tell you that Master Yoda is my favorite character in the Star Wars universe. I've long looked to Master Yoda as a sage guide, a sponsor, in my own recovery journey where the force has long resonated as a form of Higher Power for me. In my development as a professional counselor, I also turned to Yoda as a role model. As a sponsor, a therapist, a teacher, a yogi, and a practitioner of mindfulness, his wisdom never fails to speak truth to my soul. While all of his "one liners" are excellent candidates as recovery slogans, I was prompted to choose one that most resonated with the Dancing Mindfulness element of mind to lead off Chapter 4 of the new book dedicated to that element. As my Christmas/Holiday gift to you, it is my pleasure to share with you the quote of Master Yoda's that I chose to lead off the chapter, and to give you a glimpse into the chapter itself. Enjoy!
This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away ... to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing.
—Master Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back
The mind is not our enemy. By engaging in consistent practice we can learn to understand the intricacies of how our mind operates in our individual experiences. This consistent practice teaches us how to let our mind work for us, not against us. As a result, we can always come home to the present moment. Too often we see the mind only as an instrument for thinking—an instrument that can run amok with worry and negative ruminating if left unchecked. However, our mind is so much more than our thoughts. Consider that both the breath and the body—elements of dancing mindfulness that we’ve already covered—are guided by mental processes. As we will explore in this chapter, we have a “thinking” or more rational mind, an emotional mind, and a mind that regulates physicality. Some spiritual traditions offer the concepts of a wisdom mind and a spirit or bliss mind, the mental conduit that allows us to connect with spirit. While we can dance with the element of mind in a variety of ways in dancing mindfulness practice, I typically regard the mind as the vehicle that allows for integration of our human experience. As in Native American spirituality, the body, the mind, and the spirit cannot be separated.
Mindfulness practice is the process of teaching our mind to work for us, not against us. I get sad when I hear people say things like this: “I can’t meditate. There’s no way I can turn my mind off.” Unfortunately, this stereotype about meditation has taken hold because of popular portrayals of meditation practice as an instantaneously quiet experience. Mindfulness practice is not about turning the mind off. If anything, it’s about turning it on—developing a greater sense of awareness of your experiences and what they can teach you about yourself. Consistent engagement in mindfulness practices that involve activity—exercise, breathwork, journaling, drawing, prayer, dreaming, and, of course, dancing—can help us break through the survival blockage to help us address our emotional wounds. In essence, they allow us to tune and then fine-tune the instrument of our mind. In dancing mindfulness, for example, we remind ourselves to come back to awareness, to honor the present, and to consider the possibilities of creativity and healing.
For more on the book project, go to www.dancingmindfulness.com/book
Dancing Mindfulness: A Creative Path to Healing and Transformation (SkylightPaths Publishing, 2015)
It is an honor to be named the Dancer of the Month for July 2015! Who would have thought that in just two short years this would be happening to me? No one would have - especially not me. I remember teaching my first solo Dancing Mindfulness class and how extremely nervous I was. I have presented in front of audiences of my peers and students many times in my life, so I was not sure about why I was so nervous. Maybe I was nervous because I wanted to be perfect. I wanted the class to be perfect. I wanted everyone to love the class. I wanted everyone to have a positive experience. I think that is because I love the fact that I know there is an opportunity to positively affect someone’s life in each and every Dancing Mindfulness class.
The great thing about Dancing Mindfulness for me is that it has helped me fulfill my lifelong ambition of “helping people to help themselves.” We may not always hear about the ways that Dancing Mindfulness has had an effect on our students’ lives, but when we do, it makes it all worth it! For example here are a few success stories:
From evaluations from the classes I learned that students appreciated the following: the choice of music and inspirational messages; encouragement to be individually expressive/own style; found it relaxing, innovative music, no judgment about physical limitations, and some requested to have some specific steps/routines that can be incorporated. So, as my teaching of Dancing Mindfulness continues, I’ll remember all the good outcomes, add a few choreographed steps as appropriate, and hope that the healing continues for me and for all of the participants in Dancing Mindfulness.
I was asked to write a couple of words of wisdom that have helped me with Dancing Mindfulness. In my attempt to do that I’ve come to the realization that it is not the words of wisdom that have helped me the most. I’ve found the feelings, emotions, actions, reactions, smiles, laughs and tears of both sorrow and joy have been the most inspiring pieces of wisdom that I’ve experienced. I’m not a wordsmith, nor can I recite lines from movies, books, or poems, but I have extreme empathy, emotions, and feelings. I try to understand those during preparation and execution of every Dancing Mindfulness class. It’s like on our tombstones there will be a birth year and a death year and in between them will be a dash. It’s important to understand that it’s not the dates that matter… it’s the dash. Pick your own path, live your own life, (even if it pisses off others), and be proud of yourself! Make the “dash” in your life be exemplary and include a “dash dance” in your next Dancing Mindfulness class! Make it memorable! Be open and learn to trust in your style! You will make a difference in someone’s life … know it in your heart!
Thank you for the opportunity to share what little wisdom I have to offer now as I’m still learning as my dash continues---
I have been dancing my whole life. It was my whole world and I didn’t know any better. So, when I went to college, it made sense that I was going to major in it in college. There was a hint of interest in pursuing social work but it wasn’t enough to throw away my passion for dance. I did try to double major but both programs were so intense and set in their schedules so it wasn’t possible to do. Half way through college, my passion for dance started wilting and my heart began to feel emptier and emptier. I didn’t want that passion to die out but making your passion a career wasn’t as wonderful as I thought it would be. I got injured and had to continue dancing through the pain. After that I got depressed. Being told you weren’t dancing well enough and being graded for something that was supposed to be an interpretation of your soul, it just took its toll. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I was halfway through school so I didn’t want to quit. I didn’t want to turn back, so I pushed through, crawling broken to the finish line. I was a real mess during my senior year, but with the right help, I was able to graduate, cum laude, at the end of the year. The help I received from different social workers was tremendous. I was inspired. I wanted to do the same thing. I applied to the graduate school of social work on a whim. The July after I graduated, I found out I was accepted into the Graduate school of social work. I started that September and have found a new passion, a new love, a new career. After discovering all of this, I also re-found that passion for dance through dancing mindfulness. I learned how much of an outlet dancing can be for my emotions and for others’ emotions, so when I found out about the dancing mindfulness certificate, I jumped at the chance to complete the course. It was a beautiful experience and I am so honored to have participated in it.
My dancing mindfulness work was also immediately put to use in my agency. I work at a counseling center at Rutgers University, but we specifically work with victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking. Actually, that was one of my supervisor’s favorite parts during my interview, that fact that I danced and that I was going to pursue a certificate in dancing mindfulness.
In any case, my agency held a 24 hour truce. It was based off of Andrea Dworken’s quote “I want one day or respite, one day off, on day in which no bodies are piled up, one day in which no agony is added to the old, and I am asking you to give it to me… I want a 24 hours truce during which there is no rape” (1984). So that’s what we did. We planned 24 hours of programming that talked about bystander intervention, project unbreakable, and had different art projects surrounding the notion of a world without violence. During the 24 hours, I held two dancing mindfulness sessions. The theme for the first session was a world with and without violence. I had about ten participants and they all participated fully and enjoyed their time. I asked them to paint the room with their bodies, showing and portraying what violence looks like. Then I had them wash it all off, cleansing the walls, their bodies, and their souls. They really enjoyed it. The next dancing mindfulness session was at 4:00am so I didn’t have many participants until the end. I played the song “break the chain” which Pink performed and a few of the staff knew the dance that was choreographed to it, so they began passionately dancing. I saw the hope in their eyes and the joy in their hearts. It was a great experience to be a part of.
Breath is life dancing through us...
This is a main idea I've been working with in my edits on the book Dancing Mindfulness: A Creative Path to Healing and Transformation coming out this Fall! In reworking the chapter on breath, I was struck by a passage in the Gospel of John that describes Jesus literally breathing the new church into existence when he appeared to his apostles at the Resurrection. What are you being called to breathe into existence today? When you breath into he present moment, what new creativity flows?
At this point I am no longer going to be reposting my blogs from other websites here on the page. Any of my articles or consistent sources of publication are listed under Buzz on this page... simply follow the link if you are interested. I want the focus of this breath to be on the Dancing Mindfulness community, and I continue to welcome contributions from all of you. Share your practice with us through a blog, a poem, a meme, or another work of art... we want to celebrate you in this forum!
Namaste, Jamie :-)
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.
A friend of mine from grad school was talking about Dancing Mindfulness one day. When she was describing the concept I can remember thinking “Wow, that sounds like something I would really enjoy!” As soon as I got home that evening I went to the Mindful Ohio website to look up more information. The first thing I came across was the video showing others engaged in the practice. It was that very moment I knew I wanted to try a class. Funny enough, even though I desperately wanted to attend a class I was terrified. For a couple months I kept thinking “Ok, this is the week”, but sadly it was not.
In January 2014 I attended the Self-Care for Helping Professional workshop. It just so happened that Dancing Mindfulness was included in the day. I can vividly remember enjoying myself until “Wake Me Up” from Avicii was played. At that very moment I became incredibly overwhelmed by emotion. I did not fully understand what was happening to me. Before leaving that day I talked to Jamie about what I experienced. She was able to normalize the situation for me which gave me a great sense of comfort. Even though I was nervous about the same thing occurring again I started to regularly attended classes. There were many times when I did become quite emotional but I was able to accept that part of myself. In fact, I ended up downloading the Avicii song after the workshop and was able to work through feelings I had been holding on to for a long time.
During a few of the classes Jamie talked about facilitator training. I knew the training was something I really wanted to do but again I began to put myself down. I talked to a variety of friends, family, and mentors and all of them encouraged me to sign-up. I decided to take their advice and it ended up being the best decision I had ever made. I truly believe that weekend changed my life and still impacts me in a positive way. The connection I had that weekend and continue to have with the other facilitators is something I cannot describe. The best explanation I can give is that connection you have with your best friend that you have known for years. There was another important piece of the weekend that let me know I was meant to be there at that moment. During our first “dance” as a group Jamie played a beautiful version of “Wake Me Up” by the cast of Glee. I remember smiling and thinking that song would be included in my first community class I facilitated.
I knew that Dancing Mindfulness changed my life and I wanted others to have the same experience. I currently work as a Clinical Counselor and proposed the idea of adding a “Creative Movement” group (Creative Movement is Dancing Mindfulness just under a different name) for clients. The response I have gotten from other counselors at the agency has been amazing! My group jumped from one person to 8 people in a matter of two weeks! The clients have responded positively and tell me every week “Please do not take this group away.” Additionally, I had the opportunity to facilitate my first community class two weeks ago and of course “Wake Me Up” was on the playlist. I keep continuing to grow as participant and as a facilitator each week. If someone asked me what Dancing Mindfulness means to me I would have to use a line from “Wake Me Up”, which is “All this time I was trying to find myself and I didn’t know I was lost.” I truly was not aware just how much I needed Dancing Mindfulness in my life to reconnect with myself!
Dr. Jamie Marich
Curator of the Dancing Mindfulness expressive arts blog: a celebration of mindfully-inspired, multi-modal creativity