Do you spit or do you swallow?
What! How dare you ask me that!
The question is relevant
Do you spit or do you swallow…
Some women seem to have a natural gift
To spit it out, to reject it
Or they simply refused to be dicked around
In the first place
I am in awe of these women because for years
I swallowed and
“Taking it like a woman” to
Keep the connection
To secure the attachment
To be a good girl
For the men I wanted to love me
To praise me
To adore me
To let me play on their field
Even though I was more talented
More flexible and
A hell of a lot stronger
By swallowing the shame
Internalizing the misogyny
Being the version of a lady
They wanted me to be
And even treating other women
Poorly in reaction
Denying them their rights,
Believing it would keep the man happy
When he could care less what I did
As long as he got off first
How would he react now if I spit it
Right back in his face?
Would that make me an unlady?
Will they take my good girl card away?
Better yet, what if I don’t show up for the game?
Make him take care of himself
Hell has no fury like a privileged man
Losing his power
While compassion has long been our power
I must no longer let the man use that against me
I almost died in both body and spirit
Caring too much
When we step back into the power we deserve
The world comes back into balance
Yes, the fight ahead is a long one
They will come after us
Or worse yet
They may even deny us the
Connection and love we desire
May the fire burning in our bellies
Lit from the kindling of that
Good Girl card they revoked
Light the way
Surround yourself with the good men, women, and people
Who will never make you be anything than who you are
Who will celebrate your spirit to the fullest
Who will never ask you—spit or swallow?
“The heart is an organ of fire.” ~Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient
The limbic brain, the seat of our emotions and learning as human beings, can be destroyed by unhealed trauma. Ancient Christian mystics, often called the desert fathers and desert mothers, referred to this brain as the heart brain. Our emotional world, governed by the limbic brain, can feel like a fire that is raging out of control. Some trauma survivors are affected oppositely—they become shut off to feeling altogether. Often we shut ourselves off from emotion by choice, afraid of what feeling them might do to us.
Our emotional world and other matters of the heart are much like a fireplace that keeps a cabin warm. If the fire rages, it can burn the cabin down. If the fire dies, the cabin goes cold. Recovery teaches us how to keep the fire in balance—properly tended to create for us a beautiful warmth.
Invitation: Interlace your hands together and place them over your heart. If directly touching your body feels too activating, you may hover this cross-fingered gesture a few inches away from your heart. Spend 3-5 minutes in this position and listen to what messages your heart—and the emotional world it represents—may be giving you today.
Prayer or Intention: May the emotional fire of my heart create warmth—not destruction—today and on the path ahead.
Excerpt from the forthcoming, Trauma and the 12 Steps Daily Meditation Reader, releasing on September 30, 2020 from Creative Mindfulness Media
Photograph & Meme by Dr. Jamie Marich
May the reason I practice yoga be
To lead others to realizing the true nature
of the Self
Yet in doing that empowering others
Especially my fellow sisters
to advocate for themselves
To not let men walk all over us
In the name of spiritual practices
For us to claim our voice
As the creative energy that makes
it all happen
Refusing to be treated as anything less
We are not just servants
of the masculine
We are the whirl that creates
The motion and maintains
People have tried to keep the waves
From rising to their fullest majesty
not anymore, and never again
Originally published on InTheRooms, May 2019
During my first attempt at recovery, I learned to play the guitar. At the time, I worked for a Catholic Parish and aid organization in post-war Bosnia-Hercegovina. There was a kind Irish priest (and former rock n’ roller) also in residence who knew that I liked to sing. However, the only instrument I played, the violin, didn’t lend itself well to accompaniment. So he very patiently taught me the art of making chords and strumming. I found that when I was bored in those early days of figuring out what to do with myself, practicing the chords and the necessary movements to move between them more fluidly kept me busy. Then one day, the chord progression I was working on provided me a back drop to create a tune. Led by that tune, I started singing the angst of my heart and calling out to my Higher Power, desperate for a deeper spiritual awakening.
Did I just write a song?
Playing music and writing music was a lifeline for me in my first few years of sobriety. I ended up taking my last drink less than a year after I stumbled upon what it meant to compose music that is deeply meaningful to my personal journey. Always a lover of reading and writing poetry, the thought of composing a song always felt impossibly complicated. Yet through my trial-and-error, coupled with some experimentation, I discovered just how accessible writing songs was for me as a form of expression. In the field of expressive arts therapy, we call this being in process. In other words, not having a fixed or forced outcome in mind. Rather, we set an intention to express and to explore, learning from our mistakes along the way. Being in process like this teaches us lessons we may have never dreamed possible.
In the field of expressive arts therapy, we encourage clients and people in the community to keep an open mind to exploring all forms of creativity and expression—music, dance/movement, writing, visual art, dramatics, you name it! We embrace an all-of-the-above approach. So while the creative form that may feel most accessible to you can be a great place to start (for me it was music and writing), the practices that feel outside your comfort zone may have the most to teach you. For me, I long believed that the visual arts were my “weak link,” because I was never any good at art in school. Yet when I began deepening my commitment to practicing all of the expressive arts for my own healing and recovering journey, I actually discovered that visual art had the most to teach me. Because I wasn’t focused on it being “good,” I was just able to have fun, be in my body, and learn to not beat myself up for making mistakes. As result, playing with the visual arts in the later years of recovery had just as much to teach me about myself and the healing journey as playing music did in those early days.
This all describes the magic that we call process in the world of expressive arts. You may have noticed that the title of my latest book Process Not Perfection: Expressive Arts Solutions in Trauma Recovery takes a twist on the recovery slogan “progress not perfection.” For me, both the power of process in expressive arts therapy and this wisdom at this slogan are trying to teach us the same thing—don’t force outcome. Learn from the process and the journey. In early 2017 as I begin stirring with ideas for bringing this book into existence, this poem came out of me that ended up revealing the title:
Works of art in gestation
Are often called
Works in progress
The slogans and inspirational
Clichés call for
Progress not perfection
We judge students and employees
With the metric of a
What if we were to change
Every use of the work "progress"
With the word "process"?
What if works of art in
Gestation are called
Works in process?
What if we encouraged
People to focus on
Process not perfection?
What if our metrics of
Evaluation took on the tone of
What if we were to live our lives in process?
All life could transform
Into a journey of art making,
Fueled by the expressive spirit
We could refrain from
Judging ourselves so harshly
And instead savor the unknown
From the unknown and yes,
Even from our mistakes
We can discover a new way of being
From what we once labeled failures
We may unearth a new solution,
A new way to solve a problem
By creating in the moment and
Not forcing the big picture
May we encounter the essence of meaning.
If you are looking for meaningful ways to bring expressive practices into your recovery journey, please consider checking out Process Not Perfection. It is written for the general public in a voice that I hope allows you to feel safe enough to take this journey with me. I also have several opportunities where you can connect with a growing community of folks in recovery who also practice the expressive arts, specifically the Dancing Mindfulness and Expressive Arts Community Forum on Facebook. You are also welcome to visit my complimentary resources website at www.traumamadesimple.com for a wide selection of meditation, yoga, and other skill videos linked from my YouTube channel. And if you explore that YouTube channel (Jamie Marich) long enough (and go back far enough), you can also find some footage of me playing music!
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
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
I am nearing the end of my journey
And I've been with you through much of yours
I was there when wanting to off yourself
Was still in your thoughts every night
And I'm glad that you stayed around to take care of me
And that you stayed around to let me take care of you
Remember, dear Jamie, you named me Joy for a reason
I am the only animal in your life you got to name
And you named me Joy
You needed more Joy in your life
And I was happy to give it
I still am
I hope that now, as I near the end of my time
You are closer to learning that Joy is within you
Love is within you
Light is within you
Like your beloved Dorothy, everything you need is
Already within you
I still have some time left, so I'll hang around
Until I know that you've gotten it for sure
At least I know that
You will never let anyone
Lock me up in a cold basement again
Your body is soft in all the right places
Divine light pouring through, renewing
the earth with your very presence.
Your body is soft in all the right places
Giving comfort to a world hungry for healing
feed the people with your grace embodied.
Your body is soft in all the right places
Holy mother rejoices at your sight, challenging
any notions that you are anything but radiant.
Your body is soft in all the right places
A love note to the universe, a universe cherishing
The very existence of you.
Dr. Jamie Marich
Curator of the Dancing Mindfulness expressive arts blog: a celebration of mindfully-inspired, multi-modal creativity