I’m not ashamed to cry. Throughout my healing journey, I have singlehandedly kept the Kleenex and Puffs corporations thriving, so abundant are the tears I’ve shed. For me, releasing emotion with tears allows me to fully validate and feel emotions, a process that is vital to my transformation. While I recognize that sometimes I need to practice containment when the tears begin to flow (e.g., if I have an important work commitment), I generally don’t censor myself when my emotions flow in the form of tears. I’ve wept on a tarmac waiting for a delayed plane to take off, I’ve cried in a restaurant in full view of professional colleagues when I connect with a sad story I need to share, and I no longer fear what people think of me if tears begin to flow during a difficult conversation.
Every year I engage in deeper layers of my own healing and guide people through their own trauma work, I’m convinced that our emotions do not cause us as many problems as the things we do to keep those emotions stuffed down and buried. To honor the role that crying plays in my growth and transformation, an expressive arts practice recently came to me that I wish to share with you in this posting. I call the process “Transforming Our Tissues.” The process allows us to take the tissues that absorbed our tears during meaningful conversations and turn them into works of art. Not only can this work be a fun expressive arts practice, it is deeply symbolic of how true trauma healing happens at the level of our cells and tissues within our body.
In May 2019, I attended my first Ram Dass Spring on Maui retreat, where I was blessed to attend 12-step meetings with the writer Anne Lamott. Annie is very open about her involvement in 12-step recovery and did not think twice about welcoming those of us in recovery into her space for nightly meetings. During one of these meetings, I cried very deeply about the great struggle of my life connected to a person I love very deeply. I fought through some initial urges to censor myself (“Come on, Jamie, you’re in the presence of someone important”) and just let the pain of my heart flow. At some point during this very helpful catharsis, Annie handed me a tissue that I very badly needed. Later in the evening when I changed out of my clothes, I noticed that the tissue was still in my pocket. Of course, my fan girl side kicked in: “This is the tissue that Annie Lamott gave you! You can’t throw this away!”
In that moment, the inspiration struck me to use that very special tissue in my art journal, and in the coming weeks I accepted the challenge. Through some trial and error, I learned that tearing the tissue into workable pieces and matting it into my art journal with a substance called Gel Medium created a beautiful texture on my pages, over which I could paint. On that initial page, themed along healing my stuff in the six realms of experience on which the Buddhists teach, I marveled how painting over tissues with acrylics and gauche created the effect of a healing wound. And I realized that any special tissue that holds my literal and figurative blood, sweat, and tears could be repurposed in this manner!
Several weeks later, I experienced two similarly deep cries over love and grief with two of my oldest and dearest friends, Allie and Amber. I saved the tissue from the 12-step meeting at which I hung out with Allie on a July morning. The next day, I shared my tears with Amber at our local Panera (another instance of crying deeply in public with little regard to what those around me thought). As Amber validated my pain, she kept offering me brown Panera napkins. Our friendship offers a powerful container for me to share so honestly, and the vulnerability I can show with Amber has allowed me to make some of the deepest healing connections of my life. This day at Panera was no exception.
I decided to mount Allie’s tissue and Amber’s napkin on pages facing each other in my art journal. I affixed them to the page with gel medium (refer to the before pictures in the slide show). Like many pursuits in my expressive arts processes, I had no idea what the process would reveal. I just “went with it,” playing around with acrylic paints, using my fingers to apply them over the dried tissues. The tissue on the left from my conversation with Allie began to take on the character of a cell for me, appropriate since I am being called into a period of deeper rest and non-doing in my life. As I engage in more yoga nidra practices and periods of time where I challenge myself to put down the doing and embrace the being, I can feel myself healing at a cellular level. This challenge is very difficult for me as someone who has long struggled with beliefs like “I’m not doing enough,” or “I’m only valued because of what I do.” On the page that holds Amber’s tissue, I also see a cell, although one that is much more fluid and open to growth.
You can take a deeper look at the how-to of the process and the specific pages in the slide show that accompanies this blog. In the spirit of expressive arts therapy my aim isn’t to interpret these pages; rather, to treasure what they reveal for me personally. What I am learning from this revelation is that my tears and vulnerability are important to the overall process of transformation through release and rest. Healing my tissues—healing at the cellular level—invites me into all of the healing arts that I discussed in this blog. I appreciate that honoring my tears and what they represent is the core of all expressive art that flows through me.
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.
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 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
Don’t be fool by me
I may smile
I may seem to have it all together
But inside I may be falling apart
I may seem to have all figure it out
But inside I may be playing by ear
I don’t have all the answers
I’m looking for myself
If you see me around
Please, just call my name
-Irene M. Rodriguez
Challenge me . . . You're ok;
You may get stung - you know how to take care of the bite.
Moving past me you are entering wholeness, freedom and expansiveness.
I'm like a gate that leads you into a beautiful, open and new space to explore and
Go toward your fears and let go.
No more self-imprisonment,
No more chains.
Feeding my soul,
No more starving for air.
For gain, move beyond the pain. Sane beats pain, hands down.
The edges hold things up;
Be in the question -
There's the tipping point.
There is often footing, grounding, on the other side - even if it can't be felt from this side.
Tiptoe, dance, jump, fearless!
Back to innocence.
Written by retreatants during the 2017 Expressive Arts Therapeutic Weekend Intensive in Warren, OH as part of a group process on exploring themes around "the edge."
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)
An app for expressive art? Sounds like a bit of an odd concept, right? Well, don’t look away just yet. Whether you’re a dancer, a painter, or just want something to help you with Mindfulness, there are a decent amount of apps out there which may be of use to you…
Unless you’ve been living under a stone the past few years, you’ll have encountered the ‘adult coloring’ phenomenon. It’s taken the world by storm - and a lot of people say it’s really helped their mindfulness practice, reduced their stress levels, and given their creativity a boost. However, if you aren’t able to carry coloring books and pencils around with you wherever you go (who is?), there are plenty of adult coloring apps you can download. One of the best is Recolor - a slick, well-presented app which manages to pretty faithfully recreate the act of coloring, despite being on a tablet or cellphone! There are thousands of designs to choose from, and a bigger selection of colors than you could ever fit into a pencil case! Lots of the designs are free, but more are available via in-app purchases.
Using an app to help you dance is not the easiest thing in the world. After all, unless you’re seriously well covered for accidents, nobody wants to dance with a phone or tablet in their hands! However, apps can give you a decent spread of pre-dance info, and help you not only to perfect your moves, but to learn new ones, and gain a greater general understanding of the world of dance. Pocket Salsa is one of the better dance apps out there. It provides dance-lesson vids and plenty of genuinely helpful advice to really improve your salsa!
Chromaldry is another coloring app - but with a difference. This one will take your smartphone photos and turn them into coloring pictures. It offers a nice paint palette, where users can mix their own colors by swirling them together with their fingers. It’s a lovely idea, and very well executed. The ability to turn your own photos into art adds a nice personal touch, and can really help those wanting to improve their artistic ‘eye’!
See Me allows you to turn your own photos and/or designs into wearable art. For $32 per tee, the app will print your design onto a t-shirt (which you get to customise to your own specifications) and send it out to you. Perfect for commemorating something lovely, or for providing someone with a unique gift! Of course, customized t-shirts are nothing new, but this app goes the extra mile to make a truly personalized tee easy and intuitive to create.
If you want to incorporate your phone into your dance (and why not), Air Pencil is a great way to do it. Basically, the app transforms your phone’s flashlight into a strobe light, which can be used to ‘draw’ temporary designs on the air. The app also captures your motions on its screen, allowing you to create beautiful designs with light. The app was inspired by artists like Picasso and Mili, both of whom experimented extensively in the arena of painting with light.
Lots of people are interested in pole dancing - and it is an excellent way to get fit and build confidence - but not everyone is comfortable with the idea of going to a class. Pole motion teaches you pole dance from the comfort of your own home. It’s suitable for both complete beginners and those who already know what they’re doing, so you don’t have to worry about getting in over your head! The app is free, so all you’ll need to purchase is the pole - but do be careful not to hurt yourself, and always do the app’s warm up before starting!
iDance is a dance and fitness app, which teaches dance steps through nifty little animations. There are plenty of styles to choose from, and it’s a great place to start if you’re new to dance, or thinking about taking it up but aren’t really sure whether it’s for you. While it may not be suitable for more advanced dancers, it does provide a great grounding for those starting out!
Two birthdays ago, my husband David surprised me with a fancy Nikon camera.
My first reaction was, “I don’t need something this nice, I don’t even know how to use it. Really, Honey, my camera phone will suffice.”
In a classic case of my beloved knowing me better than I know myself, I discovered that this brilliant device ended up being a godsend in my Dancing Mindfulness work, particularly at our trainings and special events. I started really experimenting at the facilitator trainings. As others danced, I began pointing and clicking, capturing any image I could, knowing that I could pick out the decent ones later. During my first summer with the camera, I received a simple piece of instruction on photography from Thiago, my friend from Brazil.
Thiago shared, “The key to photography is framing the image you want to shoot and then click away.”
When she shared this piece of knowledge with me, I began seeing the world in beautiful frames and I found this process to be especially powerful when I took pictures of dancers. In playing around with photography, like a child learning how to use a new toy or a new piece of technology, I found myself needing to receive my own teaching that I share in facilitating Dancing Mindfulness.
Trust the process.
Don’t let judgment of your skill (or lack of skill) keep you from exploring what’s possible.
Be a witness, not a judge.
Embrace the chance to keep trying new things; you may surprise yourself with what you are capable of doing in the process.
In contemplating how I’ve developed a real interest in photography inspired by my love of dance, I am awestruck, once again, by the beauty of expressive arts. By its nature, the field of expressive arts emphasizes the multi-modal fusion of creative processes to bring about healing experiences. To me, the real gift of this multi-modal process is when we can discover a passion for a practice we never found ourselves “good at” through one of our existing expressive practices. For me, that joy for taking photographs has directly flowed from listening to the fruitful messages of my Dancing Mindfulness practice.
One of my favorite dancing sisters to photograph is the delightful Betsey Beckman. A formally trained ballet dancer who has channeled her talent into performance and a flourishing liturgical dance ministry, Betsey embodies joy, grace, and prayer in her movements. Recently, while on a pilgrimage to Bingen, Germany to study the path of St. Hildegard, I found that I couldn’t stop taking pictures of Betsey in many a dancing moment. There is a magical alchemy to her process that is so lovely to receive on film. One of our fellow pilgrims, Mary Beth Albers, a sculptor, thought so too. On Saturday afternoon when we had nothing formal scheduled, Mary Beth, Betsey and I engaged in an afternoon of creative play to take some photographs of Betsey for what Mary Beth envisions as sculptor celebrating the dancer’s journey. I jumped at the chance to take the photographs for Mary Beth’s project. After taking the pictures, our playful venture continued as Mary Beth and Betsey helped me to shoot a teaching video, and then I had the chance to film Betsey in an improvisational dance as Mary Beth held space. This afternoon experience was a delightful outing fused by the expressive arts. I see the act of supporting each other in our expressive art making a verdant pathway for bringing healing to the world… if we are adventurous enough to explore it!
Thanks to Betsey for letting me share some of the pictures that I took of her on our afternoon outing in this blog as a slideshow. I look forward to seeing Mary Beth’s creation!
Dr. Jamie Marich
Curator of the Dancing Mindfulness expressive arts blog: a celebration of mindfully-inspired, multi-modal creativity