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!
I love you with an old-fashioned heart
Maybe the leftovers of another lifetime
My God, loving you was easier then
In this time, in this place
I am just another misfit with an
Old-fashioned heart and an even
Older soul who hopes we can one day
Find ourselves on the same page of
Our tattered storybook
A single tear runs down my face
Smearing the ink off my lonely page
Soon there will be an empty canvas
And I do not know what will be created
A solo piece, or a call and response
For now, the not knowing must be enough
Photography of Jamie by Ellen DeCarlo (2004)
I AM a feather on the breath of God
Feathers come in different sizes, shapes,
colors and textures
God uses my uniqueness
to radiate the world
I AM one feather, and i delight
in the feather that i am.
I AM a flute through which the
wind of the hours plays music
There are a variety of flutes on this earth:
Different tones, different timbers
God uses my sometimes klunky instrument
to play in the symphony
I AM one flute, and i delight
in the flute that i am.
I AM a being through which the Divine river flows
All rivers return to the ocean,
Taking different routes to get there
God has wound my river on a
weird and wonderful path
I AM one river, and i delight
in the river that i am.
-Poetry and artwork by Dr. Jamie Marich,
based on lines from St. Hildegard of Bingen, Khalil Gibran, and Rainer Maria Rilke
The earth and sky are one
Just as Jesus and Hanuman are One
How could one ever go back to sleep
After being this awakened?
How could anyone hear their name
Shouted in anger again
When they've finally heard it
Whispered with such love.
The earth and sky are one
Just as Jesus and Hanuman are One
The truth finally found me
May I never get lost again
Photography (of Jamie) by Ola Sobanski
In the supreme quiet of morning
I can just be
Sitting on the deck
Surveying the landscape
Both internal and external
It's good to have land
Especially when I can walk on it
Breathing fully into
The possibilities of each day
The water neutralizes
The fire within me
And I swim freely
Refreshed and renewed
Returning to sit once again
How sweet it is to be home
My anchor, my ground
My renewal and hibernation
The wayward come and go
Filling my space with delight
My home lives and breathes
Ebbs and flows like the seasons
The common thread is
Profound gratitude for having
Learned to come home to myself.
Send your monkey army
To heal my broken heart.
Fly down to India's southern tip
Like you did to rescue Mama Sita
Rescue me, my sweet Baba.
As I pray to you, I wonder
Have you given me the
Answers I need all along?
The answers to heal myself?
Breath that flows through me
And a heart that only knows how to love?
Send your monkey army
To heal my broken heart--
You already have!
Before I even knew your name
You equipped me with my salvation
My heart breathes into the sacred union.
Photograph by Jamie Marich
the flow of my creativity
the power of sensuality
the channel of divine Grace
Thank you, my sweet hips
For expelling the demons
from my sacred body
I felt pain from your struggle
I know with a scared certainty
You have never once abandoned me
And as I access your precious energy
Your dances will lead me home
Steadfast, to the authentic joy that I am.
Poetry by Jamie Marich, featuring of photograph of Jamie by Lauren Bergamo
Warmest water, balm to my body
Salty sensations, purify my soul
I dance in the waves at sunset
Giving my burdens to the sea
How could I ever leave this place?
The convergence is perfection
The ancient peoples knew this truth
And now I am learning
I want to swim in the waters forever
And yet my sacred duty is to emerge
From this ocean restored, revived
To carry this medicine to my native land
(Based on a first line by Mary Oliver from "The Hummingbird")
The green wheel of her wings
Are powered by sacred breath
The life force of this and every age
Her wings take her to the corners of the earth
Where Divine Order wills her flight
She is vibrant, she is free
She soars with the wisdom of the ages
She owns her beauty and her grace while
Knowing when to rest into her vulnerability
Others have tried to clip her wings
Threatened by their span and their reach
And there was a time she almost let them win
Yet as wise friends observe...
What would be the point of loving her?
To love her is to let her fly.
When someone asks, "What are you?,"
As we discuss the spiritual and the sacred
I will now respond, "I am all religions."
God/Allah/Hashem teaches me love
Showing up as Jesus, Divine Mother, and through
the nourishment of prophets and saints.
Buddha teaches how breath allows this love to flow through me
A blessed gift from the universe, from my ancestors
From the fusion of Shiva and Shakti, from the dancing fae.
Mother Kali, Mother Earth, Holy Spirit
The rising tides, the frozen lake, the flowing river
Dragon's fire and dragon's flight all protect me.
I am the child of them all.
The prayers are building blocks, not scripts
And my poetry doesn't have to rhyme anymore.
The spirit within me is no longer shades of grey
On some continuum in the middle of a black and white world
Spirit is all the colors, all the reflections, all the experiences
Spirit is all the feelings, all the sensations,
Spirit empowers the transformation of tragic pain into splendid art
Spirit does not belong in a box, on a scale, or with the laws of men.
For decades the Pharisees told me not to indulge in this buffet:
That faith is not a cafeteria and
The salvation of my soul depended on eating what I was served.
I grieve those years I almost listened and I celebrate the victory within
The inner light is a rainbow prism sparkling from ruby slippers
Carving a path, guiding me home this whole time.
Dr. Jamie Marich
Curator of the Dancing Mindfulness expressive arts blog: a celebration of mindfully-inspired, multi-modal creativity