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.
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."
Dr. Jamie Marich
Curator of the Dancing Mindfulness expressive arts blog: a celebration of mindfully-inspired, multi-modal creativity