I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Jamie Marich's reflection on gratitude for a sacred convergence:
Dancing Mindfulness Meets Dancing Monks: A Story of Gratitude
Early last summer I received an inbox notification telling me that a woman named Christine from Galway ordered a copy of a DVD I produced called Dancing Mindfulness: LIVE. Although it always warms my heart to fill international orders, I grew even more excited when I saw the domain on her email: Abbey of the Arts. Curious, I looked up her website and immediately experienced a deep, internal sensation that said, “Welcome home!” After watching the video, Christine enrolled in my long-distance training and mentorship program in Dancing Mindfulness. Simultaneously, I began eagerly working through her books, beginning with The Artist’s Rule. In April of this year, I had a chance to go on retreat with Christine and many other dancing monks in Leavenworth, Washington. On this retreat I realized with an even brighter spark that I found a beautiful source of nourishment for my body, mind, and spirit that complements my existing spiritual practice and home in the Dancing Mindfulness community. My heart brims with gratitude for this connection, and my backstory offers some insight into what makes this connection so special.
For many years, I’ve identified as being too “Eastern” in my spiritual practices to really feel accepted by many groups of Christians. Similarly, yogis and individuals I’ve met in Eastern spirituality circles often regarded me suspiciously because I maintain a strong Christian identify. Conservatives tend to find me too progressive and progressives tend to label me as too conservative. I also identify as a bisexual woman. Thus, the “middle,” the beautiful regions of grey that exists between black and white polarities is where I dwell. Raised in an American society that tends to label and compartmentalize various facets of human experience, finding a true sense of belonging has been difficult.
I grew up in an interfaith Christian household—one parent was devotedly Catholic and the other converted to Evangelical Christianity. Fights about religion were so commonplace in my household, I left at the age of 18 pretty certain that there was a God, but not wanting anything to do with organized religion. In my early twenties, I reconnected with Catholicism, the faith of my Baptism. Although my original intent for “finding religion” again was to seek a solution for my own drinking and drug use that escalated out of control at that time, I became deeply grateful that God used this lowest point of my life to reacquaint me with faith. The ritual of the Catholic Mass enlivened me, and I tore into reading about the lives of the saints and the teachings of monastics from both Eastern and Western Christianity. I even found myself working for the Catholic Church for a period of three years (2000-2003), serving as an English teacher and English language liaison for the Catholic Parish of Medjugorje in Bosnia-Hercegovina, a well-known pilgrimage site in the modern Catholic world. I coordinated music for English language Masses, sang in an international group of musicians connected to the shrine, and met many of the people who set me on the path I walk today—that of a sober woman in active recovery who works to help others achieve their own goals of recovery and wellness.
When I returned to the U.S. to begin my graduate studies in clinical counseling at a conservative Catholic institution, I started to get the sense that I did not quite fit in with the church. Quite simply, I asked too many questions. And although I was told by many that I was allowed to ask questions, it became pretty clear that advocating for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals would be frowned upon in traditional circles. Speaking up about pro-life being more than a pro-birth position was clearly not favored, and challenging patriarchal leadership structures was not met with great enthusiasm. Although I’ve met more progressive Catholics in my journey, I was aware of what official church teaching was on these matters and I decided that I couldn’t really be a part of an institution that couldn’t fully accept me. Many years of searching followed on my journey of discovery…
Four years ago I began laying the foundations for a community and training program around a practice I called Dancing Mindfulness, largely to provide a safe space for middle-dwellers like me to find a place of spiritual inclusivity. Dancing Mindfulness appreciates that all human activities can be practiced with mindful intent. Mindfulness is the ancient practice of noticing without judgment. Although the English word mindfulness traces to traditional Buddhist practices, there is nothing inherently Buddhist about it. Many of the early desert monastics whose teachings I’d studied and revered engaged in practices that clearly meet the definition of mindfulness. Whether mindfulness is used as a gateway to higher spiritual growth or as a path to more balanced, centered living, the applications of mindfulness are various. Dancing Mindfulness can be practiced individually, or as part of a formal class. In the Dancing Mindfulness practice, participants can experience seven primary elements of mindfulness in motion: breath, sound, body, story, mind, spirit, and fusion. By dancing through these seven elements, practitioners are able to access their body’s own healing resources and realize the transformative power of their personal creativity.
Inspired by my own work as a clinical counselor with a background in dance, I wanted to create a practice space for dance that was welcoming and user-friendly. What began as a few classes that I taught in my own community of Warren, Ohio and at professional conferences in the fields of recovery and mental health has grown into an international network of facilitators and friends engaging in the practice. Our video, book (releasing Fall 2015 with a foreword by Christine), and growing facilitator training program (available both live and distance-based) are all helping us to reach people seeking healing spaces through dance in both community and clinical settings.
Working with Christine and seeing the model for inclusive, expressive community created by she and John is actively impacting my growth as a leader in my own community. Additionally, in Christine’s writing and the community of the Abbey to which she led me, I’ve been able to experience even greater degrees of healing and reconciliation about my own spiritual wounds experienced at the hands of institutional church. The Abbey also led me to my current spiritual director, Melissa Layer, who is helping me to come out as the authentic person God desires me to be in both my personal and professional lives. In addition to Melissa and Christine, I’ve made countless other friends and connections through the Abbey and the Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks. Several members of our Dancing Mindfulness community are also now taking part in Abbey programming, and in the Facebook group. The gratitude I have for our two communities meeting each other cannot be put into words (which means as soon as I’m done writing this I must dance my gratitude). Although only time will tell how the various connections between souls will continue to manifest, speaking strictly for myself, I celebrate the personal healing that’s already come to me from the sacred convergence.
Jamie Marich, Ph.D., LPCC-S, LICDC-CS, RMT travels internationally speaking on topics related to EMDR, trauma, addiction, and mindfulness while maintaining a private practice in her home base of Warren, OH. She is the developer of the Dancing Mindfulness practice. Jamie is the author of several books, including her newest, Dancing Mindfulness: A Creative Path to Healing and Transformation with Skylight Paths Publishing.