The song starts and I let my body respond. My hips sway and my feet start to step this way and that. My arms lift up above my bobbing head and my hands shake as if clearing the air off. As I breathe faster and shallower, my body responds to the music wanting to move even more, fast, and free. I feel my temperature rising and my heart racing, and a giggle forms in my chest. Laughter, joy, abandonment fill me. "Oh, I forgot how good this feels," I think, and let that thought pass without judgment. All that matters is that it feels good right now. I'm not getting stuck on beating myself up for forgetting to dance, or not having time to do more of this! Any such thoughts are welcome to come and I'll immediately send them off and away.
I am dancing in Dr. Jamie Marich's session of Dancing Mindfulness, following her instructions the best I can:
"There are no steps to follow... your body knows what to do... Mindfulness is noticing without judgment... "
When Jamie puts a slow piece on, my feet plant themselves in one spot. Now only my arms are dancing -- slowly, as if delicately moving the air around me, and along with the air any feelings that are surfacing and radiating from me. I release tears that I didn't even know I was holding back, and my dance like a flow of water moves them in a circular motion until they all evaporate and lift up into the heavens like a weightless cloud.
WAKING UP FROM ADDICTION AND EMBRACING THE DANCE
Jamie was introduced to me when I was working on a charity project for Croatia. When I learned about our common roots, mentors and interests and watched her TEDx talk on trauma, I couldn't wait to interview her for Waking Up in America.
"Let's connect all the dots that bring us here today," I say excitedly as we sit down in her hotel suite in Nashville, TN, and begin to unfurl what was to be a healing, life-shifting lesson.
Jamie was traveling through Europe after college as a backpacker, looking to meet people, learn about different cultures, and party. She only went to a small village and a pilgrimage destination in Bosnia and Herzegovina because her grandmother had always told her about it.
She ended up staying at Mother's Village for two years, teaching English and tutoring orphaned children at the a family-like community founded in 1993 during the war.
"I was on a very alcoholic path... [a] very destructive path at the time. Didn't know where I was going in life... father Svet [a Franciscan priest who was in charge of Mother's Village at the time]... welcomed me to stay for an extended period and work teaching English..."
While there Jamie met an American social worker named Janet, who put her on the path of recovery. But it was the children who ended up teaching Jamie about resilience and overcoming fear.
"It almost sounds cliché to say I found myself, but it really is what happened... for me travel is a medium that brings that out..."
She learned about the importance of faith in overcoming fear from a little girl named Anita, whom she taught how to ride a swing. When Anita fell off, Jamie let her cry and simply held her in her arms. Before long Anita was back on the swing, declaring "I'm not afraid any more."
"I was learning to live without alcohol; it became a matter of how do I address fear. How do I address feeling a heavy emotion? ... Seeing and hearing Anita having that experience was ... really is about faith."
Jamie returned home to Youngstown, OH and, at the suggestion of both Janet and Fr. Svet, she got her doctorate in clinical counseling. She has published numerous books, operates a private practice and now travels internationally. Not only for enjoyment and leisure, but also to speak on topics related to EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), trauma, addiction, and mindfulness.
I ask Jamie what her biggest joy in her work is and she takes a deep breath, closes her eyes and mindfully lets the answer come to her.
"Singing and dancing... Seeing somebody's soul start to sing, seeing somebody's soul start to dance... I can see that both when I teach and when I work with people... I can see that in my family and friends' connections often... I just love seeing people come to life."
And she adds, how often for our soul to start to sing, dance, and come to life, "a lot of tears need to be shed to take us there."
I make a circular motion with my hand to visually express this idea of a flow of tears and Jamie points out:
"[this motion, movement]... it's a river... it takes us to that journey where we need to go for healing... [it's] responding to the needs of the body."
This is what Jamie teaches in Dancing Mindfulness - both the practice and now the book.
Dancing Mindfulness comes from a combination of Jamie's passions: trauma work, using expressive arts for healing, meditation, and community gathering. Her love for dancing began when she was a little girl learning 'kolo,' traditional Croatian circle dances.
"Dancing Mindfulness is something we all do inherently. Because mindfulness is the art of being in the moment without judgment... and [dancing] has nothing to do with choreographed steps, or having to look a certain way. It's just moving the body with the sense of joy and freedom."
I think back on my childhood in Croatia and the endless weekends and family gatherings spent dancing, with grown-ups moving across the lawn, patio or even tiny kitchen floors, following the beat and laughing with abandonment.
"People have been doing this since the dawn of time..." Jamie says. Her contribution is in simply bringing it back and creating safe community spaces for it that are "trauma-informed, so you are not going to be judged for how you move..."
"Beautiful!" I exclaim, as the memory of those happy dances from my childhood also brings back images of drunken men behaving mindlessly, not mindfully. I like the idea of having a safe space to dance in.
Dancing Mindfulness is also a "legitimate form of meditation, a way to connect, center and pray," Jamie explains, and I take notice.
The day after my visit with Jamie and my experience in her class, I sit in my office. I put some music on and I get on my feet. I am alone in the house. For a moment I consider closing the shades in case my suburban neighbors glance in, but I let that thought pass. Mindfully. I lift up my arms and my feet begin to move. When the song ends, I feel refreshed, reconnected, and centered.
I send a wave of gratitude to Jamie, my friend who connected us, Fr. Svet, and all of the dots that connected to create this healing experience for me, and it forms into a prayer. As the prayer moves with and through my body, more tears come and take away whatever tension I was holding in. Like a river. Like a dance.
Jamie Marich, PhD is a life-long dancer, the founder of Dancing Mindfulness, an author and a clinical counselor who leads trainings and retreats on trauma, addiction and mindfulness worldwide. Her newest book 'Dancing Mindfulness' is available on Amazon.com.