That’s how Mariela Perez Simons greets you.
With a calm voice that’s warm and welcoming. It feels like a hug. A conversation with her leaves you feeling understood and validated. It leaves you feeling beloved.
That sense of peace that she leaves you with comes from the wisdom she’s acquired through a lifetime of transformative experiences. This is a woman who overcame a childhood of poverty, abuse and neglect in Cuba. When she left her native country, she learned a new language and adapted to American culture. She formed a circle of friends who became her family, supporting and nurturing her creativity and encouraging her dreams. So when she decided in midlife to pursue a Master’s degree in divinity, it seemed the perfect opportunity to her to serve others in a meaningful way. But this dream led to disappointment and such a deep depression that it took her nearly a year to heal and recover.
Her stress and anxiety were debilitating. She took a break from social media, which she used frequently until then to share affirmative and uplifting messages. She took time to focus on self-care and self-healing. Western medicine did not alleviate her stress, anxiety and depression.
“I felt like I was dying. I went to all the doctors, and nothing happened,” she says.
Ultimately, it was ancestral and Indigenous healing practices that saved her. The natural herbs and spiritual ceremonies of her ancestors helped her regain clarity and gave her a renewed sense of hope..
In her role as a religious naturalist minister, she helps people find ways to reconnect to their spirituality. She nurtures and guides them toward self-acceptance and finding joy.
She shared her story with us about her journey in creativity, depression and self-discovery.
What is your art form?
Ceremony, writing, speaking, video production and photography.
Have you always been artistic?
Yes! “Artist” was an identity that I took on early on, and while many other identities came and went, I still feel like an artist. As a child and teenager growing up in Cuba (experiencing poverty, abuse, and neglect) I came to writing as for refuge, and now I see how it kept my psyche healthy all those years. Later in life, I played with multiple art forms (such as painting and drawing), but I ended up focusing more on writing, speaking, and creating ceremonies because they feel more natural and sustainable.
What role does art play in your life now?
It’s something sacred. I sometimes think of “God” as the Creativity of the Cosmos which moves and creates through us, and so for me it’s like I’m in a constant conversation with that sacred force. When the ideas come, they make me feel “lit up from within” whether it’s a piece of writing, a speech, or an elaborate multi-sensory ceremony that incorporate tea, fruit, textiles, colors, music and scents.
You believe that we all have creativity within us. Can you explain further?
Yes, I believe we are all creative. Creativity is simply self-expression. Some of us express our essence through dance, through poetry, through numbers.
I see it as our nature that comes through with a naturalness/authenticity. I personally call this Duende. I think every creative person should know about Duende.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes says it best:
“In the center of the psyche there’s a mystical substance that in Spanish we call El
Duende; the creative function. It is the “Ah" of life — the animating engine, the creative
And It’s more than animation. It’s a way of living that is following all the shapes and the
curves of the lay of the land of your psyche. El Duende is behind the instinctual nature,
it’s the breath of the self, the oxygenating system that supports creative life. This unseen
force can fill people with God.
This is the center of the psyche. It can not be extracted or taken out like a loaf of bread;
nor can it be put in as one puts food into one’s mouth. It’s a being. It comes to roost or to
visit those who make a place for it. And some of us are born with the gift of it, and some
of us must chase it everywhere. Yet, if you attempt to tie it down, it will wither. And if you
set a trap for it, it will evade you. And if you use it without replenishing it, it will retreat.
And if you think it costs nothing to have it, all your hair will be burnt off.”
I believe that mental health issues come when we go against our nature (day in and day out for years); when we neglect our expression, our creativity.
Is art also a form of healing for you?
Writing and creating sacred ceremonies are very much healing practices. Speaking (at least in front of a camera) does not feel that way.
You recently went through a very difficult experience - would you like to share it?
Yes, I had lived in the United States for 20-some years, but I had never been fully immersed in a white/colonial institution. I had worked for international companies (surrounded by mostly Latin people) up until then, or I had worked by myself as a freelancer, but then, five years ago I decided to get an Master’s in Divinity, went through a strenuous process of ordination, and got my first ministry job. Those were hard years of pain and struggle, like nothing I experienced before, and that ultimately led me to experience severe anxiety, then depression, for the first time in my life, which forced me to leave that oppressive world behind.
What did you learn?
I learned of the damage that systems of oppression cause to our psyche; how they rewire your brain for anxiety; and the necessity of dismantling those systems that are causing so much harm in us and our environments.
What are you still learning?
I am learning to recover (and protect) the wisdom of my ancestors in order to heal the wounds created by those patriarchal/colonial systems.
I’m learning to recover (and protect) the wisdom of my creative flow, and to stay away from systems that interfere with that. And also that Mother Nature/ Madre Tierra/ Pachamama can heal us. We just need to come to her.
The theme for this month is depression/acceptance - have either of those ever been expressed through your art?
Yes, after experiencing what was probably a clinical depression (which lasted for almost a year) I’ve been writing and creating videos about what I learned in the process (about the nervous system, about oppression, repression, and depression, etc.) In some ways my depression changed the course of my career, too. I now also create intentional containers (sacred ceremonies) where people can come for sacred healing journeys. Each element of the ceremony (each color, each piece of music, each texture, each flavor of tea) is carefully selected to create a space where the nervous system feels safe and fully supported.
To stay abreast of what Mariela is doing, follow her @revmariela.