Thoughts on Flowing

January 19, 2014


Thoughts on Flowing


The week before last in Tammy’s Waves class, I felt more relaxed and connected than in the previous class when I wrote about an un-fun night.  At one point, my mind said, “Lead with your heart,” and about a minute later Tammy said, verbatim, “Lead with your heart.”  It happens frequently that I have a thought and Tammy verbalizes something similar.  It’s not just things like “lead with your heart.”  Sometimes they are much more specific.  In a workshop once, I was thinking about a story involving a group of early Buddhist monks.  As part of their training, they had to spend a night in a terrifying forest, plagued by demons and threatened by tigers and other wild animals.  Tammy told her version of this story, and used it as part of her teaching, purely by chance.  I had just run across the story the night before.


Instead of dancing this Friday night, as is my habit, I stayed home to recover from a flu.  I was dressed and ready when my son’s father arrived to take over his care.  I walked out the door, back in the door, back out the door, and back in the door several times before deciding I should lay low.  Once, I had dental surgery that involved a screw placed directly into the bone of my jaw.  I went straight from the hospital to dance.  I am glad I decided to stay home this time; and the flu has loosened its grip considerably.  I hope I am learning when to yield, when to flow instead of pushing hard against my experience.


In the last post, I considered the theme of discipline at length.  In this writing, I want to explore the theme of Flowing.  As most of you know, the five rhythms of 5Rhythms are Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness.  Flowing is the first rhythm—the ground.  As the music starts, people stretch and move gently, and gradually begin to dance fluidly around the room.  In Flowing, we are taught to investigate the feet as they connect to the earth.  We notice and move with the weight of our bodies; and move in circular, continuous motions. 


Of all the rhythms, I think Flowing has had the most direct, transformative teachings for me.  For most of my life, I have been quite staccato—multi-tasking, getting it done, sealing the deal, giving things a form.  “Done is better than good” was a personal mantra.  If you visited my house, you might have needed to re-wash a glass before using it.  I had to get the dishes out of the sink quickly and move onto something else—they were my obstacles and adversaries.  There was little space for the sudsing, scrubbing, rinsing and wiping that a really clean glass would require.  Especially in the light of this staccato-ness, Flowing has offered me a balance.


Once when Tammy was teaching on Flowing, she gave the example of walking across the apartment, noticing a plant that needed water, forgetting what she was going to get, and shifting instead to water it, saying, “Oh, it looks like that plant needs some water,” and moving as though she was being pulled in a certain direction.


For many months, I sobbed throughout 5Rhythms classes; and I was particularly moved in Flowing.  What I had craved for so long, I discovered, was totally available.  Total participation in the human field.  Nothing less.  Like the Grinch in his moment of epiphany on the mountaintop over Who-ville, my heart grew several sizes. 


Flowing is receptive.  It is the part of the creative process when we let things in.  When we take in information.  When we relax and stop worrying about priorities.  In a 5Rhythms room, this is when I consciously try to let down my guard.  Once I start to feel warmed up and connected to my own ability to move, I travel around the space, gently noticing and acknowledging every individual I encounter.


Another thing I learned while working with the Alexander Technique teacher is that I had several areas of holding tight in my body—almost like I had invented little floors or grounds inside myself.  Even in yoga, at the end when you act like a corpse, I was contorted and uncomfortable, unable to trust the ground under me.  Over years of practice, developing a trusting relationship with the ground has opened many doors.   


A common instruction during Flowing is to look for the empty space, and, without thinking, flow into it.  This is freaking amazing.  Seriously.  If I learned nothing else from all these years of practice this would be enough.  A new space will always open up; and you can always move into it.  I think I should repeat that again.  A new space will always open up; and you can always move into it.  Don’t get too upset if you don’t like what is happening right now, because it is bound to change.  A new opportunity, a new situation, will always present itself. 


When everyone is moving and looking for empty space, new spaces open up all around.  It gets very exciting and takes up all your attention.  Suddenly, I find myself in an absolutely perfect partnership, smiling with delight.  I take another turning step and dance right into another perfect partnership.  Once, a dancer was rising from a seated position and gently caught my body as he rose like a tendril reaching up to coil around a trellis, and we moved together, briefly, perfectly.


In Flowing, Tammy has often said, “If someone gets in your way, get out of the way.” There is something in it about relinquishing the territory you have been guarding and of letting go of your petty posturings.


Before I was introduced to 5Rhythms, I had a certain style on the sidewalk in New York city.  I was fast, standing my ground, occasionally disgruntled at someone’s territoriality, thinking about where I was going and what I had to do, seeing the crowd as monolithic, and viewing people as obstacles to my goal of arrival.  Since I started to dance 5Rhythms, the way I move on the sidewalk has changed completely.  I move fluidly into open spaces, yielding to people coming from the other direction with circular turns and steps; and I see the crowd as composed of fascinating individuals, each with their own destinations and goals.  It has become a dance, in fact. 


A very notable effect of the lessons learned in Flowing came after I gave birth to my son.  In contrast to the experience of many peers, I felt I had luxurious amounts of time.  From the beginning, I flowed tenderly with my newborn baby, letting him guide us through our days and nights.  I had already verified for myself that space will always open up, and did not panic if I had to put my own needs aside temporarily.  Creative projects, mostly writing and visual art, flourished.  I carefully planned what I would do when space opened up; and when space did open (usually when he was sleeping) I moved right into it, and was able to complete some ambitious new projects. 


Another tangible change can be seen in how I am at a party.  Before 5Rhythms, I would rush excitedly from person to person, trying to get time with everyone.  Even at family gatherings, I was plagued by the feeling that I should move on and spend time with someone other than the person I was talking with.  A few months after I started to practice, this changed completely.  Now, I am more likely to settle in and talk wholeheartedly with whoever I am talking with.  Before, I always had the sense that I was not enough, that I could never be enough.  After, I lost that sense completely, and started to enjoy myself more. 


I am not the same person.  We are always changing, true, but I am drastically not the same person.  A good friend and mentor, who introduced me to 5Rhythms, has shared that the contrast has seemed very marked.  I am very much a work in progress, but I am grateful to Flowing for showing me a gentle aspect of myself that was previously hidden. 

Note on Practice

January 4, 2014, Brooklyn, NY

Last night dance was not fun. Everyone else seemed to be having fun, but I could barely move. I notice that once I start not having fun, I wish that I could connect with someone, but at once lose my ability to connect. Most of the time, I move fluidly between partners—noticing that some people are more appealing to me and others are less appealing—but in some way it doesn’t matter. We flow in and out of each other. When I am not having fun—let’s just say it—when I feel isolated, it is an entirely different story. Last night, I hoped Tammy would instruct us to partner so I could get out of my self-made bubble, but she didn’t. Not even once.

I have a “bad” dance from time to time. Or, rather, an unpleasant one. Sometimes even several in a row. Early in my narrative of doing 5Rhythms, there was a painful period of several months when I left every dance feeling angry and isolated. I layered despair on top of all that because I was afraid the gigantic, epic experiences I had come to expect on the dance floor had deserted me forever. There were several dancers who triggered me frequently during those months, and my brain tried to blame them for my not-fun, though I knew I was just looking for a scapegoat.

Thankfully, by the time this painful season set in, I had already taken on 5Rhythms as one of my core practices, so I never considered not attending. The alchemy that 5Rhythms catalyzed for me was immediately apparent and I knew it was well worth my wholehearted commitment. For the first several months in 5Rhythms Waves classes I wept throughout every class. I found that I had to collapse again and again, and went through a period of writhing and twisting on the floor. I felt like I was working through layers and layers of shit, and I was surprised to find that I liked what I found underneath it all.

For me, my connections to particular practices arise organically. I try something out, and if I notice I have developed a habit, I put the new practice under a microscope to consider if the time and energy it requires are worth what it will give me. Really, I want to know if it will make me happier, and if it will make me a better influence on the world.

For example, four years ago, I started writing haikus as a fun exchange with my sister. We never actually wound up sharing any haikus with each other, but the project evolved into a practice of writing a poem a day, which I have maintained since that time. I like the practice because it helps me to stay connected with the poetic aspects of my daily experience.

Once I decide to define something as a practice, I do it whether it is fun or not. Some nights midnight comes quickly, I know I have to be up at 5.45AM and still I have to write a poem. The entire poem might be something like, “Exhausted. Bed calling me. Loud.” Sometimes it is beautiful. Since it is a practice, it makes no difference.

This is the most fantastic secret: discipline is the gateway to joy and to freedom. There are truly some upsides to growing older, and this one is huge. Gabrielle taught me this. Tammy taught me this. Real freedom may look controlled.

In fact, Gabrielle built discipline into the fundamental practice. No matter what, in a 5Rhythms class you have to keep moving, even if it is subtle. Gabrielle often said, “A body in motion will heal itself.” Whether it is good or bad, pleasant or un-pleasant, fun or un-fun, eventually it will shift again. Probably someday I will even have another dance that I think is the best ever.

Though I am usually drenched by the end of a class, I barely sweated this time. I took a shower afterward anyway, knowing that the next class will be a fresh start where anything can happen.