The (Really, Really) Most Grueling Stretch of Winter


This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.

Did I really title my post a couple of weeks ago “The Most Grueling Stretch of Winter”?  It is a little like turning to the person in the car next to you and saying, “Wow! This is great! There is almost no traffic today!”  The next thing you know, you are going 5 miles per hour and calling your destination to say you will arrive hours later than anticipated.

New York is strident today.  The neighbor’s wind chimes kept me up all night flinging themselves in the erratic gusts.  The streets are coated with a film of chalky white salt.  Polluted snow is frozen in perilous little grey mountains.  There is no moisture whatsoever.  My lips are cracked and flaking.  Great gales of wind blow the salt in visible waves.  It is so dry that I stepped on some dog mess and it didn’t even matter.  There wasn’t even an unpleasant squish—just hard little poo ice cubes under my salt-stained boot.

Dance on Friday began pleasantly enough.  I could move, thankfully, thankfully.  Halfway through the class, Tammy encouraged the people who could access Flowing movement to continue to move gently, attending to the many people who found themselves in the throes of inertia.  I moved at first with quiet inspiration, but as she instructed the people who were moving to partner with those in inertia, I began to sink into the inertia, myself.

I also grew preoccupied—two different strands of emotional unrest began to assert themselves in my thinking mind; and I found myself with forehead knitted, slowing down, aware that the stream of my breath was growing increasingly constrained.  A pattern has emerged lately—I start the class off cheerful, energetic and open; and end the class tired, tight and airless.

In fact, both my voice and my breath seem thin to me these last days.  It is like I am speaking only from the mouth, and the slime in my throat and sinuses is blocking energy from my belly and the rest of my body.  I have to clear my throat often and my voice has a struggling quality.

Before she paused to offer teaching direction in the middle of the class, Tammy said, “Anything that I say, I might say the opposite another time.”  As she often does, Tammy spoke of something she remembered from Gabrielle Roth, the creator and blessed mother of the 5Rhythms practice.  Gabrielle had given a set of instructions, then tossed off at the end, “or not!”  I love this.   I hear it as: take it seriously, take it on, embody the instructions, embrace the rhythms…and at the same time, don’t get stuck on the method, don’t get attached to doing it a certain way, don’t try to escape the unpredictability, and, for the love of Gods, don’t take it so seriously that it loses all its air!  I keyed into “or not” even more because my newly five-year-old son was experimenting with the same phrase when we were driving yesterday.  I couldn’t help but wonder if Gabrielle was playing with me somehow, and it made me smile.

In the 1990’s a close friend and I were immersed in identity politics.  It felt critical to us at the time, but he used to say that after you went on a rant about the dominant paradigm or other pressing injustice, you should throw on “n’ shit” at the end.  For example, “The white male hegemonic power monopoly evolved through the systematic suppression of women’s subjective experiences of their bodies…..‘n shit.”

I danced with a friend who I love and had a hard time connecting.  I noticed that if I stayed light and kept moving my feet, spinning and leaping, it was easier to be sort-of connected—at least not as apparently out of sync—but that it was hard for me to empathize with her experience of being in her body—which is so often the source of inspiration for me in dance.

My son has taken to mountain climbing the dingy smog-grey ice mountains that edge Brooklyn’s sidewalks.  Several times lately, he has asked me to follow his feet, and I have trudged along behind him, noting the tenderness of seeing him thus, and of seeing the way forward through his sharp eyes.  It reminds me of a powerful experience I had during Lucia’s workshop in December 2013 (see blog archive) when a “witness” trailed me through the rhythms and I ended the exercise sobbing uncontrollably with my face buried in her hair.  There was something about the way she was present and the way she had my back as she followed me that was incredibly moving.  And there was something in the way my son trudged joyfully over obstacles, sure about his choices of footing—sometimes a little risky but by no means kamikaze—that made me smile.

Lately, he is going through a phase that reminds me of how he was at age two—tempestuous and impulsive.  After a difficult afternoon, when I was trying to get across the point that he must control extreme outbursts, I opened Gabrielle’s book “Maps to Ecstasy” at random and read:

“The best thing to do with an angry child is not to try to turn off the anger, to push it down, to insist that the anger be controlled; rather, it is best to give the child permission, to affirm it.  Maybe you can get down with the child and do an angry, stomping monster dance together.  It is…vital for us to help our mates, lovers, children and friends in letting their emotions breathe and find apt expression” (74).

As inertia and distraction began to take root in me, an ardent new dancer caressed me as he zoomed past, without even looking at me.  My mind said, “Are you kidding me right now?”  I don’t know why, but I can be very sensitive to this kind of invasion of space.  Similar things happened two other times, with two other people.  I guess I was drawing it!  Either that or the ardent new dancer was affecting the dynamic strongly.  I spent several minutes thinking about how I could tell him at the end, “Please don’t ever touch me unless you make eye contact first and you have some reason to believe that I am receptive to being touched.”

It is an extraordinary contrast between the times when I can move with energy, inspiration and creativity; and the times when I quite simply-can’t.  I hovered near one of the columns, moving slightly.  I had the thought, “I had better start moving or I am going to get stepped on,” when someone in the throes of Chaos tromped right on top of my foot.  It hurt, and I pinched my already unsmiling face further, but I really couldn’t blame her.

Last week in class Tammy talked about how sometimes with the press of life, you can be “in the moment”, but each moment can be totally isolated from the others.

It made me think of a scene in the book “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera (or is it in “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting?”) in which a character has a moment when he dislocates from time.  He is simply passing a children’s schoolyard and listening to their play songs, but the moment becomes incomprehensible and garish.  It is, in a way, the ultimate postmodern experience.  Something about the myopia of trying to move in the world in the depths of winter affects me similarly.  It is like I am too busy hunching over to protect my organs from the cold to notice the connections between things.

I spent nearly the entire second wave in distracted ill ease, but had a reprieve at the very end when a friend who I love to dance with engaged me.  I was drawn in to his great, pendulous backsteps and spinning, wide-armed gestures.  I think part of the reason I found a few moments of freedom with him is that, based on years of shared dances, I knew I could trust him.

As always and as is correct, I left without admonishing the ardent new dancer; and hoping that when I got outside I would remember that there is no point in bracing myself against the cold since it wouldn’t actually make me any warmer.

Writing today, I found a little ember of gratitude.  I cupped my hands and blew on it, hoping it would keep me warm through the remaining arctic days.

February 15, 2015

Pregnancy, Birth & The Creative Process

This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.

The most spectacular human being on the planet was born five years ago tomorrow. I mean my own small son, of course. Gabrielle’s unabashed adoration of her son, Jonathan, who is now the lineage holder of the entire 5Rhythms tradition, opened the door to openly admitting my feelings, without embarrassment, holding back or making light of it. I wish that every child could be loved as much.

At this time five years ago, I was eating dinner with my son’s father. I had spent the day doing errands in Manhattan, and had been for a swim in the Chelsea Pool. I had to walk slowly, slowly as my body was beginning to cramp around the baby. I did not identity it as labor until after we had eaten and had settled down to watch a movie. The realization dawned on me slowly. “I think I might be in labor,” I said. He reacted badly, suggesting angrily that I call my sister. I tried, but could not reach her. She had just completed the Miami marathon, went out drinking after and was fast asleep. I called the midwife and started to gather some things I might need. We got into a car service. Then, it became very clear that I was, in fact, in labor. The first rounds of real pain caught me off guard. I turned and kneeled on the black leather seat facing out the back window, literally biting the upholstery and calling out in pain.

We arrived at the Brooklyn Birthing Center around 11pm, ahead of the midwife, and found the door locked and the lights off. I could barely stay on my feet at this point, and was becoming shrill with pain. The midwife arrived shortly after and let us in. She examined me and decided to have me move and walk before formally admitting me. At this point, she became strident, “You have to focus. You can’t totally lose it now.” She encouraged me to breathe through the contractions, and showed my partner how to press on the back of my pelvis to help relieve the pain.

I danced throughout pregnancy. In the very beginning, I stopped going to classes because I had heard a rumor that loud music could be bad for a developing baby. I couldn’t find any good evidence to support this; and since things were turbulent at home, I realized I had to return to classes or risk harming my little son with held-in sadness and anxiety. I even did an intensive, weekly shadows workshop that met late on Wednesday nights during the fifth and sixth months of my pregnancy.

It was in dance that I connected with the miracle of pregnancy. For the first time in my life, I was completely filled in every way. I was dancing three rhythms at once, my own, the baby’s, and the rhythm of us together. I was awestruck when I thought about the fact that I had two heartbeats; and I could hear and feel both.

In the Shadows workshop, my process of working with fear-entrenched patterns accelerated, as I hoped to evolve, somehow, before welcoming a new human into my life. I danced hard! It must have been a remarkable sight. When we investigated Chaos, I remember laying on the ground at the end fearful that I might have harmed the baby.

I spent hours and hours in the days immediately before birth tilting gently side to side on an upholstered rocking hasset, sitting in front of an altar that I made—of chandelier crystals and the little rainbows they cast, my grandmother’s glass Blessed Mother statue, and transparent blue and white fabric. I was beginning to turn in, to gather energy, to enter a trance that (in retrospect) lasted for several months after my son was born.

Before and during this period, I felt pulled to spinning. I was powerful and engaged inside a spin, and I dipped and cut the air with my hands, slowing and speeding up for long stretches. It might be interesting to note that when my son was tiny, the best way to calm him was by holding him in my arms and spinning—very fast and very gently.

Because I danced all the way through pregnancy, I don’t think I ever moved like a pregnant woman. Instead, I was able to adjust to my fast-changing body, including to the shifts in balance.

I wasn’t afraid leading up to birth—at least not of the birthing process. In fact, I was interested in testing my limits. Once the midwife re-set me, I got into a rhythm. Between contractions I danced Flowing in the hallway at the birthing center, moving in gentle spirals, my feet in constant motion. When a contraction came, I put my hands on the wall and breathed until I came to the other side of it.

Before long, the midwife declared that it was time, and I was helped into a warm bathtub. In the bath, I felt totally supported. My son’s father, the midwife and a birthing attendant were in the room with me. When the process got very intense, I turned to the side of the bathtub, held onto a metal bar and learned to beat a rhythm on the wall as my body radically adjusted and my pelvis stretched to make way for the baby.

I had to leave the bathtub when it was time to push, and for some reason I insisted on putting on my bathrobe as I was assisted to the room next door. I was patient, ethereal at this time, asking for a sip of water. Then, things got very urgent. The midwife said that the umbilical cord was totally wrapped around the baby and that we had to get him out immediately. I was immune to stress, but followed directions, pushing like I was doing a resisted sit-up. After all the pain leading up to the pushing, I was surprised that the last stage was painless. He emerged easily, with just a couple of pushes hours before dawn.

He gazed at us, centuries of wisdom in his tiny eyes. We spent the morning in the birthing center—where it was warm, dark, quiet and private. My sister also appeared and we took turns holding this still-otherworldly creature.

The year he was born—2010—was marked by blizzards, and we spent our first weeks silent and flowing. The beauty of the snow, the white sky, the silver line of the subway sliding by in view of the window, and the quiet cadence of the soft rocking chair folded into days that slid into nights and opened again into dawn.

The first time I was due to meet Gabrielle was on my son’s first birthday. We were out of town and had to travel back literally during the height of another blizzard. My father drove us to the closest Amtrak platform and waited with us for the long-delayed train. It eventually came trudging down the track, its metal snow plow carving a path ahead of it. Shortly after we boarded, the train went out of service and we had to wait in a station for hours, take a bus to another place entirely, and re-board another train. Gabrielle was already sick by then, and she had to cancel that day because her voice was weak.

After I had been dancing for about a year, I noticed that my relationship to creative work changed completely. Before, I had wasted time on neurotic activity, wondering if I was really a good artist, if I should really be a writer instead, if being a good writer would automatically mean that I was a bad artist—and on and on and on. After, I stopped asking myself these questions, and found that I had (without making any resolutions) started to actually trust the creative process to unfold and show me the way to a form. Creative work started to pour out of me. I was no longer serving my identity as an “artist” in the same way. Instead, I rode the winds of inspiration like a galloping horse.

After my son was born, I shed yet another layer of inane self-talk that held me back from creative activity; and I stepped without hesitation into ambitious projects and opportunities that arose.

A good friend told me about Tammy’s class a couple of days after my son was born. The friend put a picture of my son, showing his tiny head cradled perfectly in the palm of his father’s hand, on the altar. Tammy announced to the class that he had been born, and, according to my friend, many people were moved, some even cried. She said they felt like he was their baby, too, since we had all gone through the experience of pregnancy together.

February 1, 2015

The Most Grueling Stretch of Winter

This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.

You know the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz? They are the terrifying, taloned, swooping creatures allied with the Wicked Witch who plague Dorothy and her allies as they seek a way home to themselves. On Friday, I found myself plagued by fears. My little son—who is thriving, happy, healthy and spectacular—has been turning his feet out, rolling onto their outer edges to the point that he is knocking himself over. He has experienced (yet another) massive growth spurt, growing an inch or more since Christmas; and it is most likely a matter of his body adjusting to the fast growth. Even so, my mind panics—especially when it comes to him. In the beginning I was an unusually cavalier parent, but when he was ten months old, he spiked a high fever and had a seizure. I feared he was dying as I waited for the ambulance to arrive. Two years later, the same thing happened. I am told it is not uncommon; and that almost all children grow out of febrile seizures by grade school age, but it changed my perspective and, in some ways, my relaxed feelings. I watched my little son as he walked yesterday, intense, my eyebrows knitted together; and he asked me to stop watching his feet, as it was “making him embarrassed!”

I relaxed slightly as I drove to class on Friday night. I stepped into the already flowing room, bowed, and unexpectedly collapsed onto my knees with my forehead to the floor. I wondered what would happen, and wished for catharsis to cut through the fear and anxiety that were plaguing me. Truthfully, I had already been feeling anxious, even before I noted the change in my son’s feet. Late at night, while writing, I have been worrying away at my fingernails. I have also had stress dreams and have been waking up with bite marks on the sides of my tongue. Years ago, I was sure I had conquered anxiety, but I am reminded that relating to it is an ongoing process.

Lately, too (just to really heap it on), I’ve been grappling with the shamanic aspects of my own practice. I’ve been wondering whether or not opening myself up completely on every level might be dangerous in some way. I think this can happen when a strong fear comes up—it starts to ricochet all over and all kinds of scarcely related things start to come up and seem related. As to the shamanic aspects of practice, over the years, I have developed the belief that if I am energetically empty—porous, unattached, dynamic and connected to everyone and everything—I have nothing to fear. As I started to move, I asked myself, “What might happen if I totally let go?” But then I didn’t. Or couldn’t.

The music for the second half of the class was provided by two drummers. They were highly skilled and the room was alive with rhythm; but I just couldn’t get into it. With all the driving rhythm, I had a hard time finding Flowing—finding my feet, finding continuous motion, finding receptivity and finding graceful presence.

Today would have been my maternal grandmother—my Mamie’s, 87th birthday. Last night I re-configured objects on a little wooden box in my bedroom. One of the objects I chose to include was Mamie’s baby ring, which she gave to me when she realized she was moving toward her death. It is a tiny little gold band, with a tiny little garnet set into it. Too precious to describe with words. I put it on the tip of my little finger and thought about my own son who is leaving his babyhood—about to turn five, thought about my grandmother as a tiny baby as she was adored by her own mother; and I wept as I sat contemplating her life and contemplating, too, the passage of time.

I wish I had loved my grandmother better. I loved her deeply—to be sure, but my self-preoccupation kept me from fully showing up for her. My preoccupation with managing my relationship was a key cause, but I don’t think I ever really considered what it would mean to put her needs first, or to see things through her eyes. In her late years, with limited mobility, she yearned to get into a swimming pool. I vaguely thought I should try to organize it, but I never did—not realizing how finite time with her was. During her last summer, she wanted to take the entire family out to dinner one night while we were on vacation. I resisted, not wanting to leave the beach early. The unforgettable site of her frail, brave, bent back receding as she and my great aunt got into my mother’s car on an outing, instead, to get hot dogs, causes me tremendous pain now.

I have been hard on myself these last few days. Perhaps it is because we have entered the most grueling stretch of winter.

At dance, I tried to connect with the music, but found myself un-creative. At one point, I bumped into a friend’s elbow. Truthfully, he backed up without looking behind him, but the collision was chiefly my fault, as it was me who entered the space he had been established in and it was me who did not notice his backward motion in time to shift and give him the space he needed. He receded with his face pinched and holding his elbow; and I learned that he had been suffering from an injury in that very spot.

Shortly after, scanning the room, I couldn’t locate him. I feared that I’d horribly injured him and that he’d had to leave for the night. I repeatedly looked away from the friend I was partnered with, wondering what to do, abusing myself for my mis-step. Thankfully, he reappeared, and I turned back to my friend. We joined in a breath-powered, emphatic Stillness—smiling and embracing each other at the end.

When I was still with the partner I loved for many years, I spoke with a friend during a day of crushing anxiety. My partner had been out drinking all night following an acrimonious conflict; and I was embarrassed and self-abusive because I had stayed awake all night in a state of agony, waiting for him to come home. The friend said the most generous thing: “Meg, that’s just how it is. When you really love somebody, you are going to have some sleepless nights from time to time. That is just how it is. It’s part of the territory.” I was so grateful that she didn’t put pressure on me to be kinder, stronger or more evolved.

When I write a text like this one, the last thing I want to do is share it with the world. I have a deep fear that attending to my fears might make actually them manifest. Another part of me believes that accepting fear without attaching to it is the only way through, but this voice is hesitant—a poor debater who can’t hold her ground in a heated argument. I am also afraid because this is not how I want you to see me. I want to show you my tenderness, awareness, courage, vitality, my magnificence, my insight. I don’t want you to see me riddled with anxiety, small, frightened and closed down. I beg you to keep it to yourself, and please, to play it down if my name should happen to come up in casual conversation.

I noticed another friend near me, playing with the floor, arcing and suspending with movements surely inspired by yoga. I was delighted to join her for a few brief moments, my limbs growing confidently into the space behind and above me, reflecting her experiments, until we were instructed to change partners.

Sometimes I wish for a certain experience, such as catharsis. However, I have learned that hoping dance will fix me, hoping things will turn out a certain way, or hoping to escape the harsh judgments of my own mind are rarely productive. Sometimes things take time to move; and the only resources that serve are faith, patience and self-compassion.

January 27, 2015

Embodied Waves: Flowing

This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.

I was happy to arrive on time to Jonathan Horan’s sold-out, one day workshop “5Rhythms Fundamentals: Embodied Waves” that took place on Sunday at the Joffrey Ballet Studio in the West Village. I had been away until the night before, and had not set foot in a 5Rhythms room for two entire weeks. During the interlude, I danced (again) at Dance Spree in Northampton, Massachusetts, and also went to several dance events at Kripala Institute, where I observed the New Year. I intended to find a quiet corner of the large yoga retreat center to meditate through the midnight hour, but decided, instead, to attend a lively dance party lead by two teachers. I also went to a class lead by a man who started something called Shake Your Soul; and, although initially resistant, found that I was won over by the end of the class. I thought I would relax, meditate and attend yoga classes, but as so often happens, found I was drawn to dance—whether it is specifically 5Rhythms or not. All of these experiences offered new insight and information for me to experiment with.

I noticed as I entered the room on Sunday that I was slightly nervous. I have entered this same room on the 5th floor of the Joffrey hundreds of times; and I have rarely been nervous. It was hard to identify a cause, but I began to suspect that I was overly concerned with what the teacher, Jonathan, thought of me. I’m not sure what, exactly, I was hoping he would think, but it was an interesting thing to note. I admit that I cared very much what Gabrielle Roth—Jonathan’s mother and the founder of 5Rhythms—thought, and wondered if it might not have carried over.

Martha, an artist and 5Rhythms teacher who is highly regarded in the 5Rhythms community, had created an engaging installation with an active water element that contained references to earth, fire, water, air and ether; and I lingered near it, inspecting its elements as the dance began to move me.

I slipped easily into the first wave, beginning by finding an off-to-the-side spot to unfurl, stretch and undulate. I encountered many friends—people I have danced with for years—and greeted them warmly. I noted that there were several experienced teachers on the floor; and that the room felt deeper, somehow, for their many collective years of practice. Once I felt ready to stand, I rose to my feet in a dramatic rush, lifting first my hips, then back, shoulders, and head, and, finally, raising my hands to the sky and arcing slightly back. From there, I found circular motion easily, connecting joyfully with other dancers. I was also deep in my hips, experimenting with long, low stances; sharp, square edges; and percussive motion. With a good friend, I enjoyed a brief flinging jig, with high spinning steps and air-landed kicks during Lyrical in the opening wave.

Things shifted radically for me after Jonathan’s instructional talk following that first wave. I sat in the circle of participants surrounding Jonathan as he spoke, rapt with attention. In the beginning of the talk, he gazed into the ceiling, seemingly searching for words or waiting for inspiration. I wondered if he could see or hear his now-deceased mother, Gabrielle, and couldn’t resist the temptation to follow his gaze skyward.

Jonathan touched on many significant themes. He talked about the nature of practice—a topic that I love—and how we use the discipline of practice to help us to deepen our capacity for awareness. He also explained that (despite conventional understanding) 5Rhythms is not a dance practice. I remember Gabrielle saying that, too. In a talk she gave not long before she died, she said, “This is just the little black dress I put on for you,” and explained that 5Rhythms is actually a way to describe the very creative process itself, not just what happens in the dance.

I hope I don’t fall into the temptation of getting stuck on the idea that 5Rhythms is dance, but I am so grateful that it is. I do love to dance.

Jonathan went on to explain that 5Rhythms is actually a movement meditation practice. He used repetition, taking the voice of a dancer-seeker, “I taste freedom. I taste freedom!” he said, “Freedom from myself!” He then spoke about noticing if you are “in” or “out”, describing, I think, the quality of awareness.

In class on Friday, Tammy also commented on awareness, saying that one of the goals of practice is to develop awareness to such an extent that we realize we are totally and utterly connected to everyone else. She then invoked one of Gabrielle’s most famous adages: “There is only one of us here.”

My inner talk at this point in the workshop was something like, “I get this. I’m good at this. I’m mostly ‘in’. I know how to open my awareness to whatever comes. My heart gets shattered in this room all the time. This is not going to be very hard for me.”

Jonathan invited us to do a dance of being “out”, and had us take partners in this intentional state of being aware of non-awareness. Although we had a partner, we were supposed to think about something else, look away from them, and otherwise distract ourselves. I found that it was really, really hard to stay dis-engaged. I thought about a painting assignment I once had—to make a “bad” painting. It was hard! The intended badness of it was so engaging that I made a painting I loved, and that planted the seeds for an entire painting series that carried through the following year.

Jonathan encouraged us to “be real,” to find our own dance, and to stop performing ourselves. “Do that thing you do, when you are performing,” he said playfully on the microphone, “do that cute thing you do with your hips! Yeah! Do your hipster dance!” He continued; and the bottom dropped out for me. My ego did a triple spin. Every time I tried to move, I felt I was performing. The suspicion I had about wanting to impress Jonathan came drifting back. I felt like every movement I made had some aspect of performing to it. Instead of just noting my inner experience and moving on, in this case I seized up—the ego watching the ego watching the ego. I descended into isolated pain. I did not have the energy I needed to dance with inspiration.

I wondered about the things I could have done differently to avoid this current pain. I should have eaten an adequate breakfast. I was tired because of going non-stop from one physically intense activity to the next at Kripalu; and perhaps I should have paced myself more. I hadn’t hydrated enough, surely. I started to wonder about a possible muscle pull in my right groin that had been tender for two days. I stopped the bold physical experiments—with wide, decisive steps and sweeping, extended arms—afraid I might have seriously pulled the muscle and just wasn’t feeling the damage yet.

Rather than dancing near the front and middle, where there is usually a lot of space and a lot of action, I hovered, instead, near the columns—vague and distracted by the inner discussion I wanted no part of, but was unable to silence.

This reminded me of an experiment Tammy proposed during a Friday night class in 2007 or 2008: that we turn and dance with the emptiness next to us. I happened to be concurrently studying the Buddhist concept of emptiness—that nothing exists inherently in and of itself, including me—and that everything is in a constant state of change and flux. The study of emptiness infuriated me. Wasn’t it enough to know and accept emptiness without having to belabor the point? My ego rubbed and rubbed, blistering me in the process, trying its best to sustain itself. In retrospect, the class that focused on the study of emptiness (in the context of Buddhist Madyamika Prasangika teachings) was by far the most transformative of all the classes I took in a two-year intensive Buddhist studies program. I had no idea whatsoever how to respond to Tammy’s instructions at the time to turn and dance with the empty space next to us; and I found myself confused and irritated.

I think I should explain what I mean by the ego. I mean it not in the Freudian sense exactly, but closer to a Buddhist sense. The self aspect of self that is constantly involved in a process of proving its existence to itself—projecting its habitual stories, then trying to convince itself and others that its stories are true and eternal. This is the creature that got rubbed so hard in the workshop on Sunday. I can’t tell you exactly what self-story got interrupted, but I’m pretty sure I know it when I feel it.

Jonathan kept asking, are you “in” or “out”? “Are you just going through the motions?” He also said something like, “Can’t you just be real?” At one point, he said, “It’s a choice. In, or out.” This sparked anger. More than anything, I wanted to make the choice to be “in,” in fact I was making that choice, but “in” absolutely wasn’t available to me at that moment. The spark of anger never ignited, thankfully, as another voice in me answered the first, “It might not be a choice in this moment, but in the bigger picture, it is a choice. One that unfolds over time.”

It seemed clear that my ego was having some sort of temper tantrum, and it was downright unpleasant. On some deep-inside level, I think I trusted Jonathan, and was willing to believe that his choices were skillful, even if I couldn’t understand them in the moment. At the end of that wave, the final shape my body took was a twisted curve; and my eyes landed and stayed on the room’s red exit sign, hanging above the studio door.

I left quickly for lunch, hoping to avoid having to interact with anyone. As I sat at a local eatery, a close friend appeared and asked if he could join me. I was happy for his company, though still feeling unhappy and oddly tight. He told me someone asked if he was “having a nice dance,” and he shrugged, saying, “Well, I wouldn’t exactly call it nice.” I said, “Yes, sometimes nice or pleasant doesn’t exactly line up with productive. It could be totally not nice and still be productive.” I went on to share, “My dance so far today is very unpleasant, in fact. I think it might be productive, but it is really unpleasant right now. It would be good if it would shift.” I tried, unsuccessfully, to explain the tussle I suspected my ego was embroiled in.

I returned after lunch, once again on time, curious to see how my narrative would evolve through the afternoon. I wondered if I would remain locked in isolation, or if a different quality would come through. This time, I fell right into the luxury of aimlessness, flowing into empty spaces as they opened up and being coiled and repelled by currents as I moved toward and away from people. Sometimes I would trail someone briefly as I was tugged along in their wake. Even if I made a choice to go a particular way or to dance with a particular dancer, something would inevitably intervene and send me swirling happily in a different direction altogether.

I thought about how I had gone through stretches lasting months when dance was very unpleasant. I have no idea why I kept going to 5Rhythms classes when things got so very, very unpleasant and stayed that way for so long. I would scurry out at the end, unable, even, to sit peacefully with friends. I told myself that it was the nature of practice—that you keep showing up for yourself, again and again and again—without being attached to what will happen as a result. On Sunday, I was grateful that this period of unpleasantness seemed to have passed quickly.

Up until the time of this writing, I wasn’t exactly sure what the theme or even the title of the workshop was; and I actually had to look it up on I just knew that it was a one-day workshop with Jonathan in New York and was sure it wouldn’t be a waste of time or money. As it turns out, this was the first of a series of one-day “5Rhythms Fundamentals” workshops, each focusing on one of the 5Rhythms. While I didn’t note an emphasis on the rhythm of Flowing per se, in his final remarks at the end of the day, Jonathan said something to the effect that if you haven’t developed your relationship to Flowing—to finding yourself in the feet and knowing the ground beneath you—there is no point in moving on. I was left with the thought that the teachings of the day had to do not just with Flowing and finding the ground, but also to do with clear-cutting the defilements that corrupt that very relationship. No point in building a house on a swamp!

On Monday, I returned to work after two weeks of celebration, rest and time with family. It might or might not be related to my experiences during the workshop, but the week has been characterized by balance. I have been neither fatigued nor manic, neither hungry nor overfull, and neither bored nor overwhelmed.