Hello world. Thank you, as ever, immensely, for your kind attention in reading these words. I love to write in this modality, and knowing that you are there to receive and respond gives it density—it helps me to show up for you (and for me) with all the commitment and integrity I am capable of. I am grateful to all of you for sharing in dance, for talking with me, for guiding me, for challenging me and for supporting me.
On Friday, Amber Ryan substituted for Tammy at Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class. Amber brings her own blend of insight, tenderness, sharp insight and vision; and I have benefitted from her teaching on and off the dance floor.
Before class, I had a very full day. After a long day at work, I had a fast swim. I also shared a full meal—which I rarely do right before a class—with my small son. I wasn’t sure how I would fare as the energy of digestion, combined with the longness of the day, affected my system. I need not have worried, as the collective enthusiasm swept me along from the moment I stepped in. “How happy are we that it’s summer?” Amber asked, and was greeted by cheers and enthusiastically bouncing bodies.
At one point in the class, Amber said, “I am going to ask a question that might not sound very…spiritual. The question is: What do you want?” Her voice was theatrical, tender, almost beguiling. The first thought that arrived was, “I want my son to be happy. I want him to live a long and happy life!” Then, I flashed on many of the things I want in my life, and noted that I already have most of them, or at least they are in some kind of process of becoming. At some point, I considered that what I most want is to be love, to manifest love, in everything, in every moment.
My cousin Alexis gave me a card for my birthday this year that said on the front, “Happy Birthday to woman who lives life her own way…” and on the inside it said, “boldly, lovingly, beautifully.” She said she read it and felt it was perfect for me. It made me cry. Sometimes I might feel small or mean or inadequate, but really what I really want, what really guides me, somehow was visible to my lovely cousin. Nothing less than the total expression of love, total uncompromising presence of heart. That is what I want. That is my truth. The star that guides me.
I thought about one of my Buddhist teachers, Sharon Salzberg, who, when clarifying a misconception about the concept of non-attachment, said, “We would all be well-served to think much bigger than we currently do.” I challenged myself to think as big as possible, even in terms of the concrete world. If anything were possible, what would I want? What do I want?
I had some insights that I will return to in the coming weeks. About work, for example, and how I am directing my resources. Also, I have to ask myself if I still want to “be a professional artist.” And, too, do I really want a certain kind of love? Part of me wishes for a partner, a consort, perhaps a soul mate, but part of me is in love with the world, with my life, with all of the creative activity I get to immerse myself in—and is hesitant to couple. Is that just fear? Do I want love love? That kind of love? More points to ponder. Thankfully, I will have hours and hours this summer to contemplate, meditate, make and release.
I have had a stress fracture in my foot that since the More Than This workshop in April that faded briefly, but returned again. Toward the end of the class, I took off the dance shoes I wore to protect the foot, and moved with mindful curiosity, taking care not to jar the foot and only bearing partial weight on it, easing my balance carefully with its health in mind.
My mother-in-law, who was a black woman from the south, possessed a resonant oratory style, abundant good humor and flawless dignity. Once, when we were together, we heard the song, “God, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz.” I tittered. Having been raised Catholic, I always thought the song was tongue-in-cheek. You don’t ask God for a Mercedes Benz! You ask for world peace, an end of hunger, saint-like patience…something like that! But my very wise mother-in-law said, “Meghan, why wouldn’t you ask God for a Mercedes if that was what you really wanted?” She heard the song totally differently. The conversation opened a whole new line of questions I needed to pose to my mind. Why, indeed, wouldn’t you ask for a Mercedes?
What do I want? What do you want?
Amber played a dance remix of the Annie Lenox song with the lyric, “Sweet dreams are made of this….” She suggested that we think about what we want, and that we show it to others in the room. I lept into a gigantic dance with a friend who had just entered the class, bounding, spinning, emoting. In my head I said, “I see what you want! And I hope you get it!” I could feel her wishing the same for me. The beauty of un-conflicted, straightforward want is that it is, perhaps ironically, quite generous. When I want what I want, and I take responsibility for my wanting, I want you to get what you want, too. I don’t resent you for wanting, or even for getting. I even hope you get a Mercedes if that is what will make you happy! I carried the mantra around the room and repeated it in my mind to everyone I encountered,
“I see what you want! And I hope you get it!”
Happy summer, dear friends! May you live in the fullest expression of everything!
June 21, 2015, Brooklyn, NYC
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
I promised my uncle—who has been kind enough to read this blog, but has no context for the writing—that I would offer some explanation for people who don’t already know about 5Rhythms. Every time I attempt a definition of the 5Rhythms it comes out differently. It is at once incredibly simple and infinitely complex. The best I can do is try to explain how I, personally, experience 5Rhythms.
For someone who steps into a 5Rhythms room for the first time, it probably just looks like a wild dance club with no drinks. Over time, practitioners learn that the five rhythms are Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness. Guided by a 5Rhythms teacher, we investigate each of these rhythms through various suggestions, exercises, and as the music guides us. There are no prescribed steps, and it may look and feel different for everyone. In general, Flowing is characterized by awareness of the feet, and looping, unending motion. Staccato, the rhythm of the heart, is characterized by stops and starts, clean lines and may seem sharp or edgy at times. Chaos (my longstanding favorite) is characterized by uncontrolled, energetic activity, and may include rapid shifting of the body weight from one side to the other. Lyrical follows the release of Chaos, and may be characterized by a kind of lightness, curiosity or playfulness. Stillness—the concluding rhythm of a wave—is breathful. It is how you move with whatever is left after moving through all of the other rhythms. There is no set music, but most of the teachers are audiophiles who use their extensive knowledge of music to guide practitioners through a wave. If you are going to a 5Rhythms class, you should expect to dance, but it is interesting to note that 5Rhythms is by no means limited to dance. Rather, it is a way to describe the entire creative process.
This blog is about how I experience my own practice in 5Rhythms classes and workshops. It is also about how I carry my life into 5Rhythms, and how I carry 5Rhythms into my life. Does that help, Uncle Greg?
On Friday night, Tammy led us through two seamless waves during her Night Waves class, without any pause in the middle. A wave is a process of moving through each of the five rhythms in sequence—Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness. Often, there is a pause between the first and second waves in a typical waves class (such as the one I am writing about) when the teacher take a few moments to verbally explain an aspect of practice or to propose a particular investigation while students sit and take it in. I love these teaching interludes and have learned many valuable lessons from this part of the class, but Tammy is expertly unpredictable—just enough so we benefit from structure, yet continue to be challenged with novelty.
I stepped right in, though I arrived 20 minutes late. The entire first wave was devoted to Flowing, so we moved through all five rhythms, always retaining some aspect of the first rhythm of Flowing as we moved through each of the rhythms. I was elated to find expansive movement; and that I had all the energy I needed to move.
The second wave was dedicated to Staccato—so we moved through each of the five rhythms—Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness—and in each retained some aspect of Staccato. I found it a little difficult to access Flowing with the percussive drumming track Tammy played, but found my way into the wave with the help of another dancer. As we moved into the Staccato rhythm, Tammy instructed us to take a partner, and I turned to a friend who happened to be next to me. As per our instructions, the dance was an investigation of the concepts of Yes and No. My energy had faltered slightly, but as we entered into our Yes-No investigation my interest peaked. I thought of one of the mantras I have designed for my small son, who occasionally seems like a five-year-old teenager, “We should always have more Yes’s than No’s!” I tell him frequently. Sometimes I love to dance No, but on this night, the energetic expansion of Yes captivated me. At times, we were supposed to dance opposite roles, and I wasn’t sure if we were, in fact, in the same role or not, an interesting lack of clarity in a dance otherwise characterized by delighted specifity.
I moved around the room, partnering with everyone I encountered. In a smiling dance with a friend, a large man with downturned eyes barged right between us, sliming the side of my face with his completely sweat-soaked shirt. Believe me, I am not easily disgusted, but a revolted shock settled onto my features, and I dashed off to the bathroom to wash my face.
Stepping back into the room, I planned what I would say to the purveyor of slime after the class. “Excuse me! I’m not sure if you are aware that you slimed me during the dance? Um, in the future, could you please give me a minimum of two feet of distance? And, um, could you please, um, try to notice when I don’t want to be approached at all?” When he came too near me again, I put up a hand in his direction, scowling. I perseverated briefly about how, over the years, he has often invaded my space, crashed into me, and bumped me with flying limbs.
As I continued to perseverate, the music shifted us into Chaos. I started to laugh. I thought, “Oh, I am going to have a good cathartic laugh now.” As soon as I had that thought, the impulse left. I was lifted then by beautiful Chaos, and tossed by its currents and riptides.
As Chaos spit us out into the Lyrical rhythm, we were instructed to group with several others. One person was supposed to lead with a simple movement, and the others would follow. My group was a disaster. We had a very hard time finding one movement and there were several stops and starts. I was resistant for some reason, not liking what we were coming up with, not able to give myself over to it.
The day before, I had attended a teacher training along with thirty educators. I moved tables often (thank you, Flowing!) so I could meet different people in the room and learn about how they do their jobs. Many offended me. One table in particular made me particularly disgusted. A white woman in her mid 60’s who lives in Long Island but teaches in Brooklyn started to talk in a heavy Long Island accent about “them” (her students): how entitled they are, how their sneakers are more important than their studies, etc, etc. A younger woman, who I didn’t dislike at first, jumped right onto the bandwagon. A much younger woman, too, joined in. They went on and on. I resisted the temptation to ask them to explain who they meant by “them,” but left the table, again scowling, to refill my water bottle instead. Sometimes I really feel out of sync with the people around me, even in the dance in that moment. When Tammy said we could move around the room on our own, I fled, without looking back.
Despite these minor challenges, the overall tone I ended with was uplifted and energetic. I noticed repeatedly how happy I was to have access to so much movement. I noticed that a foot injury that had given me pause for weeks had evaporated. I noticed how much I love the heat and how far we had come from the depths of winter. I noticed all of the beautiful humans around me, being beautiful.
I always feel blessed when a strong theme emerges, but can’t force it if one doesn’t. The class was another thread in the tapestry I am living—complete with its unique insights, inspirations and challenges; and I am, as ever, blessed to have access to the 5Rhythms map that helps me to navigate it with grace and curiosity.
June 7, 2015, NYC
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
In the last post, I wrote about the intensive Mirrors workshop, Jane Selzer’s 5Rhythms class at my local YMCA, and a subtle prejudice that had crept into my mind—craving the “depth” that I experienced in the Mirrors workshop and believing the comparatively brief weekly classes were not as “deep.” In Tammy’s weekly class on Friday night, I found fathomless depths, the brief dissolution of my mind’s limiting stories, and the unbound capacity of breath and spirit.
I arrived a few minutes late to the first truly hot session of the summer. I spent a moment stretched out on the floor, but felt compelled to start moving through the room almost immediately, finding my Flow in relationship to the other moving bodies around me.
That afternoon, I heard an interview with the actress Maria Bello on NPR, who just published a book called, “Whatever…Love Is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves.” When her son finally asked why she was spending so much time with her best friend, who had become her girlfriend, she told him they had become a couple. He responded, “Whatever, Mom! Love is love,” prompting the title of the book. She said she felt compelled to write about her own relationships when she was at a party with her son, her son’s father, her girlfriend and other friends and family. She was moved by how much love filled the room, and wanted to share her experience.
Flowing on Friday was nothing less than delicious. I was drenched within the first half hour of class, and my muscles quivered with all they were letting go of. In the previous week, I had been through a serious professional crisis, had graduated with my second master’s degree, and had been entangled in red tape, working through various issues and obstacles. As I moved around I met many people’s eyes, smiling, adapting a practice of Thich Nhat Han’s and saying internally, “I see you dancing there, and I am grateful for it.”
It wasn’t totally clear to me when Staccato arose based on the music, but once it was undeniable, I partnered with a woman I love to dance with. Our exhales became sharp, almost erotic and we used the directions—to find a way to define the empty space between us—as a jumping-off point for our investigation. Staccato found me creative, expansive, eager to experiment; and I carried that deep-hipped, close-in dance to my next partnership.
Usually I can remember many details of how the wave evolved and unfolded, but this time, it remains a blur, even as I read my notes from Friday. I took on Tammy’s suggestion, that we dissolve, that we let the dissolving happen. Chaos welcomed me then and I slipped completely inside—occasionally delighting in an arising edge, then moving again into spinning, rising, falling effortlessness.
Maria Bello was speaking my language. When I was in my early 20’s a psychic read my tarot cards. He listed several loves and lovers, including “Angela.” I had only dated men; and I couldn’t figure out what he meant. Shortly after our meeting, it hit me. “Angela! Oh! I know who he means by Angela!” Angela was this beautiful girl I had danced with at an all night party. She came up to me and said, “I think you are cute; and I want to dance with you,” smiling mischievously and looking me right in the eye. Our dance lasted a long time, and was as erotic an exchange as you could possibly experience. It hit me that that was love, too. After that experience, I went through a period of identifying as queer—I had more than one girlfriend, frequented women’s bars, attended Pride events, and even joined a social group for bisexual women. In the 1990’s, it felt important to stand up and be counted. It was, and still is, a political movement facing a lot of prejudice and hatred. Even then, I only very briefly took on a particular label. My relationships were very fluid and dynamic—even if I was with one person for a brief period. When I met the father of my son with whom I shared a monogamous, committed relationship for eight years, I continued to believe in the fluid, alive nature of relationships; and we collaborated in creating our alliance with this in mind. I still don’t mind if anyone wants to claim me as LGBT, but defining my sexuality—just as defining any other part of me—has not been an important concern for the last many years.
I had all of this in mind when I stepped into Tammy’s class on Friday—which is perhaps why Chaos had so much appeal. Tammy’s invitation to dissolve brought to mind the labels we put on sexuality; and I stepped across the threshold into Chaos with abandon—letting labels, stories, definitions, ideas of separateness and my own beliefs about who I am fly around in the air about my spinning body.
Chaos opened seamlessly into Lyrical. There was no dialogue in my mind. Several dancers who appeared to be in a similar energetic state magnetized together; and we moved in the same field, eventually finding the ground and moving with it as another partner. I felt quivery, liquid-like, whispery as Stillness manifested.
Tammy did not hold us in a pause to deliver verbal instructions between the two waves as is the usual custom, and instead moved us from this extraordinary space right into the next wave and into Flowing. I found movement easily and could palpably perceive that my energy field was intermingled with everyone else’s—the same “passing through” that I wrote about in a recent post.
Before class, I had showed a room for rent to a man who was going through the break up of a long-term relationship. We sat in the back yard chatting at length; and he shared that he wanted to establish a strong friendship with the mother of his two children, though they would no longer be a couple. I said, “Yes, I relate. My son’s father, my recently former partner (I have never found a phrase that feels right) and I have a beautiful friendship. It is not easy! There is so much cultural pressure to hate your ex.” He agreed, and I said, “The thing is, it really isn’t that important what form the love takes.” (Which prompted him to say he had just heard about this great interview with Maria Bello…)
I remain committed to the position that depth is anywhere you care to find it, and propose, in addition, that love exists anywhere you care to look.
May 31, 2015, Brooklyn, NYC
May 30, 2015, Brooklyn, NYC
The Mirrors level workshop More Than This, which was lead by Alain Allard April 15-19 in New York City, was exquisite. Remarkably, the feeling of it—of boundless, loving connection—lingered for days. Immediately after, I wrote feverishly, wanting to bring parts of the experience to readers, and, also, wanting to live it again through writing. However, through the guidance of mentors, I realized that I had shared too much in the text. Since nearly every practitioner entered into the construct with immense courage and vulnerability, it was not correct to reveal details about my experiences as they overlapped with the experiences of others, so I set about revising the text.
I woke up the day after the five-day workshop realizing that I had a foot injury, so I was obliged to, in the words of my five-year-old son, “take it down a notch with the dancing for awhile.” I have attended a few waves classes since More Than This; and noticed that part of me was comparing these brief classes with my experience of Mirrors. The intensity didn’t seem to compare to what I experienced during the workshop; and I found myself wishing I could live my entire life dancing the 5Rhythms for hours every day in community with like-minded practitioners. Weekly Waves classes, which had seemed a wide open magnetic field where anything could happen, suddenly seemed ho-hum; and my commitment and engagement diminished while I pondered how I could get back to the amazing space I had experienced.
Wednesday this week, I was off from work, and stopped into the YMCA for my daily swim. I ran into Jane Selzer, who teaches a 5Rhythms class at the same YMCA. She reminded me of the class in the course of our conversaton and invited me to stop by. She said, “You will probably be the youngest person there!” She added, shrugging, “It is just an hour class.” I rushed my swim and shower, and stepped into the studio a few minutes late with dripping hair and the lingering smell of chlorine.
As far as I know, no one in the class has ever attended a 5Rhythms class outside of the YMCA. Though everyone in the room seemed to know each other, they greeted me open-heartedly, if with some curiosity. Within the first few minutes, I was sobbing. I tried to hold back, thinking that as the newest dancer there I should try to be discreet. What I found there, just as I found in the More Than This workshop, was nothing less than beautiful humanity.
We do this thing, and it is really so simple. Jane provided a lot of structure and used the music skillfully to keep everyone moving, but really it was just a room, a group of people, some music, some words. We danced our hearts out, delighted with ourselves and with each other, soaring around the little studio, each in our own way. It is so simple, and yet it is everything, absolutely everything. Nothing less than the perfect expression of our total humanity. Nothing less than bliss.
As I cried, a waterfall of insights alit. I reflected that the “depth” I so crave—that I long for—is not something that anyone else can give me. It is not external. Highly skilled teachers like Alain and his wife and Assistant Teacher Sarah Pitchford can help to create ideal conditions, and Gabrielle’s maps can guide me, but really it is my own intention, my own awareness, my own integrity, my own discipline, my own patience, my own humility…that draws back the veils to reveal the depths of reality. If I fall into the trap of looking for it somewhere other than where I am, I am sure to sabotage myself, and to waste precious alive moments looking aimlessly for something that I can find everywhere, in every moment, in every experience.
As I write, I sit in my Brooklyn backyard. The soft hush of highway traffic enters my soundscape. Pipes music drifts to me from a distant backyard. The air is the perfect temperature for an early summer night, and, though it is late, the slightest tinge of dusk lingers. It is perfect. I notice it this time, thankfully.
To carry you back in time, on April 15th, the first day of the More Than This workshop, I made my way from the 8th Avenue subway station through the unpredictably organized streets of Manhattan’s West Village to Bethune Street, entered the building that holds the Martha Graham studio, and took the elevator to the 11th floor. I arrived over a half hour before the 1pm start time, but the foyer was already filled with dancers.
I think I spent much of the first day of the 5Rhythms Mirrors-level More Than This workshop trying to impress people. I especially hoped to impress the teachers, Alain and Sarah. I am not exactly sure what I hoped to impress them with—perhaps that I am a good dancer, that I am a good person, or that I am sensitive to the people around me. Alain is an acclaimed 5Rhythms teacher; with a worldwide reputation for his skill and insight.
I did not know the majority of people, as dancers arrived from all over the world, including one woman who traveled all the way from South Africa. Carving out the space from work and other responsibilities to attend the workshop felt like a soaring leap of faith for me, but I was humbled when I learned from how far and wide some had come.
On the first day, I danced myself empty.
Though I am not young, I am less practiced than most of the people who were in the room, and I felt possessed by youthful exuberance. My movements during this first wave of the workshop were expansive and creative. I slipped around people, and enjoyed a mutual head-cuddling spin with a friend. Alain’s refrain during this first chapter was, “We have plenty of time. Take your time.” I appreciate the perspective that we actually do have enough time, despite constant cultural pressure to believe that we are incorrigibly rushed.
After the opening wave, Alain sat us in a big circle to establish the parameters for the class. In this meeting, he asked people to reveal any type of connection—such as marriage, close friendship, or any type of investment in the practice, or even the fact of being a 5Rhythms teacher—and he asked us to leave those associations outside the room for the duration of time that we shared in the practice space.
Sarah led us through an investigation of the rhythm of Flowing—the necessary ground of all the rhythms. She was tiny and compact as she luxuriated on the floor, instructing us to investigate the lowest level (rolling on the floor), middle (rolling and slightly rising), and eventually the highest level (up, with attention to the feet and the ground) of Flowing. We moved as a group to one side of the room and then to the other as we attended to our assignment.
I recalled one teacher who led a meditation retreat I attended—a woman named Gina Sharpe. After a few days of intensive, silent practice I could scarcely bear to look at her. I almost felt I had to shield my eyes. I couldn’t believe that she was walking around the world shining so brilliantly, as she was. By the end of the first day of More Than This, I started to feel the same way about many of my fellow practitioners.
Entering the Bethune Street building the second day, the security guard was playing the House music ballad “A Lovely Day.” I had pressed the elevator button, but let it rise without me, dancing in the lobby instead. The guard told me that he loved the song, too. He had run an afterschool program for kids, and once had the kids perform the song, leaping in happy circles during the chorus, “It’s a lovely day.” When I finally got upstairs, I tried to tell someone about it, but choked up in the telling.
On the second day, the first wave danced me empty.
I noted construction sounds from outside, but regarded them as neutral. One of my first meditation trainings had a street construction soundtrack; and it had given me an opportunity to examine irritation and the insight that it lead to. The same day, Alain suggested that we consider it ok to be awkward. This, I also connect with that same meditation training, when I was raw, open, ethereal, and the teacher suggested that we might feel odd or awkward, and that we might experiment with letting that be—a suggestion that I have returned to again and again over the years.
Toward the end of the wave, I was drawn to the one place in the room where I could see the sky, and danced holding onto an edge, looking out the window. The 11th floor view and the vast space of the sky above New York City entered into me. I found myself weeping—porous, boundless, tender. When I turned my attention back into the room—a space I had previously perceived as a utopia—the room felt desolately confined. Grungy, semi-opaque plastic—coming down in the corner of one window—covered the windows on one side of the room. Our belongings—coats, bags, water bottles and assorted garments littered the benches on the same side. Most of the windows on the other side were covered with a tall, black velvet theatrical curtain. Materials and furniture seemed shoved into various corners; and the ceiling was worst of all. Shabby, with an array of stage lights—some with defunct bulbs. Snarls of black electrical cable snaked along the antique tin panels, held with various metal hooks and fixtures. I was heartbroken—to realize there was so much space available and yet here we were constrained in this tiny little room. I turned my attention back to the practitioners inside the space, and swept throughout, weeping as I gazed into people’s eyes, overcome by something there is no way to name.
I attend every workshop that takes place in New York City that I possibly can. Sometimes I show up without even knowing the workshop level or content and just follow the teacher’s lead. This time, I had a special intention. I was particularly eager to explore the map that Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, designed specifically for working with the machinations of ego—the Mirrors map.
The many different selves I have inhabited could stand some scrutiny. For example, there was a time when I feared I was evil, perhaps even a demon. I was deep in an underground culture at the time; and, though my conscience did struggle—I operated without basic integrity. It was a huge relief to me years ago to take on the belief of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and psychology that there is no essential self, that we are all in flux, and that we exist only in relation to everything around us. I finally let go of the deep fear that I might be evil, since if there is no essential self, I couldn’t possibly have an evil essential self; and I came to believe that “me” was an act in constant creation.
An important part of the workshop was a specific process of supported, individual ego investigation that Alain designed in consultation with Gabrielle Roth. Most of the people in attendance embarked upon this individual process at some point during the workshop. I, myself, stepped into it on this second workshop day; and had a disconcerting experience. The final wave of the day found me dissociative and anxious—polar opposite to myself earlier in that same day when I gazed out the window and wept, letting the tenderness of vast space overtake me.
I wondered if I would be able to move at all on the third day of the workshop, suffering as I was. That night, I wrote several letters to Alain and slept restlessly. Though I did suffer, I was able to hold it within a larger space. I continued to feel disenchanted with Alain on some level, but I gave Alain and Sarah each a tiny daffodil in one tiny glass vase. Remarkably for me, I didn’t complain, I didn’t protest, I didn’t ask for validation of any sort. Sarah greeted me gently, and asked how I was. I replied, “Tender. Reflective. I might want to debrief with you or Alain about how that experience was for me at some point, but for now, I am going to just trust the process for a few more days.”
That day, I found expansive movement, creative specificity, connection and tenderness. At one point, Alain instructed us to sit and look into the eyes of another practitioner. I happened to pair with a good friend. I fell into his eyes, sighing, unpreoccupied with being seen, but instead simply seeing. Alain asked us to experiment with various levels of distraction as we sat together. The best I could do with his instruction was to imagine white clouds passing in front of my friend’s face, then to return to presence.
The only thing I wrote down that night was, “I didn’t care about the story. I gave Alain and Sarah each a tiny flower. The day was exquisite. Very very deep.”
A song from The 100,000 Songs of Milarepa—a saint of the Tibetan Kagyu lineage—with a verse about clouds and sky echoed through my mind. I sang it to myself on the subway and as I walked along the streets of the West Village on the way to the Martha Graham Studio the next day. Since the workshop, I taught it to my little son, and he and I have been singing it as a bedtime lullaby each night—a fitting relic of the workshop’s experiences.
Overall, the Mirrors map seems to align well with Buddhist psychology. Perhaps this was one of the draws for me, especially the emphasis on investigating the stories of who-we-are that we perseverate on and are limited by. The preoccupation with understanding the limitations of “self” within Buddhism correlates to the preoccupation with understanding the limitations of “ego” as Alain presented it to us. There is a lot of talk of “no-self” in Buddhism, but my current understanding of “no-self” is that there is, in fact, no essential self—no self that exists inherently, separately, but rather that the construction of self is a dynamic process that is interdependent with infinite factors.
Gabrielle wrote, “Our ego holds us back from actualizing our soul in artful living…The ego is often committed to negating our capacity for being, loving, knowing and seeing. Rather than healing, it can dismember us into a set of minor roles. We tend to take the roles we necessarily play in day-to-day living as the sum and substance of who we are, rather than as disposable character parts that we as sacred actors choose to play as circumstances require” (Maps to Ecstasy, 146). Anything that obscures soul is ego, as Gabrielle understood it. Although Buddhist teachings do not use the term “soul,” Gabrielle’s explanation of soul appears to be similar to Buddhist ideas about unmediated, loving, vivid presence.
What was disconcerting about the ego process as it unfolded for me was that Alain’s interpretation didn’t seem to have much to do with my personal experience. However, in the decision to let it ride and not to insist on “my story” I gained tremendous insight. I spent many years wallowing in my stories of personal trauma. At some point, they became so codified that I began to suspect their accuracy. The decision to let it go for the time being showed me, too, how even centrally-important stories that I have been telling myself for an entire lifetime, are actually quite arbitrary—perhaps just as arbitrary as any other possible story.
Most participants stepped onto the big dance floor at some point during the five days and entered into their own ego investigation. Many ended with cathartic tears and deep insights. It was very moving to witness and see people in their process, and to work at really seeing or really holding space, or noticing when I couldn’t. It was exhausting, too. The universality of the stories was notable. Most lead to some kind of fear or deep sadness. I was very touched by the way the men in attendance held space for one another and showed up for themselves—no small thing in a culture that puts men into a tiny little box where they must be brave, productive and one-dimensional.
There was a series of hip hop songs during the first wave of the next day. I danced hard, edgy, low—bursting and lurking, displaying and folding ardently and dramatically back in to myself. The lyric of one of the songs had the voice of a student talking to a teacher, saying you don’t really see me. I realized that I was dancing one of the high school students I teach (my favorite, I confess). I danced both him and me at once. At times, this student seethes with held-in anger. He told me once, “Teachers think we are all the same!” Dancing for him and as him, for me and as me—I thought about all the trauma we collectively hold, all the rage, all the injustice, and all the beautiful humanity.
We gathered to listen to Alain, and I sat on a large ball not realizing that the one pregnant participant hoped to use it to elevate her feet. I got up immediately and another friend joined me, each of us elevating one of her feet and offering a smiling foot massage. We were her doting attendants. On the last day, at one point the pregnant friend was left without a seat entirely. I stood up right away, and the same friend joined me in attending her. In silence, we retrieved the ball for elevating her feet and various other accoutrements, scampering quickly, in sync. We each elevated one foot once again, then took our seats. It was lovely to feel like I knew exactly what should happen and to just do it, without equivocation; and I loved that my doting friend was in the same space. This feeling persisted during the last three days of the workshop.
Occasionally, I am self-conscious about how I interact with people, but most often it is light background noise (What do they think? What do I think? Do I want to be in this partnership? Do they want to be in this partnership? I have to be careful not to hit them with my arm. I hope they don’t step on my foot or crash into me. I hope this dance ends. I hope this dance never ends…). For long stretches during More Than This, that activity ceased completely; and I moved in and out of close partnerships with poise and confidence.
A friend sent me an email, obliquely mentioning the death of another friend—she thought I already knew. I couldn’t take it in, and waited for a chance to ask someone to confirm that he had passed. I approached a friend who was seated on the floor shortly before we started again after lunch. “I got an email mentioning….is it true?” “Yes,” he said, “and he took his own life.” I let out a sharp cry. He also shared the news that Pat, an elder in the 5Rhythms community, had died. The full force of grief shot through me—lightning—coming from above and ripping through. He looked patiently at me as I cried out again, gutterally, explaining that the friend who took his own life had been ill, and had decided that it was his time.
I thought, as I often do, of my tender-hearted father. I was there when he got a call that a close friend’s daughter had been killed in a car accident and grief overtook him instantly. And again, when my deeply loved great-aunt, who lived two houses from my parents, died at home of congestive heart failure. The totality of grief seemed to strike him right away. It was the exquisite environment of the workshop that allowed me to experience grief so totally, myself. At other times, I might experience grief as shock and in fits and starts, rather than with the raw force that is its hallmark.
That night, I had to be home before eight, since my son’s father—my former partner—had to leave promptly to get to a DJ gig. I told him that I should be home long before eight—our agreed upon time. I walked in smiling at a quarter before eight, thinking he would be pleased that I arrived early. He greeted me with contempt and anger. (In my journal I wrote that he “ripped me one.”) “I have somewhere important to be! How can you say you will be here long before eight, then you just come fifteen minutes before eight! That is just like you! That is not long before! Don’t ever ask me to help you again. I made it clear that I have somewhere I have to be.” He repeated this refrain with increasing intensity while my five-year-old son clung to my leg. I said, “Don’t worry, little one. Daddy can’t hurt my feelings.” I turned to him and said, “I am very sorry I couldn’t meet your need this time. Believe me, I would like to meet your needs. But you are out of line right now. What you needed was not clear. I could not possibly get from the West Village to Brooklyn in less time.” He left, slamming the door. I turned to my son to play with him, barely ruffled. Daddy returned two minutes later, apologizing profusely. I told him, “I accept your apology. The truth is that you can’t hurt me right now.” I said, “I love you” as I hugged him good-bye; and he said, “I love you, too.”
Before we began on the last day of the workshop, I sat next to a large, metal coffee pot that was heating water for tea. I leaned into it, smiling, thinking that the steam inside it sounded like wind. Sarah joined me briefly, and we shared a discussion about the 5Rhythms practice and how transformative it has been for both of us.
The first wave of the day began and I could not stop thinking of what a blessing, what a miracle it is, to move, to live. Alain played a song from the 90’s that I connect with my 2nd and 5th lovers—both problematic exchanges; and I thought about entering the story of it. But there just wasn’t much juice. Layers of trauma appeared, sparked, then fell away.
I found a dance that let many stories arise—some mine, some not—find instant form, then be subsumed again in the massive spinning matrices of Chaos. A new friend witnessed me in a spinning, twisting, leaping representation of wild mind. As the wave progressed, the room was filled with soft intersections. I didn’t need any approval. I didn’t need to prove anything. By the end of the day, I found myself, again, boundless, porous—my entire body one gigantic, beating heart.
In my journal, I wrote, “I see I see I see.”
Alain was masterful. Sarah, too, was masterful, in the way that she supported and lead in her own right. The final circle was un-cathartic. I felt nostalgic as Sarah and Alain turned to gather their things to hurry off to the airport. People lingered at great length and drifted only very slowly to the street.
The day after the workshop, I was irritable, though the open-hearted blissful awareness that had arisen persisted for many days. This was not a surprise. I have had the experience many times that after my ego has unwittingly rolled itself back to show a little bit of what it obscures, the ego reels and clamps down again, trying to re-assert itself.
In Tammy’s class on Friday, I found freedom after an unbelievably stressful week—when it looked very possible that I might lose my job and I was also struggling to finish requirements for a degree deadline. In the teaching during the interlude between the first and the second waves, Tammy taught the rhythms for the benefit of first time practitioners. I closed my eyes, moved, as always, by the litany of the rhythms—the refrain that has guided me to the depths of myself, again and again.
-May 30, 2015, Brooklyn, NYC