Pura vida literally means “pure life.” In Costa Rica, you hear it many times a day. I was trying to explain “pura vida” to my five-year-old son, Simon, yesterday. It means “life is extremely beautiful.” It can also mean “you are welcome, I offer this thing to you with grace and generosity.” Too, it can mean, “Yes, I totally agree with you,” or “We are so lucky to be alive.” It is often used as the closing for a note or for the end of a satisfying conversation. It implies a kind of presence, joy and wholeheartedness; and, when uttered, acts as a reminder to take note of the spectacular moment that is unfolding.
The contemplation “Everything is Perfect” at first seemed too obvious. In so many ways, everything is perfect here. Costa Rica is the closest I have been to paradise. For the last few days, however, the complex meaning of the phrase has been apparent—that absolutely everything that arises in our path is part of the material we use to wake up, even (and especially) the afflictive emotions—such as grief, anxiety, jealousy, anger, self-hate, blame and guilt.
On the way to Simon’s school, a large, black dog barked viciously and chased us. We can only drive about 10 mph in the golf cart we are getting around town in; and I floored it, afraid that the dog might actually try to attack us. This was the 5th or 6th time this happened, and I found myself imaging how I would kill the dog if it tried to attack Simon. Adrenalin lingered in my legs for a long time after.
On the way back to the beach after dropping Simon off, I crossed paths with a woman who makes my blood boil. Two nights before, she had attacked Simon and his slightly-younger friend, claiming that Simon’s friend was unkind to a smaller child, and complaining that they were being destructive in the restaurant. I was flooded. I didn’t know what to make of it! I had lagged behind by just a minute or two, and I didn’t have any idea what she was talking about. When I arrived she was speaking with anger and contempt to the two children. The woman was accompanied by an acquaintance—a woman I know because she is lodged, along with her small son, at our previous hotel. Simon met her son on his own, and went to great lengths to share a prized toy he thought the little boy might like. I went to call him back to our room, and found him speaking with the toddler in the gentlest possible tone—explaining something from a big boy perspective.
I was totally thrown off by the woman’s aggression. After I got the boys settled, I went to speak with my acquaintance to gather information. She expressed that on other occasions, my friend’s son had been “mean” to her small son—that when the baby said “I’m Spiderman!” my friend’s son said, “No, you’re not!” repeatedly, causing the child to cry. I asked where, when? She said it had happened at various restaurants, recently. She also claimed that other parents had agreed with her and shared similar stories. I was still very thrown off. I said, “I can see how that would be upsetting. He is just four years old, you know! He looks much older, but he is just four. We will work with it! He is just a little kid.” I told my friend something upsetting had happened, and sketched only the vaguest details, planning to have a conversation with her at another time. Though I dance at a remote edge of the beach, this woman has crossed my dancing path there three times since this incident, forcing me to look at my reaction to her and to attend to its insights.
In addition to these challenges, there are problems at home. For one, I am having a serious problem with a roommate in Brooklyn. She had a lawyer send a threatening letter and I feel bullied and disempowered. Also, I just found out that, although I wore a robe and attended graduation, I did not graduate from my most recent program of study. It seems that I failed to fill out some kind of form. Which could pose problems for my employment. In the idiosyncratic recesses of my mind, both events were causes for self-abuse.
I parked at Playa Pelada, and set out for the farthest reach of the beach, carrying all of this with me. There was so much to move! I consciously set out to move it, settling into a long Flowing dance. I moved with incredible patience, imaging that I could dance for hours and hours if need be.
Simon had been all over me the day before—clingy, impatient, demanding. We had planned to have dinner with friends, but a torrential rainstorm kept them home. I didn’t have any way to contact them, so we went anyway and waited. In Flowing, I realized that Simon is lonely here in Costa Rica at times. We have been here for just three weeks, really. He doesn’t have the same kind of networks that he has at home. The other day he told me, “Everyone else at school has a sister or brother to help them, but I don’t have anyone.” Dancing, I wished (as so often happens) that I had been more patient and supportive of him. The truth of it struck me and I cried as I moved. I thought of a time when he said, his face crumpled and crying uncontrollably, “Mommy, you are being mean!”
Despite the fact that we had a beautiful day together, including playing happily in the waves at length, I held the discordant part of the experience most tightly. My self-talk was appalling as I began to move.
I had sent my friend an email about what happened at the restaurant with our sons. But I also decided to add that I had seen a little meanness in her son, too, especially when I had both boys for the afternoon the previous week, and again a few days later. I even said that she gives her son a lot of freedom and could, possibly, be missing some of the behaviors that are coming up.
As I moved into Staccato, I gave up on staying in the shade, and used up as much space as I needed. I grew sharp, expanding to my maximum volume and contracting again, moving fast and covering vast ground. On Saturday, I went dancing with the same friend. We went first to a swank, new club, where an indie-rock band from Guatemala called Easy Easy and a sexy female hipster MC from Mexico unleashed a dancing storm. I couldn’t stop moving. Though the crowd stayed mostly in a happy groove, I found a huge range, expressing edges, deep hips—freedom, specificity, sexuality. The party shifted to Cumbia and Regaton and still this vibrant inspiration sustained itself. Later, we went to Tropicana—the only discotequa in Nosara. Still, I couldn’t stop moving, even as we walked out to head home, even in the parking lot. I was reminded that I was born a dancer. We are all born dancers!
My friend told me, “It was so great to dance with you! You are such a good dancer! You are such a free spirit, especially when you dance!” On the beach yesterday, as I started to move, I felt like the exact opposite. I was conflicted, self-abusive, small, hesitant, doubting. Anything but free.
Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, would say famously, “5Rhythms is not free dance. It is dance that frees.” My friend asked if I was a 5Rhythms teacher and I said, “No, I wish! My circumstances make it hard for me to complete the pre-requisites to apply and to undergo the training even if I was accepted.” She asked if I could just do a sort-of-like 5Rhyhms-y thing and start teaching kids. I said, “There is no way to do that. All of the teachers—every single one of them—is fucking amazing. They have to undergo thousands and thousands of hours of very targeted training. It is no small thing. It is not like yoga where you can do a 200-hour training, then start calling yourself an expert. There is also a lot of oversight, intended to keep the tradition from becoming corrupted.”
Although you don’t need to know anything about the system to benefit from practicing 5Rhythms, there is actually a very precise system that reveals itself in stages, only as we are ready to receive it. It is important to note that the independent journey I have embarked on this month is technically not 5Rhythms, since there is no certified teacher guiding the practice. That being said, ultimately, I think 5Rhythms leads us back to ourselves, and that if we practice with deep commitment and integrity, we can recover our birthright—to dance with complete, undefiled freedom—which, in the end, transcends even the 5Rhythms system.
As Staccato started to take me over, my body returned to the movements I found at the dance clubs on Saturday; and I sang the chorus of one song again and again. I started to leave the small, damaged self behind and to inhabit my power—explosive, expressive, precise, clear. I could really stamp my feet on the soft sand without fear of injury, and I lept—crouching and rising, circling, advancing, retreating—landing repeatedly in a deep, square-kneed squat with my arms, also, squared and raised.
On the beach with Simon on Saturday, a little yoga movement pulled me into a gigantic dance. Simon buried my foot with sand, and I told him it reminded me of when he was little and he would cling to my ankle in class while I danced. With this one constraint, I found powerful expression that I never would have found without the element of resistance that he provided. He tried to get sand on my feet and I danced away, changing direction fast, following my own high kicks, looping toward him and away. He laughed and started to throw more sand at me—all part of our game. Despite the challenges I have experienced lately, dance has been incredibly available, in everything, in every moment.
Chaos found me again, crying, released. The waves, the broad-leaved green trees, the cliffs, the vultures soaring overheard, the sand, all flashed together as I spun, dipped and whirled. Group 5Rhythms practice offers many opportunities for insight and healing, but individual practice leaves me mercilessly alone with myself and wears me away in bits. I can’t pretend that anything that arises comes from anyone but myself. I had the idea that the meanness I was afraid of with my son’s friend might really be my own fear of meanness in myself, and by extension and projection—in my own son. The thought was painful, difficult. I let it go again, subsumed in the casting circles of Chaos.
Often, Lyrical and Stillness are almost afterthoughts when I practice individually, but that wasn’t the case this time. Lyrical found me soaring, touching the yielding sand, drifting to the sky. A large group of vultures circled overhead. One vulture alone is not very interesting—just a long gliding arc, but in this case, an entire matrix of the huge, black birds, with two groups at different altitudes moved soundlessly above me. I curved and moved with them, gently, my body a matrix, too, crossing over myself as the birds crossed each other in the air. I continued to move gently—feeling the wind drying the sweat on my exposed skin, turning me slowly, toward or away from it. A tiny, yellow butterfly gasped along—clear on the other side of the cove; and I followed it with my motions, adding a tiny flutter to my slow, wind-carved gesture.
My friend wrote about the restaurant incident, “Don’t get pulled into currents that aren’t yours. I’m surprised you were so affected by it and actually believed them or began looking at (child’s name) through their perspective, which of course will influence your reception.”
The vultures—with such a reputation for bullying and meanness—when held in the vast blue space of the sky were no less than sublime. After all of this moving, I sat quietly in a clear tide pool in full sun. My half-closed eyes perceived golden reflected light ripples on the underside of my hat. Tiny fish lingered around me. A bright sunspot dazzled the corner of my vision.
July 20, 2015, Nosara, Costa Rica
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.