I have a confession to make. This is hard for me, but here it is. I have been cheating on Chaos. It all started during the summer, when I spent extended time in Costa Rica playing in the waves with my small son, contemplating rainbows, and dancing for long stretches with the sea, soaring kites and the shadows of the sopilote birds flying overhead.
Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice taught that each of us has a “home rhythm”, the one of the rhythms that comes most easily to us. Although sometimes this construct feels essentialist to me, I have often considered my relationship to my home rhythm. At first, it seemed clear that Staccato was my home rhythm. I felt comfortable with edges, elbows, strong direction, bold gestures, lists, accomplishments, knowing-it-all, and with indicating my boundaries. Gradually, as the practice eroded me, I came to believe that Staccato was merely a front for my true home rhythm—Chaos. I thought my affiliation with Staccato was a cover my mind had created to hide me from the whirling power of my chaotic nature, since I was so afraid that if I was gigantic I would cause too much harm. Finding true Chaos for the first time was a revelation accompanied by weeks of weeping.
In 2009 I wrote:
“One day, I accidentally forgot all of my criteria. I found myself dancing Chaos, saturated completely. Although I moved with enormous energy, there was no sense of exertion. I was completely aware, completely gentle, and completely porous. Tears streamed out of my eyes, wetting the whole front of me.
As the energy of Chaos rises, I symbolically hang my empty skin on a coat hook and imagine that I dance around in just my bones, without the burdensome weight of flesh and organs. I become the Sumerian goddess Inanna, who was killed and skinned by her sister when she went to visit the underworld, and was later resurrected by her allies. Her flayed skin was left, forgotten, on a hook as she embarked on the ultimate descent; to rise later more powerful, more complex, and more clarified.
Later, I realized that it was the first time I had ever actually been in Chaos. I had to let go of all my complex cantilevering first. It took a long time to cultivate enough awareness of the dancers around me and of my own body to know that I could be utterly uncontrolled and abandoned and still trust that I wouldn’t hurt anyone.”
Lately, I am tempted to change my affiliation once again—this time to Lyrical.
It is quite possible that a person’s home rhythm might change over time. It is quite possible; too, that circumstances and volition might lead us to align with a particular rhythm. It might not matter at all; and perhaps it is even ego-entrenching to take it too seriously. Interestingly, Meaghan Williams, the teacher who led the 5Rhythms one-day workshop “Expand Lyrical” on Sunday believes that Lyrical is always underneath all of the other rhythms, simply waiting to come out. (Meaghan acknowledged, on reading this text, that although she holds to this statement, a flowing teacher might believe that Flowing is always under every other rhythm, just waiting to come out..) If it were true, then I wonder if you could argue that Lyrical would be everyone’s true home rhythm.
Paul Taylor Studio, where “Expand Lyrical” was held, is a big, airy, clean, light-filled studio in Lower Manhattan. I spent some time searching for parking and finally settled on a nominally legal spot just a block from the studio. I arrived and organized myself with, remarkably, no obstacles or challenges, though I did suffer from a nagging concern about the parking spot I chose.
I began the first wave, which lasted for two solid hours, on the floor, moving in attenuated circles, my limbs extended like the hands of a clock, but in all dimensions, stretching and coiling and curving into myself both on my chest and on my back as I found my connection to the ground and warmed my muscles up. My parking spot kept coming to mind, but kept receding again. I was on my feet before long, eager to investigate the space, visit each corner, peek behind curtains, look through the door windows, and feel the diagonal distance from corner to corner.
Of the five rhythms, Lyrical has always seemed the farthest from my range. Even two years ago, I doubt if I would have even attended the “Expand Lyrical” workshop. It makes me think of a friend—a fabulous gay man who is the child of Mexican Catholic parents. The idea that he would ever come out to them was completely unfathomable. Then, when he finally did come out to them, all they said was, “Well, OK, thanks for telling us.” Maybe Lyrical hasn’t been as out of reach as I have lead myself to believe.
I know that Lyrical is not just about joy—it is actually much grittier than that, and contains several other aspects—but it is definitely the joy aspect of Lyrical that has scared me away. There is a huge list of reasons for this. The dominant reason is that I am not always convinced that I deserve joy. Also, part of me thinks that embracing joy is an affront to the world’s suffering. Another (snobbier) part of me thinks that joy is only for people who are less intelligent, less complex and less driven. In addition, I am afraid that if I let joy in, it will be ripped away from me again, perhaps leaving me even more bereft. Also, I am suspicious of faked joy, and especially unforgiving when I spot fake joy in myself.
The studio is remarkable in that there are several angles that allow you to glimpse the sky. On either side of the high-ceilinged room, there are sky-facing windows high above eye level. As you cross the large, rectangle-shaped space, there is another antechamber with huge bow-shaped windows that look out onto the city and again, the sky.
During the first wave, I shared many beautiful dances. I had the thought that in Chaos, I could express the full range of every possible experience. My small mind said, “That’s impossible! No one can know everyone’s experience!” But another voice countered with, “I think that through deep connection and fully participating in the human field, we can and do express every possible human experience even within our own small selves.” Here, I found an incredible, expressive range. In one dance I stepped into moving with a woman who has a totally different center of gravity than me—in her waist, leaning back. I took on her gestures, finding new possibilities. She seemed delighted. We were both delighted.
I danced with everyone who showed up in front of me, including with a woman whose everything was totally different than mine. I showed up for it, experimenting with her gestures, and moving back and forth from there and into movements that felt more intuitive for me. Soon, we were instructed to pair with another two, then four. Shortly, we began to weave in and out of our new, larger group. Briefly, we formed a circle moving clockwise—a job we had failed at on Friday night (see previous post), but now managed with ease. I noticed the moving circle happily; and, too, noticed that the circle dissolved as soon as I noticed it. Before long, we were told to join another group. Again, we wove in and out of each other. Somehow, we all came together as one breathing group. I was in the middle, along with a friend who I feel protective of. At one point I slid down to the floor, and a hand pulled me back up. We pulsed together for many moments, smiling and nuzzling each other as we moved in unison.
We wordlessly agreed at once that it was time to invite space into our formation and began to move, liltingly, around the room, carrying our dance of connection with us. We reached out for each other, meeting each other’s hands, and often the hands of one, two, or even three other dancers at once, coiling gently around one another, passing under the clasped hands of a couple, delicately passing messages with different angles and pressures on the palm, wrists, back of hands, fingers. At some point, it turned into a party trick and I decided against it, but as the game overtook me again, I cheerfully surrendered.
One friend in the room was a man who I experience as incredibly precise. His dance is characterized by specificity, sometimes even by beautiful control. I was shocked when, years ago, we were asked to step up and dance in our “home rhythm” and he stepped up for Lyrical. I have many times contemplated that. I was so sure that he would have picked Staccato.
There was a pause in the dancing so Meaghan could use words to help deepen our understanding. Meaghan gathered us all into a big circle and asked that we each offer a gesture and say our name. She asked that the group mirror the gesture and say the person’s name together. I hate this activity! It is hard for me to distill myself into one gesture. Everything feels so contingent, so contextual, so complex. I overthink it. I got through it somehow, sharing a gesture that to me says, “I see you. My heart sees you. And I am happy to see you,” as I said “Meghan.”
Meaghan’s talk ranged vast territory. She moved with gliding grace as she sketched the parameters of a wave for the two new practitioners in the room. She talked then to more advanced practitioners, intending to dislodge misconceptions. For one, she explained, Lyrical can be seen as playful, perhaps even childish. It is that. It can be that, she elaborated. “But it is also the rhythm of maturity—the Dance of Maturity. The place we arrive at after we work with great commitment through each of the other rhythms.” She quoted Ani Defranco, saying “If you’re not getting happier as you get older, then you’re fucking up.”
After a ten-minute break, we re-convened. We were instructed to partner and I fell into an exquisite, breathy spin with a friend I have danced with for years. Meaghan offered us images of birds and wings—exactly the image I was already holding as we moved. At one point, we both came up quickly, our stomachs meeting, and dissolved into giggles. Before long, we extended our range, and swooped throughout the entire room, chasing and receding amongst our fellow dancers. At one point, we found each other in the outer orbit of the room and moved together in its arc, our heads nuzzling one another as we sailed along.
Often, my writing includes the comings and goings, the enterings and exitings between the dance floor and the not-dance-floor world. On this day, it was contained. I did not leave once. I had tea and leftover dinner from the night before with me. I had everything I needed on hand. I didn’t need or want to escape; and I was ready to start again long before the breaks were over.
Shortly before the end of the first break, I sat myself down in the exact center of the dance floor. I know it was the center because there was a taped x right underneath me. Although the room had dissolved into cheerful conversation, I had avoided conversation, or even eye contact. The truth is that I was feeling very sensitive. Also, I didn’t want to be dispersed, diluted. Something about my fundamental relationship to Lyrical seemed to be shifting, and it didn’t feel like a good time for small talk. Three friends came to join me, and I chatted and joked with them, anyway. I was happy that they wanted to be near me.
In a workshop format, we often gather on one end of the room, then receive some kind of instruction to carry us, dancing, to the other side of the room. Likely, there is a practical reason for this: an entire day of dancing can be grueling; and it gives us a chance to rest while others are traversing. Also, part of the practice is seeing and witnessing our fellow dancers, and, too, being seen and being witnessed.
Meaghan offered several Lyrical experiments and I sailed, elated, from one side of the room to the other. I don’t think it looked very differently from how I would have done this exercise in Chaos, but I felt completely lyrical, airborne, skywalking.
One rambunctious friend stomped on a balloon that had been liberated from the artwork installation and everyone jumped, laughing. I danced over to him, smiling, rambunctious myself. My hands met his playfully, and we turned each other, laughing. Another couple intersected us and we dipped and melted right through them, under them, never missing a beat or losing eye contact. We spun each other, rolling our backs together while holding hands, then blended again into the room at large.
During the final wave, I was ecstatic—melted, de-materialized—and I shared an unexpected dance. I met the eyes of a man who frightens me a little because it seems like every time I have been in a workshop with him he has expressed anger or aversion during group conversations. During “Expand Lyrical” our eyes met with love, we reached our hands out to each other and shared an exquisitely sweet turn.
As I was leaving for the day, I connected with my precise friend, asking about his affiliation with Lyrical. He explained that he is absolutely Lyrical in nature, though as a result of leg injuries, it might not always look that way. “You’re Lyrical, right?” he asked. “I…I don’t know. I guess I’m coming out of the closet now! I feel like I’ve been cheating on Chaos! But yes, I do think I might be Lyrical.”
I exited and discovered the sidewalks wet with post-rain. I meandered the short distance to the car, looking skyward and counting my blessings. At the car, I found a parking ticket for $115. I tucked it away, without even a whispered curse word. Driving, I reviewed the events of the day. I have only seen four rainbows in my nearly twenty years in New York City, but as I crossed the Williamsburg Bridge toward home in Brooklyn, a rainbow appeared. I sobbed with gratitude and joy.
I dreamt of rainbows.
They came dancing in.
-Poem from 2010
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
There is a chill in the air as I write, though I refuse to admit that summer is over and close the windows. Lately, I have been rushing to dance, eager to see if Lyrical will show up for me once again, leaning forward like a fifteen year old with a consuming crush.
Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class fell on the fourteenth anniversary of September 11th, 2001; and she decided to mark the occasion with a ritual. After what, for me, was a very engaging wave, Tammy asked us to form a large circle and join hands. She then asked people who were affected in various ways by the events of September 11th to step forward. I forget the order of her questions, but she said, “Step forward if you had to move your home that day.” They stepped back and a new group–including me–stepped forward after she said, “Step forward if you were there, Downtown, on September 11.” Finally she said, “Step forward if you know someone who died that day.”
I realize, in glimpses, that I am writing a kind of autobiography through these many brief texts, if obliquely; and I am, as ever, grateful for your patient audience.
On the morning of September 11th, I rollerbladed, as usual, to work at an artist’s studio in Downtown Manhattan. The first thing that was odd was the fire. I was on the bike path along the East River; and it was impossible not to notice it. Initially, I thought the Bell Atlantic building was on fire. Even this early in the narrative, people stood paralyzed, watching. I paused briefly, and took a moment to draw the scene before me in my sketchbook. I was nervous about being late, and continued on. As I got closer, it got weirder and weirder. People were frozen. There was fire. I couldn’t process it. When I was close to City Hall, a man yelled, “It’s terrorists! Get out! You have to get out of the city! They don’t want you to know, but it’s terrorists!” That shook me awake a little, though I was still concerned about getting to work on time. I moved in fits and starts, unsure about what to do. Finally, I returned to the bike path. By now, people were streaming down it, completely silent. There was no hysteria whatsoever, just shocked silence. Many of the people walking north with glazed eyes had flakes of ash from the fires on their hair. I skated at a walking pace, slowly, slowly, by the side of a woman who was exceptionally out of sorts.
Tammy asked us to please move one step to the left, so we could stand in someone else’s footsteps. We moved twice to the left, then she asked us to continue to move until we completed a circle of the entire room, having a chance to stand in every person’s footsteps. It didn’t work at all. We were very crowded, for one. And no one could take the lead since it was just a big circle. We lingered, unable to coordinate our movement.
This was a perfect representation of what September 11th was for me. Quiet, vague shock, and a totally anti-climactic afternoon. Nothing seemed to move. After trying unsuccessfully to reach my then-girlfriend by pay phone, I lingered on the East Side. No voices were to be heard, except that TV’s and radios were on everywhere. Many stood next to open cars listening to car radios. Everyone lingered vaguely in silent disbelief, not making eye contact. I eventually made my way back over the Williamsburg Bridge. It was filled with silent walkers. I stopped at length on the Williamsburg side of the bridge where a throng of people watched the burning buildings in silence through the bridge’s red fence. My next stop was Woodhull Hospital, where I intended to volunteer. I found several parked ambulances, and a group of paramedics standing around with their arms crossed. They did not need my help. So far, there were no survivors.
In many of the meditation retreats I have attended, sitting meditation is interspersed with periods of group walking meditation. Many times, this was torture for me. There was always someone who moved maddeningly slowly, and, of course, the slowest person sets the pace. I often thought of making some kind of announcement or asking that the teacher dictate the pace, but over the years I settled into it, being simply part of the group field, moving as the group moved. At some point, I realized that walking meditation in a group did not bother me at all.
I confess that I am conflicted about how to think about remembering September 11th. On one hand, a dramatic event de-stabilized my world. Many people who were not far removed from me died. Many people died, leaving grief-stricken families. On the other hand, the United States doesn’t even make the list of terrorist-addled countries. All life is sacred, undoubtedly, but the nationalist tone of the media, especially in the first few days after, made me very uncomfortable. I finally shook myself awake three days after September 11th when President George W. Bush stood in the pulpit of the United States National Cathedral vowing revenge, though it still wasn’t clear who was responsible for the attack.
I wandered aimlessly. I skated to Prospect Park and did laps, smelling the acrid fires, hearing the soaring fighter jets and watching the smoke from across the river. Back in Williamsburg, I went to my accustomed places. Everywhere, there was a TV with images of the burning buildings.
My mother’s hair turned white that day. Back home, I climbed to the roof and watched the buildings burn, still in disbelief. I was on the roof along with one neighbor when the first building collapsed. What I was seeing could not be real. I sobbed, “Hundreds of people just died in that moment!” Hundreds was the largest number I could conceive of. That huge building that had loomed over downtown just turned into dust, caving sideways in a long-waisted swoon. It finally occurred to me to call my parents, and, thankfully, I was able to get service and let them know that I was alive.
At the end of the night, Tammy said, “The dance is about being fully alive, about expressing that.” She mentioned the upcoming Lyrical workshop, and invited Meaghan Williams, the teacher, to speak about it. She invited everyone to attend, saying, “Lyrical is not just about joy and lift, but is also about all the things that block that. Lyrical is underneath everything already, wanting to come out.” At another time, she also said, “It is also about creating art, participation and community.”
One of the things Tammy asked us to step forward for when we were in the big circle was “if you felt like you lost your ground.” More than half of the people in the room, including me, stepped forward.
When the music of the second wave emptied us into Lyrical, I crashed into it with enthusiasm and specificity, then faded. After a short lapse, my engagement sparked again. I have an imaginary dance friend—a dragon—who came to visit me after a pointed, lilting experiment. I moved with the dragon throughout the room, coiling, rising, rushing, pausing—though most dancers were rooted in a given spot at this point in the wave. I note that my dragon only comes during Lyrical—the rhythm of the sky.
As I stood on my roof, gazing in frozen disbelief as the first of the two towers collapsed, a group of Catholic nuns in blue habits stood on the rooftop across the lot. They, too, stood frozen, gazing, their habits fluttering around them in the strong wind that blew from the East River.
The late day sky is bruised and luminous.
Rushing with new souls—
Toil turned spacious.
Scraped with icy teeth
A delicate love for the
Whispers of spirit.
-poem from September 13, 2001
September 13, 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.
When practicing alone, I tend gloss over Lyrical, technically attending to it, but rarely taking it on fully. Which is why I am delighted, in this languorous late summer air, to find Lyrical a persistent partner.
In the afternoon before Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class I went swimming with my five-year-old son, Simon, and his father. Later, we had a picnic in the park and went on the swings. My stomach flipped rhythmically again and again as I lapped higher on the swing. Simon leaned his entire weight back with abandon, smiling, holding the swing’s chains confidently. At first, I was afraid to fall, to be upside down, but Simon taught me patiently; and I was eventually able to try on his playful gesture.
I arrived at the Friday Night Waves class and sank happily to the floor. I began to move gently—porous, smiling, free—released and receiving the perfect amount of energy for the moving I wanted to do—letting the wave of my spine complete its gestures in all directions. As I was stretching and moving in big arcing circles on the floor, my dance quickly acquired fire and definition.
Class on Friday was like a survey course. Before class, Tammy posted on facebook, “… the ocean connects every wave to every other wave, dissolving isolation …’ Dean Sluyter, The Zen Commandments.” She spoke at length in the pause between the first and second waves of the class, casting her eyes downward toward her heart as she inhaled, seeming to wait for words to arise.
She began with a story about Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice. Tammy shared that once at a public talk someone posed a question and several 5Rhythms teachers offered beautiful, profound, articulate responses. The last to respond was Gabrielle and she just said, (smiling and shrugging, I imagine) “Or not!” Tammy talked about how as much as we would learn and understand, Gabrielle would always find a way to turn it on its head, allowing us to continue to enter into the mysterious darkness of experience, pushing us to push ourselves beyond our edges, beyond what is comfortable, beyond what we think we know, like, understand or perceive.
Tammy led us through the litany of the rhythms. Flowing, the most receptive rhythm, might be a personal investigation inward. Staccato, the second of the rhythms, could be more expansive, more expressive, and more connected with the people in our immediate sphere. Tammy modeled a possibility for moving through the room with bold clarity, “I have a right to be here. I have a reason to be here; and I am going to be here.”
This relates to an investigation I have considered at length. I accept that I can be immense—gathering and whirling huge swaths of energy—with massive emotions, huge (sometimes unrealistic) ideas, intense, unrelenting, gigantic. I am both proud and ashamed of this part of me. For many years, the more I let this show, the more I seemed to draw fire from someone very close to me. I tried to make myself small, discreet, bundled into separate physical sections to avoid upsetting this person and to avoid setting this person off. To avoid being declared selfish. To avoid being attacked. It hurt my muscles, my posture. “I have a right to be here. I have a reason to be here; and I am going to be here,” is medicine, for this still-not-fully-healed me. At that moment, I reflected that I don’t have to apologize to anyone for existing, not even to the person who sometimes seems to wish that I didn’t.
In today’s Sweat Your Prayers class, taught by Meaghan Williams, I accidentally bumped a friend. Instead of making myself more porous and more small, I stayed neutrally with the collision; and he, too, held up to me, moving backward with the momentum as I moved toward him, then physically pushing back against me—moving forward as I receded; and we folded briefly into coupled, chaotic whirling.
Tammy repeatedly challenged us to look for “our edge” and acknowledged that the “edge” is different for everyone. For example, for some, the edge is staying in partnership. For others, the edge is dancing alone. For some, the edge is moving with energy in the middle of the room, for others, the edge is lingering toward the wall or mirrors, outside of the dynamic center. Chaos, perhaps, contains this implication, this experimentation with simultaneous opposites, with paradoxical systems.
Tammy also spoke with great feeling of the recent press image of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy and of the Syrian exodus and refugee crisis. She has, on many occasions, grounded the 5Rhythms in heartful social justice—including awareness of both the pain and of the joy of the world in her teaching. On many occasions, I have heard her say that what really matters is not what you do during class, but what you do in your life, on the street and in the world.
For me, the class was characterized by long, slow grooves. I found an extraordinary dance with a friend in the second wave’s Staccato and Chaos phases. Tammy kept offering the instruction to move to a new partner, but I stayed locked in partnership, instead—smiling and laughing, rising and falling, spinning and coiling until at last my friend indicated that he needed to get water and moved away.
A totally new, totally unexpected dance snapped into me, jerking me diagonally sideways as I passed Tammy’s table, rhythm finding every one of my joints. As the music carried me along, I tapped on the bendings of me—wrists, fronts of elbows, backs of knees—and light began to leak out. After a while I realized that what I was perceiving was not light leaking out, but rather cracks in the opaque fired clay of me, coming away in body-mold-shaped pieces. I entered a deep, fluttering spin, finding an entire light body underneath all this dense, crumbling gray—extending beyond the limits of my small self. The light body—the body of joy—was peeking out, testing the waters.
I entered today’s Sweat Your Prayers today class with the expectation that the rhythm of Lyrical would predominate. This is because today’s teacher, Meaghan Williams, is renowned for her lyrical nature. I also expected Lyrical to present strongly because lately I am in the middle of the first sustained engagement I have ever knowingly had with the rhythm of Lyrical.
I think a major factor is that I have had a beautiful summer—the most lyrical of seasons—when I have had plenty of time and space to connect with my own experience. Also, I have re-connected with someone I love and considered the possibility of falling in love with him again. Because of opening up to him, the world has rushed in, too, and I see love everywhere I look. I am afraid even to notice it, to name it, since I fear that Lyrical will flee again. I also fear that everything will fall apart and that all of my habitual ways of seeing myself will collapse if I really let Lyrical—and the joy that seems to accompany Lyrical—in.
When I noticed that I had this expectation about Lyrical being the strongest charge for today’s class, I then expected that I would not move in Lyrical, since I had clearly formed the expectation that I would move in Lyrical. Remarkably, since I then had the expectation of not being in Lyrical as a result of having my expectation of yes being in Lyrical, the expectation reverse-psychologized itself and I did, in fact, find a strong connection to Lyrical. (Yes, I am that mental!)
Meaghan’s musical choices were not simple. Lilting scores were underpinned with grating resistance, and I moved back and forth to the extremes of a certain continuum, pulling through my edges, scraping the tops of my newly-painted toenails in long, painful arcs; then finding edgeless, breathy, dynamic release; again and again re-discovered. As I moved, I continued to find novel movements, delighting in both extremes.
I absolutely love to delve into my most caustic edges—the little catches that jerk me and fling me into a different direction—perhaps in mid-air, in mid-movement, perhaps with the resistance of the floor, perhaps even as I am affected by the movements of another. Today the front edges of my knees felt vulnerable. My back was slightly tender, too. I used to love this edge just above my hips in my lower back, but over time I have backed out of it and lightened up in the interest of longevity. I realize that eventually I will have to give up the emphasis on my edges or my body will wear out. This summer, I have had a little renaissance of youth, but I am not so deluded to believe that I can escape the decline of age.
These physical edges are related though not analogous to the edges Tammy considered at length in Friday’s class. Pushing beyond our edges can be about moving into areas of discomfort, and I think can also be about working with our inner complexities, as they rub against each other in the fabric of our muscles—another kind of discomfort entirely.
This summer when I received a Reiki treatment and initial Reiki empowerment, my teacher kept telling me to “remember to look up.” I thought about a meditation retreat when I had a vivid experience of looking up. I had spent several previous meditation retreats with a close, controlled gaze, carefully following my breath with mindfulness. Gradually, the teachings had guided us to take in more and more space, until in the last stage we were instructed to raise our eyes upward during formal practice. We took a field trip to a city park and practiced in silence there. I sat smiling, cross-legged on a park bench, swaying, enraptured. I raised my eyes and drew breath sharply, as in an instant the park had come to life in many dimensions, including the dimension of the spirit world.
Somehow I have gotten the impression that Tammy is not a fan of raised arms. Probably it is just that she is not a fan of raised, flailing, out-of-control arms, but somehow this has worked its way into my understanding. Raising my arms in class has always felt a bit rebellious. One extremely dynamic friend inspired me to copy her and spin my shoulder completely open, dramatically rising up in a gesture of charismatic presence; and I have often incorporated her gesture into my own experiments. Another very tall, gentle friend has inspired me to roll out into the edges of my fingers, sometimes raising my arms in the process. Meagan, today, held her arms up in a completely different way. They were not simply rising as result of momentum. Neither were they at maximum altitude, but instead around the height of her shoulders, upright, palms toward her own face, moving symmetrically, supporting her in spinning. She almost moved like she had on a hoop skirt. I tried her gesture on for myself, delighted.
Since I am not convinced that I deserve joy, receiving it can seem exceptionally dangerous. When Simon was very small, I was seized by panic every time the rhythm of Lyrical arose in class. Although I knew that my mind was messing with me, and that it was simply the joy of Lyrical causing me to freak out, I had to pause and check the cel phone, to make sure I didn’t have any emergency messages. Eventually, I forced myself not to disengage with what was presenting, and slowly, slowly, Lyrical has come to dance with me. I can jump instantly into Flowing, Staccato or (most certainly) Chaos if that is what is called for, but Lyrical comes only when I am gazing obliquely, never on command, and very rarely comes without significant time in each of the preceding rhythms—Flowing, Staccato and Chaos.
I danced very hard from the very beginning of class, and my energy flagged halfway through. I decided to get back down on the floor to see if I could call up some vigor. I put shorts on under my skirt (since even though I tell myself it doesn’t matter and no one cares, I am inhibited if I don’t have shorts or tights on under a skirt). I thought that, again, since I had the expectation that being on the ground would change the experience I was having for the better, most likely my plan would not work and I would remain tired. Again, as with the appearance of Lyrical, the expectations cancelled each other out, and I found fire and engagement very quickly, pulling myself again to my feet with great, soaring conviction.
In the second wave of Sunday’s Sweat Your Prayers class, I found Lyrical again. I kept all of my edges but worked in and out of them, high on my toe tips, moving on an invisible tight wire, burnishing the back of my breastbone. I noticed that part of my difficulty with Lyrical—my resistance, perhaps—is because I fear that Lyrical is somehow disrespectful to the world’s unrelenting pain. Part of me wonders how I can possibly be joyful when there is so much suffering. Some part of me seems to think my joy is an affront to suffering people everywhere.
Robert Thurman, a Sanskrit scholar and the first American to be ordained a monk by the Dalai Lama, talks about the Dalai Lama’s cheerful outlook, “Everybody has the wrong idea. They think Buddha was so boring, and they’re so surprised when they meet Dalai Lama and he’s fairly jolly. Even though his people are being genocided — and believe me, he feels every blow on every old nun’s head, in every Chinese prison. He feels it. He feels the way they are harvesting yaks nowadays. I won’t even say what they do. But he feels it. And yet he’s very jolly. He’s extremely jolly.”
As I read this over, I realize that my current relationship with Lyrical is anything but happy little clouds and butterflies. I look forward to continuing to investigate this aspect of my practice; and I am curious to see if some hint of Lyrical will linger as I move into the press of fall.
(The image shows visuals I created for Tammy’s class on September 4–an homage to summer and to Lyrical)
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
September 7, 2015, Brooklyn, NYC