I was overly optimistic in putting on a bathing suit. During a brief glimpse of blue, we rushed to get to the sea, hoping for at least a few moments of beach fun. As it was, the blue was enclosed again by white sky long before we made it to the beach, but we decided to explore anyway. We found a place to park near Bonmahon Beach in Co. Waterford, Ireland and set up the sandy path to the sea. I shivered with a three-quarter sleeve sweater and my six-year-old son, Simon, complained—between designing games with sticks, investigating the tidal river, running toward the roaring waves, and creating performances for an imagined audience modeled on a show we had seen in Galway the week prior—that his hands were cold in the wind.
Monday, I finally got to practice formally as Simon attended his first day of camp in Dunhill.
I dropped Simon off at camp, lingering while he acclimated. Most of the other children were part of large family contingents, and I wondered how he would fare. I had been awake the night before, anxious about entrusting him to new people. I also kept reviewing an incident of a few days before, when he and I climbed to the highest point of a castle ruin. I regretted my decision as soon as we climbed up, and had a moment of intense fear as I gathered the strength and focus needed to get us back down. When I was checking out the climb before I ok’d it for Simon, he stood for a moment with his back to an extremely steep, crumbling stone staircase. I gasped and drew him to me, reminding him to never turn his back to a ledge or a staircase. I kept re-playing it and re-playing it, realizing that no matter how many times you say it, a six-year-old is unlikely to have the mindfulness needed to manage things like climbing up dangerous rocks. With camp looming, this episode that had felt like an adventure a few days prior now felt like terror. Our trip has been filled with challenges; and I realize that fear has begun to encroach on my peace of mind. As it was, the camp seemed safe, spacious, uplifted and cheerful; and he quickly joined a group of his peers.
I was very eager to practice and to venture on my own. I returned to my friend’s lovely thatch cottage that is our temporary home and gathered what I thought I might need. I walked across the street and down a little overgrown path to the Annestown beach. I wandered to the east end, investigating the attributes of high tide, then made my way along over piled, large, round stones to the west end of the beach where I knew there was an unprotected cliff path. I had embarked on the path a few days before with Simon, but quickly realized that it was too dangerous, especially given his punchy mood at that moment, and turned back. Stepping onto it again, I couldn’t believe I even considered it with him. On one side there was an electrified fence protecting an open meadow of grazing cattle. On the other, high cliffs dropping down to open sea. I moved along the path slowly, choosing my steps. Once, I stumbled on the small, loose rocks that littered the path and was very grateful that I hadn’t stumbled on one of the most dangerous sections directly above sheer ocean cliffs with no buffer of grass between.
I followed the path as far as I could, until I wasn’t sure at if it was just a run-off ditch for water or an actual path, then picked the most beautiful spot to practice. I returned half-way back along the cliffs then turned left onto a path that lead to the end of soaring bluff. It was totally flat, and featured a lush meadow of perhaps fifteen feet across. I crawled out on my belly to look over the edge, but as the tip of my nose reached the tiny red flowers growing in the side of the cliff, I decided it was too dangerous and squirmed back, fearing that the rock at the edge might crumble. Below, the sea churned and two small, rising, green-covered islands sustained the pummeling waves. I placed my flip flops and bag three or four feet in from the ledge to remind me to stay away from it, even as I started to dance.
I tend to be intrepid and to love the sharp edge of mild danger, but this time, practice was restrained. In Flowing, I was reluctant to move my feet. This was partly because of the liberal amount of rabbit shit in the thick, green grass, partly because of some tiny, sharp sticks that hurt to step on, partly because of the real possibility of falling to my death, and (surely) partly because I have had a recent spike in fear, resulting from a series of confidence-shaking experiences since the beginning of this trip.
At once, it was exquisite. A vast, moody sky stretched for endless miles. I could feel the sugar in the bright grass and had a powerful felt sense of the carved cliff beneath me. The waves crashed below and moved around the islands in dynamic, unpredictable patterns. Winds presented strongly, too, filling my ears and applying their own force. My senses were full of the elements and I let them fill me and pass through.
I felt pulled quickly to Staccato, but resisted, hoping to dance for at least an hour and thinking I should spend more time in Flowing. I also hoped that Flowing might open up more, and that I might find more flexibility and ease. After some time of moving in Flowing—sometimes with subtle inspiration and sometimes vaguely—I moved into Staccato.
Each rhythm manifested subtly. Though I went dutifully through the entire wave, I only practiced for a half hour or so. Last summer when I was practicing independently like this—also without a teacher and without music and with the sea—my first few dances seemed lackluster, too; and I assumed that if I continued to set the intention, the practice would open up in its own time. I spread out a towel and sat in meditation following this short 5Rhythms wave, then made my way very, very carefully back down the cliff path.
I hoped that dancing would raise a sweat, but it never reached that level of exertion. I have not been getting enough exercise since I have been in Ireland; and I have craved the endorphins. Although I can usually count on practice for a workout (Gabrielle Roth—the visionary polymath who created the 5Rhythms practice even occasionally touted this benefit), I don’t like to put that much pressure on it, so I went for a vigorous run later in the afternoon, again (as mentioned in my last text) visiting the local castle ruin.
I picked Simon up from camp at 3.30. He complained mildly about his day, saying that pretty much everyone there had lots of brothers and sisters, and that he wished he had brothers and sisters, too. We stopped at a much-talked-about local playground on the way home. It had a giant, net-like rope structure to climb, a zip line, swings, slides, see-saws, and many iterations of things to climb.
Simon was playing happily with two other kids on a large spinning disk merry-go-round when he had an accident. He had been rolling off the spinning edge and tumbling away quite skillfully. I told him to roll off the other side, rather than into me and the woman who was standing next to me with a four-month-old baby strapped to her chest. The first few tumbles went fine, but the third was calamitous. Simon rolled down a hill and right into a stone wall, hitting the back of his head on a big rock with a loud “whack” sound. He started to cry right away and stood up. I ran to him and realized that the back of his head was spurting blood. I was terrified. Thankfully, the woman with the four-month-old baby sprang into action. “I need to take him to the emergency room, right?” I said breathlessly. “I think so,” she said back quickly. She tried to calm Simon down in the most cheerful, reassuring voice, while also trying to get a look at the cut. Thank Gods, Simon had no signs of concussion, but I was extremely worried. The woman helped us get to our car, bantering kindly all the while and offering to help in any way she could. I was tight with fear and kicking myself for not realizing this possible danger, and I spent the drive tight with anxiety, unable to fully address Simon’s questions about stitches and the emergency room.
Somehow I managed to get us home. Once the house was in sight, I felt like I was going to fall off the earth. I was so afraid Simon’s wound might be very bad—perhaps a puncture or a cracked skull. I imagined the worst. The bleeding had mostly stopped, but there had been so much blood for a minute or so. I was fiercely hot and ripped off my sweater. I sank to the kitchen floor, saying, “Simon, come snuggle with Mommy on the floor for a second.” The world spun and I was very close to fainting, but I told myself I had to get it together. I got Simon settled in front of some cartoons, then ran to get a bowl of water and a facecloth to wash the wound and have a look at it. I grabbed socks and a sweater, also, as I had begun to shiver and my teeth were chattering. The wound didn’t look too bad, but I couldn’t tell for sure. He still had no symptoms of concussion, but after several hours home, I decided to take him to the local hospital. Sitting in the emergency room waiting area, Simon put his little head in my lap and went to sleep. I was so worried I couldn’t even be bored. Thankfully, we were seen quickly and the doctor was confident that Simon had only a superficial wound. We set out for home shortly after midnight.
The next day, he stayed home from camp and we explored a local town all day, including the toy shop.
As we woke up the next day to prepare for camp, Simon shared that he was very nervous about something. “Mommy, what if you die while we are in Ireland and I am all alone?” I did my best to reassure him, again, but part of me was very fearful, too. Things had been going extraordinarily not-well. My mantra for the day became, “Stay alive. Stay alive. Stay alive.”
After dropping Simon off at camp, I searched at length for a car mechanic my friend had recommended. I have a big squish in the side of the rental car, and face a 1500 dollar deductible if I can’t get it repaired before I return it. (I parked next to a stone wall, where one big stone protruding outward was hidden by some greenery. The rest is history, as they say.) I finally resorted to calling the number she had given me. “Hello?” “Yes, hello, is this Maurice from Lenihan’s Garage?” “Yeah.” “My friend highly recommended you to me. I have a bad car problem and I’m trying to find you.” He asked where I was and I tried in vain to explain. He said he was next to a school. I hoped the school might come up on the GPS and asked, “What school?” “It doesn’t have a name,” he said, “We don’t really want to be found here.” That made me feel sort of unwelcome, but I did manage to find it eventually. When I arrived, Maurice scarcely looked at me, turning me over immediately to an associate who told me the job would probably cost at least 1000 euro. On the way home from there, I nearly took a casual right turn into a speeding truck, accustomed, as I am, to easy right turns, and forgetting for a moment that I am driving on the opposite side of the road. I inhaled sharply and returned to my mantra, “Stay alive. Stay alive. Stay alive.”
After, I went to a beautiful local beach. Parking, I felt constrained. Fear was wearing me out. I had not slept well, again. I was trying to talk myself out of this fear of dying that had persisted now for several days—perhaps a result of so many mishaps and mis-steps in recent days and weeks. I had to keep dragging myself back from a trance of anxiety again and again.
I intended to investigate the west end of the beach near a small surf station, then go to the beach’s east end to find a quiet place to practice, but a spot near the surf station called me. It was at sea level, not high on a sheer cliff, and not the most dramatic site in the area. The tide was very low and there was almost no surf. The west end of the beach was hemmed by a tall cliff and another tall cliff rose on the north side. The spot I chose was a little circle—perhaps eight feet across—protected by some fallen boulders.
I danced a very classic 5Rhythms wave. It was classic in the sense that each of the five rhythms was fully attended to; and each rhythm had nearly equal time and weight. I began to move right away, finding Flowing easily. I was grateful to be at sea level, feeling my feet in the sand and not worrying about cliff edges. “I could stay here for hours,” I said internally, taking off my jacket as I began to warm up. The first thing that came was tears. I wanted to be taken care of—and I craved the people in my life who have been kind enough to take care of me. I cried for the expensive car issue, for the many hours I had spent lost and driving down skinny country lanes that all looked alike, and for the many moments of disempowerment, fear and frustration I have experienced. I also re-lived Simon’s accident in the playground, finding a gasp of horror (along with guilt and primal fear) that temporarily stopped the flowing, circular movements my body was finding as my feet revolved on the packed, wet sand. I found another gasp, the same one that escapes me every time I come around a harrowing blind curve in one of the skinny lanes hemmed by stone walls and thick hedges and encounter a vehicle barreling toward me from the opposite direction.
In Flowing, I let in primal fear and anxiety. Though I couldn’t fully embrace it, the idea that I could fundamentally trust the universe presented. I had been tightening, hoping if I try very hard to pay attention, I could keep us safe. Rather, I remembered that the best way to stay safe is relaxed awareness—attending to the senses and responding appropriately as things arise. The glaze of anxiety that comes from tightening against experience does the exact opposite, and leads to more errors in judgment. My heart became external and I danced with it, caring for it like a child that needs extra love and patience in the throes of a sickness. I thought about the many people I have encountered who bear so much fear and anxiety that they don’t have the energy to be pleasant or artful or inspired; and in that moment felt similarly bedraggled.
Unlike two days ago when I thought I should keep myself in Flowing, I let the rhythms change as they wanted to, this time not insisting that I stay in Flowing when my body wanted to move into Staccato. Part of deepening practice is, I think, knowing when “instinct” is really conditioned response, a way to escape something unpleasant. At these times, skillful resistance is called for. At other times, what feels like “instinct” is intuition, and, as such should be acknowledged and attended to. I realized, as Staccato arrived, that I had not served myself in slowing my entrance to Staccato the previous day. I needed to be very clear about my boundaries on the cliff. Later the same day, I also needed to step directly into Staccato when Simon had the accident in the park.
Staccato arrived. Firm. Clean. Sharp breaths powered my movements. I let myself be seen—heart and all, as I moved in and around my little rock circle—an energetically safe spot that allowed me to relax into the moment. Even vigorous Staccato did not raise a sweat as the day was still chilly, but blue sky peeked through the low clouds and warmed me; and I was able to take off my sweater.
There was so much happening inside me during this wave that I only danced for a fraction of each rhythm with the sea. Chaos was shy—not huge, but honest, real. Lyrical came and I wanted to fly, to soar with the birds overhead. As there was little wind, the birds were not soaring in great arcing gestures, but were instead fluttering and flitting, and I followed them in this, too. I did not gloss over Stillness, as I have tended to do when practicing independently in the past, but found wind, clouds and long, slow gestures.
I considered moving to a different part of the beach to do another wave, thinking I would take a moment to practice Reiki then move on, but another wave started up spontaneously. In Reiki there is a strong emphasis on healing energy in the hands; and in this case, I was once again holding my heart in my hands, and dancing with it. My movements found weight as the heart was large and heavy. I danced in and through it, at once, with weighted inertia. Staccato broke through, again, without the energy of confrontation, but clear, with a simple willingness to be seen. Succumbing to a familiar habit, right before Lyrical arrived, I had to check the phone to make sure Simon’s camp hadn’t called with any emergencies. In Lyrical in this second wave, I found a little more grace, a little more flight. I sailed up, too, in a set resembling traditional Irish step dancing, enjoying jauntiness and verticality.
Finally, I found my way back to Stillness, and back to my original Reiki intention. I saw Gabrielle, above and to my right, and drew her into my heart. Then, I experimented with expanding and contracting my energy field and with how far I could be to feel the energy of the large rocks in my circle. First, swelling to fill the whole rock circle, then contracting again to a tiny field close to my body (a layer I’ve been exploring with a friend back in New York). Using Reiki, I looked at the pain body and cleared spots of blocked energy in the diaphragm, hips, lower belly, and right back heart. At the end of the wave I practiced sitting meditation for a little while before gathering my things and leaving the beach.
When I picked him up, Simon told me he had fun at camp. The evening was relatively warm; and we went to the beach together, playing tag and several other games of Simon’s invention.
July 14, 2016, Annestown, Co. Waterford, Ireland
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.