Joy, Not-joy & Happy Clichés


Typically, after a 5Rhythms class I make a few journal notes right away that I can expand on at a later time, when I tease out themes, follow the threads of narrative, and connect what has arisen in dance to the world off the dance floor.  This Friday, however, as soon as I got home, I set about wrapping and finishing a series of small artworks to give as gifts to family and friends.  I did not make any notes at all until just yesterday.  I hope my memory will serve me, but I ask for your forbearance if I lapse into generalizations—an unfortunate tendency many of us display around the holidays.

Tammy Burstein’s 5Rhtyhms Friday Night Waves class on December 23rd was less packed than usual, presumably because many were already traveling for the holidays or were involved in holiday preparations.  I arrived on time and in reasonably good humor.  A friend greeted me and asked how I was, “No complaints,” I said, then just a few moments later, said to the same friend, not noticing the irony, “My back is hurting a little tonight.”

I don’t remember very much about the first wave, except that I found movement easily, and that there was notably more space between bodies, owing to smaller-than-usual turnout to Tammy’s usually jam-packed class.  One man, who I often find friendly and pleasant, seemed aggressive in his extroversion for the second week in a row.  Last week he had stepped on my foot without even noticing while running in a fast circle around a group of dancers he was involved with.  As I have written before, it is often helpful to have dancers who move through the entire room and don’t become quickly rooted to one place.  Lately, I have been noticing (for myself) when I go too far with a seemingly skillful behavior to the point that it becomes unskillful, for example moving around so much and so fast that I lose mindfulness and start bumping into people.  The man who seemed aggressively extroverted stepped happily into dances with nearly everyone in the room, but I wasn’t feeling receptive to him.  He really seemed to insist, though, stepping emphatically up to me and trying to make eye contact as he moved.  I wasn’t angry and I didn’t insist, but this time I didn’t consciously share a dance with him.  It was interesting for me to reflect on my own behaviors, especially times when I have been ecstatic, moving through the room in bliss, feeling porous and unbounded.  I hope I was able to respect the people who were having a different experience than mine, who might have needed space and privacy, though I felt so connected to them.

It is just 4.15pm and the sky lights with sunset.  I am reminded of the last stretch of driving before arriving to my parents’ house for the holidays a few days ago.  Orange-red light in horizontal bands lit the winter trees that lined the road.  The places that were hidden from the light by trees on the horizon at the other edge of my vision remained dull grey, exacerbating the glow everywhere the red light touched.  I said to my six-year-old son, Simon, “Can you believe how lucky we are? That we get to see this beauty?  It is incredible.  We are so lucky.”  Simon expressed agreement, though I can’t fully know what the experience was like for him.  Tears streamed down my cheeks.  I didn’t say what I was also thinking, “This world might not be so beautiful for much longer.  This might be a memory someday, maybe in the near future.  I can’t imagine a more beautiful world.  Even in the mundane nature of the roadside, with the blue of sky, the green of grass, the white of snow, there is exquisite beauty.”  As I stepped into my parents’ home, I was still choked up as I walked in to find my sister and brother in the kitchen.

Sometimes I think of an original Star Trek episode, when one of the crew members is on a planet where dreams and fantasies are enacted.  The world he projects is of a pastoral, green scene by a small river.  His expressed nostalgia for the beauty of earth touched me; and I have occasionally looked at my surroundings with that frame, as though I were far from earth, or perhaps in a bleak industrial future, imaging how much I would long for the lush green that is all around me now, even in New York City.

When Simon was first born, I spent countless hours sitting on the deck of my parents’ house, watching shimmering trees and dense green vines while he slept or nursed.  Once, a hummingbird came to drink from a flower on the deck just a few feet from me.  The grass, though patchy in spots, quivered with sugar.  Clouds gathered themselves into forms and drifted by, in constant motion, except during rare moments of seamless blue.  Even then, the breeze moved the leaves, insects clambered, the baby shifted softly, and birds threaded in and out of each other’s paths of flight.

Tammy, apparently noting a flavor of inertia in the room, invited us to follow someone.  Personally, I love following people. When someone rushes by, I might get swept into their current.  Sometimes, I step into the wake someone creates and experience what it is like for them to move through a room full of bodies.  The teacher Peter Fodera is particularly delightful to follow, as he moves through the room with both delicacy and force, seeming to majestically part the seas.  As the following took shape, there was some open-ness and I slipped around, smiling.  Soon, though, it turned into several chains of bodies.  Tammy said something to the effect that though some enjoy the season, for a lot of people, the holidays aren’t all that great. For some, they might be painful, I reflected, thinking of someone close to me who all but shuts down every year at least between December 23-26.  Inertia gripped even the chains of moving dancers.  Instead of pressuring us to cajole ourselves into joy, merry singing and grandiose generosity, making the not-joy even more painful, Tammy encouraged us to investigate the what was actually coming up in that moment, as we followed the person directly in front of us, perhaps in their “holiday slog.”

Moving briefly with this dragging conga line, I soon peeled off from the group with one friend, and we entered an enlivened Flowing in one corner of the room.  I don’t know if there is any metaphor in it, but when each person is trying their best to follow the other, sometimes each person winds up both leading and following, in a tight little tangle of forces.  In this case, the dance became delightful.  We approached and spun, dipping and rolling in and out of one another’s orbits.  It felt like when you are little kids playing in the grass and you hold hands with your wrists crossed, then spin around and around and around with your head thrown back and your mouth wide open, laughing.

I wondered if my friend loves the holidays like I do.  I am very much in the minority, but I have always loved the winter holidays and found true, imperfect joy with family and friends, despite the overwhelming pressure for fake, perfect joy that causes so many to suffer.  I even enjoy the lead up—this year, in particular, I planned ahead and had a number of presents I was excited to offer.

Flowing opened up easily for me again.  I knew I had to leave a little early if there was any hope to complete the series of small artworks and prepare gifts in time for a morning departure from the city.  I stayed just a little longer, then a little longer, then a little longer, finally leaving as Staccato transitioned into Chaos in the second wave of the class.

I am surprised there is so much to say this time, given that I had no notes and many days elapsed between the class and the writing.  Just as in stepping in to a 5Rhythms room I never know what will happen, so, too, in stepping in to the creative process of writing, I never know what will arise.  There is a long list of sad items I could dwell on at the moment: my grandmother has just entered hospice care, many near me are suffering with depression and various issues, and, of course, the alarming state of the world.  Despite all of this, joy has visited me in glimpses.  I am happy to be able to receive it, happy that sometimes joy can arise even independent of external circumstances.  To disdain my own joy would be as much a mistake as trying to force myself into it.  It seems that lived experience is always much more interesting than the expectations I set up for myself.  Living itself is much better than a happy cliché, even when it is messy, even when joy is a risk.

December 29, 2016, Broad Brook, CT

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

Times A Changin’ – Finding Lyrical Even Inside Chaos

“Imagine the conversation we’d be having if we weren’t debating facts.” –Masha Gessen

“The impulse to normalize” was the subject of a radio interview I heard in the car on the way to class at the Joffrey in the West Village.   In the interview, Masha Gessen, author of “Autocracy: Rules for Survival,” encouraged the press to continue to report lies and inaccuracies, but at once to analyze language and missives for hidden intentions, and to include reporting on the deeper stories at play.  In my mind, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, economic opportunism, and hatred should never be seen as normal.

These thoughts preoccupied me as I stepped in to the Sunday Sweat Your Prayers class, taught today by Mark Bonder.  I began to move in looping circles, occasionally changing level or direction with a drop or rise of weight, absorbed in gentle movement, my entire body released before Mark even stepped into the room.  One song brought me to the floor to stretch and move in continuing circles and arcs, then I was up again, continuing an endless, weighted spin.

During Flowing, Mark put on the Herbie Hancock version of Bob Dylan’s 1964 protest song, “Times They Are A’ Changin” with the female vocalist Lisa Hannigan.  Her gentle voice broke my heart as I considered that in 1964, though there were many challenges and obstacles, times seemed to be changing for the better, at least in terms of prospects for oppressed communities.  Now, in post-election 2016, times are again changing, though from my perspective, not for the better.  I encountered a friend and remembered the powerful tide of emotion she expressed during a discussion at a spring workshop because of the outbreak of overt misogyny directed toward Hillary Clinton.  Hugging each other softly and rocking from side to side, we both cried, understanding each other’s grief without any need for words.

According to the 5Rhythms Heartbeat Map that was created by Gabrielle Roth, the originator of the practice, each of the rhythms corresponds to a fundamental emotion.  For example, Flowing corresponds with fear, and Chaos corresponds with sadness.  For me, however, these two are reversed. In Chaos, I find relief from fear, the release of trapped emotions, and the expression of previously repressed energies—which might include grief.  The sadness and grief that are intrinsic to human experience, or that occur in current events—both personal and collective—for me, that all finds its expression in Flowing.

Flowing—of the five rhythms, the rhythm that is perhaps most foreign to my nature—has been a solace for me lately.  Once I begin to move in circles and feel my feet on the ground, I often move around the room, awash in humanity, floating in a sea of gestures.  There is a brushing, touching kind of seeing-and-being-seen.  It is not the direct, individual eye contact of Staccato, but rather the humble seeing-and-being-seen that drifts gently, letting in without judging, framing or resisting.   I move patiently, saying to each person (whether I meet their eye or not) “I see you there; and I am grateful for it.”

When Staccato arrived, I groaned inwardly.  Lately, I have not wanted to move into Staccato.  My mind wants to argue, “Isn’t it enough to be alive now? To be moving and finding some small joy? Must I find direction on top of it all?  Do I really have to act?”  My yoga teacher yesterday delivered a staid, yet impassioned call to arms about the state of the union.  In principle, I totally agree with her.  Yet the fact is that I have no direction at the moment.  At some point, I have to stop reeling and pick a point to move toward.  In Staccato, the music featured big, clear beats, then some small skirmishes.  I focused my attention and tried to step directly on the big beats—no small accomplishment, given my affinity for syncopation.  I had a useful insight as a result: in addition to being expressive, bold and sometimes uptight, Staccato can be methodical.

In a culture where we are encouraged to live from the heart in a hallmark sense—to be bold in flashy gestures—the heartfulness of methodical action—of discipline—is often overlooked.  In the last couple of weeks, I have been seriously considering quitting my current work and finding a way to earn a living as a healer.  I very much want to be immersed in practice and in work of spirit.  However, I realized within today’s Staccato dance that chucking everything and starting a new path wouldn’t necessarily be the most skillful way to follow my heart.  In fact, in my current work I am very much a healer already.  If I continue to water the seeds I have been planting, I will realize my dream within my existing context, without even having to defect from my profession.

Staccato, Chaos and Lyrical toggled back and forth in the first wave.  I joined forces with a new friend and we leapt and flew, including dramatic stops, extensions and emphasis at the far edges of our gestures.

In Stillness, I drew inside.  My eyes nearly shut, a litany of symbolic gestures arose.  I imagined that I spun a thick cocoon around myself, then created an exit, stepped out of it, and left it on the floor.  Revealed, exposed, I felt as though the Gods could fully see me, dancing in a light body, though I told myself that if I needed it, I could always re-gather the cocoon, which was laying close by on the floor.

In the second wave of the class, Chaos and Lyrical were braided together.  A few days previous, in the elevator with a friend, we talked about the current political situation.  “We’re fucked,” she said, trying to sound casual.  I said, “Lately, whenever I have had a moment of Lyrical, of joy, amongst the Chaos, I’m like, ‘Wow! I’m actually happy! Let me just appreciate this!” I was delighted to find pockets of Lyrical even inside of intense, prolonged Chaos.  At one point, Mark played a rollicking, jig-like song by the Swedish band Hedningarna and I soared, along with many others, sailing, flicking, fluttering—with every possible pattern of ball change, high up on my toes, then we moved back into heavy Chaos—clearly, the rhythm of our time, reflecting that the only thing that seems “normal” to me at the moment is the inevitability of Chaos.

December 4, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC

(Image of Bob Dylan on winning the Nobel Peace Prize from consequencesofsound.files.wordpress)

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

Moving Chaos-The Survival Art of Our Time


“Dancing Chaos is the survival art of our time.”  -Gabrielle Roth, creator of the 5Rhtythms dance and movement meditation practice.

“I know this is going to sound a little weird, but the Novocain will work better if you get up and move around a little,” said my dentist this morning as I faced the possibility of an emergency root canal—something I fear viscerally, despite my logical mind’s arguments.  I had been giving myself a pep talk.  “You are not going to die from this, Meg.  Pain is just a sensation.  It will pass.  Consider it a chance to practice.”

“No problem, I’m definitely a mover.”  I got out of the dentist’s chair and began to dance in the tiny office, noting that I was able to be very expressive, even in the small space filled with things I shouldn’t jostle or brush. My lower abdomen found a whole new way to open itself as I stepped diagonally forward and back—raising my arms—in the narrow space between the dentist’s chair and the counter, my feet finding rhythms and patterns, weighting back into the heel, bounding forward.  “Why didn’t I think of this before?” I wondered, moving into Chaos, letting my head release.  I took my seat again, feeling much more relaxed and properly numb.  I even had the thought, “These small challenges are an opportunity to build up my inner reserves for the much bigger challenges that will surely come; and I am grateful for it.”

Earlier in the week, at the beginning of the first wave of the Tuesday night High Vibrations Waves class at the Joffrey Ballet in the West Village, I found a quiet spot on the floor and entered Flowing slowly.  I crouched on my knees, bending forward and undulating, finding as much movement as possible in my spine.  Twice I rose to my feet, but returned to the ground again, not yet ready to be upright.

Visiting my family for Thanksgiving, I went for a run on Thanksgiving morning to visit one of my favorite places—a little network of trails along a river my grandfather loved to fish in.  On the way, I noted that I was actually feeling good.  Breath was available, nothing hurt, and I felt strong.  Then, I saw a political sign that brought me down—spray painted on a big, ratty, old board, proclaiming the residents’ allegiance.  Entering the river park, where I am usually alone, a plaid-shirted man wielded a leaf-blower, clearing fallen brown leaves from the entrance road.  I was annoyed at this destruction of my peace, and connected the man to the disturbing sign I had seen a few minutes earlier.  My mind revised its annoyance quickly, as I realized that the man couldn’t possibly be employed by the town and working on Thanksgiving morning.  I considered that he might be the caretaker of his own volition.  Running on soft ground through the woods and trails, a white sky inspired me; and a prayer of gratitude formed.

Back to the High Vibrations Waves class, Tammy Burstein, who was subbing for Jonathan Horan, dropped us abruptly into Staccato.  Unlike in my previous class when I resisted Staccato’s arrival, I stepped right into it.    Lately, I have been working deep in the belly, and deep in the feet.  I had a sense of fire in the belly; even holding the image of a warm sun behind the navel.

Tammy invited us to partner several times in the first wave.  After two or three partnerships, I joined with a man who I perceived as nonchalant.  I took on his oblique eye contact, his head slightly tucked into his shoulder, and played with my own perception.  Tammy asked if we were “pushing or pulling” and we began a very engaging dance of both pushing and pulling, deep in the hips and attentive to the ground.

The rhythm of Chaos had important insights for me, especially during this first wave.  Continuing the exercise begun in Staccato, Tammy invited us to partner with the person closest to us, telling us to change partners again and again with increasing speed.  At the end of the trajectory, she told us to just keep changing; and I continued to move around the room, pausing frequently to partner.  Chaos, for me, is the most internal rhythm, and the one I am least likely to partner in.  I often find a spot, not too far from Tammy and where there is a little pocket of space, where I can really let loose on my own.  I found my spot and moved with a very gentle, released Chaos, most engaged when the driving rhythm fell away and the music became tonal or harmonic, still deeply in Chaos.  As the music became more energetic, I began to move very quickly around the room.  I was superlatively fluid and softened.  It was crowded, but somehow I did not bump anyone at all.  Instead, my gestures were precise as I moved very close to the bodies around me. It helped that there were many long-practiced dancers, who tend to move with the energy of the group instead of staying anchored in one place, keeping the whole room alive.  The quality of awareness that I had at that moment also helped to protect me from causing harm, despite close proximity and speed.

It felt good to be in the collective field, very much in sync, and at the same time, very much on the high edge of Chaos—the rhythm of our time.  To some extent, the gem of personal achievement has lost its luster recently; and I find myself moving more than ever in the collective field.  The ability to actually move around inside of Chaos—conscious, aware and even with direction—are skills I hope to build on.  Also, the ability to give up territory and be flexible, even in the face of intensity, is a skill I will need in the months and years to come.   I see the need to practice Chaos now, perhaps more than ever.

Lyrical brought its own delights.  I crossed paths with a dancer who moved with sinewy resistance.  He kept locking into his back hip and knee, and curving up from there.  I played with his gestures, experimenting and appreciating the chance to expand my own range.  Before long, a dragon joined me, curling around me, nudging my sides to guide me forward, and overlapping me at times.  I again rushed through the room, curving wind, whipping, cascading down in the spaces between people’s legs, rising up into the spaces above us, fixing my gaze on a spot far off in the sky and racing toward it in a rolling turn, still not bumping or crowding anyone, somehow.  With a quality of fierce spaciousness, I did passing through practice, letting each person stream through me and streaming through them in turn.

I shared the blessing that had come to me in the woods with my family before Thanksgiving dinner.  One cousin—a no-longer-recovered-alcoholic—heckled me as I began to speak, but I moved forward gently, trusting the form that had arisen by the river.  I shared new research on the science of gratitude, that there is now empirical evidence that gratitude helps us to have more positive emotions, to express more kindness, and even to improve our immune systems.  “In this time of great challenge—both personal and collective.  I feel called on to work on the few things I can control—especially being grateful for the many blessings I have, and building up my relationships and communities.”  Next, I listed some things I am grateful for, including my brand new niece, my adored son, my young cousin, all of the family members present, the wonderful food, and the family members who are no longer with us who built up our traditions and bonds.  “And now the prayer,” I said, “Lord, Heavenly Father, the Christian God who has been so kind, and, too, any other Gods who are willing to help our cause, please help us at this time.  Open our hearts and help us so that even our painful current circumstances may serve to awaken us to our highest purpose.”  “To our highest purpose” I said very softly and slowly.

On Tuesday, having moved through the first wave, faithfully attending to each of the five rhythms—Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness—I moved into the Flowing phase of the second wave.  As I moved through the space in curving lines and circles, seeking the empty spaces, I noticed each person, saying internally, “I see you there, and I am grateful for it.”  Someone I think is totally full of shit stepped into my orbit, and I noticed my internal judgment.

Twice, I bumped into people.  The second time, I was greeting one friend with my eyes while moving in a different direction, where there was already another body.  Although it had felt so good to be part of the collective field within this big, roving Chaos, I realized that it was no longer available to me.  Maybe my mindfulness had diminished.  Often, we think of moving through the space rather than staying in one spot as skillful, but it seems I had taken it a little too far, perhaps I had even gotten attached to the idea of it.  I wasn’t mad at myself, but I got the message.  I found a spot on the floor, and explored moving there, partnering with the people close by or with those who happened to pass.

The rest of the wave unfolded in sequence.  In Staccato, I moved alone and with others with ferocity but without tension.  In Chaos, my energy dipped and I crossed paths with the man I had earlier read as nonchalant.  He carried me along, and I found inspiration, movement, and totally new forms.  We were wild, with dramatic extensions, expressing pattern after emerging pattern.  In Lyrical we continued to move together, athletic in flight.

Alone again, the bottoms of my feet whispered against the floor, my weight held on one foot as the toe of the other delicately etched written words, messages, and pleas into the worn surface, my feet never losing contact with the floor.  My hands curled softly—the thumbs touching the first fingers.  From the view above, the prayer read, “Help! Please help!  We need help here.  I need help.  Please help me to be of service. Please help us at this difficult time.”  I saw my tiny dance, one of billions on the green, curved earth; and the little square I danced on began to glow.  My arms extended, gently casting up in arcs as I spun, transmitting the prayer to the heavens, from feet to sky, in full view of the Gods.

“Well, it looks like you just need a filling, not a root canal,” my dentist said.  My arched back settled back onto the dentist’s chair.  One small crisis averted, I dig deep, releasing to ground even in the midst of Chaos, preparing for whatever comes.

November 29, 2016, 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.