Practice in the Time of Coronavirus: A Dancing Path

I really didn’t feel like practicing. It had already been a long day; and I had another big day coming. I was on a meditation retreat at Garrison Institute, and part of my personal practice was to dance a 5Rhythms wave, o sea, in other words, to move through each of the five rhythms in sequence. At least once a day, I tucked my socks into my pants, sprayed myself with deet, and made my way down a wooded path to the Hudson River. Because it’s my practice, even though I didn’t feel like it, I still stepped in. 

I began in a tiny inlet, on a beach enclosed by tree cover. In Flowing I was lackluster. I moved in circles on the little beach, cutting up the sand’s surface. In the second rhythm of Staccato I was still not really into it, determined to see the wave through, but also eager to get it over with. Then, a spark caught, somewhere in the transition from Staccato to the third rhythm of Chaos. I moved from the little inlet to an open, glacial rock that rose up over a powerful expanse of the river and moved with abandon. In Lyrical and Stillness, the world opened itself. I imagined that I sunk to the depths of the ancient river, where it was black and dense, then rose up again with its density streaming down the rock channels of me. 

Sometimes practice is mundane. Sometimes it is life-changing. You never know what will happen until you step in. In 5Rhythms, there is a tradition, a benediction, sometimes expressed at the beginning of a wave: “See you on the other side.” 

All of our dances, all of our practice experiences are necessary. After about two years of dancing the 5Rhythms, I went through a period of agonizingly painful dances. It lasted almost two months. Every time I stepped in, I felt terrible. I felt isolated, disengaged, disincluded, and unable to connect. It was extra painful because I’d become accustomed to the wild, frenzied release that left me whimpering and grateful, alive, full, knowing. And for this long period, it just wasn’t available.

Thankfully, by then, I had already developed a strong practice. I had already verified for myself that 5Rhythms was beneficial for me, and was worth the dedication of precious resources. If I didn’t already have a strong practice–a regular, intentional practice that was not rocked by external factors–I’m sure I would have stopped attending 5Rhythms classes. As it was, I just kept attending, noticing how I was feeling, and knowing that it would pass. Later, when I hit patches of agonizing discomfort, I would draw on this experience, reminding myself that practice would not always be pleasant, but that the periods of discomfort would pass, and would leave me with deeper faith in my own ability to stay present in the face of whatever arises. 

In the simplest terms practice is something we do regularly and intentionally without being attached to a certain outcome in a given session. We show up again and again. Usually, something only becomes a practice if we have been raised with it, or we have field tested it and found it worthy of our dedication.

To me, having a 5Rhythms practice means regularly, intentionally dancing the 5Rhythms, regardless of how I feel before, during, or after. It means I don’t ask the dance to fix me in the moment, but, over time and with slow erosion, to free me from my personal prisons and to reveal the nature of reality.

When my son, Simon, was first born, I developed a practice of writing a poem a day. As is true of many practices, it started accidentally. My sister invited me to swap haiku poems for fun, and somehow I caught a little groove of poem writing. I let go of using the haiku form, and instead wrote about my daily experiences, capturing the exquisite beauty of Simon’s first months of life, including the blizzard snows that buried New York City that year, the sublimely quiet room where I sat breastfeeding him in the quietest hours of night, the silver J train sliding across the bridge in view outside the window, and how it felt to look at my tiny son’s face as he slept. And I also captured the pain of that time period, as my relationship with Simon’s father was falling apart. 

After a week or two of catching an accidental groove, I started to realize it might be worth making this into a practice. So I did. Some days I wrote more than one poem, but almost every day I wrote at least one, sometimes staying up just a little bit later to accomplish this task. Sometimes the poems were mundane, sometimes they were life changing. Once I wrote. “I’m too tired to write now. Maybe if I can just hold this pen upright, the world will flow through it.”

One of the benefits of this practice was that it sensitized me to the poetic level of experience, and had me looking for it all the time. To me, “poetic” is a level of experience that is concerned with the beauty of exquisite reality, of sometimes painful and imperfect aliveness. 

I kept it up for nearly three years, writing over a thousand poems. At that point, I discontinued the practice. I had started a new job, and it started to feel like I was forcing it in a way that was no longer benefitting me. I had already started to slack off, but made a conscious choice to let it go, recognizing that practice is worth discipline, but once it becomes rigid, it might be time to let it shift or end.

Knowing when to embody Flowing and when to embody Staccato is an important skill for working with the practices that create meaning in our lives and help us to realize our potential.

In 5Rhythms, practice falls into two categories. “In the dance” when we are intentionally practicing, and not in the dance, in other words, at all other times. All of it can be viewed as practice. 

Whatever we repeat becomes a practice, in a way. For example, road rage, insecurity, gratitude, or frequent hand-washing. Through repetition, we carve a groove in our mind to arrive at a particular state or to exhibit a certain skill. For our purposes, though, we need to distinguish between intentional practice and practicing/re-enforcing conditioned responses.

Practice and conditioned responses can look similar, but are fundamentally very different.

The key difference is in how we are in relationship to the given practice. If a practice serves to open our experience and bring us into (sometimes painful) confrontation with our misconceptions, then it is probably a practice. If a “practice” causes us to shore up our view of ourselves as separate or better than or less than or omnipotent or limited, and to disconnect from physical and energetic reality, then it is probably a conditioned response, not a practice. This is true even if it looks like a practice. 

Distinguishing between these two requires skill and insight, and often input from a clear-seeing teacher, especially in early to intermediate stages of the path. And there are often multiple layers of intention. As such, a practice might need to be examined complexly for information about how it is functioning for a given practitioner.

Identity stories are a kind of practice, and can support practice in the larger view. For example, my teen students need to develop healthy identity stories (“I’m a good student, I’m lovable, I’m someone who has a healthy relationship to emotions”) to support them on their path. If they cannot construct through practice these healthy identity stories, they will struggle to move into a later stage of development. At another level, those same identity stories may become conditioned habits, and obstacles to opening into the naked truth of bare awareness. But they are developmentally essential practices at a certain stage.

Some 5Rhythms teachers believe that the core of 5Rhythms practice is continuous, sustained, profound mindfulness of body, and of the feet in particular.

Our main practice is to move. 

And there are infinite sub-practices within the main practice of 5Rhythms. 

In Flowing, we practice bringing attention to the soles of the feet and dropping the weight down. We acknowledge the importance of ground and grounding. We also practice allowing our bodies to move in unending circular motion. And we practice having an attitude of receptivity, and paying attention to the inbreath. In Flowing, I also practice paying attention to the perimeter of the dance floor, and sometimes physically circling the space. Sometimes I also use a practice adapted from Thich Nhat Hahn, in which I acknowledge each person without direct eye contact, patiently noticing each person and saying internally, “I see you there; and I’m grateful for it.” 

In Staccato, we practice bringing attention to the outbreath, and with using sharp, percussive movements. We invite specificity and direction. We also find nuanced ways to work with the beat, and to relate to partnership. One sub-practice that I use in Staccato is noticing if I think partnering with someone is negative, positive, or neutral. Then, I either decide to move away from them if I don’t want to dance with them, or decide to stay and see what happens. And the same for someone I feel positive about partnering with.

In Chaos, we let go of our heads, and alternate between shifting weight between our feet, and moving with whatever wild demon possesses us. We invite and celebrate unpredictability. We go all out, to whatever extent we can at that time. One practice I personally use in Chaos is to experiment with going to the farthest edges of balance. I also experiment with inviting resistance to Chaos, then releasing fully into it, sometimes toggling between the two.

In Lyrical, we rise up and allow ourselves to become weightless if it’s available, trusting that we’ve already established our ground, and often engaging with the element of space. Lyrical shifts so much, but I often experiment with practicing extension and balance in Lyrical.

In Stillness, we allow ourselves to be moved by breath, and in some cases to merge with a larger view than conventional reality can accommodate. 

In practice, nothing is always true. There is always nuance. For example, in general it is helpful to open the eyes during 5Rhythms practice, for practical, psychological, and spiritual reasons. However, a given person might have a conditioned habit of always keeping the eyes open because they are afraid to sink deeply into their inner darkness. In this case, it would be appropriate to engage in a practice of closing the eyes periodically, to investigate and explore the teachings available through breaking the habit of always having the eyes open. Also, intuition might insist on closing the eyes at a certain time. This might be conditioning, or could be an important directive from inner wisdom or spirit guides. Insisting on always keeping the eyes open, without any willingness to acknowledge nuance, might suppress important insights or revelations.

Practice is a balance between structure and creativity. Committing to a practice or a sub-practice requires discipline. Sometimes we do it even if it isn’t fun or we aren’t in the mood. At the same time, responding to the shifts in one’s needs requires creativity; and it is a vibrant, dynamic process.

Doing something as a practice yields benefits that are not available in haphazard or incidental actions. Practice requires grit and discipline. It forces us to push through resistance, inertia, and neurosis. It also requires us to gently reassure the tender ego, that although we are walking the path of absolute freedom, we are no threat to him. Practice requires gentleness and self care, and asks us to notice and relent if pushing through has actually become an act of aggression against ourselves. 

Now, as we face a worldwide pandemic, practice is here to hold and sustain us.

Practice is the path.

Practice is a way to make the most of this life, and to offer the fruits of our devoted work to the benefit of all beings. Practice is a blessing. That we are alive in this time, in this moment, in this body, in this way, is nothing less than a miracle. 

April 19, 2020, Broad Brook, Connecticut

(Photo from aleanjourney.com)

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

Practice in the Time of Coronavirus: Persistent Habits

For the last two nights, I’ve slept on my back. This despite being a side-sleeper for pretty much my whole life. I have a certain way of tucking the pillow into the side of my neck, settling in, and nestling my back up to a pillow or another body. But my shoulders suffer, and the asymmetry sets me up for all kinds of misalignments. I’ve tried re-training myself many times, but I let myself go back to what’s comfortable when sleep has eluded me. This time, I think I’m on track to finally interrupt this persistent habit.

Yesterday, I logged into a zoom class that a friend led. I love his facilitation style, but I just couldn’t get into it this time. I was already feeling shut-down and discouraged, possibly because of many coronavirus deaths in my work community. Then, during the afternoon something I said contributed to disequilibrium in a whatsapp group. I apologized, but it was too late. I wasn’t wrong, exactly, but it really wasn’t my business. I wished I had stayed quiet or been more supportive. Even my ten-year-old son, Simon, felt I was in the wrong.

For a minute, I started to make a case against the person, but that fell apart pretty quickly. Then I started to make a case against myself. How I’m a bad person, how no one really likes me anyway. I started to visit past experiences, focusing on my many regrets. And I thought about all the recent emails I’ve sent that haven’t been answered, seeing it as a sign that I’m not really included or approved of, totally disregarding the fact that many people are grieving, or intolerably stressed, or have their hands overfull and answering their emails isn’t a top priority.

I really wanted to quit the group. They probably don’t want me anyway, I reasoned. But I made a recent resolution to be more present and available in group friendships–something I have struggled with–and I decided to stick it out for awhile.

In Flowing, I rolled and stretched on the floor, keeping as much of me touching the ground as possible as I curled and flipped over, at times rolling over the back of my skull or laying flat, arms and legs outstretched, on my belly or back. On my feet, I let my arms gently follow and rub against the rest of me. I let my weight down into one foot at a time, seeing if I could connect with the center of the earth. During all of this, I was also thinking about feeling left out at work, and how to approach some of my tasks. These kinds of thought processes continued into Staccato, though I could see the pattern my mind was insisting on. In Chaos, I was more energetic, but still felt lackluster in terms of engagement. Lyrical found me briefly disengaged from persistent thinking, but still uninspired. I disconnected from the session as we moved into Stillness, and made a video for the students I teach. 

The video was about how our habitual fear stories can build up and cause us to feel overwhelmed, and how it is important that we learn to cut through our thoughts by coming back to the present when we start to make a case against ourselves.

In the evening, I avoided the temptation to drink wine to have a break from the difficult feelings I was experiencing. Instead, I wrote, then meditated at length, wrapped in a blanket in a dark room, lit only by one candle from my altar. I watched related thoughts arise and fall away, still making a case against myself, still feeling shut down, but gaining a little distance, and was able to sleep peacefully.

Today, things felt a little easier.

Again, I was drawn into exchanges with the same whatsapp group, but I didn’t feel disliked or disincluded. In fact, I found the people who contributed very supportive and receptive. I shared that I had been tempted to quit the group, but decided to ride it out. In the past, I’ve been inclined to shut down quickly in group relationships, but this time I wanted to try something different. I’m curious to see where it will lead, and excited about another strong community to learn from and grow with.

My biggest block in practice yesterday was in Staccato, but today I felt more connected as I joined a group of close friends on a zoom dance.

The livestream class was very clear and direct, with the teacher naming each form of each rhythm as it arose. In Flowing, I spent some time creating a perfect white circle around my home dance floor, and casting a circle spell. Then, I lost myself in weighted spins, following my intuition even if it didn’t look like typical flowing movements. The teacher offered a challenge that engaged me and I reflected that good teaching is a process of refining attention by offering hooks and challenges for students to engage with, and eventually supporting them to create refinements and challenges for themselves.

In Staccato, I found edges and definition, sinking low in a howling yoga-goddess-pose again and again. In Chaos, spin was my thread, and I followed coiling, moving like a matrix, and flapping my head wildly as the expression of the spine in perpetual motion. In Lyrical I noticed that different dancers were highlighted on the zoom screen, and I moved in partnership with that specific dancer, assuming they, too, were seeing me. In Stillness I moved into vast space, noting the movements of clouds, the many birds I could see from the window, and wondering about arcane languages.

After Stillness drew to a close, we came together in conversation. My newly-created zoom pattern is that I bail as soon as the music stops. Often Simon is drawing me, but it might also be that I’m uncomfortable in this kind of group friendship. Today I enjoyed the conversation, contributing and listening patiently. 

Why might it be helpful to interrupt our persistent habits? In general, defaulting to our rehearsed patterns (and the mind-stories that support how we currently see ourselves) functions to keep up trapped in our small sense of self, and our painful, futile efforts to sustain our fragile ego. At this time, our patterns are rocked, and we have the choice to either dig in and insist on them, or to see them in the clear light of day and change our way of relating to them.

If there is any value to be gathered from this time–though any consideration of value in the face of such devastation is surely an expression of privilege–it is that it is an opportunity to confront and interrupt our habits, certainly on an individual level, and I hope, I pray, I intend, on a societal level, that we may establish new habits, new ways to share resources, and new ways to value our myriad contributions.

April 16, 2020, Broad Brook, Connecticut

Practice in the Time of Coronavirus: Uncertainty

I had just broken up with the love of my life. The first time we embraced, our heartbeats had shifted to match each other, beating in sync. This was the first of many times that we broke up before it would eventually stick. I had built a whole identity around being part of this relationship, then it caved in instantly.

I called my sister, heartbroken, consumed, wanting to talk and talk, to be reassured, to believe it would all be ok, to stay on the line so I wouldn’t have to face the painful feelings, groundlessness, and uncertainty on my own.

Thankfully, a few months before, I had started intentionally studying the workings of my own mind. 

My sister seemed exasperated, and suddenly I realized that escaping myself in times of uncertainty was no longer a pattern I wanted to continue.

I hung up the phone and stayed out of contact for several days. I was at the cheapest motel in South Beach, Miami. I scream-cried for two days, slamming my face into the pillows, probably frightening the neighbors, and occasionally pausing to cross the street for the beach and float in the ocean, a tiny being, bereft in the great mother sea.

For the first time since I could remember, I let the full force of my emotions in. It was agony, but it was also beautiful. Somehow, I knew I could face it, though I wasn’t yet sure if there was any way to get through it alive.

Patterns. Strong Emotions. Uncertainty.

As the world grinds to a halt, time slows, and perspective shifts in favor of reflection, I’m forced to confront my patterns, the deeply rooted habits that have hummed along beneath the surface of me for years and years.

It hurts.

I’ve often made the resolution to participate in facebook more often, but have rarely kept it. In the last few weeks, as coronavirus has descended on the United States, I’ve been checking it a lot more, especially since I was in strict quarantine in Northern Connecticut with my ten-year-old son, Simon, for two weeks. 

I’m a teacher, and when NYC Department of Education made a sudden pivot (from what now looks like a well-oiled machine) to remote learning to decrease the spread of the deadly coronavirus, I suddenly had to learn a whole new way of teaching for a group of teens who urgently need support and consistency at this time, a role that, sadly, despite my best efforts, I was unable to assume completely at that point.

At once, I was suddenly and without training in charge of Simon’s home schooling, which also meant learning a whole new set of skills and competencies. 

I found that I was checking facebook at least once a day. I even started to feel sad that few friends had replied to one of my posts. “Can I get a little love?” I wrote, with a joking tone that was at once needy, stuck. In part, the solitude was getting to me. Also, something in me wanted the reassurance of knowing I was seen and approved of. As this habitual pattern arises, this need to seek reassurance in the face of uncertainty, I have the opportunity to work with it in a new way, to break the habits that keep me trapped in a small sense of self, and blind to my infinite power.

Instead, in the face of grave uncertainty, I think the best policy is to acknowledge and tolerate the discomfort that arises. Otherwise we engage the habitual patterns that we’ve ingrained to keep uncertainty at bay, and in the process re-enforce the small, limited box we’ve forced ourselves into.

That is to say, shit is painful right now. For a lot of us. 

And we basically have two options. We can scramble and squirm and try to escape the pain and uncertainty of our situation, through mindless entertainment, overeating, overbusying, worrying, obsessing, complaining, and countless other activities. Or we can stop. We can pause. We can notice the uncertainty. We can feel it in the body as a sour stomach, a clenched jaw, raised shoulders, tightened belly, tensed hips, sweat, breath, heartbeat. 

I’ve been practicing a lot, of necessity.

Sometimes it is mundane, a matter of course. Sometimes it is cosmic, earth-shattering. 

It seems like truth-guarding layers are peeling themselves away now. I think that if I continue to be diligent, this could be a unique opportunity to open more fully to reality, and to expand my human capacity.

***

Yesterday, I opened the window to the backyard at my parents’ house, where Simon and I are staying, and pointed the speaker out the window so I could hear the music and dance on the soft earth at the same time. 

The yard is a mix of uneven dirt, new grass, and moss. I wasn’t sure if I would be inspired, but as soon as I stepped in to this unorthodox dancefloor, I was gathered into movement. In Flowing, I moved around and around, feeling the give of the dirt where underground moles have carved tunnels, the rise and fall of subtle inclines, the bumps and divets of the yard. I moved gently at first, trying to baby my knees, but as Staccato emerged, I lost my hesitation, moving with vigor and inspiration, at moments partnering with my own shadow in the late afternoon light. 

In Chaos, I found a new way to shake–putting most of my weight on one foot and freeing the other side of the body, flapping the hip until the motion richocheted from my center to my edges and flung me into powerful motion.

Yesterday, I danced all day. I did yoga for a while, then danced part of a wave. I danced on zoom for a short time with a friend who, like many, is struggling with grief and rage. I went into the woods and danced a wave by a river that my grandfather loved, ending in Stillness with the currents of the river and the wind passing through me. At night, I danced as a participant in a zoom class that was facilitated by a senior 5Rhythms teacher.

Sad news kept rolling in, keeps rolling in. 

I feel guilty for having afflictive emotions, when so many are facing the worst kinds of losses and I’ve been so lucky and so privileged. This is its own pattern, of course. The emotions knock at my front door regardless, and, though I squirm, I don’t go as far as barring them from entering. 

One day this week, I felt left out, in a pervasive sense. I felt like no one was answering my emails or comments at work. And many of my friends outside of work seemed to be engaging seamlessly with each other, but I didn’t feel like I really knew how to be part of a digital group, how to participate in friendships this way. The isolation is getting to me. And recently I’ve noticed that I have some fear and resistance around group friendships. 

Another pattern rearing up in the face of uncertainty.

In a moment of parent-child discord with Simon, I glanced over my shoulder out the window. A bluejay had landed on a small flowering tree in the yard. A white blob of birdshit escaped him and he moved on.

I turned my attention back to Simon as he resisted my efforts to get him into a creative activity, defaulting to a video game. I pushed harder, he resisted more. I pushed harder. He lashed out. I lashed back. He stormed off, then hid his face, waiting for me to find him, to apologize, to lure him back to good humor. I won’t say that I shortcircuited the pattern this time, but at least I saw it, this habit, yet another habit, that has emerged with extra force in the face of the current uncertainty.

Today is my birthday. Still feeling left out, I (mostly) resisted the temptation to seek reassurance. Instead, I reached out to two friends and asked them to help me plan a zoom dance party and learn the sound tech needed to pull it off. They were incredibly generous, and a number of cherished friends joined. I felt loved and seen. Later, I hosted a family zoom dance party. Some had trouble with the technology, but many danced with good humor, including Simon. In this case, instead of asking to be reassured, I found a way to connect that would allow me to feel included. And I resolved to give more, even in group friendships, so I don’t set myself up to feel left out.

For weeks, I’ve more or less been thinking that if we just get through a certain period of time, there will be a point when things are ok again, are relatively safe, at least from the standpoint of germs. It’s only just now sinking in that there probably won’t be a clear moment, but rather it will be a jagged process that involves considerable risk. The president’s rhetoric concerns me immensely, and I’m afraid of another surge of cases if everyone is given a green light to continue business as usual. Even more uncertainty.

***

Today I reflected that practice itself can be a habit that interferes with practice.

Playing with Simon on a swing in the backyard, I noticed a tendency to think about what I would do after the swing session, ironically wishing to get back to practice. Then brought my attention to the texture of the swing, the movement of my body as I pushed Simon, Simon’s smile, the feeling of my voice vibrating in my throat, the soft ground, the wind rushing the just-budding branches.

I assigned an article on dealing with uncertainty to the high school students I teach. In it, the author argues that accepting the reality of uncertainty is essential for freeing our minds. She claims that when we are stuck on the impossible effort to establish certainty, our minds are fixed and rigid, but that “an uncertain mind is curious, interested, reflective and malleable.” (Headspace, 2015) From a practice perspective, I explained to them, uncertainty, though often painful, can also be seen as an advantage.

In practice, by staying present with what arises, we notice the patterns and habits that emerge when we are not present–our efforts to establish certainty. In 5Rhythms, we practice continually interrupting our patterns by moving in new ways: an in-the-moment laboratory for uncertainty studies.

If we can acknowledge and tolerate the discomfort that arises without grasping for certainty, we have a chance to disengage the habitual patterns that we’ve ingrained to keep uncertainty at bay. And to meet our lives in the process. Even in the face of chaotic emotions, even in the face of overwhelming fear, even in the face of devastating losses.

In the words of Pema Chödron,“It’s not impermanence per se, or even knowing we’re going to die, that is the cause of our suffering.. Rather, it’s our resistance to the fundamental uncertainty of our situation. Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet, to realize our dream of constant okayness..But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment..freedom from struggling against the fundamental ambiguity of being human.” Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change

April 11, 2020, Broad Brook, Connecticut

Practice in the Time of Coronavirus: Concluding Self Isolation

I’m listening to a livestream piano concert now given by a teen named Donny, who is the nephew of a friend. She shared that he has blastoma and autism, and just lost his mother. As I join the stream, Donny opens with three of my lounge-singer-grandmother’s favorite songs: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Misty, and Unforgettable. 

***

I’ve been crying intermittently all day. 

After 14 days of strict quarantine, my ten-year-old son, Simon, and I were able to join the household of my parents, in their house in Northern Connecticut yesterday.

***

Now Donny is playing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. He’s not reading any sheet music, and he’s really good and really into it. He mentions playing something “just like mom used to play it” and a male voice off the screen says, “You played that song at her service.”

***

Yesterday, Simon was very excited, got up super early, and raced to my parents’ room to climb into their bed and hug them. We had planned a whole coming out party, with dance and singing. 

But this morning, Simon and I struggled. He seemed resistant to everything and uncooperative. He didn’t want to sing, dance, or help his Nana make a giant chalk drawing in the street to express thanks to health care workers.

Simon’s father, who was officially my partner for eight years, and has been my not-husband and close friend for another ten, decided to stay in Brooklyn, rather than come to stay at an apartment nearby we were able to arrange for him. 

***

Every time Donny finishes a song, the off-camera person (his father?) claps enthusiastically.

***

I took a break from parent-child volatility to dance the Sunday Sweat Your Prayers 5Rhythms dance class at 11AM, happy to connect with community. Before joining, I took an emotional call from a family member I’ve been worried about.

I started late because of the call and caught only the tail end of the rhythm of Flowing. Today I cried hard as soon as I started to move, especially during a song with lyrics about loss. Lately, I’ve been recording myself when dancing for my own interest; and on the video my feet seemed a little hesitant in this beginning part. In Staccato, I had no trouble finding expression and inspiration, but with so much yoga and dance lately, my knees are a little tender, and it’s like I was trying to avoid stomping, a tiny bit aversive. In Chaos, I moved quickly, coiling and shaking. In Lyrical, my hands seemed to take over, but my arms didn’t seem to be fully extending. Overall, I was kind of flat today, compared to my usual athleticism.

Near the end of the Sweat Your Prayers class, Simon’s came in and said, “Mom! Get. Me. Socks!” Another period of challenging exchanges was set off.

While I was dancing, my Mom created a giant chalk drawing across the street that says, “Thank you, helpers!” She tried to engage Simon, but he was resistant. Challenging because the reason she designed the project was specifically to engage Simon. A motorcyclist went out of his way to avoid damaging her cheerful drawing. Another passing driver beeped and waved, smiling.

Everyone in the house seemed to be having a hard time. 

Now? When we’re faced with so much danger, so much uncertainty? How can we be anything but overjoyed to be together? Unceasingly loving and kind? I know connecting with the people we love is the top priority now, and felt dismayed that it wasn’t going well.

Eventually this wave of unrest managed to work its way through, and we agreed to sing a few karaoke songs together. 

Singing is very emotional for me. My Dad loves to sing, and we’ve been singing together like this for my entire adult life. It’s easier for me to sing with him because I can follow him. On my own, it’s much harder to carry the tune. When we sing, I feel the mixed happiness of being together in joy, and pain of knowing how much this will hurt if there is a time I don’t have him any more. Also, my Dad is the most tender-hearted person I know, and it comes through in his singing voice.

All four of us were smiling and dancing. Simon, though still young, is a trained musician with a strong, clear voice, and belts out a few of his favorite songs. I put on a hot pink tutu that I found near the karaoke studio in the basement. I was having a little trouble because sadness kept bubbling up; and it’s hard to control your voice when your heart wells up into your throat, but still sang with feeling. My Mom alternated between singing and dancing–at one point waltzing with Simon–and she took a video of Simon, my Dad, and me singing a melodramatic 80’s song.

My Dad had a heart attack two years ago, and was recently diagnosed with diabetes. My Mom and my Dad will both turn 70 this year. As we sing, I think again and again of how precious these moments are, and how grateful I am to have them.

***

Now my mom is sitting with me, watching and listening as Donny plays Ave Maria

***

In Stillness of the 5Rhythms wave in the Sweat Your prayers class, I sink deeper inside myself, imaging that I’m channeling light, and sending it out one hand, around the entire world where it pours out white fire, then back into the other hand after a trip around the world. Soon, I imagine the entire world engulfed in purifying flame, flickering with spirit fire.

***

Donny ends with Danny Boy, a song my both my grandmother and my great grandmother loved, and we are in tears, sobbing along to the lyrics.

At the end of the concert, Donny walks toward the camera and takes a formal bow, then signs off.

***

I didn’t want surprises tomorrow morning right before I have to work, so I checked my work email right before posting this. I learned that another student I’m close with has lost a family member. 

My heart breaks. So many people are suffering now, most especially those who are vulnerable because of poverty. 

For now, there is nothing to do but practice, and pray, and try our best to love the people who are close to us as skillfully as we are able.

April 5, 2020, Broad Brook, CT

Practice in the Time of Coronavirus: Dancing in Circles

Today is the 14th day of a 14 day quarantine for my ten-year-old son, Simon, and me. We’ve been staying in an apartment that is attached to my parents’ house. We’re in quarantine because we just came from our home in Brooklyn, NYC, the epicenter of the US coronavirus outbreak, and I’m afraid to expose my parents or anyone else to the potentially deadly virus. 

Work seemed quiet today. I think I’m supposed to attend several meetings a day, but no one has been calling to include me. It’s possible I need to actively seek out a link to join, but today I wasn’t rushing to do that. There is an old pattern nattering away that is afraid I’m doing something wrong or that I’ll get in trouble, but I’m doing what I can to calm that voice. I’m always working hard for my students, but I know that getting myself tense with stress will lower immunity and make things harder for both Simon and myself. And if there’s a chance that I might die–there’s a chance that any of us might die from this–I’m not going to spend these precious weeks tangling myself in red tape. Life is simply too short, no matter how you look at it. 

The most important thing now is to be present with Simon. Fourteen days of being together 24-7 has had its challenges, but overall it feels like a blessing. There are days when I’ve felt like a train-wreck of a parent, but today was happy. Lately, I’ve been more firm, but also softer. I’ve also tried to meet him with a wide bandwith for whatever he’s bringing, and to give him the space to huff off, slam doors, and insist on his independence as much as I can possibly tolerate.

Today, we went for a walk. This wasn’t his first choice for a lunchtime activity. He wanted to play together on the swing in the yard, but I really needed to change locations, at least briefly. I tried all kinds of negotiations. He did everything he could to get his way. Almost every day, I’ve yielded to his preferences, but this time I felt pretty strongly. 

He walked several yards ahead of me, his arms crossed, stamping his feet, and made several emphatic comments about how I was forcing him and how he absolutely refused to have fun. In the past, I might have just abandoned the whole effort, or at least made a big showing of maybe abandoning it. This time, I just kept walking, saying “Thank you for coming with me, even though you really don’t want to.”

We walked a circle around a big field, on this overcast, windy day. Light rain scattered with the wind. I felt sad, and let in the feeling. It wasn’t just this conflict with Simon but the colleague who lost a close friend yesterday, the students who lost family members, the friend who is cut off from her family by border closings in Canada. The parent of one of my high school students who is a home health care worker caring for people with coronavirus and constantly afraid. 

The starkness of the scene touched me. 

I didn’t emote strongly though, mindful of the possibility of using tears and sadness to overrule others’ anger, a pattern I’ve been trying to short-circuit.

Eventually, Simon said, “Mommy, can I have a hug?”

“Of course.” I pulled him close and we tucked our heads together.

A pair of gigantic hawks (eagles? maybe?) soared overhead and I pointed them out.

“I’m sorry I was so grouchy and mean.”

“Simon. It’s ok. Really. It’s a stressful time. You can be however you are. To me you are perfect.”

He wasn’t willing to take that in at first but kept walking with me.

The sky was low, with sculptural grey forms shot through with light moving across the horizon, seeming to rest on the just-budding trees that lined the field. 

When we returned, we played on the swing before I had to go back inside to work, laughing together, a victory for both of us.

The afternoon passed quickly. I worked mostly on grading and planning for next week.

Before settling in to dance, I decided to sweep. After sweeping, I decided to wash the floors. Lately, I’ve been washing the floors with diluted bleach every day, disinfecting all surfaces daily, and even washing our shoes. I’ve never been a big cleaner. At times quite the contrary, but lately I’ve been diligent.

I spent a few minutes creating a new wave for myself with existing music, and rolled up the carpet.

Today I decided to draw a circle to dance inside of. Remembering the box of children’s art supplies in the apartment, I went to see if there was chalk I could use to actually draw a circle. To my delight, I found a perfect material. Drawing a white circle around my dance area, I envisioned a space of safety and power.

Today is Friday, and nearly every Friday for the past thirteen years, I’ve attended Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves 5Rhythms class in the West Village. I thought about reaching out to her as I stepped in, but Simon was using my phone to play Roblox with his cousin, and it didn’t seem important enough to wait. Instead I carried her in my heart as I pushed play and stepped in.

The 5Rhythms is a dance and movement meditation practice created by Gabrielle Roth. The 5Rhythms are Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness. At first glance it probably just looks like a crazy-fun dance party, but there’s more to it. There are no steps to learn or anything, and it could be any kind of music; instead, the idea is that the more fully you engage with each of the rhythms, the more possibilities you open up for yourself. 

Having an actual circle on the floor was a good support in the rhythm of Flowing. I took my time, moving throughout it, giving myself a break from pushing, sinking into a comfortable groove, and bringing the focus of my attention down into the soles of my feet. 

In contrast to some recent dances, I moved from Flowing into the rhythm of Staccato easily. I thought, “Wow. Staccato is the one place when I’m almost never crying. This is a good pick-me-up. I love Staccato! It starts and I just jump in and start smiling.” 

Then, as you might predict, I started sobbing.

In the field earlier with Simon, I had asked him, “If you could command one element, which would you choose?” He said “Fire!” and I invited him to practice, demonstrating by imagining that I was throwing fire at a sports wall in the middle of the field. 

In Staccato, inside this circle of safety and power I had cast, I felt the power of fire. I could actually see the same sport wall through the chaotic brush at the edge of the yard from the window of the room I was dancing in, and practiced throwing fire to it. Fire concentrated in my belly, but it wasn’t held there, it’s like it was always rushing in and rushing out. I had to keep reminding myself to soften.

Suddenly, I was overcome. Power was rushing in and using me. I was pouring out white fire, intended to incinerate the pestilence that has taken root, intended to annihilate the roots of bias and oppression, which are causing some to suffer more painfully than others, especially during this global pandemic, this period of emergency and fear and survival mode.

As with parenting lately, I felt more firm, yet softer.

In Chaos, what I was thinking of as the boundaries of my circle got more complicated. I felt like it was actually a sphere that was pulsing out. At the same time, influences were pouring in. It was no longer the sharp boundary I thought I wanted, but an intersection, a transmission. 

Lyrical found me patient, pensive. Moving into lightnes today with measured exuberance, tilting and casting, using momentum, imagining my hands and feet as heavy, as ballast for a cruising boat.

Stillness eventually melted into sitting meditation. From there, I spent nearly another hour in ritual, still using the power of the circle, and the energy raised through concentrated dance. In writing, I invoked my many helpers, guides, deities, and ancestors to keep those in my dwelling safe and healthy. I also asked them to keep all of those I love safe and healthy, to eradicate disease and pestilence from this plane, and to protect the health of all beings everywhere.

I am in a trance now. On coronavirus retreat. Blessed to be able to withdraw. Doing my best to take skillful action, to express my heart, to speak against injustice, to soften and let the painful reality in, and to stay alive.

April 3, 2020, Broad Brook, CT