This is where indigenous Podunk people once lived during cold months, where my grandfather loved to fish, and where I’ve brought my ten-year-old son, Simon, to experience the changing seasons more closely. For months, since Simon and I have been staying with my parents in northern Connecticut, I’ve run nearly every day in the woods by the Scantic River, then found a place to do the 5Rhythms dance meditation practice. I’ve loved the flowing river, the soft ground, and the shaded seclusion.
Like many practices, it started with following my intuition, then as it felt right, turned into a daily (or nearly daily) practice. But as the river got summer-low and stagnant, I started to feel less inspired. Still I ran and danced there almost every day, and still I was grateful for this beautiful place.
For a week or more, dance didn’t feel good. Most of the time, dance feels good. Even when I’m coping with a lot of anxiety, I can often let it go and let go in movement. Sometimes it’s even cathartic. But at times, I don’t feel any better after dancing than I did before I started, and I stay mostly flat.
I was on such a streak.
Thankfully, after over a decade of practice, I know what to do when it doesn’t feel good: keep practicing regularly, embrace whatever arises (even if it sucks), and remind myself that the magic always comes back eventually.
Yesterday, instead of turning right to head down the big hill to the woods and river, I turned left instead. This time, I ran one house down, then turned into the athletic grounds behind the town’s middle school. Here, rather than running in the dense, enclosed woods, I ran on a half-mile gravel track surrounding a wide open field. I relaxed, pausing frequently to gaze up and take in the open sky. After the first loop, I changed direction, so more of the time I would be facing the widest open space.
Practice is always a mix of discipline and flexibility. The teachings of Staccato teach us to apply intention and energy to our work, including holding our own feet to the fire in daily practice. The teachings of Flowing support us in following our intuition, and in being flexible and attentive to our own needs. As the Buddha taught, if practice is too loose, we could say with only flowing energy, it will not be effective. If practice is too rigid, we could say with only staccato energy, it will not be effective. It takes a balance of both of these energies to avoid stagnating or developing unskillful habits.
After four loops around, I decided to dance a 5Rhythms wave – which is to move in sequence through each of the 5Rhythms of Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness.
I found a tucked away inlet of cut grass, off to the side of the field where there was a small platform for outdoor exercise like sit-ups. I stepped up onto it, immediately liking the low friction feel of the wood-like material, and sinking into the circling movements of Flowing. I sank low and swung my hips over the edge, moving in a big arc, curving up onto one heel and back in the other direction, with a gesture like an athlete coiling a heavy discus.
I felt no rush to move into the second rhythm of Staccato, instead feeling like I could keep doing this gentle circling all day. Eventually, the rhythm of Staccato did break through just as the humidity shifted to a thick, slow rain that rattled the leaves like a percussion instrument. The sky remained light and blue on the other side of the field as I moved with sharp edges and exhalation, sinking low in the hips, emphatic with my elbows and the outside ridges of my hands. Next I moved in Chaos, briefly, gently, my gaze flopping around and rushing through clouds, grass, trees, my own feet, my own hands, the blue edge of sun, a bit of a house across the field.
Then, for the first time in over a week, the rhythm of Lyrical visited. Lyrical is like a bird on your shoulder. If you make a loud noise or look directly at it, it flies away. If you stay porous and move gently, it might stay there and coo, maybe even dancing along with you. I fell upward into extensions, turning my smiling face to the sky again as I raised my hands up.
For a short time I moved with everything – the spirits of the woods, the rain, the changeable sky, the breathing trees.
There was something in me that needed to let in space this time. Maybe I will return to the woods. Or maybe dancing in the field will become a new practice. I don’t take ending the woods practice lightly. At the same time, I don’t need to cling to it if it is no longer serving.
Then a jogger joined me on the other side of the field and I knew it was a matter of time before she was right beside me on the gravel track. Not wanting to shift into being verbal just yet, I climbed down from the platform and walked back home in the attitude of walking meditation, loving the sensation of each foot touching down, feeling alive and reverent.
Walking, I barely thought about the difficult question of whether or not I will send Simon back to school in September. I barely thought about my own teaching job, and what the school’s hybrid teaching plan might look like. About the new science that’s showing that COVID may have significant long-lasting impacts and that people who die of it are riddled with blood clots. About how children may be vulnerable. About how having the disease once may not provide immunity. Notably, I barely thought about our foul, inept, self-serving president and all the blood he has on his hands. And I even took a break from thinking about the intricacies of racism in our country, and what would need to happen to eradicate racism, patriarchy, and all oppression, including what I could personally do to have an impact.
I just walked slowly along, stopping once to eat a wild blackberry, then making my way back home.
Individual practice is keeping me alive. Truly. But at the same time I recognize the need for collective work that goes beyond just working on ourselves. Inner work is absolutely critical, but if practice is just there to make us feel good, then it’s not practice. It is actually a sedative, a conditioned habit.
Practice is a tool to pierce through layers of illusion to the radical, shining truth, even if it is politically inconvenient, uncomfortable, challenges our personal views, or challenges existing power structures. I’m extremely grateful when practice feels good, but hope I can push myself toward the truest truths, even if it doesn’t feel good sometimes.
Later in the day, I brought speakers outside and danced in the yard. To my surprise, I again moved with engagement. In Flowing, I moved with a circular swing in the yard. I dipped low, rolling it around my hips and moving in a big circle around it, at times moving toward it and falling, then rising and arcing away. At first, my arms followed my body like sea kelp, but soon, I started holding the swing and pulling it to its curving edge, then falling back into circling. In Staccato, I stayed in the shade of a big maple tree, feeling creative and vibrant, finding new ways to rise and fall, advance and recede, and work with the kinetic energy of the moving hips. Chaos challenged me to explode and release, and I let my head go and moved in a fast matrix, going all out. I was surprised that I had two long Chaos songs in a row in the playlist, but decided to go with it, telling myself to release and release and release further.
A chaos-lyrical song started and I bounded over to the computer to change it, putting on one of my all-time favorite tracks instead of the one I had planned. Lyrical overtook me; and I found a whole new category of movement. This time, pointing a leg and rushing into one direction while leaning back from it, and somehow a wild skittering with the other leg covering 10 or 15 feet in a gushing, joyful gesture, then bounding, leaping and twisting, all with my face tilting upward, smiling.
I have no idea what’s coming, but I suspect that for some of us, this might be a blessed interlude, a raging storm’s quiet eye. I hope I can settle into it, be available for joy if it visits me, step up to help dismantle injustice in ways that are skillful and collaborative, and love the people around me to the best of my ability.
That’s the best I can do for now.
June 16, 2020, Broad Brook, Connecticut
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.