I Remember: Mindful Schools Closing Retreat at Garrison Institute

For me, the closing retreat for the Mindful Schools training program for teaching mindfulness to youth started before I even arrived at Garrison Institute. One year before, I had attended the opening retreat for the same program. Last year, it was all new. This time, after a year of hard work and community building, it felt like re-connecting. I attended several dance and movement meditation classes in my core practice tradition during the days right before the retreat. On Sunday morning, my all-time favorite dance partner was at class; and we shared four or more dances over the course of the two hours. 

From the dance studio in the West Village, I drove two hours to Garrison, New York, did another dance and movement meditation class just a few miles from the retreat center, then went to an Italian restaurant in Fishkill to meet friends from the Mindful Schools training. We greeted each other like old friends. At one point, each person told a story about a turning point when we realized the power of mindfulness in our life. Even with six of us at the table, each story was met with full attention. 

The next day I spent several hours at a cafe in Beacon, then decided to visit the Dia:Beacon–a converted factory that is now a museum for modern and contemporary art specializing in famous, minimal, large-scale artworks. 

I spent all of my teens, twenties, and thirties devoted to artmaking, and even taught art at the college level. For the past few years, I haven’t been active as an artist, and I forget how much knowledge and skill I’ve amassed, how hard I’ve worked, and what an important part of my identity being an artist has been. I also recollected long diatribes against the macho-ness of minimal art I had delivered over the years, and wondered if any of it still had weight for me. 

At a very sensitive time, when it was already becoming difficult to make new work given the circumstances of my life, I had a painful exchange about artmaking with someone I trusted, and my artmaking practice dissolved, perhaps finally.

I had to admit that the artworks were impressive, perfectly sited in this cleaned up, 160,000-square-foot industrial space. I was grateful to find the work of a female artist, Charlotte Posenenske, in the central gallery. I learned that her sculptural work was exhibited alongside prominent male minimal artists in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I also learned that her strong interest in labor rights had lead her to defect from artmaking and pursue a PhD in sociology. She became a labor activist and went on to specialize in employment and working practices. 

Tears streamed down my cheeks as I moved through, remembering infinite conversations and experiences that touched on many of the artists and artworks included in the permanent collection, remembering a former self that I hadn’t noticed I was grieving for.

Stepping out of the museum, I found a roiling white sky, with shifting opacities and incredible depth, and quickly changing forms and layers. My eyes wide with light, I filmed a series of one-minute videos of the sky, with no up or down orientation, no reference point. At one point I lay on my back on the ground to record, a bit hesitant about seeming weird, but alight with the fever of artmaking, remembering what I loved about it, remembering a forgotten part of myself.

I wanted to arrive early to Garrison so I could try to get a room with a window facing the river, but as I drove the few miles from the Dia, the sky exploded with rain. I couldn’t see at all and had to pull over to wait it out. 

I recalled the year before, at the opening retreat, when there had been a thunderstorm during a period of community silence and relentless heat. We were told there was a severe weather alert and that if we felt nervous we could take shelter on the lower level of the building. The storm tore the sky apart, and it was like the outside came resoundingly inside the soaring, once-Franciscan-cathedral main hall. Still in silence, several of us made our way to the front steps where we had a view of the sweeping lawn and river. The pavement and plants gave off steam. Mist exhaled into the entryway and landed coolly on my exposed arms, legs, and face. A white cliff-waterfall on the other side of the river tripled its size. A woman seated next to me on the marble steps ate a crunching apple, savoring each bite.

Back in the meditation hall, the storm continued as mindfulness became increasingly concentrated. At one point, I realized it was too intense for me, and stepped into the foyer, intentionally interrupting practice. After a few minutes, I went back in and sat down on the cushion again. Then, I had a sharp, sudden sensation on the left side of my head, and was seized by the fear that I might be having a stroke. 

I remembered something the vipassana teacher, Dipa Ma, once told a practitioner who was freaking out during a sitting period. She sat next to him and said, “If you can stay with this sensation, you will accumulate great merit.” I settled down and the flash of pain and fear soon faded. 

The teachers reminded us of basic meditation instructions, including choosing some kind of anchor for the attention, such as breath, sound, or body sensations. The next day, the teachers each offered thoughts on the topic of befriending, focusing on befriending even difficult emotions. 

That first evening, following dinner and an evening program, we entered into almost three days of silence, which enfolded me like soft fabric.

***

I could see the river and waterfall from the window of my small room. The Hudson line trains charged by, whistling loudly at regular intervals. I slept unclothed with a light sheet, loving the sensation of my bare legs touching each other, and of my feet, one cradled inside the arch of the other. I woke to the sound of a roving bell not long after dawn and made my way to the shower before the 7.30 AM morning sit.

In silence, I didn’t feel like I was closing others out. Even in avoiding eye contact, it felt like we were energetically very much in community. It was like we were all in on a precious secret, witness to a deeper layer of reality than the one we spend most of our days navigating. We were still seeing each other, but on a deeper level, taking a break from all the noise of projecting ourselves. For just a few days, I was not colluding in anyone’s ego stories, nor asking them to collude in mine.

The day was passed in alternating periods of sitting and walking meditation, interspersed with brief commentary by the teachers, Alan Brown, Argos Gonzalez, and Erin Woo. Sarah Ludell Beach, who was the retreat coordinator, also stood in the role of teacher at times.

That night, I bounded to the wide front lawn during a final walking period, hoping I would be able to dance with the fireflies, as I had the previous year. This time, we were two weeks later in the season, and the fireflies were not as abundant. Though I still got to dance with the tiny, intermittently glowing creatures, it couldn’t compare to the previous year, when I had been doing walking meditation on the lawn, and wound up dancing at length and through several different energies with the fireflies in a spontaneous expression of pure joy.

***

On this retreat, walking meditation delighted me. My feet delighted me. The natural world delighted me, including the sky and its endless parades; and the gravel, sand, stone, and pavement surfaces that provided so many engaging textures for the soles of my feet.

During a dance and movement meditation retreat in the same soaring main hall just a month before, I had imagined myself as though in a different lifetime. I was a young nun in threadbare orange robes, vulnerable and bare underneath, bald headed and slight, with no holding whatsoever in my body. 

My whole architecture was entirely different. My shoulders and upper body were drawn more forward, with none of the “push your shoulders back, pull your chest forward, have good posture” that my culture demands. It almost felt like I was leaning forward and curving myself, but actually I think I was just gracefully upright, belly fully released, diaphragm fully released, with no ego demands on my carriage. As this young woman, I walked through the hall with tender humility, my hands gently cupped together at the height of my navel. 

The most extraordinary part of this vision was my feet. In the past year, I had severe heel spurs, and struggled with debilitating pain that I feared might persist. The young nun’s feet were these soft, aware, exquisite creatures who felt and sensed the earth as she patiently walked, practically caressing the road beneath her. 

Sitting in silence on a bench during a break, my feet dangled, too high to reach the floor, and muscles in the arch of my right foot spasmed repeatedly. During the week, tiny muscles in my feet released again and again, surrendering many micro-grippings–ego armorings I had designed to hold out experience, to keep me safe from the sometimes-unbearable reality of being fully alive.

Walking outside, now on my third retreat at Garrison Institute, I finally discovered that it’s possible to walk all the way around the main part of the property on a circular road. I was grateful, as walking on grass without shoes in a place with high incidence of Lime’s Disease seemed ill-advised. I walked with uncharacteristic patience and engagement, feeling every point of contact. At one point, I paused to touch a small, fuzzy, white caterpillar with my pointer finger, then put my foot into her path. Without pausing, she climbed right up onto the offered foot, and I sobbed, whispering “I remember, I remember, I remember,” grateful that the caterpillar did not perceive me as separate from the ground, and continuing to marvel at the sensitivity and intelligence of my feet. 

Alan offered the instruction that if it felt right, we could let go of our mindfulness anchors at this point, and experiment with open awareness, but I had already made this shift. As mindfulness was well-founded, I knew I could let in more of the world’s vibrant and dynamic displays without losing my ground. At this time, I also noticed how sensitive my sacrum had become–almost like a tuning fork, vibrating with subtle energies. 

During a sitting period, scanning my inner body, I became aware of the dark, mysterious recesses of the pelvis. My attention shifted to the cathedral ceiling, then outward to the  blue sky above it, then continued to rise into dark, boundless outer space, dotted everywhere with points of light. The inner darkness and the endless mystery of the cosmos seemed to blend seamlessly together.

I thought about an idea gathered from the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Reggie Ray, that being fully embodied involves not only individual embodiment, but also interpersonal embodiment, and embodiment on a cosmic level.

At least once every day I danced with the river. My river dances from the previous year had stayed with me and remained alive in my dance since the opening retreat last year. Sometimes, remembering these dances, I move in the slow, liquid currents of a dancing room, my hands softly conducting and receiving, feeling ribbons pass directly through my porous body as they curve and express themselves, sometimes even cascading in from the corners of the room.

There is this one spot that pulls me powerfully. To get there I walked down a wooded path, across a bridge over train tracks, and up onto a glacial rock lodged into the river’s bank. On top of the rock, I could see the surface of the river from slightly above. The complex play of currents was hinted at by the dancing lines and patterns and erratic flat, smooth places. Moving, the river pulled me deep into it, and I would rise to the surface again with darkness streaming down my back and shoulders. Sometimes my excursion was just a sight-seeing trip to the river, but more often than I expected, I found the moving stillness that underlies all surfaces–a resonant silence that is active and alive. 

I’ve been carving a groove so I know the way there, and I found myself chanting again, “I remember, I remember, I remember.”

***

On the afternoon of the third day, we transitioned back into speaking. At first, it seemed ok, but I felt tired and slept poorly. The fourth day was marked by intensive social and professional exchange. The main activity of the day was to self organize into groups of four, then each present a demo lesson to the group. I learned a lot from this activity and gained valuable knowledge, but I again felt exhausted and slept poorly. 

On the fifth day, some participants lead breakout sessions on specific topics. Though it was a huge amount of information to take in, all of the sessions I attended left me feeling inspired and added to my knowledge of the many different aspects of mindfulness work in the world. In the evening, we had a show-and-tell period, and people presented activities they had used successfully with their students, songs with themes of mindfulness, and dances.

I had been invited to lead a class in my dance and movement meditation practice for the group, but, although I am in the teacher training process, I am not yet authorized to teach. Instead, I offered to lead one of the twenty-minute breakout sessions on the fifth day, where I would present some basic information about the practice, and talk about the importance of some kind of embodiment practice in conjunction with sitting meditation. 

Breakfast was in silence most days, and I sat at length after finishing my meal, visualizing how I would present this information.

After attending three excellent breakout sessions led by colleagues, I went to the main hall, where the session would take place. Twenty or so people appeared, and I gathered them to the most inner part of the room and asked them to sit in a circle. The first thing I said is that I’m not authorized to teach the practice yet, but I would present a brief overview and invite questions. I also emphasized the importance of including some kind of embodiment practice along with sitting meditation, whether that be yoga, tai chi, 5Rhythms, or any other modality. I also shared that the dance and movement meditation practice I do can be seen as a way to embody the creative process; and that it would look different for everyone.

My firefly dances of the previous year had become part of the group’s lore, so I decided to embody the different stages of my dance with the fireflies to show something true about what my practice is for me. I also hoped to inspire people to have faith and integrity on their own path to fully-realized embodiment.

***

Later that day, arriving at the river, I somewhat half-heartedly started to dance on the gravelly sand of a little inlet next to the big rock. I told myself it was ok if I wasn’t that into it, I would just move through the formal practice and see what happened. I started by making circles in the sand with my feet. I kept finding straight lines and angles, then falling back into circling. I softly let my head go, let my body go, let my stories go. Still moving, I ascended the rock where I could see the river from above. After only a few light gestures in my fingertips, the river’s stillness opened its gateway. 

During my dances, I had imagined that I could perceive an ancient force, a Naga, a kind of serpent deity that lives in large bodies of water, in this complex and powerful stretch of the river. On this final day, I thanked the Naga and asked it to help and guide me on my path. 

The wind grew stronger and seemed to pass directly through my body, curving around my heart and rushing right into the plants of the river bank behind me. A low sound emitted from my belly and throat, and I moved unselfconsciously, whispering “I remember, I remember, I remember” as tears coursed down my face and over my chin.

I had no idea how long I was at the river, but it seemed likely I was late for the afternoon session in the main hall. I started back up the path to the retreat center, feeling my soft feet and noticing the layered textures of green around me. As I emerged from the woods, I encountered three friends, walking with their arms around each other. They asked me something about the closing party we would have that night. I blinked, took a breath, and answered, leaving the world of the Naga and of the many forces by the river, and stepping back into the light of day.

***

An alumni of the program acted as DJ for the closing party, which took place in the dining hall. Without any alcohol, many danced with cheerful abandon. The people I had been grouped with for study meetings over the course of the year had decided to dress as fireflies. One of our members bought yellow tutus and installed a light in the layers of tulle so our tails would glow. Another had purchased wings. The eight of us trailed through the crowd in a glowing line to join our teacher on the dance floor during the Whitney Houston song “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” 

For the final session, we assembled in a giant circle of over 100 people on the front lawn for a closing ritual. As the ritual ended and the retreat formally dissolved, we were invited to say goodbye to people silently. I lingered in patient embraces as the room gradually transitioned into chatter.

On the drive home, I chanted, “I remember, I remember, I remember,” as the cloud sky shifted, the Hudson river curved and twisted, and tears streamed down the valleys of my cheeks.

This blog consists of reflections on my own experiences, and is not sanctioned by any organization or teacher.

Garrison Institute building exterior from: https://www.garrisoninstitute.org/retreats-events/facility-grounds/

Garrison main hall photo from: https://non-duality.rupertspira.com

Nothing More. Nothing Less. A Dance.

“It’s 2019. Just thought I’d let you know that,” jokes Tanya Goldman, who is leading the first Sunday Sweat Your Prayers 5Rhythms class of 2019 in New York City. She doesn’t specifically mention New Year’s resolutions, but she does say, “One thing I’ve learned is if you want to change, you have to move. Physically, mentally and emotionally. It doesn’t just happen.”

Tanya doesn’t talk much during class but somehow manages to bring out the best in people. For this Sunday morning class, the big dance studio is jam-packed and notably porous, the many selves melting in and out of each other, part of a big, collective self.

As the class begins, Tanya leads us in a long, patient Flowing. She seems confident that we’ll stay with her, even if she doesn’t rush to entertain us. In Staccato and a wild Chaos, I dance with a friend who’s seated in a chair, bringing me down low. I also share several dances with a friend who has been a frequent partner over ten or more years. In contrast to our usual ebullient, wide-ranging partnership, we tuck into a pocket, sustainable, riding energy patiently. In Lyrical, I join with another friend, leaping into flight with my shoulders and chest wide open, tears streaming down my face.

At the height of joyful intensity, Tanya plays the 90’s club anthem ’Last Night a DJ Saved My Life with a Song‘. I recognize it immediately, sinking low in a pumping warrior cry as the room explodes.

Tanya has a way of doing this. Of building things up and building things up, then dropping the exact perfect song at the exact perfect moment; and if I had had any sort of conscious thought, it probably would have been: This is heaven. Life could not possibly get better than this.

At the end of the class, I pause to chat with one of the friends I’d partnered with. “That was just amazing,” he says, wide-eyed. I nod. “She is incredibly trustworthy. I feel like it’s safe to totally let go. Like she is holding space and witnessing what is unfolding in, like, a clean way, or something.”

***

I think back to a Heartbeat workshop that Tanya and I both attended ten years before. I was having a joyful and pleasant experience, but it shifted when we were placed into groups of three for an exercise. One person was to move with a certain prompt in mind and the other two would witness the person who was moving, then we would change roles. One of my partners was this very expressive woman who had a huge dance. I had cheerfully joined her in partnership many times during the workshop, but this time when she was supposed to witness me, I didn’t feel like she was seeing me at all. Like she was just totally wrapped up in her own awesomeness. I’m pretty extroverted and don’t feel invisible very often, but somehow this really hurt me.

Thankfully, Tanya was my other partner. Curiously, it wasn’t until I reflected later, still nursing wounds from the experience, that I realized that although one partner had failed to see me, Tanya had very much seen me. I realized what a valuable friend she is and hoped that I could return the favor of her clear-seeing, something I continue to try to live up to.

***

Tanya, who has been a 5Rhythms teacher since 2014, sat down with me last spring to share some thoughts on her life and process. We planned to get together after a different Sweat Your Prayers class in the West Village for this interview. I hadn’t really thought through where we would set up but considered a few local restaurants without fully appreciating how much Tanya has to think things through in advance. Tanya has a disability that affects motor ability and uses a walker to get around, so accessibility is an issue, and she also let me know that she is not able to eat solid food. So instead of a restaurant, we went to a smoothie place at the corner, then sat down together at the closest Starbucks.

Once settled, Tanya patiently blinked her clear, blue-green eyes, and sipped at her smoothie, inviting the first question.

“When did you start practicing the 5Rhythms and what brought you to 5Rhythms for the first time?” I asked.

“I started practicing in 2008,” she began. “I’d already been doing Contact Improv for many years, since college.”

Tanya shared that she went to Oberlin, where Contact Improv was invented, and in fact practiced in the very studio where Contact Improv originated.

“I loved it, and learned that I could really be there, could really be in it despite my limitations. As my disability progressed, it got harder to do Contact Improv. It’s really all about partnering. In partnering, it was like my partner shared my disability, so it would limit what they could do, and not everyone was ok with that.”

She also shared that she didn’t always feel like she was included in the community, and added, “I decided I needed to find another dance community where it would be ok to dance on my own.”

Next, she became part of the Dance New England community and someone there suggested she try the 5Rhythms.

“For my first class, Jonny (Jonathan Horan, the director of 5Rhythms and son of its creator, Gabrielle Roth) was teaching. I didn’t understand it at all, but I felt accepted. Then, it was many years before I started to learn what it was all about.”

The next question I asked was, “How has your practice changed over time?”

“Well, my body has changed. The biggest change is that I now use a walker. That’s been in the last six-to-eight months. In the beginning, my balance was so much better. I could skip and run. Particularly after I got the walker, I was aware that my balance was really changing. For a while, I was falling all the time. My mind wanted to dance faster than my body could handle. The mind doesn’t want to accept the body’s limitations, but once you can go with the changes, then it’s so much easier. And now I’m not falling! But I’m definitely still moving.”

“Do you feel more comfortable with being off balance?”

“I don’t feel out of balance. I’ve come to accept and find the grace within my own dance. But it’s not a definite. One day it’s there and the next it’s like ‘where is it?’”

trainees running with Tanya

Then, I asked, “Do you have a ‘home’ rhythm?”
“Not really. For me, it’s all about change. We’re always changing and life is always changing.”

“Tanya, what made you decide to become a 5Rhythms teacher?”

“I did a class with Sylvie Minot and she talked about teaching 5Rhythms to inmates in prisons. I thought that was amazing. Not that she was teaching in prisons, but that she was bringing the work to disadvantaged people. I’m trained as a social worker. I always wanted to help people, to change lives for the better. In fact, when I started the teacher training, I was still working as a social worker. Halfway through the teacher training, I got laid off from my job, along with my social worker colleagues. After, I was too exhausted to go back to work, but I feel like being a 5Rhythms teacher is my offering, my contribution.”

“Did you have to overcome significant obstacles to undergo the teacher training?”

“I definitely had to overcome obstacles. The first was financial, especially after being laid off after the first module. Maybe even more significant were the mental obstacles. I had an internal story that I wasn’t even fully aware of that I had nothing special to offer. At an Open Floor workshop with Andrea Juhan this story came out and I was finally able to deal with it. That was a big turning point for me.”

“While I was going through this, though, I felt supported by Jonny (Jonathan Horan). During the training, we had to learn a kind of two-step pattern, which was obviously pretty hard for me, but I did it.”

She also shared that Jonathan said, “When you do this with Tanya, hold her hands,” and how much she appreciated that Jonathan seemed to get her needs.

tanyaandJ

“What, in your opinion as a 5Rhythms teacher, is the essence of 5Rhythms practice?”

“For me, it’s about permission and possibility; and it’s about getting out of your own way.”

“What, if anything, makes your perspective on the 5Rhythms unique?”

“I think as a person with a disability, I give a lot of permission to people in general. And, as a person with a disability, I also bring a lot about being willing to be vulnerable. My experience is about being very vulnerable every day. I wear my vulnerability on the outside.”

***

Tanya and I shared a workshop this weekend that was focused on the 5Rhythms emotional map, Heartbeat. At one point, we were working with the emotion of anger, and the room was explosive. We were instructed to line up at one end of the room and several sets of partners at a time would cross the floor to the other side, expressing the emotion of anger with our bodies.

One issue I’ve personally been working with is how to know when to help people and when not to, and how I relate internally to those two options. In fact, in a Sunday class the week before, a man had come in with a walker and paused at the side of the dance floor. I happened to be near him and asked if he wanted a chair. He was irate: “Why would I need a chair? There’s nothing wrong with me!”

Although I have never discussed it with Tanya, I wonder if, because of her disability, she has to contend constantly with people projecting their ideas of what her experience is and should be onto her. When I was pregnant in 2009-2010, I struggled with the visibility of my pregnant body and how much people wanted to tell me about my experience. I felt like a walking screen for everyone’s projections, and that if I heard one more birth horror story I might possibly harm someone.

With Tanya, I want to be available to help, but also don’t want to insult her by offering, and sometimes I get myself tangled in stories about helping/not helping instead of simply trusting myself to communicate effectively and do what’s needed. When we were lining up in the anger exercise, Tanya, who happened to be next to me, turned to me and shook her head, blinking her eyes and looking unhappy. “Does this feel like too much?” I asked. She nodded. “Do you want me to get you a chair?” She nodded again. I carried a chair over, placed it off to the side, and she sat down. The week before, I’d shared a dance with a broken-ankled friend who needed to stay seated, and, deep in a vigorous chaos, she had traveled laterally at least ten feet without harming the floor surface at all. Recalling this, I asked,

“Tanya, do you want me to push you across in the chair?”

Her eyebrows raised and her face lit up. “Really?”

She gave a clear “Yes” nod, so I moved behind the chair and pushed her forward. Tanya seemed delighted as I gently zigged and zagged across. My own dance had vigor and specificity, a Staccato I’ve been searching for lately – a self I’ve been searching for lately –especially as my roles in the world become more complex and I step into more positions of leadership. When we were almost to the end, I signaled to another dancer to please take over and she got the message immediately. I ran back to the first side of the room and crossed again, on my own this time, in an individual anger dance, unselfconsciously ferocious, owning my power without insisting on it.

The next time across, I asked a mutual friend to join Tanya and me. We were just as wild, zigzagging across both in partnership and as a trio, and changing roles halfway across.

I’m sure I benefited much more than Tanya in this exchange, and remain grateful to her for her willingness, courage, and openness.

The next and final day of the workshop, when we greeted each other, Tanya took the time to say, “I feel seen.” I recalled my resolution following a Heartbeat workshop more than a decade before to return the favor of Tanya’s clear-seeing when I had felt painfully unseen by one dancer, but seen by Tanya.

I don’t know if she meant specifically seen by me, but however she meant it, I looked at length into her light eyes and my heart flooded up. So many of the lessons Tanya teaches me are the ones that we already know deep down but conventionally forget, such as the fact that one of the deepest human needs is to feel seen, and that one of the greatest gifts we can offer is to see each other.

***

“Do you have any advice for new dancers?” I asked as our interview drew to a close.

“Have fun! Try not to take yourself too seriously and don’t worry if you don’t ‘get it’ at first. I tried to read one of Gabrielle Roth’s books in the beginning and I didn’t understand it. I couldn’t really hear what the teachers were saying at first, either. I’m very kinaesthetic; I learn through the body. I had to practice before I could get it intellectually.”

“And do you have advice for experienced dancers?

“Same thing! And also keep your mind open, keep your eyes open, and don’t get fixed on a certain idea.”

The final question was, “In closing, do you have a favorite quote or passage from Gabrielle’s teachings?”

“Waves move in patterns. Patterns move in rhythms. A human being is just that – energy, waves, patterns, rhythms. Nothing more. Nothing less. A dance.”

by Meghan LeBorious, based on an interview with 5Rhythms teacher Tanya Goldman on May 27, 2018, and journal notes from 2008-2019.

Originally published in the 5Rhythms Tribe newsletter on April 16, 2019. Photographs courtesy of Tanya Goldman and Jonathan Horan.

Wild and Precious: Breastfeeding As Formal Meditation Practice

Wild and Precious: Breastfeeding As Formal Meditation Practice

Resting against the wall, breastfeeding my tiny son in the quietest stretch of night, I watch from the fourth floor as the silver line of the J-train glides along its raised track and over the East River.  A blizzard that encased New York in silence hit a few days ago, leaving city buses stranded in the snow on Manhattan’s busy avenues.  Square shovelpaths above the height of my waist have been cut into the deep snow so the sidewalks look like magical labyrinths.  The scrape of a shovel on pavement resounds from far away.  Inside the room, candles flicker on a low table.  The baby, Simon, who is supported by the curve of my arm, has his eyes closed and is sucking patiently, perhaps asleep.

About halfway through pregnancy my mother asked if I planned to breastfeed.  “Yeah, I guess,” I shrugged, “If I can, I will, if not, I’m not going to worry about it.”  Coping with volatility at home, the question of whether or not to breastfeed seemed like the least of my problems.  I hadn’t thought much about how I would give birth either, for the same reason.

Despite little preparation until two weeks before, labor went quickly and smoothly.  My as-yet-unnamed son rested easily in the palm of his father’s hand, blinking his dark eyes slowly, like a miniature tortoise.  The midwife passed him to me, telling me to try to feed him.  I contorted my shoulders and twisted my spine into an awkward shape, holding the baby stiffly.  She put her hands on her thick hips and shook her head.  “No, not like that.  You have to relax.  Like this.” She adjusted me, but I still felt uncomfortable and ill at ease.

We left the birthing center just eight hours after Simon was born.  At home, we took turns holding him tenderly.  I did my best to feed him, but struggled to get him to latch properly, and worried that he wasn’t getting enough to eat.  In the first few days, he lost weight.  As I understand, newborns have “extra fluid” that they lose right away, and it takes a week or two to regain their birth weight.  Still, I felt concerned.  In a way, it’s like mothers are set up to worry right from the beginning.

My friend Dina, an RN, came to visit.  She taught me “the football hold,” placing the baby with his belly on my forearm, and re-structuring the armature of pillows around me to better support Simon’s six-pound body.  Soon after, he started to gain weight.

At night, I tucked pillows around myself so I wouldn’t risk rolling over, and placed Simon on my chest.  We slept like that, chest to chest, for six months or more, his tiny body rising and falling with my breath, his arm draped down the side of me, his fist too small to even reach the mattress below.

For our first months together, days and nights became indistinguishable as time lost its workday edges, flowing along in response to Simon’s needs.  Many times, the sky lit with sunset before I felt I’d officially settled into the day, and before long, another sunrise would light the room, and another purple sunset.

Less than two months before Simon was born, I lost my job as a freelance textile designer.  Fortunately though, I qualified for unemployment and managed to stay with Simon nearly full time for the first two years of his life.

At first, Simon seemed to eat all the time, sometimes for hours at once.  In the beginning, I might talk on the phone, craft a task list, or even watch an occasional movie while Simon breastfed.  As the weeks progressed, and the gestures of breastfeeding felt more and more natural, I started to really love it.  I loved watching and holding Simon, his tiny hands, his curious eyes, his dark, expressive eyebrows, his patient breath.

I learned an important lesson from Simon’s father, Eulas.  From the start, I was determined to seem competent and together as a mother, believing that I needed to make it look easy.  On a course to fuss from day one, I attended over-carefully to the mundane details of Simon’s experience.  Once when he was just a few days old, I watched Eulas hold him, supporting his body and gazing into his eyes, completely still.  He was fully present for our tiny son, who was still adjusting to breathing air and to loud sounds and wind and clothing.  “Wow.  I want that,” I thought.  The hell with spending my energy worrying about red tape, and in the process missing opportunities to connect with the miracle of this brand new human being.  I decided then to re-set the maternal pattern of worrying and fussing that had quickly emerged, that had seemed almost inevitable, and to emphasize being fully present instead.

I recalled a teaching I’d encountered at Insight Meditation Society, where I’d done a silent retreat a few years previous.  It was just a short passage set in a modest biography about Dipa Ma, a saint within the Vipassana tradition.  Dipa Ma was a householder who did not seek meditation training until her mid-forties, then managed to attain full enlightenment in a remarkably short time.  After her realization, she guided many along the path to enlightenment.  One of her first students was a woman named Malati Barua, a widow who was raising six children on her own.  According to the biographer,

“Dipa Ma, believing that enlightenment was possible in any environment, devised practices that her new student could carry out at home.  In one such practice, she taught Malati to steadfastly notice the sucking sensation of the infant at her breast, with complete presence of mind, for the duration of each nursing period” (Schmidt, 38-39).

Going back to this text, I decided to read it as practice instructions, and apply it to my own experience.  From then on, whenever Simon was breastfeeding, I considered it practice time.  I did not watch TV, text, read, shop online, or talk on the phone.  Instead, I brought my attention to the rhythmic sensation of Simon sucking at my breast. When my mind wandered, I brought it back again to this sensation, taking it as the primary object of meditation.

Using breastfeeding as a formal meditation practice might be seen as the opposite of “brexting.” A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior showed that there were distractions in half of infant feedings, and that about 60% of those distractions were due to smart phones and other technology–possibly linked to problems with eating habits later in life.

The patch of woods ringing my parents’ yard is layered densities of green, dark leaves and their pale undersides.  Simon, four months old and having just breastfed at length, is sleeping on my lap; and I continue to practice, now bringing my attention to the feeling of holding him, my own breath, and the dynamic forces around me: wind, moving clouds, rustling trees, bird activity, crawling insects.  A hummingbird hovers just a few feet away, interested in some colorful partylights on the deck that it seems to think might be flowers. 

Mindfulness meditation is often focused on the breath, but a practitioner can choose any object to focus on.  In the beginning, the instruction is to notice if your attention wanders and gently bring it back to the thing you decided to focus on–in this case the physical sensation of breastfeeding.  The more we come back to our focus, the more we build up our capacity to be mindful.  Being more mindful allows us to be less anxious, more focused, more loving, and fundamentally happier, even as life continues to present its ups and downs.

Before giving birth, I feared that it might be hard to continue my well-established meditation practice once the baby came.  Instead, because of using breastfeeding as a formal meditation practice, I felt like I was on retreat for the first months of Simon’s life. Blissful sensations arose frequently despite the painful challenges that I continued to face in my relationship with Eulas, which ended after eight tumultuous years around my first Mother’s Day.

In late Fall, when Simon is ten months old, we visit my cousin and her wife in Vermont.  They’ve renovated an old farmhouse; and it sits on a wooded, sloping acre, complete with an apple orchard.  They head for work, leaving us to explore on our own.  After walking patiently around the property with attention to all of our senses, we settle onto a big, woven-rope hammock so Simon can breastfeed and slide off into a nap.  I hang my foot over the side of the hammock, rustling some dry leaves and rocking us by pushing against the ground.  Simon snuggles close to my body, falling into a trance of contentment. I practice, holding him and continuing to rock back and forth in the hammock, intentionally noticing the physical sensations of breastfeeding.  The trees are majestic, soaring high overhead.  Clouds rush behind them.  A horizontal leaf drifts all the way down from the high branches, zigzagging patiently to the ground.

That I was not working for the first two years of Simon’s life made it easier to use breastfeeding as a formal meditation practice, but Dipa Ma specially designed this practice for mothers who are pressed for time, and I believe it is a viable option for maintaining (or even deepening) a meditation practice during the first stretch of motherhood.

 

We think we are so busy, but the truth is that sometimes we make ourselves busier than we need to be because it makes us feel important. The more we tell ourselves we are busy, the more we amp ourselves up and lose touch with what is actually important.  Conversely, the more present we are, the better we are able to be strategic about mundane necessities, to express love, and to delight in the tiny, patient experience of welcoming a new human to the world.

 

In the words of the poet Mary Oliver,

 

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?”

 

This essay is dedicated to Lauren LeBlanc, in gratitude for her encouragement, literary skill and insight, and also for her dedication to excellence in mothering.  It is also dedicated to my own mother, Betsy LeBorious, one of my two first and best teachers.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4662912/

https://www.scpr.org/news/2015/09/24/54595/brexting-impacts-baby-bonding-during-breastfeeding/

https://www.elsevier.com/about/press-releases/research-and-journals/mothers-often-distracted-during-breast-and-bottle-feeding

https://www.amazon.com/Dipa-Ma-Legacy-Buddhist-Master/dp/0974240559

(First published Muthamagazine.com, July 19, 2018)

I Hear a Glow on You

“Mommy I hear a glow on you,” my eight-year-old son, Simon, told me when I spoke with him for the first time after three days of silence.  I had been in the woods, wondering at the complex root systems of the trees underneath the forest path I walked on, sitting at length in a meditation hall, eating in silence, and noting the intensity of a thick heat wave.

When I spoke with him, I was in the middle of a week-long retreat with 90 other educators who are entering an intensive, yearlong program for teaching Mindfulness to youth.  The retreat center, Garrison Institute, was formerly a Franciscan monastery, but has been repurposed for use by groups of any and all spiritual traditions.

The meditation hall was once a cathedral, and still has inlaid wood floors, soaring, curved heights with a circular narrative of symbols in stained glass, and an overlooking balcony that may have once housed the pipes of a resonant organ.  Half of the space was populated with meditation cushions and chairs, arranged in a semicircle facing the four teachers.

During the first morning of practice, the teachers provided considerable physical instructions and we did sitting and walking meditation throughout the morning. In stages, they described three fundamental “anchors,” or places to hold the attention, including breath, body sensations, and sound, suggesting finally that we pick one anchor to work with.  I chose breath, and so returned my attention again and again to the physical feeling of breathing.

Before lunch, one of the teachers, Kaira Jewel Lingo, gave instructions for mindful eating.  “Eating is a celebration,” she said in her remarkably gentle voice.  I heard, We can consider all of the many people and conditions that had to come together in order for this meal to come to us.  We can really take the time to notice all of the flavors and textures of each bite.  We can chew until the food is really liquid before we swallow it.

Despite my increasing mindfulness, lunch seemed kind of bland.  To remedy this, I shook a  bottle of tobasco sauce vigorously over my plain brown rice.  Within a few bites, my eyebrows raised in shock and my tongue and lips burned.  I had also spooned on a considerable amount of chunky salt, and after the first wave of heat started to normalize, a salt crystal landed on the tip of my tongue.  I raised my eyebrows still further, continuing a roller coaster of culinary sensation.  I got up to investigate the label on the tobasco sauce, my lips still on fire. Surely this must be a special edition, habanero, extra spicy tobasco sauce? It couldn’t possibly be the same tobasco that I regularly douse my food with?  I was surprised to learn that it was in fact regular, standard tobasco sauce, the exact same.

Setting out for a walk in the woods after lunch, I chose the only path that seemed available.  After a short time, I chose to veer left from the path and crossed a bridge over railroad tracks.  To my delight, this path emptied onto a big rock formation at the edge of the Hudson River.  I felt slightly tired, but hoped I could dance a wave, moving through each of the 5Rhythms – Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness – in sequence, the fundamental ritual of my core practice.  Instead, after moving with noise in my ears for a few moments, I clicked into a groove and entered directly into Stillness, moving gently with breath, expressing the different currents of the river and ribbons of energy as they reached me.  It was as though someone had turned the sound off on the world.  I moved closer to the edge of the water, descending to where waves created by passing boats touch the rock.  A gentle Staccato found me, the rhythm that has had the most to teach me lately – the rhythm of form, expression, direction, and of making things in the world.  I moved with my arms and hips to the flips and curves and edges and advances and retractions of the relationship between water and rock.

Back in the meditation hall in the afternoon, I felt slightly sick, constricted through the diaphragm, and hot at the level of the face.  Lately I have recognized the need to be able to release energy when I am overfull, like a pressure valve.  How to do this hasn’t been exactly clear, however.  It seems that the energy of mindfulness has its own strong momentum.  Once I’m in the stream of mindfulness, I can’t just say, “OK, I’m not going to be mindful anymore.”  Then, I just start being mindful of trying not to be mindful.  In this case, I stepped briefly out of the meditation hall, letting go of the attitude of concentration, and that seemed to regulate me.

Reflecting later, I considered this progress in my practice.  I’ve been reluctant to back off of my edges in the past, occasionally resulting in depression and ill ease.  After these few short moments of casual attitude in the foyer, I re-entered the hall and took my seat among my peers in a more relaxed state.

Another of the four teachers, Erin Woo, presented a talk that evening on the topic of authenticity, and the many limiting stories we tell ourselves that diminish authenticity.  She included personal examples of a story that has impacted her own experience, the story of “not good enough.”

During the final walking period of the evening, the early July sky lit with sunset.  I stood on an overlook, facing the Hudson river and a wide field.  I gasped as the field and bordering woods shimmered, alive with fireflies.  I was concerned about seeming like a show-off, and of hogging the space of the overlook, but I slipped into motion, tracking the fast appearing and disappearing lanterns of the little bugs, again in Still Staccato, spine released, and long, ranging gestures with sudden stops and dips, and with occasional twitters in the hands and fingers, expressing the tiny dots and pauses of light that danced in the field below.

Silence wrapped luxuriously around me.  Part of the instructions for silence were to avoid even eye contact.  I felt too meek with my eyes cast down, so I held my head up instead, occasionally meeting people’s gazes and lighting up slightly.  In the past, I have inhabited silence with a hard line, entering so deeply into my own small space that I might even feel the need to defend it if someone spoke with me or made beseeching eye contact.  In this case, although I was in silence and very much turning in to the experience of my own inner body, I was still part of the collective field, and remained energetically porous and connected to the people around me.

A moving bell at 6.45AM mingled with my dream state and woke me on the third day of the retreat, which happened to be the 4th of July.  After a morning stretch, meditation period, and breakfast, I walked in the woods again.  I felt enveloped by the tunnel of trees, and imagined the deep and complex root systems which allow the trees to communicate, even crossing under the very path on which I walked.  This time, I cried at length, thinking about the current state of the country.  I reflected especially on the fact that its current prosperity is due in large part to the labor and subjugation of enslaved peoples, and to the land taken without remorse from its original inhabitants.  An extra painful history to consider at this time, especially as racism and xenophobia have increased exponentially.

The teachers offered a taste of many different practices, and during the afternoon session, another teacher, Robert Thomas, offered a practice that involves open awareness, letting go of a reference point or anchor and hanging out in open space.  As we prepared to move out of the meditation hall to practice walking meditation, he suggested that we consider gazing upward toward sky.

I made my way to a hallway of tucked away classrooms, but finding them already occupied continued on to a covered walkway between two second-floor sections of the main building.  Three people were already there, arms resting on the balustrade, gazing upward.  After some moments, a low growling began to emerge from the darkening sky.

At the end of the walking period, I made my way back to the main hall and took my seat again as the sky continued to rumble.  After longer than I expected, rain began to pelt the high ceiling, creating a loud hush.  After some moments of meditation, the retreat manager announced that there was an emergency weather advisory, suggesting that some might wish to leave the big cathedral and move to the basement level.  No one seemed inclined, but the teachers suggested a five-minute break in case people wanted to close windows or decline to practice in the main hall during the storm.

Along with several others, I made my way to the front steps, where the sweeping vista of the Hudson River was blurred by heavy rain.  The heavy wooden doors were each held by one retreatant.  Without hesitation, I stepped out into the rain, tipping my head back and letting rain pour over me, grateful after several days of grueling heat.  Acknowledging the frequent lightning, I returned to the stone steps under cover, and sat in silence.  A woman next to me ate an apple with decisive crunching bites.  Two enthusiastic birds continued to sing in the bushes to the right of the doorway.  Mist from the rain landed on my forearms and cheeks.  Across the wide river, a cliff waterfall I hadn’t noticed before swelled to three times its size, crashing with white water.

A bell summoned us back to the meditation hall, but some of us lingered on the steps, breathing the storm in.

Returning to our seats, the storm continued to activate the big room.  I found myself rapt, counting the spaces between the thunder and lightning, aware of the dynamic, dimensional space of the sky around the building and of its intersection with the inside. At one point, I felt terror approach from the left, from the direction of a simultaneous flash of lightning and crack of thunder.  My vision got weird and I felt terrified:  heat, sick, rising.  For a moment I was afraid I might be having a stroke.  The words of an Indian master to one of her students came to mind, “Don’t worry, if you can just stay with it, you will accumulate great merit.”  The experience rushed through me, arising, peaking and concluding in less than a minute.

In the evening, after a patient, slowly-chewed, silent dinner and evening sit, Kaira Jewel gave a talk on how to cultivate mindstates that lead to happiness, and discourage mindstates that lead to suffering. She called these processes “The Art of Happiness” and “The Art of Suffering.”

Kaira Jewel began her talk with a reflection on “Interdependence Day” and the fact that there is no thing that is only America or American, but there are many phenomena that make up what we know as America.  Some include the enslavement of human beings and the experience of being enslaved, and the genocide of the people who originally inhabited the land.  Walking in the woods earlier, I felt strongly that July 4th needed to be formally addressed, and I was grateful for Kaira Jewel’s words.

After Kaira Jewel’s talk, we headed out of the meditation hall again for the final walking meditation period of the day.

Instead of staying on the overlook, this time I headed down the stone path straight into the heart of the firefly field.  I hesitated briefly, afraid some part of me might want to show off.

Within moments, however, I was immersed, moving through a full 5Rhythms wave, the fundamental ritual of my core spiritual practice.  I moved in Flowing, feeling and honoring my feet on the forgiving grass, then began to move in the direction of every firefly I perceived in the expansive field, exhaling forcefully, sinking low into the knees, using the pinky sides of my forearms like swords, rising and falling, building heat in the body, watching the edges of my vision for a new flicker, responding to three nearly simultaneous lanterns, then waiting with full lungs during a brief pause in flashing.  The precision of Staccato attention built to the fever of Chaos, and I let my head go, the pricks of light in the air around me blurring as I spun, dipping and coiling inward and away from my own axis, and in and out of my own field.  Breathing erratically and sweating heavily, I began to notice the individual fireflies around me, lifting up onto the toes and reaching toward a rising light with the fingertips, leaping and falling, beaming unreservedly, in an expression of pure delight.

Finally, sound fell away again, as I moved with one tiny bug at a time.  Lightning bugs tend to hover and linger, so they make excellent dance partners.  Still dusk, I could see and track an individual even when it was not lit, and I cupped my palm, letting it lead me, rising and opening my hands in a slowly turning gesture, delighting in its slow transition into illumination, bowing my head to its tiny expression of majesty, part of the unified whole and spectacularly unique at once.

Still pulsing with life, I sat with my peers for the final meditation period of the evening.  Every time I half-lowered my eyes, I saw shimmering lights both inside and outside of me.

The next day passed in a river of sensations, challenges and joys. We moved out of silence and began to consciously build community through a variety of exercises and shifting constellations.  Kaira Jewel led us in an optional movement session, introducing us to the practice of Interplay.

Another of our teachers, Alan Brown, offered a talk, making a compelling case for the importance of self-regulation, especially for teachers. “Attention is a form of love.  Embodiment is a form of safety,” he said as he described how young people can regulate themselves and can learn to self-regulate through the adults they are in contact with.  “Just being a self-regulated adult in the classroom, before we’ve even taught anything about Mindfulness, is already a powerful intervention.”

He opened his talk with an astonishing story about his own path, which includes a diagnosis with Tourette’s syndrome.  “Mindfulness was literally a medical miracle for me,” he shared, as he summarized the insights of many years of practice.  In his case, deep investigation and inquiry into the body, along with some strategic questions posed by his teachers at opportune moments, lead to a radical decrease in the symptoms of Tourette’s and enduring faith in the power of Mindfulness practices.

Following an afternoon of community building which included tears and howling laughter, Alan was also very, very funny, and the room roared with good humor.  The teachers also shared several games we could use with students in our classrooms, including a competitive game that physically modeled the paths of neurotransmitters through a line of bodies, and a game that involved passing a full cup of water around a circle.

At one point, Kaira Jewel led us in a structured Lovingkindness practice within a smaller group we will work closely with throughout the entire year of the course.  At its conclusion, we offered Lovingkindness to all beings everywhere, without exception.  I saw a pulsing dome of energy high above us, into the sky and beyond, twisting light ribbons edging moving planes of energy:  powerful, building, resonating.  The woman to my right perfectly described my own vision, saying she could see it through me somehow.  “We should consider teaming up in card games,” I joked.

The retreat formally ended with writing prompts and shared reflections in our small cohort groups, inspiring words from each of the four teachers, and a ritual of passing a string around the gigantic circle.  At its conclusion, the teachers cut a tiny section for each of us, and we tied it around our wrists, a way to remember our experience and to recall our purpose as we re-enter the streams of our lives outside the container of the retreat.

During the days after we let go of silence and engaged in speaking, at least ten people commented on my dance with the fireflies.  “Are you a Tai Chi master?” one generous woman asked.  “Was that Brazilian fight dancing you were doing in the field?” asked another.  I smiled and said with some effusion, “I was just dancing with the fireflies.”  If pressed, I would describe the dance in more detail, and if pressed further, shared information about the 5Rhythms dance and movement meditation practice.  Many said they thought it was great that I wasn’t afraid to let go, something that never crossed my mind, though I did hesitate because I feared that part of my intention was to show off.

What most said was something along the lines of “That was so beautiful!  I just stood there watching you.  Your joy was enormous!  I love your energy.  It made me feel so happy.”  Some even said it inspired their own joy.  I inevitably choked up, touched that the people in this new community were so unreservedly happy for my happiness.  Had I given in to self doubt and kept myself contained, I would have missed an opportunity to experience joy, and in the process of suppression would also have missed a chance to share joy.

I’m not surprised that you “hear a glow” on me, my dear son.  This week has lit me from the inside.  The path, at least for the moment, rises to meet me, showing itself a little at a time, tiny increments of light, moving in a collective field.

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

Grass Roots

“Yeeaaah, definitely heel spurs. Both feet. See?”  The doctor points at a section in the middle of my right foot on the x-ray that really should be shadowy black, but instead shows white, almost as dense as nearby bones.

As early as February, when I participated in the five-day heartbeat workshop “Anatomy of Emotions,” pain in my feet has been excruciating.  They kept getting worse and worse, but I told myself I would only have to tolerate it until I finally manage to become enlightened, at which point pain would have much less influence on me.  Just keep practicing, I told myself.  If I practice with devotion, if I am relentless in interrogating the stories that limit me, and if I stay connected to raw, unfiltered presence, things will shift radically and this foot pain won’t be such a big deal.  Some days, I winced through every step, but still managed to find freedom and inspiration.  I even saw the pain as helpful, in that it brought me right into my feet and into the body.

After the “Elemental” workshop in April, my feet got still worse.  It would have been difficult to spot, as I still swooped and soared, but I knew I had to seek help, not just hope that enlightenment would eventually free me.  A friend suggested I visit an orthopedic doctor who specializes in working with extreme athletes.

After months of trying to get an appointment and waiting for it to arrive, I finally found myself in his office.  He explained the x-ray, “When the muscles and fasciae of the foot are very tight, they pull on the heel bone, inside the arch.  In response, the heel creates a little spur of bone for them to hang onto.  It is essentially made up of calcium deposits.”  He connected me with a physical therapist to would could teach me the MELT routine for working with painful feet, and proposed that if I could get the fasciae to relax, the pain from the heel spurs might decrease.

The doctor also noted that my feet, indeed my muscles generally, are very tight.  “I know.  Massage therapists always say that.  I do stretch, though; and I do a lot of work to release tension from the body…” “Oh, yeah, that’s just how some people are.  It’s genetic, to a large extent.” “Really? That’s super helpful.  I’ve always secretly thought it was some sort of character flaw.” “No, that’s just how some people are built,” he re-iterated.

On the way into class about 10 days after starting the MELT routine, I saw Tammy Burstein, the teacher.  “Tammy, I have heel spurs!  I just wanted to let you know.  That’s why I’ve been leaving early the last couple of weeks.  I’m trying to get them to calm down a little.”  She spoke as she moved across the threshold, “Work with the ground.  There is a lot to learn there.”  “Yeah, I know that’s right,” I said, still wondering if it might not be better to leave a little early.

After my appointment with the orthopedic doctor, I decided it would be wise to wear dance shoes to cushion my heels, at least for a little while.  I love being barefoot; and this pained me.  I also felt old.  And I feared that the injury would be permanent, that for the rest of my career as a dancer I would be gimped with pain.

I arrived to Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves class on time.  My neck ached fiercely, perhaps from a few straight days of writing feverishly, working on several projects.  Some seeds that I planted in years previous have come up and it is with great delight that I set about watering and tending the young plants.

I reflected that people who dance 5Rhythms regularly seem almost inevitably to find their path–their unique, fully realized contribution.  It is remarkable, really.  I thought I was on one path, of being an artist, pushing the boundaries of artmaking, sacrificing, expanding, challenging and risking.  But life has revealed something entirely different.  And, to my great surprise, this one is perfect, too!

A couple of weeks after the doctor’s appointment, I finally met with the MELT practitioner to learn the routine.  She explained that MELT is a kind of massage you do for yourself, and that once I learned the foot routine and got a set of MELT balls I would be on my own.  Alternating between four balls of varying hardness and size, I pressed, rolled and wiggled strategic parts of my feet.  “This is really going to help me get to know my feet better,” I said as I rolled the largest, hard ball down each knuckle line of my right foot.  “There is something about the feet, the ground.  There is a humility to it,” I pontificated to my captive audience.  “I haven’t always been so good at humility.  To be honest, I’ve always preferred to soar.”

I thought about the experience of doing walking meditation, particularly when I am on a meditation retreat.  Sometimes to keep my mind engaged, I shift my attention from toe to toe in sequence and then to different parts of the foot.  Never had I so thoroughly articulated the different parts of the foot as I did on this day, however.  “How do you feel?” She asked.  “Do your feet seem a little flatter?”

After the MELT routine, she showed me some physical therapy exercises to help with general foot strength, including separating the toes and moving each one separately.  It was like trying to bend a spoon with the power of my mind.  As I bent over toward them and squinted my eyes in focus, the toes quivered with effort, then moved in unison.  Only the big toe could really move independently.  She assured me that I could develop the ability over time.

I spoke with my Dad by phone, and he reported that for the first time ever in his small, semi rural Connecticut town, a budget referendum had passed on the first try.  In an aging, politically red town, it was for several education reforms and improvements.  He explained, with an exclamation point in his previously discouraged voice, that a group of parents had banded together to demand change and it had worked.  He and his allies on the Democratic Town Committee, a group that grooms and promotes socially conscious political candidates, wasted no time in meeting with the group, encouraging them to consider working together, and maybe to consider public office in the future.

Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class has been my Friday night appointment every week for the last ten years.  On this night, nearly a quarter of participants were dancing the 5Rhythms for the first time.  Tammy instructed us to partner, then said “change” again and again, re-configuring partnerships, perhaps in part to move some chatty newcomers away from their BFF’s and deeper into the dance.

Because of the heel pain, I felt sorry for myself for a good 5, maybe 10 minutes and even sobbed briefly, dejected by the side of the room, moving only slightly.  Then it wasn’t so bad.  I could still move.  I still got a good groove and had all the energy I needed.  I let go of the story I was telling myself about the pain and it didn’t bother me as much.

Curiously, I was reminded of a period when I had lower back pain.  I loved to grind into the deepest edges of my back, to flip and coil, to roll and twist with vehemence.  Eventually, I realized that I had to back away from the edges in my back, to deeply soften.  In following years, I’ve learned to find precision and work with the same edges in a different way, and rarely experience pain.  Similarly, I realized that I have to back out of the edges in my feet.  A tiny, shrewd little pivot in the foot that catalyzes an epic, syncopated gesture throughout my entire body causes pain at the moment unless the heel is already fully released back and down.

Throughout the class I danced on my own and in partnership, with abundant energy and engagement.  The fierce neck pain totally disappeared; and I made it all the way through class, even surprised to learn that time went slightly over.  I moved with joy and ease, working with the ground periodically even during energetic experiments, jiggling and vibrating my hips with one partner, moving in blocked parts with a smiling, heavily muscled man, and moving in joyful, collective Chaos, creating my dance from the feet up, from the grass roots, from the foundation.

June 23, 2018, Brooklyn, NY

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