What Just Happened?

“What just happened?” my entire nervous system seems to be asking. My son, Simon, just completed elementary school, I just finished up the school teaching year, and we just moved homes. 

Moving day was in the high 90’s and extremely humid, and by early afternoon I had heat exhaustion. My eyes were strained to the point that it hurt to look sideways. I pushed on regardless, telling myself that somehow it simply had to happen. By evening I felt like I was spinning off the surface of the earth. 

I managed to get a small air conditioner from the old apartment to the new one and up the stairs to the third floor, then shut the door to one of the bedrooms and cranked it up. I stripped down and stretched out on a bare mattress, hoping a rest would re-set my system. My skin felt hot to the touch; and I was trembling and throwing up. Logically, it seemed likely to be a combination of de-hydration, heat exhaustion, and anxiety, but I felt like I was dying. I wondered if I might have a brain tumor, a stroke, or some other terminal malady; and went on long thought trains trying to decide if I should go to the emergency room. 

I woke up the next day feeling better but still shaky. I walked into Home Depot in Bed Sty and realized that it was hard to see anything at a distance. This is most likely because my eyes are going downhill, but I got scared again. I could feel adrenaline spiking and flooding my body’s systems. I managed to calm down and get what I needed, but I still felt vulnerable. I spent the day building closets out in the new apartment and drinking liter after liter of water. Despite my precautions, I started to feel extremely weird again by late afternoon.

My sister, a marathoner and iron man athlete, has been heat exhausted countless times, and has also suffered from at-times crippling anxiety. “I’m really sure you’re ok. This is what anxiety does. You think you’re dying. Even if you logically know you aren’t. It’s fight or flight.” I found this reassurance immensely helpful. I also spent some time slowly breathing out for longer than I was breathing in, which helped to calm my overstimulated nervous system. 

Simon was with my parents so he could be shielded from the chaos of the move and I could be freed up to work efficiently. We moved into the apartment we are just leaving as he was taking his first steps; and now, ten years later, we are leaving as he gets ready for middle school. My priority was to arrange his room so it would be inviting for him when he first walked in and this kept me going even as stress hormones continued to flood me.

On the fourth day, I decided to do one more trip to the old apartment to rescue a box of drawings I had decided against; and I found that I had also forgotten my checkbooks and the hardware for Simon’s bed frame. 

I had the odd feeling that we were a receding tide in this place. In the front of the building, I said good bye to my favorite tree. As tears heaved up, I circled its trunk with my arms, thanking it for watching over us all these years (and very much hoping no one was noticing this display of emotion).

I did not practice the 5Rhythms for these four active days, or the two days previous – an unusually long break in practice.

On the afternoon of the fourth day I left to travel to my parents’ house in northern Connecticut and re-unite with Simon. 

Last year during the first stretch of the pandemic, Simon and I stayed with my parents for 6 months. During that time, I made it to the woods and to the Scantic River most days, and often danced in nature, in solitude, and in relative silence. In winter, the river flowed along with only the bare trees as witnesses. In early spring, the water level was high and the water flowed rapidly. By late summer, the banks had widened and the river had shrunk down to a small stream.

Last summer was the first of many years that Simon and I didn’t travel; and it turned out that this opened an unexpected door. 

To my immense surprise given many years of poor credit, I was able to buy a place in Brooklyn – something that had never seemed like even a remote possibility. This was because of a brief buyer’s market when many flocked away from New York City, the fact that I didn’t spend thousands of dollars on summer travel, and the support of many friends and family members.

Today, following a torrential rainfall, the river was swollen, fast, and muddy. I ran on a loop trail, then decided to do a 5Rhythms wave – that is, I decided to dance through each stage of the 5Rhythms practice: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness. The ongoing light rain intensified, but I found a spot on the trail that was sheltered by tree cover. 

I thought I would just dance a two minute wave, but it opened up once I started moving. There was a slight incline, and I used the feeling of gravity pulling my body downhill to find my way in. I noted the sensations of the moving feet, and took deep breath after deep breath. The rush of thoughts settled much more readily than I had anticipated that it would. 

My experiences from the previous year when I had danced by this same river almost every day came back to support me. 

Today Staccato arrived with ease and precision. I had no problem moving with decisive, clear gestures. The sound of the rain on the tree canopy increased; but I was still shielded and the ground stayed soft rather than muddy. 

Chaos disorganized me. “Faster than you can think,” ran through my head, something Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms, would say. It occurred to me that moving faster than the brain can process proprioception might indeed allow us the opportunity to short circuit our habitual patterns – the things we do again and again to escape discomfort, avoid pain, and reassure ourselves that we exist, that we are separate, and that we will never die.

I thought about how territorial I had been during the weeks leading up the move – no doubt an attempt by my mind to reassert what it knows and relies on. 

The rain got lighter again as Lyrical arrived, and I rose, extending as I stretched my arms upward, casting and arcing around my small dance circle.

Stillness always calls me strongly in this place, and I moved with quiet absorption.

I left the woods and ran back home in steady rain, barely noticing the steep uphill climb, just taking it one single footfall at a time.

July 2, 2021, 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. 

Afternoon Inertia

Little has outwardly changed about my practice in the last many months. After a long day of remote work and before picking up my 11-year-old son, Simon, at his pod learning group, I roll up the rug and dance in my apartment living room. 

Some days, like today, I was slow to start. I moved from the living room to my favorite bookcase – the one directly across from my bed that houses the books that have inspired my life, including three books by Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms dance and movement meditation practice. I opened Gabrielle’s book Connections to a random passage and patiently drank it in.

Returning to the living room and my pandemic dance floor, I turned on the music. Today I started with a TV on the Radio song that makes me shake. An email I had received right before the end of the work day was on my mind. It was hard to shake it loose, but the more I moved the easier it was to remember that petty posturings and the impulse to guard my territory are not useful. In fact, it occurred to me that if I do choose to protect my territory, though perhaps good for my career, it will destroy my own practice and everything I stand for. 

I sank to the floor for a tonal song and stretched the parts of me that rolled into reach and into my attention as I curved and arched. In Flowing, I gave myself to circling to the extent that I could, noting still the impact of the earlier email. A mild inertia influence held me ever so slightly heavy. I could feel myself on the verge of accelerated transition – about to move homes, Simon about to end elementary school – and stories radiated off of me. A million ideas of where to focus, where to steer myself, what calls me, arose. I let myself off the hook on trying to figure out the big vision, and just settled into the knowledge that new territory is opening up.

Staccato came too fast. I was still feeling a tint of inertia. It continued to cling to me as I swung my hips wide, watching myself in the reflection of a turned-off TV. Not breaking a sweat, I explored the big gestures, micro-cuts, scoops, and sways of the hips as the music brought on more and more beat. I sank low, almost langorous for these first two staccato songs.

It never even crossed my mind that it was just me, no partners, no witnesses, no one to witness, but I’m thinking of it now as I write.

The next songs increased in tempo and intensity. Inertia kept the slightest hold, but I moved with inspiration, ranging throughout the space of the living room.

Time was running short, so I cut the wildest chaos song to its last couple of minutes, closed my eyes, and took it on – hopping side to side, and letting my breath get erratic. The next chaos song was lighter, and I cast myself wide and diagonally, spinning and shaking.

Between Lyrical and Chaos, I played a fast, sarcastic song that I love, and I twisted and coiled the spine, letting my hips throw the rest of me into motion.

I couldn’t remember what I had next on the playlist but was delighted when I heard Mumford & Sons I Will Wait. It hit me like Irish music, like bluegrass, like rollicking summer. I I leapt and soared, barely noticing the slight inertia, almost evading it, and totally forgetting the email that had made me feel territorial and small.

I was almost out of time so thought to put on a stillness song to settle for at least a few breaths before picking Simon up. But to my surprise the Jamaican classic Murder She Wrote by Chaka Demus made its way into the air. I moved with delight and speed, finally losing the inertia – the weight and distraction – that had somehow carried me through today.

 

 

Set Free What is No Longer Now

Today is my birthday, so I wanted to do all of my favorite things. After breakfast, my 11-year-old son, Simon, meditated with me for a little while, then I continued to meditate on my own. After that, I joined a zoom yoga class with a beloved master instructor who I’ve been practicing with for more than a decade. 

Next, I drove to Riis Park, a wide open beach that’s just 30 minutes away on a light-traffic-day. For much of the drive, I had to keep the windshield wipers on maximum, and I was curious about what dancing in such heavy rain would be like.

On the way, I spoke with my mom, who told me the story of my birth, as she does every single year on my birthday. The details of the story change, but the main theme is always the same. “You are loved. You have always been loved. We loved you before you were even here.” I always feel my heart rise up with a tide of tears. Some years I’ve suffered in the face of this love considering my own self hatred, but this year I said, “Tell me about how tiny I was again and what it was like when you first saw me.” 

Arriving at the beach, I sat in the parking lot, writing a list of intentions for the year, and also for the new moon, which happens to fall on my birthday. The one that I liked the best this time was, “Set free what is no longer now.” 

Simon had loaned me his waterproof spring coat; and I pulled up the hood and tied the strings around my neck. Droplets hitting the hood kept up a constant pattering sound. I could feel the raw air on the inches of ankle left bare by low socks.

The horizon was obscured by white mist as I made my way across the wide, wet beach. The waves were powerful but the tide was low, leaving a wide section of packed sand for a dance floor. Rain seemed to be coming in hard from the side, and the wind pushed against me almost parallel to the water.

A lone pair of people and a dog were visible in the distance when I first arrived, but before long I was totally alone. Still with the hood tied under my chin, I began to move in big arcing loops, enjoying the pull of gravity as I ascended and descended the steep slope by the water’s edge. A whole rush of words, bits of conversations, and fragments of experiences from the week and month came streaming along. Since I was alone, I sang loudly, moving from song to song as they popped up in my head, continuing to move in big circles. I also repeated the intentions from the list I had written in the car, offering them to the dance and trusting its power, repeatedly saying, “Set free what is no longer now.”

Following this flowing chapter, this opening act of my personal dance, Staccato began to catch in my throat and hips. I let out several cries as I sank low, grateful I could let my voice fly to the wind without fear of being a spectacle. 

Before long Chaos moved me into energetic space; and I was coiling and spinning, moving closer to the ended waves, giving attention to the heaving sea as it rose as form then broke apart again.

Lyrical backed me away from the wind, rising onto my toes, arms raising up, and turning my face toward the sky. Wisdom poured through, reminders from the universe about my place in things, about letting go of the small stories that keep me afraid and separate. And gratitude came pouring out. Gratitude for this life, for my work, for my son and family, and for the many blessings I’ve experienced. 

There was a lot of crying today. Even from just the past week, there is so much that needs to be processed, integrated, and healed. In a way, the path of a life is a million wounds and a million healings. But I guess that’s only if we’re lucky. I guess that’s only if we are here for it, if we can set free what is no longer now, keep moving with what life brings us, and keep finding new ways to dance.

April 11, 2021, 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.

The Saturation Line

I had to pull over to take pictures. The entire hillside outside the rear fence of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden was covered with tiny purple crocuses, almost blurring completely together. 

Spring is actually happening. It’s like how I feel about singing. For so long, I couldn’t sing at all. It was clipped, awkward, soundless. But now this miracle happens. I open my mouth and sound comes out and it’s a song. It might not be perfect, but it’s alive. In much the same way, spring trots out, inevitable and miraculous at once.

I feel like the entire past year has been winter.

The pandemic isn’t over, and in fact the more virulent new strains of coronavirus are extremely concerning, and may even be impacting people who have already been vaccinated. People who are close to me have recently tested positive, and I’m praying hard for their swift and complete recovery.

And yet, the earth is coming back to life, irrepressible ebullience in every corner and urban hillside.

Yesterday I went running and paused not far from home. Drums. I danced on the sidewalk, then decided to follow the sound. It was a latin collective, with a drummer and standup bass, throwing down on the sidewalk. Scores of people were smiling, eating, and dancing. I sidled close to the band and danced too, stepping back hard and sinking into the hips. Their set ended and I continued on my run, feeling grateful to be alive, grateful for spring, and grateful for my home, Brooklyn, New York, where you can go for a run and find drumming and dancing, and be right at home, dancing amongst total strangers.

Today I danced with the sea. For months, I’ve bundled up in parka coat, snow pants, ski gloves, balaclava, boots, and thermal underwear to dance with the sea at Jacob Riis Park. Today, I needed only a few layers.

Given the lovely March day, the beach was crowded. 

Instead of crossing the wide beach directly to water, I made my way down the wide paved boardwalk, hoping to find a little more solitude. Instead, there were people as far as I could see, so being alone, like I was during the the frigid temperatures of deep winter when the parking lot was in deep snow and snow even covered the beach, was simply not available.

The tide was maximum high, leaving me a relatively small dance floor of packed sand. I put my bag and coat down where it was safe from the waves, took off my shoes, and moved into Flowing. I started by rocking side to side, syncing breath and movement, letting the divine smell of the ocean in, letting more and more breath in, and finding weight and momentum. Before long, my rocking found a curve and I began to move in circles. At times, the soles of my feet were cold. I let the swaying pull of the ocean lead me, and found myself pushed and pulled, casting downhill, dropping and turning, attentive to the sea’s magnetic forces.

This went on for so long, this attentiveness to pushing and pulling, to curving and dropping, to forces shifting direction. I used to think I would maybe stay in Flowing all day and never move into Staccato, but now I know the wave just unfolds in its own time.

As anyone who dances the 5Rhythms well knows, once Flowing is well founded, Staccato is likely to naturally arise. And soon, I was breathless, dropping and cutting, finding direction and expression. The packed sand I could move easily on was relatively narrow, so I was closer to the waves than usual, sometimes dancing at the very edge, moving along it diagonally, dancing back into my hips, then dropping, changing direction and moving forward. 

I noticed a new detail – the saturation line. There was the edge of the ended wave being pulled back into the sea, and right behind it this saturation line, where the sun still reflects on the wet sand before the water is fully absorbed. When I stepped below the saturation line, it felt cold. Above it was totally bearable. In Staccato, I paid careful attention to this jagged saturation line, sometimes below it and sometime above it, noticing the vast difference in temperature on the soles of my bare feet.

When Staccato emerged the energy of movement grew more lively. A staccato song I love replayed in my mind, and before long I was leaping and pausing, leading with my knees and elbows, and finding new ways to express spring’s enlivened vigor, still very engaged with the sea’s edges, sometimes casting down and backward, uphill, stepping across, then moving up and into open gestures with legs extended and hands outstretched.

When Chaos finally started to emerge, it felt like relief. I had long given up on the baseball hat and now released my head further, tossing it at the end of a big gesture starting in the hips and curving, folding front and back and side to side, coiling and twisting through the spine and throughout my entire body.

I didn’t growl or scream-cry as much as I did in the dead of winter when I was often a lone dancer on a frozen beach, but the mild weather and bare feet made up for the lack of privacy.

In Lyrical, the section of packed sand that made up my dance floor opened into endless space, the sky, the horizon, the seabirds soaring over with great racing shadows, and the wide open beach. I moved with all of it, slowly transitioning into the whispering feeling of Stillness, where all sound meets and drops out together as no sound, one great booming tone from deep in the belly of the sea.

It feels like it’s been winter for over a year – a time of turning in, introspection, reflection, adversity, and challenge. And although COVID is still wreaking havoc, the emergence of spring this year brings me some sense of optimism and motivation.  

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

High Tide, Height of Winter

The car’s thermometer said it was 18° Fahrenheit. It didn’t seem that cold, but it definitely wasn’t a busy day in the park. 

Today was a holiday for my work but not for my just-turned-11-year-old son Simon’s school so I had the day to myself. I considered doing some work and handing personal red tape, but my body was vibrating, wanting to move. Sitting at the computer was the last thing I wanted to do.

I pulled ski pants on over heavy leggings, put on wool socks, a heavy army-green coat with a hood, boots, and a hat, then packed a balaclava, ski gloves, and extra socks. I didn’t doubt that it would be frigid at the beach, where I was headed. 

Since the start of the pandemic New Yorkers have gotten much heartier when it comes to cold. Soccer practice is still happening in the park, brave diners are gathering with friends on snowy outdoor restaurant patios, and kids are chopping up playgrounds that would normally be deserted when the temperatures take a dive – it’s not just me who’s been pushing my limits. 

This year, I’ve been dancing with the sea a lot, including in light rain, snow, and in extreme cold like today. It’s actually become a practice of its own, and has allowed me to deepen my relationship with the ocean, and by extension with the depths of myself.

Arriving at Riis Park to the south of Brooklyn, I was surprised to find the gate to the massive parking lot barred and the lot in significant snow. It’s normally open owing to a year-round golf course that you enter from the beach walkway. I was able to drive in through the exit, and there was a narrow, plowed corridor down the mile-long, mile-wide parking lot, so I drove along it, stopping briefly to ask the operators of the only other vehicle there – an official NYC van – if parking would be ok or if I would be towed. 

This was the most deserted I’ve ever seen it. I stuffed what I needed into the pockets of my coat and zipped the car keys in, then headed toward the water. To my surprise, even the beach was in deep snow. I’m not sure why I didn’t expect that, but it looked like difficult going. Instead of walking straight across the wide beach, I made my way along the cleared boardwalk to gain easier access. 

As I stepped off the walkway onto the deserted beach, two officers who were leading morgan horses approached. I tightened, assuming I would be told I had to leave the beach. “Can you take a picture for us, please?” a female officer requested. I agreed and she introduced me to the horse, smiling. Both officers and the horses stood handsomely posing, the sun in their eyes and smiles broad. Handing the camera back, I took off quickly, still imagining they might decide to send me away.

The beach was a vast white expanse. During the winter, workers make little mountains of sand, presumably to protect the boardwalk structures from being pummeled by winter storms. These man-made dunes were also covered with snow, with patches of beige sand poking through at the top.

The tide was high and the waves were crashing ferociously, but there was still enough packed sand for a dance floor. I took off a glove to answer a call from a 718 number – hoping it wasn’t a tow truck operator in the parking lot calling because of the note I’d left on the dashboard, “Pretty Please don’t tow! Call and I’ll come right away if you need me. Just at the water’s edge.” My hand got cold, so I put the glove back on and spun my arm quickly around the shoulder, using a skier’s trick to bring blood into the fingertips.

I knew I had to get moving or get cold, so I started to circle, in heavy boots and the big winter jacket tight around me with extra gloves and wool socks tucked into my pockets.

Today Flowing was sensual, despite these encumbrances. I dropped my weight low and let myself be pulled by the ended waves that were washing back into the sea. I patiently circled up a sandy incline, then circled back down it, feeling the weight of gravity – my own core feeling its home with the core of the earth, pulling me toward it, magnetic, dense, bringing me low, in sinewy gestures and arcs.

My feet were wide awake today despite the boots and heavy socks; and I kept bringing attention to the sometimes minute shifts of angle and pressure on the soles of my feet that gave rise to every other movement; and I surrendered all of me to these tender moving feet.

Before long, my hands felt warm. I took off the heavy coat and placed it on the sand close by.

Feeling lighter, I tracked the receding waves and the waves that arrived to counter them, dipping low and reversing the circle as a wave pulled back out, sideways.

I told myself that if I wanted to stay in Flowing all day, that was just fine. That there was no need to force or to rush. That I could be patient and let the body show me its truth.

Staccato began in tiny hits, then fell back away to Flowing again and again. I moved through my body parts in Flowing then came around to the elbows, and enticed myself into the rhythm of Staccato, before long involving the tail bone, the entire spine, and releasing the head so it wouldn’t stop the powerful through-gesture of the body.

I brought attention to a hovering wave and the moment when it gathered itself up and reached its full expression before crashing apart. And again, thinking of drawing energy in, and then of holding, of containing the energy in a certain part of the body, of a wave taking full form before letting it cast down the other side and leave my body again, finding it in my gestures.

I’ve often felt the impulse to stave off Chaos – a place I am very comfortable – when I first start to feel it, but as I write I find new language for why. Holding energy in Staccato and letting it find form is a way to work with power, a way to conduct energy, to build systems, to bring things into being. Gabrielle Roth, the founder of the 5Rhythms practice, said, “It’s not like you’re just flinging yourself into the beat!”

Finally letting it blow itself to bits as I began to spin and dip and blind myself with motion was a sigh, and the dramatic, crashing ends of waves came to my field of attention.

Though I was sure there were no other cars in the entire gigantic parking lot, a lone person came striding up the beach. I was once again sure it was a police officer and that I was busted, so I avoided eye contact, hoping in some way to hide on the open beach.

Lyrical had already been tempting me, and I walked right into her arms, expanding my radius while trying to avoid eye contact with the passerby, who no longer appeared to be a police officer. Relieved, I briefly performed for this other lone beachgoer, leaping into the edges of myself, prancing and smiling as she passed without looking back.

Soon I passed through the rift of Stillness, scanning the horizon for 360 degrees, sensing the ocean’s deepest densest places, and seeing the thick darkness outside of the protective rim of sky blue that gives us breath.

I couldn’t move slowly for long without cold taking me over, so I made my way, pausing to climb one of the sand dunes and survey the beach before heading back up the boardwalk to the car.

I drove home, feeling full and grateful. 

I toyed with the idea of working or writing for a few hours, but knew before I parked how I wanted to spend the rest of this precious day.

Pausing only to wash my hands and take off my winter clothes, I created a playlist, adding a few songs I’d heard on traditional radio during the car ride home from the beach.

And I danced for at least two more hours, pressing and flipping myself into the wooden floor ground, growling, finding form and release, sinking deep into the hips, delighting in Flowing’s sensuality, delighting in Staccato’s ebullient expression, delighting in the sheer power of Chaos, and lifting off in Lyrical, for song after song after song.

I thought I was alone and that my roommate had left during a dark, wild, 150 bpm chaos song, but he saluted me on his way back from the bathroom as I picked up a microphone and plaintively sang a Lyrical Stillness tune, a song that made my heart ache.

Self-consciousness paused me, but only briefly, as I continued to move in Lyrical and in Stillness.

My computer battery died and ended the music, so I sat down to write, grateful to have physically exhausted myself for the first time in weeks, grateful to the 5Rhythms and to Gabrielle Roth, its creator, for opening the world to me. I was also grateful to myself for showing up, for being self-generating, and for finding new capacities, even as we face obstacles, even as the pandemic slowly starts to leave our bodies, and in many ways slowly begins to release us.

February 12, 2021, 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.