To The Waves and The Wind

The wind was blowing west so I decided to move in the same direction, in sync with the waves. It was like using a pedal-assist bike. Each time I pulled the water with my cupped hand I shot forward. The sea rocked and lifted my body, and I kept my senses immersed, timing breathing with the rolling swells. After several days of this daily ritual, I started to feel grounded, like I could let go of the stress and anxiety of the previous months and move into the oncoming stress and anxiety with less baggage. 

Usually by the end of July I’m really starting to relax. I look my best and feel my best. But this year, as fall looms, my stress level is increasing rather than decreasing as I scramble to organize conditions for my ten-year-old son, Simon’s, schooling, and prepare for my own job, which is also in a school, during the ongoing pandemic.

Driving to Cape Cod with my Dad, we ranged through heavy topics, like the upcoming election and issues related to racial justice. I used an expression – I wish I could remember what it was now – and realized I had no idea about its origin. I shared that for all I knew, it could have racist roots and I should find out its history before I used it again. My Dad shared that he had recently heard an expression that definitely has racist roots, but was used in conversation without its original intention. He felt that if the original intention was lost, it was no longer problematic. I disagreed with him, and we also talked about whether or not the association of light with positive things, and of dark with negative things might have a racial implication. He felt like this was going too far, and expressed frustration. I said, “I’m not trying to shut anyone down or make it impossible for anyone to express themselves. But I’m very interested in mining language for clues about my unconscious and the culture I’ve been raised in. And everything seems like fair game for examination at this point.” 

Something small triggered me one evening during the week, and I realized how sensitive I was. I took a break and went to the beach as sunset lit the sky. Walking west, I talked by phone with my brother, who advised me there had been a significant COVID spike in the area of Cape Cod where we were staying along with extended family for the week. Anxiety surged in my body.

Dusk and the sky’s full expression had my back as I headed toward home. Pausing a few beaches away, I decided to dance a 5Rhythms wave, which is to move in sequence in the energy of each of the 5Rhythms – Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness.

There were still some lingering beach walkers, but (feeling slightly conspicuous) I drew a big circle in the packed sand close to the water, calling my ancestors, guides, and helpers to help make a space of safety and power, where I could work with the strong emotions that were coming and hear underneath what can be heard with my ears. 

As I settled into the circling cadences of Flowing, I tried to avoid eye contact as a group passed by. “What are you dancing to?”  a middle-aged white man in a baseball hat asked curiously. “To the waves and the wind,” I answered, trying for good humor. “Oh! And you made a circle!” “Yes, there’s a lot to move with lately,” I responded in a trying-for-bantering tone as they passed, though this probably made no sense whatsoever to them.

I settled deeper into Flowing, giving myself the space to express the obvious underpinning of anxiety: fear. My mind gushed with recent news items such as the local COVID spike, conversations, possible scenarios for fall, and ideas for how to protect Simon and myself. But I kept bringing my weight low, and bringing attention back to the feet and back to the senses, gathering mindfulness, and accepting the fear that has danced with me and so many others for months now.

I doubted I would ever move from the rhythm of Flowing into the second rhythm of Staccato. Instead, I rocked myself in motion, churning up the sand in every section of my inscribed circle, but staying inside its boundaries. I gave myself the space to settle my body – language emphasized by Resmaa Menachem, whose excellent book on embodied personal, generational, and racial trauma I read over the course of this healing week.

I finally did move into Staccato, but only for short intervals, noting the increased energy and activation, then settling the body back into Flowing again and again. I sensed or imagined that a presence joined me, a dark goddess, almost a pillar in the center of my circle, energetically overlapping with my body. I moved in and out of Flowing and Staccato, feeling her power and support.

I moved into the third rhythm of Chaos, again only for short intervals, again repeatedly returning to the first rhythm of Flowing. I let go softly as the sky drained of light, leaving only streaks of purple and blue on the west edge of darkness, feeling less conspicuous and more a tiny moving part of vast dynamic emptiness. “What do I need to hear?” I asked as I danced in shadows, and the sky whispered back.

I thought about Resmaa’s remarks on how important it is to know the difference between when we are productively settling the body, and when we are escaping into a calmly drugged state.  This led me to reflect that intuition, conditioned responses, and trauma responses can look very similar, and how important it is to learn to discern between the three, especially as we are working to unravel racism in our bodies, minds, and cultures. 

The next morning, I did my swim as usual, gently rocked by the sea as I moved along the shore. I went past the lifeguards, past the beachgoers, and nearly to a river in the town of Yarmouth. After some time, I emerged from the waves and walked back east. 

I stopped at the beach I’d danced on the night before to pick up an exquisite piece of beach glass – with smoothed edges and frosted white surfaces – and held it in my hand. 

I turned toward the ocean, remembering my dance of the night before, with tears streaming down my face. I could feel the entire universe in this one little piece of glass – the sand used to form it, the fire process that made it into glass, the person who used it and held it, the process by which it made its way into the sea, the vast body of the ocean and its endless motions smoothing the edges of things, and bringing this little piece of glass in with the tide, and now into my open hand.

***

Simon was already on the beach with my Mom when I finally made it back, so we got into the water together, playing at climbing onto an inflatable raft and trying to tip each other over, then letting the waves rock us and talking about the world and our place in it.

August 10, 2020, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

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

Photo1: Photo of artwork by Meghan LeBorious. Please not copy without permission. Photo2: https://www.theknot.com/us/christine-mariano-and-adam-frymoyer

Rhythm & Reckoning

My earliest memory is of watching a summer parade from our big, second-floor apartment window in Chicopee, Massachusetts with my father. What I remember most was not watching, though. It was what I heard and felt. A passing marching band included a musician with a huge bass drum. When he slammed the instrument, the air vibrated. I was stunned, my little mouth wide open. I could feel the drum through my entire body. 

Gabrielle Roth, the founder of the 5Rhythms practice said, “Rhythm is our mother tongue.” Lately, rhythm is holding me, even during this period of grueling pandemic uncertainty and intense racial reckoning. 

Today I danced the same wave – the same song list – twice. In 5Rhythms, a wave is when we move through each of the 5Rhythms – Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stilness – in sequence.

The first was at high noon, after a long bike ride with my ten-year-old son, Simon, and a period of sitting meditation. I slathered on sunblock and set up speakers in the backyard at my parents’ house in Northern Connecticut, where Simon and I are temporarily staying.

Thoughts circled in my brain as I settled down into Flowing. Thoughts about racial justice initiatives, red tape I need to attend to, the many challenges around Simon’s schooling for the fall, and challenges around my own work, which is also in a school, kept spiking even as I turned attention to the feet again and again, moving in unending circles in the dappled shade of a maple tree on the yard’s edge.

As the flowing songs I had planned ended, instead of a flowing staccato song to transition into Staccato, I put on a thick, twitchy, poetic track that moved me to shake and swoon, a mini moment of Chaos that set the tone for the rest of the wave.

For the second rhythm, Staccato, one of the songs in this playlist was a remix of a Paul Simon song. I thought at length about a conversation about how different songs had impacted different people; and how important it is to listen carefully to lyrics, to research the artists, to understand the context of a song, and to consider it through a lens of racial justice before playing it publicly. I find this remix irresistible, but because of issues of cultural appropriation (which may or may not be valid) with Paul Simon’s work in South Africa in the 1980’s, I would be hesitant about playing it publicly.

Still, I felt ferocious as song after staccato song ran me all over the yard.

Chaos surprised me. When I dance at high noon, I have to be under the shade of the big maple tree, and I’m much more visible than usual to my parents’ neighbors and passing cars. I tend to be less vocal and less explosive. Today, that was not the case. Some potent emotion came gripping my throat and I danced it before I could name it, throwing my head wildly, dropping low, vocalizing, and moving in a wild matrix.

The emotion that was presenting was rage. 

In recent facilitated conversations during this moment of racial reckoning, I’ve tried to talk myself out of this emotion. 

Who am I, a white woman, to feel or express rage now, of all times? At a time when Black and Brown voices should be centered, my place is to listen deeply, to be in service. But then what to do with this emotion, that is boiling over, that is taking over my body? It’s rage toward myself for the times I should have spoken up or taken action against racism but stayed silent. For the times I’ve been unskillful. And for the times I’ve caused harm. 

Back in April, I had a conflict with a family member who wasn’t observing social distancing with my ten-year-old son, Simon, in a way that felt safe for me. And just last week, my sister came to visit with my niece. My niece wanted to see something in the garden, and without even thinking about it, I scooped her up and carried her over the fence, totally disregarding social distancing, and certainly upsetting my sister. I didn’t even realize I’d done it until the next day. 

Some unexamined impulse that felt automatic came up and I just acted. Just like my own family member who I was so upset with. This is part of the inner work for me now, to deeply examine what feels automatic for underlying narratives of racial superiority, and its supportive underpinings. 

This is not only a moral prerogative, but I also stand to personally benefit. Every time I identify and interrogate a story that makes me believe I am in any way separate, I move closer to truth, freedom, and a true sense of belonging.

And this rage that came up in the dance wasn’t just directed toward myself. It was also rage for the systems we are immersed in. For all the times I’ve brought things up and been gaslighted. For what I’ve seen and felt and known as the parent of a child of color. For all the instances of generalized oppression and othering that contribute to and create a basis for racism. 

Who am I to feel all of this? 

And yet I feel it and what to do. Where to put it, where to express it. Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch. And this body, that is not separate from all bodies, is in pain. And this pain is problematic, but there it is, searing and tight.

I want to express this and I don’t. I don’t want to bog down collective forums with the individual work that I must take personal responsibility for. And at the same time, I answer to my body, above everyone else, and it is speaking loudly.

I love and respect the activists who are generous, patient, and committed to the long haul. But I’m not feeling that way right now. 

Right now, I want to blow things up. 

I’m tired. I’ve had a front row seat to oppression for too long now, as a white teacher in a segregated public school district; as a human being in a country that voted for Donald Trump; as a practitioner in a Buddhist tradition that basically detonated because of patriarchy and abuse, where I bumped into a wall of opacity again and again. 

Please, please don’t tell me to put it into the practice. For more than a decade, I’ve been putting it into practice. And that has helped me to cope and to gain insight. But it can’t just end with personal practice. Now it’s time to move beyond just my personal reckoning, to a reckoning on a larger stage. To a systemic reckoning.

And all that was just the first wave.

Later in the day, I danced to the same wave. I had planned to join a group of dancers via zoom, but misinterpreted time zones and class invites and wound up on my own instead. I considered having a glass of wine and relaxing with my family, but decided to play the day’s earlier wave and move to it again instead.

Flowing was brief. I thought maybe I could half-ass it a little, cut out some of the songs, sort of move through the motions. I felt bad because my family was finishing up dinner, and I didn’t want the music to disturb them. I was clipped, noting the very hard, dry ground and wondering if I could even go all out without hurting myself. 

Then that same thick, poetic song, which was “Let the Devil In” by TV on the Radio, exploded me again, giving me exactly what I needed – a peek into gigantic, poetic reality, a chance to shake myself to life. I thought about the folk belief of letting the devil in, the idea that you made this mess, you brought this on, you let it in, and I couldn’t help but relate it to American society as I now experience it, and my part in it.

I put on a lyrical-feeling staccato track, Jerusalema, by South African DJ and producer Master KG featuring vocalist Nomcebo Zikode. I threw down in delighted engagement, at times doing my best to replicate the dance I’d seen on a youtube video, moving my hips for four counts, jumping my feet in scissors for four counts, dipping and turning, then repeating the sequence.

In staccato chaos, I fell out to a song by Tribe Called Red, which I’m embarrassed to say I only just learned is an Indigenous Canadian band. I sunk low, rocked hips in a planar experiment, and bounce-paused in rhythmic expression.

Chaos was, again, the centerpoint and critical mass of this dance, seducing me to explode with what I was carrying. I thought Chaos was over after a long, psy trance track, but the next song took me deeper still.

This was also a TV on the Radio Song, this one titled “Happy Idiot” – my version of a shadow lyrical song. It’s about a breakup, but also about shutting down and trying to convince yourself and others that you’re happy when you actually are not. It’s the same song I had put on after a long, formal conversation about racial justice the day before. It was like a demon took me over. I growled from the deep belly, occasionally acting as a “Happy Idiot” and waving enthusiastically, then switching back to a sarcastic rage I wasn’t fully aware lived in my body. 

I put on one of my favorite lyrical tracks, then a beautiful stillness track, though I still wasn’t fully ready to wind down. I could have growled in Chaos for several more hours, but life called me back.

Tomorrow is another day of reckoning, another chance to be whole, another chance to remember that for all of us, rhythm is our mother tongue, calling us back to who we really are, calling us back to our birthright – which is love – and calling us to action.

July 29, 2020

“And someday when we do finish that long journey towards freedom, when we do form a more perfect union — whether it’s years from now or decades or even if it takes another two centuries — John Lewis will be a founding father of that fuller, fairer, better America.” –President Barack Obama

“All this dancing is bullshit if we aren’t taking it into the streets.” –Gabrielle Roth

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

(Image: cincinnatimagazine.com)

A Small Shift in Practice

This is where indigenous Podunk people once lived during cold months, where my grandfather loved to fish, and where I’ve brought my ten-year-old son, Simon, to experience the changing seasons more closely. For months, since Simon and I have been staying with my parents in northern Connecticut, I’ve run nearly every day in the woods by the Scantic River, then found a place to do the 5Rhythms dance meditation practice. I’ve loved the flowing river, the soft ground, and the shaded seclusion.

Like many practices, it started with following my intuition, then as it felt right, turned into a daily (or nearly daily) practice. But as the river got summer-low and stagnant, I started to feel less inspired. Still I ran and danced there almost every day, and still I was grateful for this beautiful place. 

For a week or more, dance didn’t feel good. Most of the time, dance feels good. Even when I’m coping with a lot of anxiety, I can often let it go and let go in movement. Sometimes it’s even cathartic. But at times, I don’t feel any better after dancing than I did before I started, and I stay mostly flat. 

I was on such a streak. 

Thankfully, after over a decade of practice, I know what to do when it doesn’t feel good: keep practicing regularly, embrace whatever arises (even if it sucks), and remind myself that the magic always comes back eventually.

Yesterday, instead of turning right to head down the big hill to the woods and river, I turned left instead. This time, I ran one house down, then turned into the athletic grounds behind the town’s middle school. Here, rather than running in the dense, enclosed woods, I ran on a half-mile gravel track surrounding a wide open field. I relaxed, pausing frequently to gaze up and take in the open sky. After the first loop, I changed direction, so more of the time I would be facing the widest open space. 

Practice is always a mix of discipline and flexibility. The teachings of Staccato teach us to apply intention and energy to our work, including holding our own feet to the fire in daily practice. The teachings of Flowing support us in following our intuition, and in being flexible and attentive to our own needs. As the Buddha taught, if practice is too loose, we could say with only flowing energy, it will not be effective. If practice is too rigid, we could say with only staccato energy, it will not be effective. It takes a balance of both of these energies to avoid stagnating or developing unskillful habits.

After four loops around, I decided to dance a 5Rhythms wave – which is to move in sequence through each of the 5Rhythms of Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness. 

I found a tucked away inlet of cut grass, off to the side of the field where there was a small platform for outdoor exercise like sit-ups. I stepped up onto it, immediately liking the low friction feel of the wood-like material, and sinking into the circling movements of Flowing. I sank low and swung my hips over the edge, moving in a big arc, curving up onto one heel and back in the other direction, with a gesture like an athlete coiling a heavy discus. 

I felt no rush to move into the second rhythm of Staccato, instead feeling like I could keep doing this gentle circling all day. Eventually, the rhythm of Staccato did break through just as the humidity shifted to a thick, slow rain that rattled the leaves like a percussion instrument. The sky remained light and blue on the other side of the field as I moved with sharp edges and exhalation, sinking low in the hips, emphatic with my elbows and the outside ridges of my hands. Next I moved in Chaos, briefly, gently, my gaze flopping around and rushing through clouds, grass, trees, my own feet, my own hands, the blue edge of sun, a bit of a house across the field.

Then, for the first time in over a week, the rhythm of Lyrical visited. Lyrical is like a bird on your shoulder. If you make a loud noise or look directly at it, it flies away. If you stay porous and move gently, it might stay there and coo, maybe even dancing along with you. I fell upward into extensions, turning my smiling face to the sky again as I raised my hands up.

For a short time I moved with everything – the spirits of the woods, the rain, the changeable sky, the breathing trees.

There was something in me that needed to let in space this time. Maybe I will return to the woods. Or maybe dancing in the field will become a new practice. I don’t take ending the woods practice lightly. At the same time, I don’t need to cling to it if it is no longer serving.

Then a jogger joined me on the other side of the field and I knew it was a matter of time before she was right beside me on the gravel track. Not wanting to shift into being verbal just yet, I climbed down from the platform and walked back home in the attitude of walking meditation, loving the sensation of each foot touching down, feeling alive and reverent.

Walking, I barely thought about the difficult question of whether or not I will send Simon back to school in September. I barely thought about my own teaching job, and what the school’s hybrid teaching plan might look like. About the new science that’s showing that COVID may have significant long-lasting impacts and that people who die of it are riddled with blood clots. About how children may be vulnerable. About how having the disease once may not provide immunity. Notably, I barely thought about our foul, inept, self-serving president and all the blood he has on his hands. And I even took a break from thinking about the intricacies of racism in our country, and what would need to happen to eradicate racism, patriarchy, and all oppression, including what I could personally do to have an impact.

I just walked slowly along, stopping once to eat a wild blackberry, then making my way back home.

Individual practice is keeping me alive. Truly. But at the same time I recognize the need for collective work that goes beyond just working on ourselves. Inner work is absolutely critical, but if practice is just there to make us feel good, then it’s not practice. It is actually a sedative, a conditioned habit. 

Practice is a tool to pierce through layers of illusion to the radical, shining truth, even if it is politically inconvenient, uncomfortable, challenges our personal views, or challenges existing power structures. I’m extremely grateful when practice feels good, but hope I can push myself toward the truest truths, even if it doesn’t feel good sometimes.

Later in the day, I brought speakers outside and danced in the yard. To my surprise, I again moved with engagement. In Flowing, I moved with a circular swing in the yard. I dipped low, rolling it around my hips and moving in a big circle around it, at times moving toward it and falling, then rising and arcing away. At first, my arms followed my body like sea kelp, but soon, I started holding the swing and pulling it to its curving edge, then falling back into circling. In Staccato, I stayed in the shade of a big maple tree, feeling creative and vibrant, finding new ways to rise and fall, advance and recede, and work with the kinetic energy of the moving hips. Chaos challenged me to explode and release, and I let my head go and moved in a fast matrix, going all out. I was surprised that I had two long Chaos songs in a row in the playlist, but decided to go with it, telling myself to release and release and release further.

A chaos-lyrical song started and I bounded over to the computer to change it, putting on one of my all-time favorite tracks instead of the one I had planned. Lyrical overtook me; and I found a whole new category of movement. This time, pointing a leg and rushing into one direction while leaning back from it, and somehow a wild skittering with the other leg covering 10 or 15 feet in a gushing, joyful gesture, then bounding, leaping and twisting, all with my face tilting upward, smiling.

I have no idea what’s coming, but I suspect that for some of us, this might be a blessed interlude, a raging storm’s quiet eye. I hope I can settle into it, be available for joy if it visits me, step up to help dismantle injustice in ways that are skillful and collaborative, and love the people around me to the best of my ability.

That’s the best I can do for now. 

June 16, 2020, Broad Brook, Connecticut

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

Facing Real Obstacles

“I think I have to get out,” I said as my Dad, my ten-year-old son, Simon, and I sat in a stuck canoe on the Scantic River.

I climbed onto the slippery, protruding section of the log that was blocking us and tried pushing. The canoe remained stuck. I instructed Simon to get out too, then balanced my way to a spot on the limb that had an extra branch where we could hold on to balance and exchange places. My Dad shifted from the back of the canoe to the front and leaned heavily backward, trying to lever the canoe over the tree trunk that was blocking our passage while I pushed and tugged. Eventually, it shifted. I squatted low, and held my hand out to Simon so he could creep down the log back to the canoe, then let go of his hand and climbed in myself.

The river was extremely low for canoeing. Normally, my Dad shared, the river is cleared by local parks officials every spring, but it seems like they took this year off as our path was riddled with downed trees. 

For the past few days, I’ve been anxious. My work is teaching; and most years by the beginning of July, I’m finally starting to unwind and relax. This year, I’m having the opposite experience. I kept telling myself if I could just get Simon and I through the school year, summer would be waiting for us like the promised land. I also thought that if we could all just isolate for three months, we would move through the worst of the pandemic, and then we could return to life safely.

But it’s been over three months, and the pandemic is still raging. Even in places that have “flattened the curve,” as in New York City where Simon and I live, there are still significant new cases daily. And though there is no end in sight and many states have precipitous increases in cases, the president insists that we need to get back to driving the economy so he can get re-elected in November. 

I can’t even begin to imagine what the fall might look like. I’m worried about how vulnerable I’ll be if I’m back in a classroom. I’m worried about how vulnerable Simon will be if he’s back in a classroom. I’m also worried about how Simon will do if he’s not back in a classroom. I’ve even wondered if I should consider leaving NYC and starting a new life entirely. 

In addition, like many, I feel called to action as the movement for racial justice sweeps across the nation, and at once feel the need for deep listening and introspection. The need to lean into this work while there is a window of opportunity creates a sense of urgency, at the same time the need for inner work creates a need for patience. This alone would make for a challenging – though absolutely essential – period, never mind dealing with the ongoing pandemic.

The obstacles to dismantling centuries of racism and oppression feel overwhelming at times. It’s hard to even know how best to define the obstacles, or rather, the complex, overlapping processes that sustain racism, let alone set about overcoming them.

On the river, for this one day, it was a relief to encounter tangible obstacles we could move through and leave behind us. 

Since March when the pandemic started, I’ve practiced the 5Rhythms – a movement meditation practice created by Gabrielle Roth – nearly every day, occasionally in zoom classes, but most often on my own. Most of my dances have been characterized by strong engagement, but in the last few days, movement has been uninspired. I’ve been practicing for long enough to know what to do when practice goes flat: continue to practice regularly, accept whatever arises, and remind myself that the magic always comes back eventually.

Most days, I dance in the backyard, where I can freak out without stressing my knees and joints. Yesterday, the sun was beating down, so I wore a baseball cap and moved in and out of the shade, from the patio where the speakers and computer were set up, to the farthest part of the yard, which is well-shaded by trees. The oppressive heat and humidity might have been a factor, but I kept losing heart. I didn’t want to play any of my favorite songs – the ones that always cause me to explode in dance – since I wasn’t sure I could lift off and was afraid to ruin the songs’ power to move me in the future. 

I moved diligently through the entire wave regardless. When I felt a twinge in my lower back, I leaned forward to stretch out my hamstrings. When the wave – that’s when you move in sequence through each of the 5Rhythms of Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness – concluded, I spent some time stretching in silence, feeling less flexible than usual and noting many aches and strains.

“Dad, when is the landing coming?”

“Oh, I think we must have passed it,” my Dad said as we navigated yet another seemingly impassable obstacle in the river. 

Simon and I have been with my parents in northern Connecticut since March when the pandemic started in our region, and finding ways to keep him productively engaged has been a challenge. Our plan was just to see if we could get the canoe to the river, and paddle a short distance as a test run. The canoe had not been used much in the last several years, but it seemed like something we could do to entertain ourselves during the summer doldrums. 

Unfortunately, we missed this first landing and had no choice but to take on a much bigger adventure than we’d signed on for.

I pulled out the phone out of its ziploc bag, opened the GPS, and squinted, trying to make out our location. 

“I think we just have a few squiggles in the river, and then we should come to a road. But do you think we should turn back?”

Simon loudly insisted, “Turn back! I vote we turn back!”

My Dad assured us that it would be much harder to paddle back upriver than to continue until the next landing, so after a brief period of discussion we decided to continue in the same direction.

A dragonfly with a shimmery turquoise body and black wings twittered into the boat. Simon screamed and jumped reflexively from his seat on a wooden crossbar in the middle of the canoe, stepping his weight to the side of the boat and nearly tipping us over. “You can’t freak out now! It puts us all in danger! You are going to have to keep it together,” I said sternly. Simon shifted back into his seat and tried his best to work with this mandate.  

We continued to paddle and work around fallen trees, rocks, and shallows, with Simon and I paddling in sync, and my Dad steering in the back and calling out instructions.

In addition to dancing every day, most days I run down a big hill from my parents’ house, and around a trail loop in the woods, sometimes several times. 

Then I find a place to dance. Yesterday, I chose a spot on the sandy path near a gurgling section of river. The speed of the current here as it churned over a section of rocks heartened me, as many other sections have slowed and stymied with the summer heat and low water level.

I drew a circle in the sand to dance inside of, then imagined that I invited the guardians of the four directions, along with my ancestors, deities, teachers, guides, and spirit animals. I moved in the rhythm of Flowing – the rhythm of receptivity, listening, and grounding – at great length, taking in my own ill ease and unrest. I wasn’t sure I would ever break through to Staccato – the rhythm of action and directed intention, but eventually it did appear, if briefly. I noted a mild headache as I released into the rhythm of Chaos, bouncing gently back and forth. Lyrical today was a mere formality. The final rhythm of Stillness moved me to notice the woods, trees, and thriving green life, though still I remained subdued. 

Over a decade of 5Rhythms practice, particularly practice in the rhythm of Chaos, has helped prepare me to deal with uncertainty, but lately it has been uncomfortable. I know that if I can just relax into it the deadening anxiety will release, and I’ll be left with just raw fear and grief, but there are still so many decisions to make, so many factors to weigh, so much information to evaluate. 

Part of me thinks something is wrong, and wants to make these feelings go away. A wiser part of me understands that however I feel is fine, and will eventually shift anyway.

Since my mom was planning to pick us up wherever we ended our adventure I tried to reach her, but couldn’t get a signal.

I kept checking the GPS to see if we were parallel to the road yet, but it seemed to be zooming out. I turned off the phone to conserve battery, as we were at just 12%, and stashed it in the front of my shirt. 

There were no houses, picnic tables, other boaters, or signs of life beyond green wilderness. The river was so low that the sides seemed like cliffs, with normally-concealed, gnarled tree roots framing our course. 

“I like this part,” Simon said as we drifted through a clear section with fewer bugs.

I checked the GPS again, and made the alarming discovery that we were moving in the opposite direction from what I thought. I had a moment of panic, especially concerned for my 70-year-old father who has a heart condition and diabetes if we were stuck out in the sun for a prolonged period, though he appeared to be holding up just fine. I tried to reach my mom again, but the call still wasn’t connecting. When the next big insect appeared, Simon broke down crying.

We continued to paddle. “On the left everyone! Let’s try to clear this log!” my Dad shouted as the canoe thudded to a stop once again. This time, I got out, my feet splooching up past my ankles in slimy mud as I pushed the canoe back into movement.

We celebrated as we maneuvered around another tree, this time continuing through a tight spot without getting stuck.

I tried to reach my mom again, but the phone wasn’t even ringing. I tucked the phone away to avoid crashing into the sharp overhanging branches of another felled tree as the canoe sailed under it with the current, then tried one more time.

“Meghan, we should wait until we get somewhere so she doesn’t have to hang around,” my Dad argued reasonably.

“But we’re almost out of battery, and someone needs to know where we are!” I countered.

“We’re going to die!” Simon wailed.

I was finally able to reach my Mom, just before the battery died. And though I was beginning to fear we might have missed another landing, we spotted a bridge with my mom in the middle of it, waving and taking a video.

“We’re still alive!” Simon cried out happily as we rounded this final bend, waving his arms to get my Mom’s attention.

The long list of uncertainties and fears is still there, and continues to dampen my joy in daily practice, but I know that if I keep opening and opening to the uncertainty that is inevitable anyway, I can move through the obstacles that block the river, and move into the future, knowing full well that this uncertainty is just a hyperbole of the uncertainty that is always there in our experiences, lurking at every bend in the river.

July 13, 2020

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

 

The Intention to Listen

Today I listened patiently to a friend’s thoughtful perspective on a particular challenge I’m facing. I had prepared for the call in advance, telling myself that it was an important time to listen deeply. After listening for some time, I switched to offering my own opinions and perspectives. This could be seen as a normal turn of conversation, but this time, I had set the intention to just listen, and not have so much to say. My friend had to take a different call, so our time ended abruptly; and I wished I had stuck to my original intention.

My ten-year-old son, Simon, was working on a Minecraft building project with his cousin, so I decided to do the 5Rhythms dance and movement meditation practice in the backyard of my parents’ house, where we are temporarily staying.

Lately, I’ve been gardening. When I was Simon’s age, I had a big garden that I tended by myself. I would spend long hours there, sometimes just sitting in the middle of it in the hot sun, staring at a plant or vegetable. This was before I even knew the word meditation; and long before I callously overthrew this earlier earthy self in favor of an edgier, more savvy, more urban self.

After watering the garden with a hose, I carried speakers, water, and the computer outside and set up to move. 

As on the previous day, anxiety plagued me. It was chronic, rather than agonizing, but it danced along with me, rarely leaving my side. The music led me through a 5Rhythms wave, which is to say, I moved through each of the 5Rhythms: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness.

In Flowing, my attention was suddenly captured by a planter being taken over by weeds, and I paused to remediate. I reset the first song, and told myself that if I could just feel my feet, it would be enough. Stories sparked again and again about the challenge I was facing, and the conversation with my friend. I kept returning the attention to the feet, then getting hooked by the stories again. At moments, I was engaged, moving with creativity and enthusiasm, but often my attention was hooked by anxiety stories. It felt like there was an effervescent tablet, like Alka Seltzer or something, right at my diaphragm, just fizzing out anxiety. 

I danced for over an hour, then thankfully, afterward, the puzzle pieces of the afternoon landed easily. Simon and I were able to meet with some local friends, and he actually had fun and got exercise with people his age – a huge blessing, all things considered.

In a way, the garden initiative could be seen as a waste of time. It would, objectively speaking, be more efficient to earn $3.00 and buy a bunch of carrots at the grocery store than spend months and hours of careful attention, of repetitive gestures, of noticing concerning trends and designing interventions, and of patiently creating the conditions for the carrots to grow.

Perhaps similarly, Simon is home full time for the first summer in seven years. I’m doing my best to create conditions for him to grow strong and healthy, rather than sending him off to camp and counting on the counselors and teachers to create learning opportunities for him.

Later the same day, Simon joined another planned playdate online, so I decided to run. I ran down a big hill to my favorite place by the local Scantic River. There was intermittent rain, so I was nearly alone, and I started with a big loop around the trail. 

After the loop, I decided to dance another 5Rhythms wave.

I drew a circle around me on the wet earth of the path by the river. Beginning to move in Flowing, my feet churned up the wet sand. There was a slight incline and I allowed momentum and gravity to pull me into circles, using the slope to help me feel the earth’s pull. Ideas for ways to improve the world, ways to improve my life, ways to improve my mind, and ways to make positive change came through. I kept thinking I would transition into Staccato – the rhythm of action, but every time I tried, I found myself back in Flowing – the rhythm of receptivity, gathering, and humility. “I think I just need a lot of Flowing right now,” I reflected, thinking about my earlier unrealized intention to only listen to my friend. 

Staccato came through in small bursts. Chaos, too, was muted today, and kept leading me back into Flowing. 

At a certain point, I gave up on caring if I was doing the 5Rhythms or not, which was when I started crying. A red pickup truck drove by and I felt visible, but still I kept crying, sometimes bawling, inside my little circle.

I had called my ancestors, guides, guards, and deities into the circle, and I felt like they came through at this point, supporting me and offering specific advice for how to move forward. 

I was no longer in any recognizable rhythm, but kept moving regardless, engaged but totally un-self conscious, sobbing and grateful, listening to the messages that were coming through. 

A few days later, I went outside after midnight, barefoot, to see the full moon and the penumbral eclipse. A lunar eclipse is a time to work with our shadows – the things that lurk in our personal and collective unconscious; and the full moon amplified its influence.

The simple work I’m doing in the garden feels like it’s paying off. Simon picked two big cucumbers, and my mom sliced them paper thin, salted them, and soaked them in vinegar, using a recipe my grandfather taught her. We’ve also eaten radishes, yellow squash, and broccoli rabe from the garden already.

I remain eager to charge forward with making the world better, but for the moment, I’m sticking close to the ground, calling in humility, trying to avoid causing harm, and doing my best to become a worthy listener and ally.

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

Letting the World Lead

I lost my way into the writing for a moment. 

I just didn’t know what to say. Or what I could say that would be relevant at this time. Just writing about my own personal practice seemed so self-centered, given all that’s going on in the world. And who am I to speak on matters of such grave import? Then again, who am I not to?

The only thing I’m an authority on is my own body–though even my body is riddled with the expectations and representations of the societies it exists in–and I hope this humble material can lead me to deeper wisdom, that extends beyond my own small experience.

 Nearly every day I bring the speakers outside and do the 5Rhythms dance and movement meditation practice on the grass in the backyard of my parents’ house, where my ten-year-old son, Simon and I are staying temporarily. 

Most days I’m amazed that I can dance for over an hour, hard, totally on my own, and stay engaged, often joyful, sometimes fascinated, and sometimes even subsumed. Yesterday after a long wave, I lay down on my back and watched the few scant clouds move across the open sky.

In the morning, I was experiencing almost unbearable anxiety, to the point that I was pinched and dissociative. Whenever things are ok at work, I feel like I have it all figured out and it will be smooth from now on. But occasionally something will blindside me, as happened over the last few days. 

I was managing the resulting feelings, but then I let myself drink too much wine, perhaps craving a break from anxiety, which put me over the edge the next day. I struggled to be present with Simon, and found it hard even to soften in a hug with him, which of course made me feel more anxiety, along with its near cousins: shame and guilt. 

In the backyard, I stretched my legs briefly as Flowing music started. Then I replayed the same song when I got to my feet, calling my attention down, and bringing energy up from the ground. It took a lot of discipline and patience to even begin to settle in. By the second song, I was moving more freely and pulling in big lungfuls of air with each breath. 

As the music moved into Staccato, I recalled a distant memory. It was very hot and part of my dance floor was in full sunlight, so I wore a baseball hat. When I first fell in love with dance, it was in underground clubs and parties in the 1990’s. The flashiest dancers in these venues were guys from the house music scene, with ultra-wide jeans and baseball caps; and this was where I cut my teeth. 

I never wore a cap myself, but I picked up some of their gestures in mirroring and competing with them; and sometimes they rise up out of my body’s memory. I totally entertained myself with this, first playing directly with the cap, noting the gestures of my elbows, shoulders, hands and knees, the angularity that rose up, and the way of moving the diagonal planes of my body. Then I took the cap off and continued to play, watching my own shadow for information and entertainment. I thought about how I might teach this idea, or better, how I might use this idea as an example for how to tap into the body’s personal experiences as language for the narratives we create in moving.

The longest part of the wave was Staccato, and I settled in for a slow build on this hot, dry afternoon, visiting many of my favorite tracks, finding varied expression and enjoying increased flexibility and range of movement because of more time to stretch and do yoga lately. In one song, I lifted one leg up, open to the side, and experimented with spinning around like a young tap dancer I’d seen in a video. In another I turned my knees in, bouncing them together and raising my heels to the sides while I leaned forward and rocked my hooked elbows. 

Chaos found me more tired than usual. Because of anxiety, I’d only slept a few hours the previous night and it was starting to catch up to me. I sunk low into my hips during a track that straddled Staccato and Chaos, whipping the spine from the hips through the crown of the head. Instead of expanding into the rest of the yard during Chaos, as often happens, I stayed relatively close to my little dance floor, a blue outdoor rug, but still allowed myself to move vigorously, releasing the head and trying to let go of the stories that were plaguing me.

In Lyrical, I moved with relief, grateful for release from the anxiety I started with.

New factors kept triggering anxiety, though. It wasn’t until today when I went for a run in the woods and danced by a river, with the first rain of two weeks blurring the edges of everything and falling in a soft hush, that I could see it as a gift–an opportunity to work with my patterns–even as the anxiety continued to spike with a rush of chemicals releasing in the diaphragm, then abating again.

I saw how I got tight and checked out when very difficult and painful feelings came up, not fully listening to Simon as he shared stories of his day, and unable to clean, organize, or communicate effectively. I saw how I hunched my shoulders, crinkled my forehead, and shortened my breath. I saw how I had used alcohol to help me escape, but only succeeded in making the feelings more painful. 

I also saw how intensely I wanted the discomfort to end, but recognized that I could not avoid the process of reckoning that was unfolding, and determined to let it run its course.

On days when I’m not dancing to music in the backyard, I’m dancing alone by the river, without music. Sometimes these waves are brief, as I often feel the pull of responsibilities at home.

Today, I moved on a patch of loose sand in the middle of the path by the river. A roof of leaves mostly sheltered me from the rain, but the drops that filtered through landed on my exposed face and arms. Concentric circles from the raindrops intersected on the surface of the river. Beginning to move in circling motion, the sand churned up under my feet. Again, it took me some time to settle into awareness of the feet. Stories kept sparking and often ran for many seconds before I directed attention back to the feet, circling, and breathing in.

Staccato broke through before I actually noticed it and I explored warrior cries, delivered at different volumes and heights. Chaos came and went many times, even twice dipping me back into Flowing. In its third peak, I danced some kind of demon, my vision totally blurred, and an ardent, warp-speed side-to-side stomping that I’ve never experienced before came through. Then I leaned forward and held my arms wide and straight out, bouncing from foot to foot, my head released, in a low, weighted spin.

Then my field of vision expanded beyond the small area I was focused in. “Yes,” I said quietly, noting the green light of far away trees, the moving river, the white sky. I continued to move, more quietly now, stories still occasionally sparking but less compelling, moving closer to the river and exploring different contours of the path.

Again, it amazes me that even without music, on most days I can dance for long stretches, essentially self-generating. That as much as I’ve loved dancing in big, sweaty, loud crowds, as much as I’ve hung on the words of cherished teachers, in the end, the practice can be stripped to its bones: that a secret to being fully alive is movement, that, as Gabrielle Roth, the founder of the 5Rhythms practice said, “A body in motion heals itself.”

Eventually, movement quieted further, and I decided to do another loop of the trail in walking meditation before running back home. As before, stories kept sparking, especially ideas for how to fix the situation that was causing anxiety. But I kept returning the attention to the feet, the sponginess of my sneakers, and the sticks, rocks, grass, and soft dirt under me, noting, too, as attention shifted, tension in my jaw, water droplets on the river, a tight shoulder, a bird on a nearby branch, and again and again, the stories that kept trying to hijack me.

I still don’t know what to say, or where to begin. But I think sometimes you just have to step in, and let the world lead you. 

June 26, 2020, Broad Brook, Connecticut

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