No Time to Lose

The themes Tammy addressed during this week’s Friday Night Waves class aligned with what I had been experiencing in my own life that day.  Yet another hurricane had ravaged the Caribbean a short time before, causing vast destruction, including flattening nearly the entire country of Puerto Rico into piles of sticks and broken concrete.  Robert Glasser, The UN Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, commented, “There can be little doubt that 2017 is turning into a year of historic significance in the struggle against climate change and all the other risks that put human life in danger and threaten the peace and security of exposed and vulnerable communities … who find themselves in harm’s way from hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes.” (Vox.com, September 22, 2017) The violent white nationalist movement appears to be gaining strength.  The president has escalated his nuclear saber rattling toward North Korea.  And the same president attempts to abuse football players who want to express their disenchantment with the current state of America into silence.

Working on a book at a café, I am swept with tides of weepiness.  Having trouble getting my mind off of the 70,000 people (including a friend’s family) in Isabela, Puerto Rico, who live in the shadow of a giant dam that is on the verge of bursting after such an incredible amount of rain with Hurricane Maria.  As I said in the last post, I no longer find the Christian idea of apocalypse so far-fetched.

In the morning, I go to a walk-in medical clinic, certain that I have an ear infection.  For the two nights previous, I woke up in the early morning and couldn’t fall back to sleep because of the pain.  In fact, I am so sure I have an ear infection that I take an amoxicillin pill that I have on hand, a medication often prescribed for ear infections.  To my surprise, the doctor says she sees no sign of infection whatsoever.  Not even slight redness.  “Do you grind your teeth at night?” she asks.  I nod, thinking, who in America isnt grinding their teeth lately?

Despite my serious concerns about the world and my place in it, I have been experiencing joy lately, too.  At the moment, I’m teaching mindfulness (almost synonymous to meditation for these purposes) to eight different classes at the high school where I teach. It has been a dream for me to bring this work to students, and it could not be more timely.  Also, my no-longer-small son, Simon, is happy and thriving after the first two weeks of second grade.  On top of that, the weather has been spectacular. To make me even happier, Tammy, who teaches all over the world and often has to rely on substitute teachers for the Friday Night Waves class, is leading the class, and I manage to arrive on time.

In the rhythm of Flowing, Tammy plays a heartbreaking song with a West African vocalist, whose tender voice soars.  I often start on floor off to one side, but today I’m on my feet, moving through the room, looking for all the movement that is available in my spine, feeling the people around me, pausing in pockets to stretch and move on the floor, but feeling integrated with the room at once.

In Staccato, Tammy plays a song with a lyric that is something like, there is no warning for the revolution.  I am fierce, gigantic, taking huge sideways steps, clenching my fists, crying out gutterally, and sinking low into the hips.  I think about revolution, in detail.  I join with a friend and we explore the following song, which is full of resistance and grit.  I find flexion in my pelvis, front and back, even when I sink low with my hips nearly on my heels, scooping the air, drawing power in, sending it out.

The rhythm of Chaos lasts and lasts.  I am wild, both with partners and on my own.  Chaos, the rhythm of release, is a fusion of the rhythms of Staccato and of Flowing, but today my Chaos very much tends toward Staccato – the rhythm of action, of stepping up and taking one’s place in the world.  I keep taking breaks to totally soften myself, then return to engaging resistance, finding odd and unexpected forms, including picking up my heels sideways, reaching with force to the farthest edges of my range, and exploring balance, sometimes passing its edge.

Lately, I have noticed a pressing outward, sideways at the back of my neck.  It is planar, linear, like a giant grain of rice. I have been able to soften this area, feeling my head and neck grow upward as a result. I sometimes have a sore neck after yoga or dance practice, but today my neck seems more released than usual, even with such a Staccato edge in Chaos.

As the wave concludes and we move through Lyrical and Stillness, it hits me that I probably won’t be taking Simon to meet (his paternal) family in Puerto Rico this summer, as I have planned, and further, that the coastal town most of them live in, for most intents and purposes, probably no longer exists.  So far, we have not had any contact with them, and have no idea how they have fared.  My face tightens in grief.  I move inward.

“We have all the time in the world, and yet, we have no time to lose,” Tammy says during a period of verbal teaching between the first and second waves of the class.  I cry while she talks, hot tears, jumping forward and out. Tammy talks about the many disasters of the preceding week, offering, that some people here have relatives they can’t even reach at the moment.  I realize I am in that category, though grief seems even bigger than one event.  Tammy also evokes the creator of the practice, Gabrielle Roth, expressing gratitude for the map she has established for us, and recalls that Gabrielle herself believed we had entered into a period of collective Chaos. She says something that reaches me as: even when it feels like the world is falling apart, at least we have this practice.

Moving into the class’s second wave, I am withdrawn.  I open my attention to the people around me and try to bring mindfulness to the feeling of my feet on the floor.  Even so, I have lost the caterwauling ebullience of the first wave and sort of creep along.  Internally, I think, “Please let me find a partner so I can get out of this constrained little story in my head.”  Sure enough, before long, Tammy invites us to partner, and nearly everyone in the room quickly pairs up.  I’m snapped back in, engaged, and I beam, joining forces with successive partners, though Chaos, too, finds me more subdued in this second wave.

In Lyrical I join with a favorite partner, sharing a dance of seedlings, of offering, whispering, twittering, of casting forward, down, up, around, leaping through every available level, brushing my hands on the floor and then skyward again, experiencing the full extension of my arms, then undulating forward from the sternum, breath filling my hands and pouring out of them onto the floor, into the room.

I drift away from my friend as the room transitions into Stillness, and move closer to Tammy.  My movements become subtle, and I turn my attention to finding every possible articulation of my coccyx, thinking again about the idea of apocalypse, wondering how much my practice will be tested in the coming months, wondering how much I have to give, wondering how bad things can get and if they will ever get better.  I also wonder if I can find a way to wake up no matter what, and if I can lead the way for my son, no matter what comes, even if the dam breaks.

“Strive at first to meditate upon the sameness of yourself and others. In joy and sorrow all are equal.” –Pema Chödrön, No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva

September 24, 2017, Brooklyn, NYC

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

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Love Letter to Flowing

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“The Earth is above you, below you, all around you and even inside you.  The Earth is everywhere.  You may be used to thinking of the Earth as only the ground beneath your feet.  But the water, the sea, the sky, and everything around us comes from the Earth.”  –Thich Nhat Hanh, “Love Letter to the Earth”

I have always loved benignly notable weather events.  I love the slower pace, I love that the collective experience of the weather dominates all of our minds, and that our push toward individual achievement fades—if briefly—to the background.  The unexpected accumulation of five or six inches of snow in the past two days is a delightful surprise.  Yesterday, my six-year-old son, Simon, and I went sledding in Fort Greene Park despite very cold temperatures, then returned to the warm house and sat on the couch together, each reading independently, our giant, fluffy cat purring and rubbing her head on us affectionately.

At the dentist in the afternoon before Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves class, I had a scare.  The dentist gave me a shot of Novacaine and I felt a sharp pain in my cheek, then everything in my vision went double.  The dentist was convinced that my blood pressure spiked because of fear and that I was on the verge of fainting.  He told me to sit quietly for 20 minutes; and assured me that I would be fine.   A few minutes later, I noticed that vision was restored on my left side, but was still completely doubled in front of me and on the right.  “Have you ever heard of that before?” I asked him.  “No, not really.  I guess that is a little weird.  But you are probably going to be ok on a few minutes.”  The asymmetry concerned me, however.  I wondered if I might be having a small stroke, perhaps triggered by the sudden spike in blood pressure.  Next, I wondered if I could get a parking ticket forgiven if I had to take an ambulance to a hospital and couldn’t feed the meter.  I tried to relax by taking deep breaths and closing my eyes.  After a few more minutes, my vision was back to normal, but the dentist and I decided to hold off on filling the cavity that had brought me in to the office.

“We tend to think of the Earth as inanimate matter because we’ve become alienated from it.  We are even alienated from our own bodies.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

Arriving at Friday Night Waves class on the 5th floor of the Joffrey Ballet in the West Village, I took a soft lap around the perimeter of the dance studio.  Sometimes I come in with a rush, greeting friends with shining eye contact, happy to connect.  On this occasion, I moved subtly into the crowd.  Arriving to one of my favorite places in the room, not far from Tammy, and in the corner that is nearest to the home of the late Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, I sunk to the floor, where I stretched and undulated, moving into a very vigorous Flowing.  With both hands and both feet on the floor and twisted sideways, I let my hips and butt spin heavily, as a pendulum, then sprung forward and up, led by my feet and belly into a low coiled twist that felt like breakdancing.

Recalling my scare at the dentist’s office, I reminded myself to take it easy and stay out of my edges.  I could feel the adrenaline that had earlier coursed through my leg muscles radiating off of me.  Nothing hurt, no one triggered me, and I was not preoccupied with anything in particular.  I moved around, partnering occasionally and noting the presence of each person I encountered, saying internally, “I see you there; and I am grateful for it.” I met Staccato amicably, and as Chaos arose I continued to find myself fluid and released, moving around the room with great energy.  In Lyrical and moving into Stillness, light spilled out of the junctures of my joints, and I leapt and bounded, pulled by the tops of my wrists into extensions and cascading descents.

“Everything outside us and everything inside us comes from the Earth.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

Having moved through the first full 5Rhythms wave of the class, attending to each of the five rhythms—Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness—in sequence, Tammy brought us back into Flowing before pausing us for a brief demonstration and talk.

Tammy’s tone was tender as she delivered a lesson almost exclusively devoted to the rhythm of Flowing.  She seemed to be trying to find something in her gestures and said, “I wonder if I can even still do this?”  She moved as she spoke, continuing, “Never having been camping, for most of my life I have been urban, and in some ways disconnected from the earth.”  She went on to say that she had been at home with concrete, not dirt.  She would try to use her mind to figure things out, even, to some extent, inside the dance. “But that all changed after I started this practice,” she went on, “After many years, I started to realized that the earth is who we are.  And I don’t mean that as a metaphor!  It is our very essence.  It is what we are born from, what we come from.”

At that moment, Tammy’s entire orientation changed.  She got lower, literally, and some kind of fussiness, some kind of complexity in her gestures disappeared.  It was a deeper bass, an ear to the ground to hear the rumble of approaching animals, a full acknowledgment of weight and its activation in momentum.  The shift was both visible and palpable; and I felt blessed to be available to receive the lesson.

I connected with Tammy’s comments about not relating to the Earth.  The truth is that for many years Flowing didn’t really interest me that much.  I attended to it as part of the sequence, but I was eager to move on into Staccato and to Chaos.  I was more interested in personal expression, in intensity, in complexity.  I found the humility of Flowing kind of boring. I saw myself as urban from a very young age, and I was no hippy.  Earthiness seemed kind of flaky, imprecise and, frankly, unintellectual.

After many years of disciplined practice, I finally started to have some relationship with Flowing and to the ground.  It is interesting to note that since the presidential election the place I have most wanted to be is in Flowing—the rhythm of the earth, of weight, of the feet, of the ground—and it has given me enormous comfort.

In Flowing during the second wave, I joined with a friend, and we curved around each other, rising and falling.  I tried to circle behind her, but she kept me solidly in view, circling also.  Before long, Tammy suggested on the microphone that we move through the room.  Usually, this instruction is interpreted as an invitation to part ways with a partner, but this time, we moved through the entire room together, still partnered, squirreling down through tunnels of legs, wrapping around the columns, finding space above.  We moved like currents in the same stream, parting around intervening objects, still connected, coming back together again and again.  The dance was very porous, and many entered our partnership or influenced it, even as we traveled, depositing bits of rocks and leaves.

“We often forget that the planet we are living on has given us all the elements that make up our bodies.  The water in our flesh, our bones and all the microscopic cells inside our bodies all come from the Earth and are part of the Earth.  The Earth is not just the environment we live in.  We are the Earth and we are always carrying her within us.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

In Flowing Staccato and Flowing Chaos I joined with another friend, finding depth and power, noting the low bass waves that travel by the feet.  We moved both in sync and totally independently, unpredictable, wild, whole-hearted.  I walked back into my spine and she responded with bounding cross-steps, nodding her head to the beat and moving in diagonal lines.

The second and final wave of the class was a flowing wave, which is to say that as we moved through all of the 5Rhythms, each rhythm also had the flavor of Flowing contained in it. Following the sequence of Flowing, Flowing Staccato, Flowing Chaos, Flowing Lyrical, and Flowing Stillness, Tammy repeatedly invited us to partner.  At one point, I turned to a man who totally ignored me.  I wandered to a different partner, slightly confused, but not too concerned.  Later, I noticed that he wasn’t making eye contact with anyone, and was glad I hadn’t taken his lack of attention personally.

In Lyrical I joined with two others, and we threaded in and out of one another.  As the music transitioned into Stillness, our breath became very strong.  Tammy said something like, “Breathing in and receiving, breathing out and offering.”  I began to move through the room, doing what I call Passing-through practice—when I let myself stream through others and let others stream through me, sometimes until there is no energetic separation at all.

“We are a living, breathing manifestation of this beautiful and generous planet.  Knowing this, we can begin to transform our relationship to the Earth.  We can begin to walk differently and to care for her differently.  We will fall completely in love with the Earth.  When we are in love with someone or something, there is no separation between ourselves and the person or thing we love.”  –Thich Nhat Hanh

I danced hard, but didn’t feel tired, sore, or even very sweaty at the end of class.  I went home feeling content—an emotion that surprises me lately—and, too, feeling grateful, for the guidance of Flowing and for the support of the Earth.

January 8, 2017, Brooklyn, NYC

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

Joy, Not-joy & Happy Clichés

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Typically, after a 5Rhythms class I make a few journal notes right away that I can expand on at a later time, when I tease out themes, follow the threads of narrative, and connect what has arisen in dance to the world off the dance floor.  This Friday, however, as soon as I got home, I set about wrapping and finishing a series of small artworks to give as gifts to family and friends.  I did not make any notes at all until just yesterday.  I hope my memory will serve me, but I ask for your forbearance if I lapse into generalizations—an unfortunate tendency many of us display around the holidays.

Tammy Burstein’s 5Rhtyhms Friday Night Waves class on December 23rd was less packed than usual, presumably because many were already traveling for the holidays or were involved in holiday preparations.  I arrived on time and in reasonably good humor.  A friend greeted me and asked how I was, “No complaints,” I said, then just a few moments later, said to the same friend, not noticing the irony, “My back is hurting a little tonight.”

I don’t remember very much about the first wave, except that I found movement easily, and that there was notably more space between bodies, owing to smaller-than-usual turnout to Tammy’s usually jam-packed class.  One man, who I often find friendly and pleasant, seemed aggressive in his extroversion for the second week in a row.  Last week he had stepped on my foot without even noticing while running in a fast circle around a group of dancers he was involved with.  As I have written before, it is often helpful to have dancers who move through the entire room and don’t become quickly rooted to one place.  Lately, I have been noticing (for myself) when I go too far with a seemingly skillful behavior to the point that it becomes unskillful, for example moving around so much and so fast that I lose mindfulness and start bumping into people.  The man who seemed aggressively extroverted stepped happily into dances with nearly everyone in the room, but I wasn’t feeling receptive to him.  He really seemed to insist, though, stepping emphatically up to me and trying to make eye contact as he moved.  I wasn’t angry and I didn’t insist, but this time I didn’t consciously share a dance with him.  It was interesting for me to reflect on my own behaviors, especially times when I have been ecstatic, moving through the room in bliss, feeling porous and unbounded.  I hope I was able to respect the people who were having a different experience than mine, who might have needed space and privacy, though I felt so connected to them.

It is just 4.15pm and the sky lights with sunset.  I am reminded of the last stretch of driving before arriving to my parents’ house for the holidays a few days ago.  Orange-red light in horizontal bands lit the winter trees that lined the road.  The places that were hidden from the light by trees on the horizon at the other edge of my vision remained dull grey, exacerbating the glow everywhere the red light touched.  I said to my six-year-old son, Simon, “Can you believe how lucky we are? That we get to see this beauty?  It is incredible.  We are so lucky.”  Simon expressed agreement, though I can’t fully know what the experience was like for him.  Tears streamed down my cheeks.  I didn’t say what I was also thinking, “This world might not be so beautiful for much longer.  This might be a memory someday, maybe in the near future.  I can’t imagine a more beautiful world.  Even in the mundane nature of the roadside, with the blue of sky, the green of grass, the white of snow, there is exquisite beauty.”  As I stepped into my parents’ home, I was still choked up as I walked in to find my sister and brother in the kitchen.

Sometimes I think of an original Star Trek episode, when one of the crew members is on a planet where dreams and fantasies are enacted.  The world he projects is of a pastoral, green scene by a small river.  His expressed nostalgia for the beauty of earth touched me; and I have occasionally looked at my surroundings with that frame, as though I were far from earth, or perhaps in a bleak industrial future, imaging how much I would long for the lush green that is all around me now, even in New York City.

When Simon was first born, I spent countless hours sitting on the deck of my parents’ house, watching shimmering trees and dense green vines while he slept or nursed.  Once, a hummingbird came to drink from a flower on the deck just a few feet from me.  The grass, though patchy in spots, quivered with sugar.  Clouds gathered themselves into forms and drifted by, in constant motion, except during rare moments of seamless blue.  Even then, the breeze moved the leaves, insects clambered, the baby shifted softly, and birds threaded in and out of each other’s paths of flight.

Tammy, apparently noting a flavor of inertia in the room, invited us to follow someone.  Personally, I love following people. When someone rushes by, I might get swept into their current.  Sometimes, I step into the wake someone creates and experience what it is like for them to move through a room full of bodies.  The teacher Peter Fodera is particularly delightful to follow, as he moves through the room with both delicacy and force, seeming to majestically part the seas.  As the following took shape, there was some open-ness and I slipped around, smiling.  Soon, though, it turned into several chains of bodies.  Tammy said something to the effect that though some enjoy the season, for a lot of people, the holidays aren’t all that great. For some, they might be painful, I reflected, thinking of someone close to me who all but shuts down every year at least between December 23-26.  Inertia gripped even the chains of moving dancers.  Instead of pressuring us to cajole ourselves into joy, merry singing and grandiose generosity, making the not-joy even more painful, Tammy encouraged us to investigate the what was actually coming up in that moment, as we followed the person directly in front of us, perhaps in their “holiday slog.”

Moving briefly with this dragging conga line, I soon peeled off from the group with one friend, and we entered an enlivened Flowing in one corner of the room.  I don’t know if there is any metaphor in it, but when each person is trying their best to follow the other, sometimes each person winds up both leading and following, in a tight little tangle of forces.  In this case, the dance became delightful.  We approached and spun, dipping and rolling in and out of one another’s orbits.  It felt like when you are little kids playing in the grass and you hold hands with your wrists crossed, then spin around and around and around with your head thrown back and your mouth wide open, laughing.

I wondered if my friend loves the holidays like I do.  I am very much in the minority, but I have always loved the winter holidays and found true, imperfect joy with family and friends, despite the overwhelming pressure for fake, perfect joy that causes so many to suffer.  I even enjoy the lead up—this year, in particular, I planned ahead and had a number of presents I was excited to offer.

Flowing opened up easily for me again.  I knew I had to leave a little early if there was any hope to complete the series of small artworks and prepare gifts in time for a morning departure from the city.  I stayed just a little longer, then a little longer, then a little longer, finally leaving as Staccato transitioned into Chaos in the second wave of the class.

I am surprised there is so much to say this time, given that I had no notes and many days elapsed between the class and the writing.  Just as in stepping in to a 5Rhythms room I never know what will happen, so, too, in stepping in to the creative process of writing, I never know what will arise.  There is a long list of sad items I could dwell on at the moment: my grandmother has just entered hospice care, many near me are suffering with depression and various issues, and, of course, the alarming state of the world.  Despite all of this, joy has visited me in glimpses.  I am happy to be able to receive it, happy that sometimes joy can arise even independent of external circumstances.  To disdain my own joy would be as much a mistake as trying to force myself into it.  It seems that lived experience is always much more interesting than the expectations I set up for myself.  Living itself is much better than a happy cliché, even when it is messy, even when joy is a risk.

December 29, 2016, Broad Brook, CT

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

Harsh Reality

“What?  This can’t be.  Oh, my God, this can’t be.  How could this be?  This can’t possibly be.  What are all of these overnight text messages about.  They are no longer celebratory, as they were last night.  This can’t be true.  Let me look at the internet.  Oh, my God.  Oh, my God.  Please, no.  Please, this can’t be.  So many people would suffer.  This is impossible.  How could Americans elect this person?  How could anyone vote for this man?  Please this is just a nightmare.  Let me wake up.  This can’t be.  Let me text back to some of the texts.  Please let it not be so.  It can’t be!  My God!  No, please, this can’t be! So many people would suffer!  The economy! Unchecked hatred!  Please say it is just a nightmare!”

Often before I start a new text for this blog, I write automatically for ten minutes. Writing automatically usually helps me to find an entry point, a theme, maybe even an idea for a structure, but today my mind remains scattered, dulled by its struggle to accommodate the new reality that my fellow Americans have elected Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States.

At Kierra Foster Ba’s workshop “Light & Shadow” last weekend, Kierra took us on a journey through the shadow aspects of each of the 5Rhythms—the shadow of Flowing, which is inertia; the shadow of Staccato, which is tension; the shadow of Chaos, which is confusion; the shadow of Lyrical, which is the quality of being spaced out; and the shadow of Stillness, which is numbness.  In addition, she introduced the idea that the shadows might have to do with the parts of ourselves we would rather keep hidden or disown completely.

After the workshop, I wrote feverishly, very much wanting to deliver a text on the shadows work of last weekend before Tuesday’s election results, realizing that no matter what happened, anything written before Tuesday would become automatically outdated.  Although I was very nervous, I wrote with the assumption that there would be a Hillary victory in the end, and, too, with the assumption that after the election that we would have to find ways to work with and address America’s unleased collective shadows of abject hatred and opportunism.

Before the election, my psyche simply could not accommodate the possibility that Donald Trump might actually win the election.  It was simply too surreal—too much the stuff of nightmares.  It simply could not be. Americans certainly would not go to such extremes, even in the face of anger and disempowerment, that we would actually elect such a person, someone who does not believe in and would threaten our very democracy, who is the confirmed perpetrator of countless, outrageous crimes and abuses, possibly even of rape.

The lively activity at my polling place in Brooklyn made me feel like Hillary would surely win.  The better the voter turnout, I argued in my head, the more likely she would prevail.  I brought my six-year-old son along with me, regaling him with stories of when Obama was first elected—the long, happy lines to vote; and after the results came in, the streets filled with celebration, people thronging Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where I lived at the time.  I told him excitedly, “This is a moment you will always remember, when we voted for the first woman president!”

The memory of the first 5Rhythms class I attended after Obama was elected in 2008 seemed like a totally different lifetime.  It was Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class.  For days, I had been walking around the city sobbing for joy.  It would hit me, buying a tea, waiting for the walk sign, standing on the subway.  Talking with everyone.  Beaming.  Not only had we—a nation built with the blood and sweat of slaves—elected a Black man, but we had elected an ethical, competent, intelligent leader, who was intent on building consensus, examining the minutiae of evidence on the many matters that faced him, and with the stated intention—and possibly the skill—to extend the prosperity that a small number of Americans enjoyed to a larger portion of society.  That was the first time since I was a baby in a leaf pile playing with my parents, that I had ever moved in pure joy.  The room was filled with a different kind of vocalization than what we experienced in class this week—hooting and hollering that moved through the air in waves of its own.  We were a glowing mess, drenched, crying, leaping many feet off the ground, the entire wood floor bouncing, the music getting louder and louder.  It was paradise.  I couldn’t believe how lucky I was—to be alive in this time, to be part of this seismic shift, this uncontainable joy.

A few sleepless, dark morning hours after learning the results (during which my son and I sat on a meditation cushion together, my stomach in knots, him reading quietly or practicing meditation along with me) one of the people I am closest to—a Black and Latino man—entered the house.  He shared an opinion that I have since heard echoed by more than one person of color—that this was no surprise, and that “Black people in America have been dealing with this level of hatred and injustice all along.   Now, it is just out in the open.”  He also reminded me that his joy when Obama was elected had been mitigated by his prediction that there would be a monstrous backlash after Obama’s term.

Since the election, hate crimes have surged, according to the New York Times, USA Today, CNN and a long list of reputable sources.  “Make America White Again” has been scrawled on a whiteboard in a University of North Florida library, and in countless other places countrywide.  My father told me with grave consternation that there had been a KKK rally in my parents’ small town in Northern Connecticut, to my knowledge an unprecedented event.

During and after the “Light & Shadow” workshop, I grappled with the concept of ground, wondering if in clinging to the idea of ground, I might be limiting my perception of reality.  Kierra sought to share her insight, and an insight likely shared by Gabrielle Roth—the creator of the 5Rhythms practice—that the ground is always there; and that it is possible to find the ground even in an earthquake.  Instead of only finding the ground in Flowing, where we traditionally establish it, Kierra lead me to also consider finding it through releasing into Chaos.  My idea of “the ground” as Gabrielle Roth intended it continues to evolve, but I realize that the idea of ground is compatible with the realization that absolutely everything is in constant, dynamic flux; and that there is truly nothing to cling to.  The ground is the foundation, from which we hear and trust our instinctive, physical selves, and from which we come to trust the fundamental correctness and workability of reality.  Truly, finding the ground and being at ease through releasing into Chaos is a powerful tool, as we seek to navigate (at minimum) the next four years.

Driving alone to a 5Rhythms class, my first since the election, I bawled and keened, my face contorted, tears streaming down my cheeks to the point that my skin actually started to itch from all of the salt.  My mind raced, “Would I choose to leave the US?  What steps would I have to take?  Is there anywhere in the western world that is exempt from this impulse toward xenophobia and aggression, this reaction to globalism?  Should I stay and be part of the resistance?  What would the resistance be?  What would happen to all the people without insurance?  Would my son be safe from racism, hatred and violence?  Would New York City be safe, once Trump started provoking countries around the world?  Would I lose my job as a result of recession?  Would my friends lose their jobs?  Would all of my parents’ lifelong hard work for social justice be wiped away, just as they are growing old, beginning to tally their contributions?  Would they lose heart and lose faith?  Would I?  Do all of the people who voted for Trump hate women?  Do all of the people who voted for Trump hate me?  Do they all think that the sexual trauma I have suffered in my own life is no big deal and that the pain I have struggled with for a lifetime is just someone’s lark—locker room pranks—without accountability?  And how, in this crazy world, would I counter this monstrous influence on my small son?  Is there any way to protect him?”  I had no schema for any of this.  Through years of diligent practice, I had developed powerful faith in the basic goodness of human beings.  How could I reconcile these seemingly contradictory realities?

Arriving at class, I took my time to enter the studio, noticing the powerful ritual of stepping from the world into the space of formal practice.  I was not wracked by grief.  There was no catharsis, as I had in a way hoped for.  Instead, the group moved through the first wave, breathing in and out, trying our best to release into Flowing and then into each of the other rhythms.  I noticed that my version of Flowing was agitated, and I made an effort to slow down, to let it in.  To let in the reality of my stress and grief-wracked body, and the reality of the outcome of the election, which I still could not fully grasp.  Staccato barely arrived in this first wave, finding me fumbling, unsure of my feet for once, disassociated, perhaps still in the throes of shock despite my stated willingness to let in. Chaos was loud and energetic, though mental activity continued to churn, in disjointed snippets and unruly threads.  The tiniest hint of Lyrical emerged, and it crossed my mind that somehow I would have to find a way to let joy in, too, despite everything, or I would lose four years of my life, perhaps even causing an atrophy of joy that I would not recover from.  I reminded myself that expressing joy is not an intrinsic affront to suffering, and that being miserable, angry or sad wouldn’t help me to control anything.  It would just make me miserable or angry or sad.  Whether I find Lyrical or not—the situation is very much outside of my control.

On Wednesday morning, arriving to work, I went straight to my one strong work ally.  Hugging him, I sobbed.  Although there were a few people there who were also devastated by the results of the election, I felt very alone, both at work and in the context of the country.  On parting, I said, “This is a call to arms.  We must each become a warrior of the heart.  That is our only hope at this point.  As of today, any kindness is now an act of political resistance.”

At the class, I felt like a whole layer of neurosis had become outdated, along with everything else that happened before November 8, 2016.  Most of the people I was moving with were allies, and could be trusted.  Petty irritations seemed extra pointless, considering the need to build community.  Despite this, some irritations did arise, and I wondered if they were a last sprint of a certain kind of ego, or if they might be a way for my psyche to work on some things that I couldn’t manage to confront directly.

In the interim between the two waves, I sat leaning in a little pod with a small group of friends who happened to be seated near me; then, began to flow back-to-back with one friend, at first just gently swaying from side to side.  I was still disassociated and not capable of fully releasing to ground, but did my best to show up for my friend and for myself.  Eventually gaining our feet, we moved around each other with great energy, then smiled thankfully, beginning to move separately throughout the room.  I spent part of this wave considering disaster preparedness, with a long list of specifics, despite the shared intention to really see each other, to really give to each other.  In Staccato, I found ferocity in bursts, but still felt disassociated.  I partnered with one friend, and marveled at her fire.  Inspired, I grew gigantic, too, forcing it ever so slightly, trying it as an experiment, an intention, rather than as my full expression in that moment.  Even so, I recognized the need to step up in every way, to step into my power, to help the people around me to step into their power, to organize, to defy, to build community, to speak, to listen, to offer, to receive.

Today, as I write, I have a bone infection in my jaw.  It is incredibly painful.  Instead of succumbing to self-pity, I remind myself that there are many people around the world who at this very moment are also experiencing excruciating dental pain.  Maybe also on top of other kinds of pain, too. The great Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron teaches a Tibetan meditation practice called Tonglen.  In Tonglen, instead of resisting or pushing away pain, negativity or other afflictive emotions, we breathe them in.  Then, we breathe out equanimity, positivity and pleasant emotions. In the process, we work against our conditioned impulse to push away what threatens us, frightens us, or rocks our fundamental notions of who we are.  In doing so, we transform our relationship to aversion—the energetic pushing away or non-acceptance of things we usually can’t escape anyway.  An aspect of Tonglen that acts as a counter to despair is that we remind ourselves again and again that we are not alone, that whatever pain we are experiencing, there are countless others who feel or have felt the same pain.  As such, it is impossible not to call to mind the billions of people who suffer or have suffered under the leadership of corrupt, greedy, dishonest or incompetent leaders.  I am not alone.  We are not alone.

I have been very careful to write about the nation as “we,” though it is a stretch for me at this moment.  One sneaky form of aversion is setting up a group of people as “others” who are distinct from “us.”  This is a fundamental premise of postmodern identity politics and of post-colonial theory—the idea that in order to construct ourselves a certain way, we set up groups of people as “others” as a counterpoint to the “us.” It is like we can only have an identity by defining who does not have our identity, excluding certain people from our experience completely. I am using “we,” and thinking of the many complex causes that gave rise to this moment, rather than succumbing to the temptation to simply revile Trump’s supporters to make them “other.”  Truly, this is a phenomenon that all of us have participated in producing.  This place we find ourselves is not an anomaly, and is not simply the result of someone else’s misconduct.

The Black and Latino man I wrote of earlier and who is one of my most important allies again shared his thoughts on the current political moment, reminding me very much of the teachings on the shadow aspects of the 5Rhythms.  He said, “The thing is, people of color have always known it was this bad.  It always has been.  The good thing is that we know that the only way to change things is to first actually accept how bad things are.  That’s the thing that white people just haven’t realized; and that’s why so many people are so shocked.  It is only when we can really accept what is actually happening that real change can finally occur.”

Gabrielle Roth often expressed that the rhythm of our time is Chaos.  As volatile as it inevitably has been, she believed that our era is also marked by possibility and creativity.  I try to imagine what she would say now, if she were still alive.  Perhaps that no matter what, we have to keep moving.  Perhaps that to shut down and lock up would be the real death of us.  Perhaps that the best way to work with Chaos is to release directly into the middle of it.  Perhaps that, ultimately, nothing and no one can take away our freedom or peace of mind, unless we ourselves allow it.

Rending, guttural screams flew through the space as we moved in Chaos.  I found the floor, pulsing vigorously through my middle back, on my hands and knees and crouched into the hips with my pubis almost touching the ground, then I would leap and spin, finding all the while stops and edges inside my own maelstrom.  The friend who was so ferocious in Staccato moved with just as much vigor right next to me.  I moved to the floor and up from it, leaping quickly, perhaps in a primal defensive gesture, landing first in a deep squat, bursting upward, my head a car on the speeding rollercoaster of my spine, then moved back to the ground.  I remembered Kierra’s words about releasing into Chaos, and as the rhythm played out I found more softness, less edge.  If I was tempted to check myself out of this intensity, I reminded myself of the critical importance of releasing to Chaos as a tool for survival.

Lyrical came, too, and then Stillness.  I partnered with a friend who I love to dance with, and we beamed as we moved together, more expansive than in our past dances.  High up on my toes and both finding discrete patterns, we played in and out of each other’s orbits.  In Stillness, I moved unselfconsciously, pulling away from a friend who wanted to partner, giving myself a quiet moment to turn inward.

Though there will be times that we all need to turn inward, community has become critical.  Right before the election, I had invited several friends to a series of dinner parties because I had realized the need to re-focus my priorities on the people around me, rather than on my very stressful job.  Now, after the election, having a way to gather together and cultivate our relationships seems even more important—in fact, like a matter of emotional and political necessity.

At the height of dental pain, I decided to take a yoga class.  I reasoned that I would try it, and if it was impossible I would just leave.  The pain was an 8 or 9 on a scale of 1-10 most of the time, but at moments it receded to the back of my mind, as I attended diligently to the poses and to the breath.  I was surprised that I made it through the entire class, despite the pain.  The teacher, who I trust deeply, said, “It might be hard to hear this right now, but the truth is that we are made for these times.  This is what we have been practicing for.”

On Saturday, I attended a candlelight vigil and rally at Fort Greene Park, where thousands of all races, classes, ages, religions and orientations came together to affirm our commitment to oppose injustice and hatred in all its manifestations, to affirm our commitment to love, and to support each other in resisting the temptation to feel isolated or incapacitated.  A heartful voice sang out, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…” We all joined in, raising our candles in the falling night.  My voice was ragged, the words barely coherent.  A friend from the neighborhood I hadn’t realized was right next to me turned and embraced me.  I looked to my other side and saw another friend—this one from college in Boston—and I turned and kissed her cheek.

We are not alone, my loves.  We are in this together.  In the words of the woman whose light guides me, the woman who continues to show my heart the way, Gabrielle Roth, “There is only one of us here.”

November 13, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC

(Image is a photo I took at the “Vigil for Hope & Human Kindness” that took place in Fort Greene Park on November 12, 2016)

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

Sweat Your Prayers, Dance Your Pain & Move On

“Take a minute to notice what you’re arriving with,” said 5Rhythms teacher Amber Ryan as she started the Sweat Your Prayers class today with a long, attenuated period of tonal music.  I found a spot on the floor in the northeast corner of the studio, nearest to the home of the late Gabrielle Roth—the founder of the 5Rhythms practice.  As the music unfolded, Amber also encouraged us to set an intention for our dance today, and to offer as many prayers as occurred to us during the dance.  Instantly, a flurry of prayers arose, ending with the simplest and most complex of prayers—a wish for self love.

I lay on back, and drew my legs gently in to my torso, noting a sore back, and resolving to move gently to avoid injuring it further.  On Friday, before Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class I had made the same resolution. That day, I had carried a heavy backpack all day, assisting with a field trip for my six-year-old son, Simon’s, camp, then traipsed around with him after. On the way home, he crashed his bike into the sidewalk and I had flung myself off my bike to run to his aid.  My neck hurt, my back hurt.

Shortly after I began to move in Friday’s class, the pain disappeared completely.  In fact, the neck pain was totally gone until yesterday afternoon when I got a $175 parking ticket—at which point the pain returned with a vengeance.  The back pain stayed disappeared until a giant wave knocked Simon and me over at the beach, after we had been playing and diving over and through the waves for nearly an hour.  Alone, I would just release and let the wave toss me around until I found which way was up, but Simon is an emerging swimmer; and (despite his protestations) I clung to his swim shirt, holding on as the wave overtook us, moving heavily into my back again during this maneuver (though we ended with tumbling smiles).

Today for the Sweat Your Prayers class I shared the elevator to the 5th floor dance studio with a friend.  “How are you?” I asked.  She said, “Well, I can finally make eye contact,” and explained that she’d been very sad recently.  “I did wonder when I saw you on Friday if there might be something going on.”  I had danced up to her, usually a joyful encounter, but she kept her eyes down, her head tilted forward.  I got the message immediately that she wanted privacy and moved to give her the space she seemed to need.

There is so much information in the way we use our eyes.  Early in my dance career, I thought it would be rude to make direct eye contact with other dancers, like it would be an intrusion, and might break the aesthetic trance they were immersed in.  Now, it is when I feel like I need to keep to myself that I avert my eyes.  Or if for some reason I can’t or don’t want to invite someone in.  Or if I am listening carefully to something that is going on inside.  I note with interest that the people who partner the most seem also to be the people who make the most eye contact.  Lately, I make gentle eye contact with everyone I encounter, even people I pass on the street.  Some days, I feel like everyone in New York and I are in on a private joke, our eyes glittering with the juiciness of it.

After considerable time stretching in gentle circles, I attained my feet and began to move slowly through the room, staying out of my edges completely, especially the edges in my back.  I set the intention to see everyone, saying silently, “I see you there; and I am grateful for it.”  (A meditation adapted from a practice taught by the Zen master, Thich Nhat Hahn.)  I looked up from my looping circles, meeting some eyes and not meeting others, but taking the time to notice each person.  The point was not eye contact, but seeing, noticing and acknowledging the presences of the people in the room.  The slow, thick music continued for some time as each of us found our individual ground, and as we established a ground as a class.

Pain did not disappear so much as fade from the front of my experience.  I still felt a bit of tenderness in the back, but as I released into the wave it was a far-off echo.  I marveled at this.  Once, I was barely able to walk I was so gimped from dancing ferociously on the first day of a three-day workshop.  Somehow I hobbled into the studio on day two, unable to imagine how I could possibly move.  Miraculously, as soon as the music started, the experience of physical pain completely reversed.  I spent the remaining two days alternating between soaring and flying; and the pain never returned. The biographer of Dipa Ma, a highly realized teacher in the Buddhist Vipassana tradition who did not begin meditation practice until after the age of 40, wrote that before learning to meditate, Dipa Ma experienced such intense physical and emotional pain—including a severe heart problem—that she could only drag herself to the monastery temple where she would practice meditation by crawling up the stairs.  After learning meditation, she walked upright, free of pain.

This is not to stay that 5Rhythms practice always makes pain disappear, certainly the opposite has happened to me, too; but I am grateful and amazed for the times that pain has suddenly left me, and wonder about the mechanisms of pain’s disappearance.

Another related example occurs to me.  I have had the experience on many occasions that I have been on a chilly beach or other inspiring outdoor site practicing sitting meditation.  I might meditate for an hour or more in these cases.  Immediately after I decide that I am “done” meditating, the cold rushes in, the wind starts to bite, and I can no longer bear to be subject to the elements.  What would it be like if, like Dipa Ma, I could sustain whatever was happening during the “official” period of meditation and generalize it to other areas of my life?  And, significant to our consideration here, what are the internal and external factors at play when pain totally disappears as soon as I step in to the dance?  (In other words, how can I get me some more of that!)

Once the long, slow arriving began to transform, the class picked up like a windstorm.  As Amber told us at the end, she led us through four consecutive mini-waves in the two-hour class.  (In contrast, most two-hour waves classes feature just two waves, separated by a break between the two.)

I noticed that I often decide to hold myself back in a given rhythm before charging on to the next one, especially with Flowing.  Today, I wasn’t always aware of which rhythm we were in.  I thought I really needed to work on something in Staccato; and when I finally let myself leave Flowing and move into Staccato, it seemed like I barely registered Staccato as Staccato before we were moving into Chaos.

The big, nasty parking ticket the day before gave me some insight into aspects of Staccato that I need to repair.  I was on a beach trip to celebrate my friend’s birthday and she suggested her favorite beach. We saw a line of cars parked on the side of the road.  Also, farther down, a red sign that said, “No Standing.”  My friend went to ask the people in a car ahead of us if they knew it was a legal place to park.  “We’ve never been here before actually.  But they can’t tow all of us!” was their jocular response.  Though squeamish, I wanted to honor my friend’s birthday wish; and we gathered our things for the long walk to Fort Tilden Beach. Returning a few hours later, though I was happy to find that the car had not been towed, my smile faded seconds later when I found a prison-orange parking ticket crammed under the driver’s side windshield wiper.  Two separate violations were checked—totaling $175.

I knew it was a bad idea.  I got the message from my body.  My friend would not have cared at all if I said, “This is not a good idea.  Let’s go to the other beach instead.”  Instead, perhaps influenced by an internalized voice of someone who was close to me for a long time, I wanted so much to be NOT controlling that I overdid it.  I knew the best course of action, but I swallowed it.  The problem was not so much about having the confidence to speak, as it was about having the confidence to own my knowledge and intuition, instead of talking myself out of it for some stupid identity reason.  Not just getting the message, but clearing the channel into proper expression—the skillful application of Staccato.

Lately, I have been considering the continuum between following what feels like intuition and fully taking on each rhythm as it comes, even when it seems counter-intuitive.  Since today I often didn’t know which rhythm we were in, the only thing I could do was move with what felt right.

Although I have fallen in love with Flowing and with the ground in recent years, sometimes the mandate of finding the ground feels like a heavy responsibility.  I know that if I don’t take the time to really find the ground—what is a better way to put this?  I know if I don’t take the time to fully arrive in my body and in my senses, and take the time to slow down and open my awareness to how my own body relates with the environment I exist in—that it is not responsible to move on to another rhythm.  That would be to risk causing harm.  The ground—and I mean ground in this broad sense—is what protects you and the people around you.  Until you find the ground, as Jonathan Horan, Gabrielle Roth’s son and the current holder of the 5Rhythms lineage said, “There is no point in moving on.” I’m not sure why, for me, sometimes, I make it into a “should,” rather than just receiving it as a blessing.  It’s kind of like being in a conversation and just waiting to get your point in, rather than patiently listening to the other person’s words.  Committing to finding the ground first even when I want to charge ahead to Staccato and to Chaos is an example of taking on the rhythms and experimenting with resisting my automatic responses, rather than always going with what feels comfortable.  I think the trick is to distinguish between the pull of conditioned responses and the wisdom of intuition—a key distinction that will be different in every new set of circumstances.

Chaos—off and on—as it came, was delightful today.  Continuing to stay out of my edges, I was as totally released as I can be at this time.  We are often taught that Chaos is a fusion of Flowing and Staccato; and today my version of Chaos was much closer to Flowing, though without any of its weight.  As we moved into Lyrical, I noticed not only the friend I had seen in the elevator crying, but many others crying, too.  Though I avoided the deep arcing bows into the ground that I so love, I found glorious flight, high onto my toes, twittering and soaring, at once quirky and extended, aloft, majestic.

I stepped into a smiling dancer who is new to me and started to cry myself, like so many in today’s class.  The fronts of her shoulders were exceptionally open.  I tried on her gesture, and realized how much you have to open the front shoulders to release the heart.  I continued to experiment with the generous arm and shoulder gestures that were inspired by this brief dance for the rest of the class.  I also noticed that my diaphragm, which is a part of my body where I typically hold stuck energy, was released today.  That spot has not fully let in air for a very long time, but today it was open, clean.

There was something of a pause after one of the Stillnesses; and I began to move in circles with a friend.  Amber marked the start of this wave, beginning an instruction with, “As the end becomes the beginning again…”  Both of us spun, moving more quickly than much of the honey-slow room.  Her spine undulated, released in all directions.  Collectively, the exchange went up several notches and we both broke into open-mouthed smiles as our spins began to find weight and we stepped in and out, behind and around, still moving in unending circles.  As the song shifted toward Staccato, my friend moved to the other side of the room.  Smiling, I followed her for one more pass.  As Flowing transitioned to Staccato, I stepped into the field of another friend, very close, extremely gently.  We found a tiny, timeless pocket of Stillness, breathing so fully it seemed breathless, sharing a minute portal; then we each spun back into the collective field.

Amber invited us to return to the intention that we set at the beginning as the class drew to a close, the room joyful, moving out of a drum-heavy Hindu chant.  In the final phase of Stillness, I moved unselfconsciously, silently enacting an energetic Buddhist practice that feels like home for me.

Amber concluded the class with a ritual (one of her great strengths as a teacher).  We sat in a large circle, then Amber asked us to notice the person to our left and the person to our right.  We then were told to hold our left hand facing up and our right hand facing down, so they lined up with our neighbors’ hands, without actually touching.  We sat there, receiving and offering, generating energy and filtering everything through the heart, for a few minutes.

Self love seemed more available.  Pain seemed unimportant.  The world seemed workable.  My heart felt full.  The circle dissolved, the class dissolved.

In the hall, I saw the friend I had taken the elevator with before class who shared that she had been terribly sad.  She was smiling even as she pulled a clean shirt over her head, shining, apparently pain free, or at least having a break from it.

“Sweat your prayers, dance your pain and move on.” –Gabrielle Roth

August 22, 2016, NYC

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

Extreme Heat, Releasing the Neck & Doing Great Things

Heat lightning ripped through the grey-purple sky as I was driving to the Friday Night Waves class.  Looking down my Brooklyn street to the East River a bolt jagged to the right and down, next to a looming metal crane.  Crossing the blue expanse of the Manhattan Bridge, lightning danced in fractured lines on both sides of me.  I felt sure the sky would explode with rain at any moment, though the clouds only managed to squeeze out a few frustrated drops.

In the week leading up to the class and in the days following, the entire city wilted.  Even bodies usually kept concealed have emerged and the edges of our garments have crept toward their seams. I have been doing errands in a bra and skirt, for example; and I did yoga today in a bathing suit. My parents came to visit and we all had a slumber party in the one air conditioned room of the apartment.  Nearly everyone has a similar dominant experience; and the heat is the main topic of conversation everywhere. I love the feeling of shared challenge and the remarkableness of it, but it has definitely been intense.

A few days before the class, I had a dream in which I knew that I was dying.  Some of my friends were going on a bike ride in the heat.  Though I was tempted to join, I opted to conserve my energy instead and write notes to everyone I love.  Lately, I have felt a generalized dissatisfaction, like I should be doing something other than what I am doing, like I am craving something that I can’t quite pinpoint.  I had a painful insight that when I get edgy with my six-year-old son, Simon, because he is taking too long to do a task, the root of my edginess is really a fear of failure.  Fear that if I waste time, I will fail to create markers of my experience and identity.  That I will die anonymous and therefore succumb completely to death—total annihilation.  The dream seemed to re-set my priorities, and I experienced a deepening of meditation practice.  I remembered, if only briefly, that now is my only hope.

I hadn’t realized that Tammy would be away this week; but I was happy to see Kierra Foster Ba at the teacher’s table in her place.  The air conditioners were on, but it was HOT. Seriously hot.  Again, like many, I wore less clothing than usual.  Stepping in, I bowed to the room and to the practice, then found a spot on the floor to stretch.  I was quickly called to movement, casting into curving, arcing gestures.  I found myself doing my current version of breakdancing—athletic circling, rising and falling, putting as much weight on my hands as on my feet, moving in unending circles and arcs.

I would have thought that breakdancing would appear in Staccato, as I see it as edgy and expressive, but for me it has only ever appeared in Flowing.  I recall an episode that happened not long after I started dancing the 5Rhythms—at a gallery event that turned into an all-night dance party.  One of the biggest obstacles I faced in the beginning of my 5Rhythms path was that I was painfully constricted—trying very hard not to be too big, too unruly, too attention-getting—trying to keep a lid on my explosive inner Chaos.  Having just fallen in love with 5Rhythms, I danced every bit as gigantic as I felt.  And everyone else did, too!  I realized that it is possible that dancing every inch of my dance (not to be confused with dancing gigantic just to get everyone’s attention) could give everyone else permission to dance every inch of their dance, too.  A moment from the gallery dance party that lives delightfully in my memory was when I did the worm across the entire length of the gallery, jumping to my feet in peals of laughter at the opposite wall, amongst friends, who also delightfully trotted out their favorite moves.

Taking to my feet, I flowed through the room with the intention of seeing everyone in attendance.  I thought of a man I met earlier in the day in downtown Brooklyn.  He sat on the sidewalk, with a money-request-cup and a sign that listed the important events of his life.  “Father died.  Grandmother died…” There was also a copy of a newspaper article, “Boy Survives Fall Out of 6th Story Building.”  “Are you the boy that fell out the window?” I asked.  He looked at me and nodded and his words began to tumble out.  I realized how much he wanted to be seen, and thought about how true that is for most of us.  Wanting to be seen.  Really seen.  Not just looked at.  Holding my brand new baby niece, I thought about that fundamental human wish again, as she opened her tiny eyes and in just a few moments of concentrating her tiny baby gaze, seemed to see all of me, everything that is important about me, completely.

Flowing lead to Staccato before long.  I noted that my right foot had a slight flatness, in comparison to its usual articulation, but it didn’t stop me from jumping into partnership after partnership—including with one lanky friend who always challenges me to stretch upward and into the farthest reaches of my limbs.

My top lip curled ever so slightly in response to an outburst of yelling from one corner of the dance floor.  Kierra picked up the microphone right away and said, “This is a spiritual practice. There is no talking.”  I am often impressed by Kierra’s non-didactic approach, and on this occasion I was just as impressed by her pointedness.

Chaos in the first wave found me energetic, spinning, loose.  Kierra played a track with tribal chaos rhythms mixed with a riff from Buena Vista Social Club; and I responded with enthusiasm and vigor despite the fact that I was already drenched with sweat.

In the context of the current presidential campaign season, my father has been saying, “In public life, there are two kinds of people: those who want to be somebody great, and those who want to do great things.”  This quote came to mind as Kierra began to speak in the interlude between the first and the second wave of the class.  “This is not a performance,” she said.  “This is a spiritual practice.  It’s for you.  Not for anyone else.  I challenge you to move beyond your self-consciousness, to not worry at all about how you look.”  I don’t think she was talking about self-consciousness just as shyness (as it often implies) but, rather, self-consciousness in the sense that you are very preoccupied with how others are seeing you, perhaps losing the center and depth of your own experience in the process.

Kierra stepped forward to demonstrate through moving what a 5Rhythms wave looked like for her in that moment.  She moved with grace and vigor as she explained to the eight brand new dancers in the room (and to the rest of us) that the gateway to Flowing is the feet; and that Flowing is characterized by unending, circular movement.  She began to move more sharply and to forcefully exhale.  “Staccato is really the opposite of Flowing.  It is directional, angular.  It is a good place to practice having good boundaries.”

At this point, Kierra digressed productively, encouraging us to fully take on the 5Rhythms, “especially if you have a strong will, and you always want to do things your way.  For example, you might want to be in the beat, but it’s Flowing—so you flow; and see what’s there, in your flow.  See what’s there for you.”  The suggestion to fully take on the 5Rhythms is, in my experience, incredibly useful advice.  In addition to Kierra, I have heard this theme emphasized by 5Rhythms teachers countless times, including Amber Ryan, Peter Fodera, and certainly by Tammy Burstein.  There are times that it is skillful to track the minute shifts of energy that take place moment by moment and to follow every fleeting impulse, but more often, part of the discipline of practice—the seeds that eventually yield the harvest—is to take on the 5Rhythms fully, with the intention of being curious and seeing what comes.  It is especially in the receptivity or resistance to a given rhythm that we mine for insights—information we would never uncover if we were always to simply follow our immediate, conditioned impulses.

Demonstrating the requisite release of the head in Chaos, Kierra said something I had never heard before: that we have some sort glands both in our foot pads and in our necks that release endorphins, which is one reason circling the head and neck are important in several religious traditions—such as Sufi whirling.  This made perfect sense to me, as I have often been flooded with delightful natural chemicals in the throes of Chaos.

The release of my neck has been one of life’s little miracles.  When I first began 5Rhythms, my neck was totally locked.  At the end of a yoga class, it was agony to lay prone on the floor because it was so pinched.  Instructors often asked, “Are you ok like that? Really?”  Gradually, thanks to the 5Rhythms, my neck began to free itself.  As it becomes more and more free, moving sometimes with alarming intensity in the rhythm of Chaos, so too, does my mind seem to grow more free.  Whenever I feel discouraged by lack of progress on my path, the relative freedom of my neck reminds me of how far I have traveled, how ripe I am for catharsis, and how readily it comes.

Continuing with the litany of the rhythms, the rhythm of Lyrical, Kierra said, “Will look different for everyone.”  All the rhythms will look different for everyone! But Lyrical in particular, since in Lyrical we let go of the letting go (of Chaos) and our innate patterns begin to emerge.

Kierra shared an example that Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, used to offer at workshops.  Gabrielle said she would occasionally be washed over with sadness, even when she was in the throes of joy. Over time, she was able to locate the energy of this particular sadness to her wrist.  Finally, after working with the sadness for a long period, she got the memory connected to it.  As Kierra put it, “She was very young, pre-verbal even, and she had been told to wave good-bye to her father.  She was bereft because she didn’t understand that he was coming back.  She thought she was waving good bye to her father forever.”

As she moved on to demonstrate Stillness, Kierra said, “Sometimes when people first come to the 5Rhythms, they see a big, fun dance party.  And it is that!  It is that.  But it is also so much more.”  Kierra explained that once you faithfully go through all of the rhythms, eventually you will get to a trance.  She recalled something Gabrielle would often say, “The body is begging bowl for spirit.”  In that place, according to your beliefs and experiences, you will be moving with something much larger than yourself.  For example, for Kierra, she becomes aware that she is moving along with her ancestors.  This is very much true for me, too.  It is in Stillness that I realize I have an entire spirit entourage, that I am not alone in this existence.  I have often heard Kierra talk about being interested in “going deep” in practice, and as I reflect on her comments now I wonder if it is precisely this field she has been pointing toward.

Like nearly everyone in the room, I ended the night in a sweaty puddle on the floor that has held me literally hundreds of times.  Kierra concluded the class with one of Gabrielle’s most famous quotes, and one of my personal favorites,

“Do you have the discipline to be a free spirit?”

August 14, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC

Image from derrickniehaus.deviantart.com.

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