The hardest part of my experience right now is parenting.
I don’t feel like I have the skill set for this. Some days my ten-year-old son, Simon, and I ricochet off of each other, caught in a cycle of reactivity. Today, he called me a “jerk” repeatedly, told me I’m “the worst parent in the world,” and told me he hates me. I said, “Sorry you feel that way.” When I asked if he preferred to go hiking or biking today, he screamed and cried at maximum volume, protesting. Sometimes I feel like he only wants to play video games (something I virtually prohibited before this time), and is trying to make life so miserable that I will just leave him to it. It’s true, too, that he is suffering with all the painful changes and uncertainty. I said, “Ok, I’m sorry you’re feeling this way. We’re leaving in ten minutes.”
And that was all just in the morning.
It hasn’t been easy to help him be active, especially since there are no other kids to wrestle or run with. Yesterday, we went to a big field with a kite, and took turns running to get it to fly. We laughed as it zigged and zagged, sprinting to avoid getting dive-bombed.
We also discovered a toad on the back deck, a phenomenon that delighted Simon.
So some days have been better than others.
For the time being, I’m parent, playmate, teacher, athletic coach, and, as he told me yesterday, “You’re my therapist, Mommy.”
Despite some nice moments mixed in with the challenging ones, by afternoon my patience was shot. I left Simon (after much coaxing) in a zoom meeting with his friends and in the care of my parents and went for a run.
I felt strong, my lungs expanded from anger, my leg muscles flushed with blood, preparing to fight or flee. Arriving at the soft trail by the Scantic River, I picked up my pace, trying to let my feet relax completely with each pounding step.
I did two fast loops, then decided to dance a 5Rhythms wave, choosing a sandy spot where I wasn’t visible to anyone. I turned in circles, gravitating to a flat spot. My brain rushed with the events of the past hour and of the day. I scanned my body, noting fire at the bottom of my esophagus, the seat of my anger at the moment. I also noticed my shoulder wasn’t moving much, and invited it into motion.
Gradually, more of my body joined the circling, and thinking started to settle down. I breathed in the anger I was experiencing, then started to breathe in the anger many parents are experiencing at this time, and to breathe out equanimity. I was practically gulping in air at this point. I also started to breathe in the fear that many parents are experiencing, and to breathe out equanimity, again. Then, I started to cry in big, jagged sobs and to wail. I realized I’m afraid that Simon will acquire habits that will lead to an unhappy life, that I’m afraid about the long-term effects of social isolation, and that I feel powerless in a situation that I very much wish to control.
I stayed a long time in Flowing, and when I finally did move into the second rhythm of Staccato, I could feel myself wanting to collapse. “I can’t” my mind kept saying. This time, I really had to rely on practice. I chose directions to move into, emphasized the out-breath, and gave my attention to the hips. Still, there was something in me that wanted to crumble, and something that kept my heart from being totally open. I gave myself permission to not know what to do, but kept trying to stay alive to the woods, to the rushing current, to the blue heron that took to the sky and landed on a branch nearby.
Schedule changes, different approaches, and different perspectives I could implement to improve things came to mind.
The third rhythm of Chaos surprised me in arriving. Today, I was ardent, giving myself to the fire with a great deal of energy. My head came loose and wheeled itself around, though there was still a hint of holding in the sides of my neck. I growled–crying, spitting, sweating. I started to move into the fourth rhythm of Lyrical, then pulled myself back, acknowledging the need for letting go today, and moved a little longer in intentional abandon.
Moving into Lyrical, I said out loud, “I give myself permission to be as light as possible.” The loudness of my breath, feet, and thoughts dissolved. Now even quieter, I could hear active rustling at the heights of the trees, the river gurgling around its obstacles, and birds calling to each other.
Stillness, the fifth rhythm, comes easily in this place, and I closed my eyes, continuing to move softly, breathing in and out with everything around me.
I was called to sitting meditation and settled myself down on the clean sand by the river. Still, even after all this catharsis and sweat, my mind felt unstable. After a period, I let go of meditating, shifting into just being. At that point, my mind became very precise. I noticed a dazzle in the far woods, rippling water, a subtle muscle release in my foot, pressure on my sit bones, tension in my shoulder, a flicker of thought, breath, the light on the water, rippling water again, tension in the jaw.
I was able to follow these shifts of attention with great agility.
Eventually, the sound of approaching hikers shook me from these depths and I set off for home, running back up the hill I ran down and returning to my parents’ house, feeling like I had a secret. The seemingly impossible challenges felt manageable again; and I had new insights about how to handle them.
When I arrived, I jumped straight into the shower, scrubbing myself down with a rough washcloth.
I reflected that I am open to working with so much that is difficult in my experience, but when it comes to parenting, there is something in me that refuses to have a growth mindset, that wants to retract, to refuse to accept that it’s both challenging and workable, and instead to shut down.
My mom came in as soon as I got out of the shower to report some challenges that had arisen while I was gone.
All of the space I had found in the woods seemed to collapse, and weight settled onto my chest again. My resolve crumbled, and I stepped back into the messy work of parenting, praying, for all the world, that I will somehow find a way, that I will stop saying, “I can’t” because there is no other option right now except “I must.”
May 23, 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.
For the last two nights, I’ve slept on my back. This despite being a side-sleeper for pretty much my whole life. I have a certain way of tucking the pillow into the side of my neck, settling in, and nestling my back up to a pillow or another body. But my shoulders suffer, and the asymmetry sets me up for all kinds of misalignments. I’ve tried re-training myself many times, but I let myself go back to what’s comfortable when sleep has eluded me. This time, I think I’m on track to finally interrupt this persistent habit.
Yesterday, I logged into a zoom class that a friend led. I love his facilitation style, but I just couldn’t get into it this time. I was already feeling shut-down and discouraged, possibly because of many coronavirus deaths in my work community. Then, during the afternoon something I said contributed to disequilibrium in a whatsapp group. I apologized, but it was too late. I wasn’t wrong, exactly, but it really wasn’t my business. I wished I had stayed quiet or been more supportive. Even my ten-year-old son, Simon, felt I was in the wrong.
For a minute, I started to make a case against the person, but that fell apart pretty quickly. Then I started to make a case against myself. How I’m a bad person, how no one really likes me anyway. I started to visit past experiences, focusing on my many regrets. And I thought about all the recent emails I’ve sent that haven’t been answered, seeing it as a sign that I’m not really included or approved of, totally disregarding the fact that many people are grieving, or intolerably stressed, or have their hands overfull and answering their emails isn’t a top priority.
I really wanted to quit the group. They probably don’t want me anyway, I reasoned. But I made a recent resolution to be more present and available in group friendships–something I have struggled with–and I decided to stick it out for awhile.
In Flowing, I rolled and stretched on the floor, keeping as much of me touching the ground as possible as I curled and flipped over, at times rolling over the back of my skull or laying flat, arms and legs outstretched, on my belly or back. On my feet, I let my arms gently follow and rub against the rest of me. I let my weight down into one foot at a time, seeing if I could connect with the center of the earth. During all of this, I was also thinking about feeling left out at work, and how to approach some of my tasks. These kinds of thought processes continued into Staccato, though I could see the pattern my mind was insisting on. In Chaos, I was more energetic, but still felt lackluster in terms of engagement. Lyrical found me briefly disengaged from persistent thinking, but still uninspired. I disconnected from the session as we moved into Stillness, and made a video for the students I teach.
The video was about how our habitual fear stories can build up and cause us to feel overwhelmed, and how it is important that we learn to cut through our thoughts by coming back to the present when we start to make a case against ourselves.
In the evening, I avoided the temptation to drink wine to have a break from the difficult feelings I was experiencing. Instead, I wrote, then meditated at length, wrapped in a blanket in a dark room, lit only by one candle from my altar. I watched related thoughts arise and fall away, still making a case against myself, still feeling shut down, but gaining a little distance, and was able to sleep peacefully.
Today, things felt a little easier.
Again, I was drawn into exchanges with the same whatsapp group, but I didn’t feel disliked or disincluded. In fact, I found the people who contributed very supportive and receptive. I shared that I had been tempted to quit the group, but decided to ride it out. In the past, I’ve been inclined to shut down quickly in group relationships, but this time I wanted to try something different. I’m curious to see where it will lead, and excited about another strong community to learn from and grow with.
My biggest block in practice yesterday was in Staccato, but today I felt more connected as I joined a group of close friends on a zoom dance.
The livestream class was very clear and direct, with the teacher naming each form of each rhythm as it arose. In Flowing, I spent some time creating a perfect white circle around my home dance floor, and casting a circle spell. Then, I lost myself in weighted spins, following my intuition even if it didn’t look like typical flowing movements. The teacher offered a challenge that engaged me and I reflected that good teaching is a process of refining attention by offering hooks and challenges for students to engage with, and eventually supporting them to create refinements and challenges for themselves.
In Staccato, I found edges and definition, sinking low in a howling yoga-goddess-pose again and again. In Chaos, spin was my thread, and I followed coiling, moving like a matrix, and flapping my head wildly as the expression of the spine in perpetual motion. In Lyrical I noticed that different dancers were highlighted on the zoom screen, and I moved in partnership with that specific dancer, assuming they, too, were seeing me. In Stillness I moved into vast space, noting the movements of clouds, the many birds I could see from the window, and wondering about arcane languages.
After Stillness drew to a close, we came together in conversation. My newly-created zoom pattern is that I bail as soon as the music stops. Often Simon is drawing me, but it might also be that I’m uncomfortable in this kind of group friendship. Today I enjoyed the conversation, contributing and listening patiently.
Why might it be helpful to interrupt our persistent habits? In general, defaulting to our rehearsed patterns (and the mind-stories that support how we currently see ourselves) functions to keep up trapped in our small sense of self, and our painful, futile efforts to sustain our fragile ego. At this time, our patterns are rocked, and we have the choice to either dig in and insist on them, or to see them in the clear light of day and change our way of relating to them.
If there is any value to be gathered from this time–though any consideration of value in the face of such devastation is surely an expression of privilege–it is that it is an opportunity to confront and interrupt our habits, certainly on an individual level, and I hope, I pray, I intend, on a societal level, that we may establish new habits, new ways to share resources, and new ways to value our myriad contributions.
April 16, 2020, Broad Brook, Connecticut
Things I wrote even two or three days ago seem so dated now. The pandemic is intensifying in this region.
I’m in the eleventh day of a 14-day quarantine in an apartment attached to my parents’ house, along with my ten-year-old son, Simon. We are in quarantine because we just came from Brooklyn, NYC, the epicenter of the United States coronavirus plague, and I’m afraid to expose my parents.
Fear, sadness, and anxiety come in waves.
My work is to teach meditation to teens in a Brooklyn High School, and in a matter of days, like many other teachers, I had to make the pivot to online teaching. I’ve been working tirelessly to engage my students, but at this point less than half are actively participating in the online class. So I sent an email to their parents to let them know their students’ status. One parent responded that she is working 12 hour shifts and it is hard to keep up with her child’s assignments.
I realized how insensitive my email was, given the circumstances.
Some of the parents of my students are low wage health care workers. Many are working long shifts caring for people infected with coronavirus, seeing up close how horrific the disease can be. They are risking their lives, day after day after day. Some are doing it because of altruism and a deep calling to serve. Some are doing it because they absolutely have to work, and do not have the resources to take any time off. Many are single parents.
This is a slap in the face about the real impact of bias in our society, and one of the infinite ways coronavirus is disproportionately impacting communities of color. I thought about the privilege of being able to withdraw from NYC, and the fact that there are many people who don’t have the same option.
And I’m seriously bugging parents about their kids doing their classwork. Really?
Some of my students have a parent or grandparent who already has the virus.
There is now an emergency tent hospital in the middle of central park. A US Navy hospital ship arrived Monday to help exhausted health care workers as they toil, often lacking even basic protective supplies.
In answer to a writing prompt, “What is one thing you wonder?” One student wrote, “I wonder if it’s even safe to go outside and get a breath of fresh air.”
Every day, I start with a period of meditation, before the sun is even up. I transported my entire altar box and all of its contents to our new location, and re-created the exact altar that I had in Brooklyn right before we left. I also brought many of my cherished books, and arranged them beautifully near the altar.
Lately, my morning meditation feels more like prayer than meditation, as I focus energy and attention on wishing health and safety for everyone I love and for all beings, mixed with other meditation practices and contemplations.
I have to clock in to work at 8:15 but most days I start long before, after taking a shower, trying my best to get Simon oriented to his schoolwork, and having breakfast.
I make sure we get outside at lunchtime, and again after my workday ends at 2:50. We play on the swing in the yard and laugh. Sometimes I can even convince Simon to play soccer or take a bike ride with me.
Yesterday, I heard my mom crying through the wall, and learned that the son of one of her friends is in hospice.
Today, she told me that my cherished great aunt is not doing well, either. Her 100th birthday is this spring, but since she has been isolated and has no visitors, and therefore nothing to anchor her to this world, she has been dissolving into spirit. She lives next door to my parents’ house, in the same house that she and my paternal grandfather grew up in with their parents, my great grandparents.
I wanted to run next door to support her in her transition. I rushed out in the direction of the house, without even a coat, and just stood there, crossing my arms to hold my sides, knowing that I couldn’t go in. That I wouldn’t have a chance even to say good-bye.
I was crying, of course. And Simon wanted to know why I was crying. I told him and he started crying, too. We went for a walk, talking about what happens after you die and sharing jokes. I brought up Gabrielle Roth, the mother of the 5Rhythms practice, and told him I didn’t think dying was so bad for her. He said, “Yeah, but she was this crazy witch dancer…” I didn’t respond but had to smile, at least for a moment.
I don’t know what I would do if it weren’t for practice. Most days I do yoga, which helps me to feel grounded and flexible.
I also dance the 5Rhythms for at least one wave a day. And I’ve been recording myself, which is a new habit. I can’t even keep the videos because they take up too much space, but it is interesting to watch myself when I play it back in the evening.
Today, Flowing did not come easily. It was hard to settle down, and I noticed that I wanted to move into Staccato quickly. Maybe there was just too much to let in today.
I can hear Simon talking with his friends on video chat throughout the video as I play it back…One source of private guilt is that pretty much all of the time that I’m in formal practice, he’s on a screen chatting with friends or playing Roblox with them. He blows through his schoolwork in under two hours most days.
At the start of the video, I squat in front of the altar and dedicate my practice to my ailing great aunt, Mae Grigely, and acknowledge the power of practicing for someone else.
Staccato never fully ignites today, either.
In Chaos I come alive though, with speed, resistance, release, and wild surrender, spinning and letting momentum fling me to all kinds of edges. The gap when the beat drops out seems to be when I get the most creative.
The Chaos Lyrical song I chose is 165 beats per minute, and I twitter wildly, racing to express the layered, exploding sounds. I pause briefly and leave the room to address one of Simon’s questions, then resume this ultra fast dance, responding more and more to the melody and less to the wild rhythm and rising upward as the track evolves.
In the second Lyrical track I am transported, moving with soaring undulations, the afternoon sun in one vertical rectangle catching different parts of my body as I move.
In Lyrical Stillness I cry throughout the track, singing part of the lyric in jagged gasps. I cry again watching myself. I look so alive and so sad. My heart was broken in this part, is broken.
“Ewwwwww!” Simon screams from the other room, for some unknown reason.
I whisper-sob through the last song, sensing my grandfather, who once lived in the very room that I am dancing in. He loved the ocean, and would make the Christian sign of the cross as he waded into the sea. He would fold his hands behind his head, cross his ankles, and float on the bobbing waves for long periods with his face to the clouds. He was a man of few words, but I always thought this was a kind of prayer for him.
I end in a squat in front of the altar, as I had started, dedicating the merit of my practice to my aunt and to all beings everywhere.
Today, this period seems more like a time of survival than of possibility. One of my meditation teachers led an online practice and talk tonight, and he reminded us to do what we can to stay connected to our humanity. My practices encourage me to open to the reality I’m immersed in, knowing that every moment is a chance to deepen in my ability to be present, even when it is uncomfortable, stressful, painful, or sheer agony.
In the words of Pema Chӧdrӧn in Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, “If you can stay present in even the most challenging circumstances, the intensity of the situation will transform you. When you can see even the worst of hells as a place where you can awaken, your world will change dramatically.”
May it be so. Blessed be.
March 31, 2020, Broad Brook, CT
(Photo1: military.com, photo2: News7)
“Mommy, why do you cry so much?”
That’s the quote I remember most from this week.
I was trying so hard to step up for my students. I kept spending hours creating materials and assignments, then realizing I had done everything wrong and having to start over. I spent almost an entire day trying to figure out how to use google hangouts. I also created usernames and passwords for countless websites, trying to learn everything at once.
I felt an enormous amount of work pressure, and have been asking myself hard questions about if it’s being put on me, or if it’s pressure I’m actually putting on myself.
At the same time, I’m managing Simon’s learning, cringing with the fear that he will lose half a year of learning, and cringing more at all the video games he has been logging hours on, as a way to connect with his friends. And feeling the pain and sadness and grief of so much societal loss, and fearing personal loss, too.
Today is day 8 of 14 days of quarantine. It’s Saturday, and I slept until 9, instead of waking up at 6:15, as on weekdays. After breakfast, I did yoga practice for nearly two hours while Simon chatted online and played video games with friends.
Simon and I tried to do the online zoom version of the NYC Sweat Your Prayers 5Rhythms class, but by the time we logged on the class was already wrapping up. Instead, I put on a wave I’d played a few days before. Simon was half-hearted at first, feeling pulled by his video games and friend chats, but we started a dancing game of throwing a shirt at each other and trying to dodge it, and he managed to stay engaged throughout the wave.
Living 24-7 in quarantine in the apartment attached to my parents’ house that was created for my grandparents has been tender. I have always had hesitant excursions to this place, sitting to talk at length with my grandmother when she was frail and with limited mobility, crossing through to retrieve something from the refrigerator when the main house was full and we were cooking for a holiday. Most of life seemed to happen next door, at my parents’ though.
Now, as we are in quarantine, I have a whole new perspective. It is a beautifully designed four-room apartment that is easy to keep clean, and I am grateful for how it has held us. I feel close to my grandmother, my grandfather, and also to my brother, who lived here for a period. And though it hasn’t always been easy, I’ve been grateful for the time with my son, who will enter the teen years soon.
In terms of dream analysis, previously unused rooms now put to use represent finding new layers of consciousness, and new layers of potential.
The world is shifting.
We are in a parenthesis.
It is a period of chaos, fear, and reckoning. As painful as it is, especially for those grieving personal losses, it is also a time of great possibility. A time when we can remember what really matters, when we can collaborate on a new vision, one in which the earth is revered as sacred, where presence is valued above achievement, and where we can prioritize love and community as our greatest wealth.
March 28, Broad Brook, Connecticut
(Photo: dataisbeautiful on reddit)