Inverse Operations, Love Songs & The Pain of Living


I have had Amber Ryan’s “Examine Stillness” workshop on my calendar for over a year. When I first spotted the date on Amber’s calendar, I emailed her, thinking it was a typo. She responded, letting me know it would take place in 2015, not 2014, and that the date was correct. I noted it right away, and have looked forward to it since that time. I am dismayed and, indeed, angry, to report that I was not able to attend today.

I emailed the workshop producer yesterday to let her know that I would not be able to attend as I was ill, and, too, that I have to take a big test tomorrow afternoon and need to study. I am feeling slightly better physically, but the test still looms. I have been teaching Global History and English in a high school in Brooklyn; and (in part because of a clerical mistake) I recently learned that I have to take and pass several exams in order to continue teaching. The one I am facing tomorrow is a Math test. The test includes Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Statistics, Functions and Calculus. I took remedial Math when I was an undergraduate, and struggled even then. I already failed the test once, but was determined to beat it this time, and have immersed myself in studying for the past several weeks.

I don’t know if I am writing now because I am taking a break or if it is because I have given up. I am still struggling to master high school Algebra, never mind the higher-level concepts I will surely encounter on the test.

Peter Fodera taught Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class this week. I was not feeling well, but decided to attend and move gently, giving myself permission to leave early if I needed to. Arriving to an already active room, I flowed right in, even feeling joy and excitement as I found a safe spot for my belongings and began to move in the collective field.

During that afternoon, I had found myself sobbing after two days of school parent-teacher conferences. I sat with a co-teacher, receiving parents of our shared students both Thursday night and Friday afternoon. I was happy to offer compliments and good news to some parents; and also offered targeted suggestions when called for.

More notable was what the parents and students were bringing to us. It doesn’t feel correct to publish the specifics, but the hours were filled with stories of death, illness, abuse, challenges and sadness. Too, they were filled with resolve and the intention to persevere and thrive, but what lingered in the air was the tone of pain.

After the final session had ended I saw a student in the hallway. He introduced the family member who had come to the parent-teacher conference to support him. Both my colleague and I had tried repeatedly to contact someone from his family without success, as we were concerned that he was not succeeding academically. I also know that his history is pocked with severe difficulty, by his own account. The student’s family member, who I had not even known about, professed great love and support. I was incredibly relieved that this kid had someone to look up to and to watch out for him. I know it is not professional, but I started to cry. I tried to turn away, but the student lingered. “I love you, Ms. LeBorious,” the student said, leaning over to hug me. I hurriedly sent them along to another teacher, shut the door to the room and broke down.

I was happy that I made it to Friday Night Waves class, despite not feeling well. I moved without any effort, relaxing into the music. Peter had been thinking about the Paris bombings; and he decided to select music with the theme of love in response to the events.

In the rhythm of Chaos, I alternated the pace of movement, slowing and softening—almost going slack, then bursting into a new flurry of gestures. I kept sneezing and blowing my nose, even in the excitement of Chaos.

I did not partner as much as usual, preferring to keep to myself. I felt more subtle than expansive, and more gentle than emphatic. I shared several dances, including with one of my favorite partners of all time, but in most cases disengaged after just a song or less.

After the first wave, I decided to take it easy and head for home. I knew I had left my water bottle in a particular spot; but I could not find it. I pawed through bags and jackets to no avail.

At the same time, Peter paused the music briefly to offer verbal teachings. He shared that he had been in Berlin the week before when the recent bombings took place in Paris. A close friend—another 5Rhythms teacher—was practicing alongside him. She was from Paris and had left her young child in another’s care to attend the Berlin workshop. She thought about returning right away, but in the end decided to stay in Berlin and dance.

Peter’s message was clear. You can always choose love. You can always make the choice to turn toward love, no matter what you face—even when there is great fear. Knowing a little bit about Peter’s personal story, this pronouncement has even more weight. He carries some heavy challenges, yet he smiles with his entire body, dances with everyone he encounters and seems, by all accounts, very, very happy. “That is one of the things I love about this practice,” he said. “You can fall in love with everyone! Why not? Why not fall in love with everyone?” He asked, smiling, holding both hands upward as his eyes moved around the room, making eye contact with the many seated dancers gathered around him.

I sit here writing, knowing full well that I should apply myself to studying, and at once feeling doomed. I will return to the studying shortly, but for now I have a little more to say.

I finally located my water bottle, which had been knocked off the end of a table and buried by piled-up coats and bags. I decided to stay just until the next wave started, to avoid being rude while Peter was talking. Then, Peter told us he had selected music with the theme of love (teasing himself a little—I guess for his supposed sentimentality); and I hung my things on the studio doorknob, deciding I would stay for just one more song. I was tired, but the music motivated me.

After the first song of the wave ended, I stayed for just one more. Traveling around the room, I passed a friend who was dancing on the floor—not wanting to put weight on a foot that was bound in a soft cast. I put my hand on my heart and met her eye by way of greeting, thinking I would continue to move through the room, but instead found myself pulled in to dance with her. In Flowing, we danced with increasing expressivity, never rising to our feet, but instead arcing sideways, spinning on the floor and undulating—smiling all the while.

With just 25 minutes left in the two-hour class I did finally leave, thinking I could at least get a little studying in before I went to bed.

The next day, I studied some more. I arranged for a friend to take my son for the afternoon, though Saturday is my only full day with him, and continued to study. Material did not seem to be sticking. In a way, I was trying to learn 15 years of Math in just a few weeks. I felt discouraged.

My five-year-old son woke up as usual before dawn, and, as he stretched his back and rose to consciousness, muttered, “Mommy, are four sets of nine thirty-six?”

That day, I studied some more. I re-did some practice tests and got many of the things I got right a week ago wrong this time. I started to entertain the idea that I might, in fact, not be able to pass the test. That I might lose my job. I even started to think about where we would move if I didn’t have a job and couldn’t afford the rent any longer. Anxiety took over. I thought of all the unfair, horrific events and deaths that have touched me in recent years. I thought of my son’s father—unemployed for far too long. I thought of losing my parents one day. By this point, my mind had completely taken over. I even started to feel anxiety about imagined, projected events of my son’s teenage years, which are still over a decade away.

Another thing that plagued me was that I couldn’t stop thinking about my 22-year-old friend—my son’s babysitter—who has been in a coma for three weeks. Thankfully, she is starting to regain her senses, but she is not communicating at all yet. I finally found out what had caused it—her doctors think she had a stroke. A stroke. I just couldn’t manage that.

By the end of the day, I started to see the tricks my mind was playing on me. I attended a yoga class, and, immersed in embodiment, found language for what I was experiencing. Simply put: fear. I was afraid and aversive. I was angry at the injustice of my situation. Slowly, I let myself open to the fear I was experiencing; and to the reality of the situation I was embroiled in. Really, it was just a slight shift of perspective. The only thing I have some measure of control over—really, when you come down to it—is how I choose to deal with what I have to deal with. Whether I am open to it or not, I still have to deal with this crazy test somehow.

As a result of opening up to my own fears, I noticed my compassion for other people in impossible situations. I felt compassion for the many teenagers I teach who try and try and cannot pass the difficult state exams required to graduate. I also thought about the many Syrian refugees—fleeing danger and violence and stepping into total uncertainty. People in abject poverty. People with terrible illnesses. And, too, all of the people in the exact same situation I am in—having to pass the Math CST test in order to continue teaching despite the fact that they don’t teach Math and have not been trained in the material. Opening to my own pain, and to everyone else’s, softened me; and I spent much of the class crying, with my forehead on the floor.

The anger that I had experienced initially toward an unjust system had dissolved completely; and I was reminded that the measure of my humanity is not just my ability to surmount obstacles and to set and reach goals—but is, too, defined by my ability to open to everything that arises in my experience, even when my circumstances seem impossible and the air seems filled with pain.

November 22, 2015, 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.

An Invitation

A new friend came to the Friday Night Waves with me this week—her first 5Rhythms class ever. She and her son joined me and my son for dinner beforehand and we left them both in my son’s father’s care to travel by car to the Joffrey Ballet in the West Village. On the way, she asked questions about the 5Rhythms. I hoped I wasn’t giving too much away—remembering the considered prudence of the friend who invited me to a 5Rhythms class for the first time. On the way, I also filled my friend’s ear with bits of a long-storied history with someone very close to me—a history that has been begging for a new round of healing.

Even sharing bits of it flooded me with the chemicals of fight-or-flight. I felt it in my stomach, my legs. Shaky, small, and at once trying to make light of it. “Well, it is what it is,” I said aloud, trying to convince myself.

We arrived on time, finding a parking spot right in front of the Joffrey.

Kierra Foster-Ba taught Tammy’s class on Friday; and she offered no verbal instruction during the first wave, leading us only with the music she selected. “Where is the teacher?” my friend whispered. I motioned that we should step back outside the door to talk, then explained that she was the one sitting at the computer doing the music, and that we would hear from her eventually. It occurs to me now that my friend might have expected that the teacher would be in front of the class and that the students would face her. I guess I take for granted that the classes are multi-dimensional and dynamic—never settling into a permanent pattern, but instead shifting as we do.

We stepped back inside the studio, and my friend seemed to settle right in to the flow of the room. I moved away from her, thinking I should have explained beforehand that I wouldn’t stick with her during the class. She is very independent and empowered, so I wasn’t too worried, but it would have been good to mention that we would each have our own journeys.

The first wave lasted for three quarters of the two-hour waves class; and was, for me, characterized by massive movement—both physical and emotional. I shared extremely energetic dances with several friends. One was with a man who I have danced with often over the last few months—exploring allowing myself to be lead, resisting, pushing back, defending and confronting. Something about it made me uncomfortable this time—and I wondered if there was something in it of another close relationship that I struggle with (not the same one that I discussed with my friend in the car on the way).

I moved from that partnership into a dance with a very lyrical friend who I love to dance with. We used every possible level and orientation, twisting, spinning, strutting, our limbs emerging to the farthest edges of our orbit, then carrying us into the tiny compressed center of us. Playful, I spun, keeping eye contact with him by tipping backward toward him as my body revolved. On the floor, I worked every possible edge of my feet—even the tops. As the song changed, he backed away, smiling with his hand on his heart. I looked down and realized my foot was bleeding—not profusely, but not nothing, either. It seems I had disrupted an almost-healed soccer wound, barely noticing as I was so captivated by the dance.

I remained in a space of emphatic inspiration throughout the entire wave, becoming exhausted at moments, but slowing only briefly to catch breath. Staccato seemed to last for a very long time, and I found all sorts of new edges and approaches. I backed away from a dance with my new soccer-moving friend because I couldn’t sustain the intensity, fearing that I might actually faint. After, I wondered if the sensation that I might faint was just a result of sustained athletic intensity, or if it might be that some of the new fight-or-flight chemicals that had been recently lodged in my body were releasing, roaming free inside me before they passed out of me again.

Kierra gathered us after the completion of the first wave to offer verbal teachings. I moved toward my friend and sat down facing Kierra; and my friend rubbed my back affectionately, smiling, seeming totally at home. Kierra started by saying that anything she offers when she teaches is just an invitation—saying, “If it doesn’t feel right for you, then don’t take it on.” She said her suggestion for the night was that we consider dancing “from the inside out.” She reflected on a time five years ago when she had offered the same invitation.

Kierra shared a story of alluded-to intrigue, when she formed a strong intention not to be drawn into gossip. As the story unfolded, she shared that she eventually succumbed to the strong pressure to participate in the gossip flying around her. That night, she had to teach her weekly 5Rhythms class in Harlem. She felt physically uncomfortable—unsure of the source of her discomfort. In the class, she offered the invitation to “dance from the inside out.” As she moved, she got the message her body had to offer. As she explained,

“I love this work. This work is so amazing. It is so powerful. It is all because of the vision and commitment of one woman—of Gabrielle Roth. The body is very powerful. It really supports us. And I realized that when I formed that intention—to refrain from gossip—my entire body aligned to that intention. Even my organs, everything, were there to help me. And then when I fell away from that intention, the whole system went into a kind of chaos. And so I invite you now, to take on dancing from the inside out, to see where that takes you.”

She went on to say that we might even experiment with dancing the liver, dancing the spleen. This is a suggestion I have given myself many times over the years, especially in Chaos. I might seem to be relatively still, but am actually giving a particular organ a chance to release, to move, to express. I don’t think I have ever heard another 5Rhythms teacher offer it as a specific teaching. Kierra comes across as so grounded, so gracious in the objective world; and every time I am in a class she teaches, I have the sense that she also moves consciously in very deep waters.

Concluding the second and final wave, I stepped onto a lyrical amusement park ride with a friend who had greeted me on the way in to class with generous compliments about a post in this very blog. Energetic, high on my toes and lilting down, curving in and finding the outer edge of the ride, exquisitely connected, both of us beaming, and smiling—from the inside out.

After cleaning my bloody foot and putting a band-aid on the surprisingly small wound, I drove home with my friend who had attended a 5Rhythms class for the first time. I spoke a little less this time, and listened a little more, though I did discuss some of my experiences during the class, and narrated my current understanding of each of the rhythms, at her request. She shared her thoughts, including some emotional insights about her off-the-dance-floor life. She also expressed that she felt more courageous after the class. Getting out of the car, she said, “The other thing that came up was that…well, I am so used to moving like this,” she made a gesture of forward and back, “and like this,” she made a gesture of moving to the side, “but I forget about all of this!” She held her arms wide, looked up and around, behind, to the sides, moving dynamically. “This is not going to be her last class!” I thought.

The honor of bringing a new person, too, reminded me of the gigantic, unending gratitude I have for Gabrielle Roth, for the cherished friend who changed my life forever by inviting me to my first 5Rhythms class, and to the many teachers who have trained me—with countless words, gestures, suggestions and personal examples—how to dance from the inside out.

November 15, 2015, 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.




Let the Ground Receive It


I was lucky to attend two 5Rhythms classes this weekend, Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class, and Jason Goodman’s The 7th Wave class, which was taught this week by Ray Diaz.

I encountered no significant obstacles in arriving to Tammy’s class this Friday, and found parking right in front of the studio. I began on the floor, and noted an unusual tinge of inertia. That afternoon, I had been anxious—worried, it seems, about everything.

A group of emotionally-related stories tugged at the edges of my attention. The worst track was the fact that I had accidentally shut my small son, Simon’s, hand in a car door. I kept remembering his crumpled face—filled with pain—as he bawled. I felt terrible that I had literally caused him harm. I was picking him up early from his afterschool program to take him to an extra soccer practice; and I wondered if we should go straight to the doctor instead. I perseverated, reviewing every other time I thought I might have caused him harm—with intractability, with a sharp tone, with frustration, or, as in this instance, as a result of lapsed mindfulness.   I am also very worried about a young friend, Simon’s babysitter of many years, who is in a coma now. I don’t know what happened, only that she is fighting for her life. The internalized voices of my many 5Rhythms teachers said, “Let the ground receive it,” and, beginning to move on the floor; I soon found my way into Flowing and to presence.

During the first wave, I moved joyfully. I shared several dances with my jaunty, soccer-moving, new friend. I tested out his moves both in dancing with him and as I moved around the room—jumping into crossed feet then spinning out of it, tipping sideways and kicking my foot to the side, bending my knee and drawing my ankle in, almost kicking my backside, then flinging the foot, led by the pressing heel into an almost comical sideways-moving gesture. I stepped into another dance with a friend who arrived late—a staccato connection defined by creative joy and specificity. Toward the end of the wave Tammy put on a song that had a jig in it, and I met another friend, smiling, bounding upward and sailing together through our intersecting arcs.

At the conclusion of the first wave, I imagined my own body hovering in the sky. The room was filled with blue, and white clouds lingered amongst our bodies.

Tammy did not pause for verbal instructions halfway through the class, as is her usual custom, but instead began another wave, just as we were finding our final expressions of Stillness.

During the second wave, my enthusiasm contracted, and I had a hard time with my thoughts. I kept wanting to put my forehead on the room’s center column and rock. I moved out of that gesture, but found it again moments later. Self-abuse overtook me. I sank to my knees, swaying, with my hands together and touching my forehead. A male dancer didn’t seem to notice me and almost stepped on me repeatedly as I continued to move away from him. Closer to Tammy, I began to bend forward and exhale, filling my cup-shaped palms with breath as I folded over my knees, saying “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you.” I poured this breath over myself like it was water. Then, I started to release the breath from my cupped hands into the air. I realized that both expressions had run together; and I could no longer tell them apart.

At the end of the class, I lay with my forehead to the floor, crying with a pained expression, without catharsis.

On Saturday, I cast a net toward a couple of babysitters, thinking it would be nice to attend class. Simon and I were hosting my friend and her son; and we were having a beer at 7, when my roommate sent a text saying she was willing to babysit for the class that started at 8. I got dressed while our company played in the living room, then kissed Simon good night, dropped the friends off at their house, and made my way from Brooklyn to the West Village for class.

Relatively new 5Rhythms teacher Ray Diaz was teaching the 7th Wave class; and I got to experience his unique take on the 5Rhythms for the first time. I arrived twenty minutes late and stepped in during Staccato, nodding briefly to Flowing as I moved with the energy of the room, taking big, soaring steps. There were nine of us at the class including the teacher, so there was plenty of room to move. I played with alternating the big, soaring steps with tiny steps, foot over foot in a straight line, the shifting back into the giant, soaring steps.

After the first wave, Ray gathered us and told part of his own story. He said that when he first started coming to 5Rhythms classes, he would stay only for the first half of class, then leave. After several rounds of this, a 5Rhythms teacher caught him on the way out and told him to get his clothes back on and, “Get back in there!” Shortly after, he did a Heartbeat workshop where he found his feet for the first time. That was when he knew “this was it,” and he was able to stay for the entire class. (Interestingly, I have noticed that many 5Rhythms practitioners can point to a moment of great insight coming when they first “found their feet,” a First Communion of sorts.)

After his story, Ray explained the 5Rhythms wave. He emphasized Flowing throughout the narrative. After he told us about first finding his feet, he started to move in Flowing, and stated that in Flowing, you let the energy fill you up, starting with the feet. After a few moments in Flowing, he started to move into Staccato and said, “Then, once you are filled up with energy from the feet up, it starts to want to move out, it starts to take direction.” He exhaled sharply as he moved with staccato gestures. “But always with Flowing. Flowing is always with us. Sometimes when you get lost, you just go back into Flowing.” I don’t remember exactly what he said about Chaos except that it is about letting go again and again. I do remember his words and gestures about Lyrical—that suddenly something breaks through, and we find ourselves lightening up. Stillness, he continued, is when we let the breath lead us, and we move with whatever is left. I loved his emphasis on the trajectory of energy as he shared his understanding; and I found his way of explaining the transition from Flowing to Staccato particularly helpful.

During the second wave, I was more sedate. Perhaps because the beer I had before the class was wearing off. I had a great, ego-evading shake in Chaos, though. I noticed that my neck was a tender in some places, and that I was holding its muscles. I decided to let all of my edges go and, as a result, my neck was very released as I moved with great energy. When the music turned to Lyrical, I found flight. It felt amazing—I lit up onto my toes, waltzing backward, then arced down like a great kite, my fingertips grazing the ground and then the ceiling, as I turned in arcs, my head still totally released, following the rest of me for once.

In Stillness, reflections of the ballet bar across the room turned into a body of water. And to the young woman I love so much has been in a coma for two weeks now. I saw her in a boat in the middle of the body of water, bobbing slightly, looking back over her shoulder, her long, shining black hair curled about her shoulders. I beseeched her to come back, my eyes wide, hoping at once that this was my imagination and not a vision.

At the end of the class, Ray gathered us into a circle. He said, “A big part of the practice is that no matter what, you just keep moving forward.” He then asked us to take turns, each saying to the person next to us, “I release you. I release me.” The person on my right looked into my eyes and said, “I release you. I release me.” I turned to the person on my left and said, “I release you. I release me.” For a moment you and me stopped mattering—there was no separation.

Simon’s hand is fine now. Just a little bruise. I will be more careful shutting the door from now on.

“For a true spiritual transformation to flourish, we must see beyond this tendency to mental self-flagellation.  Spirituality based on self-hatred can never sustain itself. Generosity coming from self-hatred becomes martyrdom.  Morality born of self-hatred becomes rigid repression.  Love for others without the foundation of love for ourselves becomes a loss of boundaries, codependency, and a painful and fruitless search for intimacy.”

-Sharon Salzberg, Lovingkindness:  The Revolutionary Art of Happiness

Brooklyn, NYC, November 8, 2015

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