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.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about feet.
The late afternoon sun on my closed eyelids lets me see the orange-red blood in the eyelid’s tiny capillaries. Turning away from the sun brings them back to shadow. My eyes still closed, I turn into the dazzling sun and back into shadow again and again, moving with my own breath. Bird song filters down from the tallest tree in the yard. Wind starts as a rustle at the tops of trees, then causes a progressive cooling on the exposed skin of my arms and face, as my feet softly turn, feeling every curve and dip of the ground.
But I begin with the end, with the rhythm of Stillness. There were so many things that led me here, to this quiet reckoning, to this cloudless sky.
The day was already getting away from me; and I was tempted to cancel or rush through a video call I had planned with a friend. And then it seemed that every corner of the house was full of sound: the vacuum cleaner, my ten-year-old son, Simon, on his own video call, lawn-mowing outside. I keep moving around trying to find a place I could actually hear and settle down. I’m sure I seemed spastic, and my friend even suggested it might be better to postpone. Finally, I found a quiet corner and settled in.
Speaking with her reconnected me to myself, and I left the call thinking it was time well spent.
Over the past few days, I’ve been engaged in an ongoing discussion with another friend on the subject of feet. She is deeplyimmersed in the practice and teaching of yoga, and is also a dharma teacher. She wrote about how the soles of the feet are connected to the different regions of the body, and how the feet are really the beginning of the chakra system. She also shared that there are many images depicting the feet with fanned flower petals underneath them, indicating that the entire body is supported by the “lotus feet.” She wrote, “As the lotus feet ‘bloom’ they encourage similar openings in the nervous system and subtle body.”
I found that I had some things to share from the perspective of the 5Rhythms about the subject of feet.
It is the feet that connect us to our intuition, our instinct. One of my teachers, Kierra Foster-Ba, often says, “We, like any other animal, get a lot of information from our feet,” including vibrations in the ground. In this way, the feet can be seen as a gateway to primal, unconditioned awareness.
Each of the 5Rhythms is associated with a body part; and the rhythm of the feet is Flowing. It is considered the receptive rhythm, where we are letting in, sourcing, and gathering energy and information.
I’ve been investigating my relationship to Flowing anew of late, especially as I’ve been dancing in the woods, gardening, and attending to nature’s cycles like the moon and the seasons since retreating from NYC because of the pandemic.
In 5Rhythms, some talk about “finding the feet” as the measure of embodiment in 5R practice. It is as though to what degree you have “found your feet” indicates your level of attainment. This can be interpreted in a straightforward way–actually paying continuous attention, on purpose, to the physical feeling of the feet on the ground.
Personally, I tend to generalize this a little more, and interpret “finding the feet” as establishing and maintaining profound mindfulness, while using the feet as the primary object of meditation.
The entire dance is built from the ground up, and there are times we return to Flowing, even when we have shifted into the other rhythms that follow in the wave: Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness.
My first movements into the rhythm of Flowing today seemed twittery, but before long, I resolved to drop my full attention and weight into one foot and then the other, and this opened me into generous, weighted circling. Sometimes my steps were even subsumed and pulled into the larger falling circling of the body.
A different friend shared that in one class she had started to feel bored in Flowing. I could totally relate. For many years, I was so eager to get from the first rhythm of Flowing to the second rhythm of Staccato that I had to force myself to stay in Flowing for longer than felt intuitive. I often felt bored in Flowing. It’s humble edgelessness held little appeal for me, and I was eager for the expression of Staccato and the explosive catharsis of Chaos.
I realized that I had severed my relationship to earthiness, and, in the process, to the ground. It took many years of devoted practice, especially working with the rhythm of Flowing, to begin to reclaim this relationship.
Thanks to my own song choices, I was dropped abruptly from Flowing into the rhythm of Staccato. I occasionally let out a warrior cry, and my body was dynamic, alive, finding every diagonal, bending and flexing, bouncing up and curving down, sticking my butt way out, then pushing my pelvis forward, with my knees and elbows talking loudly.
Though I so needed Chaos today, I had to talk myself into it. I imagined my body was moving on a roller coaster track, and my head was like the last car that hops a bit off the track at the end of the train’s whipping gesture. I had a lot of energy in this part, though it wasn’t until the second chaos song that I actually moved intensely enough to be out of breath. At one point the music paused and I leaned forward and held my hands out behind me then crashed them together, rocketing back as the beat kicked back in. I used up all the space available to me, kicking my heels behind me, cross-back-stepping, and flinging my arms up.
Lately in Lyrical, the top of my chest rises up. Today, I was so happy. I’m so happy for myself, that I got to be this happy. I found a tiny little mound of earth to stand on top of, twitter down the side of, twitter down the other side of, back, front; and then the beat dropped again, and every bit of me coiled and bounced, it was like I was on a trampoline, my arms flying way up, body effortless.
Lately, I sometimes make videos of myself dancing alone, and today, as I watch the video, I cry. I can’t believe how lucky I am, that I get to experience such joy. Lyrical only opened itself to me after many dedicated years of working with the ground, with the feet, and with the rhythm of Flowing. Before then, it felt totally unavailable.
I suspend my leg forward and pause, bounce back, then suspend it backward and pause.
Then, this beautiful song comes through the speakers and I close my eyes, noting the variations of light on my inner eyelids. And that brings me back to the beginning, to the Stillness I opened with, to the flashes of light and birdsong, to the rustling breeze and its effect on my skin.
The last thing I do before breaking down my equipment and going inside to cook dinner is walk on the soft earth, my feet alive and knowing, absorbing the messages the earth needs me to hear.
May 18, Broad Brook, Connecticut
Images: Simon’s feet on grass (photo by Meghan LeBorious), The Auspicious Lotus Feet of Lord Vishnu (vivianlawry.com), Self attending to music (photo by Meghan LeBorious)
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
I’m making a garden. Today, a local man came with a rototiller and churned the ground up, breaking through a thick layer of grass.
And yesterday I spent the afternoon planting flower seeds.
I haven’t experienced spring outside of a city since I left home for college in the 1990’s; and it has been fascinating. Cold is very slowly transitioning to hot. The trees are unfurling. Active, small creatures like squirrels, chipmunks, and birds romp at the edges of my perception. The field behind my parents’ house–where my ten-year-old son, Simon, and I are hoping to wait out the pandemic–is nearly solid yellow with dandelions. They would normally have been trampled by the high school athletes who use this field to practice, but this year they are abundant. Nearby, the grass and plants at the contours of one of the river’s gurgling feeder streams are emerald green now, translucent with sun energy.
Following my work day, I thought I would do a friend’s zoom class. After playing on the swing in the backyard with Simon I was running late, but decided to set up the speakers and computer outside and join anyway. As it turns out, I got the days mixed up. I knew I didn’t have time to pivot because of a work commitment later in the afternoon, so I decided to go with my setup and dance to a playlist I already had prepared.
Earlier, talking with a friend, I had recalled the gardens of my childhood. At Simon’s age, I had a big garden. My grandfather would help me till the soil and plant in late May, then I tended it myself. The first year or two, I had to haul water in my little wagon some distance every day to water my plants.
I spent hours there. I remember placing a pepper or other vegetable upright in the sun and sitting and staring at it for long periods, what I would now call a form of meditation, though I didn’t have (or need) language for it at the time. I remember eating the butter-and-sugar corn I grew slathered with butter at backyard summer dinners. I remember the dark dirt, the weeds, the sweat, the chicken wire fence, the dangling green beans, the prickly thistles, the crawling around on the damp, uneven soil between the rows.
Knowing my own son at this age, I marvel at my childhood ability to take on this big project and accomplish it without reminders, rewards, or adult interventions of any kind. I’ve been trying to help Simon learn to be a creative self-starter, but have faced challenges in getting him to buy in, perhaps not unusual for his generation. As a child, I had vast stretches of unstructured time, something that led me to learn and create without pressure and often without audience.
I became an urban person in my late teens, immersing myself in a totally-indoor underground dance world, and lost my affiliation with the earth.
My brother lived for many years in Colorado. Before then, I always said I was an “ocean person,” like some people say they are a “dog person” or a “cat person.” But when I went to visit him in Colorado and explored the raw, jagged Rocky Mountains, I decided I was a mountain person, too. I realized it was limiting to make myself be one or the other.
In the same way, in becoming so urban, I became not-earthy, not-rural, not-small-town.
But the truth is that I didn’t have to kick out one affiliation to insist on being another. They can both live in me. And now I’m remembering a nearly-lost self who had a numinous connection to natural phenomena, who followed the cycles of the moon, who read the tarot, who perceived everything as alive, and who studied nature-based religions with keen interest.
Back to the speakers and computer in the backyard, I decided to dance a wave. In 5Rhythms, that’s when we dance through each of the five rhythms in sequence: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness. I was tired, and I didn’t really think I would get into it. In fact, I weighed the possibility of doing yoga or going for a run as soon as I pushed through this short wave.
The speaker volume was way up and I started to move in circles and pay attention to my feet in the rhythm of Flowing.
Of the five rhythms, Flowing seems most foreign to my nature. In Flowing, we connect with the earth. We drop our weight and our attention down. There is a real humility to it. And to be honest, I have sometimes found it boring, and have been eager to rush into the fiery expression of Staccato and the explosiveness of Chaos. It’s almost like in sticking with Flowing, I’m just doing my due diligence.
It’s possible this disinterest in Flowing relates to the fact that for so long I disowned my earth-self in favor of a more desirable identity. It took years of bringing my attention to the feet again and again to even begin to find my relationship to Flowing. It took many more years to fall in love with it.
Today, I felt the soft earth under me as I moved, and let it be simple, let it hold me, let it call me.
My Dad appeared on the back steps and asked if I had any ideas for dinner. I gave my input, then returned my attention to the feet, finding increasing engagement.
In Staccato the music spoke to me; and I couldn’t help but be inspired to sink low, to travel, to explore my elbows, to exhale forcefully. A song I absolutely love played and I leapt and bounded, removing my shoes and bouncing directly on the soft grass. And another song I love. And another. This one was a coiling, fast-tempo jazz song in the transition from Staccato into Chaos.
By Chaos, I was untethered, spinning and bouncing back and forth; in a rushing, weighted, articulated spin with sailing head, low and pumping, light and loose. One knee has been sore with so much practice, but dancing on the grass protected it, and I went all out, traversing a wide radius.
In Lyrical I was ebullient, cascading to the ground and into the air, beaming, coursing an arm up and then another, crossing over, rising a kicking leg to the side, falling into a dramatic squat and rapidly uncurling in an upward whirlwind. I added one more Lyrical song since I was nowhere near done with this exploration. I rocked my elbows in a plane around me and let them pull me up into my side angles, nearly kicking up my heels.
It wasn’t until many years of dedicated work with Flowing and with the ground that Lyrical started to reveal itself to me, and since then it’s become a place I love to visit.
In Stillness I was still rushing, alive with light-sugar. The lowering sun peeked through the emerging tree leaves. When the song faded, I continued to move with everything, feeling the humming molecules of the ground, the trees, the small animals, and even of the plastic and metal around me.
I love taking my friend’s class, but I also love dancing alone, and it kind of seemed like a blessing that I’d mixed the days up. I love what individual practice teaches me. I love that it is self-generating, and that I don’t need anything but what’s inside of my own heart. And connecting with the land gives me endless things to dance to–a rich symphony of form, space, and energy.
I startled, remembering I had a work commitment at five, and ran to check the time.
I had another half hour, so I decided to practice yoga in the sunshine. Standing alert, with my feet flat on the warm patio, hands aloft, I spotted a bird of prey, almost invisible it was so high up–seeming to hover in the air, barely moving. Moving through several poses, each time I found myself on my feet and looked up, the far-off bird was still hovering in that one spot. Then, the next time I folded my head down, moved through a sequence, and rose back up, it had disappeared, leaving nothing but endless blue sky.
Simon and I raked the grass clumps out of the newly-tilled plot that will be our garden, hauled them to the edge of the lawn, and dumped them into a raucous pile.
Later, I ran in the woods on a path along the Scantic River. White and grey clouds began to roil and it started to rain. I danced with the river’s currents, seeing into the depth and contours of the river because of the lack of sun glare. I saw the land’s contours above the water line, too, and perceived the continuations of the rivers and streams with all other flowing water.
I found a peaceful spot to meditate, patiently noting each cold rain droplet on my exposed hands and face, grateful to be in the woods, grateful to be sitting on the soft sand of the river bank, grateful to be alive, grateful to the earth.
May 6, 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.
A lone duck appeared while I was meditating on the bank of the modest Scantic River. The duck was industriously chugging her little head back and forth like a small child on a big wheel, letting out a periodic call of “quack” as she floated by. I was touched by her efforts, smiling and internally cheering her on.
It’s been over five weeks since I left NYC along with my ten-year-old son, Simon, to join my parents in Northern Connecticut and try to wait out the pandemic.
In the beginning I practiced ferociously. Every day, every spare minute. Zoom 5Rhythms classes, individual waves, dancing on the grass in the backyard, dancing in the woods, dancing in the little practice space in my temporary home.
Every session started to blend together. My knee started to hurt. I started feeling generally left out and isolated. Simon started to act up, no doubt suffering from the loss of contact with people his age, and the pervasive sadness and uncertainty.
Yesterday, I decided to lighten up for a few days, and give myself a little distance from practice.
I juggled my afternoon options: should I go for a run? Meditate? Do yoga? Dance a wave? What did I most feel like doing?
Since the day was lovely and several not-lovely days were forecast, I settled on a run in the woods. I felt safe going hard on the soft trail, and lost myself in moving. I paused to take photos along the way, loving the visual narrative the images were revealing.
I came to my favorite spot, the convergence of a small river and a large stream, with a grassy point between the two. There, I decided to dance a wave. Easing into the rhythm of Flowing, I moved up and down a small hill, dipping and casting into low circles.
At a workshop once, in Flowing, the teacher advised us to work with gravity as though we were dancing on a hill. Being on a hill, I played with rising and falling, and the shifts of gravity as I moved up and down it in hoops and arcs, to a soundtrack of babbling water splashing over a fallen tree.
Someone appeared in the woods on the opposite bank, and I tried not to meet his eye. Staccato crept up, then drifted back into Flowing. I moved back into Staccato, with punctuated exhalations, low-sunk gestures, and emphatic movement declarations.
It took me a while to warm up to Chaos, but it eventually presented itself. I jumped and leapt, releasing my head and encouraging myself to go all out, despite the person across the river who might be watching, and who I was pointedly avoiding.
I practically skipped the rhythm of Lyrical, as suddenly the hum of the woods brought me straight to Stillness. I consciously called on Lyrical, though, and found several minutes of light, creative movement. It wasn’t until then that I noticed the person across the river had gone. It was possible I’d been alone for most of the time, so apparently I’d wasted my energy in purposefully ignoring him and psyching myself up to go all out even if he thought I was weird.
This place calls me to Stillness, and I was content as I finally settled into it. In Lyrical, I danced with everything that was moving. The small animals, the wind in the trees, the passing cars, the complex currents in the river. I even started to move with sound waves like bird calls, the rush of trees, and the sounds of the water.
I remembered an experience at an underground dance party many years ago. Thousands of partyers were crowded into an old warehouse, and giant bass speakers shook the architecture. At this party, they also had complex light projections that twisted and morphed. I spent the entire night in rapture, dancing to the light show. As an artist, realizing that I could dance to visual cues, not just music, blew my mind.
Since then, I’ve learned that I can dance to anything, to everything. A passing train. A sequence of feelings. An announcement over a loudspeaker. The receding tide. One of my neighbors in Williamsburg, Brooklyn kept pigeons, and I used to dance with the swirling, diving flock as they raced around in response to his direction. Today, moving to everything in the woods reminded me of that first opening.
Curiously, though I was in the woods alone, it started to feel hectic. I decided to let go of the hectic feeling, but to continue to move with everything around me, including wind; and the curves, intersections, and complexities of currents. Nothing changed but suddenly I was enveloped by silence.
Later, I spent time doing yoga, but I wasn’t trying to get a workout in, wasn’t trying to be as present as possible, wasn’t doing anything except following my inclinations and feeling the joy of having a body.
Today, after a full day of online work, I decided to join an afternoon 5Rhythms Zoom class.
I had to get Simon settled into an activity, so I joined the class a little bit late, then fell happily into the rhythm of Flowing. I’ve really been into grounding lately, much more than usual, and I exhaled as noisy energy poured down my legs into the ground. Today, I picked up a weighted meditation cushion, and started using it much like I used the hill yesterday, to experiment with gravity and momentum, at times dropping it around me in circles, passing it hand to hand. When I wasn’t holding the cushion, I let my arms be soft and fall around me as I moved in endless circles.
I discovered that the meditation cushion had a sewn-on handle as the music transitioned into the rhythm of Staccato, and I continued to play with weight and momentum, now pausing with the cushion on my side, on my back, at times letting it pull me through emphatic movements, my elbows sharp. I also experimented with holding the cushion in front of me, dropping it, then using its momentum to rush me straight across the small circle I was dancing inside of.
This, too, reminded me of my experiences in the underground dance world of the 1990’s. I was a fast and athletic dancer, and would imagine I had weight in my hands and feet to source power from the ground: to land, coil, and fling myself into all sorts of dramatic gestures. Once a group of people told me they had come from a neighboring state to see me dance this style at a local club’s jungle music night. It was a cool compliment, but by then I was trying to detox and withdrawing from club dancing. Shortly after, I withdrew from dance altogether for several years.
In the practice video I made for my own curiosity, I seemed very committed in this part, though I remember that thoughts of work were occasionally distracting me. I paused to give an instruction to Simon. Watching it I acknowledge the reality that it’s rare for me to be able to take a full break from parenting to practice, especially since we’ve been staying at home and I am now his parent, teacher, and playmate all-in-one.
I thought I was flat in Chaos, but watching is fascinating today. My head rolls me around on my shoulders, hips released after a long yoga stretch session before dancing, sending movement through the spine and into this lolling head. I pause again to say something to Simon, then drop my head again, and bounce back and forth, then fall into side twisting and spinning.
At the outset, Lyrical was elusive again today. But I started spinning my hips around, almost like rolling a hula hoop and followed it into motion around one leg and then the other, and soon into pauses and full extensions.
My hands look like two beautiful racing creatures in Stillness, then I shift into simply stretching. I paused again to say something to Simon, then in one final shape before clicking “leave meeting.”
I was hoping some revelation would come through before finalizing this text, but sometimes it isn’t so obvious. Sometimes the revelations aren’t epic or picturesque, but come in tiny increments, in daily practice, in patient engagement.
Good thing I took a break from practice. It helped me to feel more responsive and curious, though truthfully, I don’t think I actually “practiced” any less.
April 29, 2020