Set Free What is No Longer Now

Today is my birthday, so I wanted to do all of my favorite things. After breakfast, my 11-year-old son, Simon, meditated with me for a little while, then I continued to meditate on my own. After that, I joined a zoom yoga class with a beloved master instructor who I’ve been practicing with for more than a decade. 

Next, I drove to Riis Park, a wide open beach that’s just 30 minutes away on a light-traffic-day. For much of the drive, I had to keep the windshield wipers on maximum, and I was curious about what dancing in such heavy rain would be like.

On the way, I spoke with my mom, who told me the story of my birth, as she does every single year on my birthday. The details of the story change, but the main theme is always the same. “You are loved. You have always been loved. We loved you before you were even here.” I always feel my heart rise up with a tide of tears. Some years I’ve suffered in the face of this love considering my own self hatred, but this year I said, “Tell me about how tiny I was again and what it was like when you first saw me.” 

Arriving at the beach, I sat in the parking lot, writing a list of intentions for the year, and also for the new moon, which happens to fall on my birthday. The one that I liked the best this time was, “Set free what is no longer now.” 

Simon had loaned me his waterproof spring coat; and I pulled up the hood and tied the strings around my neck. Droplets hitting the hood kept up a constant pattering sound. I could feel the raw air on the inches of ankle left bare by low socks.

The horizon was obscured by white mist as I made my way across the wide, wet beach. The waves were powerful but the tide was low, leaving a wide section of packed sand for a dance floor. Rain seemed to be coming in hard from the side, and the wind pushed against me almost parallel to the water.

A lone pair of people and a dog were visible in the distance when I first arrived, but before long I was totally alone. Still with the hood tied under my chin, I began to move in big arcing loops, enjoying the pull of gravity as I ascended and descended the steep slope by the water’s edge. A whole rush of words, bits of conversations, and fragments of experiences from the week and month came streaming along. Since I was alone, I sang loudly, moving from song to song as they popped up in my head, continuing to move in big circles. I also repeated the intentions from the list I had written in the car, offering them to the dance and trusting its power, repeatedly saying, “Set free what is no longer now.”

Following this flowing chapter, this opening act of my personal dance, Staccato began to catch in my throat and hips. I let out several cries as I sank low, grateful I could let my voice fly to the wind without fear of being a spectacle. 

Before long Chaos moved me into energetic space; and I was coiling and spinning, moving closer to the ended waves, giving attention to the heaving sea as it rose as form then broke apart again.

Lyrical backed me away from the wind, rising onto my toes, arms raising up, and turning my face toward the sky. Wisdom poured through, reminders from the universe about my place in things, about letting go of the small stories that keep me afraid and separate. And gratitude came pouring out. Gratitude for this life, for my work, for my son and family, and for the many blessings I’ve experienced. 

There was a lot of crying today. Even from just the past week, there is so much that needs to be processed, integrated, and healed. In a way, the path of a life is a million wounds and a million healings. But I guess that’s only if we’re lucky. I guess that’s only if we are here for it, if we can set free what is no longer now, keep moving with what life brings us, and keep finding new ways to dance.

April 11, 2021, Brooklyn, NY

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

The Saturation Line

I had to pull over to take pictures. The entire hillside outside the rear fence of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden was covered with tiny purple crocuses, almost blurring completely together. 

Spring is actually happening. It’s like how I feel about singing. For so long, I couldn’t sing at all. It was clipped, awkward, soundless. But now this miracle happens. I open my mouth and sound comes out and it’s a song. It might not be perfect, but it’s alive. In much the same way, spring trots out, inevitable and miraculous at once.

I feel like the entire past year has been winter.

The pandemic isn’t over, and in fact the more virulent new strains of coronavirus are extremely concerning, and may even be impacting people who have already been vaccinated. People who are close to me have recently tested positive, and I’m praying hard for their swift and complete recovery.

And yet, the earth is coming back to life, irrepressible ebullience in every corner and urban hillside.

Yesterday I went running and paused not far from home. Drums. I danced on the sidewalk, then decided to follow the sound. It was a latin collective, with a drummer and standup bass, throwing down on the sidewalk. Scores of people were smiling, eating, and dancing. I sidled close to the band and danced too, stepping back hard and sinking into the hips. Their set ended and I continued on my run, feeling grateful to be alive, grateful for spring, and grateful for my home, Brooklyn, New York, where you can go for a run and find drumming and dancing, and be right at home, dancing amongst total strangers.

Today I danced with the sea. For months, I’ve bundled up in parka coat, snow pants, ski gloves, balaclava, boots, and thermal underwear to dance with the sea at Jacob Riis Park. Today, I needed only a few layers.

Given the lovely March day, the beach was crowded. 

Instead of crossing the wide beach directly to water, I made my way down the wide paved boardwalk, hoping to find a little more solitude. Instead, there were people as far as I could see, so being alone, like I was during the the frigid temperatures of deep winter when the parking lot was in deep snow and snow even covered the beach, was simply not available.

The tide was maximum high, leaving me a relatively small dance floor of packed sand. I put my bag and coat down where it was safe from the waves, took off my shoes, and moved into Flowing. I started by rocking side to side, syncing breath and movement, letting the divine smell of the ocean in, letting more and more breath in, and finding weight and momentum. Before long, my rocking found a curve and I began to move in circles. At times, the soles of my feet were cold. I let the swaying pull of the ocean lead me, and found myself pushed and pulled, casting downhill, dropping and turning, attentive to the sea’s magnetic forces.

This went on for so long, this attentiveness to pushing and pulling, to curving and dropping, to forces shifting direction. I used to think I would maybe stay in Flowing all day and never move into Staccato, but now I know the wave just unfolds in its own time.

As anyone who dances the 5Rhythms well knows, once Flowing is well founded, Staccato is likely to naturally arise. And soon, I was breathless, dropping and cutting, finding direction and expression. The packed sand I could move easily on was relatively narrow, so I was closer to the waves than usual, sometimes dancing at the very edge, moving along it diagonally, dancing back into my hips, then dropping, changing direction and moving forward. 

I noticed a new detail – the saturation line. There was the edge of the ended wave being pulled back into the sea, and right behind it this saturation line, where the sun still reflects on the wet sand before the water is fully absorbed. When I stepped below the saturation line, it felt cold. Above it was totally bearable. In Staccato, I paid careful attention to this jagged saturation line, sometimes below it and sometime above it, noticing the vast difference in temperature on the soles of my bare feet.

When Staccato emerged the energy of movement grew more lively. A staccato song I love replayed in my mind, and before long I was leaping and pausing, leading with my knees and elbows, and finding new ways to express spring’s enlivened vigor, still very engaged with the sea’s edges, sometimes casting down and backward, uphill, stepping across, then moving up and into open gestures with legs extended and hands outstretched.

When Chaos finally started to emerge, it felt like relief. I had long given up on the baseball hat and now released my head further, tossing it at the end of a big gesture starting in the hips and curving, folding front and back and side to side, coiling and twisting through the spine and throughout my entire body.

I didn’t growl or scream-cry as much as I did in the dead of winter when I was often a lone dancer on a frozen beach, but the mild weather and bare feet made up for the lack of privacy.

In Lyrical, the section of packed sand that made up my dance floor opened into endless space, the sky, the horizon, the seabirds soaring over with great racing shadows, and the wide open beach. I moved with all of it, slowly transitioning into the whispering feeling of Stillness, where all sound meets and drops out together as no sound, one great booming tone from deep in the belly of the sea.

It feels like it’s been winter for over a year – a time of turning in, introspection, reflection, adversity, and challenge. And although COVID is still wreaking havoc, the emergence of spring this year brings me some sense of optimism and motivation.  

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

High Tide, Height of Winter

The car’s thermometer said it was 18° Fahrenheit. It didn’t seem that cold, but it definitely wasn’t a busy day in the park. 

Today was a holiday for my work but not for my just-turned-11-year-old son Simon’s school so I had the day to myself. I considered doing some work and handing personal red tape, but my body was vibrating, wanting to move. Sitting at the computer was the last thing I wanted to do.

I pulled ski pants on over heavy leggings, put on wool socks, a heavy army-green coat with a hood, boots, and a hat, then packed a balaclava, ski gloves, and extra socks. I didn’t doubt that it would be frigid at the beach, where I was headed. 

Since the start of the pandemic New Yorkers have gotten much heartier when it comes to cold. Soccer practice is still happening in the park, brave diners are gathering with friends on snowy outdoor restaurant patios, and kids are chopping up playgrounds that would normally be deserted when the temperatures take a dive – it’s not just me who’s been pushing my limits. 

This year, I’ve been dancing with the sea a lot, including in light rain, snow, and in extreme cold like today. It’s actually become a practice of its own, and has allowed me to deepen my relationship with the ocean, and by extension with the depths of myself.

Arriving at Riis Park to the south of Brooklyn, I was surprised to find the gate to the massive parking lot barred and the lot in significant snow. It’s normally open owing to a year-round golf course that you enter from the beach walkway. I was able to drive in through the exit, and there was a narrow, plowed corridor down the mile-long, mile-wide parking lot, so I drove along it, stopping briefly to ask the operators of the only other vehicle there – an official NYC van – if parking would be ok or if I would be towed. 

This was the most deserted I’ve ever seen it. I stuffed what I needed into the pockets of my coat and zipped the car keys in, then headed toward the water. To my surprise, even the beach was in deep snow. I’m not sure why I didn’t expect that, but it looked like difficult going. Instead of walking straight across the wide beach, I made my way along the cleared boardwalk to gain easier access. 

As I stepped off the walkway onto the deserted beach, two officers who were leading morgan horses approached. I tightened, assuming I would be told I had to leave the beach. “Can you take a picture for us, please?” a female officer requested. I agreed and she introduced me to the horse, smiling. Both officers and the horses stood handsomely posing, the sun in their eyes and smiles broad. Handing the camera back, I took off quickly, still imagining they might decide to send me away.

The beach was a vast white expanse. During the winter, workers make little mountains of sand, presumably to protect the boardwalk structures from being pummeled by winter storms. These man-made dunes were also covered with snow, with patches of beige sand poking through at the top.

The tide was high and the waves were crashing ferociously, but there was still enough packed sand for a dance floor. I took off a glove to answer a call from a 718 number – hoping it wasn’t a tow truck operator in the parking lot calling because of the note I’d left on the dashboard, “Pretty Please don’t tow! Call and I’ll come right away if you need me. Just at the water’s edge.” My hand got cold, so I put the glove back on and spun my arm quickly around the shoulder, using a skier’s trick to bring blood into the fingertips.

I knew I had to get moving or get cold, so I started to circle, in heavy boots and the big winter jacket tight around me with extra gloves and wool socks tucked into my pockets.

Today Flowing was sensual, despite these encumbrances. I dropped my weight low and let myself be pulled by the ended waves that were washing back into the sea. I patiently circled up a sandy incline, then circled back down it, feeling the weight of gravity – my own core feeling its home with the core of the earth, pulling me toward it, magnetic, dense, bringing me low, in sinewy gestures and arcs.

My feet were wide awake today despite the boots and heavy socks; and I kept bringing attention to the sometimes minute shifts of angle and pressure on the soles of my feet that gave rise to every other movement; and I surrendered all of me to these tender moving feet.

Before long, my hands felt warm. I took off the heavy coat and placed it on the sand close by.

Feeling lighter, I tracked the receding waves and the waves that arrived to counter them, dipping low and reversing the circle as a wave pulled back out, sideways.

I told myself that if I wanted to stay in Flowing all day, that was just fine. That there was no need to force or to rush. That I could be patient and let the body show me its truth.

Staccato began in tiny hits, then fell back away to Flowing again and again. I moved through my body parts in Flowing then came around to the elbows, and enticed myself into the rhythm of Staccato, before long involving the tail bone, the entire spine, and releasing the head so it wouldn’t stop the powerful through-gesture of the body.

I brought attention to a hovering wave and the moment when it gathered itself up and reached its full expression before crashing apart. And again, thinking of drawing energy in, and then of holding, of containing the energy in a certain part of the body, of a wave taking full form before letting it cast down the other side and leave my body again, finding it in my gestures.

I’ve often felt the impulse to stave off Chaos – a place I am very comfortable – when I first start to feel it, but as I write I find new language for why. Holding energy in Staccato and letting it find form is a way to work with power, a way to conduct energy, to build systems, to bring things into being. Gabrielle Roth, the founder of the 5Rhythms practice, said, “It’s not like you’re just flinging yourself into the beat!”

Finally letting it blow itself to bits as I began to spin and dip and blind myself with motion was a sigh, and the dramatic, crashing ends of waves came to my field of attention.

Though I was sure there were no other cars in the entire gigantic parking lot, a lone person came striding up the beach. I was once again sure it was a police officer and that I was busted, so I avoided eye contact, hoping in some way to hide on the open beach.

Lyrical had already been tempting me, and I walked right into her arms, expanding my radius while trying to avoid eye contact with the passerby, who no longer appeared to be a police officer. Relieved, I briefly performed for this other lone beachgoer, leaping into the edges of myself, prancing and smiling as she passed without looking back.

Soon I passed through the rift of Stillness, scanning the horizon for 360 degrees, sensing the ocean’s deepest densest places, and seeing the thick darkness outside of the protective rim of sky blue that gives us breath.

I couldn’t move slowly for long without cold taking me over, so I made my way, pausing to climb one of the sand dunes and survey the beach before heading back up the boardwalk to the car.

I drove home, feeling full and grateful. 

I toyed with the idea of working or writing for a few hours, but knew before I parked how I wanted to spend the rest of this precious day.

Pausing only to wash my hands and take off my winter clothes, I created a playlist, adding a few songs I’d heard on traditional radio during the car ride home from the beach.

And I danced for at least two more hours, pressing and flipping myself into the wooden floor ground, growling, finding form and release, sinking deep into the hips, delighting in Flowing’s sensuality, delighting in Staccato’s ebullient expression, delighting in the sheer power of Chaos, and lifting off in Lyrical, for song after song after song.

I thought I was alone and that my roommate had left during a dark, wild, 150 bpm chaos song, but he saluted me on his way back from the bathroom as I picked up a microphone and plaintively sang a Lyrical Stillness tune, a song that made my heart ache.

Self-consciousness paused me, but only briefly, as I continued to move in Lyrical and in Stillness.

My computer battery died and ended the music, so I sat down to write, grateful to have physically exhausted myself for the first time in weeks, grateful to the 5Rhythms and to Gabrielle Roth, its creator, for opening the world to me. I was also grateful to myself for showing up, for being self-generating, and for finding new capacities, even as we face obstacles, even as the pandemic slowly starts to leave our bodies, and in many ways slowly begins to release us.

February 12, 2021, Brooklyn, NY

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

One Clean Wave

Today I danced a clean wave.

A wave – in the 5Rhythms dance and movement meditation practice, that’s when we move through each of the five rhythms: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness – might feel heavy, spastic, reluctant, spacious, inspired, cathartic, precise, or any other way.

Today it felt clean.

The heat stopped working in my car yesterday, and I debated if I wanted to go to the beach to dance – a personal practice that has emerged in recent months – in such frigid temperatures. I was afraid I would be uncomfortably cold when I arrived, cold on the beach, and cold when I got back into the car to drive home.

Since the start of the pandemic, many of us have gotten a lot heartier about cold. All over Brooklyn, friends are posted up dining at plein air restaurants, kids are playing outdoor soccer in January, and people are meeting up on park benches to laugh and commiserate together.

I put on my son Simon’s bib snowpants, a heavy coat, balaclava, winter hat, wool socks, and ski gloves and made my way.

Arriving at Riis Park Beach, the wind was strong at my back as I headed across the vast beach to the water. The tide was extremely low, and the water was unusually calm, with the waves moving almost parallel to the beach. I was delighted that this revealed a huge section of packed sand – a much larger dance floor than usual.

Beginning to move in Flowing, I noticed that it was easier than usual to let go of thoughts as they arose and drop my weight down, settling the body as the slope toward the water pulled me into circling. I felt dragged by the ending waves, as they too were pulled by gravity, and I dipped and curved with the waves’ contours. In my heavy coat, my arms looked stiff in the shadow cast on the sand, so I unzipped the coat and softened my shoulders, allowing the arms to rise, fall, and circle along with the rest of me.

Often when I dance with the sea, it takes a really long time for Staccato to spark, if it comes at all, but not so today. A staccato song I love came to my head and I played with the energy of it, though the only soundtrack was my own breath and the gently lapping waves. A seagull came close, standing on the strong wind with her wings up, probably hoping I would toss out some Taquis or french fries or something. Birds don’t usually bring Staccato to my mind, but this one was literally suspended in a pause ten feet from me, eying me directly, in my mind wanting to connect. I dropped into my hips and played with her, moving my own elbows and shoulder blades, open to her message, willing to share mine.

After this spike of Staccato, I sank back into Flowing again – the river under every rhythm – with a deeper ability to luxuriate in circling.

I took off the heavy coat and put it down on sand. The wind kicked it over, also picking up little rivers of sand, looking like the ancient spirits who were accidentally released in the 80’s adventure movie Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Before long Staccato came back and I beamed, playing with small, tight movements then bursting overtures, before long adding crossovers, stepping one leg back across the other and leaping into spin, crossing one arm over the other and finding a descending angle with a hip sharply to the side. As I turned the planes of my body, there was a precise fulcrum when the wind faced one side of me, then shifted onto the other side of me as I turned.

I noted a man walking two big furry dogs a short distance away, and a family with two kids on top of the sand hills that the beach rangers erect in winter to protect the park buildings from being battered.

This distant potential audience gave me a tiny push to get bigger, and I shifted into a relaxed Chaos. I expanded to a wider radius, noticing rolls of Lyrical, drops back into Staccato, and the easy, sustainable momentum of a patient Chaos that’s fueled by both the underground river of Flowing and the heat of Staccato. 

Chaos with a flavor of Stillness visited, as I raised my eyes to the horizon and followed a soaring bird with my gaze and gesture.

By now I was sweating and breathing heavily, but there was no sense of exertion.

Lyrical emerged right on cue, taking me to an even wider radius, casting me down and up again. A tiny bird scurried by and I followed her, sinking low and shimmying my hips along the edge of the water, then leaping up into the fingertips and stretching my chest with each soaring opening of the arms, one at a time, then both, casting down and rising up, extending into the farthest reaches of me without dropping my weight, relying on a different kind of balance.

Stillness called me; and I felt the sea’s depths and the wide horizon. I closed my eyes and moved with wind and breath. I emerged on the other side of this wave feeling cleaned out, and ready for the next wave.

January 24, 2021, Brooklyn, NY

(Image from bridgeandtunnelclub.com)

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

Insurrection, Terrorism & Preparing for the Work Ahead

Today I danced with the sea. 

I seriously bundled up with a heavy coat, sweater, wool socks, ski gloves, and hat since the last time I danced at the beach it was frigid. But to my surprise it was relatively mild. I was able to dance in just a sweater, and before long I also took off my gloves.

The week has been another rollercoaster. During the work day, I usually ignore news, so on Wednesday it wasn’t until 4pm when I turned on the radio that I learned that a mob of white nationalist Trump supporters who refused to accept the results of the US democratic election had invaded and looted the US Capitol building, in an act of terrorism and insurrection.

It was only later that I learned that Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff both won runoff races for Georgia’s two Senate seats, shifting the balance of power in the Senate to the democratic party. But this was even bigger. 

Before the election the two Republican Georgia Senate incumbents joined forces, one of them saying, “We are the firewall. Not just for the Senate, but the future of our country.” No one misunderstood what they were trying to say.

Georgia, like most of the US, has a history of suppressing the votes of Black people to shore up white supremacist power, through a host of mechanisms. Leaders like Stacy Abrams and legions of activists went all out to analyze and combat voter suppression tactics. These tactics include the propagation of false narratives that certain people’s votes don’t matter. But Black voters turned out in droves, proudly cast their votes, and had a massive impact on national politics, in the process dealing a blow to white nationalism.

Like many, I expected that Trump supporters, stoked by his racist rhetoric and ongoing lies, would resort to violent action. There is a debate about whether he has amplified white nationalism or if he has just brought it out of the shadows, but for his supporters to actually take over the US Capitol, for the National Guard to be so slowly dispatched, for lawmakers to be huddling in fear, and to watch gleeful terrorists ransacking desks and cavorting through the halls of the US Capitol, at least one brandishing a confederate flag, and the lynching platform they erected outside, was horrifying. And perhaps the most bitter pill of all, the knowledge that they got into the Capitol, when people looking a different way than white would never have made it up the steps, and would likely have been shot on sight if they had entered and tried to ransack the Capitol.

I listened to the ongoing coverage, dismayed, and at once furious that Americans who are happy about the historic outcome of the Georgia Senate races – like me and like the people who worked tirelessly on the campaigns and who dared to hope that their vote mattered, and then found out that it really did – didn’t even get one day to celebrate. 

I had been dancing all week, but was eager to bring this matter to the sea.

The tide was rising but there was still a wide section of packed sand to move on. I settled in, also removing my shoes and dancing in my knee-high, polka dotted wool socks.

There were barely clouds and the sky was endlessly blue. 

I turned my attention to the waves, feeling especially the pull-back of ended waves, and the pull of gravity as it drew my body down the sandy inclines and into circles and loops. I thought about a book I’m working on and different phrases and ideas drifted by, occasionally catching hold for a brief time, then dissolving again with the ending waves. 

I really settled in, wishing I was totally alone but avoiding eye contact with passing beach strollers, at least during this period of settling the body. 

One thing I love about dancing with the sea is that there is no external soundtrack telling me what to do with my body, no external prompting. It is just me, and I can be as patient or as manic as I need to be. On this day, I felt like I could stay in Flowing for a very long time, sometimes attending to gravity, feet, and circling; and sometimes shifting attention to the ocean to inspire my weighted gestures, breathing its power in, letting its lowing depths sigh right through me.

Staccato sparked when it was ready, reminding me to move my truth, to speak my truth. I thought the book I’m writing was going to be about teaching mindfulness to teens. In the chapter map, there was one chapter dedicated to racial justice and reparations, and I knew racial justice would make its way into other chapters, too. But when I sat down and started to write, the book tore itself out of me. I wrote seven chapters in seven days between Christmas and New Year’s Day. And as it turns out, much of the book is about racial justice and injustice, white supremacy, and oppression, and what I hope are ways to combat these complex, interconnected systems, on the granular, implementation level of an individual classroom. 

I’ve been on fire and in agony, contending at once with my own complicity, my own white privilege, and contemplating my small trajectories of activism and how to amplify them.

Staccato came and went, shifting before long into Chaos. I took off my hat and placed it uphill with my coat and sneakers so it wouldn’t fall off and go tumbling into the icy sea. I let my head flail around, getting an eyeful of sun, then seeing red afterimages everywhere I tossed my spinning gaze.

The only Lyrical that seemed likely to emerge was in tiny pockets inside Chaos. I could already feel Stillness pulling me and accepted its invitation.

Just when I’d accepted that Lyrical might not fully emerge, I shifted fully into it, opening up my radius, rising onto my toes, rolling my arms high and out, beaming with my face toward the blue sky. I stayed in Lyrical and in Lyrical Stillness for a long time, whisper dancing, and at last coming to a grounded stop, feeling the vast horizon, the endless curve of the sky, and the mysteries of the ocean’s depths. 

Gazing outward, preparing for the work ahead.

“History will rightly remember today’s violence at the Capitol, incited by a sitting president who has continued to baselessly lie about the outcome of a lawful election, as a moment of great dishonor and shame for our nation.” – President Barack Obama

January 10, 2021, Brooklyn, New York 

(image from dw.com)