I went into the woods on December 26th with a heavy heart.
Like most years, I spent the holidays with family in Northern Connecticut. It had been a delightful few days and I was counting my blessings.
Still, I couldn’t shake this heaviness.
Parenting has been a heavy lift lately. I’m working hard to find the right construct for my bright, talented 12-year-old, where he feels included, motivated, and inspired; and we definitely have not hit the right balance in the past year and half.
I tried to talk myself out of it, arguing that my parents are growing older and I should be enjoying every second I have with them.
But still the painful heaviness persisted.
The air was frigid as I made my way to the river. I chose a favorite spot and picked up a branch to clear dead, wet leaves away, creating a sandy circle. I invited my ancestors, guides, and deities to help me see what I needed to see.
There was agony in my chest and back and I wondered if I would even be able to move. Almost as soon as I began to drop my weight and circle – the soft river sand yielding under my running shoes – I began to sob. I continued to allow difficult feelings to move through me as I invited more and more of me to release to gravity and to endless, circling motion.
Flowing is the rhythm of the ground, of the instinctive self, of receptivity, and of raw, unfiltered experience.
I stayed in Flowing for a long time, late enough that the winter sun started to shift and spotlight through the trees on the other side of the river.
I realized that anxiety had taken me over in recent weeks, especially with respect to my son’s schooling. I was focused on the future, toggling through all possible dangers and scenarios. I was sacrificing the present for a desired later time, and I was acting out of fear.
I told myself that I had to find a way to be in this present, even if it is uncertain and frightening, and even as we continue to make plans and make moves. I also realized that my fear could easily be interpreted as a lack of confidence in my only son. At moments I howled with emotion, thankful I was alone in the woods.
After an hour or more, I shifted into the rhythm of Staccato, with the sun dipping low and dappling and the white sky draining of light.
Anything can happen; and practice doesn’t always shift painful and difficult states, but on this day it did. I moved through the rest of the rhythms with engagement, eventually growing quiet and moving like a whisper.
Resolving to be a more skillful parent, I went home and hugged my son tightly, telling him how proud of him I am and how much I love him.
The next day was warmer.
My circle was still visible on the sandy bank, and I redrew its edges with a stick, then began to move in Flowing, the first of the 5Rhythms. After a short time, I naturally and seamlessly found myself in Staccato, the second rhythm. I exhaled, I moved with clarity, found angles with the knees and elbows, and explored the different shapes that were coming through.
Staccato is the rhythm of taking bold action in this world, of making moves, of creating systems; and it is the rhythm of the heart. I realized I was dancing prayers, and, as the day before, moved through each of the rhythms, and remained engaged for a long time. Once I moved through a full wave and found myself in Stillness, I pushed off of the 5Rhythms map and simply moved with the woods, the river, and inner and outer forces.
The third day was warmer still. It is over a week ago now, but I can remember my delight at finding my circle still undisturbed, the comfort of redrawing its edges, and the feeling of losing myself in movement, of total immersion. After moving through all of the rhythms and drawing a ribbon of prayer through each, I danced a snowy owl, imagining what it would be like to sense the edges of things with the tips of my powerful wings, and scanning for subtle movement in the underbrush.
I ran back up the big hill toward home, feeling grateful and bright. My eye caught on a white feather on the side of the road. I looked up and the first thing I saw was a snowy owl statue on a neighbor’s front porch, its wings outstretched, ready to soar, ready to greet a new year.
Meghan LeBorious is a 5Rhythms teacher, meditator, artist, mother, and writer. She has been on the 5Rhythms dancing path since 2008. She was moved to write about her experiences following her very first 5Rhythms class; and has been writing about them ever since. This blog in independently generated and is not sanctioned or produced by the 5Rhythms organization.
The movie brought both of us to tears. It was the 2009 “Where the Wild Things Are” and my 12-year-old son, Simon, and I couldn’t believe that we had somehow missed it – given our shared love of the same children’s book. Near midnight, Simon sat with his head resting on me, crying the spilled-over tears of a full-heart, and perhaps a backlog of other experiences. Tears poured down my cheeks, too.
The previous day, I’d heard an interview with a religious leader who argued against classifying anything as “spiritual.” It got me to thinking about what “spiritual” means to me, and why I might (or might not) choose to define anything as spiritual.
As I sat in the quiet dark, holding my soon-to-be-teenage child, and flowing with him as strong emotions arose, I felt we were sitting in a rain of golden oak leaves and light. That a portal opened up, and there was nothing but this very moment. That I couldn’t imagine how it could ever be possible to love a human being more than I did in this moment.
If “spiritual” is a thing for me, it would have to encompass this moment.
To me, “spiritual” means recognizing and collaborating in beauty. And by beauty, I mean what’s real and alive, even if that means broken, messy, awkward, or complicated.
In the Zen Buddhist tradition, it’s said that you can point at the moon with your finger as a way of providing teaching, though the pointing can never be the actual moon. Here are 100 finger pointing instructions toward what “spirituality” might be:
- Sitting with my brand-new, tiny son in the early hours of morning, watching a train glide by the window, watching the moon, watching snow glitter on the branches near the window
- Sitting with my 12-year-old son as he empties his heart, connecting with what matters most to him, and working through what has challenged him in recent months
- A snowy owl on the dunes at Riis Park Beach that twists its head around, then lifts off in expanded flight low along the beach
- Catching my mom in a hug as tears well up in her eyes, seeing her gratitude for the people who are alive, present, and joyful at this year’s family Easter celebration, and her grief for those who are no longer with us
- Practicing the 5Rhythms in community in a friend’s class, feeling inspired, exhausted, creative, alive, aggrieved, hopeless, and motivated all in just two hours time
- Meditating in the pre-dawn hours as light seeps into the sky
- The Rocky Mountains
- Exquisite cheese
- Having candlelight breakfast every day
- Running and diving into the ocean, then doing butterfly timed with the swelling waves
- My grandfather making the sign of the cross every time he stepped into the sea, then floating on his back with his ankles crossed, staring up at the blue sky
- My sister’s extraordinary ability to animate puppets with breath
- Having clear closets and clean weekly systems
- My father’s commitment to meaningful civic action
- My mother’s commitment to disrupting the status quo in favor of beauty and human dignity
- My uncle’s tireless work to create a community health center
- Beach glass
- Dancing with the sea
- Song swelling in the body then expressed as vibration
- Dancing with fireflies
- Having a fuzzy caterpillar crawl across your bare foot
- Eating burritos on the top of a mountain with my brother
- The ocean at night
- A story that makes me ache
- A joke that gets wrapped around four times, including everyone in the humor, yet impossible to re-tell
- When your best friend answers your text right away and sends an emoji that perfectly matches how you’re feeling
- The joy of wonderful-smelling deodorant
- When linear time loosens its grip and you are free to move through multiple dimensions
- The first garden tomatoes of the season
- Falling in love more after you break up
- Getting to know your grandfather more after he transitions to after-living
- Petals blowing all over my Brooklyn street in early spring
- Missing the train
- Snow under streetlights
- Daylight savings when it means more daylight
- Daylight savings when you’re forced to return to the austerity of winter
- My spirit entourage
- Being somewhere no one can catch you in their gaze
- Being in front of an audience
- My mother’s love of rich pattern
- The densest, coldest, deepest part of the Hudson River
- Protected space
- Parking tickets
- Patient attention with no agenda
- Being reprimanded by your boss
- Speaking your truth
- Cutting through bullshit
- Going on a hike with a big group of people you barely know
- A reflective glacial lake with no boats
- Ley lines
- The movie E.T.
- When smell opens memories
- Bedtime routines
- Singing to my son
- Singing with my Dad (even when he gives me evil eye if I’m off key)
- Straining to sing a lyric
- Resonating and singing a challenging lyric with ease
- Singing publicly
- Singing alone
- The incense and candles at Catholic church
- The sound of rivers
- Horrific boredom
- Poorly fitting underwear
- Puppy enthusiasm
- Holidays when no one gets too drunk
- Meditating on the beach in the early morning
- Snow angels
- When your mind gets so quiet you can hear energy
- When your eyes get so quiet you can see molecules
- Traffic jams
- Dancing while in labor
- Dancing to integrate failure
- Dancing to remember your place in things
- Dancing everywhere
- Snowy owls
- Did I mention owls?
- River spirits
- Card games
- Dancing the grief of spirits
- Dancing with birds in flight
- Dancing your relationships
- Dancing your life cycles
- Sleeping through the entire night and remembering your dreams when you wake up
- Turning off the flashlight and walking through pitch black woods at night while listening to owls, wolves, and stars
- Clear water in glass bowls
- When someone paraphrases you so well they show you something you didn’t realize you said
- Avocado with lemon
- Having somewhere with a beautiful view to write
In the beginning I didn’t think this would be anywhere near 100 items, but I felt happy and playful as the list grew.
I do very much believe there is value in setting up “spiritual” practices and spaces. The sands of our daily lives are so quick to bury anything that isn’t on our daily task list that it is essential to intentionally create space and time for spiritual work.
But that doesn’t mean anything in our experience should be excluded. On the contrary, there is nothing that can’t be seen as part of our “spiritual” life, as food for our spiritual growth, as an opportunity to step more fully into this wild dance of love.
Meghan LeBorious is a writer, teacher, and meditation facilitator who has been dancing the 5Rhythms since 2008 and recently became a 5Rhythms teacher. She was inspired to begin chronicling her experiences following her very first class; and she sees the writing process as an extension of practice—yet another way to be moved and transformed. This blog is not produced or sanctioned by the 5Rhythms organization. Photos and videos courtesy of the writer.
Image is a still from the 2009 movie “Where the Wild Things Are”
“What just happened?” my entire nervous system seems to be asking. My son, Simon, just completed elementary school, I just finished up the school teaching year, and we just moved homes.
Moving day was in the high 90’s and extremely humid, and by early afternoon I had heat exhaustion. My eyes were strained to the point that it hurt to look sideways. I pushed on regardless, telling myself that somehow it simply had to happen. By evening I felt like I was spinning off the surface of the earth.
I managed to get a small air conditioner from the old apartment to the new one and up the stairs to the third floor, then shut the door to one of the bedrooms and cranked it up. I stripped down and stretched out on a bare mattress, hoping a rest would re-set my system. My skin felt hot to the touch; and I was trembling and throwing up. Logically, it seemed likely to be a combination of de-hydration, heat exhaustion, and anxiety, but I felt like I was dying. I wondered if I might have a brain tumor, a stroke, or some other terminal malady; and went on long thought trains trying to decide if I should go to the emergency room.
I woke up the next day feeling better but still shaky. I walked into Home Depot in Bed Sty and realized that it was hard to see anything at a distance. This is most likely because my eyes are going downhill, but I got scared again. I could feel adrenaline spiking and flooding my body’s systems. I managed to calm down and get what I needed, but I still felt vulnerable. I spent the day building closets out in the new apartment and drinking liter after liter of water. Despite my precautions, I started to feel extremely weird again by late afternoon.
My sister, a marathoner and iron man athlete, has been heat exhausted countless times, and has also suffered from at-times crippling anxiety. “I’m really sure you’re ok. This is what anxiety does. You think you’re dying. Even if you logically know you aren’t. It’s fight or flight.” I found this reassurance immensely helpful. I also spent some time slowly breathing out for longer than I was breathing in, which helped to calm my overstimulated nervous system.
Simon was with my parents so he could be shielded from the chaos of the move and I could be freed up to work efficiently. We moved into the apartment we are just leaving as he was taking his first steps; and now, ten years later, we are leaving as he gets ready for middle school. My priority was to arrange his room so it would be inviting for him when he first walked in and this kept me going even as stress hormones continued to flood me.
On the fourth day, I decided to do one more trip to the old apartment to rescue a box of drawings I had decided against; and I found that I had also forgotten my checkbooks and the hardware for Simon’s bed frame.
I had the odd feeling that we were a receding tide in this place. In the front of the building, I said good bye to my favorite tree. As tears heaved up, I circled its trunk with my arms, thanking it for watching over us all these years (and very much hoping no one was noticing this display of emotion).
I did not practice the 5Rhythms for these four active days, or the two days previous – an unusually long break in practice.
On the afternoon of the fourth day I left to travel to my parents’ house in northern Connecticut and re-unite with Simon.
Last year during the first stretch of the pandemic, Simon and I stayed with my parents for 6 months. During that time, I made it to the woods and to the Scantic River most days, and often danced in nature, in solitude, and in relative silence. In winter, the river flowed along with only the bare trees as witnesses. In early spring, the water level was high and the water flowed rapidly. By late summer, the banks had widened and the river had shrunk down to a small stream.
Last summer was the first of many years that Simon and I didn’t travel; and it turned out that this opened an unexpected door.
To my immense surprise given many years of poor credit, I was able to buy a place in Brooklyn – something that had never seemed like even a remote possibility. This was because of a brief buyer’s market when many flocked away from New York City, the fact that I didn’t spend thousands of dollars on summer travel, and the support of many friends and family members.
Today, following a torrential rainfall, the river was swollen, fast, and muddy. I ran on a loop trail, then decided to do a 5Rhythms wave – that is, I decided to dance through each stage of the 5Rhythms practice: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness. The ongoing light rain intensified, but I found a spot on the trail that was sheltered by tree cover.
I thought I would just dance a two minute wave, but it opened up once I started moving. There was a slight incline, and I used the feeling of gravity pulling my body downhill to find my way in. I noted the sensations of the moving feet, and took deep breath after deep breath. The rush of thoughts settled much more readily than I had anticipated that it would.
My experiences from the previous year when I had danced by this same river almost every day came back to support me.
Today Staccato arrived with ease and precision. I had no problem moving with decisive, clear gestures. The sound of the rain on the tree canopy increased; but I was still shielded and the ground stayed soft rather than muddy.
Chaos disorganized me. “Faster than you can think,” ran through my head, something Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms, would say. It occurred to me that moving faster than the brain can process proprioception might indeed allow us the opportunity to short circuit our habitual patterns – the things we do again and again to escape discomfort, avoid pain, and reassure ourselves that we exist, that we are separate, and that we will never die.
I thought about how territorial I had been during the weeks leading up the move – no doubt an attempt by my mind to reassert what it knows and relies on.
The rain got lighter again as Lyrical arrived, and I rose, extending as I stretched my arms upward, casting and arcing around my small dance circle.
Stillness always calls me strongly in this place, and I moved with quiet absorption.
I left the woods and ran back home in steady rain, barely noticing the steep uphill climb, just taking it one single footfall at a time.
July 2, 2021, 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.
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.
I had just broken up with the love of my life. The first time we embraced, our heartbeats had shifted to match each other, beating in sync. This was the first of many times that we broke up before it would eventually stick. I had built a whole identity around being part of this relationship, then it caved in instantly.
I called my sister, heartbroken, consumed, wanting to talk and talk, to be reassured, to believe it would all be ok, to stay on the line so I wouldn’t have to face the painful feelings, groundlessness, and uncertainty on my own.
Thankfully, a few months before, I had started intentionally studying the workings of my own mind.
My sister seemed exasperated, and suddenly I realized that escaping myself in times of uncertainty was no longer a pattern I wanted to continue.
I hung up the phone and stayed out of contact for several days. I was at the cheapest motel in South Beach, Miami. I scream-cried for two days, slamming my face into the pillows, probably frightening the neighbors, and occasionally pausing to cross the street for the beach and float in the ocean, a tiny being, bereft in the great mother sea.
For the first time since I could remember, I let the full force of my emotions in. It was agony, but it was also beautiful. Somehow, I knew I could face it, though I wasn’t yet sure if there was any way to get through it alive.
Patterns. Strong Emotions. Uncertainty.
As the world grinds to a halt, time slows, and perspective shifts in favor of reflection, I’m forced to confront my patterns, the deeply rooted habits that have hummed along beneath the surface of me for years and years.
I’ve often made the resolution to participate in facebook more often, but have rarely kept it. In the last few weeks, as coronavirus has descended on the United States, I’ve been checking it a lot more, especially since I was in strict quarantine in Northern Connecticut with my ten-year-old son, Simon, for two weeks.
I’m a teacher, and when NYC Department of Education made a sudden pivot (from what now looks like a well-oiled machine) to remote learning to decrease the spread of the deadly coronavirus, I suddenly had to learn a whole new way of teaching for a group of teens who urgently need support and consistency at this time, a role that, sadly, despite my best efforts, I was unable to assume completely at that point.
At once, I was suddenly and without training in charge of Simon’s home schooling, which also meant learning a whole new set of skills and competencies.
I found that I was checking facebook at least once a day. I even started to feel sad that few friends had replied to one of my posts. “Can I get a little love?” I wrote, with a joking tone that was at once needy, stuck. In part, the solitude was getting to me. Also, something in me wanted the reassurance of knowing I was seen and approved of. As this habitual pattern arises, this need to seek reassurance in the face of uncertainty, I have the opportunity to work with it in a new way, to break the habits that keep me trapped in a small sense of self, and blind to my infinite power.
Instead, in the face of grave uncertainty, I think the best policy is to acknowledge and tolerate the discomfort that arises. Otherwise we engage the habitual patterns that we’ve ingrained to keep uncertainty at bay, and in the process re-enforce the small, limited box we’ve forced ourselves into.
That is to say, shit is painful right now. For a lot of us.
And we basically have two options. We can scramble and squirm and try to escape the pain and uncertainty of our situation, through mindless entertainment, overeating, overbusying, worrying, obsessing, complaining, and countless other activities. Or we can stop. We can pause. We can notice the uncertainty. We can feel it in the body as a sour stomach, a clenched jaw, raised shoulders, tightened belly, tensed hips, sweat, breath, heartbeat.
I’ve been practicing a lot, of necessity.
Sometimes it is mundane, a matter of course. Sometimes it is cosmic, earth-shattering.
It seems like truth-guarding layers are peeling themselves away now. I think that if I continue to be diligent, this could be a unique opportunity to open more fully to reality, and to expand my human capacity.
Yesterday, I opened the window to the backyard at my parents’ house, where Simon and I are staying, and pointed the speaker out the window so I could hear the music and dance on the soft earth at the same time.
The yard is a mix of uneven dirt, new grass, and moss. I wasn’t sure if I would be inspired, but as soon as I stepped in to this unorthodox dancefloor, I was gathered into movement. In Flowing, I moved around and around, feeling the give of the dirt where underground moles have carved tunnels, the rise and fall of subtle inclines, the bumps and divets of the yard. I moved gently at first, trying to baby my knees, but as Staccato emerged, I lost my hesitation, moving with vigor and inspiration, at moments partnering with my own shadow in the late afternoon light.
In Chaos, I found a new way to shake–putting most of my weight on one foot and freeing the other side of the body, flapping the hip until the motion richocheted from my center to my edges and flung me into powerful motion.
Yesterday, I danced all day. I did yoga for a while, then danced part of a wave. I danced on zoom for a short time with a friend who, like many, is struggling with grief and rage. I went into the woods and danced a wave by a river that my grandfather loved, ending in Stillness with the currents of the river and the wind passing through me. At night, I danced as a participant in a zoom class that was facilitated by a senior 5Rhythms teacher.
Sad news kept rolling in, keeps rolling in.
I feel guilty for having afflictive emotions, when so many are facing the worst kinds of losses and I’ve been so lucky and so privileged. This is its own pattern, of course. The emotions knock at my front door regardless, and, though I squirm, I don’t go as far as barring them from entering.
One day this week, I felt left out, in a pervasive sense. I felt like no one was answering my emails or comments at work. And many of my friends outside of work seemed to be engaging seamlessly with each other, but I didn’t feel like I really knew how to be part of a digital group, how to participate in friendships this way. The isolation is getting to me. And recently I’ve noticed that I have some fear and resistance around group friendships.
Another pattern rearing up in the face of uncertainty.
In a moment of parent-child discord with Simon, I glanced over my shoulder out the window. A bluejay had landed on a small flowering tree in the yard. A white blob of birdshit escaped him and he moved on.
I turned my attention back to Simon as he resisted my efforts to get him into a creative activity, defaulting to a video game. I pushed harder, he resisted more. I pushed harder. He lashed out. I lashed back. He stormed off, then hid his face, waiting for me to find him, to apologize, to lure him back to good humor. I won’t say that I shortcircuited the pattern this time, but at least I saw it, this habit, yet another habit, that has emerged with extra force in the face of the current uncertainty.
Today is my birthday. Still feeling left out, I (mostly) resisted the temptation to seek reassurance. Instead, I reached out to two friends and asked them to help me plan a zoom dance party and learn the sound tech needed to pull it off. They were incredibly generous, and a number of cherished friends joined. I felt loved and seen. Later, I hosted a family zoom dance party. Some had trouble with the technology, but many danced with good humor, including Simon. In this case, instead of asking to be reassured, I found a way to connect that would allow me to feel included. And I resolved to give more, even in group friendships, so I don’t set myself up to feel left out.
For weeks, I’ve more or less been thinking that if we just get through a certain period of time, there will be a point when things are ok again, are relatively safe, at least from the standpoint of germs. It’s only just now sinking in that there probably won’t be a clear moment, but rather it will be a jagged process that involves considerable risk. The president’s rhetoric concerns me immensely, and I’m afraid of another surge of cases if everyone is given a green light to continue business as usual. Even more uncertainty.
Today I reflected that practice itself can be a habit that interferes with practice.
Playing with Simon on a swing in the backyard, I noticed a tendency to think about what I would do after the swing session, ironically wishing to get back to practice. Then brought my attention to the texture of the swing, the movement of my body as I pushed Simon, Simon’s smile, the feeling of my voice vibrating in my throat, the soft ground, the wind rushing the just-budding branches.
I assigned an article on dealing with uncertainty to the high school students I teach. In it, the author argues that accepting the reality of uncertainty is essential for freeing our minds. She claims that when we are stuck on the impossible effort to establish certainty, our minds are fixed and rigid, but that “an uncertain mind is curious, interested, reflective and malleable.” (Headspace, 2015) From a practice perspective, I explained to them, uncertainty, though often painful, can also be seen as an advantage.
In practice, by staying present with what arises, we notice the patterns and habits that emerge when we are not present–our efforts to establish certainty. In 5Rhythms, we practice continually interrupting our patterns by moving in new ways: an in-the-moment laboratory for uncertainty studies.
If we can acknowledge and tolerate the discomfort that arises without grasping for certainty, we have a chance to disengage the habitual patterns that we’ve ingrained to keep uncertainty at bay. And to meet our lives in the process. Even in the face of chaotic emotions, even in the face of overwhelming fear, even in the face of devastating losses.
In the words of Pema Chödron,“It’s not impermanence per se, or even knowing we’re going to die, that is the cause of our suffering.. Rather, it’s our resistance to the fundamental uncertainty of our situation. Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet, to realize our dream of constant okayness..But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment..freedom from struggling against the fundamental ambiguity of being human.” Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change
April 11, 2020, Broad Brook, Connecticut