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.
The days leading up to the 2016 Word Dance workshop were exceptionally delightful. I went on something of a walkabout with my now-six-year-old son, Simon. He is in a lovely phase at the moment—cooperative, funny, insightful and affectionate—and I thoroughly enjoyed our time together, making a big loop to visit friends from Brooklyn to Tarrytown to Newburgh to Kingston, north to Burlington, Vermont, and then to my parents’ in Northern Connecticut. My parents had agreed to look after Simon Friday afternoon and Saturday while I was at the Word Dance workshop, then bring him back to Brooklyn Saturday night. While I was waiting for my mother to arrive to care for Simon so I could leave, I looked online to see if I had any outstanding parking tickets. I found several, including a “Bus Lane Violation”—something I had never heard of—for 115 dollars. My humor darkened. Simon said lightly, “Well, that’s how it is, Mommy. If you break the rules you have to take the consequences.” I had to admit that he was right, though I continued to feel disempowered and irresponsible.
Because I did not plan properly, there was a mix up about times. I did not set out until 4pm for a journey that typically takes over three hours. In this case, it took four hours. As it was, I did not arrive until 8pm at Paul Taylor Studio on Grand Street in Lower Manhattan, though Friday’s initial session of the Word Dance workshop had begun at 6pm.
In the car, I turned on myself, becoming extreme in my thinking. It started because I was angry with myself for not taking my own needs seriously and for not planning properly; and the trajectory continued to gather steam. Recalling it now, I can’t understand what all that suffering was all about. At the time, though, it just felt like misery.
February 19-21, the dates of the recent NYC Word Dance workshop, had been marked on my calendar for many months. The Word Dance workshop that was held in Brooklyn in 2014 by Jewel Mathieson—poet celebrated and beloved by Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice—was very moving for me. This time, she was joined by Amber Ryan, another teacher who I hold in high regard.
(Note: To read what I wrote about the 2104 Word Dance workshop, visit http://wp.me/p4cEKe-N)
I stepped into the spacious studio long after dark. The room was lit by ropes of white lights tucked into the edges between the walls and floor, and by dimmed, ambient floods. Despite my late arrival, I paused to bow patiently as I stepped into the charged space of the room. The music indicated the rhythm of Stillness, but I found energetic movement, letting myself out of the gate, perhaps, after such a long press toward arrival. I continued to explore a dance that first arose at Paul Taylor studio during a previous workshop—on the floor, radial, turning in all directions with some part of me pinned down, often as my limbs marked a big circle around me. In addition, on my hands and spinning on one knee, I stepped my free foot as far as possible across behind me, taking me into yet another stretching and spinning circle.
The formal moving ended shortly, and we assembled in a semi circle. Arriving late, I still hadn’t entered fully into the construct of the workshop. Jewel performed her signature poem “We Have Come To Be Danced,” a primal, visceral rallying cry to the ragged depths of spirit. Then, a dancer named Nilaya came to the center of the floor to perform while Jewel read a selected poem. Nilaya moved with great energy. Even her facial expressions responded to Jewel’s words; and I admired her abandon. Nilaya was beautiful, undoubtedly, but I couldn’t understand why her dancing was a performance, and the rest of us dancing was just…well…dancing. Is she a “better” dancer than me? Than the others in attendance? Is she some kind of professional? If 5Rhythms isn’t about being a “good” dancer, then how could I make sense of this?
Soon, we were also invited to select one of Jewel’s poems from a bowl, then to move to it as Jewel read. For the last piece, having to do with Jewel’s experience of motherhood, Jewel invited all of the mothers in attendance to join Amber, who had selected the poem. I hesitated, perhaps wanting to remain in doubt, but let go of my questions and stepped forward, along with several others, moving quickly into Chaos. At the end, Jewel explained that she had had a dream of Nilaya “flying” to her words; and I let my questions dissolve. Sometimes I just have to respect the logic of dreams.
The session ended. Over the course of the weekend, I found myself wishing, again and again, that we had much more time. For example, in this case, I would have loved to dance a short wave to take in all I had witnessed and to let it out again.
I greeted Jewel and apologized profusely for arriving late. She generously complimented my work on this very blog. She couldn’t realize how much her kind words meant to me, as I have felt called recently to evaluate what, exactly, my intentions have been with this writing, and what, to the extent that I can know, this writing has meant in the world.
Because Simon was with my parents, I had plenty of time to linger. I offered to drive Jewel and Amber home since both were nearly on the way. Both teachers have given me considerable food for thought in the few years that I have known them—through public teachings, writings and conversation; and I felt blessed to have a few moments with them apart from the larger group.
In a conversation I had that night, I spoke of how much I love opportunities to express what comes up in 5Rhythms work as form—such as poetry, in this case. 5Rythms is so very ephemeral—necessarily so—as it leaves the ego little material to build with. But at the same time, there is so much form available! The person I was speaking with said, “Maybe sometimes it is OK to attach, if briefly, to let it find a form, to say, this is exactly who I am, right in this minute! This is me!” The world of pure energy, of total non-attachment beckons us, but the fact is that most of us are not pure energy. We are not Buddhas. We live mostly in the relative world, of red tape and emotional messes and mundane joys and pyrrhic victories and debt and defensiveness and tiny steps toward love.
As an artist, something I think about a lot is that when we make something external—when we give it a form—we can then respond to it. This now-externalized relationship to something previously only interior can be very fruitful. Creating form, especially in such close proximity to formal practice, runs the risk of ego-aggrandizement, but I wonder if we could see the forms we find as simply part of the spectacular arisings that comprise our humanity—the light show that is our life, the beautiful, dynamic display, arising from the primal everything.
I stayed up late reading and writing, and slept until the decadent hour of 9.30 AM—a rare treat. With plenty of time, I stepped out to get something to prepare for breakfast. Thinking I would light a candle and have a nice, long sit before I left the apartment, I suddenly realized it was 11AM; and that I was in danger of being late again! I collected myself quickly and headed to Paul Taylor Studio, arriving just five minutes before the noon start time.
I was one of the first to arrive on the dance floor, and took full advantage of all the space. First, I explored the perimeter. With my hands behind my head, I experimented with how I had to twist when I moved close to the wall to make space for my elbow. Further along the perimeter, I rubbed against the towering black velvet stage curtains, grounding myself in the pure sensation of the soft fabric on my skin—my exposed cheek and arm.
As others joined the dance floor, the wave carried me on top of it. First, I found the energetic, radial dance of the ground again. Before long, I was sailing around the room, enraptured, with the perfect amount of energy, no physical pain, and no self-abusive thoughts that persisted. I moved into empty space, making a conscious choice to see and feel everyone around me. I said internally, again and again, “I see you there, and I am grateful for it,” an adaptation from a practice taught by the Zen Monk Thich Nhat Hanh that I frequently employ.
People did not seem inclined to meet my eye as I moved around. I remembered that in the last Word Dance, too, it had seemed that people were less inclined to partner than usual. I wondered if this might be, in part, because we were more focused on the words taking shape in our minds than on our interactions. People seemed to keep getting seized by inspiration, then sitting down to write, then returning to dance. We were told to keep our books near the dance floor and that we could write at any time. Jewel also advised us to keep some part of our body in the dance, even when we were writing. At times, I wished for more partnership, but in this construct, dance was more like the warm-up—the deepest intimacy actually came later, in sharing our spoken words with each other.
I noted, as in the past workshop, that I was disinclined to leave the dance to write. You would think I would be thrilled about moving in and out of dance and writing, especially since they are so closely linked for me, but that wasn’t the case. In the Buddhist tradition I am trained in, we are taught to never pause meditation to write. If the words that come up during formal practice are important enough, they will always come back again after. During classes and workshops, I don’t write during the sessions. Often I make skeletal notes about what happened and what associations I had that evening or the next day, but the writing usually takes place 2-9 days after the events I describe.
Jewel and Amber gathered us for verbal teachings. Jewel requested that we offer something lasting “two seconds to two minutes.” She told us how Gabrielle used to have practitioners pick a word, then talk about it in front of the class—relating it to their personal experience—for two minutes. Noting the tenor of anxiety, Amber offered several preliminary practices to get us ready for this kind of sharing. Remarkably, I was nearly un-frightened, and instead felt eager and confident.
Although Jewel created the Word Dance construct and many people attended because they wanted to do the Word Dance work, it seemed that some of the participants had come because they had worked with Amber in the past and wanted to work with her again. Throughout the weekend, Amber endeavored quietly and diligently to support the work taking place in the room, both as the DJ and through selected exercises.
I hadn’t attended to writing at all during the opening wave on Saturday, but it was clear that some had already developed elaborate poems. I think I sort of misunderstood Jewel’s direction. It seemed like she was asking us to share a poem, but didn’t want to put too much pressure on us. Or to pick a word and talk about it? Like in the practice she had talked about with Gabrielle? I decided to work with two words I had randomly opened to in the dictionary, “radical” and “summons”. I was the fourth or fifth person to get up, and said, “My word is summons.” I paused, then said with quavering power, “At what point does the mandate of patience give way to the calling of destiny?”
The notes in my book that I had distilled this phrase from included, “patience balanced with wanting, drenched, moving toward.”
Remarkably, the phrase I offered planted the seed for what I would produce and share over the course of the weekend. This delights me, in retrospect, for some reason. I also notice that in some cases, conversations I’d shared with other practitioners came up in their writings; and I reflected on how very woven together we all are—bound in the fabric of our shared destiny—especially visible to us inside the beautiful construct of this workshop.
Tears swelled in me many times during the morning’s share. They are not mine to offer here and I must be discreet, but know that the stories, words and poems that came up were without exception compelling.
Jewel taught us many practices and writing tips over the course of the weekend. This barely scratches the surface of what she shared, but here is my own attempt to summarize her teachings and create a list of “Jewel’s Rules for Writing:”
- Always have your book available.
- Speak the words you are writing.
- Write from your heart.
- Dance before you write; and keep something moving even when you are writing.
- Find a gesture you can write from.
- Give your breath to whatever emotional field you are in.
(“The more emotion you give it, the more amplitude to carry it out!”)
- Don’t be satisfied with your first draft.
- Leave space on your page to add lines and edit.
- Don’t be afraid to be melodramatic.
- When you think you are lost, you are there.
After Saturday morning’s period of sharing words and receiving teachings, we took a break for lunch. I stayed in the studio, eating the lunch I had with me, then settling into a comfortable corner of the dance floor to write and reflect. A poem began to emerge, but I left it as soon as Amber started the music again, eagerly stepping into joyful movement, once again one of the first people to begin the wave.
Knowing that we would have another opportunity to share work, I complied when the wave concluded and everyone repaired to their chosen spot to write. This time, I wrote feverishly, pressing to get the words out even after we had been called on to begin the share.
Nearly every person stepped up to offer something; and the offerings were even more powerful this time, as themes and context for each person’s writing had by then begun to emerge. The practice of mindful listening is as important, if not more important, than what we offer when we stand up; and I worked hard to meet my responsibility of listening and seeing each person when it was their turn.
The energy and attention of the group grew and grew over the course of the weekend; and I felt a great surge when I stood up to offer my own poem—a notably dark exploration of my psyche and personal history.
(Note: you can read the poem at the end of this text.)
During a brief bathroom break, one practitioner took a moment to tell me that it was a shock to hear me speak. She said we had shared four or five workshops now; and this was the first time she had heard my voice. (That right there was interesting feedback! I can be such a know-it-all! I love to hear myself talk. I love the sound of my voice. Is it possible that something has shifted slightly?) She felt like there was a big difference between my speaking voice and how I seem on the dance floor. I said, “That is fascinating! I will have to contemplate that. Maybe there is some sort of a disjunction? What do you mean? Can you say more about that?” She said, “I don’t know how to say it. I guess I have to think about it a little!”
On Saturday evening I hadn’t lingered, as my parents were arriving with Simon. Because I left so quickly, I did not receive any feedback at all. That night I was unsure about what I had offered. Was it really skillful to take myself into such afflictive territory? Did I really want people who had never met me before to see me this way? Did I want to share this part of me with people who already knew and liked me? On Sunday, though, one woman went out of her way to acknowledge me during the first wave. She held tight to my hand, gazed into my eyes, and said “Goddess.” She thumped her hand over her heart and nodded. I was very moved by her gesture and by her insistence on communicating it. Others were kind enough to express their support over the course of the day. Though part of me understands that others’ approval must not be central to my need for expression, the support felt crucial to my process. Above all, I truly appreciated the non-rejection, even in the face of this ugly aspect of myself.
I danced Sunday morning’s wave with wild abandon. Still wishing for more partnership, I joined whoever might be receptive. I had given some thought to what I would share that afternoon, and had printed poems written during January and February of this year, along with one related poem from nearly twenty years ago. During the wave, I didn’t visit my writing book even once. Jewel explained that we would have one more chance to share something—from two seconds to two minutes of content—and that in this case we would be grouped with four other people, and would take turns enacting ritual theater gestures for each other’s pieces. Because I had attended the previous NYC Word Dance workshop, I was put forward as someone who could help explain the ritual theater work for our group, and I all-too-eagerly stepped into leadership.
I was not ready! I had no idea what to offer. I needed time! We were given the option to meet as a group and plan our skits before lunch, or to have lunch first, then gather with our groups to plan and rehearse. I argued for lunch first, and most of the group agreed and drifted off. One member of our group disagreed strongly. She very much wanted to meet first, then have lunch. I and one other group member offered to re-gather the group and rehearse her piece before breaking for lunch. Reluctantly, the offer was declined.
The woman who told me my voice surprised her paused me in the foyer and elaborated on her previous remark. “It is just like, in dance, you are so ready to hold your space.” She made a strong, closed fist gesture. “But in speaking, you are…well. You are, like, quiet. And thoughtful. It is like a totally different experience.”
On Sunday I had come prepared for long periods of sitting on the floor with a meditation cushion from home; and I posted myself up to review and prepare. I had several different options in mind, but finally settled on two poems—one from the distant past, and a related, new poem. I re-cast both several times, and timed and practiced my delivery for a few moments before internally declaring myself ready.
Our group had planned to work together from 3.00-3.30 in preparation for the presentations, which were to start at 3.30, but we didn’t succeed in gathering until 3.10. It was my idea to meet after lunch (mostly because I wasn’t ready), but I felt nervous when we were so slow to convene. I became staccato, urging us through the first two people’s rehearsals while watching the clock, fearing that I would be the one whose piece was neglected; and, too, fearing that we would all lose this chance to stand in our power and instead be fumbling on the “stage”. The member who wanted to meet before lunch pushed back hard, saying that she didn’t like to be rushed. I backed up but continued to watch the clock. When it was my turn to direct the other four, I recited, explaining the gestures I wanted them to take during key moments in my poems. Then, we moved quickly on to the next person. We were given an extra ten minutes of preparation time, and were able to prepare for each person’s piece. The group encouraged the slightly disgruntled person who had wanted to eat lunch after our rehearsal to set the presentation order, and we declared ourselves ready.
Amber and Jewel asked a few questions about the best way to set up for this final ritual, adjusting lights, music and audience placement. One member of our group who had been in the bathroom asked me where she was in our five-person lineup, and I quietly explained. The group member who had wanted to rehearse before lunch shushed me with an angry expression on her face, “Can you please be quiet so I can hear what she is saying?” I daggered her with my eyes, and allowed my mind to be briefly dragged into anger. Fortunately, the power of the room drew me back quickly, and though the sensation of anger lingered for a few moments, it did not hijack me.
At last, the first group rose and moved in front of the room’s biggest white wall while the rest of us sat at attention facing them. Again, each person’s offering was very moving. The room boomed with powerful words, raw presence, honesty, theatricality and intensity. The first group had practiced extensively and the transitions between each person’s piece were so seamless that it was almost like one integrated performance. I was moved to tears and even to jagged sobs again and again, my heart swelling up. I felt so close to everyone, and so deeply invested in each person’s process.
When it was our group’s turn, I did my best to support my group members and to stand in my own power. When it was my turn to step forward, I again felt the surge of power that comes from pushing myself past my comfort zone, and from stepping up in a room so saturated with presence and creative energy. My voice quivered a little, but I felt very comfortable with the spotlight, moving close to the audience. I said, “These are two poems in the key of Stillness. One written almost twenty years ago, another a recent fragment, with an image that has persisted again and again.”
My group members did not remember some of the gestures I had requested, but—at least from my perspective—it didn’t seem to matter that much. Though I was grateful to them, I was focused on the audience and nervous, so I barely noticed their part of the performance. As I finished and stepped back to support the last two pieces, my heart throbbed in my chest and adrenaline rushed into my legs. Within a minute or less, it passed, and I supported to the best of my ability, trying to remember the indicated gestures and intending to hold space with integrity.
Usually when each person in a big group shares an individual piece, the time begins to drag toward the end; but in this case, when we finished and everyone had presented, I looked around, wondering which group would go next, not realizing that we were already done. I was that captivated by the process and by the products people shared.
We moved very briefly, breaking the biggest rule of 5Rhythms by dancing and speaking at once, elated by the wave of creative work we had lived. Soon, we gathered into a final, seated closing circle. Jewel invited us to offer anything else that lingered. This final share featured few planned products, but many life stories, and many testimonials to the power of the 5Rhythms. Although wonderful friends sat on both sides of me, I didn’t even take in that they were there, as I was feeling totally part of the group, of the field of participation. I had sat down with some crumpled poems in hand, eager to speak my own words again, but realized that what was called for in the moment was a different way of witnessing, of knowing, of speaking. Thanks to the space created by Jewel and Amber, and to the teachings of Gabrielle Roth—who is my Buddha, the woman who opened the doors to everything—I was able to notice and to respond appropriately, gratefully.
“You listen me into speaking.” –Unknown Spectacular Human
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
The un’s page of the dictionary surprised me.
It seems you can add “un” to just about anything
And come up with a legitimate word:
The mayor’s daughter,
I wanted so much to be bad, abject
(somehow I had tricked myself
into believing that was freedom,
affront to convention)
I piled on trauma
And added more trauma in trying to undo it
Fucking everyone around me
Secretly I craved love
But everything I did moved me
Further and further from it
More and more alcohol
More and more of everything
And soon, I moved in worlds more abject than I’d ever dreamed
Pierced, sharp, fierce,
I enjoyed a short reign as the queen of a small-city drug-addled rave scene,
Dancing more than I slept.
Flawed, damaged, broken
Afraid if I was gigantic it would cause harm.
I contained myself,
To the extent that I could
Patience has been an antidote to my defensiveness,
My flagrant temper, my hot ego, my edges.
Yes, patience has served me.
The beauty of quiet moments seeps in through all the cracks.
My now-dead teacher sought to turn us inside out,
Always asking us to dig deeper.
I have held myself back,
Afraid of me
Afraid that ego’s craving
Would cast me on treacherous rocks
At what point can I just unravel it back to clean
At what point, despite my many flaws,
Does the mandate of patience
Make way for the calling of destiny?
When do I cry out
I want it
I want it
I want it-
I want to be turned inside out
I want to stand in the full light of love
I want to be free
“100 Black Birds” (written sometime between 1997-2001, edited 2016)
Let me not flatten you out
For my own comfort, my love.
If you call yourself a morning person,
Then dance all night
I’ll not consider it defection.
An old pattern twitches in my mind,
Like birds pointed south.
I watch an airplane
As it threads through different layers of opacity
Moving from invisible to ghostly to clearly seen,
Then flickering again.
A hundred black birds
Swoop and arc as one
Their gesture, a huge trick kite.
I once saw their conductor,
A man with a huge swath of fabric
Dancing on the rooftop
A hungry ghost, an aching spector,
Directing the birds’ gestures.
I realize now that I dreamt him.
“Birds on a Foggy Morning” (2016-work in progress)
Leafless trees create a seamless arch over Eastern Parkway.
White fog weights heavily on top of them.
A flock of black birds circles in unison—
They are a group of little black shapes
When their bodies are flat to me,
And when they turn to complete the circle
Become thin black lines
And disappear into the flog,
Then re-appear as shapes,
Again and again.
I have had Amber Ryan’s “Examine Stillness” workshop on my calendar for over a year. When I first spotted the date on Amber’s calendar, I emailed her, thinking it was a typo. She responded, letting me know it would take place in 2015, not 2014, and that the date was correct. I noted it right away, and have looked forward to it since that time. I am dismayed and, indeed, angry, to report that I was not able to attend today.
I emailed the workshop producer yesterday to let her know that I would not be able to attend as I was ill, and, too, that I have to take a big test tomorrow afternoon and need to study. I am feeling slightly better physically, but the test still looms. I have been teaching Global History and English in a high school in Brooklyn; and (in part because of a clerical mistake) I recently learned that I have to take and pass several exams in order to continue teaching. The one I am facing tomorrow is a Math test. The test includes Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Statistics, Functions and Calculus. I took remedial Math when I was an undergraduate, and struggled even then. I already failed the test once, but was determined to beat it this time, and have immersed myself in studying for the past several weeks.
I don’t know if I am writing now because I am taking a break or if it is because I have given up. I am still struggling to master high school Algebra, never mind the higher-level concepts I will surely encounter on the test.
Peter Fodera taught Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class this week. I was not feeling well, but decided to attend and move gently, giving myself permission to leave early if I needed to. Arriving to an already active room, I flowed right in, even feeling joy and excitement as I found a safe spot for my belongings and began to move in the collective field.
During that afternoon, I had found myself sobbing after two days of school parent-teacher conferences. I sat with a co-teacher, receiving parents of our shared students both Thursday night and Friday afternoon. I was happy to offer compliments and good news to some parents; and also offered targeted suggestions when called for.
More notable was what the parents and students were bringing to us. It doesn’t feel correct to publish the specifics, but the hours were filled with stories of death, illness, abuse, challenges and sadness. Too, they were filled with resolve and the intention to persevere and thrive, but what lingered in the air was the tone of pain.
After the final session had ended I saw a student in the hallway. He introduced the family member who had come to the parent-teacher conference to support him. Both my colleague and I had tried repeatedly to contact someone from his family without success, as we were concerned that he was not succeeding academically. I also know that his history is pocked with severe difficulty, by his own account. The student’s family member, who I had not even known about, professed great love and support. I was incredibly relieved that this kid had someone to look up to and to watch out for him. I know it is not professional, but I started to cry. I tried to turn away, but the student lingered. “I love you, Ms. LeBorious,” the student said, leaning over to hug me. I hurriedly sent them along to another teacher, shut the door to the room and broke down.
I was happy that I made it to Friday Night Waves class, despite not feeling well. I moved without any effort, relaxing into the music. Peter had been thinking about the Paris bombings; and he decided to select music with the theme of love in response to the events.
In the rhythm of Chaos, I alternated the pace of movement, slowing and softening—almost going slack, then bursting into a new flurry of gestures. I kept sneezing and blowing my nose, even in the excitement of Chaos.
I did not partner as much as usual, preferring to keep to myself. I felt more subtle than expansive, and more gentle than emphatic. I shared several dances, including with one of my favorite partners of all time, but in most cases disengaged after just a song or less.
After the first wave, I decided to take it easy and head for home. I knew I had left my water bottle in a particular spot; but I could not find it. I pawed through bags and jackets to no avail.
At the same time, Peter paused the music briefly to offer verbal teachings. He shared that he had been in Berlin the week before when the recent bombings took place in Paris. A close friend—another 5Rhythms teacher—was practicing alongside him. She was from Paris and had left her young child in another’s care to attend the Berlin workshop. She thought about returning right away, but in the end decided to stay in Berlin and dance.
Peter’s message was clear. You can always choose love. You can always make the choice to turn toward love, no matter what you face—even when there is great fear. Knowing a little bit about Peter’s personal story, this pronouncement has even more weight. He carries some heavy challenges, yet he smiles with his entire body, dances with everyone he encounters and seems, by all accounts, very, very happy. “That is one of the things I love about this practice,” he said. “You can fall in love with everyone! Why not? Why not fall in love with everyone?” He asked, smiling, holding both hands upward as his eyes moved around the room, making eye contact with the many seated dancers gathered around him.
I sit here writing, knowing full well that I should apply myself to studying, and at once feeling doomed. I will return to the studying shortly, but for now I have a little more to say.
I finally located my water bottle, which had been knocked off the end of a table and buried by piled-up coats and bags. I decided to stay just until the next wave started, to avoid being rude while Peter was talking. Then, Peter told us he had selected music with the theme of love (teasing himself a little—I guess for his supposed sentimentality); and I hung my things on the studio doorknob, deciding I would stay for just one more song. I was tired, but the music motivated me.
After the first song of the wave ended, I stayed for just one more. Traveling around the room, I passed a friend who was dancing on the floor—not wanting to put weight on a foot that was bound in a soft cast. I put my hand on my heart and met her eye by way of greeting, thinking I would continue to move through the room, but instead found myself pulled in to dance with her. In Flowing, we danced with increasing expressivity, never rising to our feet, but instead arcing sideways, spinning on the floor and undulating—smiling all the while.
With just 25 minutes left in the two-hour class I did finally leave, thinking I could at least get a little studying in before I went to bed.
The next day, I studied some more. I arranged for a friend to take my son for the afternoon, though Saturday is my only full day with him, and continued to study. Material did not seem to be sticking. In a way, I was trying to learn 15 years of Math in just a few weeks. I felt discouraged.
My five-year-old son woke up as usual before dawn, and, as he stretched his back and rose to consciousness, muttered, “Mommy, are four sets of nine thirty-six?”
That day, I studied some more. I re-did some practice tests and got many of the things I got right a week ago wrong this time. I started to entertain the idea that I might, in fact, not be able to pass the test. That I might lose my job. I even started to think about where we would move if I didn’t have a job and couldn’t afford the rent any longer. Anxiety took over. I thought of all the unfair, horrific events and deaths that have touched me in recent years. I thought of my son’s father—unemployed for far too long. I thought of losing my parents one day. By this point, my mind had completely taken over. I even started to feel anxiety about imagined, projected events of my son’s teenage years, which are still over a decade away.
Another thing that plagued me was that I couldn’t stop thinking about my 22-year-old friend—my son’s babysitter—who has been in a coma for three weeks. Thankfully, she is starting to regain her senses, but she is not communicating at all yet. I finally found out what had caused it—her doctors think she had a stroke. A stroke. I just couldn’t manage that.
By the end of the day, I started to see the tricks my mind was playing on me. I attended a yoga class, and, immersed in embodiment, found language for what I was experiencing. Simply put: fear. I was afraid and aversive. I was angry at the injustice of my situation. Slowly, I let myself open to the fear I was experiencing; and to the reality of the situation I was embroiled in. Really, it was just a slight shift of perspective. The only thing I have some measure of control over—really, when you come down to it—is how I choose to deal with what I have to deal with. Whether I am open to it or not, I still have to deal with this crazy test somehow.
As a result of opening up to my own fears, I noticed my compassion for other people in impossible situations. I felt compassion for the many teenagers I teach who try and try and cannot pass the difficult state exams required to graduate. I also thought about the many Syrian refugees—fleeing danger and violence and stepping into total uncertainty. People in abject poverty. People with terrible illnesses. And, too, all of the people in the exact same situation I am in—having to pass the Math CST test in order to continue teaching despite the fact that they don’t teach Math and have not been trained in the material. Opening to my own pain, and to everyone else’s, softened me; and I spent much of the class crying, with my forehead on the floor.
The anger that I had experienced initially toward an unjust system had dissolved completely; and I was reminded that the measure of my humanity is not just my ability to surmount obstacles and to set and reach goals—but is, too, defined by my ability to open to everything that arises in my experience, even when my circumstances seem impossible and the air seems filled with pain.
November 22, 2015, Brooklyn, NYC
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
Despite the fact that the babysitter arrived right at 7pm and I left promptly, I arrived an hour late to Tammy’s Night Waves class on Friday. The car was literally stationary, embroiled in constipated traffic, on Broome Street just east of Broadway for over half an hour. With the car in the middle of the street, I got out and walked a block down to see if I could figure out what was going on. The snarl remained a mystery. I returned to the car, which was like a ship trapped in arctic ice, and sat, becoming increasingly foul-humored as light cycle after light cycle concluded without the slightest forward movement.
I reflected that the day before there had been heavy traffic delays in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, mostly because of police activity. Fortunately, I was not affected, but everywhere I went, people were driving furiously. One Hasidic man in a black Explorer sideswiped my car dangerously on Nostrand Avenue near Eastern Parkway, cutting me off, then nearly plowed into a teenager on his bicycle. This happened again and again, both in the morning and afternoon. I think because people were so heavily delayed, once they got out of the traffic they drove recklessly, enraged and trying to make up lost time.
Someone tried to cut into my lane on Broome Street. I drew myself forward, hunching over the wheel. “No way!” I called out. Suddenly I recognized myself as identical to the road-raging maniacs that had plagued me in Brooklyn the day before. I was still tight, but formed the intention to relax and to try to avoid being an asshole.
When I finally made it all the way down the agonizingly slow stretch of Broome Street to where I would turn right on 6th Avenue, it was 8.24 PM. I gathered that the traffic was leading to one of tunnels to New Jersey. I knew that if I didn’t arrive to the class by 8.30 I wouldn’t be allowed to enter. I willed the flowing traffic on 6th Avenue to move even faster.
Remarkably, I made it to class during the pause in dancing between the first and second waves when Tammy was giving verbal instructions and demonstrations, and was able to slip in without being too disruptive. I didn’t catch her whole drift, but I noted that she was speaking about inspiration—an elusive quality that I have considered lately, especially as it was absent for me in my last two successive dances.
I sat with crossed legs close to the studio door, and immediately began to move, rolling my head, and undulating down over my knees. I absolutely felt pulled to move. I hoped Tammy would understand and not find me terribly disrespectful. After such a trying delay, I was perhaps overly ardent, moving emphatically and with full ranges of motion.
Tammy very carefully set up the next exercise, involving groups of five or six. Rather than telling us to get into groups and hoping for the best, as sometimes happens in a 5Rhythms class when we are in the thick of a rolling wave; she took the time to make sure that the groups were organized. We were just four until another dancer sidled over to make us a complete quintet. Tammy asked, “Does any group only have four?” One man in our group flapped his hand insistently, his back turned to the group, failing to notice that our ranks had already been completed.
She then asked if one person in the group would please raise their hand. I considered raising my hand, since of course I am a natural leader (or so my mind thinks), but the hand-flapping man beat me to it. The leaders of each group were asked to hold the group by following the instructions associated with the body parts meditation—releasing and moving with different body parts in sequence according to Tammy’s instructions. The rest of us were free to move as we wanted, perhaps attending to the body parts exercise, perhaps not.
Sometimes I find body parts meditations tedious, but this time I was delighted. During a body parts meditation, I tend to go deeply inside and have a hard time finding my way back out to connect again with the other people in the room. On Friday, the freedom to follow or not follow put me at ease; and I was surprised that I embraced the body parts meditation anyway, slipping completely out of it then completely back in, undulating in a fast Flowing. I arched my back and rolled over the crown of my head on the floor repeatedly, completing circling gestures and moving seamlessly into the next. I was on the ground and up, moving individually or with the people in my group, at times matching the pace of others, at times moving as quickly as my body wanted to.
We were instructed to let go of our quintet and to move through the room, seeking the empty space. Ever a compliant 5Rhythms student, I took on the instruction whole-heartedly. You will not be surprised to learn that I overdid it—rushing into empty spaces both low, by people’s shins, and high, above people’s heads—bumping into my fellow dancers a few times. I adjusted, pointing some attention toward the people, but still letting the shifting empty spaces pull me throughout the space.
I beamed, meeting the gazes of both friends and new faces as I swooped around the room. Instructed to partner, which always means to pair with the person closest to you, I connected with a woman I met a few weeks ago before class. She was a present and willing partner and generously encouraged my playful antics. We separated and, by chance, partnered again several times during the class.
Told to change partners, the next person I met was an energetic new dancer. We locked eyes, realizing immediately that we were both game for fun. We were downright jaunty as we leapt and spun, bursting. I have recently become addicted to soccer practice with my small son; and I perceived a lot of soccer in my partner’s movements—both grounded and light, his gestures sometimes through their full arc, and sometimes clipped precisely in mid-air halfway through, tricking his opponent, me. I tricked him right back—like stealing the ball with a staccato pull-back and a sudden, unexpected turn when my eyes indicated a different direction entirely. We, too, danced again later in the class, meeting just as playfully, just as airborne.
Today, at my son’s soccer practice, the parents got as much play as the kids. For the third straight day, the sky was sheer, uninterrupted, blazing blue with a hint of white ombre just above the horizon line. The air was perfectly temperate. I sailed around the field, feeling joyful and light on my feet, laughing the entire time.
This class, for me, was characterized by flight and play, and its ending was the perfect expression of the hour-long narrative. A long-limbed friend who I love to dance with trotted over to me; and we met each other, smiling. He is graceful and confident and inspires me to roll out to my farthest edges.
My own grace is developing. At the moment, I have some bumpiness, some awkwardness inside the grace, since I have let go of some of the habits that might look (to the naked eye) like grace but have really been slight constraint—smooth tracking at the expense of authenticity. In one crouching gesture, I accidentally bumped my head on his knee, giggling. We jettisoned each other, suspension and extension casting us up onto our toes; our palms and fingers intelligent and articulated—communicating; balancing each other and at times falling cheerfully out of balance.
As the music ended, we were both facing in the same direction. I leaned into him, beaming again, and he folded his long arms around me. We stood paused for several moments, both of us with heaving chests, totally out of breath, as the dance came to an end.
October 11, 2015, Brooklyn, NYC
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
Sometimes I am tempted to keep a running tally of “good” dances vs. “bad” dances. The more “good” dances that I have in a row, the more surprised I am when I have a “bad” dance. In the past three weeks, I am 0 for 2—unless you count the elation of dancing at my much-adored and only brother’s wedding—but let’s say 0 for 2 in formal classes. I was tempted to avoid creating a post about these experiences, since it is always much more engaging to write about engaging dances and vice versa; but I decided instead to lean into the un-inspiration to see what happens. I am telling myself that I can always hide it from you if the text turns out to be just one long, painful yawn. I don’t have anything to lose, really, and so I step into the room.
The official word is that there are no “bad” dances. Tammy and countless other teachers have reminded us again and again that we don’t go into a 5Rhythms class hoping for a particular experience—or if we do, we are bound to be disappointed. I note that there is no way to anticipate what will actually show up for me on the dance floor at any given time. I could walk in feeling anxious, self-abusive and vitriolic and leave feeling spacious, compassionate and relaxed. Conversely, I could walk in feeling eager and kind-hearted and leave feeling withdrawn and defensive.
What I flippantly consider to be a “bad” dance is really to say that the dance wasn’t pleasant for me. Maybe I am tired or pre-occupied. Maybe I just can’t find my feet on the ground, no matter what I do. Maybe I want to dance with other people, but my timing is off and I keep finding myself alone or awkwardly forcing partnerships. Maybe I don’t want to dance with others, and as a result overdo my expression of boundaries when approached—with the result that I accidentally isolate myself. Maybe I have an unsettled stomach; maybe I am feeling triggered by someone in the room; maybe I don’t connect with the music; maybe I am struggling to cope with an injury.
The teachings of Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, are very clear on this point. No matter what happens, keep moving. (Back to my words now) There is no good or bad, there is just moving. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t suck. Whenever I lack inspiration, I get a little afraid that I will never be inspired again. It is a little flash of grief—that might or might not linger.
Over the years, I have learned that inspiration comes and goes. It is an interesting intellectual exercise to analyze the factors that might influence an un-inspired dance, but, ultimately, the nature of practice is to keep showing up no matter what. No matter what arises and no matter what obstacles conspire to keep me away from practice. And accepting (if grudgingly) that it won’t always be glorious. Sometimes it is just work. Sometimes it even sucks.
But I wax dramatic to create a cohesive story for you! The fact is that I have had much longer “bad” streaks than 0 for 2. I wrote in the past about a “bad” streak that lasted months. Though I was a new dancer, somehow I had already developed enough faith in the practice to keep showing up, again and again. Also, the two recent “bad” classes weren’t all bad. In fact, there were moments of inspired moving and of beautiful connection interspersed within. For example, I found myself several times moving in partnership throughout the entire room with the same friend with whom I shared a playful, spacious dance that kept recurring during the “Expand Lyrical” workshop. We would engage, perhaps follow each other, remain in partnership though several people separated us, then drift apart again, only to find one another a short time later—picking up where we left off.
Three weeks ago, before I took a week off to travel to my brother’s wedding in Vermont, Peter covered Tammy’s class. Peter is an exquisite teacher—a smiling, intuitive audiophile and I love to be near him. Despite this, I just couldn’t get into it.
Recently, I have written extensively about a sustained, enraptured engagement with the rhythm of Lyrical. Walking into class, I considered myself Lyrical, somehow. I decided to let go of all my edges and relax into the practice completely. Perhaps this was a factor and perhaps not, but I left thinking that the planned surrender of all edges had the effect of making me go flat. Making my expression of movement, and my perception of my expression of movement, and my engagement with the people around me—go flat.
My brother’s wedding was beautiful. Of course, a wedding holds so much—there are always counter-narratives; but the big, open-beamed Vermont-red barn was filled with smiling faces. My son, Simon, as one of the youngest attendees, enjoyed a lot of positive attention. He kept leaping into the middle of the dance floor and showing off his robot dance and his fast, staccato-like footwork, occasionally taking to the floor in his version of breakdancing amid supportive cheers. I danced many happy turns with his Daddy, who I have been spending a lot of time with of late. I also danced an expressive, tango-influenced turn with my sister’s partner, feeling playful. Near the end of the night, the DJ put on a Bluegrass jig, and I found flight. Enjoying myself thoroughly, I dropped to the ground to perform the 1980’s classic move, “the worm” but could scarcely pull it off I was laughing so hard. My brother’s friends complimented me generously on my ability to move, remarking particularly on the “Riverdance thing” I was doing during the Bluegrass jig song. I thanked them, and said, “I love to move. I love to be high up! I have never really tried to move to that kind of music, but it is always a joy to experiment,” thinking to myself, “Ahhh! I love this Lyrical rhythm/partner who has been dancing with me for months, I am so grateful to find Lyrical everywhere, to find it here, maybe it will stay, maybe it is who I am.”
Although 5Rhythms is not really about dance, but is much more generalizable, any time that I am dancing, the practice is to some extent engaged. After so many years of practice, any dance brings me near the field of 5Rhythms. Though of course it is not 5Rhythms practice, these not-5Rhythms dance experiences often arise in the writing for this reason.
I returned to Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class this week after the break for my brother’s wedding, and felt similarly un-inspired. As with Peter, Tammy is an exquisite teacher. She seems to see everything that arises in the room (in all dimensions); and I have soared literally hundreds of times under her skilled guidance. Despite this, I remained mostly flightless throughout the class.
In the interim between the first and the second waves that is often reserved for verbal teaching, Tammy said, “You didn’t think it was really about dance did you?” and went into an unusually long explanation of the rhythms—Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness—perhaps in part owing to the many new dancers in the room.
During the second wave of the class Tammy asked us to group in threes. I turned to a partner right away, but there were no other unpaired people near us. I found someone and moved around another threesome, toward the individual, expecting my partner to move with me. He did not, and stood looking around for me, confused. I returned to him, not wanting him to think he had been abandoned. I couldn’t entice him to follow me, so I settled into trying to follow Tammy’s three-person directions with just two people. She asked us to take turns in the middle, with the two people on the outside holding space for the person in the middle. I thought at least we could take turns letting loose and holding space, but my partner didn’t seem to get that either. I wondered if he was hard-of-hearing. Eventually, another joined us, but I was already pretty disengaged. To make it worse, I thought Tammy asked us to find some kind of repetition to do together in our threesomes. I really don’t like this practice. It always feels forced and uncomfortable for me. If I find a repetition on my own—if my body catches some kind of glitch—it can lead to great insight. If I contrive it, and set out to find a repetition, I wind up feeling like a fake, and get bored quickly with whatever the repetition is—except in rare circumstances when I am extremely connected with my partners. This time, it was unpleasant and uncomfortable. The third to join our group let out an enraged yell, and left us to move through the room. I waited until Tammy released us from the exercise, then moved quickly away, myself.
Let’s see how my sports stats evolve. Maybe some day I will be in a place that there really are no “bad” dances and there is no running tally. Maybe even the not-inspiration will feel like bliss. Maybe I can find total freedom from the constraints and fluctuations of my small mind; and stand shining—individual and archetypal at once—in the glory that is my birthright, that is the birthright of each of us. I aspire to nothing less—nothing less than total everything—than all that we are.
October 3, 2015
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.