My Auntie Mae survived 100 years and four months. She was an institution, holding one corner of a huge family together. And she was kind, good-humored, and deeply committed to her Catholic faith. Because of this strong faith, the family held a traditional funeral despite the ongoing pandemic. I traveled to join them in Northern Connecticut while maintaining social distance.
When everyone was inside the church, I sat on the steps outside and meditated. I was supported by the step behind my lower back and my ankles were folded in front of me. I rocked slightly from side to side, enraptured by the racing clouds, and feeling the chilly wind on my arms.
After many extremely busy days when I could barely take in this loss, a range of emotions tore through me: grief, for the loss of my aunt, for all she takes with her, and for the painful fact that everything dissolves and changes, even my own precious life and the lives of those I love. At moments I lowed with sadness, then settled back into calm rocking. I also felt fear, as COVID cases rise in Brooklyn–where I live along with my ten-year-old son, Simon–anxiety, intense job stress, joy, nostalgia, and tenderness.
I felt very close to my aunt in these moments, even though I wasn’t inside the church observing the Catholic rituals.
When the rest of the family went to a banquet hall, I made a cup of tea in the attached apartment at my parents’ house, and carried it next door with me to sit on my Aunt Mae’s steps. I watched the ghosts in the windows and yard, seeing a movie of my own parents’ wedding in the driveway on my father’s 21st birthday, imagining the tobacco and vegetable fields that the family once owned, remembering picnics long in the past, thinking of the Christmas Eve parties that I have attended every year of my life in the house, and of the antique wooden toys in a chest in the living room that my mother, now 69, played with as a toddler, that I played with, and that Simon also played with.
I sat there patiently for some time.
Then I went to a place my grandfather loved, in the woods by the Scantic River. I drew a big circle in the soft dirt and danced inside it. I spent ages in Flowing, and wondered if I would ever move into the rhythm of Staccato. When Staccato did finally present, it was gentle, muted. Chaos was the same, releasing me in tiny increments. Lyrical shifted me quickly into Stillness, and I gazed up at the sunlight breaking through the leaves far above, and felt the currents of the river pulling resolutely along.
A few days later, I attended Henya Emmer’s weekend class in Battery Park, led on this occasion by Ray Diaz.
That morning I had done a remote yoga class with my cherished teacher Maria Cutrona. At the end, I stayed on the floor rather than rising to join the circle. I had the curious sense that I was spinning down through deep space; and remembered that as a teen I would feel the same sensation after a long run, while laying on the roof of my parents’ house in the sun with my eyes closed, some kind of unknowable source briefly opening its portal.
Ray greeted me with an extended elbow as I entered the tree-lined enclosed circular area near once-immigration-center Castle Clinton and Pier A, a dock for large tourist boats.
I checked in, then stepped onto the dance floor. Trees curved above, lawns stretched behind, and boats glided by on the Hudson River–close to its transition to the Atlantic Ocean. The pavement in this area was set in rolling circles, perhaps once home to a fountain, next to the famous Castle Clinton national monument.
Ray started us with an invitation to shake and I dove right in. This is a silent-disco-style event; and I held onto my headphones to avoid accidentally flinging them off. Soon holding the headphones became part of my dance, and I experimented with tipping myself and balancing the headphones on one side of my head. At times, I held the headphones in my hand and danced without music, especially when I was swept away.
I took my shoes off in Flowing and moved off to the side, where instead of pavement there was soft gravel. The sensation was too much, almost tickling. It forced me to slow down, but I before long I put my shoes back on.
I thought of my teacher Maria Cutrona’s words from the same morning, “The world needs you to believe that you can be a healer.”
“It’s time to wake up,” Ray said firmly into the mic as we shifted into the rhythm of Staccato. I ranged around the circular dance floor, then moved again to the soft gravel at the side closest to the river. I danced with my own shadow, rocking my hips with big, powerful arms. “Use your knees to power it,” Ray encouraged, and I became ferocious, sinking low and settling back into the hips, bursting and spinning, and pausing with creative vigor. “Give it a voice,” Ray further encouraged and I vocalized along with the group, only dimly aware of how odd it must seem to passersby who were out for a dusk stroll in the park.
In another phase of the class, Ray put on a compelling Reggae song, and I shifted from stretching to breakdancing, toggling my knees fast back and forth with one hand on the ground, then leaping into heavy balances and spins, and hopping back into my outstretched heel.
Ray played song after song that delighted me, including the Cold Play song with the lyric “You’re a Sky Full of Stars” just as dusk gave way to darkness. I settled into a dripping Stillness and swept through the shared dance space with great inspiration and love.
Sometimes in the silent-disco format I feel a bit lonely. Not so tonight. I felt connected, inspired, athletic, and free, believing for a time that everything was perfect and that I had everything I needed. Connecting to something I can only call source, and grateful for every dripping minute. Grateful to be alive, in this odd, frightening, complicated time. Grateful for the chance to breathe, unapologetic.
Moving with the gliding boats that were casting light reflections on the wide river, I realized at last that it was fully dark, and time to shift into rest.
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
Photos: Original images by the writer of objects from the home of Mae Grigely, October, 2020.
“Community is the next Buddha.” -Thich Nhat Hanh
I threw up in the car on the way to class while crossing the Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn into Manhattan for Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves 5Rhythms class last week. I think the extreme cold tightened all of my muscles, including the muscles of my stomach. Despite this, I arrived with time to spare. Huddling with a small group of heavily bundled dancers, I waited for the elevator at the Joffrey in the West Village, all of us blowing into our cupped hands, hunching our shoulders, and discussing the weather.
Stepping through the door into the spacious dance studio, I was annoyed to discover someone blocking my way into the room, apparently a member of the crew there to greet participants as they entered. I tried to step past him discreetly, but he moved toward me. I waved him away, moved to the side, and spent several extra moments allowing myself to arrive. The greeter approached me again, leaning toward me to speak, and I surmised that he probably wanted me to place my bag in the large mountain of bags and coats. Again, I waved him away, intending to place my things in the appropriate pile momentarily.
I don’t like to be greeted on entering, in general. Stepping in to a 5Rhythms room is a big deal for me. I undergo an energetic ritual to help me to leave the baggage of a sometimes-very-stressful-life at the other side of the threshold. I don’t want to have to encounter another person’s gaze at this moment, as my intention is to sidestep my own ego and enter naked, unadorned. I love to connect with people, but at this crucial moment having to respond, to project, to make a boundary, or in any way to consider someone else’s experience of me diminishes my ability to let go into my own depths.
After adding my bag to the high pile of coats, I fell easily into motion, sometimes on the floor, sometimes on my feet. I noticed that I was slightly edgy, tightening when a dancer near me seemed to totally ignore my existence and sprawl into “my” space. I reflected that although the holidays were filled with joy and blessings, they also held a fair share of afflictive emotion, including a painful dose of self-hatred, a fact that I kept trying to talk myself out of.
My Aunt Mae, who will turn 98 this year, hosted her annual Christmas Eve party, which has been going on at the same site, in pretty much exactly the same form for nearly 80 years. The big, brick house boarded teachers before my great-grandparents purchased it, and much of the décor remains consistent, including an exquisite red pincushion with assorted pins and thread sitting on a wooden bureau, images of the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Mother, crucifixes, painted religious statues, a coarse embroidery of the three wise men en route, pictures of my grandfather and his brothers on a tractor in the fields, a still-functional cuckoo clock from one of my great aunt’s ski trips to Switzerland, and a hand-colored photo of my great great grandparents.
It was still the first wave of class when the mishaps started. The first event was a falling glass vase, shaken off a little table by the bounding floor boards as the room moved into the rhythm of Chaos. I was halfway across the room, and, like many, paused to see what had happened. Four or five people who were in close proximity moved to clear the shattered glass, and the dancing continued.
“Yes, but regardless of what a test says, anything could happen at any time, Meghan. You never know,” my spiritually advanced atheist father once told me, as I explained about developments in genetic testing for pregnancy. This insight raced through my mind a few days after Christmas. My parents had taken my seven-year-old son, Simon, to a movie, while I met up with some friends from childhood. Coming home, there was a police roadblock. “Which way should I go?” I asked the officer, “I just need to get to Church Street, where my parents live.” “There’s a big accident on Church Street. You can’t go that way. You have to go around,” he said, indicating a detour. I pulled over to call my parents. This was just about the time they should be arriving. It was arctic cold. And Church Street is a small side street in a nearly rural town. There would be very few cars. What if it was them? “Don’t freak out,” I told myself. I called my mom’s phone. No answer. My Dad’s phone. No answer. The home phone. No answer. I started on the detour, a seven-mile loop, calling them again and again, still no answer. And by then I was starting to freak out. And starting to picture a gory accident. My son. My parents. Please Gods, let them be OK, I pleaded. I was driving too fast, but held myself back from maximum. Finally, I arrived at the intersection of Church and Main Streets, where a fire truck blocked the road in both directions. “Please, please let them be ok,” I prayed again and again, “And if it isn’t them, please let whoever it is be ok. Let them be ok.” I parked and ran to the site, my overactive mind full of horrific images.
The crushed cars were not theirs. I relaxed a little. I squeezed past the fire truck, parked at my parents, then ran back to the accident, sucking in huge breathfuls of frigid air. “Were there only two cars?” I asked a fire fighter. “Yes, just two.” It took me another hour to calm down and begin to release my muscles. I also kept thinking about how for someone somewhere this accident, when one of their family members was hurt, wasn’t just a projected nightmare, but was reality. I watched as a Life Star helicopter landed in a nearby field, praying silently.
The next mishap at Tammy’s class was more serious than the previous. A fellow dancer and friend slipped backward and hit her head on the corner of the heavy folding table where Tammy stages the music. There was a very loud clonking sound. Tammy had just instructed us to partner, but everyone paused in horror, realizing what had happened, forgetting about our partners. Seeing that the fallen dancer was in good hands, I realized that to rush over would not help the situation, would help only me, so I held back, my forehead constrained and furrowed. I caught my partner’s eye, trying to let go of constraint. We made an effort to move in tandem for a few moments.
Tammy shifted the group into a Tribal exercise, gathering everyone to one side of the room. She asked one experienced dancer to step forward and create a clear, simple gesture that everyone could follow. This had the effect of keeping us moving, and of taking the focus off of the dancer who had been injured, who was still sitting on the floor, holding her head. Though I historically have a hard time leading tribal movements, I stepped up to take a turn to lead. It was during a part of the song with no obvious beat and I was spastic. “With the beat,” Tammy said into the microphone, and I settled onto the most obvious beat as the song’s percussion returned, trying to keep it simple, relieved when the leader changed and someone else stepped up.
Soon, we switched back into moving throughout the entire room.
Just as the energy of the room was rising again, another mishap arose. This time, the table that the dancer had hit her head on, and that held Tammy’s computer and mixer, crashed to the ground, its legs crumpling on one side, dumping the equipment. Again, several people in close proximity moved to help and the situation was righted quickly. “What is happening? Are we cursed or something? Is there some prankster spirit messing with us?” I asked internally.
“Does anyone feel like stopping?” Tammy asked the room. “Yes,” I nodded softly. But instead of stopping, Tammy gathered us in another collective exercise, and kept instructing us to partner.
I wasn’t sure which rhythm we were in at a given time, but I moved in deep connection with Chaos when it came. Bounding, leaping, touching ground and soaring, “Softer, softer, softer,” I kept telling myself, letting any edges express, but not specifically intending to engage or explore them. Not having danced for two weeks because of the holidays, some of my ongoing experiments seemed to have evaporated, a gestural re-set button. I tried to find my recent big, pelvis-rocking, momentum-coiled back step but instead found new expressions, spinning in a matrix.
When the first wave finally concluded, I had another rush of Chaos and followed its impulse, with energetic arms and released head, moving to the edge of the group as Tammy gathered the class for an interim talk between the first and second waves. She addressed the multiple mishaps, and said that she knew the dancer who was injured was in good hands. She also expressed that each episode had been subject to causes and effects, and that individual members of the community responded appropriately in every instance. She went on to evoke the founder of the 5Rhythms practice, Gabrielle Roth, who emphasized again and again the importance of both individuality and community, especially in the final years of her life.
Just before Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class the following week, on January 5th, I was under a warm comforter with my son, Simon, watching the 1939 version of the Wizard of Oz, wincing occasionally at the 1939 representations of identity, yet singing along, even drowsing off at intervals. “Mommy, why do they have to sing a song for everything?” Simon complained. Instead of going to his after-school program, I had left work early and picked him up at school myself, so he wouldn’t have to walk the mile with his afterschool group in sub-zero windchill. We had dinner at a steamy café with dripping glass windows and wet floors in our Brooklyn neighborhood, then repaired to movie time. I couldn’t imagine how I would possibly have the energy to unfurl and move, but figured I could just go to class and lay down on the floor, perhaps moving a finger or an arm or an eyelid or something. I would probably keep my heavy coat on the whole time, too, I projected.
Dressing, I pawed through my big bin of crumpled dance clothes, looking for something that would enliven my cold mood. I pulled out an orange tank top, and a tiered orange skirt with sequins on the horizontal seams, much like the kind of skirt worn by the faded figurines topping display wedding cakes at low end bakeries. I nearly changed into black leggings and a black tank instead, but talked myself out of it in favor of the orange outfit, though I packed the discreet black articles in my dance bag in case I wanted to change once I got to class.
There were very few cars on the icy, grey-slushed roads in Manhattan, and I arrived at the Joffrey in the West Village within 20 minutes. On the way, I listened to an alarming interview with author Michael Wolff, who had published the book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” earlier that day, yet another presidential event that has caused anxiety and distress in recent months.
Joining as usual with a small group to wait for the elevator, we hunched our shoulders and remarked about the weather, noting the shared experience.
Stepping out at the fifth floor, one of the first people I encountered was my friend who had fallen and hurt the back of her head during the previous Friday class. “How is your head?” I asked. “It’s fine,” she answered, smiling. “I’m so glad,” I said, leaning forward and kissing her forehead.
Stepping into the studio, I noted with slight irritation that there was another crew member greeting people on entry, and was relieved that a distraction arose and I didn’t have to worry about how to manage our interaction.
Settling my bag, coat, hat, gloves and scarf by the already jacket-laden ballet bar in the corner, I began to move, still wearing three shirts, and was sucked immediately into a rhapsodic flowing track, the loud orange skirt twirling heavily around my ankles. Spinning low, I repeatedly brushed my fingertips onto the floor in an arc. Tammy left the teacher’s table and danced throughout the room. I felt her energetic self brush mine as we moved briefly in proximity, experiencing myself as a rotating matrix, undulating luxuriously into and across and out from the center line of my body, rising and falling in hoops, gracing the space above, touching the earth below, my shoulders open and generous.
I peeled off one shirt and then another, leaving them by an open window that was pouring in cold air, and revealing my entire bright-orange outfit. I noted a ferocious pain in my right heel. Flowing low and effortlessly again, I intersected painfully with another dancer, whose toenails dug into the top of my foot as he moved his own foot in a low circle. My face contorted, and I rushed to one side of the room and massaged it, hoping my pleasant flow had not been chased away. Soon, the pain passed and I regained a similar momentum, moving through the room.
I exhaled gratitude and lowed softly, the magic of being in a 5Rhythms room coiling around me and moving me, despite myself, once again.
During the week, I had heard two interviews, one a country music singer and the other a conservative pundit, both talking about white privilege. Both men expressed that before the election of President Trump, they had been blind to the kind of white privilege they enjoyed, and that they hadn’t realized the depths of racism in America. I could relate completely, and reflected on what a painful and important journey it has been, to begin to reckon with my own experience of white privilege. The conservative pundit expressed that he is no longer a member of the Republican party, as it is now characterized by “white nationalist populism,” and for the time being is politically “homeless.”
Tammy invited us to partner again and again, but challenged us to pair lightly, with the reminder that “it’s about being with everyone.” I stepped into several successive dances, many with people I hadn’t encountered before, moving in decisive lines between partnerships, embodying Staccato. Entering into Chaos, still in partnership, I stepped in to a man with glasses, and we moved in a low, carved Staccato Chaos, approaching and retreating, spinning, and presenting our inner knees, moving from the back of the pelvis, the heavy tailbone. “Give your partner your full attention,” said Tammy, and we met each other’s gazes, beaming. Meeting two friends of many years, I attempted a curved orbit, my head leading me, and hit a stopping point a few times before momentum flung me around it, in weightless, inspired circles.
In Lyrical, I moved with the same two friends, never out of breath, finding surprising twists and leaping from released inner legs. Tammy put on the tender, uplifted track “Follow the Sun” by Xavier Rudd and I soared without effort throughout the space, joining briefly with anyone who was open to me. Finding another new partner and settling in, I mirrored him, rolling my shoulders enthusiastically, and opening my throat and palms to the sky, unbridled, as he grinned with his mouth open, the arches of his feet smiling, and lifted off, too.
In Stillness, I traveled. I imagined that I walked up the stairs at my Aunt Mae’s house – the same site of the Christmas Eve party a short time before – turned left briefly, then right, then opened a door into a cold, disused hallway, and another door into a room that I have visited in dreams throughout my life. Inside the room, I passed through another door, and stood at the end of a diving board, gazing out at the cosmos, wondering if I had the courage to step off the board and into limitless space. A shadow-like male ancestor spirit who is familiar to me came to offer support, overlapping with me, encouraging me to move forward, though part of me wondered if I could actually die, could actually cease to be if I did. When I did take a step, my body seemed gigantic. Clouds swirled below eye level. A large flock of birds passed through my chest, calling out. I flickered back and forth between wondering about “my” experience and being subsumed by it.
Tammy gathered us around a lovely class centerpiece that one of the members of the crew had created, next to the room’s quietest wall. It featured transparent fabric with coils of light underneath it as though underground, a little elf-scaled tree that seemed above ground, and crevices of dried flowers tucked into the rolling curves of this tiny representation of earth. She couldn’t but speak about the strident cold, even remarking that the space heater in her office had broken down alarmingly that afternoon. She shared the insight that the state of being frozen significantly slows down the ground, and that some seeds need to freeze in order to be able to sprout at a later time, hinting that this moment of weather intensity is part of a natural cycle, and perhaps that dormancy does not imply the death of movement.
This was a welcome perspective, as news reports I had absorbed that day seemed more dire. For example, CNN reported that the cold is “causing frozen iguanas to fall from trees in Florida.” I also read a news story about thresher sharks getting trapped in the waters off of Cape Cod and washing up dead onto ice-crusted beaches.
By the end of Tammy’s talk I was cold again and didn’t feel like moving more. I stepped out to use the bathroom, and when I came back the room was already transitioning from the first rhythm of Flowing into Staccato. I was disengaged, a little hesitant, and afraid that I might crash someone or that someone might crash me, noticing how different I feel when I am not grounded.
I wandered distractedly for a few moments, then a man I hadn’t danced with before engaged me in partnership. He was very enthusiastic, and I found a little bit of movement with him, visiting some of the gestures I learned while dancing at house music events in the 1990’s. From there, I gathered momentum, and was able to come back into myself and into the room. I joined with a friend in a quirky Staccato dance, tucking my thumbs into my hip creases, jigging my hips, with fully available energy. A community Chaos erupted and I continued to change partnerships, still occasionally letting loose on my own. In Lyrical, I again found a cherished friend, and was overtaken by delight, smiling to my edges. Later, she told me, “I was so happy when you came over in the last wave. It was like, ‘OK, the light can come out and play now!”
In Stillness, I again passed through the door beyond the door beyond the door at my Aunt Mae’s house, merging with limitless space.
Tammy invited us to set an intention. I closed my eyes and thought of my seven-year-old son, Simon, wishing that he would live long, be happy, and know his own goodness. Without contriving it, I also wished that every mother’s seven-year-old would thrive, just as I hoped for my own child – a new default I am noticing recently, as with the car accident scare at my parents’ house, that even in the throes of strong emotions, awareness can automatically consider the collective experience.
In both of these classes, Chaos presented itself again and again, a beautiful marble to inspect every aspect of, not simply catharsis, but too, patient, deep and luminous, demonstrating perhaps that with the help of community we can endure and thrive even in this decidedly tumultuous era.
“It is probable that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community, a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the earth.” -Thich Nhat Hanh
January 6, 2016, 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.
At Riis Park, the solitary birds are my first dance partners this morning. Before long, however, I join with an entire flock, soaring as they soar, holding my arms out wide, twisting in an arc as they move to the farthest edge of an orbit, sinking deep and looping one arm through the other as they change sides, rising suddenly and falling back into my edge, my feet grinding circles in the cold winter sand, covering vast distances on the deserted beach. Seeking solace and insight in these deeply troubling times, I planned this artwork performance—a ritual, of sorts—hoping to find some clues to show me the way forward.
Another place I go to seek solace and insight are 5Rhythms classes and workshops. Created by Gabrielle Roth in the 1980’s, 5Rhythms is a dance and movement meditation practice that embodies Gabrielle’s vision, “A body in motion will heal itself.” The five rhythms are Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness. Each rhythm has its own character, which becomes territory for endless experiments. To dance a wave is to pass through each of the 5Rhythms in sequence. In a typical two-hour class, we move through two waves. On first glance, a 5Rhythms room would probably just look like a wild dance club, but for most people it is also much more. For me, it is laboratory for life, encompassing psychological, emotional, philosophical, interpersonal and shamanic levels.
At a 5Rhythms class just a few days before the performance at Riis Park, 5Rhythms teacher Tammy Burstein says, “We don’t have to just be at a loss, because we have a map,” remarking that many people seem to be stepping into the class “still carrying a lot.” In having a map, we have the comfort of knowing that we have a way forward that doesn’t rely solely on our own initiative or motivation. This is particularly useful when we feel stuck or overwhelmed, as many, including myself, have felt for the last several months.
Waiting in line for the bathroom before class, a woman I had shared a dance with the week before says, “I love your dance. It is like you are always weaving, somehow.” I think she is talking about the way I move through the room, sharing dances, winding gestures inside the empty spaces, and following the currents caused by the many moving bodies. I introduce myself and smile, thanking her for the compliment and for the feedback.
Just two days later, I find myself weaving the air with my arms as I undertake the performance artwork at Jacob Riis National Seashore. I had been thinking of doing this performance for many months, but when I finally decide to actually do it, I have less than a week to prepare. I send an invite to a few close friends, but I send it late at night, just a few days before; and I anticipate that it might be just me and the photographer.
In frigid temperatures, my hair a taut flag in the caustic wind, I set up a wooden box as a table, a dozen glass bottles with corks, a pen, and a ream of paper—barely held in place by a jagged piece of brick. Then, I begin to move with the ocean birds as they appear in the sky. I watch them carefully, doing my best to revive the lost art of augury—an important ritual for several groups of ancients—divination, or fortune telling, by the flights of birds. I hoped to draw some meaning from the sky that might offer hope and direction in the coming months, especially since the political situation has grown increasingly worrisome of late.
Stepping into the 5Rhythms class a few minutes late, I do not start down on the floor, as is my usual custom, but instead stay on my feet and join the group in moving my attention slowly through different body parts, as led by the teacher. I find vibrant movement quickly, releasing the shoulders, releasing the spine and releasing the head’s weight, which cascade me into circular motion in the first rhythm of Flowing. Flowing is characterized by rounded, unending motion with a strong emphasis on the feet; and I move softly, with weight, the soles of my feet in in close contact with the floor.
Still engaging in the Body Parts exercise, we segue into the second rhythm of Staccato, and I begin to move around the room. Staccato is characterized by sharp, clear movements with an emphasis on the hips; and I sink low, my knees sharply bent, moving forward and back, my elbows forming pointed triangles and leading me into movement. Tammy suggests that we could make a choice to just let go of everything we are carrying. I stop thinking of things outside of the dance and step into many successive, brief partnerships. Wondering if she perhaps prefers to be left alone, I nonetheless join with a friend who often favors the periphery. As I move toward her, she smiles and steps forward to dance with me. Another friend joins us, seeming to boing upward as he approaches, then twisting and weaving around us. We both become even more activated, the three of us moving in an elastic matrix, swapping places and moving around the edge of our small group, and taking turns moving through the middle.
The third rhythm of Chaos and the fourth rhythm of Lyrical reveal the miracle of being totally unique and totally universal, at once. I join with a woman in Lyrical with whom I have shared many dances of rolling shoulders and circling hips, each of us bending forward in turn as our shoulders descend and cross downward, losing eye contact, then rising again as the shoulder pulls back from blocking the jaw, smiling, and moving similarly around each other’s backs, always arriving again at smiling eye contact. This time we find new patterns—intricately-syncopated steps inside of steps—as a playful, remixed disco song booms from the powerful speakers.
I learned that the Ancient Roman augurs—the ritualists who read the flights of the birds for official purposes—would have had a great deal of say in who would lead Rome. If the signs were interpreted favorably, a king or emperor would be crowned—the origin of the word “inauguration.” It was believed that the birds transmitted the will of the Gods, and reflected the relative chaos or harmony of the larger cosmos. I wondered what would have happened if anyone read the birds’ flights on January 20, 2017; and if dire predictions would have mattered.
Total porousness comes a little easier after so many years of practice; and it’s been awhile since I’ve had the pleasure of being totally shattered as a result of feeling integrated into the collective field. In this case, during the fifth and final rhythm, Stillness, I move through the room gently, like breeze, passing through people’s energy fields and allowing them to pass through mine.
Again on the beach in the performance ritual, as words arise, I kneel in front of my little table and write down any phrases that come to mind. Then, I roll up the paper I have written on, push it into a glass bottle and cork it. It is very cold and I have to sustain vigorous movement, but I do this a dozen times, quickly, preparing the bottles that will be thrown into the sea at the conclusion of the ritual. Of my attempts at divination, one stands out:
“In times of fear,
Turn to community-
Fly in formation.”
The following week at class, the experience of having undergone the performance ritual with the birds works its way into my dance.
This time I begin with my body in full contact with the floor in the first rhythm of Flowing, moving in concentric circles in every direction, edgeless, finding tension at the most extended points to stretch my muscles, arcing through my side, shifting over the back of my head onto the spine, then back around. Still moving in concentric circles on the floor, I begin to move through the room, one leg reaching far behind me and pulling me into another level of circling. While rolling over the back of my head, I gaze up at the standing people around me, finding empty space as it opens up and moving into it, still on the floor.
I’ve been working with a therapist lately; and we begin each of our sessions with five minutes of movement. Recently, I started with my ear on the soft oriental carpet. Hums from the building became audible; and I heard two voices from the floor below in conversation. I thought of 5Rhythms teacher Kierra Foster-Ba, who has often said, “Just like any other animal, we receive a lot of information from the ground.” With my ear to the ground, literally, I felt like I could listen for danger, read the signs, and respond appropriately—engaging my primal instincts during a time when I might otherwise be tempted to rationalize the signs of danger to convince myself I am safe.
A recurring dream came up then, too. I am at Cape Cod in a rented cottage on a cliff by the sea with several members of my family. The ocean has receded by miles, exposing the sand beneath; and an eerie quiet had arisen. Although when I first had this dream I didn’t know the early signs of a tsunami, somehow I knew that a gigantic wave was about to erupt from the silence. Walking through the screen door, I plead with my mother and sister to leave with me, to flee to high ground. They decline, peacefully resigned. I get into a car and drive uphill, overtaken by complex emotions—a sharp desire to live, both grief and admiration for my mother and sister, and fear that the massive wave will overtake me.
On the way in to class, I feel annoyed and unreceptive. There is someone in attendance I always have a lot of mind chatter about, believing she is superficial for some reason that surely has little to do with her. But before long, the music hooks me and I am moving through the room. A dance version of Erykah Badu’s “On and On” offers me a Staccato door to enter through, and I step into multiple partnerships, moving low and backward, ratcheting different body parts, and articulating movements with precision and thoroughness.
Before dance that night, my seven-year-old son, Simon, uses the phrase “magical sweat” in relation to some wet socks that have surprised him by drying quickly. The phrase “magical sweat” repeats for me several times during the class, and particularly as Staccato gathers fire. As Staccato transitions into Chaos, I let loose, grateful for a reserve of easily available energy. My hair falls over my face and eyes as my head whirls freely, leading my entire body in spinning. I note the woman who I had judged as superficial dancing right next to me, and realize the smallness of my petty resentment. The truth is that we are all superficial to some extent, myself included. As I let go, I inwardly celebrate that she lets go, too, and move with many emphatic and wild dancers in close proximity.
In Lyrical and then in Stillness, I spin and leap in the center of the room, my wings held wide, recalling the movements of my many bird partners the week before. Several successive dancers join me in flight, each seamlessly integrating into my dance of sky, swooping and soaring very close to me, then spinning off into new partnerships.
Realizing that my feet will get wet when I go to the edge of the sea to throw in the bottles, I know I have to move quickly or risk frost bite. I make three trips, carrying several bottles at once, and toss the bottles into the waves. As soon as the last one hits the water, I sprint to put on my boots and winter jacket, considering the performance complete.
Regardless of whether the signs I have divined in any way foretell the future, and, too, regardless of the direction the map may or may not take me, I am grateful to have a map, grateful for a way forward, and grateful for the unlikely blessing of this life, this tiny glimmer that reflects the magnitude of infinity.
“Good hope is often beguiled by her own augury.” -Ovid
March 19, 2017, 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.
“Imagine the conversation we’d be having if we weren’t debating facts.” –Masha Gessen
“The impulse to normalize” was the subject of a radio interview I heard in the car on the way to class at the Joffrey in the West Village. In the interview, Masha Gessen, author of “Autocracy: Rules for Survival,” encouraged the press to continue to report lies and inaccuracies, but at once to analyze language and missives for hidden intentions, and to include reporting on the deeper stories at play. In my mind, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, economic opportunism, and hatred should never be seen as normal.
These thoughts preoccupied me as I stepped in to the Sunday Sweat Your Prayers class, taught today by Mark Bonder. I began to move in looping circles, occasionally changing level or direction with a drop or rise of weight, absorbed in gentle movement, my entire body released before Mark even stepped into the room. One song brought me to the floor to stretch and move in continuing circles and arcs, then I was up again, continuing an endless, weighted spin.
During Flowing, Mark put on the Herbie Hancock version of Bob Dylan’s 1964 protest song, “Times They Are A’ Changin” with the female vocalist Lisa Hannigan. Her gentle voice broke my heart as I considered that in 1964, though there were many challenges and obstacles, times seemed to be changing for the better, at least in terms of prospects for oppressed communities. Now, in post-election 2016, times are again changing, though from my perspective, not for the better. I encountered a friend and remembered the powerful tide of emotion she expressed during a discussion at a spring workshop because of the outbreak of overt misogyny directed toward Hillary Clinton. Hugging each other softly and rocking from side to side, we both cried, understanding each other’s grief without any need for words.
According to the 5Rhythms Heartbeat Map that was created by Gabrielle Roth, the originator of the practice, each of the rhythms corresponds to a fundamental emotion. For example, Flowing corresponds with fear, and Chaos corresponds with sadness. For me, however, these two are reversed. In Chaos, I find relief from fear, the release of trapped emotions, and the expression of previously repressed energies—which might include grief. The sadness and grief that are intrinsic to human experience, or that occur in current events—both personal and collective—for me, that all finds its expression in Flowing.
Flowing—of the five rhythms, the rhythm that is perhaps most foreign to my nature—has been a solace for me lately. Once I begin to move in circles and feel my feet on the ground, I often move around the room, awash in humanity, floating in a sea of gestures. There is a brushing, touching kind of seeing-and-being-seen. It is not the direct, individual eye contact of Staccato, but rather the humble seeing-and-being-seen that drifts gently, letting in without judging, framing or resisting. I move patiently, saying to each person (whether I meet their eye or not) “I see you there; and I am grateful for it.”
When Staccato arrived, I groaned inwardly. Lately, I have not wanted to move into Staccato. My mind wants to argue, “Isn’t it enough to be alive now? To be moving and finding some small joy? Must I find direction on top of it all? Do I really have to act?” My yoga teacher yesterday delivered a staid, yet impassioned call to arms about the state of the union. In principle, I totally agree with her. Yet the fact is that I have no direction at the moment. At some point, I have to stop reeling and pick a point to move toward. In Staccato, the music featured big, clear beats, then some small skirmishes. I focused my attention and tried to step directly on the big beats—no small accomplishment, given my affinity for syncopation. I had a useful insight as a result: in addition to being expressive, bold and sometimes uptight, Staccato can be methodical.
In a culture where we are encouraged to live from the heart in a hallmark sense—to be bold in flashy gestures—the heartfulness of methodical action—of discipline—is often overlooked. In the last couple of weeks, I have been seriously considering quitting my current work and finding a way to earn a living as a healer. I very much want to be immersed in practice and in work of spirit. However, I realized within today’s Staccato dance that chucking everything and starting a new path wouldn’t necessarily be the most skillful way to follow my heart. In fact, in my current work I am very much a healer already. If I continue to water the seeds I have been planting, I will realize my dream within my existing context, without even having to defect from my profession.
Staccato, Chaos and Lyrical toggled back and forth in the first wave. I joined forces with a new friend and we leapt and flew, including dramatic stops, extensions and emphasis at the far edges of our gestures.
In Stillness, I drew inside. My eyes nearly shut, a litany of symbolic gestures arose. I imagined that I spun a thick cocoon around myself, then created an exit, stepped out of it, and left it on the floor. Revealed, exposed, I felt as though the Gods could fully see me, dancing in a light body, though I told myself that if I needed it, I could always re-gather the cocoon, which was laying close by on the floor.
In the second wave of the class, Chaos and Lyrical were braided together. A few days previous, in the elevator with a friend, we talked about the current political situation. “We’re fucked,” she said, trying to sound casual. I said, “Lately, whenever I have had a moment of Lyrical, of joy, amongst the Chaos, I’m like, ‘Wow! I’m actually happy! Let me just appreciate this!” I was delighted to find pockets of Lyrical even inside of intense, prolonged Chaos. At one point, Mark played a rollicking, jig-like song by the Swedish band Hedningarna and I soared, along with many others, sailing, flicking, fluttering—with every possible pattern of ball change, high up on my toes, then we moved back into heavy Chaos—clearly, the rhythm of our time, reflecting that the only thing that seems “normal” to me at the moment is the inevitability of Chaos.
December 4, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC
(Image of Bob Dylan on winning the Nobel Peace Prize from consequencesofsound.files.wordpress)
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
“The intention for this workshop is full, complete and unrelenting self-acceptance,” said highly regarded 5Rhythms teacher Kierra Foster-Ba during the course of the one-day workshop “Light & Shadow” at Martha Graham studios on Saturday. 5Rhythms is a dance and movement meditation practice created by the late Gabrielle Roth; and the “Light & Shadows” workshop was a committed investigation of the shadow aspects of each of the five rhythms—Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness. After a series of tightly scheduled events, I found myself en route to the West Village, hoping a miracle would grant me parking; and pondering the fact that there are so many terrifying, uncomfortable, collective shadows to dance at this particular moment. No matter how things go with the election, there is no denying that we have seen some horrifically ugly aspects of our humanity recently.
Before stepping up onto the gloriously forgiving sprung floor, I took several moments to notice the powerful ritual of stepping from the world into the space of formal practice. We began with a brief wave—what we call it when we move through each of the 5Rhythms in sequence—and I found movement easily, though I noticed that I was more introverted than usual.
After the opening wave, Kierra gathered us together to offer spoken instruction and to demonstrate one way of moving in each rhythm. Kierra noted that there were several participants who had never before attended a 5Rhythms class or workshop; and she took the time to teach essential points before moving on to the shadow work. She spent the most time on Flowing—the first and most foundational rhythm. She explained that Flowing is led by the feet, and is an invitation to drop all the way down into the feet in order to connect with the instinctive self. Next, her movements became sharp and she exhaled noticeably, “Staccato is about being in the world.” She went on to say, “Staccato is directional. Letting in and letting out.” The movement of her head accelerated and she began to rock back and forth energetically, saying, “Chaos is about letting go.” She emphasized that if you give yourself over to Chaos, including not caring at all about how you look to others, you are inevitably led into Lyrical—the rhythm of joy, of lightening up. At Kierra’s request, another well regarded 5Rhythms teacher, Jane Selzer, got up to demonstrate the rhythm of Stillness, as Kierra explained on the microphone that breath is the gateway to Stillness, and that in Stillness we begin to let pauses come into our movements.
Having set the foundation of the rhythms, Kierra went on to speak about the shadows. The shadow of Flowing is inertia, of Staccato is tension, of Chaos is confusion, of Lyrical is being spaced out, and of Stillness is numbness. Although the temptation is to see the shadow as a negative aspect of the rhythms or as something to get rid of, Kierra encouraged us to think of the shadows as something with real “nutrition,” and even went on to later describe the “gravy” of each shadow, inviting us to consider that the shadow rhythms might even be as enjoyable as the “essential” rhythm in some ways. She also introduced the theme that the shadow rhythms could relate to parts of us that we are ashamed of and keep hidden, sometimes even from ourselves.
Tuesday was a difficult day for me. I can’t exactly say why. A stressful situation had dissolved a few days before; and perhaps it could only hit me after the fact. My nails were bitten down, my hair’s ends broken, my skin was unhappy, I couldn’t eat as I had something that must have been heartburn, and my lower back hurt. The dentist told me the pain I was feeling in my jaw was not because I needed some urgent dental surgery, but that the likely cause was that my gums and teeth were showing signs of stress. I couldn’t find joy or optimism, especially in the context of work. Everything seemed hopeless and useless. To make matters worse, I couldn’t swim after work, my daily habit for re-setting myself to neutral, because in my rushing movements I had forgotten my swim bag.
That evening, my six-year-old son, Simon, did his very best to cheer me up. He is an exceedingly charming child and tried all the tricks that usually work. “How can I make you happy, Mommy?” he finally asked. “Oh, my beautiful son! You always make me happy. But today I am just not feeling good. I’m not exactly sure why, but I just don’t feel happy. Sometimes it is like that, little one. Sometimes you just have to let whatever it is work its way through without trying to fix it.” After Simon went to bed, I was tempted to call my mother, as she always helps me feel better, but I decided not to. I wanted to have a beer as soon as Simon went to bed, too, but I decided not to. Instead, I practiced yoga for a while, letting the painful, disheartened feelings I was experiencing have full sway. It was not easy to be with the discomfort.
Kierra was transparent about the structure of the workshop; and explained her plans for working with inertia—the shadow of Flowing. She invited us to stretch out on the floor and let ourselves slowly be called to action by the music. There would be three songs to let ourselves be in inertia, then find our way into moving. I started out moving kind of quickly, and consciously tried to slow way down. The gravity and resistance of inertia didn’t feel that different from how I normally experience Flowing—where I love to whirl and grind myself into the floor, partnering with gravity and solidity. I slowly gathered myself and rose to my feet, beginning to move throughout the room. Kierra picked up the microphone, “At this point, ask yourself, ‘What do I need right now in order to find Flowing?” What came immediately to mind for me was, “I need other people. I need to see and be seen—not direct, not confrontational, but obliquely, softly. To be influenced by other people’s gestures, to be swept along by the currents of the bodies around me and to gently affect the currents of the room, myself.” I thought of traces, of mingling, and of kelp plants, waving their tethered arms with the movements of the deep ocean.
To some extent, working with the shadows is about transforming our relationship to aversion; and Kierra again and again visited the theme of loving and supporting all parts of ourselves, including the parts we would perhaps rather disown. In Buddhist terms, aversion is the act of pushing away from what we find distasteful or frightening. Working intentionally with the shadows is to choose to move toward the things we would normally try to push away. Both in 5Rhythms and in many Buddhist traditions, moving intentionally into what we want to move away from is seen as a way to open the heart and mind, not as some form of masochistic self-abuse. Perhaps moving directly into pain—rather than doing everything in our power to get away from it, through over-drinking, over-eating, over-exercising, over-working, gambling, drugs, filling up every space in our minds with churning thoughts, or filling up every space of our lives with frantic activity—can serve us.
Next, we moved on to the investigation of Staccato. The shadows of each rhythm are even less fixed than the essential rhythms; and though we learned that the shadow of Staccato is tension, Kierra also added that the tension can lead to repression and control. I clenched my fists and set to it. I had to keep fluttering my lips and shaking out my head, as the level of tension in my body didn’t feel healthy. My dance at this point was not very inspired. I thought about Gabrielle Roth, how she used to stop and straight out tell people to dig deeper, to give more. At that point, Kierra stopped the music and said, “I’m going to play a song now that is really going to allow us to go there. This might even be a little bit aggressive.” And, oh, was it! Filled with angst and speed and resistance, I became a demon, letting aggression and anger arise, deep, deep in the hips, scraping, clawing the air around me, raking my knees into sharp angles, my head released and flinging itself with as much speed as my hips, feet, knees and elbows. I danced near a friend with a very strong practice and his devotion, passion and energy inspired me to dig even deeper. A giddy, chemical release flooded my quadriceps and soon the rest of me. As the last Staccato song concluded, Kierra commented that anger can be a teacher; and that it can alert us when our boundaries have been inappropriately transgressed.
On the note of repression, I thought about an incident that took place during a meditation retreat I was staffing several years ago. We were sitting on meditation cushions in a small group of perhaps ten people, engaged in a formal discussion. We were talking about aversion—again, the Buddhist concept of pushing away what is unpleasant or uncomfortable. In response to one of the comments about the aversive shell we create to keep ourselves safe, I said, “Well, you know. It would be one thing if shutting down or pushing away actually worked to make us happier or keep us safe. The thing is that it really doesn’t work. If it did I would be all for it, but it doesn’t.” I’m not exactly sure how it was framed, but I said something about, “It’s not like it’s the subway in the South Bronx at 2AM in the late 1980’s, when you might actually need a shell around you.” A flash of raw anger shot around the circle; and every single person felt it before even a word was said. One woman spoke up, expressing that she felt that what I said was racist. Man, that hurt. Shame of the most intense possible quality flooded me. My heart started beating like crazy. My partner of many years was a black and latino man. We had shared hundreds of hours in discussion about racism, ranging through many different levels. Secretly, I had always been terrified that on some deep level I was actually a racist. Though I was afraid, I approached the woman during the next break and asked her to talk with me about her feelings. She was very receptive; and after, I understood how she could see my comment as racist. She also thanked me, saying that she was always calling people out for racist comments; and that I was the first person who had ever come and asked her to talk about it.
This terribly painful experience gave me great insight; and a rush of relief flooded me with another set of powerful chemicals. I realized I had been afraid that there was some essential part of me that was racist. Every other essentialist part of my psyche had been rigorously interrogated, but this part remained hidden, obscured by shame and fear. (Note: As you probably know, from the perspective of some Buddhist philosophy “essentialism” is the belief that there is a separate and definable “self” and too, implies that reality has some logical kind of coherence or definability.) I realized that just as there is no essential self; too, there is no essential racism. As I currently understand it, racism is a process—one that affects every single person who lives in this culture. Fundamentally, it is our flawed human tendency to separate the world into “us” and “them” that lays the foundation for racism, not an intrinsic hidden evil; though there is no denying the intensity and complexity of racism as it now functions. It would be impossible to overstate the importance of this insight for my personal path. Even my firmly-held idea that I was a not-racist was limiting my perception of phenomena, and, as such, needed to be interrogated, as much as any other part of me, in the interest of uncovering the deepest truth.
As the songs devoted to the investigation of tension—the shadow of Staccato—ended, I caught a friend’s eye. We both smiled, and our shoulders started a conversation. Without any thought, we stepped into a Staccato dance, with open chests and shyly playful gestures, before sitting down with the rest of the group to debrief the round of exercises.
Before the second half of the Light & Shadow workshop, we took a brief break, then danced another short wave before settling into an investigation of confusion—the shadow of Chaos. For the first song, we were invited to start with the shapes of “I don’t know.” This exercise did not resonate for me—which is not to say that it didn’t work for me. Certainly, it was acting on me in some way. In every class and workshop, even when I am transported by bliss, there are some exercises that have more charge than others. The following suggestion, that we dance an agitated kind of confusion, didn’t really resonate this time either. Maybe it is partly because I don’t actually mind being confused. I am as cerebral as they come, but I don’t mind that I have all kinds of contradictory opinions and experiences and theories. The final invitation during the Chaos shadow work was, “What does it look like when you really don’t know something, but you are pretending that you do.”
Just that morning, I had been bragging that I don’t usually hide when I don’t know something. I saw a friend—the parent of a child in my son’s class; and I couldn’t for the life of me remember her name (it was this friend I was bragging to). We had shared at least four or five conversations, been at the same party or picnic several times, and our children genuinely like each other. Her name has four syllables and seems unusual to me. I felt embarrassed that I still couldn’t remember it, but I came clean right away, rather than trying to skirt around my lapse. We spoke at length about names and naming and identity; and I learned a lot about her home country. And I have finally committed her name to memory, so I will be able to hug her and greet her by name the next time I see her.
At the workshop, we paused to share thoughts on the shadow of Chaos. Kierra was kind enough to acknowledge my barely-raised hand, and I shared, “What I got was…that confusion arises from misunderstanding the nature of reality. The dissolution of all meaning systems. That everything is moving. And that even the ground isn’t fixed.”
Kierra surprised me by asking, “Can I work with you for a minute? To help you find the ground. I want to ask you to go into Chaos.” I stood up and moved instantly into a massively energetic Chaos, with whipping head and whirling gestures, moving from the floor to the sky and back, with occasional pauses of sharpness in a fast-spinning storm. Kierra offered an oblique compliment that made me feel happy, then went on to talk about how the 5Rhythms can also be seen as a philosophy and as a way to live.
I was very grateful for her kind attention, but I feared I hadn’t communicated the emotional truth of my experience very well. That even the ground moves feels like a revelation (or at least a reminder), rather than a lament. For three years, I worked with teens from Haiti who had been in the devastating earthquake, when the ground literally broke apart. Nearly all lost many family members; and some were injured. I have also practiced 5Rhythms extensively at the edge of the sea, where the ground shifts constantly. There, what was once ground could suddenly be underwater, roiling with rocks and sand. I have incredible gratitude for the principle of ground, but believe there is nothing—absolutely nothing—that is fixed. I think that the principle of grounding is a different matter, in a way. When I say there is no ground, I guess what I really mean is that the only ground we can count on is actually an experience that comes mostly from within. Rather than trying to find a fixed external point to attach myself to, I try to build the skills I need to live in a world that is always in joyful, terrifying, ceaseless motion.
Kierra seemed to be wanting to demonstrate that release is part of the secret to finding the ground. I understand and appreciate this perspective, but I continue to grapple with a new level of what “ground” is. Somehow I have to find a way to trust, surrender to, and adore the ground—at once without clinging in any way to the notion of it. Yet another thread that is a work in progress!
To conclude our debrief of the Chaos exercise, another participant raised his hand to share that, ironically, letting himself go into confusion seemed to allow him to find direction and focus.
Then, there was Lyrical—the rhythm that for years was so foreign to me I would pretty much skip it when I practiced independently. During classes, when Lyrical arrived, I would often be stricken with terror, and have to fight an impulse to check my phone to make sure there hadn’t been some horrible calamity. Kierra invited us to start by making “spaced out” shapes. I started with the familiar shapes of feeling verbally attacked, withdrawn completely—disassociated to the point that I literally could not follow a conversation, prompting a criticism I heard hundreds of times, “Oh, great! The ‘deer in headlights’ look again. That is just like you. You…” Our next investigation was of being distracted. I marched anxiously around the room fixated on an imaginary cel phone. During the final song, Kierra invited us to let ourselves space out to see what might happen. I loved this part! I fixed my gaze on some high up, far off point, sometimes in a different direction than the one my body was moving, and soared through the room, high up on my toes.
The rhythm of Lyrical—after many lifetimes of estrangement—opened up for me the summer before last. After sinking several levels into connection with the ground as a result of many years of disciplined practice, space beckoned me. On a wide beach, a man was flying a huge, red kite-surfing kite, the kind with two heavy-duty handles. It became my partner, and we joined in a massive, radial dance of perhaps a hundred yards or more, surrounded and joined by my son and a group of running children. From then, Lyrical became available to me, accompanied by rainbows, and I welcomed it as a miracle. It was only the combination of ground and open space that allowed me access to this gateway.
I recall another experience of space that offered me an earlier glimpse of Lyrical. It was also during a meditation retreat. We had been following instructions about how to work with our minds and bodies for many weekends. During the first weekend, we held our eyes open, with our gaze just a few feet ahead of us. In the second, we raised the gaze slightly. By the fourth, we would occasionally lift our gaze upward, even into the space above us. We went to practice in Madison Square Park on a beautiful fall day. I sat cross-legged on a park bench; and began to practice. At the moment that I lifted my gaze, I drew breath in quickly, in a sudden rush of delight. In a flash, I saw many beings that hovered in the air, above the fountain, above the park, above the trees. The dynamic aliveness of this moment wrote itself into my body.
In the current political context, and also in the context of my work, it occurs to me that the maturity of Lyrical—the full, shimmering, vibrating, sharp, vivid, spectacular, booming beauty of Lyrical has to do with stepping in to joy with full, open-eyed awareness and acceptance of all our pain and of the collective pain of the world. It is only with the integration of the shadow principles, and, too, of our own psychological shadows, that joy can fully arrive—not just the happy-because-something-went-well-joy or the I’m-going-to-look-happy-since-I’m-not-sure-how I’m-feeling-joy, it is not the innocent joy of a child either. Rather, it is the joy that has wisdom in it, joy that pushes nothing away, joy that sees from vast heights, joy that has enough space to hold all things inside it.
As the workshop drew to a close, Kierra invited us to create a circle, saying, “Now we are going to go in, one at a time. You can do whatever you want once you are there, but the rest of us are all going to hoot and holler and really make you feel appreciated.” I was so happy, clapping and cheering as nearly every participant stepped in. I waited for inspiration, thinking I might walk discretely into the middle then turn slowly, looking each person in the eye, then dance whatever came. As it was, I stepped in just as another dancer, too, stepped into the circle. I backed away, but she beckoned me. Instead of our individual time in the circle, we shared the spotlight, leaping and cascading and smiling as we met each other’s eyes and swooped in and out of each other. I briefly circled her shoulder with my arm, turning her to look at the circle, but we only turned through one small arc. She returned to her original spot in the circle; and I cross-stepped back to my own spot.
Kierra drew us together again and invited us to hold hands, close our eyes, and stand in both our light and in our shadow. Then, gathering us together for a final chat, she tied some of the threads together, expressing that it is only when we fully support and accept all parts of who we are can we live authentically, from the heart. Kierra also said something to the effect that the thing that causes us to suffer the most is the idea that we are separate from each other, and that actually we are deeply connected, in ways “both miraculous and mundane.”
Today, as I write, is marathon Sunday. I got to watch the middle of the pack for a little while, and cheered enthusiastically. There is nothing more gorgeous than people being beautiful—living their dreams, perhaps pushing themselves far beyond what they thought they were capable of. My cheers were jagged with little sobs of joy. What a blessing, to be alive. How incredibly lucky we are. To live and to witness others in living.
I had to leave the discussion a few minutes before the end, as I didn’t want to be too late for the babysitter. The friend I shared the spontaneous, staccato dance with stood up and followed me to the studio door while the discussion continued, embracing me warmly before I stepped down off of the dance floor and the sacred space of formal practice, and back into the world.
November 7, 2016, 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.
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” –Albert Einstein