Practice aligns me.
This week, in West Dennis Cape Cod with extended family, my mornings are devoted to practice with the ocean. Today was my earliest start time this week, since many of my family members–including my 12-year-old son–were up early for a deep sea fishing trip. By 7:30, I was walking ankle deep in the waves toward West Dennis Beach.
I treat all parts of this process as practice, which is to say that from the time that I leave the cottage to the time that I return, I do my best to settle into the experience and not press forward, wishing time away. It also means that I show up every day–or nearly every day–regardless of conditions and sometimes regardless of what I feel like doing. For example, yesterday’s forecast was for 100% likelihood of rain. I wasn’t eager to get up early and head out to the sea, but I pushed a little, recognizing that practice means you don’t evaluate it every day; and you don’t allow your mind to have a conversation with itself about the pros and cons. I put my towel in a plastic shopping bag so when I got out of the water it wouldn’t be drenched, and headed out.
Today was bright and high tide was falling. My mom, who is delightful, enthusiastic, walked with me for a while. We paused to interact with a dog, fondly remembering our own dog of many years ago who was mostly the same breed as this one based on our best guess.
After I passed the Lighthouse Inn, I pulled out swim goggles and cap, peeled off the layer I had on over my bathing suit, then dropped my backpack with afterswim supplies on the sand and continued west.
Walking away from the morning sun, I gave my attention to the feet as they fell on the ultra-soft sand, to the sound of the waves, and to my moving body, inviting the shoulders to relax down, the belly to soften, and the hips to deepen in their sockets. Whenever I shifted into a story, a plan, an explanation, an analysis of my body’s symmetry, or an argument for or against my good character, I noted it and gently shifted attention back to the feet when I could so without excessive effort.
At Bass River, the boundary between West Dennis and Yarmouth, I turned my back to the wind and bent over to gather my hair in my hands, then stood up and turned toward the wind to coil it just behind the crown of my head. I put on the bathing cap and goggles, then hesitated briefly, tightening my shoulders against the cold water and wind, then wading in and diving hands first, heading back east.
There was a fierce chop today, and the wind was coming from the southwest, an assist on today’s eastward journey. In a pool, once my attention starts to settle with movement, I move my focus throughout the body. But in the ocean, there is usually plenty to anchor my attention in the present. Today, the waves rolled across me, lifting me up and casting me down, and I had to pay attention to the timing of my breaths to avoid getting a mouthful. The water was ochre and gold, the bottom rippled sand or obscured in stands of seaweed. I noted razor shells, clam shells, one big conch with an animal still inside it, and horseshoe crabs underneath me.
Periodically, I lowered a leg down to make sure I could still stand. I can handle the deep water just fine as a swimmer, but a (somewhat irrational) fear of sharks keeps me close to shore. And I figure if a shark ever does attack me, I’ll have a better chance of survival if I can stand up on my feet and punch them in the nose. I have it all figured out.
That doesn’t stop me from an occasional mounting shark panic, but I try to see even that emergence of fear as another opportunity to work with my mind.
I’ve been doing this swim or a similar swim for over 20 years now. It started back when I actually competed in triathlons, and really took off when my sister was doing triathlons too. Those days are long gone, but I still love long swims in the ocean. At first it was an occasional thing, at any time of the day it happened to fit. Over the years, I noted how much it helps me–not just during the week that I’m doing it but in the bigger picture, too–and became more and more committed to the point that I actually plan around it, even declining the offer to join a deep sea fishing trip with my son, my Dad, and other family members this morning.
That’s just how it went when I started to dance the 5Rhythms 15 years ago. At first it was just a class or two here or there. But within less than a year I was planning my life around attending Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves class in the West Village, and also added whatever additional classes I could squeeze in and every workshop that came up.
Everything changed for me then. I galloped through layers of trauma and learned habitual patterns. Creativity exploded. I was able to connect with people with much greater intimacy. I was more playful. Walking on the sidewalk in Midtown became a game.
I also moved through agonizing stretches of feeling isolated, witnessing my own self abuse, and coping with difficult emotions, but following each period of agony somehow emerged even more committed to practice.
After the wild west end of the beach, I passed the first lifeguard chair: white painted wood with a red number 8 on its side. The wind and waves helped me out, and I continued to note each successive chair from 7 all the way to 1 as I made it the two miles back to my backpack in what seemed like a shorter time than usual.
I moved quickly to the towel, then changed my wet bathing suit for loose pants and long sleeve shirt. I sat for a while in meditation, then decided to do some yoga movements to warm myself up. Once I was warm I sat for longer, in no particular hurry to get on to anything else.
Last night, I danced the 5Rhythms. I walked with some family members, but they headed west and I stayed put. The evening beach was more crowded than I hoped, but I found a quiet-ish corner to practice. The tide was high and I circled up and down from the high tide line as I began to move in the rhythm of Flowing. In this session I made a clear distinction between each of the five rhythms–Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness–as I moved through each of them. I could see my sister, brother, brother-in-law, and niece in the distance, occasionally bending over to gather a treasure, and figured I would dance just until they made it back to me. After moving through each of the rhythms, an internal gear slipped me deeply into Stillness, and I whisper moved with the waves, the horizon, and the soaring birds. Vision tracked energy. I could feel heat rising to my cheekbones and the crown of my head. Chemical releases in my leg muscles set loose a shake. When they were almost back to me, I reconnected with my feet, intending to reconnect with day-to-day reality, though practice had opened the doorway to a different layer.
This morning, caked in sand, muscles awake and stretched, wind making a flag of my loose shirt, hair knotted and half-wet–I could feel my edges softening, recent and past experiences moving through, and my selves gliding into alignment.
Thank you, my beautiful son. Thank you, family. Thank you, ocean. Thank you, Gabrielle Roth. Thank you, practice. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. I bow down to the universe, to my teachers, and to this precious life.
August 18, 2022, West Dennis, Cape Cod
Meghan LeBorious is a writer, teacher, and meditation facilitator who has been dancing the 5Rhythms since 2008 and recently became a 5Rhythms teacher. She was inspired to begin chronicling her experiences following her very first class; and she sees the writing process as an extension of practice—yet another way to be moved and transformed. This blog is not produced or sanctioned by the 5Rhythms organization. Photos courtesy of the writer.
***For NYC dancers, Meghan has a seven-class 5Rhythms series coming up that starts on October 14, “Spirit Drenched in Gold.” Join a single class or join the full series for a discount. Registration is required – https://spiritdrenchedingold.eventbrite.com
***Meghan also has a five-class online writing/dance 5Rhythms “Writing Waves” class that starts on September 15. Registration is required – https://www.eventbrite.com/e/writing-waves-tickets-397987811257
Today is a rare interlude of Stillness in a typically dynamic city. The windows are impossibly bright. Snow is caked on the screens outside. Still-falling snow makes the air seem opaque. Piles of white obscure Brooklyn’s sharp edges and make everything blur together. “Are you ready for Snowmageddon?” I was asked yesterday. “Yes!” I answered emphatically. Though tempted to roll my eyes at all the hype associated with what looked like a relatively normal weather event, I love the shared excitement of an impending minor disaster like a blizzard. In New York especially, we literally participate in “the word on the street;” and experiences like this unite us.
In addition to the unity, I also love the slowness. I just relax right into it. There wasn’t a single footprint in the snow on our sidewalk today until after 11AM. We had plans with friends this morning and none of us even bothered to call to cancel. I am not late for anything, not planning anything, not trying to squeeze anything in, not running any important errands. It reminds me of a blizzard perhaps ten years ago, when I remained in the clothes I slept in, listened to a John Coltrane marathon on the radio, and worked on one drawing literally from sunrise until sundown, quietly watching the white light brighten and fade away as I worked steadily, without speaking to a single person.
The snow had not yet begun when I made my way to Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class last night, but there was little traffic and I made better time than usual. This was convenient because my son, Simon, and I had been on a long errand looking for a sled—in high demand everywhere—and I was running slightly late.
I stepped into the room and into a soft hug with a friend who was dancing near the studio’s door. My knee was bothering me slightly. (Remember when I wrote about knee soreness after an extended period of breakdancing in a recent Sunday class with Simon?) I knew I would have to moderate myself or risk a more serious injury. I found a spot on the floor and began to move in the same radial, circular dance—moving over and undulating from the crown of my head—that I keep thinking has shifted and yet persists.
Shortly, I got up and began to move throughout the room. I felt very released and happy (slightly gooey, even), fully taking on all of Tammy’s suggestions. Remarkably, I was not down in any way about having to be careful. Instead, it was an invitation to be gentle and to find a different expression. I recalled a workshop Lucia lead in 2013 when she encouraged us to totally let go of our edges. Although I love my edges, I took on her suggestion; and as a result was torn into tiny, tender bits—shattered completely, wide open.
Moving into Staccato, I knew I couldn’t be in the deep, powerful squats rising up into dramatic suspensions or the sharp, punctuated spins, or the emphatic, knee forward steps that I have enjoyed lately. I found Staccato nonetheless, working with subtle muscles in the pelvis and lower back. I became fascinated with my gentle edges and with strategic tightening.
In Chaos, Tammy proposed a litany of opposites—tight/loose, thinking/not thinking, slow/fast—pushing us to experiment with the places where we are comfortable and, too, with the places where we are not comfortable.
I found a playful and whispering Lyrical with a tall friend. We spun and coiled into, around, and under each other, our palms and fingertips in careful communication.
We paused after the first wave to listen to Tammy’s direct instruction. She began by quoting Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, “You didn’t think this was really about dancing, did you?” Tammy went on to say, “That’s the difference between recreation and practice, and this is practice.”
During her talk, Tammy surprised me with the comment, “In New York, Staccato is so good! It is better here.” I thought she was being facetious, that she was going to castigate us for our famous New York arrogance. But she meant what she said literally. She went on to describe cities where they don’t really do Staccato. Not really. Not like us. She moved as she spoke, expressing her love of Staccato through her gestures. Perhaps being with our edges unlocks authenticity in a way that self-help cannot.
This is one of the reasons that I love Tammy’s teaching approach; and why I have such faith in her. As much as it is a wonderful experiment to let go of all of my edges, too, it is glorious to be with my edges, to exaggerate them, to investigate them. Except for perhaps a very few enlightened beings, most of us are absolutely riddled with edges. Knowing this makes me feel like I can be myself. And it is not just acceptance, but is also, in a way, celebration. Though my ultimate goal is absolute freedom, absolute integrity and absolute love; it is the very complex and sticky and fascinating shite that we are riddled with that helps to make us so rich—that makes life life. That gives us something to work with.
This is also why I love New York. From 1996, my very first year in New York, I said, “New Yorkers are not nice. At all. But we are without question extremely kind.” Also, we have so much good shit here. We are inclined to reject fake, inferior shit.
In a speech at her husband, Lou Reed’s, induction into the Hall of Fame, Laurie Anderson explained a set of rules for life the two had come up with. “One. Don’t be afraid of anyone. Now, can you imagine living your life afraid of no one? Two. Get a really good bullshit detector. And three. Three is be really, really tender. And with those three things, you don’t need anything else.”
Tammy went through the 5Rhythms for the benefit of new and seasoned practitioners, and I particularly liked her description of Lyrical. “When you are in Chaos, and you suddenly feel like you could just go on letting go forever, then you are no longer in Chaos. You are in Lyrical!”
In the second wave, I continued to receive quiet messages from my knee, especially when I stepped hard directly forward. I danced with a friend who I usually bound all over the space with, twirling and upending ourselves, but this time kept my feet relatively grounded. I was itching to dance with another friend who I hadn’t seen in several weeks, but instead located myself on my knees off to the side. I discovered that if I spread my knees apart and bent forward I had a lot of power and leverage. There, I arched and pulsed my back, tossed my head around like the back car on a roller coaster, and explored the feeling of having my hands on the ground. I managed to avoid exacerbating the knee injury, and still connect with the rhythms and with moving.
I ended the wave on my feet and in my hands. I scanned my own body with my palms, my eyes nearly shut, internal, keying in to subtle energies.
After class, as I stepped out of the Joffrey Ballet’s 434 6th Avenue building and into the street, where the snow had just begun to fall.
January 23, 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.
(Informal footnote: I remember Gabrielle once following the remark “You didn’t think this was really about dancing, did you?” with, “This is just the little black dress that I put on for you.” In addition to the interpretation offered above, I think this quote of Gabrielle’s hints that the 5Rhythms are not just dance, but are—more broadly—a map of the creative process itself. As such, practice might take many different creative forms such as drawing, relationship, music, cooking, storytelling, home design, conversation, theatrical works, parenting, writing or poetry.)
The first 5Rhythms workshop in NYC to focus on visual, artistic expressions of creativity, 5R Visual, took place at the Joffrey in the West Village on Sunday, January 10th. The workshop—IN Sight: In Pursuit of Magic—was lead by Martha Peabody, who worked closely with Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, for 39 years.
Arriving slightly late and stepping into the already flowing room, Martha approached me and whispered, “I’m so glad you’re here! Do you have an object that represents the present that you want to add to the table?” I nodded and went to the bag of objects I had gathered to bring to the workshop. I had received an email the night before letting me now that I should bring an object that represents the past, one that represents the future, and one that represents the present. I gathered many more than three things, unsure of what I wanted to put forward. I spent a few moments pondering my options, then selected a small lighter with rainbow colors and a graphic of a tiger on it and added it to the front table, which Martha had already graced with numerous items devoted to the faculty of sight.
After the opening wave of the IN Sight workshop, with Martha’s on-mic suggestions and music offered by Daniela Peltekova, we set into an investigation of the objects we chose to represent our present. Martha offered many phrases about past, present and future, interspersed with suggestions about the rhythms themselves. She periodically suggested we partner, but moved us in and out of partnership throughout the day. After the conclusion of the wave, we each placed our object on the dance floor. Then, we walked around and chose one object that appealed to us. I selected a circular disc, with a Prussian blue ground and a metallic gold sun painted on one side, and a metallic gold moon painted on the other side. Then, we arranged ourselves like an audience, and took turns, three at a time, standing to face the audience with our selected object. We each had to take a shape—and in some cases a repetition—arising from our selected object.
Inwardly, I groaned. As I have written about recently, taking a shape is often challenging for me. I watched with interest as the experience unfolded, hesitating to step up. When I finally did, I took a shape that was somewhat familiar to me, not necessarily what was arising from the object that I was in temporary possession of. This seemed a little easier than usual, but I was still glad when my turn was over and the exercise dissolved.
On Sunday morning, before the IN Sight 5Rhythms Visual workshop began, I attended the Sunday Sweat Your Prayers class, just one floor up, also at the Joffrey in the West Village, along with my five-year-old son, Simon. I had invited him to join me the day before, laying down my expectations for his behavior, and letting him know that he would have to cooperate and have himself ready to leave in time. To my surprise, he was dressed and by the door with boots, coat, hat, mittens and selected toys forty-five minutes before we needed to leave. He stood by the door telling me, “Hurry up, Mommy! We don’t want to be late!”
Because I knew I would be attending the IN Sight workshop the same day, I was lighter than usual with my expectations for the class with Simon. Part of me is very invested in raising him with the tools of 5Rhythms. If he doesn’t want to engage with the activities in a given class, it can feel like an affront and make me nervous. I beseech him, sometimes, hoping to engage him. Also, I often want some kind of “experience” for myself, reluctant to give over to his needs completely.
As is our custom, we stood holding hands outside the studio, then took a deep breath, and, releasing it, jumped into the “Magic Dance Room.”
Simon wanted me close for most of the class, though he did range through the room at times. He started out huddled near one of the room’s center columns with a small pile of toys and some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches he was working on. Gradually, he stretched out on the floor, and began to circle on his side—similar to a kind of movement I have been experimenting with lately—keeping a watchful eye on everyone around him. As he got more comfortable, his movements grew, but he continued to want me close. The most active we became was in a kind of spinning, bounding breakdancing that had my knees sore for several days after. He kept stopping in front of me and pointing emphatically to me, then to the ground, asking me to please get on the ground with him. Most times I obliged. As the music slowed, Simon lay on top of me, both of us facing up, with Simon’s upper back arched over my bent knees, in a shape he has loved since he was pre-born. We were in the closest gesture we can now get to of him being born. I reflected on how close we still are, and how surreal it is that the entirety of this little son once fit completely inside my small body.
Simon made it through almost the entire class. During Chaos in the second wave the room got very energetic and some dancers started to let out screams. Simon stopped in front of me, looked at my face and pointed abruptly to the door. We stepped out and found a girl of about 8 or 9 with her mother, who also wanted to leave the studio during Chaos. There, too, we found Simon’s father, who was there to bring Simon home when I continued on to the IN Sight workshop downstairs. Simon and I stepped back in for a few more turns, then concluded. I felt proud and content, and smiled, silently mouthing “Thank you” to Jilsarah Moscowitz, who had taught the Sunday Sweat Your Prayers class that day.
Which brings us back to the IN Sight workshop—the first ever workshop in NYC devoted to exploring the rhythms through visual expression. After presenting our borrowed objects and our chosen shapes and repetitions, we took a break. Small talk seemed incorrect; and I slipped out to buy a tea, hoping it would combat the tiredness I was starting to feel.
I returned to a miracle—a spectacularly manifested double rainbow over Manhattan, viewed from the fourth floor windows of the Joffrey on 6th Ave and 10th Street, facing north. Earlier, Martha had shared that she had seen a rainbow on her drive from New Jersey to Manhattan that very morning. “A rainbow in January,” she proclaimed with wonder, gesturing one arm in an arc. I pushed the window up, climbed onto the sill and bent double over the window guards, trying to get a photograph of this miraculous phenomenon, then sitting and observing it with reverence.
Conversation lingered as Daniela began the music; though I moved immediately to the center of the room and started to twist and rotate, my body glued down, arching my back and using the crown of my head as an axis to shift into a new movement, continuously moving, in Flowing.
Martha gathered us into a circle, then asked several people to step into the center. She revealed that all who were in the center were 5Rhythms teachers, some of many, many years—“lifers,” she joked. Then, she asked them to simply walk, changing direction and looking for the empty space. She asked us to take a step in. Then another. She described this as the most basic of all 5Rhythms exercises; and I reflected on the beautiful humility of Flowing. The un-flashiness of it, fundamentally. She asked us to take another step in and the center became more and more compressed, determined.
Martha, described as an historian of the 5Rhythms by one highly respected teacher in attendance, shared the story of how this exercise evolved. Originally called “The Porpoise Dance” it arose in the early years of the work Gabrielle was doing with mental patients, when just getting them to move and shift directions was momentous. With seamless prompts, Martha wove the rest of us into this exercise of walking, moving into empty space, and changing direction together in the field of Flowing.
As the wave unfolded, Martha offered suggestions about past, present and future, setting us up for the visual experiments we would undertake shortly. The room that was lively in Flowing became rooted in place in Staccato for some reason, perhaps preparing to choose a spot for our visual creations.
At last, Martha invited us to set to arranging our objects and materials in a visual representation that was meaningful for each of us. I had my eye on a small set of metal stairs that leads to the studio’s fire escape. Laying out many of the materials and objects I brought along, I went to plug in a long strand of white Christmas lights. Finding an outlet, I climbed under the ballet bar, which was laden with coats, sweaters and bags, and plugged in. Nothing. Hmmm. Was it the outlet? The lights? I traversed the room and tested them in a different outlet. This time they worked. I had to scrap my idea and relocate. Before I gathered my things once again, I opened the book, “Maps to Ecstasy” by Gabrielle Roth to a passage about the limitations of ego. And again, to another. In a different part of the book.
Most people were finalizing their choices and I still hadn’t settled in to work. I traversed the room diagonally again. The outlet I wanted to use was across another dancer’s work. I asked permission in a whisper, but I couldn’t find a way to cross her work without interfering with it. Finally, I found another outlet that worked and plugged my lights in. Next, I submerged half of the white Christmas light strand inside a large Ball Jar. As far as my objects went, that was all I had been sure of. I lay out the rest of the pile of things, working quickly to select what I wanted to include. First was a yellow-orange cloth, an orange, infant-sized tiger sock, and the little rainbow tiger lighter. I also included some orange wool, a fabric rose, and a tiny drawing of a pelvis bone and ribcage holding roses inside it.
Martha had laid a number of objects we could borrow on top of the room’s piano; and I selected a little wooden man who was segmented into head, torso, upper arms, lower arms, upper legs, lower legs, hands and feet; and held together at his joints by strings. I placed him onto my shoulder like a baby and carried him gingerly to my site, placing him with care amongst my chosen objects.
Martha was calling for us to begin the next segment of the workshop, and I hurriedly finalized my work. Though I never felt it was really resolved, I had no choice but to trust that it was correct in the state that it landed.
Next, paper and a pen were placed in front of each person’s visual representation; and we were asked to circulate, regard each, and come up with a possible title. I enjoyed this part of the workshop, and strove to offer each presentation my relentless attention. At first, the titles I selected were simply what I observed, but as I moved around and saw how serious our lists were, I began to create poetic or humorous titles, such as “Squished Puppy” and “Homage to a Column”. At last, we began the activity of visiting each presentation as a group and listening as the person presented their three favorite titles that people had written on their paper, and adding a few words of commentary. Given the seriousness of the content people shared, I hoped that I hadn’t been facetious with my title choices.
I am itching to tell you some of the stories that emerged, but as I am constrained to speaking specifically and only about my own experiences, I will just say that it was a fascinating tour; and one that required and produced tremendous attention and energy.
Martha concluded this activity with a quote by Simon Weil, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity,” and went on to share, with great feeling, how meaningful it was for her that Gabrielle Roth had granted her so much attention for so many years.
When we got to my piece, at nearly the end of the line, I wasn’t sure what I would say. I found a folding chair and sat in it while I spoke, like an elder would. The titles people had written that I chose to share with the group were, “Broken Wholeness,” “Little Bones Grow Old Too,” “Tiger Light,” and “Transparency is Scary. Luminescence is Radiant.” I said a little more, “This (pyrite) is past. Earth. Mineral. The future is light. And the rest (I made an expansive gesture) is all that is in between.” I shared that in a tradition I am initiated into, the tiger is a symbol of humility. Of ferocity, too! But of humility.” I wanted to explain somehow that everything in between past and future is the display—is the big, tangled up, beautiful, exquisite fucking mess of living that rises up out of spectacular emptiness minute by minute. Instead I said, “And I found this little broken man on the piano. And he just broke my heart.” A shuddering sob wracked me. “So I wanted to include him. I don’t know why.”
After three more stories, the activity dissolved and we were instructed to replace our things into their bags and containers.
I walked over to Martha and stood in front of her, looking into her eyes. I wanted to gulp air and say, “Help! I feel like I am going to fly off of the earth’s body! Please help!” Instead, not wanting to seem too much like a crazy person, I said, “Martha. I need to ask your advice, please. I am nowhere near ground. Do you have any suggestions?” She likely saw the panic in my eyes, and, pressing her palms firmly onto the tops of my shoulders said, “Don’t worry, I have no intention of letting anyone leave here without landing gear.” She gathered us into a closing circle before people started to drift out of the studio.
As I reflected more on my own experience, I came away feeling like there is more pain in the “in between” than I have fully reckoned with. It is a lifelong process—finding the shifting point of balance between wallowing in pain and denying it. I also came away feeling like even the positive ego-stories that I tell myself—the constructions I have erected to help me to cope with trauma—no longer serve me. To have the best shot at being free, really fully free, I think I have to dismantle even these relatively positive stories, even at the risk of unleashing things I would rather keep tied down.
Martha gathered us again into a circle. She coiled us skillfully into a beautiful collective spiral, than back into a circle. We ended the workshop still in the circle and each holding the mudra of humility, standing quietly together for several moments before being reclaimed by the world.
January 15, 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.
I was lucky to attend two 5Rhythms classes this weekend, Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class, and Jason Goodman’s The 7th Wave class, which was taught this week by Ray Diaz.
I encountered no significant obstacles in arriving to Tammy’s class this Friday, and found parking right in front of the studio. I began on the floor, and noted an unusual tinge of inertia. That afternoon, I had been anxious—worried, it seems, about everything.
A group of emotionally-related stories tugged at the edges of my attention. The worst track was the fact that I had accidentally shut my small son, Simon’s, hand in a car door. I kept remembering his crumpled face—filled with pain—as he bawled. I felt terrible that I had literally caused him harm. I was picking him up early from his afterschool program to take him to an extra soccer practice; and I wondered if we should go straight to the doctor instead. I perseverated, reviewing every other time I thought I might have caused him harm—with intractability, with a sharp tone, with frustration, or, as in this instance, as a result of lapsed mindfulness. I am also very worried about a young friend, Simon’s babysitter of many years, who is in a coma now. I don’t know what happened, only that she is fighting for her life. The internalized voices of my many 5Rhythms teachers said, “Let the ground receive it,” and, beginning to move on the floor; I soon found my way into Flowing and to presence.
During the first wave, I moved joyfully. I shared several dances with my jaunty, soccer-moving, new friend. I tested out his moves both in dancing with him and as I moved around the room—jumping into crossed feet then spinning out of it, tipping sideways and kicking my foot to the side, bending my knee and drawing my ankle in, almost kicking my backside, then flinging the foot, led by the pressing heel into an almost comical sideways-moving gesture. I stepped into another dance with a friend who arrived late—a staccato connection defined by creative joy and specificity. Toward the end of the wave Tammy put on a song that had a jig in it, and I met another friend, smiling, bounding upward and sailing together through our intersecting arcs.
At the conclusion of the first wave, I imagined my own body hovering in the sky. The room was filled with blue, and white clouds lingered amongst our bodies.
Tammy did not pause for verbal instructions halfway through the class, as is her usual custom, but instead began another wave, just as we were finding our final expressions of Stillness.
During the second wave, my enthusiasm contracted, and I had a hard time with my thoughts. I kept wanting to put my forehead on the room’s center column and rock. I moved out of that gesture, but found it again moments later. Self-abuse overtook me. I sank to my knees, swaying, with my hands together and touching my forehead. A male dancer didn’t seem to notice me and almost stepped on me repeatedly as I continued to move away from him. Closer to Tammy, I began to bend forward and exhale, filling my cup-shaped palms with breath as I folded over my knees, saying “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you.” I poured this breath over myself like it was water. Then, I started to release the breath from my cupped hands into the air. I realized that both expressions had run together; and I could no longer tell them apart.
At the end of the class, I lay with my forehead to the floor, crying with a pained expression, without catharsis.
On Saturday, I cast a net toward a couple of babysitters, thinking it would be nice to attend class. Simon and I were hosting my friend and her son; and we were having a beer at 7, when my roommate sent a text saying she was willing to babysit for the class that started at 8. I got dressed while our company played in the living room, then kissed Simon good night, dropped the friends off at their house, and made my way from Brooklyn to the West Village for class.
Relatively new 5Rhythms teacher Ray Diaz was teaching the 7th Wave class; and I got to experience his unique take on the 5Rhythms for the first time. I arrived twenty minutes late and stepped in during Staccato, nodding briefly to Flowing as I moved with the energy of the room, taking big, soaring steps. There were nine of us at the class including the teacher, so there was plenty of room to move. I played with alternating the big, soaring steps with tiny steps, foot over foot in a straight line, the shifting back into the giant, soaring steps.
After the first wave, Ray gathered us and told part of his own story. He said that when he first started coming to 5Rhythms classes, he would stay only for the first half of class, then leave. After several rounds of this, a 5Rhythms teacher caught him on the way out and told him to get his clothes back on and, “Get back in there!” Shortly after, he did a Heartbeat workshop where he found his feet for the first time. That was when he knew “this was it,” and he was able to stay for the entire class. (Interestingly, I have noticed that many 5Rhythms practitioners can point to a moment of great insight coming when they first “found their feet,” a First Communion of sorts.)
After his story, Ray explained the 5Rhythms wave. He emphasized Flowing throughout the narrative. After he told us about first finding his feet, he started to move in Flowing, and stated that in Flowing, you let the energy fill you up, starting with the feet. After a few moments in Flowing, he started to move into Staccato and said, “Then, once you are filled up with energy from the feet up, it starts to want to move out, it starts to take direction.” He exhaled sharply as he moved with staccato gestures. “But always with Flowing. Flowing is always with us. Sometimes when you get lost, you just go back into Flowing.” I don’t remember exactly what he said about Chaos except that it is about letting go again and again. I do remember his words and gestures about Lyrical—that suddenly something breaks through, and we find ourselves lightening up. Stillness, he continued, is when we let the breath lead us, and we move with whatever is left. I loved his emphasis on the trajectory of energy as he shared his understanding; and I found his way of explaining the transition from Flowing to Staccato particularly helpful.
During the second wave, I was more sedate. Perhaps because the beer I had before the class was wearing off. I had a great, ego-evading shake in Chaos, though. I noticed that my neck was a tender in some places, and that I was holding its muscles. I decided to let all of my edges go and, as a result, my neck was very released as I moved with great energy. When the music turned to Lyrical, I found flight. It felt amazing—I lit up onto my toes, waltzing backward, then arced down like a great kite, my fingertips grazing the ground and then the ceiling, as I turned in arcs, my head still totally released, following the rest of me for once.
In Stillness, reflections of the ballet bar across the room turned into a body of water. And to the young woman I love so much has been in a coma for two weeks now. I saw her in a boat in the middle of the body of water, bobbing slightly, looking back over her shoulder, her long, shining black hair curled about her shoulders. I beseeched her to come back, my eyes wide, hoping at once that this was my imagination and not a vision.
At the end of the class, Ray gathered us into a circle. He said, “A big part of the practice is that no matter what, you just keep moving forward.” He then asked us to take turns, each saying to the person next to us, “I release you. I release me.” The person on my right looked into my eyes and said, “I release you. I release me.” I turned to the person on my left and said, “I release you. I release me.” For a moment you and me stopped mattering—there was no separation.
Simon’s hand is fine now. Just a little bruise. I will be more careful shutting the door from now on.
“For a true spiritual transformation to flourish, we must see beyond this tendency to mental self-flagellation. Spirituality based on self-hatred can never sustain itself. Generosity coming from self-hatred becomes martyrdom. Morality born of self-hatred becomes rigid repression. Love for others without the foundation of love for ourselves becomes a loss of boundaries, codependency, and a painful and fruitless search for intimacy.”
-Sharon Salzberg, Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness
Brooklyn, NYC, November 8, 2015
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.