The Anatomy of a Wave

“Wave anatomy is very simple.  The highest surface of a wave is called the crest, and the lowest part is called the trough.  The vertical distance between the crest and the trough is called the wave height.  The horizontal distance between two adjacent crests or troughs is the known as the wavelength. … But wave behavior is a complicated dance, choreographed by the forces that cause them and the ocean around them.” –National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Monday

I’ve been on Martha’s Vineyard for over a week and I still haven’t found a place I love to practice. After dropping my son Simon off at camp, I spent an hour or more snarled in errands, in part arising from a minor car accident the previous week.  I decide to try South Beach in Edgartown, and discover that it is just 11 driving minutes away.  I find the sea spectacular, but the beach crowded.  I look west and see open space, so I walk in that direction.  I get happier and happier as I walk along, thinking I have finally found my place, how wonderful, how blessed.  I am pretty much skipping.  Then a bellicose man with grey teeth drives up to me on an ATV and tells me I have to go away, this is private property.  “Don’t worry,” I say, wide-eyed, “I know I can’t go above the high tide line, and I’m not going to put down a blanket or anything, I’m just here to find some peace.” “You can’t be here.  This is private property.”  “But you can’t own the sea!  The law says…” “I know the law.  Are you saying you’re not leaving then? Do I have to call somebody?” I think about pushing it but instead say, “I’m leaving for today, but I’m going to do some research; and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Tuesday

“The wind not only produces currents, it creates waves. As wind blows across the smooth water surface, the friction or drag between the air and the water tends to stretch the surface. As waves form, the surface becomes rougher and it is easier for the wind to grip the water surface and intensify the waves.” –National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

In the morning I do a yoga class and it pours heavily, visible as white lines in the space of the air through the big window of the studio.  I decide it is a perfect day to dance on the beach.

The loose sand of high tide gives me sore calves as I dance in Flowing.  I move with the cresting and ending waves, rushing back under, folding into the next, curving to block.  I try to hold myself in each of the rhythms a little longer than feels intuitive to stretch out my practice and give myself time for the rhythms to act on me.  Staccato moves me quickly, still the thick sand crowds my ankles.  My outbreaths are audible, rushing.  I am not totally alone anymore but I can still move, letting the head go letting the diaphragm go, avoiding eye contact in case the family that just arrived thinks I’m crazy.  Lyrical is the rhythm that most calls me today, though even when I feel light and my gaze lifts upward with the soaring sea birds, I still have no lift owing to the soft sand that doesn’t offer a foundation to leap off of.  In Stillness, arms around, curving, gliding hand-to-hand and arcing up.

After Stillness draws to a close I practice sitting meditation for 20 slightly-distracted minutes, then have a brief swim in the swelling waves.

Wednesday

“As the waves close in on the coast, they begin to feel the bottom and their direction of travel might change due to the contour of the land. Eventually, the waves run ashore, increasing in height up to 1.5 times their height in deep water, finally breaking up as surf.”  –National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

At Norton Point Beach in Edgartown.  Black sand with striated markings like german shepherd fur.  It is high tide again and my feet sink into the coarse sand.  Two children are making a sandcastle when I arrive.  It is huge, spanning 10 feet or more.  They are using the same tools that are used for demure, small castles, but the open ocean and big waves seem to inspire things on a grander scale.  In heavy fog, I walk out of sight.

There is no horizon.  Flowing is the waves washing back being subsumed again to the ocean, form washing away, the backwash and the sea’s depths and their connection.  I let it catch my back and pull and dip me, feeling the wide sea, deep and heavy and heaving.  I could do this forever, I think.  My legs too tired in the deep loose sand, a big hill of black sand dipping down to the waves.  Staccato is the waves as they barrel toward shore.  Staccato and I take forceful breaths out, deep and low, elbows bent like a destructive goddess, fire exhalation, the sand still deep.  Chaos is the flowing backwash crashing into the staccato wave, the collision, the twisting, sometimes the diminishing of the big wave – cresting to end, sometimes they multiply each other, sometimes they crash and collide.  Chaos and I let my head go.  I have an audience now I try not to care, I want to be seen and I don’t at once, I keep giving myself permission to let go, let go, why such constraint and pessimism when life is so short, so infinitesimally tiny.  Ferocious heartbeat, sweat between my breasts, my strapless dress drifts down becoming a skirt, a wave reaches us, saturating its hem.  Fine mist kisses my exposed skin.  I no longer feel limited by the deep sand.  Gliding down the little sand cliff, finding suspensions with the uphill side of me, looking toward the fog-obscured horizon, for the first time seeing the birds, gliding, skittering, flapping, coasting.  I am on and off the sand, on my knees, arcing up and around, to a knee then up in one powerful gesture.  In Stillness I bow forward toward the sea in a reverent curtsie.  One hand creates an arc drawing in the sand in front of me, then the other, from the other side, then the other again to make a little rainbow. I bow lower, then end standing with knees bent out to the sides, arms bent at the elbows, up and open – receptivity fused with strength.

I spend 19 restless minutes in sitting meditation, trying to force myself not to look at the timer on my phone.

Thursday

“After the wind begins to blow for a while, the waves get higher from trough to crest, and both the wave length and period become longer. As the wind continues or strengthens, the water first forms whitecaps and eventually the waves start to break. This is referred to as a fully developed sea.” –National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Hoping to get to another beach with surf, I type Long Point Beach into the GPS.  It leads me down what seems like an unpaved cowpath, but seems to have expensive private homes set behind thick brush comprised of pines trees, shrub oak and tangled vines.  I come to a gate, deep in the pine wood, and decide to continue forward into what appears to be a Wildlife Reserve.  After 20 minutes of slow driving over ruts and rocks, I park and head up a path over a dune to the beach.  Descending the dune, the waves are impressive, four feet or more, crashing with great force.  I look to my left and see empty beach, so I head in that direction.

Before long, a sign announces that the area is not accessible because of wildlife preservation.  Though I am tempted to continue on, I stop just before the sign, still in view of the beachgoers near the path, but far enough away to feel relatively alone.

Beginning to move in Flowing, I let the waves drag me into curves, attentive to the undertow – to the lacy, diagonal layers of swash – my feet sinking into the deep sand.  I let my head release down, spine spiraling into gravity, into the coiling ended waves.  As an ended wave rounds back into itself, I turn my body around, low, low, weight in my thighs, in my calves, in my feet, arms extended down from the shoulders.  A cold breaking wave touches the skin of my feet and I move again toward the sea, feeling the magnetism of it, its pull.  I consciously choose to stay in Flowing a little longer than I want to.  It has a hint of inertia to it, and I am eager for the more vigorous energy of Staccato, which overtakes me soon enough.  Now, I lift my gaze to the four foot waves racing toward the beach, piling one on top of the other.  My arms come alive, as my feet are still in coarse, unpacked sand.  Sharp angles and exhalations arise as the waves draw up, I draw my arms up too, arching my spine, deep into the back of my hips.  As the wave crashes I arch forward, drawing my fists into my belly and rocking my pelvis.  Bending my knees low, then lifting my legs one at a time, I start to gather energy, sweat on my skin, audible breath, strong heartbeat.  At times my feet are still moving to the undertow and its curving pull, while the rest of me is arching and crashing.  Chaos comes and goes quickly.  As I start to release my head into it, a little current of Stillness flutters by and I honor it, pushing behind it with both hands in a plane.  Then, I bound and twist, my head flailing, feeling the coming together of the heavy, spent undertow and the raw break of the wave.  Before long, I extend my range, including the birds and horizon in my aperture.  Feeling the broken waves on my skin, rising into extensions, letting my fingertips take over.  Settling, hearing the hum under the breaking waves, a series of slow, tracked gestures arises, my hands are again moved by currents, my feet sinking into the sand as the waves lap around my ankles.

From there, I create a little pile of sand and dig a hole for my feet so I can perch comfortably, then sit in meditation.  Absorbed, precise mindfulness shifts with my stream of awareness.  After 20 minutes, I realize there is a slight vibration under me, and wonder what it could be.  I remember my alarm, and realize I can’t hear over the crashing surf, but I can feel it from its place in my bag on the sand next to me.  I had forgotten about the time.

Given the wave height and fast breaks, I decide to move back toward the more populated section of the beach before swimming.  Because of the huge breaking waves, I have to time my entry carefully.  Then, I am doing butterfly, flipping up into the fronts of waves not yet breaking, and briefly floating on my back.  I check to see if I can touch the bottom and am knocked down by roiling undertow behind me.  I gasp and wonder briefly if I am in a riptide, then it dissipates.  I decide I should get back to the beach, and get knocked down two more times before I am on dry land thirty feet or more down the beach from where I put in.  My hair is matted with sand, seaweed, and tiny blue-black mussels.  My skin is a layer of salt, my eyes marine light, my spine a ululation.

Friday 

“Winds drive ocean currents in the upper 100 meters of the ocean’s surface. However, ocean currents also flow thousands of meters below the surface. These deep-ocean currents are driven by differences in the water’s density, which is controlled by temperature and salinity.”  –National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

A white, chilly day, I head again to South Beach, hoping to find it quiet.  I walk a short distance, then start moving with the waves – much smaller today, one to two feet at most – rising, falling, and turning as the waves wash up onto the shore, slow, and fall back away, receding and dissolving.  I feel the changes of direction in the backwashing water deep in my belly, and sink lower, being lead from there.  Staccato sparks but doesn’t ignite.  Instead, Flowing keeps re-appearing, gentle.  I could do this all day, I think.  I start running back and forth in a little curved dip that is horizontal to the breaking waves, rushing up, turning, falling to the middle, then rushing up the other side, like I am at a skate park.  Facing the waves head on, my arms raised like a cobra’s hood, sinking deep and flattening the plane of my arms definitively, I find momentum briefly, raising my knees, bounding, articulating small gestures in my pelvis, occasionally balling up my fists and drawing them in.

Using 5Rhythms creator Gabrielle’s Roth map of the 5Rhythms helps keep me engaged, even when I am practicing on my own.  I could just come to the sea and dance, and sometimes I do, but giving myself new problems to investigate and holding myself in a given rhythm at least until it fully manifests (in some way) offers the possibility of greater insight.

Today, Staccato keeps wavering.  I am edgeless, patient.  I tell myself, face the sea, greet the waves as they roll in and gather force, the bottom of the wave slowing as it reaches the shallows, the top of the wave still racing, rising up, cresting.  I sink deep again, and put my hand on my crotch over my black bathing suit bottom, rocking my pelvis forward and back with the muscles of my lower back and stomach, then find clipped, precise movements in the shoulders, elbows and legs.  Finally, I accept that I have drawn Staccato out of myself, if briefly, and let myself move into Chaos.  Chaos, like Staccato, is quieter than usual today.  I have dug in and worked hard and know I can let Chaos act on me as it wants to.  I release my head and bound around, shimmying my legs one at a time, shaking and spinning.  I am happy to let go of the weight of Flowing, to rise up but still have the edgelessness, the unceasing movement, here becoming emphatic and expansive.  Within just a few short minutes I let myself transition into Lyrical.  I am covering ground, moving parallel to the sea, and away and toward, high up on my toes, arms outstretched, dancing a lilting waltz.  I could do this all day, I think.  Stillness finds me again moved by and creating currents, my hands in a unified plane, wind making my hair into a horizontal flag.

I am alone on the beach and I set up a throne for myself in the sand and sit for twenty patient minutes.  Toward the end, I let go of formal practice, and instead eat a boiled egg and look at everything, the tiny ships sitting on the line of the horizon, the birds in their trolling arcs, the breaking waves, the lifeguards who have just arrived.

I consider not swimming today because it is so chilly, but I decide that going into the ocean every day is a practice, too, and I don’t know if I will have another opportunity today.  The tide is starting to come in and the surf has picked up.  I stand facing the waves for some moments, then finally take a few steps and dive, swimming butterfly straight into the horizon, then floating.  The cold is sharp and exhilarating.  Back on land, I am happy I pushed myself, happy for the influence of the sea on my body.

 

July 14, 2017, Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard, MA

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Fly in Formation

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.

Posted in 5 Rhythms, 5Rhythms, awareness, conscious dance, five rhythms, meditation, movement meditation, moving meditation, notes on practice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

To Notice Things

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“I think we’re here to learn to be calm.  And gentle.  And also to be fast.  And to notice things.”

-Simon, age 7

Have I mentioned recently that I adore my son?  Absolutely, totally and completely adore him.  Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, provided a model for me in this.  She adored her son, Jonathan Horan, too—unabashedly, wholeheartedly—and made it no secret.  Sometimes I think my own wounds might have kept me from fully embracing and displaying this love if it hadn’t been for Gabrielle’s powerful example.

This week, my son, Simon, turned seven.  We had a jam-packed, rollicking party with nearly seventy people in our apartment that included singing, dancing, playing music and rough housing—a chance to practice a manageable version of chaos in the face of the growing chaos of the national arena.  The day before his birthday, Simon called me back to the room after I put him to bed, crying.  “Mommy, I’m sad for you that I’m getting older and I’m not a baby now!”  “Oh, no!  Simon, I’m a little sad that you are not a baby anymore, but I’m even more happy and proud about the young man you are becoming!”

The times I have felt closest with Simon and most aware of the love I have for him have been inside 5Rhythms classes.  I started dancing two years before Simon was born; and I danced throughout pregnancy, right up until the very last week before giving birth.  A short time after he was born, he started to come to daytime 5Rhythms classes; and he has been attending classes periodically ever since.

Simon is too young to come to Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves class (though he has been trying to convince me otherwise), but I thought of him during the class this week, especially since his birthday was just the day before.  In the first wave—what we call it when we move through each of the 5Rhythms in sequence: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness—I entered the studio after Flowing was already transitioning to Staccato, but still felt I had enough of Flowing, somehow.  Though I have noted some reluctance toward Staccato recently, I entered into Staccato with ease.  Trying to work against my recent impulse to rush through Staccato straight into the next rhythm, Chaos, I lingered in Staccato.  In the process, I missed Chaos completely, waiting, as I was, for it to fully arrive.  I vowed to let loose in Chaos during the second wave if it was at all available to me.  At moments, I thought about the chaos of the country and how it might affect Simon’s life.

In the gap between the first and second waves of the class, Tammy offered spoken instructions as she moved through the different rhythms.  Her words caused me to reflect on what I consider to be “normal,” and how much my perspective on what is normal has shifted since November’s election.  Given that affronts to democracy have become frequent, frequency does not mean that these affronts are normal, by any means.  There is absolutely nothing normal about the current moment.

In the second wave, I made sure not to miss Chaos.  As Flowing began, Tammy encouraged us to turn in, and I had a flash of the starry cosmos inside as I lowered my eyelids.  Stepping in to Staccato, Chaos seemed to come quickly.  I shook, almost violently, rocking deep in the pelvis during the transition from Staccato to Chaos, then continuing to shake.  More than one rhythm operated on me at once.  I intersected with a friend briefly, and we were wild, creative, expansive.  We separated, then came back together again in Lyrical.  Lyrical kicked in like a switch had been hit, with a flick, and with a rush of delighted inbreath.  I noted the millisecond it arrived, thinking, “Lyrical!  Here it is!” We twittered and flew, but retained the ferocity of our earlier Chaos.

Next, I joined with a dancer I hadn’t ever seen before in an athletic Stillness.  We bounded and leapt, on and off the ground, in an attitude of breakdancing, sliding and twittering, pulling and gliding, pausing in curious, emphatic shapes the whole while, once with my cheek pressed to the floor, weight in my hands, and my legs twisted and raised, with tension in the balls of the feet.  I tossed myself under the bridge of his back, both of us laughing.  We disregarded Tammy’s instructions when she said, “Change” into the microphone, inviting us to take a new partner, but after the third “Change” we bowed melodramatically to each other and finally moved on.

I joined, once again, with my creative and expansive friend, both on our knees, our hands fluttering a gentle dance.

Simon and I had decided to attend the Sunday Sweat Your Prayers class the night before, and waded through the considerable rubble of Saturday’s birthday party, deciding to leave the bulk of the cleaning for later in the day so we would have enough time to get a snack before class.  He was short-tempered as we were preparing, and I told him, “That’s it!  You can’t use a screaming voice.  I don’t think we’re going to be able to go today.”  “No!  Please! Please, Mommy! Please! Please, I promise I won’t scream anymore!  Please take me to the class!”  I told him he would have one final chance and we set out.

We arrived at the Joffrey Ballet, where most 5Rhythms classes in NYC are held, with enough time to pay and get settled.  There was a line all the way up the stairs and out the door that seemed to be made up of ballerinas, based on the tights and smooth ballet hairstyles.  We learned that they were trying out for a professional ballet company as we threaded past them and into the crowded elevator.  In the elevator, people were generous with their attention, and Simon felt seen and welcomed.  The class’s producer, too, kindly welcomed Simon’s hug and kiss with open arms after we arrived on the 4th floor.

Simon and I have a ritual for entering a class, designed to help him understand and notice sacred space.  This was especially useful when he was smaller, to help him notice that once we enter, we don’t speak with words.  We stand in the threshold of the studio door, hold hands, take a big breath in, then, as we exhale, we jump into what we call “The Magic Dance Room.”

Once across the threshold, we found a spot, tucked into a comfortable corner near a pile of coats, and Simon got himself settled as I started to move around the room in Flowing.  He pretty much burned through all of his snacks during Flowing in the first wave, then got up in Staccato to join me on the dance floor.  He wanted me to hold both his hands, and he made this very clear when I tried to release one hand and extend my range of motion.  When he was tiny, he often wanted to be carried during a class.  If he was on the ground, he would wrap his arms around my leg.  I found a whole way of moving, even with one leg restricted, that I never would have otherwise uncovered.  In this case, I still moved very much in Staccato, though my dance remained attentive to his needs.  He trotted out some fancy footwork as we moved around the room, still holding tightly to my hands, and looking at all the dancers around us.  As Chaos arose, Simon went back to his spot in the corner and played with his Legos.  I moved around the room, then joined with a good friend in Lyrical, letting extensions pull me upward, and following her pendulous spinning.  The dancers close to us influenced the dance, too, as we found unending new forms.

In Stillness, Simon and I both stretched out on the floor and rolled, side by side, slowly into the middle of the room. Before long, I sat up and moved near him, but he remained on his back, pushing himself slowly through the room with his bent legs, gazing upward at the dancing adults.

At one point, someone triggered my anger.  I perseverated for a few short moments, then let it go, not wanting to taint the experience for myself or for Simon.

As the next wave started, Simon took another Legos break.  In Staccato, we danced near his spot.  For the first time, he let go of my hands and got creative with his feet as we moved toward Chaos, letting me loop around him and ranging over several feet.  As Chaos deepened, Simon went back to his spot in the corner again, while I moved into an exceptionally creative Chaos with one of my favorite dance partners.  We found new patterns, as one of us would express a sequence and the other would fall into it, each delighting in surprising the other with a new idea or expression.  The room was crowded, and our usually unbridled dance was softer (though still wild) and slotted in around the dancers close to us, but still taking up all the space we needed.

In Lyrical, Simon pointed to the door of the studio, and we both stepped out briefly.  “The music is too loud.  It’s hurting my ears,” he said.  “OK, we can stay out here for a little while.”  “We can go back in when the song is done,” he said, leading me back into the room as soon as the music shifted.

Coming back through the door into the studio, Stillness had already begun to unfold.  Simon poured his weight onto my forearm, as he does when we are walking home and he is extremely tired.  We were invited to partner, and to take turns telling the other, “Why are we here?”  We snuggled with his head on my shoulder and our arms wrapped around each other.  I said, “Do you want to talk about why you think we’re here?”  “I think we’re here to learn to be calm.  And gentle.  And also to be fast.  And to notice things,” he said, prompting me to kiss him on the forehead.  I took my own turn to speak, saying, “I think we’re here to make others happy and to make ourselves happy.”   We continued to snuggle and to rock back and forth gently.  At one point, I gathered him into my arms, sideways, like when he was a small baby, and rocked him gently.  As the final song began, Simon rested his head on the tops of my feet, leaning back, relaxed.  I felt a rush of love and gratitude, as we held hands and gently moved each other’s arms, listening to the last song Gabrielle Roth ever recorded.

When the music concluded, the mood in the room was reverent. Simon lead the way to our things.  We quietly picked them up, then headed out of the studio. I said, “Simon, I’m so proud of you.  When the teacher asked us to leave the room silently, you followed the directions.”  He said, “I didn’t even hear that, Mommy.  I just knew I was still in the Magic Dance Room and I couldn’t talk.”

We ended our adventure with a special lunch, and talked about our experiences.  Of everything that I do as a parent, I think that giving Simon access to the 5Rhythms is, quite possibly, my best offering.  Every phase of his development and of our ever-evolving relationship has been reflected in the 5Rhythms.  I am grateful for the many moments of glorious connection, when the practice draws back the veil of mundane experience, and reminds me of the divine blessing of my sweet little boy, my darling son.

February 7, 2017, Brooklyn, NYC

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A Woman’s Place

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“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

“There is only one of us here.” –Gabrielle Roth, creator of the 5Rhythms practice

Packed body-to-body with the many hundred thousand protesters who attended the Women’s March in NYC on Saturday, one friend led the way as we tried to squirm across 2nd Avenue to join our group on the other side.  When I reached behind me for my other friend’s hand, someone squeezed my hand enthusiastically and I turned around to meet the shining eyes of a stranger, who continued to hold my hand lovingly for several seconds.  This was the first time of many that I was moved to tears during the massively attended event.  Then I took my friend’s hand and, holding onto the friend who was leading, continued to make my way through the dense crowd.

I was reminded of how proud I am to be a New Yorker as I joined with my city, witnessing inspiring humanity all around me: the “Angry Grannies” group, the spectacular hand-made signs including the one with a Dr. Seuss-style poem lampooning the new president, the handsome Russian-speaking man who carried a sign that said, “I am you.  I fight for you,” the wearable sculpture with the raised-fist, black-power iconography of the Black Panther activists rendered in rainbow colors, the golden uterus hand tattoos of the Lady Parts Justice League, the signs reminding us of an American vision of social justice—though never perfectly manifested—an American vision every bit as real as the vision framed by the new administration.  Even our mayor joined the event, carrying his own sign of protest.

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Peter Fodera led Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves class this week.  I hadn’t realized that Tammy would be out of town, but sighed happily as I entered to see Peter at the teacher’s table.  Tammy once shared publicly that when she first met Peter, he seemed like such an angel that she almost didn’t believe he was human.  When The Moving Center organized a series of one-day workshops each on one of the 5Rhythms—Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness—Peter was, of course, called upon to teach the Flowing workshop.

Since the election, I have found comfort in the rhythm of Flowing.  It reminds me of my formative experience of perfect love—when my father would sing to me and rock me in a special rocking chair. On several occasions I have felt resistance when the music shifted from Flowing into the next rhythm, Staccato.  Analogously, during the week, I had trouble deciding which creative work to focus on, and what to do with my small ration of discretionary time.  I had been finding and embracing pockets of joy wherever I could since the election, but the actual inauguration was a sobering reality.  I listened to the new president’s speech in the car on the way to class and bellowed with grief.  I was happy to see Peter because I was sure he would guide us in the grounding energy of Flowing, where I would find comfort and belonging.

To my surprise, Peter kept us in Flowing for just a brief period without any real earthy snuggle, then, in what seemed like a short time, he began to shift us into Flowing Staccato and into Staccato.  I groaned inwardly as the music shifted.  The majority of this hour-and-a-half long wave was spent in Staccato and in Chaos.

That week, I had entered a deep investigation of some chronic tension in my right shoulder with my therapist.  Several images came up, including that the shoulder was a key player in how my body expresses fear and defensiveness.  I also noticed that my right side was much less alive than my left side, and that my right foot seemed remote.  My therapist said, “There was a different kind of movement today.  Often, you move kind of like water in a container, close to the core, but today, there was something about the way you integrated your arms and raised them up that felt more expansive.”

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The first wave gave me many chances to use the dance floor as a laboratory for this new physical information about my shoulder.  I connected with a friend in Staccato who seems to be led by her shoulders, and I twisted and tumbled with her, letting my rolling shoulders pull me down and into motion.  I also enjoyed a gentle staccato turn with a tall friend who rolls easily out into his extremities and inspires me to do the same, still noticing the role of the shoulders in my gestures.  Next, I joined in an inspired Chaos with a friend of many years, remembering a time when the two of us let loose in the middle of a giant Chaos circle, amidst whoops and cheers.  More than once, I encountered a new dancer who easily matched my high energy level, bounding, up on our toes, and twisting backward into the hips as Lyrical delighted us into beaming connection, my arms rising up from underneath, the shoulders as released as they can be at this time.

At the end of the class, Peter brought spoke briefly. I left with the message of a strong call to action, though I can’t remember his exact words.  If even Peter, who seems to have an especially strong connection to Flowing, seemed to be urging us toward Staccato and toward action, well, I really have to take that in.  Maybe I need to stop wallowing in the harsh reality of circumstances and get on with it.  At some point, I have to pick a point to move toward, and commit myself to goals and the specific actions they require.

A close friend responded to my rhetorical question, “How to work with anger, and yet to act with love?”  She sent copious resources, and though I found the resources helpful, I realized that many of us have been training for years in preparation for this very moment.  I have a practice and a community that will carry me and that I have a responsibility to carry.  It is only when things get hard that the integrity of practice is truly tested.  Practice has become—now more than ever—an emotional, political, and spiritual imperative.

As we made our way to the march from the subway, I nudged my friends to notice an elder of advanced years, who sported a pink coat, the trademark pink pussycat hat, and a cane with a chair feature. I was moved by her participation, and, you will not be surprised to learn, found myself crying.  During the day, I saw many other elders, who could not have had an easy time of being on foot for many hours in the huge crowds.

Standing in the solid-packed crowd for hours before the start of the Women’s March, I was grateful for the teachings of Flowing.  Though I am just five feet tall and could not see beyond the bodies immediately thronging me, I felt fine about being so close.  I enjoyed breathing the people around me in, though it kept bringing me to tears, touched as I was by so many images, overheard comments, and exchanges. It was a powerful antidote to Friday’s speech, which made me feel afraid, sad and angry.

Saturday after the march I sat talking politics for hours with a friend whose political leanings tend toward anarchy, grateful for the opportunity to discuss politics in depth with someone I both agree and disagree with.  In her opinion, America has never been a functioning democracy.  I see her point, but I am an American, too.  My deeply committed, progressive parents who have worked for social justice causes throughout their lives are Americans, too.  The thousands and thousands of beautiful humans of all colors, orientations, nationalities and abilities who stepped into the march on Saturday are all Americans, too.  We are also America.  I don’t think it is fair to call America a completely failed project.

On Sunday morning, I attended the Sweat Your Prayers class at the Joffrey Ballet, where today’s teacher, Jilsarah Moscowitz, wove in similar themes.  As with Friday’s class, I was right on time, anticipating a long, patient Flowing.  After some exploratory strolling, I lay on my back on the floor where I continued to tune in to my right shoulder.  Before long, I moved into a curling matrix, pausing to arc from the side of my foot and up the rib cage into my extended arm, and to stretch in my hips, hamstrings, quadriceps, and in the fronts and backs of my shoulders.  Continuing to moving in a patient swirl on the ground, rising occasionally from the back of my hips with my hands and feet still down, I began to make my way through the space, still on the floor.  After a loop or more, I moved through the room on my feet, silently acknowledging every person in the space and saying internally, “I see you there; and I am grateful for it.”

Jilsarah gave us a tiny bit more time in Flowing than Peter had on Friday, but still moved us into Staccato much earlier than I wanted.  One low, slow staccato song inspired me and I danced deep into the hips, pressing my backside far behind me, my shoulders forward, feet dragging and rising.

Jilsarah narrated as Stillness of the first wave transitioned into Flowing of the second wave.  “Some say that we are in a time of Chaos.  Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, said that Chaos is a combination of both Flowing and Staccato — the combination of masculine and feminine energies.”  Although Gabrielle did not express this, Jilsarah indicated that we could experiment with Chaos as grounded action.  She invited us to “add breath” to the rhythms as a way to express the purity of each rhythm.  She said she hoped we might find a way to be both grounded—Flowing, and in action—Staccato, both on and off the dance floor.

In Chaos, I tipped sideways and lightly touched one of my favorite dance partners on the upper leg with the top of my foot, playfully inviting him to partner.  Our exchange was marked by dramatic cross-overs, weirdly-timed stops, collapses, flings, bursts, keeling spins, top rocking, and even by rollicking, back-and-forth running motions.  We laughed and laughed.

Lyrical was pure, weightless joy.  It continues to amaze me that Lyrical is available no matter what.  That deep acceptance is available even with the necessity for resistance.  The Dalai Lama, for example, is downright mirthful despite the many traumatic events he has experienced.  I moved in a flat plane, twittering up and sideways in my feet and hands, still opening the shoulders, letting air fill my underarms, flying, barely touching down.

I was at the march from 11am until about 4pm.  Though I had no phone reception during the event, I learned that almost everyone I know in NYC was in attendance, that my father attended the Women’s March in Hartford, Connecticut, and that my mother attended the march in Sacramento, California, where she was on a work trip.  The march went until at least 9pm, with fourteen city blocks packed solid with people called to action, streaming throughout the midtown Manhattan route for upwards of ten hours, with good humor, patience, righteous anger, and, too, with love—all the necessary ingredients for a true revolution, the one that must by necessity start from within, but must, by necessity, not stop there.

January 23, 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.

Posted in 5 Rhythms, 5Rhythms, conscious dance, five rhythms, meditation, movement meditation, moving meditation, notes on practice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Love Letter to Flowing

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“The Earth is above you, below you, all around you and even inside you.  The Earth is everywhere.  You may be used to thinking of the Earth as only the ground beneath your feet.  But the water, the sea, the sky, and everything around us comes from the Earth.”  –Thich Nhat Hanh, “Love Letter to the Earth”

I have always loved benignly notable weather events.  I love the slower pace, I love that the collective experience of the weather dominates all of our minds, and that our push toward individual achievement fades—if briefly—to the background.  The unexpected accumulation of five or six inches of snow in the past two days is a delightful surprise.  Yesterday, my six-year-old son, Simon, and I went sledding in Fort Greene Park despite very cold temperatures, then returned to the warm house and sat on the couch together, each reading independently, our giant, fluffy cat purring and rubbing her head on us affectionately.

At the dentist in the afternoon before Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves class, I had a scare.  The dentist gave me a shot of Novacaine and I felt a sharp pain in my cheek, then everything in my vision went double.  The dentist was convinced that my blood pressure spiked because of fear and that I was on the verge of fainting.  He told me to sit quietly for 20 minutes; and assured me that I would be fine.   A few minutes later, I noticed that vision was restored on my left side, but was still completely doubled in front of me and on the right.  “Have you ever heard of that before?” I asked him.  “No, not really.  I guess that is a little weird.  But you are probably going to be ok on a few minutes.”  The asymmetry concerned me, however.  I wondered if I might be having a small stroke, perhaps triggered by the sudden spike in blood pressure.  Next, I wondered if I could get a parking ticket forgiven if I had to take an ambulance to a hospital and couldn’t feed the meter.  I tried to relax by taking deep breaths and closing my eyes.  After a few more minutes, my vision was back to normal, but the dentist and I decided to hold off on filling the cavity that had brought me in to the office.

“We tend to think of the Earth as inanimate matter because we’ve become alienated from it.  We are even alienated from our own bodies.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

Arriving at Friday Night Waves class on the 5th floor of the Joffrey Ballet in the West Village, I took a soft lap around the perimeter of the dance studio.  Sometimes I come in with a rush, greeting friends with shining eye contact, happy to connect.  On this occasion, I moved subtly into the crowd.  Arriving to one of my favorite places in the room, not far from Tammy, and in the corner that is nearest to the home of the late Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, I sunk to the floor, where I stretched and undulated, moving into a very vigorous Flowing.  With both hands and both feet on the floor and twisted sideways, I let my hips and butt spin heavily, as a pendulum, then sprung forward and up, led by my feet and belly into a low coiled twist that felt like breakdancing.

Recalling my scare at the dentist’s office, I reminded myself to take it easy and stay out of my edges.  I could feel the adrenaline that had earlier coursed through my leg muscles radiating off of me.  Nothing hurt, no one triggered me, and I was not preoccupied with anything in particular.  I moved around, partnering occasionally and noting the presence of each person I encountered, saying internally, “I see you there; and I am grateful for it.” I met Staccato amicably, and as Chaos arose I continued to find myself fluid and released, moving around the room with great energy.  In Lyrical and moving into Stillness, light spilled out of the junctures of my joints, and I leapt and bounded, pulled by the tops of my wrists into extensions and cascading descents.

“Everything outside us and everything inside us comes from the Earth.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

Having moved through the first full 5Rhythms wave of the class, attending to each of the five rhythms—Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness—in sequence, Tammy brought us back into Flowing before pausing us for a brief demonstration and talk.

Tammy’s tone was tender as she delivered a lesson almost exclusively devoted to the rhythm of Flowing.  She seemed to be trying to find something in her gestures and said, “I wonder if I can even still do this?”  She moved as she spoke, continuing, “Never having been camping, for most of my life I have been urban, and in some ways disconnected from the earth.”  She went on to say that she had been at home with concrete, not dirt.  She would try to use her mind to figure things out, even, to some extent, inside the dance. “But that all changed after I started this practice,” she went on, “After many years, I started to realized that the earth is who we are.  And I don’t mean that as a metaphor!  It is our very essence.  It is what we are born from, what we come from.”

At that moment, Tammy’s entire orientation changed.  She got lower, literally, and some kind of fussiness, some kind of complexity in her gestures disappeared.  It was a deeper bass, an ear to the ground to hear the rumble of approaching animals, a full acknowledgment of weight and its activation in momentum.  The shift was both visible and palpable; and I felt blessed to be available to receive the lesson.

I connected with Tammy’s comments about not relating to the Earth.  The truth is that for many years Flowing didn’t really interest me that much.  I attended to it as part of the sequence, but I was eager to move on into Staccato and to Chaos.  I was more interested in personal expression, in intensity, in complexity.  I found the humility of Flowing kind of boring. I saw myself as urban from a very young age, and I was no hippy.  Earthiness seemed kind of flaky, imprecise and, frankly, unintellectual.

After many years of disciplined practice, I finally started to have some relationship with Flowing and to the ground.  It is interesting to note that since the presidential election the place I have most wanted to be is in Flowing—the rhythm of the earth, of weight, of the feet, of the ground—and it has given me enormous comfort.

In Flowing during the second wave, I joined with a friend, and we curved around each other, rising and falling.  I tried to circle behind her, but she kept me solidly in view, circling also.  Before long, Tammy suggested on the microphone that we move through the room.  Usually, this instruction is interpreted as an invitation to part ways with a partner, but this time, we moved through the entire room together, still partnered, squirreling down through tunnels of legs, wrapping around the columns, finding space above.  We moved like currents in the same stream, parting around intervening objects, still connected, coming back together again and again.  The dance was very porous, and many entered our partnership or influenced it, even as we traveled, depositing bits of rocks and leaves.

“We often forget that the planet we are living on has given us all the elements that make up our bodies.  The water in our flesh, our bones and all the microscopic cells inside our bodies all come from the Earth and are part of the Earth.  The Earth is not just the environment we live in.  We are the Earth and we are always carrying her within us.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

In Flowing Staccato and Flowing Chaos I joined with another friend, finding depth and power, noting the low bass waves that travel by the feet.  We moved both in sync and totally independently, unpredictable, wild, whole-hearted.  I walked back into my spine and she responded with bounding cross-steps, nodding her head to the beat and moving in diagonal lines.

The second and final wave of the class was a flowing wave, which is to say that as we moved through all of the 5Rhythms, each rhythm also had the flavor of Flowing contained in it. Following the sequence of Flowing, Flowing Staccato, Flowing Chaos, Flowing Lyrical, and Flowing Stillness, Tammy repeatedly invited us to partner.  At one point, I turned to a man who totally ignored me.  I wandered to a different partner, slightly confused, but not too concerned.  Later, I noticed that he wasn’t making eye contact with anyone, and was glad I hadn’t taken his lack of attention personally.

In Lyrical I joined with two others, and we threaded in and out of one another.  As the music transitioned into Stillness, our breath became very strong.  Tammy said something like, “Breathing in and receiving, breathing out and offering.”  I began to move through the room, doing what I call Passing-through practice—when I let myself stream through others and let others stream through me, sometimes until there is no energetic separation at all.

“We are a living, breathing manifestation of this beautiful and generous planet.  Knowing this, we can begin to transform our relationship to the Earth.  We can begin to walk differently and to care for her differently.  We will fall completely in love with the Earth.  When we are in love with someone or something, there is no separation between ourselves and the person or thing we love.”  –Thich Nhat Hanh

I danced hard, but didn’t feel tired, sore, or even very sweaty at the end of class.  I went home feeling content—an emotion that surprises me lately—and, too, feeling grateful, for the guidance of Flowing and for the support of the Earth.

January 8, 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.

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Joy, Not-joy & Happy Clichés

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Typically, after a 5Rhythms class I make a few journal notes right away that I can expand on at a later time, when I tease out themes, follow the threads of narrative, and connect what has arisen in dance to the world off the dance floor.  This Friday, however, as soon as I got home, I set about wrapping and finishing a series of small artworks to give as gifts to family and friends.  I did not make any notes at all until just yesterday.  I hope my memory will serve me, but I ask for your forbearance if I lapse into generalizations—an unfortunate tendency many of us display around the holidays.

Tammy Burstein’s 5Rhtyhms Friday Night Waves class on December 23rd was less packed than usual, presumably because many were already traveling for the holidays or were involved in holiday preparations.  I arrived on time and in reasonably good humor.  A friend greeted me and asked how I was, “No complaints,” I said, then just a few moments later, said to the same friend, not noticing the irony, “My back is hurting a little tonight.”

I don’t remember very much about the first wave, except that I found movement easily, and that there was notably more space between bodies, owing to smaller-than-usual turnout to Tammy’s usually jam-packed class.  One man, who I often find friendly and pleasant, seemed aggressive in his extroversion for the second week in a row.  Last week he had stepped on my foot without even noticing while running in a fast circle around a group of dancers he was involved with.  As I have written before, it is often helpful to have dancers who move through the entire room and don’t become quickly rooted to one place.  Lately, I have been noticing (for myself) when I go too far with a seemingly skillful behavior to the point that it becomes unskillful, for example moving around so much and so fast that I lose mindfulness and start bumping into people.  The man who seemed aggressively extroverted stepped happily into dances with nearly everyone in the room, but I wasn’t feeling receptive to him.  He really seemed to insist, though, stepping emphatically up to me and trying to make eye contact as he moved.  I wasn’t angry and I didn’t insist, but this time I didn’t consciously share a dance with him.  It was interesting for me to reflect on my own behaviors, especially times when I have been ecstatic, moving through the room in bliss, feeling porous and unbounded.  I hope I was able to respect the people who were having a different experience than mine, who might have needed space and privacy, though I felt so connected to them.

It is just 4.15pm and the sky lights with sunset.  I am reminded of the last stretch of driving before arriving to my parents’ house for the holidays a few days ago.  Orange-red light in horizontal bands lit the winter trees that lined the road.  The places that were hidden from the light by trees on the horizon at the other edge of my vision remained dull grey, exacerbating the glow everywhere the red light touched.  I said to my six-year-old son, Simon, “Can you believe how lucky we are? That we get to see this beauty?  It is incredible.  We are so lucky.”  Simon expressed agreement, though I can’t fully know what the experience was like for him.  Tears streamed down my cheeks.  I didn’t say what I was also thinking, “This world might not be so beautiful for much longer.  This might be a memory someday, maybe in the near future.  I can’t imagine a more beautiful world.  Even in the mundane nature of the roadside, with the blue of sky, the green of grass, the white of snow, there is exquisite beauty.”  As I stepped into my parents’ home, I was still choked up as I walked in to find my sister and brother in the kitchen.

Sometimes I think of an original Star Trek episode, when one of the crew members is on a planet where dreams and fantasies are enacted.  The world he projects is of a pastoral, green scene by a small river.  His expressed nostalgia for the beauty of earth touched me; and I have occasionally looked at my surroundings with that frame, as though I were far from earth, or perhaps in a bleak industrial future, imaging how much I would long for the lush green that is all around me now, even in New York City.

When Simon was first born, I spent countless hours sitting on the deck of my parents’ house, watching shimmering trees and dense green vines while he slept or nursed.  Once, a hummingbird came to drink from a flower on the deck just a few feet from me.  The grass, though patchy in spots, quivered with sugar.  Clouds gathered themselves into forms and drifted by, in constant motion, except during rare moments of seamless blue.  Even then, the breeze moved the leaves, insects clambered, the baby shifted softly, and birds threaded in and out of each other’s paths of flight.

Tammy, apparently noting a flavor of inertia in the room, invited us to follow someone.  Personally, I love following people. When someone rushes by, I might get swept into their current.  Sometimes, I step into the wake someone creates and experience what it is like for them to move through a room full of bodies.  The teacher Peter Fodera is particularly delightful to follow, as he moves through the room with both delicacy and force, seeming to majestically part the seas.  As the following took shape, there was some open-ness and I slipped around, smiling.  Soon, though, it turned into several chains of bodies.  Tammy said something to the effect that though some enjoy the season, for a lot of people, the holidays aren’t all that great. For some, they might be painful, I reflected, thinking of someone close to me who all but shuts down every year at least between December 23-26.  Inertia gripped even the chains of moving dancers.  Instead of pressuring us to cajole ourselves into joy, merry singing and grandiose generosity, making the not-joy even more painful, Tammy encouraged us to investigate the what was actually coming up in that moment, as we followed the person directly in front of us, perhaps in their “holiday slog.”

Moving briefly with this dragging conga line, I soon peeled off from the group with one friend, and we entered an enlivened Flowing in one corner of the room.  I don’t know if there is any metaphor in it, but when each person is trying their best to follow the other, sometimes each person winds up both leading and following, in a tight little tangle of forces.  In this case, the dance became delightful.  We approached and spun, dipping and rolling in and out of one another’s orbits.  It felt like when you are little kids playing in the grass and you hold hands with your wrists crossed, then spin around and around and around with your head thrown back and your mouth wide open, laughing.

I wondered if my friend loves the holidays like I do.  I am very much in the minority, but I have always loved the winter holidays and found true, imperfect joy with family and friends, despite the overwhelming pressure for fake, perfect joy that causes so many to suffer.  I even enjoy the lead up—this year, in particular, I planned ahead and had a number of presents I was excited to offer.

Flowing opened up easily for me again.  I knew I had to leave a little early if there was any hope to complete the series of small artworks and prepare gifts in time for a morning departure from the city.  I stayed just a little longer, then a little longer, then a little longer, finally leaving as Staccato transitioned into Chaos in the second wave of the class.

I am surprised there is so much to say this time, given that I had no notes and many days elapsed between the class and the writing.  Just as in stepping in to a 5Rhythms room I never know what will happen, so, too, in stepping in to the creative process of writing, I never know what will arise.  There is a long list of sad items I could dwell on at the moment: my grandmother has just entered hospice care, many near me are suffering with depression and various issues, and, of course, the alarming state of the world.  Despite all of this, joy has visited me in glimpses.  I am happy to be able to receive it, happy that sometimes joy can arise even independent of external circumstances.  To disdain my own joy would be as much a mistake as trying to force myself into it.  It seems that lived experience is always much more interesting than the expectations I set up for myself.  Living itself is much better than a happy cliché, even when it is messy, even when joy is a risk.

December 29, 2016, Broad Brook, CT

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

Posted in 5 Rhythms, 5Rhythms, conscious dance, educational psychology, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Times A Changin’ – Finding Lyrical Even Inside Chaos

bob-dylan-nobel-prize

“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.

Posted in 5 Rhythms, 5Rhythms, conscious dance, five rhythms, movement meditation, moving meditation, notes on practice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment