Mindfulness and Awareness in 5Rhythms Practice

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

Today I went to one of my favorite places—a quiet spot next to a river that my grandfather loved.  Though it was cold, I sat in meditation on the ground, patiently attending to my breath, to the icy wind grazing my cheekbones, to the sheer bank on the other side of the river, to the glowing late afternoon sun behind the trees, to the ground beneath me, to the moving water, and to everything reflected upside down on its surface.

This week, I was not able to formally practice 5Rhythms; and I find myself considering broad themes within my own practice, rather than specific experiences that have arisen in a given class.

When I started an intensive formal meditation practice in 2007, I slowly came to understand that mindfulness and awareness are two ends of a certain spectrum of experience.  Before then, mindfulness and awareness seemed like vague synonyms, but after they became quite distinct.  Mindfulness, strengthened in meditation through strategic attention to one thing, such as the breath, is about sustaining focus and overriding the mind’s tendency to disperse itself.  Awareness, strengthened in meditation through equanimous attention to everything that arises, is about being wholeheartedly present and open to what is happening in a given moment.

I quickly realized that I had a strong tendency toward mindfulness, rather than awareness.  I found I could hold my attention to the breath like a vise.  Within a few months, I could sustain mindfulness of breath during almost all of my waking hours.  When it came to awareness—and the receptive, accepting, patient quality that awareness engenders, it was (and is) much less intuitive for me.

I came to 5Rhythms and to formal meditation at almost exactly the same time; and both found me eager, dry tinder ready to be set alight.  Having two core practices was a lot like having two fluent languages, since it gave me insight into what is unique and what is universal no matter what language you are speaking.  What I learned from my meditation teachers, I investigated in the laboratory of 5Rhythms classes.  What I learned in 5Rhythms fueled and deepened meditation practice and study.  When I found concepts in both traditions that aligned closely, I paid them extra mind.

Today by the river, I got cold as soon as I decided I was done meditating.  Nothing changed, except that during formal meditation I was emphasizing mindfulness and concentrating on my breath, and after I wasn’t.  I have had the same experience dozens of times—wherein as soon as I stopped formally meditating, something about the environment was unbearable, though I had been perfectly at ease just moments before during the period of meditation.  This, to me, offers evidence about the potential power of mindfulness practices to affect how we experience our lives.

In dance, Flowing is where I find my ground.  I attend to the physical sensations of the feet again and again, ideally until I feel satisfied that I have established a ground in mindfulness.  Until that ground is well-established, it is pointless to move on.  Otherwise, I run the risk of causing harm to myself or others, and it is unlikely that I will be available to subtle aspects of practice.  During the course of a wave I move back and forth again and again on this continuum between mindfulness and awareness.  In dance, often the return to mindfulness is a return to the sensation of the moving feet—a key teaching in Flowing.  If I am lucky, I may find myself eventually moving un-self-consciously in Stillness, with awareness of breath and spirit.

Perhaps because of my tendency toward mindfulness, I fall easily into states of concentration.  As a child, I set up all sorts of focusing games for myself, such as sitting in the garden and gazing for long periods at a single vegetable, looking into a mirror, or staring at length into the ocean.  I never didn’t meditate.  I didn’t acquire any language for it or any formal training until my late teens, but it was something that I did intuitively.

In dance, this concentration often expresses as trance states.  I go through long periods when dance is quite normal—perhaps psychological, emotional or social—but not archetypal or mystical.  I also go through phases when different planes of reality are rendered in sharp relief.  I might imagine that I find messages hidden in time, that I communicate with spirit ancestors, or that I see compelling visions, such as jewels pouring out of my palms.  I might even feel like I have specific memories of different lives I’ve lived.  Sometimes, inside a trance, I catch a glitch in a particular movement and repeat it again and again until its repetition opens the doors of time and offers some key insight.

The transition from Chaos into Lyrical is the time when I am most likely to look up, look around, and notice everyone and everything in the room.  My hair, wild with the rigors of Chaos, gets pushed away from my eyes.  I often lighten up, and start to move energetically throughout the space, dancing with many, but rarely settling into a dance with one partner.  For me, this moment has often been accompanied by the clutch of fear, perhaps in part to do with how I relate to awareness.

There is more that I want to say tonight, as I sit engaging in this rather intellectual examination of how I experience my practice and how mindfulness and awareness get enacted for me.  I love to travel these trajectories, but I just stepped outside on a bright moonlit night, standing among windless trees and noting the glitter of winter frost.  I remembered that the magic, the beauty, of practice is that moving brings me to life, and wakes me up to the life I am already living.  Any frame I care to set up is just a lovely exercise.  Really, the words are just a rounding off of the real experience–a quest to understand and communicate what is, ultimately, wordless, timeless and inexplicable.

December 29, 2014

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