Notes on Practice: You Won’t Hear This with Your Ears

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

I arrived on time to Tammy’s class on Friday, excessively bundled as the nearly balmy night was set in a string of frigid temperatures. I found my way in, forgetting, almost, my long established practice of bowing after I cross the threshold into the studio.

Friday’s class started out okay enough. I was surprised to find the crowd thin for a Friday, and wondered if the previous day’s killings at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in France might have made people nervous about traveling by subway. I meandered briefly, noting the absence of an altar, then found a place on the floor to breathe and stretch. Shortly, I found myself moving around the room in the rhythm of Flowing.

I was having a hard time getting into it; and I was relieved when Tammy instructed us to take partners. I love when we are told to partner. In general, whether I am told to or not, I am partnered for more than half of the time. When it is an instruction, I find it very comfortable to sink completely into the dance, knowing that before long the instructor will tell us to switch partners. I don’t have to waste any energy at all trying to read people (or read myself) to know if I should stay with them or move away. I just do what I am told. Also, if I feel weary or vague, being told to partner can wake me up instantly.

I notice that if I shut down to one person, I effectively shut down to everyone. On Friday, during the partnered dances when Tammy defined how long we should stay in partnership, one dancer put me off. I found him aggressive—with his body, his eye contact, his use of space, his movements. I kept dancing backward, wanting more space between the two of us; and he kept advancing toward me. I held my hand up with my arm outstretched and the palm facing him every time he got close to me. Despite this, halfway through our dance he went for it and just charged me, coming in very close, very fast, with his chin slightly tucked into his chest. It made me feel threatened. He didn’t seem to understand or acknowledge my body language at all. After I moved away from him, I found myself more distracted from what was happening around me.

I have had this experience before—I shut down to one person and wind up accidentally shutting down to everyone else at the same time. Was this guy really going to hurt me? I doubt it. Was shutting him out emotionally going to help keep me safe in any way? I doubt it. The only one who suffered in the situation was me. If shutting someone out could really keep you safe, I’d be all for it, but it just doesn’t seem to work that way. I think it might be possible to have a boundary, without having to create an energetic Great Wall.

When I first started coming to 5Rhythms classes, there was one character on the floor who made me angry. He would freak out completely, and in the process draw all energy and attention to himself. I am all for falling apart when you need to and for comforting and supporting others who want or need support—but this was just too much. And it kept happening! One night, the entire dance floor was on their knees, keening, with their hands on this guy while he wailed. I came to wonder if he might actually be a demon.

For whatever reason, on Friday, I wanted to shut out the man who rushed toward me. In my own mind, I think I was punishing him, though I am nearly certain he didn’t notice at all. Later, I glanced by a friend (mentioned recently) who I love to dance with, but who tends to make me nervous because he gets angry a lot. Although our dances are always fascinating, and are often beautiful, I barely made eye contact with him.

As I found myself increasingly distracted and separate from the tribe, I noticed a woman who was enraptured with the dance. During the teaching period between the night’s two waves, she had identified herself as a brand new dancer who had never done 5Rhythms before.

I thought about the first time I danced 5Rhythms. It is a story I hold close to my heart, much as you might cherish a story of falling in love with a life partner or soul mate—an ace to get you through the rough times. In my case my 5Rhythms career began when a trustworthy friend and mentor suggested that I join her for a night of dancing, saying, “I’m not sure how to explain it, but I think you’d really like it.”

I spent my entire first class in a heavy trance. It seemed imprudent to look directly at anyone; but I could feel my place in the web of people. Tears rolled down my cheeks. In fact, for the first two years of dancing, I cried almost constantly. I found that I needed to collapse again and again—an antidote for years spent in a difficult relationship when I had to hold back, hold things together, and keep myself in check—for fear of triggering an enraged response. Sometimes I was crying out unexpressed grief, sometimes I was crying for joy; and often I wasn’t sure why I was crying—only that my at once tender and defended heart was becoming more and more available.

After class, I went to dinner with the friend who invited me. I was stunned. Speechless. (For a long time it was hard for me to transition back and forth from the world of dance and body to the world of speech and words.) I kept repeating the same phrases. She was patient with me, thankfully; and I knew that the night was the beginning of a long relationship.

I started to write this post earlier in the week; and I wasn’t surprised when Tammy talked about the experience of falling in love with dance during class on the following Friday night. Mmany, many times Tammy has taught about something specific that has been foregrounded in my mind. Once, she told an obscure story—about a group of the Buddha’s early followers spending a night in a dangerous forest, filled with demons, tigers and other wild animals—that I had been studying and contemplating during that same week.

In Tammy’s case, she talked about how she stepped into a 5Rhythms room for the first time and, encountering herself in the mirror, had to muster the courage to stay rather than “turn away from herself”. She went on to talk about what it was like for her to fall in love with 5Rhythms.

When I fell in love with the partner I shared eight often-beautiful years with, it was my heart who told me the news. The unexpected partner-to-be and I spent the afternoon together visiting art galleries and by night time found our way to a little beach by the East River in Williamsburg. The same site is now a huge, well-tended park, but at the time you had to climb through a hole in a chain-link fence to get there. We sat on a driftwood log, listening to the river’s waves, looking up at the stars, and talking of the world. We embraced each other, and the most remarkable thing happened. The rhythms of our heartbeats synced up, beating in exactly the same time. I had not been looking for a partner at the time, but I couldn’t deny my heart’s imperative.

Ah, yes! I was talking about my first class for a reason before we even got to the class when Tammy shared her story. As I mentioned, I had noticed this lovely, shining girl who was dancing in a 5Rhythms room for the first time. She was near me when I was feeling shut down; and noticing her made me smile. Even so, I moved reluctantly, not really feeling into it. When my eyes were closed, the same girl twined her arm with mine. Though she did not touch me, I felt her next to me right away. She had no idea that this was a bold move on her part; and for a split second I thought of moving away from her. The feeling I got from her was so joyful, so elated, so kind, so innocent that I smiled and instead began to move with her right away. We have a choice, in every moment, don’t we? We can always move away. Sometimes we have to. But I notice that when I choose to move away, it is rarely followed by the feeling of joy that sometimes arises as a result of staying. It is interesting, perhaps, to note that shortly after her dance with me, the innocent girl happily partnered with the same charging man who had triggered me earlier in the class.

Fast forward now, to the following week’s Friday night class—the class when Tammy talked about falling in love.

I am weepy today, as I write. This morning my yoga instructor played Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speeches in the beginning of the class as we lay supine, and again at the end, finding us in a similar position. Martin Luther King’s stalwart integrity, commitment, skillfulness and vision inspire me deeply; and I sobbed raggedly in the quiet room. The teacher talked of his words as “our inheritance.” His heart is our heart, is my heart; and is an expression of our collective, perfectly expressed humanity.

When I got home, I bent down to my little son’s eye level, touched my forehead to his, looked into his eyes and said, “My heart has something to tell your heart. I love you.” He smiled and said, “Mommy that was your words, not your heart.” I said, “Let me try again.” And I hugged him, matching our hearts together. “You are going to have to listen with your heart now, because your ears won’t hear this.” I let the universe rush in as my heart spoke. “I heard it, Mommy! That time I heard your heart!” He smiled and went back to playing and drawing.

I wasn’t feeling well on the way to class on Friday—a bad cold I think—with headache and congestion. I flirted with the idea of staying home, but decided I would try it and see what happened. On the floor to begin, my nose began to run like a faucet to the point of nose-tip irritation; and I started to sneeze repeatedly. “Uh oh,” I thought. I wasn’t sure I would have the energy to engage; and decided I would take it as easy as possible.

Getting up slowly I started to move with abundant gentleness—letting all my edges and pointed investigations rest for the evening. I held a crumpled tissue in my hand to catch the frequent gushes of nose-water. I barely even sweated until long into the class, pushing nothing, and instead moving in circular motion, seemingly with no more exertion than I used while lying down on the floor. My dance is often very athletic, but in this case it was nothing but tender.

I stepped into a dance with a friend (the same friend I wrote about during Tammy’s recent heartbeat workshop—Faint of Heart) I think I need to give my frequent partners assumed names, so readers can identify the evolving relationships as they read different posts, but I won’t disrupt anyone’s privacy. Let us call this friend Jean-Marie. I stepped into a dance with Jean-Marie, with no expectations and no edges. Slowly, I investigated moving with her. I noticed something about her dance that I hadn’t understood before—as much as there is a kind of offering and a low, circular, pendulous motion—there is also this dynamic, repeated suspension that creates a rhythm even in the gentlest of fluid motion. We smiled at each other as the dance transformed and we each dissolved back into the crowded room.

After such a satisfying beginning, it was easy to flow through the room, encountering and moving with people as we crossed paths. Before long, I encountered the same friend I love to dance with who I sometimes have mixed feelings about because I have seen and felt his anger more than once. Let us call him Daniel from now on. I danced past Daniel, and instead of glancing by, I fell into step next to him, smiling and inviting him to dance. The music had calmed, but once again became energetic, chaotic. Smiling, we leapt and twisted, finding all the different sides of each other. Still, I was edgeless, released, compared with how I usually experience myself. I bumped slightly into a very tall friend who was next to us and apologized, feeling drawn to him, but returning to my dance with Daniel. Daniel then touched his heart and offered a small gesture toward me—a motion I usually interpret as “Good-bye and thank you, from the heart, for the beautiful dance.” I flowed right into a dance with the friend I had accidentally bumped, wondering briefly if Daniel might not have intended to end our dance and if I might hurt his feelings by partnering with someone else, but moving on regardless.

The friend I turned to—let us call him Kevin—is lithe and athletic, and holds exquisite joy even at the farthest reaches of him—the tips of his fingers and the ends of his toes. The dance we shared was pure love. Gentle whispering winds coiled around our spines, turning us un-self-consciously. I accidentally bumped someone else, apologized and, turning back to him, slapped my forehead with the palm of my hand, clowning, acknowledging my mis-step. We moved through many different energies, even shapeshifting for a period. Balancing and suspending, I wanted to lift my leg far behind me and looked carefully first so I wouldn’t once again bump someone. He noticed my intention and we shared the joke briefly before moving back into sublime whispered motion. Turning from him, energetic again, a sound that was like a groan, a sigh and a sob all at once escaped me, completely un-intended. We ended the wave facing each other, giggling. Shining in our humanity.

Once, on a chilly, white fall day while I was crossing 23rd street in the West Village, my heart spoke to me. In clear, unmistakable words. Its message to me then is a cherished secret, but I am thinking of it today as I write on another chilly, white day; and reflecting on how grateful I am to have a practice that reminds me to turn to my heart, again and again, day after day and year after year.

January 18, 2015

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