Converging Polarities & Internal Fire

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The morning was brisk, with nearly violent wind.  The sky was white and opaque, hiding the spacious blue that surely existed behind the low, dense clouds.

There is a personal ritual that I go through on stepping into a 5Rhythms class to mark the shift from the space of the world to the space of formal practice.  For today’s Sweat Your Prayers class at the Joffrey Studio I had to repeat the steps several times before mindfulness even began to dawn.  For many, it has been a hard week, as the reality of the recent election continues to settle in.  Also, I had dental surgery on Monday.  By last Sunday, I was in pain that far surpassed the pain of natural childbirth.  The dentist tried to remove a tooth, but, after drilling and pressing and some very alarming cracking, failed, and sent me along to an oral surgeon.  Bleeding and with a tooth half extracted, I made my way to a different office, then sat for two hours, waiting again to be seen.

Eventually, I did arrive at the class, at least enough to proceed into the room.  I moved gently, perhaps hesitantly, investigating the space.  Before long, I found a place on the ground and began to move in rising and falling circles, notably engaging my abdominal muscles as I found new angles to stretch, letting the circling overtake me.  Taking advantage of the fact that the Sunday morning class is less crowded than the night classes, I began to move throughout the space, remaining entirely connected to the floor, almost like I was oozing into the empty spaces—amoebalike, edgeless, more a cloud of forms than the expression of any particular shapes.

At one point, I looked at the clock and realized we had been in Flowing for 25 minutes—an exceptionally long Flowing for the opening wave of a two-hour class.  However, when the teacher, Jilsarah Moscowitz—who was subbing for Jonathan Horan—initiated the first Staccato song I groaned inwardly, not wanting to leave Flowing for anything, feeling like I had just started to find the ground, like I needed much more time.  Kicked out of the nest, I tried my best to step up in Staccato.  Distracted by pain and anxiety about my tooth, along with the long-lingering shock of the election results, I did not find Staccato easily, and instead felt disoriented and detached.

As I have experienced in the past, when I honestly didn’t know if I had anything to give myself, it was my friends who pulled me through.  One who has been practicing with depth and integrity for many years, and who is also a 5Rhythms teacher, stepped up to me, beaming.  I was happy to see her happy.  She has lived with a disability for her entire life, and if she could be happy in the face of such challenges, who was I to whimper over a little tooth problem and the small matter of possible world destruction?  Her attention and presence inspired me to move; and I was surprised to find the expressive fire of Staccato, that I then carried with me throughout the room, partnering with many—sometimes in just a gesture or two, sometimes in longer turns, sometimes in groups of three or more.

I found a friend who I’d shared a meal with the night before, seeing her for the first time in four years.  Our conversation made me feel inspired and connected; and the dance became a continuation of the same back and forth.  In Staccato, we became fierce, gigantic, toggling through many levels and quickly moving from ground to sky.  I considered the many forms still available for my life, making rapidfire life resolutions, realizing profoundly the need for action, courage, and vision during this time of massive upheaval and change. We moved into a wild Chaos, whirling and still moving through many different levels, stepping up for one another, forms rising up and dissolving into the heat and speed we created.  Though we were powerfully engaged, our dance remained attentive to the dances around us, occasionally responding to a gesture of a nearby dancer, slowing down to notice and take in, the occasional dancer passing right through the middle of our cell and turning there with us before moving on again, the membrane permeable.

Still in Chaos, we separated, being subsumed again by the room.  Jilsarah played part of a speech with lyrics about “Caring for our fellow man,” and grief overtook me.  On the way to class, I had heard an interview on NPR with Jared Taylor, a “white nationalist,” whose blatant, scathing racism had my jaw locked open in aghast horror—ingénue that I am—for a number of minutes.   I couldn’t help but think of recent federal appointments of men with known ties to white supremacist groups.  A groan of agony rose up, totally unintended, tearing through me and becoming a rending cry.  I moved like a demon then, low, and with incredible speed, my head a blur of motion—bringing to the outside the fear, anxiety, pain, panic and anger that had been moving inside of me for nearly two weeks.

Lyrical arrived then, seeming like a miracle, like brightly-colored flowers growing on a big pile of shit.  I moved into a dance with one of my all-time favorite dance partners.  We exhaled sharply and even snarled as we circled one another.  We jumped in and out of the center we created, down to the floor and up, in what seemed like primal, defensive gestures.  Athletic, emphatic, massive, I soon injured my big toe.  My friend moved away; and I lavished care on the toe, curling my lower leg into my arm and rocking it.  Laying back, I moved my leg, with attention on my hurt toe.  It did not dissipate immediately, but after several minutes began to recover.  I watched the process, grateful that this one small injury could run its course and return to neutral in the space of a few minutes.

I noticed that I was working very deeply inside my stomach, to the point that my abdominal muscles are sore now.  I took a sip of water, tipped my head straight up, felt the cold water go down my throat, and followed its path into my belly.  Moving, I felt the water sloshing there.  In Stillness, I rounded my spine and contracted all of the muscles of my stomach, pulling my fist into the hollow created there, re-creating the feeling of being hit in the gut, metaphorically or literally.  I also noticed that I was incredibly stable on one foot, capable of all sorts of balances and twisted extensions, first avoiding weight on the foot with the hurt toe, then including it, too.

With many of us continuing to move in Stillness, Jilsarah read an excerpt from “Connections” by Gabrielle Roth—the creator of the 5Rhythms practice—that included this passage, “Hidden in your Chaos, like the eye of the hurricane, is the moving center, your power center, a place deep in your belly, three fingers below the navel, where all the good stuff is waiting to be felt.  It is in the moving center where all polarities converge; light and dark, good and evil, male and female, elephant and mouse.  It’s the place of perfect equilibrium and harmony.  If only we could resist the temptation to choose one side or the other, we would be here more often” (p. 87).

Stillness lingered on in traces even as we moved into Flowing, beginning the second wave of the class.  Like many, I moved gently throughout the room, being swept by gestures and currents, feeling very much a part of the whole.  I met Staccato once again with resistance, but Jilsarah made it easier for me by playing an appealing Staccato song with Lyrical overtones.  In Chaos, with bits of Stillness threading through it, I passed a tall man who was new to me.  We shared a gesture and started to move on, then instead turned into each other and shared a graceful dance in Still Chaos, our hands absorbing the others’ gestures, turning in slow arcs, disappearing from each other and re-appearing.  After this dance, wandering along, I found my energy low; and a man who was jauntily swinging his hips and knees came into my field.  I matched his twittering gesture, smiling, kinetic.  Another joined us with great enthusiasm, and another.  We were four, then three, then two with a different partner than the one I had started with.

Lyrical arrived, once again, like a miracle.  It occurs to me now, how significant it is that Lyrical—the rhythm of joy—contains too the awareness and acceptance of deep pain.  It has the space to hold all of it.  It is joy with the flavor of wisdom—of a panoramic view from a high mountain on a clear day.  I danced around the room, meeting every eye that was available to me, passing through each person’s field of energy, and allowing others to pass through me.  Eventually, I totally let go of even the directionality of what I call “passing through practice” and allowed everyone to stream in and stream out of me, to let myself stream through everyone—in a whisper of total porousness, of energetic exchange.

Stillness in this last wave found me internal, my eyes shut, in a private ritual of release and completion.

Stepping outside after class, caustic wind again rattled me, reminding me that winter is coming; and that I had better prepare myself and learn to light an internal fire in case nothing external works to warm my spirit in the coming months.

November 20, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC

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

(Image borrowed from pinterest.com/sacredchocolate/sacred-heart)

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Harsh Reality

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“What?  This can’t be.  Oh, my God, this can’t be.  How could this be?  This can’t possibly be.  What are all of these overnight text messages about.  They are no longer celebratory, as they were last night.  This can’t be true.  Let me look at the internet.  Oh, my God.  Oh, my God.  Please, no.  Please, this can’t be.  So many people would suffer.  This is impossible.  How could Americans elect this person?  How could anyone vote for this man?  Please this is just a nightmare.  Let me wake up.  This can’t be.  Let me text back to some of the texts.  Please let it not be so.  It can’t be!  My God!  No, please, this can’t be! So many people would suffer!  The economy! Unchecked hatred!  Please say it is just a nightmare!”

Often before I start a new text for this blog, I write automatically for ten minutes. Writing automatically usually helps me to find an entry point, a theme, maybe even an idea for a structure, but today my mind remains scattered, dulled by its struggle to accommodate the new reality that my fellow Americans have elected Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States.

At Kierra Foster Ba’s workshop “Light & Shadow” last weekend, Kierra took us on a journey through the shadow aspects of each of the 5Rhythms—the shadow of Flowing, which is inertia; the shadow of Staccato, which is tension; the shadow of Chaos, which is confusion; the shadow of Lyrical, which is the quality of being spaced out; and the shadow of Stillness, which is numbness.  In addition, she introduced the idea that the shadows might have to do with the parts of ourselves we would rather keep hidden or disown completely.

After the workshop, I wrote feverishly, very much wanting to deliver a text on the shadows work of last weekend before Tuesday’s election results, realizing that no matter what happened, anything written before Tuesday would become automatically outdated.  Although I was very nervous, I wrote with the assumption that there would be a Hillary victory in the end, and, too, with the assumption that after the election that we would have to find ways to work with and address America’s unleased collective shadows of abject hatred and opportunism.

Before the election, my psyche simply could not accommodate the possibility that Donald Trump might actually win the election.  It was simply too surreal—too much the stuff of nightmares.  It simply could not be. Americans certainly would not go to such extremes, even in the face of anger and disempowerment, that we would actually elect such a person, someone who does not believe in and would threaten our very democracy, who is the confirmed perpetrator of countless, outrageous crimes and abuses, possibly even of rape.

The lively activity at my polling place in Brooklyn made me feel like Hillary would surely win.  The better the voter turnout, I argued in my head, the more likely she would prevail.  I brought my six-year-old son along with me, regaling him with stories of when Obama was first elected—the long, happy lines to vote; and after the results came in, the streets filled with celebration, people thronging Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where I lived at the time.  I told him excitedly, “This is a moment you will always remember, when we voted for the first woman president!”

The memory of the first 5Rhythms class I attended after Obama was elected in 2008 seemed like a totally different lifetime.  It was Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class.  For days, I had been walking around the city sobbing for joy.  It would hit me, buying a tea, waiting for the walk sign, standing on the subway.  Talking with everyone.  Beaming.  Not only had we—a nation built with the blood and sweat of slaves—elected a Black man, but we had elected an ethical, competent, intelligent leader, who was intent on building consensus, examining the minutiae of evidence on the many matters that faced him, and with the stated intention—and possibly the skill—to extend the prosperity that a small number of Americans enjoyed to a larger portion of society.  That was the first time since I was a baby in a leaf pile playing with my parents, that I had ever moved in pure joy.  The room was filled with a different kind of vocalization than what we experienced in class this week—hooting and hollering that moved through the air in waves of its own.  We were a glowing mess, drenched, crying, leaping many feet off the ground, the entire wood floor bouncing, the music getting louder and louder.  It was paradise.  I couldn’t believe how lucky I was—to be alive in this time, to be part of this seismic shift, this uncontainable joy.

A few sleepless, dark morning hours after learning the results (during which my son and I sat on a meditation cushion together, my stomach in knots, him reading quietly or practicing meditation along with me) one of the people I am closest to—a Black and Latino man—entered the house.  He shared an opinion that I have since heard echoed by more than one person of color—that this was no surprise, and that “Black people in America have been dealing with this level of hatred and injustice all along.   Now, it is just out in the open.”  He also reminded me that his joy when Obama was elected had been mitigated by his prediction that there would be a monstrous backlash after Obama’s term.

Since the election, hate crimes have surged, according to the New York Times, USA Today, CNN and a long list of reputable sources.  “Make America White Again” has been scrawled on a whiteboard in a University of North Florida library, and in countless other places countrywide.  My father told me with grave consternation that there had been a KKK rally in my parents’ small town in Northern Connecticut, to my knowledge an unprecedented event.

During and after the “Light & Shadow” workshop, I grappled with the concept of ground, wondering if in clinging to the idea of ground, I might be limiting my perception of reality.  Kierra sought to share her insight, and an insight likely shared by Gabrielle Roth—the creator of the 5Rhythms practice—that the ground is always there; and that it is possible to find the ground even in an earthquake.  Instead of only finding the ground in Flowing, where we traditionally establish it, Kierra lead me to also consider finding it through releasing into Chaos.  My idea of “the ground” as Gabrielle Roth intended it continues to evolve, but I realize that the idea of ground is compatible with the realization that absolutely everything is in constant, dynamic flux; and that there is truly nothing to cling to.  The ground is the foundation, from which we hear and trust our instinctive, physical selves, and from which we come to trust the fundamental correctness and workability of reality.  Truly, finding the ground and being at ease through releasing into Chaos is a powerful tool, as we seek to navigate (at minimum) the next four years.

Driving alone to a 5Rhythms class, my first since the election, I bawled and keened, my face contorted, tears streaming down my cheeks to the point that my skin actually started to itch from all of the salt.  My mind raced, “Would I choose to leave the US?  What steps would I have to take?  Is there anywhere in the western world that is exempt from this impulse toward xenophobia and aggression, this reaction to globalism?  Should I stay and be part of the resistance?  What would the resistance be?  What would happen to all the people without insurance?  Would my son be safe from racism, hatred and violence?  Would New York City be safe, once Trump started provoking countries around the world?  Would I lose my job as a result of recession?  Would my friends lose their jobs?  Would all of my parents’ lifelong hard work for social justice be wiped away, just as they are growing old, beginning to tally their contributions?  Would they lose heart and lose faith?  Would I?  Do all of the people who voted for Trump hate women?  Do all of the people who voted for Trump hate me?  Do they all think that the sexual trauma I have suffered in my own life is no big deal and that the pain I have struggled with for a lifetime is just someone’s lark—locker room pranks—without accountability?  And how, in this crazy world, would I counter this monstrous influence on my small son?  Is there any way to protect him?”  I had no schema for any of this.  Through years of diligent practice, I had developed powerful faith in the basic goodness of human beings.  How could I reconcile these seemingly contradictory realities?

Arriving at class, I took my time to enter the studio, noticing the powerful ritual of stepping from the world into the space of formal practice.  I was not wracked by grief.  There was no catharsis, as I had in a way hoped for.  Instead, the group moved through the first wave, breathing in and out, trying our best to release into Flowing and then into each of the other rhythms.  I noticed that my version of Flowing was agitated, and I made an effort to slow down, to let it in.  To let in the reality of my stress and grief-wracked body, and the reality of the outcome of the election, which I still could not fully grasp.  Staccato barely arrived in this first wave, finding me fumbling, unsure of my feet for once, disassociated, perhaps still in the throes of shock despite my stated willingness to let in. Chaos was loud and energetic, though mental activity continued to churn, in disjointed snippets and unruly threads.  The tiniest hint of Lyrical emerged, and it crossed my mind that somehow I would have to find a way to let joy in, too, despite everything, or I would lose four years of my life, perhaps even causing an atrophy of joy that I would not recover from.  I reminded myself that expressing joy is not an intrinsic affront to suffering, and that being miserable, angry or sad wouldn’t help me to control anything.  It would just make me miserable or angry or sad.  Whether I find Lyrical or not—the situation is very much outside of my control.

On Wednesday morning, arriving to work, I went straight to my one strong work ally.  Hugging him, I sobbed.  Although there were a few people there who were also devastated by the results of the election, I felt very alone, both at work and in the context of the country.  On parting, I said, “This is a call to arms.  We must each become a warrior of the heart.  That is our only hope at this point.  As of today, any kindness is now an act of political resistance.”

At the class, I felt like a whole layer of neurosis had become outdated, along with everything else that happened before November 8, 2016.  Most of the people I was moving with were allies, and could be trusted.  Petty irritations seemed extra pointless, considering the need to build community.  Despite this, some irritations did arise, and I wondered if they were a last sprint of a certain kind of ego, or if they might be a way for my psyche to work on some things that I couldn’t manage to confront directly.

In the interim between the two waves, I sat leaning in a little pod with a small group of friends who happened to be seated near me; then, began to flow back-to-back with one friend, at first just gently swaying from side to side.  I was still disassociated and not capable of fully releasing to ground, but did my best to show up for my friend and for myself.  Eventually gaining our feet, we moved around each other with great energy, then smiled thankfully, beginning to move separately throughout the room.  I spent part of this wave considering disaster preparedness, with a long list of specifics, despite the shared intention to really see each other, to really give to each other.  In Staccato, I found ferocity in bursts, but still felt disassociated.  I partnered with one friend, and marveled at her fire.  Inspired, I grew gigantic, too, forcing it ever so slightly, trying it as an experiment, an intention, rather than as my full expression in that moment.  Even so, I recognized the need to step up in every way, to step into my power, to help the people around me to step into their power, to organize, to defy, to build community, to speak, to listen, to offer, to receive.

Today, as I write, I have a bone infection in my jaw.  It is incredibly painful.  Instead of succumbing to self-pity, I remind myself that there are many people around the world who at this very moment are also experiencing excruciating dental pain.  Maybe also on top of other kinds of pain, too. The great Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron teaches a Tibetan meditation practice called Tonglen.  In Tonglen, instead of resisting or pushing away pain, negativity or other afflictive emotions, we breathe them in.  Then, we breathe out equanimity, positivity and pleasant emotions. In the process, we work against our conditioned impulse to push away what threatens us, frightens us, or rocks our fundamental notions of who we are.  In doing so, we transform our relationship to aversion—the energetic pushing away or non-acceptance of things we usually can’t escape anyway.  An aspect of Tonglen that acts as a counter to despair is that we remind ourselves again and again that we are not alone, that whatever pain we are experiencing, there are countless others who feel or have felt the same pain.  As such, it is impossible not to call to mind the billions of people who suffer or have suffered under the leadership of corrupt, greedy, dishonest or incompetent leaders.  I am not alone.  We are not alone.

I have been very careful to write about the nation as “we,” though it is a stretch for me at this moment.  One sneaky form of aversion is setting up a group of people as “others” who are distinct from “us.”  This is a fundamental premise of postmodern identity politics and of post-colonial theory—the idea that in order to construct ourselves a certain way, we set up groups of people as “others” as a counterpoint to the “us.” It is like we can only have an identity by defining who does not have our identity, excluding certain people from our experience completely. I am using “we,” and thinking of the many complex causes that gave rise to this moment, rather than succumbing to the temptation to simply revile Trump’s supporters to make them “other.”  Truly, this is a phenomenon that all of us have participated in producing.  This place we find ourselves is not an anomaly, and is not simply the result of someone else’s misconduct.

The Black and Latino man I wrote of earlier and who is one of my most important allies again shared his thoughts on the current political moment, reminding me very much of the teachings on the shadow aspects of the 5Rhythms.  He said, “The thing is, people of color have always known it was this bad.  It always has been.  The good thing is that we know that the only way to change things is to first actually accept how bad things are.  That’s the thing that white people just haven’t realized; and that’s why so many people are so shocked.  It is only when we can really accept what is actually happening that real change can finally occur.”

Gabrielle Roth often expressed that the rhythm of our time is Chaos.  As volatile as it inevitably has been, she believed that our era is also marked by possibility and creativity.  I try to imagine what she would say now, if she were still alive.  Perhaps that no matter what, we have to keep moving.  Perhaps that to shut down and lock up would be the real death of us.  Perhaps that the best way to work with Chaos is to release directly into the middle of it.  Perhaps that, ultimately, nothing and no one can take away our freedom or peace of mind, unless we ourselves allow it.

Rending, guttural screams flew through the space as we moved in Chaos.  I found the floor, pulsing vigorously through my middle back, on my hands and knees and crouched into the hips with my pubis almost touching the ground, then I would leap and spin, finding all the while stops and edges inside my own maelstrom.  The friend who was so ferocious in Staccato moved with just as much vigor right next to me.  I moved to the floor and up from it, leaping quickly, perhaps in a primal defensive gesture, landing first in a deep squat, bursting upward, my head a car on the speeding rollercoaster of my spine, then moved back to the ground.  I remembered Kierra’s words about releasing into Chaos, and as the rhythm played out I found more softness, less edge.  If I was tempted to check myself out of this intensity, I reminded myself of the critical importance of releasing to Chaos as a tool for survival.

Lyrical came, too, and then Stillness.  I partnered with a friend who I love to dance with, and we beamed as we moved together, more expansive than in our past dances.  High up on my toes and both finding discrete patterns, we played in and out of each other’s orbits.  In Stillness, I moved unselfconsciously, pulling away from a friend who wanted to partner, giving myself a quiet moment to turn inward.

Though there will be times that we all need to turn inward, community has become critical.  Right before the election, I had invited several friends to a series of dinner parties because I had realized the need to re-focus my priorities on the people around me, rather than on my very stressful job.  Now, after the election, having a way to gather together and cultivate our relationships seems even more important—in fact, like a matter of emotional and political necessity.

At the height of dental pain, I decided to take a yoga class.  I reasoned that I would try it, and if it was impossible I would just leave.  The pain was an 8 or 9 on a scale of 1-10 most of the time, but at moments it receded to the back of my mind, as I attended diligently to the poses and to the breath.  I was surprised that I made it through the entire class, despite the pain.  The teacher, who I trust deeply, said, “It might be hard to hear this right now, but the truth is that we are made for these times.  This is what we have been practicing for.”

On Saturday, I attended a candlelight vigil and rally at Fort Greene Park, where thousands of all races, classes, ages, religions and orientations came together to affirm our commitment to oppose injustice and hatred in all its manifestations, to affirm our commitment to love, and to support each other in resisting the temptation to feel isolated or incapacitated.  A heartful voice sang out, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…” We all joined in, raising our candles in the falling night.  My voice was ragged, the words barely coherent.  A friend from the neighborhood I hadn’t realized was right next to me turned and embraced me.  I looked to my other side and saw another friend—this one from college in Boston—and I turned and kissed her cheek.

We are not alone, my loves.  We are in this together.  In the words of the woman whose light guides me, the woman who continues to show my heart the way, Gabrielle Roth, “There is only one of us here.”

November 13, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC

(Image is a photo I took at the “Vigil for Hope & Human Kindness” that took place in Fort Greene Park on November 12, 2016)

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, dance, five rhythms, meditation, movement meditation, moving meditation, notes on practice, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Light & Shadow

5Rhythms - My Experiences

shadows2

 “The intention for this workshop is full, complete and unrelenting self-acceptance,” said highly regarded 5Rhythms teacher Kierra Foster-Ba during the course of the one-day workshop “Light & Shadow” at Martha Graham studios on Saturday.  5Rhythms is a dance and movement meditation practice created by the late Gabrielle Roth; and the “Light & Shadows” workshop was a committed investigation of the shadow aspects of each of the five rhythms—Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness.  After a series of tightly scheduled events, I found myself en route to the West Village, hoping a miracle would grant me parking; and pondering the fact that there are so many terrifying, uncomfortable, collective shadows to dance at this particular moment.  No matter how things go with the election, there is no denying that we have seen some horrifically ugly aspects of our humanity recently.

Before stepping up onto the gloriously forgiving sprung floor, I took…

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Light & Shadow

shadows2

 “The intention for this workshop is full, complete and unrelenting self-acceptance,” said highly regarded 5Rhythms teacher Kierra Foster-Ba during the course of the one-day workshop “Light & Shadow” at Martha Graham studios on Saturday.  5Rhythms is a dance and movement meditation practice created by the late Gabrielle Roth; and the “Light & Shadows” workshop was a committed investigation of the shadow aspects of each of the five rhythms—Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness.  After a series of tightly scheduled events, I found myself en route to the West Village, hoping a miracle would grant me parking; and pondering the fact that there are so many terrifying, uncomfortable, collective shadows to dance at this particular moment.  No matter how things go with the election, there is no denying that we have seen some horrifically ugly aspects of our humanity recently.

Before stepping up onto the gloriously forgiving sprung floor, I took several moments to notice the powerful ritual of stepping from the world into the space of formal practice.  We began with a brief wave—what we call it when we move through each of the 5Rhythms in sequence—and I found movement easily, though I noticed that I was more introverted than usual.

After the opening wave, Kierra gathered us together to offer spoken instruction and to demonstrate one way of moving in each rhythm.  Kierra noted that there were several participants who had never before attended a 5Rhythms class or workshop; and she took the time to teach essential points before moving on to the shadow work.  She spent the most time on Flowing—the first and most foundational rhythm.  She explained that Flowing is led by the feet, and is an invitation to drop all the way down into the feet in order to connect with the instinctive self.  Next, her movements became sharp and she exhaled noticeably, “Staccato is about being in the world.”  She went on to say, “Staccato is directional.  Letting in and letting out.”  The movement of her head accelerated and she began to rock back and forth energetically, saying, “Chaos is about letting go.”  She emphasized that if you give yourself over to Chaos, including not caring at all about how you look to others, you are inevitably led into Lyrical—the rhythm of joy, of lightening up.  At Kierra’s request, another well regarded 5Rhythms teacher, Jane Selzer, got up to demonstrate the rhythm of Stillness, as Kierra explained on the microphone that breath is the gateway to Stillness, and that in Stillness we begin to let pauses come into our movements.

Having set the foundation of the rhythms, Kierra went on to speak about the shadows.  The shadow of Flowing is inertia, of Staccato is tension, of Chaos is confusion, of Lyrical is being spaced out, and of Stillness is numbness.  Although the temptation is to see the shadow as a negative aspect of the rhythms or as something to get rid of, Kierra encouraged us to think of the shadows as something with real “nutrition,” and even went on to later describe the “gravy” of each shadow, inviting us to consider that the shadow rhythms might even be as enjoyable as the “essential” rhythm in some ways.  She also introduced the theme that the shadow rhythms could relate to parts of us that we are ashamed of and keep hidden, sometimes even from ourselves.

Tuesday was a difficult day for me.  I can’t exactly say why.  A stressful situation had dissolved a few days before; and perhaps it could only hit me after the fact.  My nails were bitten down, my hair’s ends broken, my skin was unhappy, I couldn’t eat as I had something that must have been heartburn, and my lower back hurt.  The dentist told me the pain I was feeling in my jaw was not because I needed some urgent dental surgery, but that the likely cause was that my gums and teeth were showing signs of stress.  I couldn’t find joy or optimism, especially in the context of work.  Everything seemed hopeless and useless.  To make matters worse, I couldn’t swim after work, my daily habit for re-setting myself to neutral, because in my rushing movements I had forgotten my swim bag.

That evening, my six-year-old son, Simon, did his very best to cheer me up.  He is an exceedingly charming child and tried all the tricks that usually work.  “How can I make you happy, Mommy?” he finally asked.  “Oh, my beautiful son!  You always make me happy.  But today I am just not feeling good.  I’m not exactly sure why, but I just don’t feel happy.  Sometimes it is like that, little one.  Sometimes you just have to let whatever it is work its way through without trying to fix it.”  After Simon went to bed, I was tempted to call my mother, as she always helps me feel better, but I decided not to.  I wanted to have a beer as soon as Simon went to bed, too, but I decided not to.  Instead, I practiced yoga for a while, letting the painful, disheartened feelings I was experiencing have full sway. It was not easy to be with the discomfort.

Kierra was transparent about the structure of the workshop; and explained her plans for working with inertia—the shadow of Flowing.  She invited us to stretch out on the floor and let ourselves slowly be called to action by the music.  There would be three songs to let ourselves be in inertia, then find our way into moving.  I started out moving kind of quickly, and consciously tried to slow way down.  The gravity and resistance of inertia didn’t feel that different from how I normally experience Flowing—where I love to whirl and grind myself into the floor, partnering with gravity and solidity.  I slowly gathered myself and rose to my feet, beginning to move throughout the room.  Kierra picked up the microphone, “At this point, ask yourself, ‘What do I need right now in order to find Flowing?”  What came immediately to mind for me was, “I need other people.  I need to see and be seen—not direct, not confrontational, but obliquely, softly.  To be influenced by other people’s gestures, to be swept along by the currents of the bodies around me and to gently affect the currents of the room, myself.”  I thought of traces, of mingling, and of kelp plants, waving their tethered arms with the movements of the deep ocean.

To some extent, working with the shadows is about transforming our relationship to aversion; and Kierra again and again visited the theme of loving and supporting all parts of ourselves, including the parts we would perhaps rather disown.  In Buddhist terms, aversion is the act of pushing away from what we find distasteful or frightening.  Working intentionally with the shadows is to choose to move toward the things we would normally try to push away.  Both in 5Rhythms and in many Buddhist traditions, moving intentionally into what we want to move away from is seen as a way to open the heart and mind, not as some form of masochistic self-abuse.  Perhaps moving directly into pain—rather than doing everything in our power to get away from it, through over-drinking, over-eating, over-exercising, over-working, gambling, drugs, filling up every space in our minds with churning thoughts, or filling up every space of our lives with frantic activity—can serve us.

Next, we moved on to the investigation of Staccato.  The shadows of each rhythm are even less fixed than the essential rhythms; and though we learned that the shadow of Staccato is tension, Kierra also added that the tension can lead to repression and control.  I clenched my fists and set to it.  I had to keep fluttering my lips and shaking out my head, as the level of tension in my body didn’t feel healthy.  My dance at this point was not very inspired.  I thought about Gabrielle Roth, how she used to stop and straight out tell people to dig deeper, to give more.  At that point, Kierra stopped the music and said, “I’m going to play a song now that is really going to allow us to go there.  This might even be a little bit aggressive.”  And, oh, was it!  Filled with angst and speed and resistance, I became a demon, letting aggression and anger arise, deep, deep in the hips, scraping, clawing the air around me, raking my knees into sharp angles, my head released and flinging itself with as much speed as my hips, feet, knees and elbows.  I danced near a friend with a very strong practice and his devotion, passion and energy inspired me to dig even deeper.  A giddy, chemical release flooded my quadriceps and soon the rest of me.  As the last Staccato song concluded, Kierra commented that anger can be a teacher; and that it can alert us when our boundaries have been inappropriately transgressed.

On the note of repression, I thought about an incident that took place during a meditation retreat I was staffing several years ago.  We were sitting on meditation cushions in a small group of perhaps ten people, engaged in a formal discussion.  We were talking about aversion—again, the Buddhist concept of pushing away what is unpleasant or uncomfortable.  In response to one of the comments about the aversive shell we create to keep ourselves safe, I said, “Well, you know.  It would be one thing if shutting down or pushing away actually worked to make us happier or keep us safe.  The thing is that it really doesn’t work.  If it did I would be all for it, but it doesn’t.”  I’m not exactly sure how it was framed, but I said something about, “It’s not like it’s the subway in the South Bronx at 2AM in the late 1980’s, when you might actually need a shell around you.”  A flash of raw anger shot around the circle; and every single person felt it before even a word was said.  One woman spoke up, expressing that she felt that what I said was racist.  Man, that hurt.  Shame of the most intense possible quality flooded me.  My heart started beating like crazy.  My partner of many years was a black and latino man.  We had shared hundreds of hours in discussion about racism, ranging through many different levels.  Secretly, I had always been terrified that on some deep level I was actually a racist. Though I was afraid, I approached the woman during the next break and asked her to talk with me about her feelings.  She was very receptive; and after, I understood how she could see my comment as racist.  She also thanked me, saying that she was always calling people out for racist comments; and that I was the first person who had ever come and asked her to talk about it.

This terribly painful experience gave me great insight; and a rush of relief flooded me with another set of powerful chemicals.  I realized I had been afraid that there was some essential part of me that was racist.  Every other essentialist part of my psyche had been rigorously interrogated, but this part remained hidden, obscured by shame and fear.  (Note:  As you probably know, from the perspective of some Buddhist philosophy “essentialism” is the belief that there is a separate and definable “self” and too, implies that reality has some logical kind of coherence or definability.)  I realized that just as there is no essential self; too, there is no essential racism.  As I currently understand it, racism is a process—one that affects every single person who lives in this culture.  Fundamentally, it is our flawed human tendency to separate the world into “us” and “them” that lays the foundation for racism, not an intrinsic hidden evil; though there is no denying the intensity and complexity of racism as it now functions.  It would be impossible to overstate the importance of this insight for my personal path.  Even my firmly-held idea that I was a not-racist was limiting my perception of phenomena, and, as such, needed to be interrogated, as much as any other part of me, in the interest of uncovering the deepest truth.

As the songs devoted to the investigation of tension—the shadow of Staccato—ended, I caught a friend’s eye.  We both smiled, and our shoulders started a conversation.  Without any thought, we stepped into a Staccato dance, with open chests and shyly playful gestures, before sitting down with the rest of the group to debrief the round of exercises.

Before the second half of the Light & Shadow workshop, we took a brief break, then danced another short wave before settling into an investigation of confusion—the shadow of Chaos.  For the first song, we were invited to start with the shapes of “I don’t know.”  This exercise did not resonate for me—which is not to say that it didn’t work for me.  Certainly, it was acting on me in some way.  In every class and workshop, even when I am transported by bliss, there are some exercises that have more charge than others.  The following suggestion, that we dance an agitated kind of confusion, didn’t really resonate this time either.  Maybe it is partly because I don’t actually mind being confused.  I am as cerebral as they come, but I don’t mind that I have all kinds of contradictory opinions and experiences and theories.  The final invitation during the Chaos shadow work was, “What does it look like when you really don’t know something, but you are pretending that you do.”

Just that morning, I had been bragging that I don’t usually hide when I don’t know something.  I saw a friend—the parent of a child in my son’s class; and I couldn’t for the life of me remember her name (it was this friend I was bragging to).  We had shared at least four or five conversations, been at the same party or picnic several times, and our children genuinely like each other.  Her name has four syllables and seems unusual to me.  I felt embarrassed that I still couldn’t remember it, but I came clean right away, rather than trying to skirt around my lapse.  We spoke at length about names and naming and identity; and I learned a lot about her home country. And I have finally committed her name to memory, so I will be able to hug her and greet her by name the next time I see her.

At the workshop, we paused to share thoughts on the shadow of Chaos.  Kierra was kind enough to acknowledge my barely-raised hand, and I shared, “What I got was…that confusion arises from misunderstanding the nature of reality.  The dissolution of all meaning systems.  That everything is moving.  And that even the ground isn’t fixed.”

Kierra surprised me by asking, “Can I work with you for a minute? To help you find the ground.  I want to ask you to go into Chaos.”  I stood up and moved instantly into a massively energetic Chaos, with whipping head and whirling gestures, moving from the floor to the sky and back, with occasional pauses of sharpness in a fast-spinning storm.  Kierra offered an oblique compliment that made me feel happy, then went on to talk about how the 5Rhythms can also be seen as a philosophy and as a way to live.

I was very grateful for her kind attention, but I feared I hadn’t communicated the emotional truth of my experience very well.  That even the ground moves feels like a revelation (or at least a reminder), rather than a lament.  For three years, I worked with teens from Haiti who had been in the devastating earthquake, when the ground literally broke apart.  Nearly all lost many family members; and some were injured.  I have also practiced 5Rhythms extensively at the edge of the sea, where the ground shifts constantly.  There, what was once ground could suddenly be underwater, roiling with rocks and sand.  I have incredible gratitude for the principle of ground, but believe there is nothing—absolutely nothing—that is fixed.  I think that the principle of grounding is a different matter, in a way. When I say there is no ground, I guess what I really mean is that the only ground we can count on is actually an experience that comes mostly from within.  Rather than trying to find a fixed external point to attach myself to, I try to build the skills I need to live in a world that is always in joyful, terrifying, ceaseless motion.

Kierra seemed to be wanting to demonstrate that release is part of the secret to finding the ground.  I understand and appreciate this perspective, but I continue to grapple with a new level of what “ground” is.  Somehow I have to find a way to trust, surrender to, and adore the ground—at once without clinging in any way to the notion of it.  Yet another thread that is a work in progress!

To conclude our debrief of the Chaos exercise, another participant raised his hand to share that, ironically, letting himself go into confusion seemed to allow him to find direction and focus.

Then, there was Lyrical—the rhythm that for years was so foreign to me I would pretty much skip it when I practiced independently.  During classes, when Lyrical arrived, I would often be stricken with terror, and have to fight an impulse to check my phone to make sure there hadn’t been some horrible calamity.  Kierra invited us to start by making “spaced out” shapes.  I started with the familiar shapes of feeling verbally attacked, withdrawn completely—disassociated to the point that I literally could not follow a conversation, prompting a criticism I heard hundreds of times, “Oh, great!  The ‘deer in headlights’ look again.  That is just like you.  You…” Our next investigation was of being distracted.  I marched anxiously around the room fixated on an imaginary cel phone.  During the final song, Kierra invited us to let ourselves space out to see what might happen.  I loved this part!  I fixed my gaze on some high up, far off point, sometimes in a different direction than the one my body was moving, and soared through the room, high up on my toes.

The rhythm of Lyrical—after many lifetimes of estrangement—opened up for me the summer before last.  After sinking several levels into connection with the ground as a result of many years of disciplined practice, space beckoned me.  On a wide beach, a man was flying a huge, red kite-surfing kite, the kind with two heavy-duty handles.  It became my partner, and we joined in a massive, radial dance of perhaps a hundred yards or more, surrounded and joined by my son and a group of running children.  From then, Lyrical became available to me, accompanied by rainbows, and I welcomed it as a miracle.  It was only the combination of ground and open space that allowed me access to this gateway.

I recall another experience of space that offered me an earlier glimpse of Lyrical.  It was also during a meditation retreat.  We had been following instructions about how to work with our minds and bodies for many weekends.  During the first weekend, we held our eyes open, with our gaze just a few feet ahead of us.  In the second, we raised the gaze slightly.  By the fourth, we would occasionally lift our gaze upward, even into the space above us.  We went to practice in Madison Square Park on a beautiful fall day.  I sat cross-legged on a park bench; and began to practice.  At the moment that I lifted my gaze, I drew breath in quickly, in a sudden rush of delight. In a flash, I saw many beings that hovered in the air, above the fountain, above the park, above the trees.  The dynamic aliveness of this moment wrote itself into my body.

In the current political context, and also in the context of my work, it occurs to me that the maturity of Lyrical—the full, shimmering, vibrating, sharp, vivid, spectacular, booming beauty of Lyrical has to do with stepping in to joy with full, open-eyed awareness and acceptance of all our pain and of the collective pain of the world.  It is only with the integration of the shadow principles, and, too, of our own psychological shadows, that joy can fully arrive—not just the happy-because-something-went-well-joy or the I’m-going-to-look-happy-since-I’m-not-sure-how I’m-feeling-joy, it is not the innocent joy of a child either.  Rather, it is the joy that has wisdom in it, joy that pushes nothing away, joy that sees from vast heights, joy that has enough space to hold all things inside it.

As the workshop drew to a close, Kierra invited us to create a circle, saying, “Now we are going to go in, one at a time.  You can do whatever you want once you are there, but the rest of us are all going to hoot and holler and really make you feel appreciated.”  I was so happy, clapping and cheering as nearly every participant stepped in.  I waited for inspiration, thinking I might walk discretely into the middle then turn slowly, looking each person in the eye, then dance whatever came.  As it was, I stepped in just as another dancer, too, stepped into the circle.  I backed away, but she beckoned me.  Instead of our individual time in the circle, we shared the spotlight, leaping and cascading and smiling as we met each other’s eyes and swooped in and out of each other.  I briefly circled her shoulder with my arm, turning her to look at the circle, but we only turned through one small arc.  She returned to her original spot in the circle; and I cross-stepped back to my own spot.

Kierra drew us together again and invited us to hold hands, close our eyes, and stand in both our light and in our shadow.  Then, gathering us together for a final chat, she tied some of the threads together, expressing that it is only when we fully support and accept all parts of who we are can we live authentically, from the heart.  Kierra also said something to the effect that the thing that causes us to suffer the most is the idea that we are separate from each other, and that actually we are deeply connected, in ways “both miraculous and mundane.”

Today, as I write, is marathon Sunday.  I got to watch the middle of the pack for a little while, and cheered enthusiastically. There is nothing more gorgeous than people being beautiful—living their dreams, perhaps pushing themselves far beyond what they thought they were capable of.  My cheers were jagged with little sobs of joy.  What a blessing, to be alive.  How incredibly lucky we are.  To live and to witness others in living.

I had to leave the discussion a few minutes before the end, as I didn’t want to be too late for the babysitter.  The friend I shared the spontaneous, staccato dance with stood up and followed me to the studio door while the discussion continued, embracing me warmly before I stepped down off of the dance floor and the sacred space of formal practice, and back into the world.

November 7, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC

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

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” –Albert Einstein

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Heart’s Content

simon_myemotions1

I gave a little shudder as I stepped up onto the sprung dance floor at Martha Graham studio this weekend and gently eased my body down onto it, tears coming even in these first few moments.

I fell in love at “Heart’s Content,” the 5Rhythms Heartbeat workshop lead by Tammy Burstein at Martha Graham, this weekend.  I’m not sure who I fell in love with exactly, but the answer that feels right is “with everyone.”  Gabrielle Roth—the creator of the 5Rhythms practice—designed the Heartbeat Map as a way to describe and work specifically with the energy of the emotions.  In the Heartbeat Map, each of the five rhythms are correlated to five of the strongest human emotions: fear, anger, sadness, joy and compassion.  The weekend was an intensive investigation of how each of us relates to these different emotional states.

The first night began with a wave and also with a series of paired speaking exercises.  The wave was, for me, characterized by happiness and freedom of movement.  I stepped into several beautiful dances, but one in particular stands out—a bouncing, kinetic, shaking Chaos that I shared with a smiling friend.  Because of its forgiving floor, Martha Graham is one of the few studios where I occasionally let myself leap straight up, an exclamation point on a whirling gesture.  When we entered the speaking exercises and it was my turn to speak, the main theme was again joy, and also the stamina to sustain joy.

I shared that for the first several years of practice, I could scarcely relate to Lyrical—the rhythm associated with joy.  When I practiced independently, I would move through Flowing, Staccato and Chaos, then very glancingly nod to Lyrical and to Stillness.  I experienced Lyrical only in tiny glimpses—at times transported—but never really acknowledging my relationship to it. That all changed about a year ago, when the energy of Lyrical came into my experience with a sudden rush, and I began to develop confidence that I, too, like many I had admired, could walk in joy.

I got up to dance with my last speaking partner of the night, who, like me, had spoken from the depths of his heart.  We soared, even moving together in a few big gestures throughout the room.  My face hurt from smiling.

Stillness in the last wave of Friday night’s session found me very conscious of the pulses in my hands as I moved them slowly around myself, imagining I was healing places of energetic malady in my own physical field.

For the next session, Saturday morning, I was late.  Over a half hour late.  This was despite Tammy’s repeated requests during Friday’s opening session that everyone arrive early enough to start dancing right at noon.  I was in pain as I waited for my parents, who had been delayed by traffic, to arrive so they could care for my six-year-old son, Simon.  “What?  What time does the GPS say?”  I asked repeatedly, distracted from connecting with Simon on these few weekend moments we would share.  In the meantime, Simon worked in his art studio, creating decorations for the front door.  Remarkably, he created three drawings on small post-its, one for happy, one for sad, and one for mad.  Then, he used a red marker to divide a large page into many separate boxes and drew many of the more subtle emotions that he could find images and language for.  I had not shared with Simon that my weekend dance workshop would be about emotions, but somehow he managed to pull it from the air around me.

The wait continued. When my parents reported that they were close, I called a car service, as I doubted I would be able to park in the West Village on a Saturday.  The car service arrived and waited for several minutes, then left with a skid since I still wasn’t ready to go.  My parents finally arrived and I greeted them with strained affection, setting off down the block to try to hail a cab.  Having no luck, I called another car (from a different car service) and returned to my stoop to wait.  The dispatcher told me five minutes, but I waited, 10, 11, 12, 15…finally I was able to hail an unoccupied taxi.

I called to cancel the car service request and settled in for the taxi ride, trying to convince myself to shake it off.  I was angry, but fighting it.  I sent a text, “My parents were late and I am super late to the workshop.  So upset and ashamed.”  The response, “Ashamed?  Go to your workshop and hold your head high.  Get all that you can from it.  Life happens.  All is a learning tool.”  Instead of trying to shake off being upset, I let it all in.  I realized I was feeling sorry for myself, and, too, defensive.  Then, I recalled Simon’s exquisite front door drawing installation of major and minor emotional states; and I realized that the teaching had actually been happening all along.

As I entered the studio, I made a gesture of apology to Tammy (who smiled warmly and continued to attend to the music), then, instead of stepping up onto the dance floor, this time I crawled up onto it, touching my forehead to the floor, prostrate.  I sobbed quietly for a few moments, still feeling sorry for myself.  The room was in Staccato as I entered; and, after a few flat footed gestures in Flowing, I, too, moved straight into Staccato.  Here, I found a ferocious anger and a dance that was filled with edges and sharp angles.  My repeated punctuation here was a gesture of sinking down into the hips—knees squared—and with a forced, hissing, open-mouthed exhalation, and clenched, raised fists.  Chaos released me.  Once again, I found uncontainable joy; and I partnered with everyone who was available to me as I soared around the room.

In a partnered exercise, we were asked to share what we were taught about the emotions.  I blathered on about my parents, casting around for something with emotional charge.  Sometimes these exercises can be cathartic, and a crucial insight will jump out of my mouth unexpectedly. Not so on this occasion.  Later, reflecting, I was shocked at my omissions.  How could I not mention the two relationships that for years dominated my emotional landscape and cost me, collectively, over 20 years of therapy? In those two important relationships, I learned distance from my own heart.  I also learned how to walk on egg shells, in constant fear of the next attack.

The next wave unfurled.  At its end I found myself in gentle contact with a dancer I have known for many years.  Softly, we turned one another and turned around one another.  Once again instructed to partner in speaking, we settled onto the floor facing each other.  I gazed into his kind eyes—dark with a light blue ring around the edge of the iris—and he gazed into mine.  Asked to speak to the question, “What do you fear?”  his words moved me deeply.  I, too, spoke of my fears, though I held back slightly for some reason.

Tammy gathered us and spoke about Staccato.  Sometimes Staccato has the stigma of being officious, administrative, pushy.  But on this day, Tammy talked about her love of New York City, of its creative life, of its heartfulness, of its staccato pulse.  She has said on many occasions that she identifies most strongly with Staccato, and this time she said as she moved, rocking into her front foot and drawing back, “Even after all these years, I sort of have to rev myself up and back into Flowing.”  This seemed like a perfect description to me.  She talked about anger, too. She said, “To cut out anger is to cut out the heart,” and proposed that even anger has something to teach us.

I ate lunch in Hudson River Park alone.  Leaving the studio building, one perfectly nice woman from the workshop fell into step beside me and began to make small talk.  I felt non-verbal, attuned to the sacred, and a bit like I was tripping on acid.  After we crossed the street to the park I said, “Have a nice lunch!” and walked to the left, then found a shady bench seat for myself.  I ate the food I had packed and watched the heaving of the river’s waves, the shimmering edges as they rose up.

After lunch, we danced a short wave, then set upon an investigation of “No!”  We were invited to partner, then each danced our personal version of, “No!”  After each person’s dance, the other was told to share if they “believed” the dancer’s version of “No!”  After my dance, my partner told me that she was convinced, and that it was a “very dynamic version of No.” For the second round, Tammy invited us to remove all of the tension, but do the same dance.  This time, my partner said, “I was convinced this time, too.  But this time it was like you were telling me your boundaries and inviting me not to hurt you.”  For some reason, this touched a nerve and a ragged sob escaped me.  This is something I have really been working on:  how to create and maintain boundaries without aggression.  Since my family is very symbiotic, this is a not a skill that comes naturally.  After years of trying to rise to the occasion, I have finally set a healthy boundary with someone who has lacerated me again and again and again.  I think I might have made a tiny bit of progress.  After we each had two turns speaking and moving, my partner and I moved into a sinewy dance, with strong eye contact, approaches and retreats and a continued investigation of “No!” though as we moved it began to dissolve itself, moving into Chaos.

As we approached Chaos, I joined with another friend, echoing her swaying diagonals.  I realized that I like to get very close if I can curl inside my partner, sometimes in a slow, furled spin, even in the throes of Chaos.

Tammy gathered us into a big circle and we took turns stepping into the middle, letting loose in Chaos, each seemingly responding to the question of anger in our own way.  I was tired, but I had promised to dedicate a dance to someone close to me, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity, especially given that he is, at times, plagued with anger.  I watched and supported my fellow dancers, then entered the inner circle, moving sincerely, but without inspiration.  Moving back to the outside of the circle, I noticed that several people had not yet entered the center.  I held back briefly, wanting to make space for them, then decided that I could simply let everyone be responsible for their own needs. On the third go, I found a gigantic dance that was almost demonic, with a fast flipping head and a massive range throughout the circle’s interior.

We explored a number of tribal exercises, when one person assumes a simple gesture and a group follows.  I tend to lose interest during Tribal, but I tried to be a good sport and to open myself to the experiment.  When we first transitioned, I was in a natural position relative to the dance floor and to the group to take the first lead, and I stepped up with only mild reluctance, finding a simple gesture that everyone easily followed.  In the past, it was agonizingly difficult for me to pick one simple movement and I often blundered around at length, in complex syncopated maneuvers that no one could follow.

In another speaking exercise, we sat in a group and each person took a turn expressing what about anger they would like to transform.  Someone took a breath to speak first, and I realized right away that I was the last one in the lineup.  Tammy let us know when to change, but the second person went way over his time.  The next person went over her time, too, and I got anxious, concerned that I might not have a turn to speak.  When the second to last person was finished speaking, Tammy said, “Raise your hand if you need more time.” I raised my hand and said I had just started.  I lost my train of thought and the group kindly helped me to re-gather it.  I again returned to the theme of creating boundaries without aggression, realizing that “if I am confident about the boundary I am making, then I don’t have to be defensive or to police it.  I can trust that it simply is, that no one can breach it without my collusion.” I realized that the grief I had about separation when I created a boundary with someone close to me had dissolved; and that I was not mad any more.  I no longer needed to be furious to justify my position.

On Sunday, I arrived with time to spare.  Although in the early afternoon we were immersed in the investigation of sorrow, for me the entire day was characterized by joy.  At Tammy’s invitation to all of us, I sat back-to-back with a woman I had never met, and we moved together in Flowing.  Then, we turned to face one another and each spoke to the question, “What moves you?”  I was touched by her attention and by her words.  We turned to listen to Tammy, then; and I assumed we would break for lunch.  I was very hungry, and starting to get tired.  I was shocked when I looked at the clock and realized we had only been dancing for two hours.  Instead of sending us to lunch, Tammy set us off into another wave.  This one started tiny, with the gentlest, released flowing head movements.  Tammy skillfully guided us into the emotional energy of sadness, and many sobbed loudly.  A few sobs moved through me, too, but as I rose slowly to my feet, I returned once again to the emotion of joy.  I soared from partner to partner, as Tammy instructed us to “change” and “change again.”

I stepped up to a man I have been seeing around for some time, but had never spoken with.  He was tall and athletic; and I nearly dismissed him because of it.  I thought, “Ok, this guy must play a sport. I think it is something with his shoulders and diagonal movement.  I am game.  Let me get into this.  I will swing my shoulders, too.  This seems like his thing.”  I sort of felt like I was humoring him.  To my surprise and delight, the dance caught fire quickly and took off in several directions at once.  I realized that I had totally underestimated his capacity.  (This has nothing to do with any shortcoming of his, but rather with a prejudice of mine that I notice springs up around certain men.)  Staring into one another’s eyes, we were suddenly very close, very connected, and very, very light.  We bounded around an entire section of dance floor in loping circles, like we were figure skaters, sometimes in perfect unison, sometimes in opposite gestures.  Lately, I have been finding a kick and direction change in the air, with gestures pulling strongly through my heel; and this movement repeated, in different combinations and cadences.  We began to include touch in the dance, and moved around and behind each other, softly touching our forearms together and moving into looping arcs.  There was a lot of creativity in the way our feet touched ground, in the leaning into each other, in the angles, in the pace changes, in the different levels we toggled through.  I stood up to him gently.  He led often, but I had input, too.

At one point the music shifted and I started to move away.  He lingered and I realized I wanted to continue the dance, moving back toward him again.  Moving from Lyrical into Stillness, our dance stayed just as beautiful, but it came back to ground, losing its bounce.  We came into more contact.

Instructed to partner in speaking, we were invited to express our feelings about sorrow.  I looked into this partner’s eyes, rapt with attention as he spoke.  When it was my turn to speak, I barely touched on sorrow, but instead (again) spoke of joy.  “I have always been very, very comfortable with sorrow, with grief.  I have no problem with opening up to the sadness of the world.  I have even—at times—danced the grief of spirits.  For me, joy has been much more challenging.  For ages, every time the music shifted into Lyrical, I would freak out.  I would suddenly have an overwhelming compulsion to check my phone to make sure something terrible hadn’t happened to my small son.”  I went on to say, “I also felt uncomfortable with joy, like being joyful was an affront to all the people suffering in the world.”  And yet, here it was, this absolutely flowing river of joy.  Drenching me completely.

I had a delightful lunch with this partner, watching the rise and fall of the shimmering river once again, and chatting mostly about our relationships to 5Rhythms practice.

Lunch passed quickly; and the final session was also very beautiful.  I shared an unbridled, quivering dance with a friend.  At one point, I played an invisible violin concerto, making fun of myself for my own melodramas.  Later, I found a spot on the floor where I could move gently back and forth from strong sun to shadow; and I rocked between the two with my eyes closed.  I also shared a playful dance with a friend who I had to step purposefully into and who pretended he was giving me the stiff arm, then walking away.  I pushed against his hand in full suspension as he resisted; and we ended with laughing smiles.

At the end of the day, Tammy gathered us into a big circle, grounding the group’s energy.  She offered closing remarks, then sent us back into the world, on our own to integrate the weekend in the coming days and weeks.

September 27, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC

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

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

Joyful Patterns

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“In short, no pattern is an isolated entity. Each pattern can exist in the world only to the extent that it is supported by other patterns: the larger patterns in which it is embedded, the patterns of the same size that surround it, and the smaller patterns which are embedded in it.”  -Christopher Alexander

Today features a white sky and a steady rain.  Although Brooklyn’s trees are still green, just a few hours north, where I am this weekend, the leaves have started to display their colors.

Last Tuesday night I attended the High Vibration Waves 5Rhythms class at the Joffrey in the West Village, taught this week by Peter Fodera.  I had a bad cold with a headache and wasn’t sure what kind of energy I would have, but decided to go anyway to see what might happen.

Last weekend at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton with my six-year-old son, Simon, we talked about the artworks we encountered, trying to identify what might be the main conceptual concern for each artist.  Encountering a Dan Flavin sculpture, which featured one, two and then three vertical, white fluorescent lights, I asked Simon what he thought this artist was mostly concerned with.  He looked intently at the artwork, then quickly said, “Patterns.  And math.”  (He is getting pretty sophisticated, this small son.  He also said this week, on riding his scooter down the block, “Ah! My back! I’m just not as agile as I was when I was three!”)

In the Flowing part of the class’s first wave, Peter encouraged us to “walk on every inch” of the floor, and to “look for the empty space.”  I langored in this opening act, my feet whispering to the floor. Then, Peter invited us to “walk with someone for a while” and to “see their feet.”  In Flowing, I love to be pushed and pulled along by the gestures and trails of the dancers around me, occasionally gliding in unison in a shared motion.  I particularly love to step into Peter’s wake as he sails through the room—it is like drafting in the water behind a champion swimmer; and as the seas part for him I move in the space he opens up.  I slipped from person to person.  Even when I have a thought of where to go, something would interfere with my trajectory, and carry me into an entirely different direction.  Peter’s next instruction, to “walk with someone” and “see their flow,” had the surprising effect of closing down the movement of the dynamic room.  We just couldn’t seem to swoop in and out of each other, and instead became mired in partnerships in one small spot of floor as soon as we joined with another dancer.

When my energy is low, sometimes it is the energy of partnership that carries me through.  In Chaos, and continuing through Lyrical and Stillness and the wave’s end, I joined with a dancer I had not danced closely with before.  We moved into gentle contact, very much in the hands—in subtle, expressive communion.  As our dance concluded, we touched our hands together and rocked back and forth, coming through the wave’s other side once again into Flowing.

In a different partnership during the class—this time with a dancer I was reluctant to partner with—I found myself backing away from him.  In the process, I accidentally bumped into a woman behind me.  I held onto her arm gently, wanting to express that I was sorry.  She tore away from me with a furious snort, moving to the other side of the room.

In the second wave, Peter repeatedly instructed us to partner, then to find a repetition and carry it with us around the room, joining others in brief partnership.  As we were moving from partner to partner, I crossed paths with a friend I had sought out but found unavailable earlier.  We both smiled, stepping into each other.  I am a very small woman; and this friend is a very tall man.  He carries his size gracefully, but when I dance with him sometimes I wonder if he feels like he has to contain himself around so many smaller bodies. Absorbed in Lyrical, we did find repetitions, though from the outside, it might not have looked like it.  Rather than big, easy-to-follow, repeating gestures as sometimes arise in Lyrical, we skittered down chains of intricately arranged repeating patterns, which would then shift and re-configure, taking form then never landing for long enough to be defined or understood.  Our dance featured some bursting and chasing gestures, too.  I would rise up on my highest toes, reaching for his height, wanting to be expansive along with him, then squiggle myself down and away.  He laughed at my antics, joining in, too.  After this long, intricate, layered exchange, we finally ended up doing the initial assignment—a simple repetition—grinning wildly as we both realized it, rocking back and forth.

We spoke for a few moments after class about our experience.  “That was such a great dance!  You just kept finding all of these patterns—all of this footwork—so intricate!” he said.  His compliments opened the doorway to an obliquely procured insight, about one way that energy can be perceived and worked with, something I hadn’t considered before.

I accidentally bumped into the same woman I accidentally bumped into earlier in the class. Later, as we moved around the room, she glared into my eyes as she passed me, both arms raised, her elbows bent.  I spent a few moments wondering if she might actually tell me off after the class.  I’ve been there!  I know how it is to be triggered by someone.  And here I was triggering someone! I even prepared a response to the glaring woman in my fantasy version of our possible future exchange.  I had two different versions, but in the one I preferred I would say, “I’m sorry I offended you.  Thank you for the feedback.”

This conversation with my tall friend helped me find language for a category of repetitive motions that I have experienced in practice.  One kind of repetition, I call “catching a glitch.” This can be emotional and personal.  For example, when I first started dancing, I had been holding myself so tightly for so long that I found I needed to collapse to the floor again and again.  Through all the collapsing, I was able to mine the gesture for insight, and eventually the pattern released me.  This is when a repetition suddenly becomes compelling and you follow it along its fully trajectory to see what it has to teach.  According to 5Rhythms teacher Kierra Foster Ba, Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, used to tell a story about a painful memory from babyhood that was lodged in her wrist—and that took years of working with to arrive at.

Another kind of repetitive motion—of pattern—is, I think, the kind identified by my tall friend.  Perhaps in this case, the pattern that gets expressed is a tiny window into something that is bigger than any one of us. Perhaps it is something mundanely cosmic—the very movement of energy as it flows around and through us.

Three days later, at Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves class, I arrived late, during the transition of Flowing into Staccato.  I know how important it is to ground myself in Flowing, and lowered myself to the floor for a few brief moments.  Sometimes, however, you have no choice but to step right into Staccato.  On these occasions, all I can do is hope that all the Flowing I have practiced over the years has been integrated enough that I can rely on it.  Tammy played a Michael Jackson song that I love.  Instructed to partner in Staccato after just a few minutes of being in class, I joined with a smiling woman, actually singing the lyrics as we moved in joyful unison, expanding diagonally into the available spaces around us.

At work that afternoon, a colleague had “thrown me under a bus,” in my own words.  When I told a friend about the incident, he said, “No, she didn’t just throw you under the bus.  She tied you up in rope, rolled you into the street and then beckoned a bus to come toward you!”  I was called into a meeting with supervisors, with no warning, no chance to work up to it, no chance to prepare.  As I walked to the meeting, I correctly guessed its nature, and realized that I would have to step right into Staccato, praying for as much skillfulness as I could muster.  I let this colleague speak, only expressing myself at key moments, as she dug herself a very big hole.  It was truly remarkable.  Sometimes, you have no choice but to step right in, and hope that your relationship to the ground is well enough established that it will carry you through, even when the stakes are high.

The valuable opportunity to practice stepping straight into Staccato gave way before long; and, by the end of the class, once again, I explored a new way of perceiving patterns of energy during dance.  Moving again in Lyrical, I entered a partnership with a very practiced friend who seems to have a gift for seeing energy.  Though I love to soar, this friend prefers to remain grounded in Lyrical due to the need to care for his knees; and I met him there.  I experimented with resistance, dragging my feet slowly along the floor as part of the foundation of my gestures.  As we transitioned to Stillness, I let go of the dragging feet, but instead found woven resistance residing in the spaces of the air, moving along with this partner, expressing, again, the energetic patterns in and around us.

October 19, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC

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

Image:  Fibonnacci Spiral children’s artwork published on afaithfulattempt.blogspot

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

“Ouch!”

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“Ouch!” one teenager cried out as another slammed her into the hallway wall, smiling not kindly, her arm shooting straight out from her shoulder as she passed, not even looking as she struck.  The teen who got slammed walked not ten paces, then slammed another girl into the wall as she passed, using the same gesture she had been slammed with.  Aggression seemed to be ricocheting around in rip currents.

On September 11, Daniela Peltekova taught the Sunday Sweat Your Prayers 5Rhythms class at the Joffrey Ballet in the West Village.  Loving the extra space of Sunday’s class, I stretched out on the ground, rising and falling in the shape of a moving starfish.  Daniela lead us through a very fast wave at the beginning of the class, wasting no time.  Traveling around the room, I noted a little tourist tchotchke of the World Trade Center—part of the visuals for the class that a member of the crew had created—and remembered with remarkably little emotional charge that it was September 11th.

The music faded and Daniela began to speak, stepping into the middle of the room with all of us surrounding her, still standing.  She expressed that the events of September 11 are unavoidably heavy—something that lives in our collective memory as New Yorkers whether we were actually there or not.  Although I don’t recall her exact words, she also expressed that there was some aspect of beauty in it, too, something about pain and struggle that gives us grit—the inspiration to push deeper.

My own experience of September 11th feels remote by now, but it definitely marked my life indelibly.  At the time, I was working in downtown Manhattan.  I rollerbladed to work, as was my habit, and paused on the way to look at what I thought was a fire at the Bell Atlantic building.  I even took out my sketchbook and did a few drawings, standing in the middle of the bike path that parallels the East River.  Concerned I might arrive late to work, I continued on my way.  It slowly began to dawn on me that things were not right.  People seemed to be walking slowly in many different directions, some with white stuff (which I later realized was ash) on their hair and shoulders.  Skating up Chambers Street behind City Hall, a man was yelling at the top of his lungs, “Get out! They’re lying to you!  It’s terrorists!  Get out! Save yourselves!”  I moved more and more slowly, not processing the information fully.  A few minutes after I heard the man yelling, I finally realized that I wouldn’t be going to work.  I began to retreat and make my way north.  Streams of people now seemed to have direction—they were also moving north, away from the World Trade Center.  No one ran, no one screamed.  Almost no one made eye contact.  The scene devolved into silent slow motion.

I skated north, more or less.  I had just given up my cel phone, believing it a passing fad that was having a negative impact on my consciousness, so I tried to use a payphone to call a girlfriend, my sister and my parents.  The payphone just buzzed angrily—tied up with system overload.  Skating in the East Village and on the Lower East Side while searching vaguely for a working payphone, radios were on everywhere.  Many people stood beside their cars with the radio on, staring into space.  Everywhere I went, people gathered in silence or walked north in droves.

Eventually, I made my way home to Brooklyn across the Williamsburg Bridge, skating slowly.  Stranded and shell-shocked commuters made their way across the bridge on foot.  A group of people stood silently on a section of the bridge just before the descent into Brooklyn where they could watch the two burning skyscrapers.  Many hooked their fingers on the caged safety wire as they overlooked.  I don’t remember anyone speaking.  I went to my favorite café.  There was a TV on the counter.  No one was speaking.  I went to the health food store on Bedford Avenue.  There was a TV on the counter.  No one was speaking.

I went home and climbed up to the roof.  I had a full view of the burning towers from there, and stood watching as the first tower turned to toxic dust and crumpled, buckling sideways, then down.  Nuns from a church on the next block stood on their own roof, also watching the building fall, their royal blue, full nun’s habits flapping in the wind, emphasizing their frozen gestures.

My mother’s hair turned white that day.

In the first wave, I had stepped cheerfully into partnership with a tall, white man.  We began to dance together again just as Daniela began to speak.  In concluding her remarks, Daniela invited us to turn to whoever was closest and join them.  I smiled unshyly and stepped my foot next to his, by way of introduction.  He stepped his foot in relation to mine.  I stepped again, turning my foot and noticing how much darker my skin was than his—tanned from a summer spent outside.  In this case, we moved in Stillness first, gently around each other, back to back, side to side, rising and falling in response to silent currents in and around us.  Then, we moved together into Flowing and into Staccato, receding and advancing, smiling and looking into each other’s eyes.

A friend cut in then.  Bereft, she clung to me, sobbing.  I held her tightly and rocked with her side to side, wondering if she was feeling the post-trauma of September 11th.

The music got heavy, resistant, hard with only short bits of rest.  One song lead me back and forth between dragging, clawing, harsh gestures to brief, uncompressed, spacious movement.  I was deep in the hips, gyrating and jiggling.  I thought of the song, “My Name is NO!” that I had spent the week dancing to along with my six-year-old son, who has developed an entire choreographed staccato routine to the tune, including a dramatic spin with a hard end-stop.

Chaos was a collective exorcism; and on this day there was no way around it but through.  It went on and on and on, sometimes spiking in intensity, but holding back from Lyrical.  An idea for a project I have been wanting to make burst through; and I got excited about new possibilities.

I very much wanted to dance with a friend I had met several times in an interesting pocket a few months before—a tiny, contained dance of precision and restraint.  He did not seem available, and I stepped into another partnership, realizing that the same unique, quirky dance I was sharing with him came into my partnership with the woman I was then dancing with, as he continued to dance nearby.  I thought about how much energy slips around, how mercurial it is, how much we are subject to the currents that race through us.

 

On September 11th after I watched the first tower fall, I skated to Woodhull Hospital to volunteer.  There, I found empty, parked ambulances and paramedics leaning on them with crossed arms.  No volunteers were needed, as there were so few survivors.  I lingered for awhile, then skated to Prospect Park and looped it again and again on the bike path, watching the smoke rise across the river and hearing the rush of military fighter jets racing overhead.

When Daniela finally lead us to Lyrical, we tipped right over the edge of Chaos and found flight.  It contained the beauty that can only arise from maturity, from the clarification of intense pain and perhaps from opening—instead of closing down—to grief, sadness, fear and insecurity.

September 18, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC

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

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