5Rhythms Friday: We have come to be danced

My favourite poem in the entire world begins with this stanza:

We have come to be danced
Not the pretty dance
Not the pretty pretty, pick me, pick me dance
But the claw our way back into the belly
Of the sacred, sensual animal dance
The unhinged, unplugged, cat is out of its box dance
The holding the precious moment in the palms
Of our hands and feet dance.

I’ve always loved the poem (the entirety of which you can find here), especially the first line, which is repeated throughout. The words “We have come to be danced” have always made me want to shout “YES!” with my voice, my body and my soul.

I thought I understood how it felt to “be danced,” to feel my thoughts melt away and let my body move on its own. But in hindsight…I see that I didn’t. Not really. Until now.

Two weeks ago, I posted about the 5Rhythms and why I had stopped dancing them, and I made a commitment to explore them in a new way.

I said that I would show up on the dance floor, tune into my body, and let it speak to me. Nothing more, nothing less.

There was a reason for this: I finally understood that this preliminary tuning-in process was the most important part of the entire practice. It was also the thing I had forgotten about in previous attempts. Somehow I never realized how vital it was.

I guess the whole “5Rhythms” part distracted me…I treated the bit that came before the Rhythms like just any old warm-up. But it’s so much more than that. Tuning-in is what separates dance steps from ecstatic release, what turns exercise into meditation. It’s the heart and soul of the entire practice. And I skipped it. And it showed.

Even in the 5Rhythms sessions where I totally kicked ass, I was going through the motions:

Warm up part by part, check. Flow, check, dance Staccato, check, Chaos-time, done, Lyrical, OK, Stillness -time to stretch.

I moved my body, but I never let my body move me. I couldn’t figure out how to let my body dance on its own. My head was always in there, telling me what to do, or evaluating how “flowing” or “staccato” my movement was, seeing patterns, or mentally writing blog posts about the movements as I was doing them.

I find it comforting that I’m not the only person who’s struggled with this. Gabrielle Roth herself writes,

It takes discipline to develop attention and awareness. For me, this discipline is part of my dance. One of the biggest challenges is to keep my awareness in my body, not in my head where it can distract me in a million ways.
(Sweat Your Prayers, 29)

I’ve read this passage several times over the years, but I never truly understood it. When she talks about keeping her awareness in her body, she doesn’t just mean paying attention to the body, she means inhabiting it with her consciousness. That’s a big difference. If you do the former, your head is still the puppet master, pulling the strings and orchestrating the dance. If you can manage the latter, then it’s as if your body has a life of its own, and the entire game changes.

Want to see what I mean? Give this a try:

Move your hand. Just do whatever you feel like. Wiggle your fingers or flex them or tap them or wave them slowly…whatever.

There. You just danced with your hand.

OK. Now close your eyes and mentally place your awareness into your palm. Imagine that you’re no longer thinking with your brain, but with your hand. If it helps, imagine looking out of your hand with your eyes, as if your entire consciousness has been transplanted there.

Now…let your hand move. It might take a couple of tries, but see if you can let go of the brain-work and fully inhabit your hand. Let it move. You’ll know when you’ve managed it —it feels different.

See? Your hand just danced you.

Try it with another body part: your head, shoulders, spine, elbows, hips, knees, or feet. See if you can feel the difference.

Ever since I wrote that 5Rhythms post, this has been the sum total of my practice: I show up, I close my eyes, and I mentally slide my awareness into each body part one after the other, starting with my head. I see how that part wants to move in that moment. I let myself be danced. You can do this too.

I’m starting to be able to tell when my body’s moving me, as opposed to the usual “me moving my body.” My movement patterns, my “home moves” are disturbingly absent. The movements change completely from day to day. It feels so foreign to allow my body to have control, to feel my awareness down inside instead of up in my head. I’m pretty sure this is the entire point of the practice.

One day last week I was tuning in, and I suddenly found myself folding down into a forward bend. I was genuinely surprised —I hadn’t consciously planned it! It was a revelation.

There are moments in every practice when I lose focus and feel my head kicking in. But that’s OK. I take a deep breath, I close my eyes again, and I consciously move my awareness back to the body part. I think that, with practice, I’ll be able to hold the awareness in my body for longer and longer periods of time. In fact, I’ve started practicing it when I’m not dancing at all.

I did get results from the Rhythms before this. But I also got frustrated and injured because I really wasn’t in my body. In spite of my best intentions and all my effort, I was still up in my head, and viewing the practice as an exercise or routine or choreography: analytically, judgmentally, and from an outside perspective. I can only imagine the effect that the 5Rhythms could have if I managed to actually go inside and let my body do its own dance through the entire wave of rhythms. That’s my goal…but I’m taking my time getting there. Tuning in is enough for now.

I can’t emphasize enough how much of a Big Deal this is. I feel like I’ve uncovered hidden treasure or discovered the key to a mystery. I’m jumping-up-and-down excited about it. The words of my favourite poem have new meaning for me. More than ever, they express my deepest desire:

We have come to be danced
Where the kingdoms collide
In the cathedral of flesh
To burn back into the light
To unravel, to play, to fly, to pray
To root in skin sanctuary
We have come to be danced
We have come.

…YES. This is how I want to move. And now I know how to get there

Whatever happened to 5Rhythms Fridays? (and what comes next)

If you’ve been reading for a while, you’ll know that I had a series called 5Rhythms Fridays where I undertook a regular 5Rhythms practice and blogged about it once a week. I did it for 3.5 months, give or take a leg injury. I started digging deep and healing myself with the dance. And then I stopped.

I didn’t just stop writing about the Rhythms, I stopped doing them.

And I’ve been feeling guilty ever since.

I know that a bunch of new readers have joined me since I last wrote a 5Rhythms post (Hi there!), so just in case you have no idea what the heck I’m talking about, my comrade-in-arms, Jennifer at Flowtation Devices has written a fantastic introduction to the Rhythms.

Jennifer is lucky. She lives within driving distance of a 5Rhythms class. I, on the other hand, would have to drive for about 19 hours (one way) to get to a teacher. I’ve never taken a Real Live 5Rhythms class. The only reason I know about the Rhythms at all is that one day, years ago, a Reiki Healing Dance teacher at a weekend workshop recommended a book called Sweat Your Prayers to me, and I bought a copy. Any kind of 5Rhythms practice I’ve ever had has been based on what I’ve read in the book and heard in the vocal prompts on Gabrielle Roth’s CDs.

Sweat Your Prayers changed my life. It opened my eyes to new ways of moving. It gave me inspiration and insight and confirmation that there was, indeed, another way of dancing. And my experiments with the 5Rhythms have also been life-changing…I just read through my 5Rhythms Friday posts, and they are full of insights and healings and Beginnings of Big Things.

So why did I stop?

My original draft of this post listed 4 reasons why I stopped. But I think that, really, it boils down to two:

1. I was totally effing terrified.

One day I found myself engulfed by misery and wracked by huge, animal sobs, and I got some idea of the sheer extent of the rage and pain my body was holding onto. And it terrified me. After that, 5Rhythms sessions were harder to do because I was afraid that it would happen again. It was harder to get out of my head. I was resisting and avoiding.

In the time since I stopped doing the Rhythms, I’ve still been dancing, but I haven’t moved with the intention of healing. I haven’t peeked below the surface. I haven’t had the same meaningful movement experiences I had when I was doing the Rhythms. And I’ve been creeping back into stasis (which is my term for not-moving-at-all). Yes, fear was definitely part of the problem.

2. I was doing it wrong.

Yes, yes, I know that you can’t do the Rhythms wrong, that there’s no such thing as a bad dancer or bad steps (that’s the backbone of my own philosophy, after all)…but as I look back at my practice, review Sweat Your Prayers, and start playing around with the Rhythms again, I realize that, actually, you can totally do the Rhythms wrong. In a manner of speaking.

In Sweat Your Prayers, Gabrielle Roth says,

“The only discipline it requires is for you to show up and be true to the part of yourself that is committed to moving. Although there are five rhythms, today you may only do one and tomorrow you may do three. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do it. You’ll soon learn to listen to your body and to do what’s appropriate for you in the moment.”

In spite of all of my breakthroughs, in spite of all the times I’ve written about dancing from the inside out and listening to your body…when it came down to it, I was still letting my head lead the dance. I obsessed about whether I was doing the rhythms “right,” and I got down on myself if I stopped before completing all five rhythms. My mind was a continual chatter of thoughts.

I was still, after all these years, doing the trained dancer’s trick of dancing from the outside in…and that meant I was “making” my body do steps instead of letting my true dance come out. I wasn’t listening, I wasn’t doing what was appropriate in the moment, I was going by the book and not by the body.

As far as a technique in which there is no “wrong” goes…that’s about as wrong as you can get. And even though I didn’t know exactly what the problem was, I had this sinking feeling that something was off.  Dancing the Rhythms was a struggle (far more so after the aforementioned fear kicked in).

But the thing is…this work is important. I want to heal. I am so close to deeper understanding and Knowing. And this is what I set out to achieve this year: Homecoming. So screw the fear. It’s time to take another leap (or at least a gentle step).

I’m coming back to the 5Rhythms. Very very slowly. But with a difference this time:

1. I will not commit to writing weekly 5Rhythms posts.

That puts too much pressure on the practice. If anything post-worthy comes up, I promise to share. And I may give occasional progress reports. But the weekly post thing was just not working for me, at least not as a hard-and-fast rule (if I find that every week gives me something 5Rhythms-y to write about, I will absolutely do so…but I don’t want the point of the practice to be finding something to write about, you know?).

2. The only thing I will commit to doing is showing up.

I’m starting right from the beginning. I’m not even going to try to do the Rhythms, I’m just going to commit to putting on some music and doing the tuning-in/warming-up “Body Jazz” part of the practice. If I feel like dancing more after that, I will, but I will stop if my body tells me to, with zero guilt and zero expectations. Just like I tell all of my students to do.

3. I’m returning to the source.

I skimmed through a bunch of Sweat Your Prayers before I started my practice last time. This time I’m going to really read it. Sentence by sentence, highlighting and note-taking all the way. It’s going to take me a long time…there’s not much time for reading in my day, but I’m going to inch my way through and really digest it as I go.

After all, the point of this is to focus on the journey, not the destination.

If you want to find me, I’ll be shut in the guest room with my eyes closed, listening to what my body has to say.

The dance of rage

Last night I was angrier than I have been in a long time. It wasn’t the same snappish, annoyed angry that I get at Xander…it was deeper, more sudden and more intense. It was a purely visceral experience of rage, and it took my breath away.

I went into my office, shut the door, and sat down with my computer. I watched a YouTube video, checked a link or two…and then I stopped. This is not what I want to do, I thought. This is not what I need. What I need is to dance. Right now.

And so I did.

Here’s the thing: I talk a lot about how we can express ourselves through movement and how dance helps us (and by “us” I mean ANYONE) break through barriers and work through emotions. But I still have a lot of trouble (Oy, SO MUCH trouble) remembering this when I’m feeling crappy. There were so many years when I didn’t really dance at all…I think it just became a habit to not-dance and not even think about it. But last night I threw together a playlist (which I will attach in a comment), and I just let it out.

And it was…AMAZING. One thing you can say about intense emotion…it puts you in your body. And it was exactly what I needed. It made me realize, by extreme contrast, how ungrounded I usually am when I try to dance like this. Even when I take care to warm my body up, I don’t think to ground it, to feel my feet rooting into the floor, to feel my awareness settling into my feet, ankles, legs, hips, belly. But last night I was there. I was grounded. I was present. This kind of grounding is toe-wiggling times a thousand. It changes everything. And, apparently, I needed to get really viciously angry in order to remember it.

I never thought I would be grateful for rage. But this time it was a blessing. It jolted me back into my body. It made me need  to dance, it made me remember that need, and it made me able to fully experience my body as I danced.

I rode that wave of rage into the dance and let it Move me until it was done.

…Maybe every emotion is a dance in the making. We tense up and fight the ones that feel bad because we’re afraid to feel them in their entirety. We worry that they’ll break us somehow, that the pain will never leave us. But maybe if we just let the feelings rock us, shake us, crack us wide open…then that would be it. The emotion, fully expressed, would dissipate, leaving us in our bodies, fully present. And maybe, just maybe, we could get to a point where we would welcome every emotion, good or bad, as nothing more nor less than what it is: a physical sensation waiting to be expressed and thereby released. What would it be like not to dread feeling sad or angry or embarrassed because you knew that, no matter what the feeling, you could dance it out and let it go, and possibly be left with profound transformation and insight?

That sounds pretty amazing to me. I never thought I would be glad to be angry…but I sort of am. A little. And even that little bit is progress.