Notes on Practice: The Body of Joy

September 16, 2015 - Meghan LeBorious


lyricalinstall

When practicing alone, I tend gloss over Lyrical, technically attending to it, but rarely taking it on fully. Which is why I am delighted, in this languorous late summer air, to find Lyrical a persistent partner.

In the afternoon before Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class I went swimming with my five-year-old son, Simon, and his father. Later, we had a picnic in the park and went on the swings. My stomach flipped rhythmically again and again as I lapped higher on the swing. Simon leaned his entire weight back with abandon, smiling, holding the swing’s chains confidently. At first, I was afraid to fall, to be upside down, but Simon taught me patiently; and I was eventually able to try on his playful gesture.

I arrived at the Friday Night Waves class and sank happily to the floor. I began to move gently—porous, smiling, free—released and receiving the perfect amount of energy for the moving I wanted to do—letting the wave of my spine complete its gestures in all directions. As I was stretching and moving in big arcing circles on the floor, my dance quickly acquired fire and definition.

Class on Friday was like a survey course. Before class, Tammy posted on facebook, “… the ocean connects every wave to every other wave, dissolving isolation …’ Dean Sluyter, The Zen Commandments.” She spoke at length in the pause between the first and second waves of the class, casting her eyes downward toward her heart as she inhaled, seeming to wait for words to arise.

She began with a story about Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice. Tammy shared that once at a public talk someone posed a question and several 5Rhythms teachers offered beautiful, profound, articulate responses. The last to respond was Gabrielle and she just said, (smiling and shrugging, I imagine) “Or not!” Tammy talked about how as much as we would learn and understand, Gabrielle would always find a way to turn it on its head, allowing us to continue to enter into the mysterious darkness of experience, pushing us to push ourselves beyond our edges, beyond what is comfortable, beyond what we think we know, like, understand or perceive.

Tammy led us through the litany of the rhythms. Flowing, the most receptive rhythm, might be a personal investigation inward. Staccato, the second of the rhythms, could be more expansive, more expressive, and more connected with the people in our immediate sphere. Tammy modeled a possibility for moving through the room with bold clarity, “I have a right to be here. I have a reason to be here; and I am going to be here.”

This relates to an investigation I have considered at length. I accept that I can be immense—gathering and whirling huge swaths of energy—with massive emotions, huge (sometimes unrealistic) ideas, intense, unrelenting, gigantic. I am both proud and ashamed of this part of me. For many years, the more I let this show, the more I seemed to draw fire from someone very close to me. I tried to make myself small, discreet, bundled into separate physical sections to avoid upsetting this person and to avoid setting this person off. To avoid being declared selfish. To avoid being attacked. It hurt my muscles, my posture. “I have a right to be here. I have a reason to be here; and I am going to be here,” is medicine, for this still-not-fully-healed me. At that moment, I reflected that I don’t have to apologize to anyone for existing, not even to the person who sometimes seems to wish that I didn’t.

In today’s Sweat Your Prayers class, taught by Meaghan Williams, I accidentally bumped a friend. Instead of making myself more porous and more small, I stayed neutrally with the collision; and he, too, held up to me, moving backward with the momentum as I moved toward him, then physically pushing back against me—moving forward as I receded; and we folded briefly into coupled, chaotic whirling.

Tammy repeatedly challenged us to look for “our edge” and acknowledged that the “edge” is different for everyone. For example, for some, the edge is staying in partnership. For others, the edge is dancing alone. For some, the edge is moving with energy in the middle of the room, for others, the edge is lingering toward the wall or mirrors, outside of the dynamic center. Chaos, perhaps, contains this implication, this experimentation with simultaneous opposites, with paradoxical systems.

Tammy also spoke with great feeling of the recent press image of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy and of the Syrian exodus and refugee crisis. She has, on many occasions, grounded the 5Rhythms in heartful social justice—including awareness of both the pain and of the joy of the world in her teaching. On many occasions, I have heard her say that what really matters is not what you do during class, but what you do in your life, on the street and in the world.

For me, the class was characterized by long, slow grooves. I found an extraordinary dance with a friend in the second wave’s Staccato and Chaos phases. Tammy kept offering the instruction to move to a new partner, but I stayed locked in partnership, instead—smiling and laughing, rising and falling, spinning and coiling until at last my friend indicated that he needed to get water and moved away.

A totally new, totally unexpected dance snapped into me, jerking me diagonally sideways as I passed Tammy’s table, rhythm finding every one of my joints. As the music carried me along, I tapped on the bendings of me—wrists, fronts of elbows, backs of knees—and light began to leak out. After a while I realized that what I was perceiving was not light leaking out, but rather cracks in the opaque fired clay of me, coming away in body-mold-shaped pieces. I entered a deep, fluttering spin, finding an entire light body underneath all this dense, crumbling gray—extending beyond the limits of my small self. The light body—the body of joy—was peeking out, testing the waters.

I entered today’s Sweat Your Prayers today class with the expectation that the rhythm of Lyrical would predominate. This is because today’s teacher, Meaghan Williams, is renowned for her lyrical nature. I also expected Lyrical to present strongly because lately I am in the middle of the first sustained engagement I have ever knowingly had with the rhythm of Lyrical.

I think a major factor is that I have had a beautiful summer—the most lyrical of seasons—when I have had plenty of time and space to connect with my own experience. Also, I have re-connected with someone I love and considered the possibility of falling in love with him again. Because of opening up to him, the world has rushed in, too, and I see love everywhere I look. I am afraid even to notice it, to name it, since I fear that Lyrical will flee again. I also fear that everything will fall apart and that all of my habitual ways of seeing myself will collapse if I really let Lyrical—and the joy that seems to accompany Lyrical—in.

When I noticed that I had this expectation about Lyrical being the strongest charge for today’s class, I then expected that I would not move in Lyrical, since I had clearly formed the expectation that I would move in Lyrical. Remarkably, since I then had the expectation of not being in Lyrical as a result of having my expectation of yes being in Lyrical, the expectation reverse-psychologized itself and I did, in fact, find a strong connection to Lyrical. (Yes, I am that mental!)

Meaghan’s musical choices were not simple. Lilting scores were underpinned with grating resistance, and I moved back and forth to the extremes of a certain continuum, pulling through my edges, scraping the tops of my newly-painted toenails in long, painful arcs; then finding edgeless, breathy, dynamic release; again and again re-discovered. As I moved, I continued to find novel movements, delighting in both extremes.

I absolutely love to delve into my most caustic edges—the little catches that jerk me and fling me into a different direction—perhaps in mid-air, in mid-movement, perhaps with the resistance of the floor, perhaps even as I am affected by the movements of another. Today the front edges of my knees felt vulnerable. My back was slightly tender, too. I used to love this edge just above my hips in my lower back, but over time I have backed out of it and lightened up in the interest of longevity. I realize that eventually I will have to give up the emphasis on my edges or my body will wear out. This summer, I have had a little renaissance of youth, but I am not so deluded to believe that I can escape the decline of age.

These physical edges are related though not analogous to the edges Tammy considered at length in Friday’s class. Pushing beyond our edges can be about moving into areas of discomfort, and I think can also be about working with our inner complexities, as they rub against each other in the fabric of our muscles—another kind of discomfort entirely.

This summer when I received a Reiki treatment and initial Reiki empowerment, my teacher kept telling me to “remember to look up.” I thought about a meditation retreat when I had a vivid experience of looking up. I had spent several previous meditation retreats with a close, controlled gaze, carefully following my breath with mindfulness. Gradually, the teachings had guided us to take in more and more space, until in the last stage we were instructed to raise our eyes upward during formal practice. We took a field trip to a city park and practiced in silence there. I sat smiling, cross-legged on a park bench, swaying, enraptured. I raised my eyes and drew breath sharply, as in an instant the park had come to life in many dimensions, including the dimension of the spirit world.

Somehow I have gotten the impression that Tammy is not a fan of raised arms. Probably it is just that she is not a fan of raised, flailing, out-of-control arms, but somehow this has worked its way into my understanding. Raising my arms in class has always felt a bit rebellious. One extremely dynamic friend inspired me to copy her and spin my shoulder completely open, dramatically rising up in a gesture of charismatic presence; and I have often incorporated her gesture into my own experiments. Another very tall, gentle friend has inspired me to roll out into the edges of my fingers, sometimes raising my arms in the process. Meagan, today, held her arms up in a completely different way. They were not simply rising as result of momentum. Neither were they at maximum altitude, but instead around the height of her shoulders, upright, palms toward her own face, moving symmetrically, supporting her in spinning. She almost moved like she had on a hoop skirt. I tried her gesture on for myself, delighted.

Since I am not convinced that I deserve joy, receiving it can seem exceptionally dangerous. When Simon was very small, I was seized by panic every time the rhythm of Lyrical arose in class. Although I knew that my mind was messing with me, and that it was simply the joy of Lyrical causing me to freak out, I had to pause and check the cel phone, to make sure I didn’t have any emergency messages. Eventually, I forced myself not to disengage with what was presenting, and slowly, slowly, Lyrical has come to dance with me. I can jump instantly into Flowing, Staccato or (most certainly) Chaos if that is what is called for, but Lyrical comes only when I am gazing obliquely, never on command, and very rarely comes without significant time in each of the preceding rhythms—Flowing, Staccato and Chaos.

I danced very hard from the very beginning of class, and my energy flagged halfway through. I decided to get back down on the floor to see if I could call up some vigor. I put shorts on under my skirt (since even though I tell myself it doesn’t matter and no one cares, I am inhibited if I don’t have shorts or tights on under a skirt). I thought that, again, since I had the expectation that being on the ground would change the experience I was having for the better, most likely my plan would not work and I would remain tired. Again, as with the appearance of Lyrical, the expectations cancelled each other out, and I found fire and engagement very quickly, pulling myself again to my feet with great, soaring conviction.

In the second wave of Sunday’s Sweat Your Prayers class, I found Lyrical again. I kept all of my edges but worked in and out of them, high on my toe tips, moving on an invisible tight wire, burnishing the back of my breastbone. I noticed that part of my difficulty with Lyrical—my resistance, perhaps—is because I fear that Lyrical is somehow disrespectful to the world’s unrelenting pain. Part of me wonders how I can possibly be joyful when there is so much suffering. Some part of me seems to think my joy is an affront to suffering people everywhere.

Robert Thurman, a Sanskrit scholar and the first American to be ordained a monk by the Dalai Lama, talks about the Dalai Lama’s cheerful outlook, “Everybody has the wrong idea. They think Buddha was so boring, and they’re so surprised when they meet Dalai Lama and he’s fairly jolly. Even though his people are being genocided — and believe me, he feels every blow on every old nun’s head, in every Chinese prison. He feels it. He feels the way they are harvesting yaks nowadays. I won’t even say what they do. But he feels it. And yet he’s very jolly. He’s extremely jolly.”

As I read this over, I realize that my current relationship with Lyrical is anything but happy little clouds and butterflies. I look forward to continuing to investigate this aspect of my practice; and I am curious to see if some hint of Lyrical will linger as I move into the press of fall.

(The image shows visuals I created for Tammy’s class on September 4–an homage to summer and to Lyrical)

September 7, 2015, Brooklyn, NYC




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