Notes on Practice: The (Really, Really) Most Grueling Stretch of Winter

February 15, 2015 - Meghan LeBorious

Did I really title my post a couple of weeks ago “The Most Grueling Stretch of Winter”?  It is a little like turning to the person in the car next to you and saying, “Wow! This is great! There is almost no traffic today!”  The next thing you know, you are going 5 miles per hour and calling your destination to say you will arrive hours later than anticipated.

New York is strident today.  The neighbor’s wind chimes kept me up all night flinging themselves in the erratic gusts.  The streets are coated with a film of chalky white salt.  Polluted snow is frozen in perilous little grey mountains.  There is no moisture whatsoever.  My lips are cracked and flaking.  Great gales of wind blow the salt in visible waves.  It is so dry that I stepped on some dog mess and it didn’t even matter.  There wasn’t even an unpleasant squish—just hard little poo ice cubes under my salt-stained boot.

Dance on Friday began pleasantly enough.  I could move, thankfully, thankfully.  Halfway through the class, Tammy encouraged the people who could access Flowing movement to continue to move gently, attending to the many people who found themselves in the throes of inertia.  I moved at first with quiet inspiration, but as she instructed the people who were moving to partner with those in inertia, I began to sink into the inertia, myself.

I also grew preoccupied—two different strands of emotional unrest began to assert themselves in my thinking mind; and I found myself with forehead knitted, slowing down, aware that the stream of my breath was growing increasingly constrained.  A pattern has emerged lately—I start the class off cheerful, energetic and open; and end the class tired, tight and airless.

In fact, both my voice and my breath seem thin to me these last days.  It is like I am speaking only from the mouth, and the slime in my throat and sinuses is blocking energy from my belly and the rest of my body.  I have to clear my throat often and my voice has a struggling quality.

Before she paused to offer teaching direction in the middle of the class, Tammy said, “Anything that I say, I might say the opposite another time.”  As she often does, Tammy spoke of something she remembered from Gabrielle Roth, the creator and blessed mother of the 5Rhythms practice.  Gabrielle had given a set of instructions, then tossed off at the end, “or not!”  I love this.   I hear it as: take it seriously, take it on, embody the instructions, embrace the rhythms…and at the same time, don’t get stuck on the method, don’t get attached to doing it a certain way, don’t try to escape the unpredictability, and, for the love of Gods, don’t take it so seriously that it loses all its air!  I keyed into “or not” even more because my newly five-year-old son was experimenting with the same phrase when we were driving yesterday.  I couldn’t help but wonder if Gabrielle was playing with me somehow, and it made me smile.

In the 1990’s a close friend and I were immersed in identity politics.  It felt critical to us at the time, but he used to say that after you went on a rant about the dominant paradigm or other pressing injustice, you should throw on “n’ shit” at the end.  For example, “The white male hegemonic power monopoly evolved through the systematic suppression of women’s subjective experiences of their bodies…..‘n shit.”

I danced with a friend who I love and had a hard time connecting.  I noticed that if I stayed light and kept moving my feet, spinning and leaping, it was easier to be sort-of connected—at least not as apparently out of sync—but that it was hard for me to empathize with her experience of being in her body—which is so often the source of inspiration for me in dance.

My son has taken to mountain climbing the dingy smog-grey ice mountains that edge Brooklyn’s sidewalks.  Several times lately, he has asked me to follow his feet, and I have trudged along behind him, noting the tenderness of seeing him thus, and of seeing the way forward through his sharp eyes.  It reminds me of a powerful experience I had during Lucia’s workshop in December 2013 (see blog archive) when a “witness” trailed me through the rhythms and I ended the exercise sobbing uncontrollably with my face buried in her hair.  There was something about the way she was present and the way she had my back as she followed me that was incredibly moving.  And there was something in the way my son trudged joyfully over obstacles, sure about his choices of footing—sometimes a little risky but by no means kamikaze—that made me smile.

Lately, he is going through a phase that reminds me of how he was at age two—tempestuous and impulsive.  After a difficult afternoon, when I was trying to get across the point that he must control extreme outbursts, I opened Gabrielle’s book “Maps to Ecstasy” at random and read:

“The best thing to do with an angry child is not to try to turn off the anger, to push it down, to insist that the anger be controlled; rather, it is best to give the child permission, to affirm it.  Maybe you can get down with the child and do an angry, stomping monster dance together.  It is…vital for us to help our mates, lovers, children and friends in letting their emotions breathe and find apt expression” (74).

As inertia and distraction began to take root in me, an ardent new dancer caressed me as he zoomed past, without even looking at me.  My mind said, “Are you kidding me right now?”  I don’t know why, but I can be very sensitive to this kind of invasion of space.  Similar things happened two other times, with two other people.  I guess I was drawing it!  Either that or the ardent new dancer was affecting the dynamic strongly.  I spent several minutes thinking about how I could tell him at the end, “Please don’t ever touch me unless you make eye contact first and you have some reason to believe that I am receptive to being touched.”

It is an extraordinary contrast between the times when I can move with energy, inspiration and creativity; and the times when I quite simply-can’t.  I hovered near one of the columns, moving slightly.  I had the thought, “I had better start moving or I am going to get stepped on,” when someone in the throes of Chaos tromped right on top of my foot.  It hurt, and I pinched my already unsmiling face further, but I really couldn’t blame her.

Last week in class Tammy talked about how sometimes with the press of life, you can be “in the moment”, but each moment can be totally isolated from the others.

It made me think of a scene in the book by Milan Kundera “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” (or was it “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting”?) in which one character has a moment when he dislocates from time.  He is simply passing a children’s schoolyard and listening to their play songs, but the moment becomes incomprehensible and garish.  It is, in a way, the ultimate postmodern experience.  Something about the myopia of trying to move in the world in the depths of winter affects me similarly.  It is like I am too busy hunching over to protect my organs from the cold to notice the connections between things.

I spent nearly the entire second wave in distracted ill ease, but had a reprieve at the very end when a friend who I love to dance with engaged me.  I was drawn in to his great, pendulous backsteps and spinning, wide-armed gestures.  I think part of the reason I found a few moments of freedom with him is that, based on years of shared dances, I knew I could trust him.

As always and as is correct, I left without admonishing the ardent new dancer; and hoping that when I got outside I would remember that there is no point in bracing myself against the cold since it wouldn’t actually make me any warmer.

Writing today, I found a little ember of gratitude.  I cupped my hands and blew on it, hoping it would keep me warm through the remaining arctic days.

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