The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.
Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made
is star-stuff too?
– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –
dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.
Monday, 27 August 2012
Five Rhythms: dance to ecstasy
How else does one say 'this practice has changed my life' other than by saying 'this practice has changed my life', cliché though it is? And it has. I'm someone who too easily flies up into her head to analyse and resolve problems that occur in my emotional life. Five Rhythms dance, a practice initiated by Gabrielle Roth, takes us the other way: deeper into our psyches, deeper into our bodies, into our feet and our whole connected nature. Through this practice, problems dissolve and fragmented parts of ourselves are re-integrated.
It is a practice of moving meditation; it's also a practice of ecstasy. And it is, too, a simple but profound way of tracking and mapping the sometimes-hidden psychological ways of being that move and drive us. In the dance, not only may we release 'stuff' that's holding us, but we may also see reflected our chronic patterns of holding on in our lives in general.
In my early 30s, I was hit by the sudden and devastating end of a very significant relationship. There were many enormous implications for both myself and my daughter. I have to say that, looking back, the rest of that decade for me was marred by a kind of off-the-rails-ness in which I made a number of inappropriate choices in relation to men, and each seemed to reinforce the previous one. I had no idea what I felt, or what was 'right action' in any given situation. I know I hurt more than one man. My compass had been spun round by what had happened and I had no idea where home was; in what I might take refuge; in what constituted wisdom. By the time I reached my late 30s I felt as if I, who had spent most of the previous ten years offering a lot of psycho-spiritual advice, professionally and personally, to others, was such a mess myself I had no right to do so.
I don't remember how I first discovered it; all I know is that immediately I experienced my first Five Rhythms dance class with Dilys something in me breathed out at last, and I found both joy and release.
I'm not good at 'set steps' – whether literally in the dance, or metaphorically in any area of my life (that's why I'm self-employed in a varied and unpredictable field). Although I'm physically well-co-ordinated and not ungraceful, I'm one of those people you see if you ever go to a barn dance (I don't, often, but I have) who messes the whole sequence up for the whole group by putting her right foot forward when everyone else has their left foot back. There's a kind of delay if I'm being given verbal instruction while I translate that into body movement. I'm not entirely keen on admitting this, but there it is. (And yes, I do turn a map upside down so it's pointing where I want to go.)
One of the really great things about 5R is that there are no wrong steps. You have your own dance. What you are doing is uncovering your own dance. Sometimes you might temporarily partner another and see how the dances fit. Often you'll dance alone, with others in the same space. There is the music, and there is your own unique way of responding to the rhythm within the music; and if you get your head out of the way and let your feet do the listening your body knows exactly how it wants to move. There is no one who 'can't do it'.
Gabrielle Roth identified five interconnected patterns which she believes occur throughout our human experience (it's easy to see this in the phases of love-making but there are many examples). The five rhythms are: flowing (feminine, receptive, yielding); staccato (masculine, active, clear, connected but with healthy boundaries); chaos (a drawing together of masculine and feminine energies in a high-octane ecstatic free expressiveness); lyrical (playful, gentle, light), and stillness – a kind of 'return to the source', rather like the very slow movements of Tai Chi. This in turn morphs into flowing in a new cycle.
Dance can truly bring one alive; ecstasy is part of the healthy human condition, and there are few places for it in contemporary Western culture.
There is much to say about all this, and in a minute I'll quote from Roth herself (her work partly came out of an encounter with Fritz Perls, the father of Gestalt, at Big Sur, and to that extent it has a therapeutic content; and partly it is shamanic, to do with the power of transformation. Sufism too has an awareness of how ecstatic dance can move one into a mystical place).
But for my purposes now I want to just note a couple of things. One is that – and I had forgotten this until recently – I can 'dance myself' through most states of emotional reactivity simply by playing a compilation cassette (I must make up a CD or access Spotify) with a sample of each rhythm through carefully chosen tracks. This is 'the wave'; and it might take as little as ten minutes. At the end, I feel integrated again.
The other thing is that most of us find we have some difficulties with one rhythm in particular. For me, it was staccato. If we see the way we are in the dance as mirroring the way we are in our life, then I have to recognise that a big challenge for me is learning to ride that line between self and other skilfully; honouring needs both for connectedness and separateness, and for me this meant learning to listen to myself and my own needs; to say 'no' more often, and to mean it and stick by it; to assert my own healthy and still connected boundaries. This spoke so much to where I was at the time when I entered 5R dance – I had no idea what was ok, or ok for me, or ok to say no to. This is one of the problems with moving exclusively to the head to solve interpersonal dilemmas: gut and heart need to be involved too. I was so caught up in trying to work out intellectually what was 'reasonable' in relation to another that I completely overlooked what felt ok, or not, for me. I still struggle with that at times; but I notice that I'm clearer, and I notice that I can dance staccato with ease.
If these words resonate for you, try it. Find a local class and try it. If you're in Devon, Dilys offers retreats as well as day workshops: http://www.soulwindows.co.uk/5rhythms.htm
As a postscript, I suggested this dance to a friend who was in a bad way in the early part of this year. I have watched with delight as she has blossomed into empowerment and joy.
'[Five Rhythms] demands listening to the beat of your own heart; finding your own rhythm; singing your own blues; writing your own story; acting out your own fantasies; and seeing your own visions... This... is a journey into wholeness, an initiation into a shamanic perspective.
'[It] initiates you into the five sacred powers necessary for survival – the power of being, the power of loving, the power of knowing, the power of seeing, the power of healing. These are the real powers. Most of us are actually afraid of real power. True aliveness is rare, and experiencing it is like being jolted out of a long sleep. But we have to overcome our fear if we are to wake up from the living death of muted existence.
'I offer you a shamanic practice for body, heart, mind, soul and spirit. It's not offered as gospel. It's just a door to open, through which you may see yourself, an opportunity to free your body, express your heart, empty your mind, awaken your soul, and embody your spirit.'
Gabrielle Roth, Maps to Ecstasy
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