5Rhythms and life off the dance floor keep getting together to teach me a thing or two. They're kind of a merciless duo... yet filled with mercy. I'm feeling so much gratitude for gifted, committed 5Rhythms teachers Joanne Winstanley and Bettina Rothe - and for Harvest, their residential workshop that bridged August to September. This post is inspired by my immersion in their work, which helped me take another little step, another little step.
Agony and Ecstasy. I didn’t know until recently that they’re lovers. I thought maybe they’re just really good friends or even close neighbours. But no. They're in bed together, those two. They’re full of each other, they smell like each other, they taste of each other, they’re tucked inside and around each other. Often I wander into the shade of their canopy. Through their hushed tent door. More often, it’s Agony who’s summoned me. I hear the call and what can I do? It’s not going to go away. Delay your answer and this voice is only going to get louder. We all know that. So in I go, parting the veil. Agony’s breath is very close and Agony’s animal presence imprints right on my skin. Agony, a consummate lover, is everywhere at once. We exchange breath and heat and touch. It feels like too much to live through. The great heart that is always breaking pounds and I am merely pumped through its chambers. Pushed right up against Agony, squashed against fear, or anger, or grief, I lie.
If I lie like a bunched-up human in the shape of no-no-no-no-no-not-this, this is where I find infinite, scraping brick walls to slam into and drag across. All the brick walls of the universe are here. All the dead-ends and gutters of the cosmos collect here to become an echo chamber of brutal walls, walls, walls.
If I lie like a grain of sand, Ecstasy will roll over in their bed and regard me, sometimes. Grains of sand are nearly transparent beings that are swished and polished by salt water. Grains of sand are perfectly available to be breathed and flown by winds. This can happen, I can be a grain of sand. Then I have a chance to be washed, and aired. And real. Then Ecstasy will look my way.
Here’s how: I get down. Stay down. On the ground. Because grains of sand are part of the ground. Feel the on-your-knees-ness of this and know it’s the whole point. Surrender whatever I’m guarding. Feel the humility of not having a way forward, of not having a clue. Tolerate being present with life and death on its own terms. Those are the sacred wells, and to be able to fall into them it’s good to be a grain of sand.
Oh you wee grain of sand, know only two things: Ground. Breath. When the beginning is ground and breath, and the middle is ground and breath, and the end is ground and breath, then I am sand, then I am dust, then I am ashes. Then I am finally humble, present, given over. At that instant, life - that is to say, Ecstasy - can move in. Like a hand on my body, like light through my windows. It’s blinding. My eyes can’t see. For good reason: if my eyes could see, I’d soon enough be making a plan to get out of this meeting with life and death. I’d be plotting progress or success or some other dim-wit notion. No, blind is best. It makes the point and makes it once and for all: I Know Nothing. Except ground. Except breath.
So, I say: Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I go to ashes, go to dust. Lie like sand. Ground, breath, ground, breath. When that’s all there is because I can no longer pretend to be capable of anything else, my death-grip finally releases. Trying to hold onto the ground is ridiculous. I can admit this. The ground is one whole world big. I am tiny. I’m stuck to the ground, for crying out loud. I can’t lose it if I want to.
And I can’t hold onto my breath. It holds me. If I insist, and imprison it long enough to pass out (sometimes an attractive option when Agony is closest) breath will simply come back while I’m unconscious and breathe life into me, mercifully, again. When Ecstasy, who is Mercy, who is Breath, brings me back, I am finally a Lover too. When Ecstasy, who is called Life, who is called Love, comes to me in bed, in my lying, in my transfigured beggary - all is stillness, and all is there, and all is gone, and all is still, and is still, and is still.
May I learn from this cracking open. Maybe it’s me cracking, maybe it’s this blessed world cracking a little for me, so I may re-enter through a breaking-point into the holy circle of living. Who can say? Not me. So generous is this world, so rich and so willing to give itself away. May I learn from it.
For a few years I've maintained a poetry blog (if you define maintenance as benign neglect, that is). Because I have resisted journalling despite the encouragement and good judgement of pretty much everyone I've ever met, I like to pretend that writing poems is a good parallel practice. In any case, my 5Rhythms practice and my time in yoga are the source of my ability to reflect on and connect to life as it streams by. A lot of my writing comes straight from my experiences on the dance floor and the mat. So in service of the paradox of change within continuity, I will weave a web between my lonely little blog and my wish to carry forth more space for the liberating tendencies of 5Rhythms and yoga.