The 5Rhythms workshop my mother pointed me toward from the other side of the grave began the Friday night of a cool November weekend. There were about thirty of us in the group, the same number as I’d done the ayahuasca ceremonies with, only we weren’t wearing white and we weren’t all therapists and psychiatrists. (In fact, we were a mixed group, men and women who were carpenters, teachers, chefs, computer geeks, social workers, lawyers – a whole gamut.) The facilitator, a tall thin woman named Laurie, went over some house rules with us and then told us to wear old dance clothes all weekend as we were going to paint. Paint? I was here to dance, and didn’t want to dilute the experience. Plus it sounded hokey. I considered blowing off the weekend, but remembered the words my mother had spoken so clearly in my ear during the 5Rhythms class I’d gone to after her death six weeks before: “I want you to go to this kind of dance, exactly this kind next time you can.”
So I returned the next morning. Laurie put on music, slow first and then faster, faster, faster, and we danced for an hour. It was a beautiful studio, spacious, airy, surrounded by trees. Early morning sun shone through the windows. When the wave was over, Laurie had us pair up. She placed long pieces of paper on the floor, asked one of us to lie down on the paper while the other outlined his/ her partner’s body. Then we switched places. After that we took a long lunch break and when we returned the strips of paper had been tacked to the walls. Tables loaded with acrylic paints, water, brushes lined the room. Laurie turned on the music and said, “Go for it.”
The energy in the room became very tightly focused as people danced in front of the drawings of themselves. I picked up a paintbrush and considered my own outlined body. I would have recognized it anywhere, the way the head jutted forward, the awkward alignment of the shoulders. I dipped my brush in paint from a nearby table and began to fill in the lines. I was very fussy about the colors I used, keeping things neutral at first, shading certain areas more deeply than others, moving around the drawing quickly to get the feel of it. In the process, I completely lost track of time and place. There was just me and the drawing in front of me – the rest of the world seemed to have disappeared. I don’t think I was even aware that I was dancing. Or breathing. Not until the music stopped did I look around the room and notice that my drawing was different from everyone else’s. Other people had used all kinds of lines and shapes and splashes of color to express themselves. Mine, in comparison, was very realistic. It looked like me. In the background I’d added another figure, a woman proffering a bouquet of flowers – my mother, Franyo.
People in the group gathered round, saying things like, “Did you know you were an artist?” Yes, I had, but it was a door I’d never allowed myself to open. Clearly my opinionated mother had some plans for me.
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