Art, healing, and politically correct minefields.

Gabrielle used to say that the 5Rhythms are a practice that integrates three paths: shamanism, tantra, and Zen. There’s another way to cut it as well – to see our practice as balancing and integrating healing, art, and spiritual experience. I think we conflate these aspects of our work, leading to confusion, disappointment, and even damage. Yet this tripartite nature of the 5Rhythms experience is one of it’s great strengths; it’s exceptionally well balanced between all three forces. I’m writing this as a drop in the ocean towards clarity and consequent empowerment.


When we’re seeking healing – be it from physical emotional or mental wounding – certain conditions are needed to enable that healing to happen. Particularly important is to feel safe. We need to know we are not going to be hurt further if we expose our wound. We probably need a lot of gentleness, and a sense of spaciousness in terms of time. Kindness, tenderness, loving acceptance, and good clear boundaries are probably vital.


To be creative is to live on the edge, and to create art is essentially dangerous. There has to be the permission to go over the edge actually – how else do we learn where the edge is? There has to be the potential to break all the rules and be truly experimental. Art is not safe, nor should it be. It doesn’t have to be shocking, but it has to be able to be. For great art, we have to be willing to risk everything, and give ourselves the freedom to go anywhere even if it’s taboo.

Spiritual Experience

[The word ‘spiritual’ has been commercialised and trivialised horribly. I don’t know what to do about it. Alternative suggestions welcome.] 

A moment of en-lighten-ment: you’re suddenly aware of the silence inside your breath, a subtle presence that is everywhere.  There’s a profound sense of connection to all things. There’s nowhere to go and nothing to be done: all is already perfect including the wounding you still carry and the creative steps you have not taken. This can happen at any moment, during any activity. It is not dependent upon circumstance in any way. [Oh God (sic), did I really just try to define a spiritual experience?)


It is immediately apparent that these three are radically different. Healing gives attention to something remaining from the past, to practice our art is to be working towards something and is future oriented, whilst spiritual experience is totally in the present. Art and healing are at first glance deeply incompatible whilst spiritual experience is basically unmoved by either.

Sometimes it’s clearly more one than another: Yesterday I woke up grieving. I staggered downstairs, set a gentle piece of music on repeat and moved very very slowly for long time, holding myself like a baby. Then I knew I needed to be in nature so walked out to the woods awhile, came back and gave myself a hot bath. There were flickers of artistry, but the whole morning was about healing really. Then today my practice was to dance all five rhythms with a quality of Stillness. No doubt some healing probably happened without me knowing it, but my whole focus was on developing my art. Both sessions were infused with moments of presence where everything else disappeared, there was no art or healing any more, just ‘this’.

More often, particularly in a group, all three are happening simultaneously in the room. How do we deal with that??? This is actually an open question for me in both my personal practice and my teaching. I don’t think there’s one right answer, or set of answers. Each dancer has to find their own balance point moment to moment, and anyone teaching the rhythms has to continually evolve their own style of melding the three.

However, having some clarity about the difference between these three is really helpful. Particularly the difference between art and healing, because they can get in each other’s way so easily. Someone who’s in a wildly creative space can be traumatic to be around if you’re deep in healing, particularly if they are expressing strong feelings or going out on a limb with their sexual energy. On the other hand the need for safety can be a total buzz-killer for a wild artist who is on fire creatively.

It really is possible to balance all three of these aspects of practice in a dynamic way so any one is free to rise to the fore for a while without getting attached to it. Gabrielle embodied this balance like no-one I’ve ever met. She had it down so deeply that it seemed effortless to swim between them. But as the 5R world has grown her personal influence has diminished, and the rhythms practice has become embedded within a complex mishmash culture that embraces many practices but leans towards healing and spiritual experience, wherein it’s easy for the value of ART and daredevil artistry to be lost. It’s easy to cry out that safety is paramount and end up with politically correct environments that stifle creativity.

We lose something vital that way – literally we lose vitality – and I love Gabrielle’s insistence on turning our suffering into art, art into awareness, and awareness into action. Turning suffering into art necessitates coming out of navel gazing, with no room for self-pity other than yet another dance move. It requires us to become dancing soul-warriors, welcoming our fears along with our joys, sorrows alongside celebration, pain just as readily as pleasure. How refreshing!

I pray that we seek compassion and tolerance for each other’s position and place, and value everybody’s contribution. Let’s keep learning how to have clear boundaries and be kind when needed, as well as how to burn bright and wild as the artists we all are. Most of all though let’s keep learning to listen for that subtle presence, the silence that breathes through us all, because a reverential dedication to that listening brings us to the centre, to the One, where everything rests in balance, where all polarities and struggles and conflicts disappear into that silence. Until they arise again that is….

With thanks to David Deida for clarifying my perception on this subject.