JUN 1, 2023

Sometimes when I am very silent feeling my heart, I notice the breath rising like a wave upon the shore, ever so slowly washing in, rising from the silence again and again. This fundamental rhythm, so very gentle and intimate, seems to emerge from the mysterious source of me, dark, still and deeply reassuring.

From the very beginning in our mother’s belly we are awash in rhythm. We feel her heartbeat even though ours is much faster. We become aware of the many other rhythms enveloping us, rocked in our private sea, still at night, choppy during the day. The daily motion of our mother is what moves us. Whether she runs or dances, is happy or sad, every movement reverberates in the amniotic fluid that holds us.

Once we are born, feeling the heartbeat of mom or dad as we are held against their chest must be very soothing as it will tend to be much slower than ours during early childhood. The heartbeat and breath are our fundamental rhythms, they resonate in our blood and cellular fluids, the background and measure of our daily lives, through the nature of water. In his book Sensitive Chaos, Theodore Schwenk describes this basic propensity of water:

Everywhere liquids move in rhythms. Countless rhythms permeate the processes of nature.  Not only are the great currents and tides of the oceans subject to the rhythms of the seasons, every lake, pond, every well has its movements that fluctuate with high or low tides or according to other laws. All naturally flowing waters have their rhythms, perhaps following the course of the day, perhaps keeping time with longer seasonal rhythms. . . . .

We are connected to our world through water. Rhythm pulses through the waters of our bodies, animating our blood and cellular fluids. Rhythm connects us to the breath of the earth, the cycles of day and night, the seasons.

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In When the Drummers were Women, Layne Redmond emphasizes the power of rhythm and how it informs our sense of belongingIf there was a fall from grace, it was a fall from rhythm. The order of the universe is rhythmic, and we have a psychic and physiological need to be in sync with the earth cycles.

We have a psychic and physiological need to be in sync, yet just by habitually holding our breath we interfere with the rhythm. Our diaphragm tightens, breathing becomes very shallow, our shoulders may rise. This tension becomes an unconscious pattern. We can lose the sense of belonging to our world, a disruption that may initially occur from a lack of touch, sudden shock or trauma.

I am not sure how I learned to interrupt my breath when I felt danger. This way of cutting off from the body, interrupting the natural flow, was no doubt tied into fear and my survival impulse, perhaps at birth or from an early childhood surgery. At some point it became inseparable from trying too hard to do something right, or when I was criticized.

As I look back I remember my parents trying to teach me to dance, and my dad deciding I had no rhythm. He may have been right, yet his pronouncement compounded my sense of not belonging. For years I felt I couldn’t dance. My first glimmer of hope was when I took a handwriting analysis course in my mid 20s and learned that my handwriting was very rhythmic. Having spent years crying in dance classes feeling something was wrong with me, this was a significant discovery. I tell this story to bring home the point that, of course we all intrinsically have rhythm, part of our very nature, inside we are breathing and our heart beating – and yet we can be separated from feeling this connection by the smallest incident – or the deepest trauma.

My earliest experiences of disconnection informed my interest in how rhythm connects us to ourselves and one another. Even though I wasn’t dancing in my teens, I loved the feel of music. Music was part of my way back, listening to beloved tunes with my friends, watching and trying to dance to American Bandstand. It took many years before I could differentiate the various instruments in a piece of music, but the overall energy was compelling, and I could feel the lyrics and melody if not the rhythm.

I eventually learned to be receptive to music, to feel it inside. In a recent post A subtle sense of interrelatedness I talk about inner and outer space, and how they are a continuum of connection. To feel music I had to learn to feel the inner space of my body and let my breathing relax and move freely – sensing how rhythm rippled through the inner sea of my body. Once I began to feel the drumbeat inside, I later had to connect it to landing on my feet through the bones. I know for many dancing comes naturally, but for me it was related to fully living in my body and developing receptivity. I wrote the following twenty years ago, revealing some of what I learned over the years:

When I pay attention to a movement pattern in my own body, between two people, or even the wind on water, I become aware of the ongoing rhythms in the world, the non-verbal language underlying our reality. My capacity for relationship, and my creative participation in relationship, grows as I attend to what is occurring. The matter within our own bodies is intelligent; wisdom resides in our cells. My heart is pumping, blood is flowing, my breath is spontaneously moving in and out, and as my awareness attunes to these levels, I become aware that I am a complex symphony of rhythms. If I also attend to the breath of the person near me – or the wind, I may notice an interrelated pattern, or feel an interconnection that had previously gone unnoticed.

I may feel the pull of gravity affecting my tired body, yet shift my movement slightly and feel how energy is now flowing through me differently. I discover I am in relationship with the earth, and we are united by this mysterious gravitational flow. Chi moves through my bones and I feel the earth’s support. Our participation as a member of the earth community is intimately connected to how we relate to the matter within our own bodies. Without feeling through my body, I am an isolated object relating to the earth as another object. When I perceive at the level of movement, we – the earth and I – are dancing energy fields, parts of the moving whole..

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We live in a sea of rhythms. Our heartbeat and breath focus us, keep the time. The sports we learn and our basic movement patterns all enable us to be present in our bodies, expressing our inherent rhythmic structure. For me walking is essential, there are days when going for a walk quickly organizes my feelings and thought. In conversation, if the rhythm is missing I won’t feel the connection. These next two paragraphs underscore the rhythms necessary to good communication – also from Layne Redmond’s When the Drummers were Women.

Research by William S. Condon shows that language is structured rhythmically with body movement. To communicate successfully, people must be able to adjust the tempos of their expression to one another. When people converse they interact in complex rhythms almost like a dance. The harmonious entrainment of their conversational rhythms allows each person to listen and respond at the right intervals, instead of overlapping or interrupting the other person or coming in too late. When a person’s rhythm is continually disrupted or suppressed, the effect can be severe, leading to boredom, exhaustion, depression, anxiety, anger. Although everyone must learn to respond to the give-and-take of conversational and social rhythms to some extent, in our culture adjusting to the tempos of others is a skill particularly valued in women.

Sometimes we find ourselves naturally synchronized with another person. When a high level of effortless entrainment occurs, one’s own rhythm is fully expressed. This is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Falling in love is falling in rhythm with someone.

Love in its many forms, from love of the earth, love of a tree, love for our babies, is falling into a rhythm with the other. The play and delight of life is intertwined with natural rhythms, and yet our fluid nature can also be influenced by artificial and man- made rhythms.

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The times are contained in the rhythms, I once heard Quincy Jones say. I love this concept. The music of the times, the trends, and politics, organize and express around new rhythms. The planets move, realignments occur, continents shift and eras unfold. Yet because we are shaped by rhythm through the fluids of our bodies, we are also affected by artificially induced rhythms that are antithetical to nature. The chaos and destruction we are currently experiencing in the world is a necessary breakdown of the artificial and mechanical that doesn’t support life, peace, and connection. Our educational system, our work environments, computers, even our health care are now dominated by the artificial. In addition, there is the staccato tempo of fear-ridden newscasters, traffic and radio waves that surround us, obscuring the rhythms of nature.

Our sense of interrelatedness with our inner nature, the earth and cosmos needs to be nurtured, treasured and protected. This is the time to be very aware of the influences around us, and to discern and choose wisely. I take hope from news of the earth moving through a new part of the sky now, sensitizing us to a new era, and as unlikely as this seems, a new earth rising. I trust this because I am changing as well, drawn deeper inside and at the same time expressing more assuredly what I need to say. Many of us are feeling this. Slowly I am aligning with those who dream of a new level of integrity, caring, and peace on earth.

Everyday I begin again, to find the natural rhythms that sustain me and the conversations that move me. The birdsong and lapping waves, my heartbeat and breath, coming back to the voices that soothe and touch me deeply. I have reliable favorite songs and daily rhythms I return to frequently. For me delight in rhythm is the way back to belonging, a source of solace, joy, and ongoing discovery – a weaving together of the world inside me and the world around me. Rhythm is fundamental to our nature, from the beat of our heart to the cycles of the moon, and we exist in a universe of rhythmic creation and renewal. May new and nourishing rhythms arise each day to guide us in these times.

Thank you for joining me here today! I’d love to hear your thoughts and experience in the comments!

The website for my work is – come explore more through private sessions on zoom or in person. To find my past articles on Substack: