Today I found myself dancing on a wide open hill with some soaring birds of prey. At the time, I was looking for a trailhead at the Himalayan Institute in Pennsylvania, where I decided to spend the last few days of summer. When I finally did find the trailhead, at the edge of the sloping meadow, I decided against it and continued to circle the field instead. In some areas the shadowed edge of the grass was still wet with morning, though by now I had already been up for several hours.
The Himalayan tradition, from what I gather, is a wisdom tradition with a lineage of teachers from the Himalaya region. Retreatants are allowed to pay a daily fee and enjoy the grounds and trails, three lovely vegetarian meals per day, and are allowed access to the meditation building–a circular structure that is at the heart of the campus.
Being here reminds me that there are an infinite number of traditions that can lead us to wisdom and awakening. One of the most wonderful things about this place is that it is not focused only on individual practice, but on worldwide, sustainable activism and empowerment, currently in the countries of India and Cameroon. They also make Moka chocolate, and source ingredients and materials ethically from communities around the world.
Entering the meditation building, as I did at 6 AM this morning, means walking to a side entrance, removing your shoes, stowing any belongings in a side coatroom, and stepping into a circular hallway that surrounds the main shrine room. All of the door handles are tied to minimize noise, but stepping through one of the three doors to the shrine room still inspires the wish to move with dignified silence.
Inside is quiet. Very, very quiet. People sit on chairs or sand-filled meditation cushions and a small mat on the floor. The ceiling is circular, and there is a diffuse light above the line of the ceiling. There is small altar with flowers and a metal object in the part of the room that people orient toward. I spread my small mat, posted my sand-filled cushion, and joined the river of collective silence.
Before coming to the Himalayan Institute, I went to Jacob Riis Park to practice the 5Rhythms dance and movement meditation practice with the sea. This time, I didn’t travel so far down the remotest part of the beach that I lost phone reception since I wanted to be reachable in case of any emergency with my son, Simon, who is at a sleepaway camp for the first time.
The tide was extremely high, pushing my steps into the soft rather than packed sand when the waves pressed toward the dunes. I was not in a crowd, but was definitely not alone either. A nearby fisherwoman eyed me curiously as she monitored her line, and beach strollers passed every five minutes or so. As is so often the case, I began to move in Flowing and wondered if I would ever gather the energy to move onto the next rhythm of Staccato. I stayed there for a long time, settling attention downward, and orienting awareness to the feet.
At some point, Staccato came through. My body showed it to me before my mind did. It arrived somewhat feebly, though I gave it breath and attention as I stepped more decisively, with more clarity. I noticed all of the lines of the beach–the high tide line, criss-crossing lines of dried seaweed, the quickly receding saturation line, and the lines of the edges of arriving and departing waves. I let myself off the hook, recognizing that I might not be in a space for the fullest expression of Staccato, wanting to sink into this very last stretch of summer and put off planning and scheduling and organizing priorities for just a little bit longer.
I needed to use the bathroom, but didn’t want to swim in such a remote area. I also didn’t want to head all the way back to the public bathrooms. I felt exasperated with my own inner dialogue at the expense of practice, and waded into the water to use the bathroom. Problem solved. No need to have a huge long conversation with my own mind about what to do.
I stayed half in the water after that and continued to play with the edges of the waves, Staccato becoming slightly more alive in the process.
I finally let myself move into Chaos, at first gently, then growing in physical intensity, and expanding my radius. Lyrical was unbounded, moving all across the wide beach, scanning the horizon, and lifting up, even leaping in curving twirls. Stillness wrapped me into its folds, deep in the comfort of home. I continued to move for another 30 minutes or so, not in any particular rhythm, finding myself ending with prayers for Simon, myself, and many others as we start a new school year.
Back at the Himalayan Institute, a teacher guided a small group of us through an evening Hatha yoga session. He encouraged us to balance out the body and to let go of tension. Sometimes it is just that easy. To identify friction, discomfort, obstacle, and remove it or let it go. Sometimes it is just a choice, and noticing that there is a choice.
Last night, I didn’t fall asleep right away. Fears popped up. Regrets made an appearance. Guilt. Shame. I hit a little patch of self-hatred, one of my default patterns in the fact of transition or challenge. I’d been in and out of it for the past few days, not with searing intensity, but enough to pepper the edges of my awareness with ugly holes.
Today, after the early morning meditation session, I moved between walking meditation in the woods and sitting meditation in the deeply silent shrine room. In the early part of the day, I continued to suffer with self-hatred off and on.
I paused on a flat rock and closed my eyes to listen. I heard insects, birds, and small animals moving. My mind followed them in the space around me.
The community here touches me. I ate lunch in silence, tears streaming down my face, remembering my place in things. Remembering home and the interior paths that lead me there. Remembering that beauty is only attention. Remembering that kindness is the only thing that’s real.
September 2, 2022, Himalayan Institute, Pennsylvania
Meghan LeBorious is a writer, teacher, and meditation facilitator who has been dancing the 5Rhythms since 2008 and recently became a 5Rhythms teacher. She was inspired to begin chronicling her experiences following her very first class; and she sees the writing process as an extension of practice—yet another way to be moved and transformed. This blog is not produced or sanctioned by the 5Rhythms organization. Photos courtesy of the writer.
***For NYC dancers, Meghan has a seven-class 5Rhythms series coming up that starts on October 14, “Spirit Drenched in Gold.” Join a single class or join the full series for a discount. Registration is required – https://spiritdrenchedingold.eventbrite.com
***Meghan also has a five-class online writing/dance 5Rhythms “Writing Waves” class that starts on September 15. Registration is required – https://www.eventbrite.com/e/writing-waves-tickets-397987811257