by meghanleborious | Aug 18, 2022 | Notes on Practice
Practice aligns me.
This week, in West Dennis Cape Cod with extended family, my mornings are devoted to practice with the ocean. Today was my earliest start time this week, since many of my family members–including my 12-year-old son–were up early for a deep sea fishing trip. By 7:30, I was walking ankle deep in the waves toward West Dennis Beach.
I treat all parts of this process as practice, which is to say that from the time that I leave the cottage to the time that I return, I do my best to settle into the experience and not press forward, wishing time away. It also means that I show up every day–or nearly every day–regardless of conditions and sometimes regardless of what I feel like doing. For example, yesterday’s forecast was for 100% likelihood of rain. I wasn’t eager to get up early and head out to the sea, but I pushed a little, recognizing that practice means you don’t evaluate it every day; and you don’t allow your mind to have a conversation with itself about the pros and cons. I put my towel in a plastic shopping bag so when I got out of the water it wouldn’t be drenched, and headed out.
Today was bright and high tide was falling. My mom, who is delightful, enthusiastic, walked with me for a while. We paused to interact with a dog, fondly remembering our own dog of many years ago who was mostly the same breed as this one based on our best guess.
After I passed the Lighthouse Inn, I pulled out swim goggles and cap, peeled off the layer I had on over my bathing suit, then dropped my backpack with afterswim supplies on the sand and continued west.
Walking away from the morning sun, I gave my attention to the feet as they fell on the ultra-soft sand, to the sound of the waves, and to my moving body, inviting the shoulders to relax down, the belly to soften, and the hips to deepen in their sockets. Whenever I shifted into a story, a plan, an explanation, an analysis of my body’s symmetry, or an argument for or against my good character, I noted it and gently shifted attention back to the feet when I could so without excessive effort.
At Bass River, the boundary between West Dennis and Yarmouth, I turned my back to the wind and bent over to gather my hair in my hands, then stood up and turned toward the wind to coil it just behind the crown of my head. I put on the bathing cap and goggles, then hesitated briefly, tightening my shoulders against the cold water and wind, then wading in and diving hands first, heading back east.
There was a fierce chop today, and the wind was coming from the southwest, an assist on today’s eastward journey. In a pool, once my attention starts to settle with movement, I move my focus throughout the body. But in the ocean, there is usually plenty to anchor my attention in the present. Today, the waves rolled across me, lifting me up and casting me down, and I had to pay attention to the timing of my breaths to avoid getting a mouthful. The water was ochre and gold, the bottom rippled sand or obscured in stands of seaweed. I noted razor shells, clam shells, one big conch with an animal still inside it, and horseshoe crabs underneath me.
Periodically, I lowered a leg down to make sure I could still stand. I can handle the deep water just fine as a swimmer, but a (somewhat irrational) fear of sharks keeps me close to shore. And I figure if a shark ever does attack me, I’ll have a better chance of survival if I can stand up on my feet and punch them in the nose. I have it all figured out.
That doesn’t stop me from an occasional mounting shark panic, but I try to see even that emergence of fear as another opportunity to work with my mind.
I’ve been doing this swim or a similar swim for over 20 years now. It started back when I actually competed in triathlons, and really took off when my sister was doing triathlons too. Those days are long gone, but I still love long swims in the ocean. At first it was an occasional thing, at any time of the day it happened to fit. Over the years, I noted how much it helps me–not just during the week that I’m doing it but in the bigger picture, too–and became more and more committed to the point that I actually plan around it, even declining the offer to join a deep sea fishing trip with my son, my Dad, and other family members this morning.
That’s just how it went when I started to dance the 5Rhythms 15 years ago. At first it was just a class or two here or there. But within less than a year I was planning my life around attending Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves class in the West Village, and also added whatever additional classes I could squeeze in and every workshop that came up.
Everything changed for me then. I galloped through layers of trauma and learned habitual patterns. Creativity exploded. I was able to connect with people with much greater intimacy. I was more playful. Walking on the sidewalk in Midtown became a game.
I also moved through agonizing stretches of feeling isolated, witnessing my own self abuse, and coping with difficult emotions, but following each period of agony somehow emerged even more committed to practice.
After the wild west end of the beach, I passed the first lifeguard chair: white painted wood with a red number 8 on its side. The wind and waves helped me out, and I continued to note each successive chair from 7 all the way to 1 as I made it the two miles back to my backpack in what seemed like a shorter time than usual.
I moved quickly to the towel, then changed my wet bathing suit for loose pants and long sleeve shirt. I sat for a while in meditation, then decided to do some yoga movements to warm myself up. Once I was warm I sat for longer, in no particular hurry to get on to anything else.
Last night, I danced the 5Rhythms. I walked with some family members, but they headed west and I stayed put. The evening beach was more crowded than I hoped, but I found a quiet-ish corner to practice. The tide was high and I circled up and down from the high tide line as I began to move in the rhythm of Flowing. In this session I made a clear distinction between each of the five rhythms–Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness–as I moved through each of them. I could see my sister, brother, brother-in-law, and niece in the distance, occasionally bending over to gather a treasure, and figured I would dance just until they made it back to me. After moving through each of the rhythms, an internal gear slipped me deeply into Stillness, and I whisper moved with the waves, the horizon, and the soaring birds. Vision tracked energy. I could feel heat rising to my cheekbones and the crown of my head. Chemical releases in my leg muscles set loose a shake. When they were almost back to me, I reconnected with my feet, intending to reconnect with day-to-day reality, though practice had opened the doorway to a different layer.
This morning, caked in sand, muscles awake and stretched, wind making a flag of my loose shirt, hair knotted and half-wet–I could feel my edges softening, recent and past experiences moving through, and my selves gliding into alignment.
Thank you, my beautiful son. Thank you, family. Thank you, ocean. Thank you, Gabrielle Roth. Thank you, practice. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. I bow down to the universe, to my teachers, and to this precious life.
August 18, 2022, West Dennis, Cape Cod
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
by meghanleborious | Mar 23, 2022 | Notes on Practice
Sunny days can be a lot of pressure. It’s like you know you should be grateful and cheerful. Everyone around you seems grateful and cheerful. But if you don’t feel grateful and cheerful, challenging emotions can feel amplified.
On a morning just before the spring equinox, I woke up way too early. The familiar squirm of anxiety made it feel like I wasn’t even waking up, just opening my eyes.
I decided to go for a run and headed to a sprawling cemetery where I had run one other time. The last visit, I had been pressed for time, and only just dipped in. This time, I set the intention to see what the place had to offer.
Instead of running straight, this time I turned right, past mausoleums with the names “Abel” and “Heath.” The path continued to wind uphill. Soon I took another turn, and another. Before long I was lost, feeling receptive and curious. I noticed angels in all manner of repair, some soaring above sections of graves with the far-off NYC skyline in the distance, some sunken to the level of the knees in the soft earth, some even missing their heads. I moved off the path to investigate and took pictures whenever something captured my attention.
Around one bend I discovered a section dedicated to the “Love” family. If I had been looking for a sign this would have been a perfect fit. I lingered, feeling more and more a sense of grace.
Eventually I continued my run along the winding paths of the cemetery. Pausing to check out another grave, I heard a loud thud as my phone skidded on the pavement. I discovered that the slip-on pocket I had on my ankle had torn. I checked and found only one of my two keys remaining.
I decided to try to retrace my steps to try to find the key I was missing. I took a left, a left, a right. And another left. Things looked familiar but I wasn’t sure. I second-guessed myself. The only landmark I remembered for sure was the Love grave. It crossed my mind to wonder, “What if my key was right in front of the Love grave?” “Nah,” my mind said to my own self. “That would be ridiculous. What are the chances? No way.”
I guessed I was off track, so backtracked again to the last fork and went left. There it was once again, the Love grave, unmistakeable, carved in stone.
And, yes, you guessed it. There I found my key. Silver metal glinting in the sun, directly in front of the Love grave. Love is the key to everything, after all.
There was an employee close by on a riding lawnmower. Even so, I crumpled and started to cry, deciding that any thoughts that flowed through were a gift from the spirits, and listening intently in case there was more that needed to be heard. After considerable time of lingering, praying, listening, and giving thanks, I headed back through the winding paths to the exit.
A couple of days later, I found myself dancing a prayer for the Spring Equinox at Jacob Riis Beach. It was much colder than I thought it would be and I had been overzealous, dressing in just a spring sweater. I was tempted to bail, but decided I would step in, if briefly, do a 5Rhythms wave – which is to say that I would dance through each of the five rhythms: Flowing Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness – and see what might happen.
I started to move right away to ward the cold from my body, but shifted and decided to make a good beginning, drawing a big circle on the sand to dance inside of and walking around it three times clockwise. The cold wasn’t as strident as I feared, and I settled into Flowing. At first I was not totally engaged, thinking I might go through the motions and get back to the warm car as quickly as possible. I found my way in by adding a prompt for myself, playing with internal and external rotation in different body parts, beginning with the feet, then the knees, hips, spine, shoulders, head, and arms. I ended with the elbows, anticipating that they might pull me naturally into the rhythm of Staccato.
I really got into Staccato this time. I thought about the aspect of Spring that is this wild rush of energy, this incredible push of plants that have been moving and creeping underground in quiet darkness, and finally gathering up the force to break through the surface to sunlight.
Some passersby stopped to spectate and I both tried to pretend I didn’t see them, and sharpened my moves – seeing myself briefly through their eyes.
I slowed briefly, for a moment ashamed of this unabashed joy, even in the face of so much suffering in the world, even as the earth’s temperatures heat up and wild storms are unleashed, even as my own uncle hovers on the verge of dying, even with so much that is fucked up and painful and brutally unfair.
I dug even deeper into Staccato, sinking down and pulling my low belly in, then pushing breath out sharply.
Chaos was a relief as it overtook me. I was a little tired at the outset following an active day, but found that I had a lot more energy than I needed at this point. I thought of the way I was downright ebullient at work on Friday despite significant obstacles and discouraging setbacks over the last several months following a few minutes outside in the warm sunshine. Every year, I’m reminded that Spring really does help. That joy might just erupt if I can get over the guilt I feel about it, and if I can get over the guilt about not feeling it even when I think I should.
Lyrical came and went. Soon a soaring bird and a glowing sky opened the doorway into Stillness; and I made my offerings and petitions in honor of the season, then sat quietly, seeing and hearing the crashing waves and barely feeling the cold.
Nothing is carved in stone, I reflected. Except Love, of course. That, I can assure you, is one thing that is carved in stone. The one force worth serving. The key to everything.
by meghanleborious | Sep 17, 2017 | Notes on Practice
My close world is torn apart with natural disasters – hurricanes in Texas, and in Florida & the Caribbean, earthquake in Mexico – at the same time, it is a spectacular day in New York. Temperatures in the 70’s, low humidity, blue skies with the kinds of clouds that are easy to see as friendly animals or as elaborate castles. In the Sunday morning Sweat Your Prayers class at the Joffrey Ballet in the West Village, taught today by Jason Goodman, I held both realities.
I have been teaching high school students for the past few years and the beginning of the year makes me feel joyful. Meeting new students, I can’t wait to find out what they can do. I’m twittery, imaging all the great structures we will co-create, thinking about how to set things up for them, reviewing my inspiring speeches and clear explanations. Imagining all of us having fun together at the first dance. Having done this for a few years, I also know how much I will come to love them by the end of the year; and I can feel it already. I’m choked up in advance just thinking about it, even as I write.
At the same time, sadness and fear visit me. People all over are suffering terribly, in particular as a result of the hurricanes and earthquake. I keep feeling wracked by sadness. And I am afraid. As of late, the Christian concept of apocalypse no longer seems as far-fetched as I once believed. As a human community, we really don’t seem to be moving in a good direction.
There was a time when I wouldn’t have let myself have access to joy in the face of this suffering. I would have thought that feeling joy would be an affront to others’ pain. Now, I feel differently, though. I realize that if I am suffering too, I haven’t actually helped anyone. There are just more of us suffering.
Stepping in to the fourth floor dance studio, movement nuzzled me from all sides and I felt free and inspired. I delighted in the clear blue sky pouring in the windows, smiled to greet many friends, and found myself a spot on the floor. There, I moved in big, arcing circles, attenuating my body in long gestures to stretch at the same time, pulling my feet up to warm up my quadriceps along the floor, rolling over my shoulders and over the crown of my head.
I wore wide-legged pants with a tucked-in tank top, which allowed me a full range of motion, and that I exploited with every angle, level and gesture. Lately, I have a good relationship with Staccato, and I sunk deep into my hips, playing with rocking my pelvis and taking big backsteps – at times holding my leg up and rocking my knee forward and back before placing my foot emphatically on the floor, garnering tremendous momentum and force in the process. Jason spoke of the need for Staccato, sometimes for ferocious and sudden action, since staying in Flowing all of the time would, at minimum, mean we might get nothing done; and at maximum, might mean we fail to act to save our own life or the lives of the people we love. Sometimes we don’t have the luxury of a patient warm-up, instead when the situation calls for it, we have to step into Staccato instantly, as warriors, with all of the power and force that is required of us.
We seemed to spend more time in Chaos than in any other rhythm today. Jason spoke directly of the devastating hurricanes and earthquake; and also reflected on the tragedy of September 11th, 2001, which he, like me, personally witnessed. I recalled a class Jason taught in the same room just three days after the election of Donald Trump, when he also kept us in Chaos for song after song after song. I reflected on the words of my yoga teacher, Maria Cutrona, in the days after the election, “As painful as this may be, as hard as it may be to take, this is exactly what we have been practicing for over all of these years. This is it. Right now.”
The ultimate test of our practice is to keep moving even inside a swirling maelstrom of Chaos. To find a way to ride the Chaos so it doesn’t destroy us. As the rhythm of Chaos unfolded, I was often low, finding a growling thread of Staccato, realizing the need for action. Deep in my knees and hips, I held my arms cactus-like and rocked and cracked into my upper spine at great velocity. I joined two friends, including the very woman who brought me to a 5Rhythms class for the first time over ten years ago, and we leapt and twisted and spun, inspiring me into a whole new set of gestures and ways of working with weight and extension, every minute muscle of my feet steering me into unending expression. I moved around the room and joined with several others in sequence, including with a man I hadn’t seen before whose lyrical expression of Chaos softened me into joy.
This school year, I will be teaching mindfulness & meditation to nearly my entire school community, going into many different classrooms for 20 minutes each week. I thought about how I would introduce the work. “Dear Ones, this world is crazy,” I rehearsed in my head, “We have hurricanes, earthquakes, racism. Donald Trump. There is pretty much nothing in the external world around us that we can count on. Even if you are lucky enough to have a safe home, enough money, classrooms where you feel respected and valued. Even if you have all that stuff, at some point, you, too, are going to feel like the world is crazy. Because that’s what the world does. It’s always changing and throwing new stuff at us. Since the external world is so crazy and is constantly shifting and changing, we can’t rely on it for our sense of peace and safety. Our only hope is to develop our internal world, what’s inside, so that we have at least one place of refuge we can count on, that’s always available to us, regardless of our shifting circumstances.”
In the second wave, I grew slightly distracted as a result of rehearsing my speech in my head. I forced myself to return attention to my feet, telling myself my speech would all still be there later on, after it was no longer time to practice; and I moved around the room in Flowing. I met the blue-green eyes of a woman who was close to my own diminutive height and felt flooded with sadness, receiving, feeling the emotions around me. I noted that I had hunger pangs and put my hand to my lower stomach. My energy dipped slightly. Playful regardless, I knelt with my forehead down next to two friends who were back to back, and they inched their feet apart, delighting me by making a little bridge for me to crawl under. I squirmed to the other side of them, then pushed hard on the ball of my right foot, leaping high into the air and curving into emphatic motion like a cartoon wizard casting a lightning spell.
I had another wind during the closing gestures of the class. In Lyrical, I, like many others, swooped throughout the room, joining other dancers in brief partnerships. In Stillness, I keyed into tiny articulations of my coccyx and lower spine, closing my eyes and feeling the movement of energy throughout my body, moving my hands in space as these quiet modulations swept to my edges. Jason gathered us into a big circle where we continued to move in Stillness, ending at last with several deep, collective breaths.
At the end of the class, I chatted for a moment with an effusive, beaming first-time 5Rhythms dancer who I had helped to greet. Then, I spoke with a friend who had seemed interior during the class, and learned that many of her family members live in the southern part of Florida, where they were being pummeled by Hurricane Irma even as we spoke, her eyes pinched in pain, her shoulders raised, her tone incredulous.
September 10, 2017, Brooklyn, NYC
( First image: of St. Thomas after Hurricane Irma from nydailynews.com. Second image: nbcnews.com of Florida during Irma)
by meghanleborious | Nov 15, 2016 | Notes on Practice, Uncategorized
“What? This can’t be. Oh, my God, this can’t be. How could this be? This can’t possibly be. What are all of these overnight text messages about. They are no longer celebratory, as they were last night. This can’t be true. Let me look at the internet. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Please, no. Please, this can’t be. So many people would suffer. This is impossible. How could Americans elect this person? How could anyone vote for this man? Please this is just a nightmare. Let me wake up. This can’t be. Let me text back to some of the texts. Please let it not be so. It can’t be! My God! No, please, this can’t be! So many people would suffer! The economy! Unchecked hatred! Please say it is just a nightmare!”
Often before I start a new text for this blog, I write automatically for ten minutes. Writing automatically usually helps me to find an entry point, a theme, maybe even an idea for a structure, but today my mind remains scattered, dulled by its struggle to accommodate the new reality that my fellow Americans have elected Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States.
At Kierra Foster Ba’s workshop “Light & Shadow” last weekend, Kierra took us on a journey through the shadow aspects of each of the 5Rhythms—the shadow of Flowing, which is inertia; the shadow of Staccato, which is tension; the shadow of Chaos, which is confusion; the shadow of Lyrical, which is the quality of being spaced out; and the shadow of Stillness, which is numbness. In addition, she introduced the idea that the shadows might have to do with the parts of ourselves we would rather keep hidden or disown completely.
After the workshop, I wrote feverishly, very much wanting to deliver a text on the shadows work of last weekend before Tuesday’s election results, realizing that no matter what happened, anything written before Tuesday would become automatically outdated. Although I was very nervous, I wrote with the assumption that there would be a Hillary victory in the end, and, too, with the assumption that after the election that we would have to find ways to work with and address America’s unleased collective shadows of abject hatred and opportunism.
Before the election, my psyche simply could not accommodate the possibility that Donald Trump might actually win the election. It was simply too surreal—too much the stuff of nightmares. It simply could not be. Americans certainly would not go to such extremes, even in the face of anger and disempowerment, that we would actually elect such a person, someone who does not believe in and would threaten our very democracy, who is the confirmed perpetrator of countless, outrageous crimes and abuses, possibly even of rape.
The lively activity at my polling place in Brooklyn made me feel like Hillary would surely win. The better the voter turnout, I argued in my head, the more likely she would prevail. I brought my six-year-old son along with me, regaling him with stories of when Obama was first elected—the long, happy lines to vote; and after the results came in, the streets filled with celebration, people thronging Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where I lived at the time. I told him excitedly, “This is a moment you will always remember, when we voted for the first woman president!”
The memory of the first 5Rhythms class I attended after Obama was elected in 2008 seemed like a totally different lifetime. It was Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class. For days, I had been walking around the city sobbing for joy. It would hit me, buying a tea, waiting for the walk sign, standing on the subway. Talking with everyone. Beaming. Not only had we—a nation built with the blood and sweat of slaves—elected a Black man, but we had elected an ethical, competent, intelligent leader, who was intent on building consensus, examining the minutiae of evidence on the many matters that faced him, and with the stated intention—and possibly the skill—to extend the prosperity that a small number of Americans enjoyed to a larger portion of society. That was the first time since I was a baby in a leaf pile playing with my parents, that I had ever moved in pure joy. The room was filled with a different kind of vocalization than what we experienced in class this week—hooting and hollering that moved through the air in waves of its own. We were a glowing mess, drenched, crying, leaping many feet off the ground, the entire wood floor bouncing, the music getting louder and louder. It was paradise. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was—to be alive in this time, to be part of this seismic shift, this uncontainable joy.
A few sleepless, dark morning hours after learning the results (during which my son and I sat on a meditation cushion together, my stomach in knots, him reading quietly or practicing meditation along with me) one of the people I am closest to—a Black and Latino man—entered the house. He shared an opinion that I have since heard echoed by more than one person of color—that this was no surprise, and that “Black people in America have been dealing with this level of hatred and injustice all along. Now, it is just out in the open.” He also reminded me that his joy when Obama was elected had been mitigated by his prediction that there would be a monstrous backlash after Obama’s term.
Since the election, hate crimes have surged, according to the New York Times, USA Today, CNN and a long list of reputable sources. “Make America White Again” has been scrawled on a whiteboard in a University of North Florida library, and in countless other places countrywide. My father told me with grave consternation that there had been a KKK rally in my parents’ small town in Northern Connecticut, to my knowledge an unprecedented event.
During and after the “Light & Shadow” workshop, I grappled with the concept of ground, wondering if in clinging to the idea of ground, I might be limiting my perception of reality. Kierra sought to share her insight, and an insight likely shared by Gabrielle Roth—the creator of the 5Rhythms practice—that the ground is always there; and that it is possible to find the ground even in an earthquake. Instead of only finding the ground in Flowing, where we traditionally establish it, Kierra lead me to also consider finding it through releasing into Chaos. My idea of “the ground” as Gabrielle Roth intended it continues to evolve, but I realize that the idea of ground is compatible with the realization that absolutely everything is in constant, dynamic flux; and that there is truly nothing to cling to. The ground is the foundation, from which we hear and trust our instinctive, physical selves, and from which we come to trust the fundamental correctness and workability of reality. Truly, finding the ground and being at ease through releasing into Chaos is a powerful tool, as we seek to navigate (at minimum) the next four years.
Driving alone to a 5Rhythms class, my first since the election, I bawled and keened, my face contorted, tears streaming down my cheeks to the point that my skin actually started to itch from all of the salt. My mind raced, “Would I choose to leave the US? What steps would I have to take? Is there anywhere in the western world that is exempt from this impulse toward xenophobia and aggression, this reaction to globalism? Should I stay and be part of the resistance? What would the resistance be? What would happen to all the people without insurance? Would my son be safe from racism, hatred and violence? Would New York City be safe, once Trump started provoking countries around the world? Would I lose my job as a result of recession? Would my friends lose their jobs? Would all of my parents’ lifelong hard work for social justice be wiped away, just as they are growing old, beginning to tally their contributions? Would they lose heart and lose faith? Would I? Do all of the people who voted for Trump hate women? Do all of the people who voted for Trump hate me? Do they all think that the sexual trauma I have suffered in my own life is no big deal and that the pain I have struggled with for a lifetime is just someone’s lark—locker room pranks—without accountability? And how, in this crazy world, would I counter this monstrous influence on my small son? Is there any way to protect him?” I had no schema for any of this. Through years of diligent practice, I had developed powerful faith in the basic goodness of human beings. How could I reconcile these seemingly contradictory realities?
Arriving at class, I took my time to enter the studio, noticing the powerful ritual of stepping from the world into the space of formal practice. I was not wracked by grief. There was no catharsis, as I had in a way hoped for. Instead, the group moved through the first wave, breathing in and out, trying our best to release into Flowing and then into each of the other rhythms. I noticed that my version of Flowing was agitated, and I made an effort to slow down, to let it in. To let in the reality of my stress and grief-wracked body, and the reality of the outcome of the election, which I still could not fully grasp. Staccato barely arrived in this first wave, finding me fumbling, unsure of my feet for once, disassociated, perhaps still in the throes of shock despite my stated willingness to let in. Chaos was loud and energetic, though mental activity continued to churn, in disjointed snippets and unruly threads. The tiniest hint of Lyrical emerged, and it crossed my mind that somehow I would have to find a way to let joy in, too, despite everything, or I would lose four years of my life, perhaps even causing an atrophy of joy that I would not recover from. I reminded myself that expressing joy is not an intrinsic affront to suffering, and that being miserable, angry or sad wouldn’t help me to control anything. It would just make me miserable or angry or sad. Whether I find Lyrical or not—the situation is very much outside of my control.
On Wednesday morning, arriving to work, I went straight to my one strong work ally. Hugging him, I sobbed. Although there were a few people there who were also devastated by the results of the election, I felt very alone, both at work and in the context of the country. On parting, I said, “This is a call to arms. We must each become a warrior of the heart. That is our only hope at this point. As of today, any kindness is now an act of political resistance.”
At the class, I felt like a whole layer of neurosis had become outdated, along with everything else that happened before November 8, 2016. Most of the people I was moving with were allies, and could be trusted. Petty irritations seemed extra pointless, considering the need to build community. Despite this, some irritations did arise, and I wondered if they were a last sprint of a certain kind of ego, or if they might be a way for my psyche to work on some things that I couldn’t manage to confront directly.
In the interim between the two waves, I sat leaning in a little pod with a small group of friends who happened to be seated near me; then, began to flow back-to-back with one friend, at first just gently swaying from side to side. I was still disassociated and not capable of fully releasing to ground, but did my best to show up for my friend and for myself. Eventually gaining our feet, we moved around each other with great energy, then smiled thankfully, beginning to move separately throughout the room. I spent part of this wave considering disaster preparedness, with a long list of specifics, despite the shared intention to really see each other, to really give to each other. In Staccato, I found ferocity in bursts, but still felt disassociated. I partnered with one friend, and marveled at her fire. Inspired, I grew gigantic, too, forcing it ever so slightly, trying it as an experiment, an intention, rather than as my full expression in that moment. Even so, I recognized the need to step up in every way, to step into my power, to help the people around me to step into their power, to organize, to defy, to build community, to speak, to listen, to offer, to receive.
Today, as I write, I have a bone infection in my jaw. It is incredibly painful. Instead of succumbing to self-pity, I remind myself that there are many people around the world who at this very moment are also experiencing excruciating dental pain. Maybe also on top of other kinds of pain, too. The great Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron teaches a Tibetan meditation practice called Tonglen. In Tonglen, instead of resisting or pushing away pain, negativity or other afflictive emotions, we breathe them in. Then, we breathe out equanimity, positivity and pleasant emotions. In the process, we work against our conditioned impulse to push away what threatens us, frightens us, or rocks our fundamental notions of who we are. In doing so, we transform our relationship to aversion—the energetic pushing away or non-acceptance of things we usually can’t escape anyway. An aspect of Tonglen that acts as a counter to despair is that we remind ourselves again and again that we are not alone, that whatever pain we are experiencing, there are countless others who feel or have felt the same pain. As such, it is impossible not to call to mind the billions of people who suffer or have suffered under the leadership of corrupt, greedy, dishonest or incompetent leaders. I am not alone. We are not alone.
I have been very careful to write about the nation as “we,” though it is a stretch for me at this moment. One sneaky form of aversion is setting up a group of people as “others” who are distinct from “us.” This is a fundamental premise of postmodern identity politics and of post-colonial theory—the idea that in order to construct ourselves a certain way, we set up groups of people as “others” as a counterpoint to the “us.” It is like we can only have an identity by defining who does not have our identity, excluding certain people from our experience completely. I am using “we,” and thinking of the many complex causes that gave rise to this moment, rather than succumbing to the temptation to simply revile Trump’s supporters to make them “other.” Truly, this is a phenomenon that all of us have participated in producing. This place we find ourselves is not an anomaly, and is not simply the result of someone else’s misconduct.
The Black and Latino man I wrote of earlier and who is one of my most important allies again shared his thoughts on the current political moment, reminding me very much of the teachings on the shadow aspects of the 5Rhythms. He said, “The thing is, people of color have always known it was this bad. It always has been. The good thing is that we know that the only way to change things is to first actually accept how bad things are. That’s the thing that white people just haven’t realized; and that’s why so many people are so shocked. It is only when we can really accept what is actually happening that real change can finally occur.”
Gabrielle Roth often expressed that the rhythm of our time is Chaos. As volatile as it inevitably has been, she believed that our era is also marked by possibility and creativity. I try to imagine what she would say now, if she were still alive. Perhaps that no matter what, we have to keep moving. Perhaps that to shut down and lock up would be the real death of us. Perhaps that the best way to work with Chaos is to release directly into the middle of it. Perhaps that, ultimately, nothing and no one can take away our freedom or peace of mind, unless we ourselves allow it.
Rending, guttural screams flew through the space as we moved in Chaos. I found the floor, pulsing vigorously through my middle back, on my hands and knees and crouched into the hips with my pubis almost touching the ground, then I would leap and spin, finding all the while stops and edges inside my own maelstrom. The friend who was so ferocious in Staccato moved with just as much vigor right next to me. I moved to the floor and up from it, leaping quickly, perhaps in a primal defensive gesture, landing first in a deep squat, bursting upward, my head a car on the speeding rollercoaster of my spine, then moved back to the ground. I remembered Kierra’s words about releasing into Chaos, and as the rhythm played out I found more softness, less edge. If I was tempted to check myself out of this intensity, I reminded myself of the critical importance of releasing to Chaos as a tool for survival.
Lyrical came, too, and then Stillness. I partnered with a friend who I love to dance with, and we beamed as we moved together, more expansive than in our past dances. High up on my toes and both finding discrete patterns, we played in and out of each other’s orbits. In Stillness, I moved unselfconsciously, pulling away from a friend who wanted to partner, giving myself a quiet moment to turn inward.
Though there will be times that we all need to turn inward, community has become critical. Right before the election, I had invited several friends to a series of dinner parties because I had realized the need to re-focus my priorities on the people around me, rather than on my very stressful job. Now, after the election, having a way to gather together and cultivate our relationships seems even more important—in fact, like a matter of emotional and political necessity.
At the height of dental pain, I decided to take a yoga class. I reasoned that I would try it, and if it was impossible I would just leave. The pain was an 8 or 9 on a scale of 1-10 most of the time, but at moments it receded to the back of my mind, as I attended diligently to the poses and to the breath. I was surprised that I made it through the entire class, despite the pain. The teacher, who I trust deeply, said, “It might be hard to hear this right now, but the truth is that we are made for these times. This is what we have been practicing for.”
On Saturday, I attended a candlelight vigil and rally at Fort Greene Park, where thousands of all races, classes, ages, religions and orientations came together to affirm our commitment to oppose injustice and hatred in all its manifestations, to affirm our commitment to love, and to support each other in resisting the temptation to feel isolated or incapacitated. A heartful voice sang out, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…” We all joined in, raising our candles in the falling night. My voice was ragged, the words barely coherent. A friend from the neighborhood I hadn’t realized was right next to me turned and embraced me. I looked to my other side and saw another friend—this one from college in Boston—and I turned and kissed her cheek.
We are not alone, my loves. We are in this together. In the words of the woman whose light guides me, the woman who continues to show my heart the way, Gabrielle Roth, “There is only one of us here.”
November 13, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC
(Image is a photo I took at the “Vigil for Hope & Human Kindness” that took place in Fort Greene Park on November 12, 2016)
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
by meghanleborious | Jul 31, 2016 | Notes on Practice, Uncategorized
Otherworldly fog took over the landscape on Monday. After dropping my six-year-old son, Simon, off at camp in Dunhill, I went to the unmarked beach again. Suffering from heavy anxiety, I paused to look out over the vast beach from the top of the steep cement stairs, and the line of vision was severely blocked by the heavy white cloud.
Exploring and seeking an inspiring place to dance, I walked west, passing several beaches that were framed by giant, fallen boulders. I came to a cave (or perhaps the shaft opening of an old copper mine) and investigated briefly, then suddenly realized that I had no phone reception whatsoever. I was nervous about being out of contact while Simon was at camp. Lately, I have been unusually nervous about keeping us safe, given a series of mishaps. Simon has also been nervous, asking me to sketch out endless scenarios of what would happen if one of us got hurt or died during the trip; and he has been unwilling to be apart from me in any room of our friend’s 300-year-old cottage, as he believes it haunted. I have tried to calm his fears, but at times I have also felt afraid. I held the phone in my hand and walked back toward the cement stairs, staring at the screen and pausing whenever it said, “searching.” I settled on a still-remote-from-the-stairs spot with very black sand where the signal flickered in and out. I put the phone on a rock where I could check on it, created a large circle in the sand that I could dance inside of, then settled into a patient Flowing. As Staccato arose out of Flowing, I went to check the phone and realized that it was again saying “no service.” I tried to talk myself into letting go of the nervousness about being out of contact.
In the end, I was able to re-connect with Flowing despite pausing to check my phone. I danced a brief wave, moving through each rhythm: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness. Resuming after the pause to check the phone, I realized that despite the fog and mist, the day was warm. I took off my clothes. The feeling of the cold mist on my skin helped return me to my senses and release the anxiety I was feeling. It was exhilarating after being so wrapped up in garments for so many chilly days. Before long I returned to a bathing suit, completing the wave fairly quickly. Stillness emerged vividly and the felt senses of the cliffs, the sea, the mysterious and heavy air, and the rocks and boulders found their way into my movements.
Then, I moved to the opposite end of the beach, where it was much less remote, but where I did have reception. For this second wave, as with the first, I started by creating a circle in the sand to dance inside of, though I did not stay inside it except for in the beginning of Flowing. This wave was definitely practice. Bits of beauty flecked it, but I was not particularly inspired. I was left thinking about how anxiety blocks receptors to everything—to danger, to joy, to fluid experience, and to the constant stream of information we receive from the world around us.
In the brief time I had before picking Simon up from camp, I made an unsuccessful attempt to find an ancient site that my friend had urged me to visit, but the next day (Tuesday) I was determined. I re-traced my driving steps, remembering not to turn down the tiny, stone-walled lane where I had aroused suspicion the day before. I had a map my friend’s archaeologist neighbor had given me, which included all of the small rural roads. Even armed with it, it was very difficult for me to navigate. I was told the site was just next to a cow field, and that it was locked gate but that there was a stile—a gap in the gate—that allows people to enter. That description seemed to match pretty much every gate I passed. I asked a woman who was walking on the road if she knew of the site, and she scrunched up her face, looking upward to think and pointing downhill. “I’m not sure, Pet. I think it might be down there, but they’re building a house there now. I suppose you could go there and ask if you could enter.” I felt discouraged, but decided to go just a tiny bit farther down the road. Shortly, I actually did find what I was looking for—indicated by a discreet arrow sign that said, “Gaulstown Dolmen.” I walked through the stile, down the driveway, through another entrance, then down a wooded path.
The monument is remarkable. It consists of six very large, flat stones that were placed in a Stonehenge-like configuration around 5,000 years ago. No one knows exactly how, as they appear to be extremely heavy. According to the archaeologist, it is likely a burial site, based on nearby similar sites that have been excavated. There was a small clearing around the dolmen, but it was very much enclosed with grown over trees and grasses. I sat for a few minutes, then got up to walk in a circle around it. Prickers caught my long skirt; and I moved into a flat spot to dance in Flowing. Absorbed, I imagined a low, chanting hum as I listened and sensed the place. I saw a moving black shape out of the corner of my eye that could have been the farmers’ dog, but that got me to thinking of ancient spirits. Staccato was brief but expressive. In Chaos, I stepped right inside the dolmen, wondering if it had also been intended as a portal. I was slightly afraid of the possibility of possession and at once totally fascinated. In Lyrical a flash of creative energy entered into me. In Stillness I moved with reverence—an homage to the ancients. I was left feeling like I should do what I can to develop my capacity as a mystic, and that all I need is available in every moment, if I know how to pay attention properly.
Later, I went again to the secret beach. Reception was better without the fog, and I choose a spot that was not as remote. Still, the phone came in and out. The day before I’d told myself, “Maybe I can be ok with being out of reach for a little while.” When it came to it, I was still nervous, and couldn’t bring myself to practice until I found a spot where the phone would have at least one bar. I stayed in Flowing for a long time, returning to the image of the dolmen again and again.
As with previous dances, threads of Stillness continued to present, for example during Flowing when I witnessed a bird soaring absolutely in place, not moving at all, buoyed by strong wind. I realized that at times I have confused Inertia—which can present as a lack of energy and is considered to be the “shadow” of the rhythm of Flowing—with Stillness. Stillness, as it continued to present during my many dances with the land and sea in Ireland, was very much invigorated and alive.
The rest of the wave unfolded. Staccato started only after a long time in Flowing; and I returned many times to Flowing even after I had fully entered Staccato. Staccato was not very energetic until Chaos began to appear, then the last burst of Staccato was very vigorous. I covered vast ground, moving far beyond the little circle I had drawn in the sand at the beginning of Flowing, all the while taking in the landscape even as it flashed across my field of vision in Chaos. In Lyrical I again played with my version of Irish step dancing. In Stillness I experimented with concentrating my energy field close to my body, then extending it far beyond my own edge. I ended the wave with my feet firmly planted and wide apart, holding my hands together in front of my chest, standing still and facing the sea, sensing myself as a colossus—taller even than the high, green cliffs.
The next day was the final day that I was able to dance in Ireland during this trip. As soon as I dropped Simon off at camp, I went to the secret beach, where it was again overcast and deserted. I spent some time creating an artwork, then drew a circle in the sand around myself and began to move in Flowing.
From the beginning, this wave was alive. In Flowing, I moved with ease and freedom far beyond the outlines of my little circle. The weather started to improve and a few people made their way down the cement stairs. Shy about occupying so much territory, I moved back behind some boulders, though I was still partially in view. Flowing shifted into Staccato and I covered even more distance, discarding my concerns.
I tracked the subtle shifts of energy, moving intuitively. The wave followed this pattern, if I recall correctly: Flowing, Staccato, Flowing, Staccato/Chaos, Staccato, Flowing, Flowing Chaos, Chaos, Flowing, Lyrical, Chaos, Lyrical, Chaos, Flowing, Flowing Lyrical, Stillness. I let everything in, deeply sensing the enormity and vast power of this incredible place. I went into Lyrical two or three times inside of Chaos, rising up onto my toes. In Stillness, I returned again to the original circle I had drawn in the sand. I invoked deities, helpers and guides, including Gabrielle Roth—the creator of the 5Rhythms practice—asking for help on my path, a clean heart, and the courage and insight to live my life in service to love.
I picked Simon up from the little, rural camp a little early since it was his last day. The camp included only children from the small, local villages; and most had multiple siblings. I told Simon I was incredibly proud of him for having the courage to step in and find his place there. As we moved toward the car, many of the children hung over the fence, waving, and calling out, “Bye, Simon!” The next day, we set out for home.
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.