Summer means something to me.
Daily routines during the school year can be crushing. Not only am I a teacher with a long list of roles and responsibilities, but I also work hard to support my own 12-year-old son in his learning.
There are many things to catch up on, projects I want to attend to, outings to plan, and many competing priorities.
But for the moment I’m in a Flowing space. Flowing is the first of the five rhythms in the 5Rhythms dance and movement meditation practice. It is receptive, circular, patient, grounded, and humble. It bides its time. It listens to the vibrations in the ground. It reminds me that if I try to charge forward without first finding my “ground” any actions will lack integrity.
It takes me awhile to change gears and trust that I don’t have to press to do every single thing in the most efficient way possible. I think it’s partly because the longer days make me feel like I have more time.
Even when I’m trying to work my way through my list, for the past week I’ve more or less drifted from task to task.
“You have to know what you want! You have to really see it, visualize it, know it as real, to make it a real thing!” Excellent job-seeking advice from a trusted advisor.
But I’m just not there.
I’m still detoxing, integrating, processing. I don’t know the way forward just yet. My practice at this moment has been to take a break from trying to know, and instead to dive into practice.
Today I practiced and practiced and practiced. I did sitting meditation, yoga-type movement, ran in the woods, and danced multiple 5Rhythms waves to music in the backyard at my parents’ house, where my son and I are staying for much of the summer.
I played with weight in the rhythm of Flowing, imaging my feet were weighted, or that they were made of metal and the ground was a magnet. Before long, I also imagined that my hands were weighted, dragging me toward the ground after a dramatic rise, and pulling me into endless circling. Moving into the rhythm of Staccato, the powerful ground that had been established opened the doorway for exuberant expression.
I have nothing tangible to show for these many hours spent in practice. And yet, the time feels well spent. To be honest, I don’t think there could be any better use of my time.
Later, as I ate dinner on the back deck with family, the sky started to rumble and wind coursed across the landscape like contour lines on an elevation map.
I sat myself down to meditate by my little altar as the sky opened, wracking every surface with pelting rain.
I remembered another thunderstorm, this one during a meditation retreat at Garrison Institute that I wrote about in 2019, during a period of community silence and relentless heat.
“We were told there was a severe weather alert and that if we felt nervous we could take shelter on the lower level of the building. The storm tore the sky apart, and it was like the outside came resoundingly inside the soaring, once-Franciscan-cathedral main hall. Still in silence, several of us made our way to the front steps where we had a view of the sweeping lawn and river. The pavement and plants gave off steam. Mist exhaled into the entryway and landed coolly on my exposed arms, legs, and face. A white cliff-waterfall on the other side of the river tripled its size. A woman seated next to me on the marble steps ate a crunching apple, savoring each bite.
Back in the meditation hall, the storm continued as mindfulness became increasingly concentrated. At one point, I realized it was too intense for me, and stepped into the foyer, intentionally interrupting practice. After a few minutes, I went back in and sat down on the cushion again. Then, I had a sharp, sudden sensation on the left side of my head, and was seized by the fear that I might be having a stroke.
I remembered something the vipassana teacher, Dipa Ma, once told a practitioner who was freaking out during a sitting period. She sat next to him and said, “If you can stay with this sensation, you will accumulate great merit.” I settled down and the flash of pain and fear soon faded.”
Later I realized this was an important turning point in my path; and revelations poured through in the coming days. I have always loved storms, but now a storm can feel like a blessing.
In the evening, I finally sat down to write about practice.
Today new information about the January 6th insurrection also poured in, and I am amazed to find that my jaw can still drop. For now, I am gathering, receiving, biding my time, and listening to the ground.
July 12, 2022, Broad Brook, Connecticut
I just lived through a difficult school year as a teacher at a public high school. Now that the rushing river of the school year has emptied me out into the ocean of the summer, I’m finding that I need to re-align myself before I’m even in a place to set new goals or imagine my own way forward.
Flowing is the first rhythm in the 5Rhythms map. For me, it is a place of humility, of supplication.
Today I created a circle in sand to move inside of, then danced to birdsong and the laughter of a shallow river over rocks. A simple prayer came through:
Help me to know
Help me to see
Help me to feel
Help me to be
In Flowing there are no experts. There are no showy moves, just movement. No beginning, no end, nothing to grasp toward, nothing to push away.
After this prayer arrived, I realized I need to allow myself to be less directed for a while.
For me, Flowing is where I re-align myself. Where I establish my mindfulness. Where I connect with my feet and let in whatever thoughts, emotions, sensations, or external phenomena appear, without forcing everything to have some kind of a supporting role in the ongoing story of myself. I try to move until it all flows by in the river of my mindstream.
Most days, I dance at least one full 5Rhythms wave as my practice.
Today, I was so absorbed in the rhythm of Flowing that I decided it was fine if I never left Flowing at all, and continued to circle, undulate, and rise and fall, different parts of my feet edging into the soft sand.
For now, I’m taking a break from professional goals, and committing myself wholeheartedly to personal practice.
Today, the rhythms of Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness did also arise, but I left with the intention to patiently embrace Flowing until Staccato breaks through and leads me in a clear direction.
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 three-class 5Rhythms series coming up that starts on July 15. Join a single class or join the full series for a discount. Registration is required – visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/heat-wave-waves-5rhythms-dance-movement-meditation-tickets-364331755087
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about feet.
The late afternoon sun on my closed eyelids lets me see the orange-red blood in the eyelid’s tiny capillaries. Turning away from the sun brings them back to shadow. My eyes still closed, I turn into the dazzling sun and back into shadow again and again, moving with my own breath. Bird song filters down from the tallest tree in the yard. Wind starts as a rustle at the tops of trees, then causes a progressive cooling on the exposed skin of my arms and face, as my feet softly turn, feeling every curve and dip of the ground.
But I begin with the end, with the rhythm of Stillness. There were so many things that led me here, to this quiet reckoning, to this cloudless sky.
The day was already getting away from me; and I was tempted to cancel or rush through a video call I had planned with a friend. And then it seemed that every corner of the house was full of sound: the vacuum cleaner, my ten-year-old son, Simon, on his own video call, lawn-mowing outside. I keep moving around trying to find a place I could actually hear and settle down. I’m sure I seemed spastic, and my friend even suggested it might be better to postpone. Finally, I found a quiet corner and settled in.
Speaking with her reconnected me to myself, and I left the call thinking it was time well spent.
Over the past few days, I’ve been engaged in an ongoing discussion with another friend on the subject of feet. She is deeplyimmersed in the practice and teaching of yoga, and is also a dharma teacher. She wrote about how the soles of the feet are connected to the different regions of the body, and how the feet are really the beginning of the chakra system. She also shared that there are many images depicting the feet with fanned flower petals underneath them, indicating that the entire body is supported by the “lotus feet.” She wrote, “As the lotus feet ‘bloom’ they encourage similar openings in the nervous system and subtle body.”
I found that I had some things to share from the perspective of the 5Rhythms about the subject of feet.
It is the feet that connect us to our intuition, our instinct. One of my teachers, Kierra Foster-Ba, often says, “We, like any other animal, get a lot of information from our feet,” including vibrations in the ground. In this way, the feet can be seen as a gateway to primal, unconditioned awareness.
Each of the 5Rhythms is associated with a body part; and the rhythm of the feet is Flowing. It is considered the receptive rhythm, where we are letting in, sourcing, and gathering energy and information.
I’ve been investigating my relationship to Flowing anew of late, especially as I’ve been dancing in the woods, gardening, and attending to nature’s cycles like the moon and the seasons since retreating from NYC because of the pandemic.
In 5Rhythms, some talk about “finding the feet” as the measure of embodiment in 5R practice. It is as though to what degree you have “found your feet” indicates your level of attainment. This can be interpreted in a straightforward way–actually paying continuous attention, on purpose, to the physical feeling of the feet on the ground.
Personally, I tend to generalize this a little more, and interpret “finding the feet” as establishing and maintaining profound mindfulness, while using the feet as the primary object of meditation.
The entire dance is built from the ground up, and there are times we return to Flowing, even when we have shifted into the other rhythms that follow in the wave: Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness.
My first movements into the rhythm of Flowing today seemed twittery, but before long, I resolved to drop my full attention and weight into one foot and then the other, and this opened me into generous, weighted circling. Sometimes my steps were even subsumed and pulled into the larger falling circling of the body.
A different friend shared that in one class she had started to feel bored in Flowing. I could totally relate. For many years, I was so eager to get from the first rhythm of Flowing to the second rhythm of Staccato that I had to force myself to stay in Flowing for longer than felt intuitive. I often felt bored in Flowing. It’s humble edgelessness held little appeal for me, and I was eager for the expression of Staccato and the explosive catharsis of Chaos.
I realized that I had severed my relationship to earthiness, and, in the process, to the ground. It took many years of devoted practice, especially working with the rhythm of Flowing, to begin to reclaim this relationship.
Thanks to my own song choices, I was dropped abruptly from Flowing into the rhythm of Staccato. I occasionally let out a warrior cry, and my body was dynamic, alive, finding every diagonal, bending and flexing, bouncing up and curving down, sticking my butt way out, then pushing my pelvis forward, with my knees and elbows talking loudly.
Though I so needed Chaos today, I had to talk myself into it. I imagined my body was moving on a roller coaster track, and my head was like the last car that hops a bit off the track at the end of the train’s whipping gesture. I had a lot of energy in this part, though it wasn’t until the second chaos song that I actually moved intensely enough to be out of breath. At one point the music paused and I leaned forward and held my hands out behind me then crashed them together, rocketing back as the beat kicked back in. I used up all the space available to me, kicking my heels behind me, cross-back-stepping, and flinging my arms up.
Lately in Lyrical, the top of my chest rises up. Today, I was so happy. I’m so happy for myself, that I got to be this happy. I found a tiny little mound of earth to stand on top of, twitter down the side of, twitter down the other side of, back, front; and then the beat dropped again, and every bit of me coiled and bounced, it was like I was on a trampoline, my arms flying way up, body effortless.
Lately, I sometimes make videos of myself dancing alone, and today, as I watch the video, I cry. I can’t believe how lucky I am, that I get to experience such joy. Lyrical only opened itself to me after many dedicated years of working with the ground, with the feet, and with the rhythm of Flowing. Before then, it felt totally unavailable.
I suspend my leg forward and pause, bounce back, then suspend it backward and pause.
Then, this beautiful song comes through the speakers and I close my eyes, noting the variations of light on my inner eyelids. And that brings me back to the beginning, to the Stillness I opened with, to the flashes of light and birdsong, to the rustling breeze and its effect on my skin.
The last thing I do before breaking down my equipment and going inside to cook dinner is walk on the soft earth, my feet alive and knowing, absorbing the messages the earth needs me to hear.
May 18, Broad Brook, Connecticut
Images: Simon’s feet on grass (photo by Meghan LeBorious), The Auspicious Lotus Feet of Lord Vishnu (vivianlawry.com), Self attending to music (photo by Meghan LeBorious)
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
I’m making a garden. Today, a local man came with a rototiller and churned the ground up, breaking through a thick layer of grass.
And yesterday I spent the afternoon planting flower seeds.
I haven’t experienced spring outside of a city since I left home for college in the 1990’s; and it has been fascinating. Cold is very slowly transitioning to hot. The trees are unfurling. Active, small creatures like squirrels, chipmunks, and birds romp at the edges of my perception. The field behind my parents’ house–where my ten-year-old son, Simon, and I are hoping to wait out the pandemic–is nearly solid yellow with dandelions. They would normally have been trampled by the high school athletes who use this field to practice, but this year they are abundant. Nearby, the grass and plants at the contours of one of the river’s gurgling feeder streams are emerald green now, translucent with sun energy.
Following my work day, I thought I would do a friend’s zoom class. After playing on the swing in the backyard with Simon I was running late, but decided to set up the speakers and computer outside and join anyway. As it turns out, I got the days mixed up. I knew I didn’t have time to pivot because of a work commitment later in the afternoon, so I decided to go with my setup and dance to a playlist I already had prepared.
Earlier, talking with a friend, I had recalled the gardens of my childhood. At Simon’s age, I had a big garden. My grandfather would help me till the soil and plant in late May, then I tended it myself. The first year or two, I had to haul water in my little wagon some distance every day to water my plants.
I spent hours there. I remember placing a pepper or other vegetable upright in the sun and sitting and staring at it for long periods, what I would now call a form of meditation, though I didn’t have (or need) language for it at the time. I remember eating the butter-and-sugar corn I grew slathered with butter at backyard summer dinners. I remember the dark dirt, the weeds, the sweat, the chicken wire fence, the dangling green beans, the prickly thistles, the crawling around on the damp, uneven soil between the rows.
Knowing my own son at this age, I marvel at my childhood ability to take on this big project and accomplish it without reminders, rewards, or adult interventions of any kind. I’ve been trying to help Simon learn to be a creative self-starter, but have faced challenges in getting him to buy in, perhaps not unusual for his generation. As a child, I had vast stretches of unstructured time, something that led me to learn and create without pressure and often without audience.
I became an urban person in my late teens, immersing myself in a totally-indoor underground dance world, and lost my affiliation with the earth.
My brother lived for many years in Colorado. Before then, I always said I was an “ocean person,” like some people say they are a “dog person” or a “cat person.” But when I went to visit him in Colorado and explored the raw, jagged Rocky Mountains, I decided I was a mountain person, too. I realized it was limiting to make myself be one or the other.
In the same way, in becoming so urban, I became not-earthy, not-rural, not-small-town.
But the truth is that I didn’t have to kick out one affiliation to insist on being another. They can both live in me. And now I’m remembering a nearly-lost self who had a numinous connection to natural phenomena, who followed the cycles of the moon, who read the tarot, who perceived everything as alive, and who studied nature-based religions with keen interest.
Back to the speakers and computer in the backyard, I decided to dance a wave. In 5Rhythms, that’s when we dance through each of the five rhythms in sequence: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness. I was tired, and I didn’t really think I would get into it. In fact, I weighed the possibility of doing yoga or going for a run as soon as I pushed through this short wave.
The speaker volume was way up and I started to move in circles and pay attention to my feet in the rhythm of Flowing.
Of the five rhythms, Flowing seems most foreign to my nature. In Flowing, we connect with the earth. We drop our weight and our attention down. There is a real humility to it. And to be honest, I have sometimes found it boring, and have been eager to rush into the fiery expression of Staccato and the explosiveness of Chaos. It’s almost like in sticking with Flowing, I’m just doing my due diligence.
It’s possible this disinterest in Flowing relates to the fact that for so long I disowned my earth-self in favor of a more desirable identity. It took years of bringing my attention to the feet again and again to even begin to find my relationship to Flowing. It took many more years to fall in love with it.
Today, I felt the soft earth under me as I moved, and let it be simple, let it hold me, let it call me.
My Dad appeared on the back steps and asked if I had any ideas for dinner. I gave my input, then returned my attention to the feet, finding increasing engagement.
In Staccato the music spoke to me; and I couldn’t help but be inspired to sink low, to travel, to explore my elbows, to exhale forcefully. A song I absolutely love played and I leapt and bounded, removing my shoes and bouncing directly on the soft grass. And another song I love. And another. This one was a coiling, fast-tempo jazz song in the transition from Staccato into Chaos.
By Chaos, I was untethered, spinning and bouncing back and forth; in a rushing, weighted, articulated spin with sailing head, low and pumping, light and loose. One knee has been sore with so much practice, but dancing on the grass protected it, and I went all out, traversing a wide radius.
In Lyrical I was ebullient, cascading to the ground and into the air, beaming, coursing an arm up and then another, crossing over, rising a kicking leg to the side, falling into a dramatic squat and rapidly uncurling in an upward whirlwind. I added one more Lyrical song since I was nowhere near done with this exploration. I rocked my elbows in a plane around me and let them pull me up into my side angles, nearly kicking up my heels.
It wasn’t until many years of dedicated work with Flowing and with the ground that Lyrical started to reveal itself to me, and since then it’s become a place I love to visit.
In Stillness I was still rushing, alive with light-sugar. The lowering sun peeked through the emerging tree leaves. When the song faded, I continued to move with everything, feeling the humming molecules of the ground, the trees, the small animals, and even of the plastic and metal around me.
I love taking my friend’s class, but I also love dancing alone, and it kind of seemed like a blessing that I’d mixed the days up. I love what individual practice teaches me. I love that it is self-generating, and that I don’t need anything but what’s inside of my own heart. And connecting with the land gives me endless things to dance to–a rich symphony of form, space, and energy.
I startled, remembering I had a work commitment at five, and ran to check the time.
I had another half hour, so I decided to practice yoga in the sunshine. Standing alert, with my feet flat on the warm patio, hands aloft, I spotted a bird of prey, almost invisible it was so high up–seeming to hover in the air, barely moving. Moving through several poses, each time I found myself on my feet and looked up, the far-off bird was still hovering in that one spot. Then, the next time I folded my head down, moved through a sequence, and rose back up, it had disappeared, leaving nothing but endless blue sky.
Simon and I raked the grass clumps out of the newly-tilled plot that will be our garden, hauled them to the edge of the lawn, and dumped them into a raucous pile.
Later, I ran in the woods on a path along the Scantic River. White and grey clouds began to roil and it started to rain. I danced with the river’s currents, seeing into the depth and contours of the river because of the lack of sun glare. I saw the land’s contours above the water line, too, and perceived the continuations of the rivers and streams with all other flowing water.
I found a peaceful spot to meditate, patiently noting each cold rain droplet on my exposed hands and face, grateful to be in the woods, grateful to be sitting on the soft sand of the river bank, grateful to be alive, grateful to the earth.
May 6, 2020, Broad Brook, Connecticut
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
“Yeeaaah, definitely heel spurs. Both feet. See?” The doctor points at a section in the middle of my right foot on the x-ray that really should be shadowy black, but instead shows white, almost as dense as nearby bones.
As early as February, when I participated in the five-day heartbeat workshop “Anatomy of Emotions,” pain in my feet has been excruciating. They kept getting worse and worse, but I told myself I would only have to tolerate it until I finally manage to become enlightened, at which point pain would have much less influence on me. Just keep practicing, I told myself. If I practice with devotion, if I am relentless in interrogating the stories that limit me, and if I stay connected to raw, unfiltered presence, things will shift radically and this foot pain won’t be such a big deal. Some days, I winced through every step, but still managed to find freedom and inspiration. I even saw the pain as helpful, in that it brought me right into my feet and into the body.
After the “Elemental” workshop in April, my feet got still worse. It would have been difficult to spot, as I still swooped and soared, but I knew I had to seek help, not just hope that enlightenment would eventually free me. A friend suggested I visit an orthopedic doctor who specializes in working with extreme athletes.
After months of trying to get an appointment and waiting for it to arrive, I finally found myself in his office. He explained the x-ray, “When the muscles and fasciae of the foot are very tight, they pull on the heel bone, inside the arch. In response, the heel creates a little spur of bone for them to hang onto. It is essentially made up of calcium deposits.” He connected me with a physical therapist to would could teach me the MELT routine for working with painful feet, and proposed that if I could get the fasciae to relax, the pain from the heel spurs might decrease.
The doctor also noted that my feet, indeed my muscles generally, are very tight. “I know. Massage therapists always say that. I do stretch, though; and I do a lot of work to release tension from the body…” “Oh, yeah, that’s just how some people are. It’s genetic, to a large extent.” “Really? That’s super helpful. I’ve always secretly thought it was some sort of character flaw.” “No, that’s just how some people are built,” he re-iterated.
On the way into class about 10 days after starting the MELT routine, I saw Tammy Burstein, the teacher. “Tammy, I have heel spurs! I just wanted to let you know. That’s why I’ve been leaving early the last couple of weeks. I’m trying to get them to calm down a little.” She spoke as she moved across the threshold, “Work with the ground. There is a lot to learn there.” “Yeah, I know that’s right,” I said, still wondering if it might not be better to leave a little early.
After my appointment with the orthopedic doctor, I decided it would be wise to wear dance shoes to cushion my heels, at least for a little while. I love being barefoot; and this pained me. I also felt old. And I feared that the injury would be permanent, that for the rest of my career as a dancer I would be gimped with pain.
I arrived to Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves class on time. My neck ached fiercely, perhaps from a few straight days of writing feverishly, working on several projects. Some seeds that I planted in years previous have come up and it is with great delight that I set about watering and tending the young plants.
I reflected that people who dance 5Rhythms regularly seem almost inevitably to find their path–their unique, fully realized contribution. It is remarkable, really. I thought I was on one path, of being an artist, pushing the boundaries of artmaking, sacrificing, expanding, challenging and risking. But life has revealed something entirely different. And, to my great surprise, this one is perfect, too!
A couple of weeks after the doctor’s appointment, I finally met with the MELT practitioner to learn the routine. She explained that MELT is a kind of massage you do for yourself, and that once I learned the foot routine and got a set of MELT balls I would be on my own. Alternating between four balls of varying hardness and size, I pressed, rolled and wiggled strategic parts of my feet. “This is really going to help me get to know my feet better,” I said as I rolled the largest, hard ball down each knuckle line of my right foot. “There is something about the feet, the ground. There is a humility to it,” I pontificated to my captive audience. “I haven’t always been so good at humility. To be honest, I’ve always preferred to soar.”
I thought about the experience of doing walking meditation, particularly when I am on a meditation retreat. Sometimes to keep my mind engaged, I shift my attention from toe to toe in sequence and then to different parts of the foot. Never had I so thoroughly articulated the different parts of the foot as I did on this day, however. “How do you feel?” She asked. “Do your feet seem a little flatter?”
After the MELT routine, she showed me some physical therapy exercises to help with general foot strength, including separating the toes and moving each one separately. It was like trying to bend a spoon with the power of my mind. As I bent over toward them and squinted my eyes in focus, the toes quivered with effort, then moved in unison. Only the big toe could really move independently. She assured me that I could develop the ability over time.
I spoke with my Dad by phone, and he reported that for the first time ever in his small, semi rural Connecticut town, a budget referendum had passed on the first try. In an aging, politically red town, it was for several education reforms and improvements. He explained, with an exclamation point in his previously discouraged voice, that a group of parents had banded together to demand change and it had worked. He and his allies on the Democratic Town Committee, a group that grooms and promotes socially conscious political candidates, wasted no time in meeting with the group, encouraging them to consider working together, and maybe to consider public office in the future.
Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class has been my Friday night appointment every week for the last ten years. On this night, nearly a quarter of participants were dancing the 5Rhythms for the first time. Tammy instructed us to partner, then said “change” again and again, re-configuring partnerships, perhaps in part to move some chatty newcomers away from their BFF’s and deeper into the dance.
Because of the heel pain, I felt sorry for myself for a good 5, maybe 10 minutes and even sobbed briefly, dejected by the side of the room, moving only slightly. Then it wasn’t so bad. I could still move. I still got a good groove and had all the energy I needed. I let go of the story I was telling myself about the pain and it didn’t bother me as much.
Curiously, I was reminded of a period when I had lower back pain. I loved to grind into the deepest edges of my back, to flip and coil, to roll and twist with vehemence. Eventually, I realized that I had to back away from the edges in my back, to deeply soften. In following years, I’ve learned to find precision and work with the same edges in a different way, and rarely experience pain. Similarly, I realized that I have to back out of the edges in my feet. A tiny, shrewd little pivot in the foot that catalyzes an epic, syncopated gesture throughout my entire body causes pain at the moment unless the heel is already fully released back and down.
Throughout the class I danced on my own and in partnership, with abundant energy and engagement. The fierce neck pain totally disappeared; and I made it all the way through class, even surprised to learn that time went slightly over. I moved with joy and ease, working with the ground periodically even during energetic experiments, jiggling and vibrating my hips with one partner, moving in blocked parts with a smiling, heavily muscled man, and moving in joyful, collective Chaos, creating my dance from the feet up, from the grass roots, from the foundation.
June 23, 2018, Brooklyn, NY
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.