I went into the woods on December 26th with a heavy heart.
Like most years, I spent the holidays with family in Northern Connecticut. It had been a delightful few days and I was counting my blessings.
Still, I couldn’t shake this heaviness.
Parenting has been a heavy lift lately. I’m working hard to find the right construct for my bright, talented 12-year-old, where he feels included, motivated, and inspired; and we definitely have not hit the right balance in the past year and half.
I tried to talk myself out of it, arguing that my parents are growing older and I should be enjoying every second I have with them.
But still the painful heaviness persisted.
The air was frigid as I made my way to the river. I chose a favorite spot and picked up a branch to clear dead, wet leaves away, creating a sandy circle. I invited my ancestors, guides, and deities to help me see what I needed to see.
There was agony in my chest and back and I wondered if I would even be able to move. Almost as soon as I began to drop my weight and circle – the soft river sand yielding under my running shoes – I began to sob. I continued to allow difficult feelings to move through me as I invited more and more of me to release to gravity and to endless, circling motion.
Flowing is the rhythm of the ground, of the instinctive self, of receptivity, and of raw, unfiltered experience.
I stayed in Flowing for a long time, late enough that the winter sun started to shift and spotlight through the trees on the other side of the river.
I realized that anxiety had taken me over in recent weeks, especially with respect to my son’s schooling. I was focused on the future, toggling through all possible dangers and scenarios. I was sacrificing the present for a desired later time, and I was acting out of fear.
I told myself that I had to find a way to be in this present, even if it is uncertain and frightening, and even as we continue to make plans and make moves. I also realized that my fear could easily be interpreted as a lack of confidence in my only son. At moments I howled with emotion, thankful I was alone in the woods.
After an hour or more, I shifted into the rhythm of Staccato, with the sun dipping low and dappling and the white sky draining of light.
Anything can happen; and practice doesn’t always shift painful and difficult states, but on this day it did. I moved through the rest of the rhythms with engagement, eventually growing quiet and moving like a whisper.
Resolving to be a more skillful parent, I went home and hugged my son tightly, telling him how proud of him I am and how much I love him.
The next day was warmer.
My circle was still visible on the sandy bank, and I redrew its edges with a stick, then began to move in Flowing, the first of the 5Rhythms. After a short time, I naturally and seamlessly found myself in Staccato, the second rhythm. I exhaled, I moved with clarity, found angles with the knees and elbows, and explored the different shapes that were coming through.
Staccato is the rhythm of taking bold action in this world, of making moves, of creating systems; and it is the rhythm of the heart. I realized I was dancing prayers, and, as the day before, moved through each of the rhythms, and remained engaged for a long time. Once I moved through a full wave and found myself in Stillness, I pushed off of the 5Rhythms map and simply moved with the woods, the river, and inner and outer forces.
The third day was warmer still. It is over a week ago now, but I can remember my delight at finding my circle still undisturbed, the comfort of redrawing its edges, and the feeling of losing myself in movement, of total immersion. After moving through all of the rhythms and drawing a ribbon of prayer through each, I danced a snowy owl, imagining what it would be like to sense the edges of things with the tips of my powerful wings, and scanning for subtle movement in the underbrush.
I ran back up the big hill toward home, feeling grateful and bright. My eye caught on a white feather on the side of the road. I looked up and the first thing I saw was a snowy owl statue on a neighbor’s front porch, its wings outstretched, ready to soar, ready to greet a new year.
Meghan LeBorious is a 5Rhythms teacher, meditator, artist, mother, and writer. She has been on the 5Rhythms dancing path since 2008. She was moved to write about her experiences following her very first 5Rhythms class; and has been writing about them ever since. This blog in independently generated and is not sanctioned or produced by the 5Rhythms organization.
The movie brought both of us to tears. It was the 2009 “Where the Wild Things Are” and my 12-year-old son, Simon, and I couldn’t believe that we had somehow missed it – given our shared love of the same children’s book. Near midnight, Simon sat with his head resting on me, crying the spilled-over tears of a full-heart, and perhaps a backlog of other experiences. Tears poured down my cheeks, too.
The previous day, I’d heard an interview with a religious leader who argued against classifying anything as “spiritual.” It got me to thinking about what “spiritual” means to me, and why I might (or might not) choose to define anything as spiritual.
As I sat in the quiet dark, holding my soon-to-be-teenage child, and flowing with him as strong emotions arose, I felt we were sitting in a rain of golden oak leaves and light. That a portal opened up, and there was nothing but this very moment. That I couldn’t imagine how it could ever be possible to love a human being more than I did in this moment.
If “spiritual” is a thing for me, it would have to encompass this moment.
To me, “spiritual” means recognizing and collaborating in beauty. And by beauty, I mean what’s real and alive, even if that means broken, messy, awkward, or complicated.
In the Zen Buddhist tradition, it’s said that you can point at the moon with your finger as a way of providing teaching, though the pointing can never be the actual moon. Here are 100 finger pointing instructions toward what “spirituality” might be:
- Sitting with my brand-new, tiny son in the early hours of morning, watching a train glide by the window, watching the moon, watching snow glitter on the branches near the window
- Sitting with my 12-year-old son as he empties his heart, connecting with what matters most to him, and working through what has challenged him in recent months
- A snowy owl on the dunes at Riis Park Beach that twists its head around, then lifts off in expanded flight low along the beach
- Catching my mom in a hug as tears well up in her eyes, seeing her gratitude for the people who are alive, present, and joyful at this year’s family Easter celebration, and her grief for those who are no longer with us
- Practicing the 5Rhythms in community in a friend’s class, feeling inspired, exhausted, creative, alive, aggrieved, hopeless, and motivated all in just two hours time
- Meditating in the pre-dawn hours as light seeps into the sky
- The Rocky Mountains
- Exquisite cheese
- Having candlelight breakfast every day
- Running and diving into the ocean, then doing butterfly timed with the swelling waves
- My grandfather making the sign of the cross every time he stepped into the sea, then floating on his back with his ankles crossed, staring up at the blue sky
- My sister’s extraordinary ability to animate puppets with breath
- Having clear closets and clean weekly systems
- My father’s commitment to meaningful civic action
- My mother’s commitment to disrupting the status quo in favor of beauty and human dignity
- My uncle’s tireless work to create a community health center
- Beach glass
- Dancing with the sea
- Song swelling in the body then expressed as vibration
- Dancing with fireflies
- Having a fuzzy caterpillar crawl across your bare foot
- Eating burritos on the top of a mountain with my brother
- The ocean at night
- A story that makes me ache
- A joke that gets wrapped around four times, including everyone in the humor, yet impossible to re-tell
- When your best friend answers your text right away and sends an emoji that perfectly matches how you’re feeling
- The joy of wonderful-smelling deodorant
- When linear time loosens its grip and you are free to move through multiple dimensions
- The first garden tomatoes of the season
- Falling in love more after you break up
- Getting to know your grandfather more after he transitions to after-living
- Petals blowing all over my Brooklyn street in early spring
- Missing the train
- Snow under streetlights
- Daylight savings when it means more daylight
- Daylight savings when you’re forced to return to the austerity of winter
- My spirit entourage
- Being somewhere no one can catch you in their gaze
- Being in front of an audience
- My mother’s love of rich pattern
- The densest, coldest, deepest part of the Hudson River
- Protected space
- Parking tickets
- Patient attention with no agenda
- Being reprimanded by your boss
- Speaking your truth
- Cutting through bullshit
- Going on a hike with a big group of people you barely know
- A reflective glacial lake with no boats
- Ley lines
- The movie E.T.
- When smell opens memories
- Bedtime routines
- Singing to my son
- Singing with my Dad (even when he gives me evil eye if I’m off key)
- Straining to sing a lyric
- Resonating and singing a challenging lyric with ease
- Singing publicly
- Singing alone
- The incense and candles at Catholic church
- The sound of rivers
- Horrific boredom
- Poorly fitting underwear
- Puppy enthusiasm
- Holidays when no one gets too drunk
- Meditating on the beach in the early morning
- Snow angels
- When your mind gets so quiet you can hear energy
- When your eyes get so quiet you can see molecules
- Traffic jams
- Dancing while in labor
- Dancing to integrate failure
- Dancing to remember your place in things
- Dancing everywhere
- Snowy owls
- Did I mention owls?
- River spirits
- Card games
- Dancing the grief of spirits
- Dancing with birds in flight
- Dancing your relationships
- Dancing your life cycles
- Sleeping through the entire night and remembering your dreams when you wake up
- Turning off the flashlight and walking through pitch black woods at night while listening to owls, wolves, and stars
- Clear water in glass bowls
- When someone paraphrases you so well they show you something you didn’t realize you said
- Avocado with lemon
- Having somewhere with a beautiful view to write
In the beginning I didn’t think this would be anywhere near 100 items, but I felt happy and playful as the list grew.
I do very much believe there is value in setting up “spiritual” practices and spaces. The sands of our daily lives are so quick to bury anything that isn’t on our daily task list that it is essential to intentionally create space and time for spiritual work.
But that doesn’t mean anything in our experience should be excluded. On the contrary, there is nothing that can’t be seen as part of our “spiritual” life, as food for our spiritual growth, as an opportunity to step more fully into this wild dance of love.
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 and videos courtesy of the writer.
Image is a still from the 2009 movie “Where the Wild Things Are”
The hardest part of my experience right now is parenting.
I don’t feel like I have the skill set for this. Some days my ten-year-old son, Simon, and I ricochet off of each other, caught in a cycle of reactivity. Today, he called me a “jerk” repeatedly, told me I’m “the worst parent in the world,” and told me he hates me. I said, “Sorry you feel that way.” When I asked if he preferred to go hiking or biking today, he screamed and cried at maximum volume, protesting. Sometimes I feel like he only wants to play video games (something I virtually prohibited before this time), and is trying to make life so miserable that I will just leave him to it. It’s true, too, that he is suffering with all the painful changes and uncertainty. I said, “Ok, I’m sorry you’re feeling this way. We’re leaving in ten minutes.”
And that was all just in the morning.
It hasn’t been easy to help him be active, especially since there are no other kids to wrestle or run with. Yesterday, we went to a big field with a kite, and took turns running to get it to fly. We laughed as it zigged and zagged, sprinting to avoid getting dive-bombed.
We also discovered a toad on the back deck, a phenomenon that delighted Simon.
So some days have been better than others.
For the time being, I’m parent, playmate, teacher, athletic coach, and, as he told me yesterday, “You’re my therapist, Mommy.”
Despite some nice moments mixed in with the challenging ones, by afternoon my patience was shot. I left Simon (after much coaxing) in a zoom meeting with his friends and in the care of my parents and went for a run.
I felt strong, my lungs expanded from anger, my leg muscles flushed with blood, preparing to fight or flee. Arriving at the soft trail by the Scantic River, I picked up my pace, trying to let my feet relax completely with each pounding step.
I did two fast loops, then decided to dance a 5Rhythms wave, choosing a sandy spot where I wasn’t visible to anyone. I turned in circles, gravitating to a flat spot. My brain rushed with the events of the past hour and of the day. I scanned my body, noting fire at the bottom of my esophagus, the seat of my anger at the moment. I also noticed my shoulder wasn’t moving much, and invited it into motion.
Gradually, more of my body joined the circling, and thinking started to settle down. I breathed in the anger I was experiencing, then started to breathe in the anger many parents are experiencing at this time, and to breathe out equanimity. I was practically gulping in air at this point. I also started to breathe in the fear that many parents are experiencing, and to breathe out equanimity, again. Then, I started to cry in big, jagged sobs and to wail. I realized I’m afraid that Simon will acquire habits that will lead to an unhappy life, that I’m afraid about the long-term effects of social isolation, and that I feel powerless in a situation that I very much wish to control.
I stayed a long time in Flowing, and when I finally did move into the second rhythm of Staccato, I could feel myself wanting to collapse. “I can’t” my mind kept saying. This time, I really had to rely on practice. I chose directions to move into, emphasized the out-breath, and gave my attention to the hips. Still, there was something in me that wanted to crumble, and something that kept my heart from being totally open. I gave myself permission to not know what to do, but kept trying to stay alive to the woods, to the rushing current, to the blue heron that took to the sky and landed on a branch nearby.
Schedule changes, different approaches, and different perspectives I could implement to improve things came to mind.
The third rhythm of Chaos surprised me in arriving. Today, I was ardent, giving myself to the fire with a great deal of energy. My head came loose and wheeled itself around, though there was still a hint of holding in the sides of my neck. I growled–crying, spitting, sweating. I started to move into the fourth rhythm of Lyrical, then pulled myself back, acknowledging the need for letting go today, and moved a little longer in intentional abandon.
Moving into Lyrical, I said out loud, “I give myself permission to be as light as possible.” The loudness of my breath, feet, and thoughts dissolved. Now even quieter, I could hear active rustling at the heights of the trees, the river gurgling around its obstacles, and birds calling to each other.
Stillness, the fifth rhythm, comes easily in this place, and I closed my eyes, continuing to move softly, breathing in and out with everything around me.
I was called to sitting meditation and settled myself down on the clean sand by the river. Still, even after all this catharsis and sweat, my mind felt unstable. After a period, I let go of meditating, shifting into just being. At that point, my mind became very precise. I noticed a dazzle in the far woods, rippling water, a subtle muscle release in my foot, pressure on my sit bones, tension in my shoulder, a flicker of thought, breath, the light on the water, rippling water again, tension in the jaw.
I was able to follow these shifts of attention with great agility.
Eventually, the sound of approaching hikers shook me from these depths and I set off for home, running back up the hill I ran down and returning to my parents’ house, feeling like I had a secret. The seemingly impossible challenges felt manageable again; and I had new insights about how to handle them.
When I arrived, I jumped straight into the shower, scrubbing myself down with a rough washcloth.
I reflected that I am open to working with so much that is difficult in my experience, but when it comes to parenting, there is something in me that refuses to have a growth mindset, that wants to retract, to refuse to accept that it’s both challenging and workable, and instead to shut down.
My mom came in as soon as I got out of the shower to report some challenges that had arisen while I was gone.
All of the space I had found in the woods seemed to collapse, and weight settled onto my chest again. My resolve crumbled, and I stepped back into the messy work of parenting, praying, for all the world, that I will somehow find a way, that I will stop saying, “I can’t” because there is no other option right now except “I must.”
May 23, 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.
Things I wrote even two or three days ago seem so dated now. The pandemic is intensifying in this region.
I’m in the eleventh day of a 14-day quarantine in an apartment attached to my parents’ house, along with my ten-year-old son, Simon. We are in quarantine because we just came from Brooklyn, NYC, the epicenter of the United States coronavirus plague, and I’m afraid to expose my parents.
Fear, sadness, and anxiety come in waves.
My work is to teach meditation to teens in a Brooklyn High School, and in a matter of days, like many other teachers, I had to make the pivot to online teaching. I’ve been working tirelessly to engage my students, but at this point less than half are actively participating in the online class. So I sent an email to their parents to let them know their students’ status. One parent responded that she is working 12 hour shifts and it is hard to keep up with her child’s assignments.
I realized how insensitive my email was, given the circumstances.
Some of the parents of my students are low wage health care workers. Many are working long shifts caring for people infected with coronavirus, seeing up close how horrific the disease can be. They are risking their lives, day after day after day. Some are doing it because of altruism and a deep calling to serve. Some are doing it because they absolutely have to work, and do not have the resources to take any time off. Many are single parents.
This is a slap in the face about the real impact of bias in our society, and one of the infinite ways coronavirus is disproportionately impacting communities of color. I thought about the privilege of being able to withdraw from NYC, and the fact that there are many people who don’t have the same option.
And I’m seriously bugging parents about their kids doing their classwork. Really?
Some of my students have a parent or grandparent who already has the virus.
There is now an emergency tent hospital in the middle of central park. A US Navy hospital ship arrived Monday to help exhausted health care workers as they toil, often lacking even basic protective supplies.
In answer to a writing prompt, “What is one thing you wonder?” One student wrote, “I wonder if it’s even safe to go outside and get a breath of fresh air.”
Every day, I start with a period of meditation, before the sun is even up. I transported my entire altar box and all of its contents to our new location, and re-created the exact altar that I had in Brooklyn right before we left. I also brought many of my cherished books, and arranged them beautifully near the altar.
Lately, my morning meditation feels more like prayer than meditation, as I focus energy and attention on wishing health and safety for everyone I love and for all beings, mixed with other meditation practices and contemplations.
I have to clock in to work at 8:15 but most days I start long before, after taking a shower, trying my best to get Simon oriented to his schoolwork, and having breakfast.
I make sure we get outside at lunchtime, and again after my workday ends at 2:50. We play on the swing in the yard and laugh. Sometimes I can even convince Simon to play soccer or take a bike ride with me.
Yesterday, I heard my mom crying through the wall, and learned that the son of one of her friends is in hospice.
Today, she told me that my cherished great aunt is not doing well, either. Her 100th birthday is this spring, but since she has been isolated and has no visitors, and therefore nothing to anchor her to this world, she has been dissolving into spirit. She lives next door to my parents’ house, in the same house that she and my paternal grandfather grew up in with their parents, my great grandparents.
I wanted to run next door to support her in her transition. I rushed out in the direction of the house, without even a coat, and just stood there, crossing my arms to hold my sides, knowing that I couldn’t go in. That I wouldn’t have a chance even to say good-bye.
I was crying, of course. And Simon wanted to know why I was crying. I told him and he started crying, too. We went for a walk, talking about what happens after you die and sharing jokes. I brought up Gabrielle Roth, the mother of the 5Rhythms practice, and told him I didn’t think dying was so bad for her. He said, “Yeah, but she was this crazy witch dancer…” I didn’t respond but had to smile, at least for a moment.
I don’t know what I would do if it weren’t for practice. Most days I do yoga, which helps me to feel grounded and flexible.
I also dance the 5Rhythms for at least one wave a day. And I’ve been recording myself, which is a new habit. I can’t even keep the videos because they take up too much space, but it is interesting to watch myself when I play it back in the evening.
Today, Flowing did not come easily. It was hard to settle down, and I noticed that I wanted to move into Staccato quickly. Maybe there was just too much to let in today.
I can hear Simon talking with his friends on video chat throughout the video as I play it back…One source of private guilt is that pretty much all of the time that I’m in formal practice, he’s on a screen chatting with friends or playing Roblox with them. He blows through his schoolwork in under two hours most days.
At the start of the video, I squat in front of the altar and dedicate my practice to my ailing great aunt, Mae Grigely, and acknowledge the power of practicing for someone else.
Staccato never fully ignites today, either.
In Chaos I come alive though, with speed, resistance, release, and wild surrender, spinning and letting momentum fling me to all kinds of edges. The gap when the beat drops out seems to be when I get the most creative.
The Chaos Lyrical song I chose is 165 beats per minute, and I twitter wildly, racing to express the layered, exploding sounds. I pause briefly and leave the room to address one of Simon’s questions, then resume this ultra fast dance, responding more and more to the melody and less to the wild rhythm and rising upward as the track evolves.
In the second Lyrical track I am transported, moving with soaring undulations, the afternoon sun in one vertical rectangle catching different parts of my body as I move.
In Lyrical Stillness I cry throughout the track, singing part of the lyric in jagged gasps. I cry again watching myself. I look so alive and so sad. My heart was broken in this part, is broken.
“Ewwwwww!” Simon screams from the other room, for some unknown reason.
I whisper-sob through the last song, sensing my grandfather, who once lived in the very room that I am dancing in. He loved the ocean, and would make the Christian sign of the cross as he waded into the sea. He would fold his hands behind his head, cross his ankles, and float on the bobbing waves for long periods with his face to the clouds. He was a man of few words, but I always thought this was a kind of prayer for him.
I end in a squat in front of the altar, as I had started, dedicating the merit of my practice to my aunt and to all beings everywhere.
Today, this period seems more like a time of survival than of possibility. One of my meditation teachers led an online practice and talk tonight, and he reminded us to do what we can to stay connected to our humanity. My practices encourage me to open to the reality I’m immersed in, knowing that every moment is a chance to deepen in my ability to be present, even when it is uncomfortable, stressful, painful, or sheer agony.
In the words of Pema Chӧdrӧn in Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, “If you can stay present in even the most challenging circumstances, the intensity of the situation will transform you. When you can see even the worst of hells as a place where you can awaken, your world will change dramatically.”
May it be so. Blessed be.
March 31, 2020, Broad Brook, CT
(Photo1: military.com, photo2: News7)
“Mommy I hear a glow on you,” my eight-year-old son, Simon, told me when I spoke with him for the first time after three days of silence. I had been in the woods, wondering at the complex root systems of the trees underneath the forest path I walked on, sitting at length in a meditation hall, eating in silence, and noting the intensity of a thick heat wave.
When I spoke with him, I was in the middle of a week-long retreat with 90 other educators who are entering an intensive, yearlong program for teaching Mindfulness to youth. The retreat center, Garrison Institute, was formerly a Franciscan monastery, but has been repurposed for use by groups of any and all spiritual traditions.
The meditation hall was once a cathedral, and still has inlaid wood floors, soaring, curved heights with a circular narrative of symbols in stained glass, and an overlooking balcony that may have once housed the pipes of a resonant organ. Half of the space was populated with meditation cushions and chairs, arranged in a semicircle facing the four teachers.
During the first morning of practice, the teachers provided considerable physical instructions and we did sitting and walking meditation throughout the morning. In stages, they described three fundamental “anchors,” or places to hold the attention, including breath, body sensations, and sound, suggesting finally that we pick one anchor to work with. I chose breath, and so returned my attention again and again to the physical feeling of breathing.
Before lunch, one of the teachers, Kaira Jewel Lingo, gave instructions for mindful eating. “Eating is a celebration,” she said in her remarkably gentle voice. I heard, We can consider all of the many people and conditions that had to come together in order for this meal to come to us. We can really take the time to notice all of the flavors and textures of each bite. We can chew until the food is really liquid before we swallow it.
Despite my increasing mindfulness, lunch seemed kind of bland. To remedy this, I shook a bottle of tobasco sauce vigorously over my plain brown rice. Within a few bites, my eyebrows raised in shock and my tongue and lips burned. I had also spooned on a considerable amount of chunky salt, and after the first wave of heat started to normalize, a salt crystal landed on the tip of my tongue. I raised my eyebrows still further, continuing a roller coaster of culinary sensation. I got up to investigate the label on the tobasco sauce, my lips still on fire. Surely this must be a special edition, habanero, extra spicy tobasco sauce? It couldn’t possibly be the same tobasco that I regularly douse my food with? I was surprised to learn that it was in fact regular, standard tobasco sauce, the exact same.
Setting out for a walk in the woods after lunch, I chose the only path that seemed available. After a short time, I chose to veer left from the path and crossed a bridge over railroad tracks. To my delight, this path emptied onto a big rock formation at the edge of the Hudson River. I felt slightly tired, but hoped I could dance a wave, moving through each of the 5Rhythms – Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness – in sequence, the fundamental ritual of my core practice. Instead, after moving with noise in my ears for a few moments, I clicked into a groove and entered directly into Stillness, moving gently with breath, expressing the different currents of the river and ribbons of energy as they reached me. It was as though someone had turned the sound off on the world. I moved closer to the edge of the water, descending to where waves created by passing boats touch the rock. A gentle Staccato found me, the rhythm that has had the most to teach me lately – the rhythm of form, expression, direction, and of making things in the world. I moved with my arms and hips to the flips and curves and edges and advances and retractions of the relationship between water and rock.
Back in the meditation hall in the afternoon, I felt slightly sick, constricted through the diaphragm, and hot at the level of the face. Lately I have recognized the need to be able to release energy when I am overfull, like a pressure valve. How to do this hasn’t been exactly clear, however. It seems that the energy of mindfulness has its own strong momentum. Once I’m in the stream of mindfulness, I can’t just say, “OK, I’m not going to be mindful anymore.” Then, I just start being mindful of trying not to be mindful. In this case, I stepped briefly out of the meditation hall, letting go of the attitude of concentration, and that seemed to regulate me.
Reflecting later, I considered this progress in my practice. I’ve been reluctant to back off of my edges in the past, occasionally resulting in depression and ill ease. After these few short moments of casual attitude in the foyer, I re-entered the hall and took my seat among my peers in a more relaxed state.
Another of the four teachers, Erin Woo, presented a talk that evening on the topic of authenticity, and the many limiting stories we tell ourselves that diminish authenticity. She included personal examples of a story that has impacted her own experience, the story of “not good enough.”
During the final walking period of the evening, the early July sky lit with sunset. I stood on an overlook, facing the Hudson river and a wide field. I gasped as the field and bordering woods shimmered, alive with fireflies. I was concerned about seeming like a show-off, and of hogging the space of the overlook, but I slipped into motion, tracking the fast appearing and disappearing lanterns of the little bugs, again in Still Staccato, spine released, and long, ranging gestures with sudden stops and dips, and with occasional twitters in the hands and fingers, expressing the tiny dots and pauses of light that danced in the field below.
Silence wrapped luxuriously around me. Part of the instructions for silence were to avoid even eye contact. I felt too meek with my eyes cast down, so I held my head up instead, occasionally meeting people’s gazes and lighting up slightly. In the past, I have inhabited silence with a hard line, entering so deeply into my own small space that I might even feel the need to defend it if someone spoke with me or made beseeching eye contact. In this case, although I was in silence and very much turning in to the experience of my own inner body, I was still part of the collective field, and remained energetically porous and connected to the people around me.
A moving bell at 6.45AM mingled with my dream state and woke me on the third day of the retreat, which happened to be the 4th of July. After a morning stretch, meditation period, and breakfast, I walked in the woods again. I felt enveloped by the tunnel of trees, and imagined the deep and complex root systems which allow the trees to communicate, even crossing under the very path on which I walked. This time, I cried at length, thinking about the current state of the country. I reflected especially on the fact that its current prosperity is due in large part to the labor and subjugation of enslaved peoples, and to the land taken without remorse from its original inhabitants. An extra painful history to consider at this time, especially as racism and xenophobia have increased exponentially.
The teachers offered a taste of many different practices, and during the afternoon session, another teacher, Robert Thomas, offered a practice that involves open awareness, letting go of a reference point or anchor and hanging out in open space. As we prepared to move out of the meditation hall to practice walking meditation, he suggested that we consider gazing upward toward sky.
I made my way to a hallway of tucked away classrooms, but finding them already occupied continued on to a covered walkway between two second-floor sections of the main building. Three people were already there, arms resting on the balustrade, gazing upward. After some moments, a low growling began to emerge from the darkening sky.
At the end of the walking period, I made my way back to the main hall and took my seat again as the sky continued to rumble. After longer than I expected, rain began to pelt the high ceiling, creating a loud hush. After some moments of meditation, the retreat manager announced that there was an emergency weather advisory, suggesting that some might wish to leave the big cathedral and move to the basement level. No one seemed inclined, but the teachers suggested a five-minute break in case people wanted to close windows or decline to practice in the main hall during the storm.
Along with several others, I made my way to the front steps, where the sweeping vista of the Hudson River was blurred by heavy rain. The heavy wooden doors were each held by one retreatant. Without hesitation, I stepped out into the rain, tipping my head back and letting rain pour over me, grateful after several days of grueling heat. Acknowledging the frequent lightning, I returned to the stone steps under cover, and sat in silence. A woman next to me ate an apple with decisive crunching bites. Two enthusiastic birds continued to sing in the bushes to the right of the doorway. Mist from the rain landed on my forearms and cheeks. Across the wide river, a cliff waterfall I hadn’t noticed before swelled to three times its size, crashing with white water.
A bell summoned us back to the meditation hall, but some of us lingered on the steps, breathing the storm in.
Returning to our seats, the storm continued to activate the big room. I found myself rapt, counting the spaces between the thunder and lightning, aware of the dynamic, dimensional space of the sky around the building and of its intersection with the inside. At one point, I felt terror approach from the left, from the direction of a simultaneous flash of lightning and crack of thunder. My vision got weird and I felt terrified: heat, sick, rising. For a moment I was afraid I might be having a stroke. The words of an Indian master to one of her students came to mind, “Don’t worry, if you can just stay with it, you will accumulate great merit.” The experience rushed through me, arising, peaking and concluding in less than a minute.
In the evening, after a patient, slowly-chewed, silent dinner and evening sit, Kaira Jewel gave a talk on how to cultivate mindstates that lead to happiness, and discourage mindstates that lead to suffering. She called these processes “The Art of Happiness” and “The Art of Suffering.”
Kaira Jewel began her talk with a reflection on “Interdependence Day” and the fact that there is no thing that is only America or American, but there are many phenomena that make up what we know as America. Some include the enslavement of human beings and the experience of being enslaved, and the genocide of the people who originally inhabited the land. Walking in the woods earlier, I felt strongly that July 4th needed to be formally addressed, and I was grateful for Kaira Jewel’s words.
After Kaira Jewel’s talk, we headed out of the meditation hall again for the final walking meditation period of the day.
Instead of staying on the overlook, this time I headed down the stone path straight into the heart of the firefly field. I hesitated briefly, afraid some part of me might want to show off.
Within moments, however, I was immersed, moving through a full 5Rhythms wave, the fundamental ritual of my core spiritual practice. I moved in Flowing, feeling and honoring my feet on the forgiving grass, then began to move in the direction of every firefly I perceived in the expansive field, exhaling forcefully, sinking low into the knees, using the pinky sides of my forearms like swords, rising and falling, building heat in the body, watching the edges of my vision for a new flicker, responding to three nearly simultaneous lanterns, then waiting with full lungs during a brief pause in flashing. The precision of Staccato attention built to the fever of Chaos, and I let my head go, the pricks of light in the air around me blurring as I spun, dipping and coiling inward and away from my own axis, and in and out of my own field. Breathing erratically and sweating heavily, I began to notice the individual fireflies around me, lifting up onto the toes and reaching toward a rising light with the fingertips, leaping and falling, beaming unreservedly, in an expression of pure delight.
Finally, sound fell away again, as I moved with one tiny bug at a time. Lightning bugs tend to hover and linger, so they make excellent dance partners. Still dusk, I could see and track an individual even when it was not lit, and I cupped my palm, letting it lead me, rising and opening my hands in a slowly turning gesture, delighting in its slow transition into illumination, bowing my head to its tiny expression of majesty, part of the unified whole and spectacularly unique at once.
Still pulsing with life, I sat with my peers for the final meditation period of the evening. Every time I half-lowered my eyes, I saw shimmering lights both inside and outside of me.
The next day passed in a river of sensations, challenges and joys. We moved out of silence and began to consciously build community through a variety of exercises and shifting constellations. Kaira Jewel led us in an optional movement session, introducing us to the practice of Interplay.
Another of our teachers, Alan Brown, offered a talk, making a compelling case for the importance of self-regulation, especially for teachers. “Attention is a form of love. Embodiment is a form of safety,” he said as he described how young people can regulate themselves and can learn to self-regulate through the adults they are in contact with. “Just being a self-regulated adult in the classroom, before we’ve even taught anything about Mindfulness, is already a powerful intervention.”
He opened his talk with an astonishing story about his own path, which includes a diagnosis with Tourette’s syndrome. “Mindfulness was literally a medical miracle for me,” he shared, as he summarized the insights of many years of practice. In his case, deep investigation and inquiry into the body, along with some strategic questions posed by his teachers at opportune moments, lead to a radical decrease in the symptoms of Tourette’s and enduring faith in the power of Mindfulness practices.
Following an afternoon of community building which included tears and howling laughter, Alan was also very, very funny, and the room roared with good humor. The teachers also shared several games we could use with students in our classrooms, including a competitive game that physically modeled the paths of neurotransmitters through a line of bodies, and a game that involved passing a full cup of water around a circle.
At one point, Kaira Jewel led us in a structured Lovingkindness practice within a smaller group we will work closely with throughout the entire year of the course. At its conclusion, we offered Lovingkindness to all beings everywhere, without exception. I saw a pulsing dome of energy high above us, into the sky and beyond, twisting light ribbons edging moving planes of energy: powerful, building, resonating. The woman to my right perfectly described my own vision, saying she could see it through me somehow. “We should consider teaming up in card games,” I joked.
The retreat formally ended with writing prompts and shared reflections in our small cohort groups, inspiring words from each of the four teachers, and a ritual of passing a string around the gigantic circle. At its conclusion, the teachers cut a tiny section for each of us, and we tied it around our wrists, a way to remember our experience and to recall our purpose as we re-enter the streams of our lives outside the container of the retreat.
During the days after we let go of silence and engaged in speaking, at least ten people commented on my dance with the fireflies. “Are you a Tai Chi master?” one generous woman asked. “Was that Brazilian fight dancing you were doing in the field?” asked another. I smiled and said with some effusion, “I was just dancing with the fireflies.” If pressed, I would describe the dance in more detail, and if pressed further, shared information about the 5Rhythms dance and movement meditation practice. Many said they thought it was great that I wasn’t afraid to let go, something that never crossed my mind, though I did hesitate because I feared that part of my intention was to show off.
What most said was something along the lines of “That was so beautiful! I just stood there watching you. Your joy was enormous! I love your energy. It made me feel so happy.” Some even said it inspired their own joy. I inevitably choked up, touched that the people in this new community were so unreservedly happy for my happiness. Had I given in to self doubt and kept myself contained, I would have missed an opportunity to experience joy, and in the process of suppression would also have missed a chance to share joy.
I’m not surprised that you “hear a glow” on me, my dear son. This week has lit me from the inside. The path, at least for the moment, rises to meet me, showing itself a little at a time, tiny increments of light, moving in a collective field.
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.