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
I didn’t even know snow was in the forecast until I woke up and looked out the window.
Following an in-person yoga class, I wavered on my plan to go to the ocean to dance the 5Rhythms – my Sunday ritual since the beginning of the pandemic. The snow was coming down pretty hard, and it was the goopy, wet kind of flakes. I didn’t have a hat and couldn’t turn one up even after rummaging through the car. In the end I decided I might as well give it a try. If it was horribly uncomfortable I could always bail.
I had made my weekly pilgrimage in less temperate weather than this, I reasoned. Plus, when the weather is horrible, there’s a good chance I can actually be alone, which means I can scream, cry, move like a demon, sing loudly, or allow whatever comes through in a way that I’m unlikely to do if there is anyone around to see me.
In the car on the way, I heard Bulgarian journalist and activist Yana Buhrer Tavanier on the topic of play even in the face of grave circumstances, and carried her words into my practice. I tightened the laces on my snow boots and jogged across the wide sand, pausing to examine whatever captured my attention, allowing curiosity to be my guide.
I noticed a set of footprints and started following them toward a sand dune, talking cheerfully to myself as I roamed.
My eye caught on what I thought was a seagull perched at the top of the sand dune, barely visible with the white snow and white feathers against the white sky. I wondered why this seagull was sitting so upright, not like rubber-ducky posture like seagulls usually sit when they’re resting. This bird was vertical, with dignified shoulders. Could it be an eagle? It was also bigger than most seagulls, and totally white. It didn’t even have an orange beak. Then, she twisted her neck around like it was on a track and I wondered if she might actually be an owl.
I took a few pictures, then crept a little closer, daring to take a video. I honestly couldn’t believe it. Owls seem magical to me – a symbol of wisdom, power, and ancient mystery. She stayed a little longer, then got spooked or maybe annoyed and took off down the beach, gliding low.
I got onto my knees and touched my forehead to the cold, wet sand.
The snow had slowed, but picked up again, landing wet on my forehead and cheeks. I began to move in Flowing around the jagged contours of ended waves. Often, I pick a spot, put my bag down, and even draw a big circle to dance inside of. This time, I let myself move wherever I wanted to, at one point going to examine some thick tangled rope, then reversing course and heading west along the edge of the water. I was grateful to be alone and vocalized loudly, moaning, crying, and even making up songs and poems, then offering them to the sea and the sky.
Today I wasn’t sure which rhythm I was in, I just knew that I needed to move. Streams of wisdom poured through and I gave voice to all of it.
The snow picked up more, to the point that the sea and sky were barely distinguishable.
I climbed up onto the dune, dancing along its spine and looking for evidence of the owl, at one point in Chaos letting myself go while trying to avoid tumbling down either side of the dune.
I walked back across the wide beach feeling tall, striding – despite the cold, despite the winter, despite the state of the world. Remembering my place in things. Heartbroken and free. Grateful. Alive. Ready.
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.
It was glowing dark, blood red. Then it was just black with a thin arc of light on the bottom right. I sat there in full darkness, clutching my elbows, amazed.
I woke up at 3AM and couldn’t get back to sleep, owing to a racing brain. The good news is that I got to see the almost-full lunar eclipse on Thursday night. The bad news is that I had another night of poor sleep. Nights of poor sleep have been too frequent lately. I just haven’t had enough time to process my experiences given the pace of work lately.
Saturday was another sleepless night. At one point I jumped up and ran to the window, hearing screaming and fearing someone was in danger. Then I heard, “Happy Belated!” and realized it was just people celebrating. I did fall asleep at some point, but slept less than two hours in total.
“You know, I don’t have that problem,” one of my close advisors shared, “I just lay down and I let the day go and that’s that. You can’t hold onto that stuff.” I gritted my teeth, knowing he was trying to help, but feeling judged and annoyed.
Sunday I dragged. It was hard to form thoughts. I didn’t feel like doing anything. I was quick to tears and slow to regulate.
In the afternoon, I went for a massage. My trusted massage therapist (who I visit once every four or five months) was not available so I went to a new person at the same studio. I practiced my lines on the way over, “I haven’t had a massage in a long time, and I’m feeling really sensitive, so if it doesn’t feel right, I’m going to need to cancel. It’s nothing personal.”
For whatever reason, I trusted him right away. He started with my neck and back. My muscles cramped and relaxed again and again. I was able to stay present in the pain, although at times it was very intense.
The tears started within five minutes. At first just dripping down through the face-shaped hole in the massage table, but by the time the masseuse started working through the knots on my right shoulder I was crying more loudly.
Recollections of the fights at the school where I work drifted in and out. Of the time when a student charged into my room, going after another student. Then after I pushed him out, the same student banging on the door, along with several of his friends. Of the fight when kids barricaded themselves in a room, and several filmed it and posted videos. Of other experiences in my life when I felt unsafe or vulnerable.
When he was working on the nerve tangles around my sacrum, I got very activated then very relaxed. I really felt like a spirit, somehow. I thought, “I might die now. I think I’m going to die,” realizing that letting go of the fear that was controlling my body felt like a potential threat to my survival.
By the time he got to the nerve tangle in my right hip and gluteal, I was scream-crying, sobbing and trying to suck air in, wondering if the asymptomatic case of COVID that lead to a recent positive antibody test had impacted my lungs because I couldn’t seem to get a breath.
He ended with a head massage, with a lot of attention to the base of the skull.
I felt very relaxed at the end, and kind of transparent.
Today was better. Work is still a lot but I have drawn some boundaries. Classes flowed and there were threads of joy.
After school, some students came to visit since they had extra time before basketball practice. “Guys, I’m about to dance. You either have to go or dance,” I said.
“Ok, I’ll dance,” one good-humored, receptive student shrugged.
“Naw. I’m not dancing,” another said.
“Me either. At my middle school they forced me to be in a dance club that the dean taught. They all laughed at me, and when I told them to fuck off I got in trouble.”
“Well, you can’t just sit there and watch the two of us. That’s just weird.”
“Fine. Ok. I guess we’ll dance.”
I had mixed feelings about giving up my personal practice time, but was curious to see what could happen. I figured it would last five minutes or so.
In the end, we danced for 45 minutes and ended sucking wind and dripping with sweat.
“Can we use the ball?” one student asked, picking up the plush globe that I use as a talking piece to pass around for circle discussions in classes.
“Sure, that’s a good idea,” I answered.
I put on a flowing song that sounds like a video game.
“Ok, so now every time you pass the ball, you have to spin around first.”
We started playing with spinning and dropping, all moving around the room.
I said, “Ok, now drop your weight way down when you spin,” and we all did our own version of the prompt.
I put on another flowing song, this one quite a bit edgier, and they started getting in each other’s faces in a playful way. I put the song on freeze, and they all froze, then moved, then froze, then moved.
I pulled out another “ball” as I put on a staccato track, and watched the magic unfold. We took turns with the spotlight, including the kid with dance trauma, cheering each other on. We moved into partnership, the kids delightfully present with each other, flexing and advancing, busting complex moves with attitude and precision, sarcastic but real, alive and honest and present.
Eventually I had to kick them out so I could dance like a wild animal and not worry that if I raised my arms my back might show. But they want to do this every day.
I could think of worse things.
Meghan LeBorious is a writer, teacher, and meditation facilitator who has been dancing the 5Rhythms since 2008 and is currently enrolled in the 5Rhythms teacher training. 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 in this post are from blogs.nasa.gov.
I had to pull over to take pictures. The entire hillside outside the rear fence of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden was covered with tiny purple crocuses, almost blurring completely together.
Spring is actually happening. It’s like how I feel about singing. For so long, I couldn’t sing at all. It was clipped, awkward, soundless. But now this miracle happens. I open my mouth and sound comes out and it’s a song. It might not be perfect, but it’s alive. In much the same way, spring trots out, inevitable and miraculous at once.
I feel like the entire past year has been winter.
The pandemic isn’t over, and in fact the more virulent new strains of coronavirus are extremely concerning, and may even be impacting people who have already been vaccinated. People who are close to me have recently tested positive, and I’m praying hard for their swift and complete recovery.
And yet, the earth is coming back to life, irrepressible ebullience in every corner and urban hillside.
Yesterday I went running and paused not far from home. Drums. I danced on the sidewalk, then decided to follow the sound. It was a latin collective, with a drummer and standup bass, throwing down on the sidewalk. Scores of people were smiling, eating, and dancing. I sidled close to the band and danced too, stepping back hard and sinking into the hips. Their set ended and I continued on my run, feeling grateful to be alive, grateful for spring, and grateful for my home, Brooklyn, New York, where you can go for a run and find drumming and dancing, and be right at home, dancing amongst total strangers.
Today I danced with the sea. For months, I’ve bundled up in parka coat, snow pants, ski gloves, balaclava, boots, and thermal underwear to dance with the sea at Jacob Riis Park. Today, I needed only a few layers.
Given the lovely March day, the beach was crowded.
Instead of crossing the wide beach directly to water, I made my way down the wide paved boardwalk, hoping to find a little more solitude. Instead, there were people as far as I could see, so being alone, like I was during the the frigid temperatures of deep winter when the parking lot was in deep snow and snow even covered the beach, was simply not available.
The tide was maximum high, leaving me a relatively small dance floor of packed sand. I put my bag and coat down where it was safe from the waves, took off my shoes, and moved into Flowing. I started by rocking side to side, syncing breath and movement, letting the divine smell of the ocean in, letting more and more breath in, and finding weight and momentum. Before long, my rocking found a curve and I began to move in circles. At times, the soles of my feet were cold. I let the swaying pull of the ocean lead me, and found myself pushed and pulled, casting downhill, dropping and turning, attentive to the sea’s magnetic forces.
This went on for so long, this attentiveness to pushing and pulling, to curving and dropping, to forces shifting direction. I used to think I would maybe stay in Flowing all day and never move into Staccato, but now I know the wave just unfolds in its own time.
As anyone who dances the 5Rhythms well knows, once Flowing is well founded, Staccato is likely to naturally arise. And soon, I was breathless, dropping and cutting, finding direction and expression. The packed sand I could move easily on was relatively narrow, so I was closer to the waves than usual, sometimes dancing at the very edge, moving along it diagonally, dancing back into my hips, then dropping, changing direction and moving forward.
I noticed a new detail – the saturation line. There was the edge of the ended wave being pulled back into the sea, and right behind it this saturation line, where the sun still reflects on the wet sand before the water is fully absorbed. When I stepped below the saturation line, it felt cold. Above it was totally bearable. In Staccato, I paid careful attention to this jagged saturation line, sometimes below it and sometime above it, noticing the vast difference in temperature on the soles of my bare feet.
When Staccato emerged the energy of movement grew more lively. A staccato song I love replayed in my mind, and before long I was leaping and pausing, leading with my knees and elbows, and finding new ways to express spring’s enlivened vigor, still very engaged with the sea’s edges, sometimes casting down and backward, uphill, stepping across, then moving up and into open gestures with legs extended and hands outstretched.
When Chaos finally started to emerge, it felt like relief. I had long given up on the baseball hat and now released my head further, tossing it at the end of a big gesture starting in the hips and curving, folding front and back and side to side, coiling and twisting through the spine and throughout my entire body.
I didn’t growl or scream-cry as much as I did in the dead of winter when I was often a lone dancer on a frozen beach, but the mild weather and bare feet made up for the lack of privacy.
In Lyrical, the section of packed sand that made up my dance floor opened into endless space, the sky, the horizon, the seabirds soaring over with great racing shadows, and the wide open beach. I moved with all of it, slowly transitioning into the whispering feeling of Stillness, where all sound meets and drops out together as no sound, one great booming tone from deep in the belly of the sea.
It feels like it’s been winter for over a year – a time of turning in, introspection, reflection, adversity, and challenge. And although COVID is still wreaking havoc, the emergence of spring this year brings me some sense of optimism and motivation.
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 on a train headed home after a late night out in NYC. A man halfway down the train is trying to catch my eye. There are 20 or so people on the train, all of them apparently people of color except the one white man who is trying to catch my eye.
I didn’t have language for this kind of experience until I saw a retrospective of the artwork of Adrian Piper at the New Museum in 2000. Piper is a Black artist who was often mistaken for a White person. She created small index-size cards that start with the text, “Dear Friend, I am black. I am sure you did not realize this when you made/laughed at/agreed with that racist remark…” She handed the cards out when White people mistook her for a White person and tried to team with her, setting Black people up as an “other” and making racist remarks. I love to picture her handing these out, for example on the subway.
Perhaps like this man, who seemed to be trying to connect with me for the simple reason that we were the only two White people on the train, perhaps trying to team with me to create an affinity that made him feel like he was separate, different from the rest of the train riders.
My core personal practice is the 5Rhythms dance and movement meditation. Normally, I dance in a 5Rhythms class once or twice a week and occasionally on my own, but since the start of the pandemic, I dance a 5Rhythms wave every day. To dance a wave is to move through each of the 5Rhythms–Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness–in sequence.
Yesterday, I felt disheartened and lethargic. The coverage around the murder of George Floyd swirled around in my head and I kept having ideas for things I should do, actions I should take. Memories, regrets, insights, and bits of speeches mixed in my head with the recent reporting.
I danced a lone 5Rhythms wave in the woods, on the bank of the Scantic River. I couldn’t get traction until I started to move with full attention to the breath in each rhythm.
In Flowing, I drew air in, emphasizing the inhalation, filling my lungs, letting in as much air as I could take, allowing my body to move in response, circling as the breath fell out. I didn’t think Staccato would be available, but after a time in Flowing I suddenly shifted attention to the outbreath, exhaling with force, pumping my belly, sinking into the knees, exploring the points of the elbows. In the rhythm of Chaos the breath got choppy, sometimes gasping, sometimes fast, sometimes with a forceful exhalation, sometimes briefly held, defying regularity. In Lyrical, the breath stayed just as unpredictable, but got much quieter and softer. In Stillness, the breath was elongated, and also seemed to be coming into and leaving the body through the pores.
Today, after a full day of working remotely and spending time outdoors with my ten-year-old son, Simon, I decided to set up speakers and dance a wave in the backyard of my parents’ house, where Simon and I are temporarily living.
Before I started, my mom took a picture of me taking a knee, a gesture inspired by NFL football player Colin Kaepernick’s controversial action of taking a knee before a game to acknowledge the continuing deaths of Black people at the hands of white police officers, and to express support for the Black Lives Matter movement. I planned to post the image in my school community.
I remembered something that happened in a classroom several years ago. I was co-teaching with a Black Haitian-American woman; and the class was entirely composed of Black and Brown high school students. Something we read led a student to express anger about White people and their racist actions.
Everyone cringed a little and looked at me. I was the only White person in a room of 20 or more people, and they thought I would take it personally. “Guys, listen. Don’t worry about me. Seriously. I am just one White person in a roomful of Black and Brown people. It is totally ok if I’m uncomfortable. Sometimes things come up that might make me feel uncomfortable. I won’t die from being uncomfortable. Everyone should feel free to discuss their feelings and opinions here.”
Looking back, it’s crazy that just one White person could have so much impact–a manifestation of White privilege. Back then I didn’t have that language, but I knew what was happening felt wrong, and that I didn’t deserve to have so much impact on the discussion. If I didn’t think to say what I said, I wonder how many voices would have been silenced? I wonder how many children of color in classrooms with White teachers do feel like they have to temper what they say, to hold back their opinion, to account for the sensitive teacher’s White fragility and inability to cope with discomfort? Thank God I had the insight and courage to speak this time. I wonder how many other times I haven’t even noticed?
So much of my practice and my training, both in meditation and in 5Rhythms, has been about building up tolerance to discomfort, being able to stay with what whatever is happening, rather than trying to escape it–in this case it would have been at the expense of discounting and silencing many young voices. It this willingness to be with reality that is needed now, even if it is uncomfortable or painful, as we interrogate the internal and external structures that sustain oppression.
I remembered another classroom incident, this one more recent. A student reacted to a phrase in Amy Tan’s “Joy Luck Club,” when Chinese American character Jing-Mei’s mother says, “You look like Negro Chinese.” Hearing the passage, the student raised his hand and said, “That seems kinda….racist.” My co-teacher minimized his feelings. “Oh, no, that’s not really racist, it’s just…”
I don’t even know if you would call this gaslighting because she seriously believed her position. To be fair, she is one of the most dedicated educators I know, and believes she has devoted her life to helping young people. And I guess it’s possible she was trying to protect the student from discomfort or pain. It’s also possible she wanted to avoid discomfort, or that she was just unable or unwilling to see it.
Either way, the student closed his mouth, tightened his jaw, and folded his arms in front of him–even after I indignantly protested. What would a lifetime of experiences like that do to you? What does a lifetime of experiences like that do to you?
In contrast to yesterday’s wave, today’s was loud, energetic, and messy.
A blaring fire siren went off while I moved in Flowing, so I moved with its urgency along with the patient, circling track.
Today, I had less difficulty than yesterday with the rhythm of Staccato–for me the most variable of all the rhythms. I moved easily, gearing up with purpose. My feet were alive and expressing minute shifts of balance and force. My shoulders came alive and I expanded my zone, taking up more and more space, hopping, double hopping, sometimes adding a punctuated jump up. I was way in a cut, then suddenly the song tore me up and I was sobbing, snotting, thinking about the state of things, and praying to see reality clearly. Ideas for action kept jumping to mind. I needed several staccato tracks today, and went through a huge range of emotions, including anger and growling ferocity during one energetic song.
Chaos kept sneaking in all along, and when it finally broke out in full force, I flung my head around in weighted spinning, sinking low and keeping my arms alive and defiant. I cried more, grateful for the chance to discharge some of the powerful emotions coursing through me.
Lyrical started out extremely fast, at 173 beats a minute. I tried to dance to every single rhythm, melody, and sound, an impossible but engaging attempt.
I moved for some time to the currents in the air even after the music stopped, reverent.
As a White person, my role now is to be a ferocious advocate and a humble collaborator, in service to justice and dignity for all people, for my own child and for every mother’s child.
It’s the least I can do.
“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” –Desmond Tutu
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.