Practice aligns me.
This week, in West Dennis Cape Cod with extended family, my mornings are devoted to practice with the ocean. Today was my earliest start time this week, since many of my family members–including my 12-year-old son–were up early for a deep sea fishing trip. By 7:30, I was walking ankle deep in the waves toward West Dennis Beach.
I treat all parts of this process as practice, which is to say that from the time that I leave the cottage to the time that I return, I do my best to settle into the experience and not press forward, wishing time away. It also means that I show up every day–or nearly every day–regardless of conditions and sometimes regardless of what I feel like doing. For example, yesterday’s forecast was for 100% likelihood of rain. I wasn’t eager to get up early and head out to the sea, but I pushed a little, recognizing that practice means you don’t evaluate it every day; and you don’t allow your mind to have a conversation with itself about the pros and cons. I put my towel in a plastic shopping bag so when I got out of the water it wouldn’t be drenched, and headed out.
Today was bright and high tide was falling. My mom, who is delightful, enthusiastic, walked with me for a while. We paused to interact with a dog, fondly remembering our own dog of many years ago who was mostly the same breed as this one based on our best guess.
After I passed the Lighthouse Inn, I pulled out swim goggles and cap, peeled off the layer I had on over my bathing suit, then dropped my backpack with afterswim supplies on the sand and continued west.
Walking away from the morning sun, I gave my attention to the feet as they fell on the ultra-soft sand, to the sound of the waves, and to my moving body, inviting the shoulders to relax down, the belly to soften, and the hips to deepen in their sockets. Whenever I shifted into a story, a plan, an explanation, an analysis of my body’s symmetry, or an argument for or against my good character, I noted it and gently shifted attention back to the feet when I could so without excessive effort.
At Bass River, the boundary between West Dennis and Yarmouth, I turned my back to the wind and bent over to gather my hair in my hands, then stood up and turned toward the wind to coil it just behind the crown of my head. I put on the bathing cap and goggles, then hesitated briefly, tightening my shoulders against the cold water and wind, then wading in and diving hands first, heading back east.
There was a fierce chop today, and the wind was coming from the southwest, an assist on today’s eastward journey. In a pool, once my attention starts to settle with movement, I move my focus throughout the body. But in the ocean, there is usually plenty to anchor my attention in the present. Today, the waves rolled across me, lifting me up and casting me down, and I had to pay attention to the timing of my breaths to avoid getting a mouthful. The water was ochre and gold, the bottom rippled sand or obscured in stands of seaweed. I noted razor shells, clam shells, one big conch with an animal still inside it, and horseshoe crabs underneath me.
Periodically, I lowered a leg down to make sure I could still stand. I can handle the deep water just fine as a swimmer, but a (somewhat irrational) fear of sharks keeps me close to shore. And I figure if a shark ever does attack me, I’ll have a better chance of survival if I can stand up on my feet and punch them in the nose. I have it all figured out.
That doesn’t stop me from an occasional mounting shark panic, but I try to see even that emergence of fear as another opportunity to work with my mind.
I’ve been doing this swim or a similar swim for over 20 years now. It started back when I actually competed in triathlons, and really took off when my sister was doing triathlons too. Those days are long gone, but I still love long swims in the ocean. At first it was an occasional thing, at any time of the day it happened to fit. Over the years, I noted how much it helps me–not just during the week that I’m doing it but in the bigger picture, too–and became more and more committed to the point that I actually plan around it, even declining the offer to join a deep sea fishing trip with my son, my Dad, and other family members this morning.
That’s just how it went when I started to dance the 5Rhythms 15 years ago. At first it was just a class or two here or there. But within less than a year I was planning my life around attending Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves class in the West Village, and also added whatever additional classes I could squeeze in and every workshop that came up.
Everything changed for me then. I galloped through layers of trauma and learned habitual patterns. Creativity exploded. I was able to connect with people with much greater intimacy. I was more playful. Walking on the sidewalk in Midtown became a game.
I also moved through agonizing stretches of feeling isolated, witnessing my own self abuse, and coping with difficult emotions, but following each period of agony somehow emerged even more committed to practice.
After the wild west end of the beach, I passed the first lifeguard chair: white painted wood with a red number 8 on its side. The wind and waves helped me out, and I continued to note each successive chair from 7 all the way to 1 as I made it the two miles back to my backpack in what seemed like a shorter time than usual.
I moved quickly to the towel, then changed my wet bathing suit for loose pants and long sleeve shirt. I sat for a while in meditation, then decided to do some yoga movements to warm myself up. Once I was warm I sat for longer, in no particular hurry to get on to anything else.
Last night, I danced the 5Rhythms. I walked with some family members, but they headed west and I stayed put. The evening beach was more crowded than I hoped, but I found a quiet-ish corner to practice. The tide was high and I circled up and down from the high tide line as I began to move in the rhythm of Flowing. In this session I made a clear distinction between each of the five rhythms–Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness–as I moved through each of them. I could see my sister, brother, brother-in-law, and niece in the distance, occasionally bending over to gather a treasure, and figured I would dance just until they made it back to me. After moving through each of the rhythms, an internal gear slipped me deeply into Stillness, and I whisper moved with the waves, the horizon, and the soaring birds. Vision tracked energy. I could feel heat rising to my cheekbones and the crown of my head. Chemical releases in my leg muscles set loose a shake. When they were almost back to me, I reconnected with my feet, intending to reconnect with day-to-day reality, though practice had opened the doorway to a different layer.
This morning, caked in sand, muscles awake and stretched, wind making a flag of my loose shirt, hair knotted and half-wet–I could feel my edges softening, recent and past experiences moving through, and my selves gliding into alignment.
Thank you, my beautiful son. Thank you, family. Thank you, ocean. Thank you, Gabrielle Roth. Thank you, practice. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. I bow down to the universe, to my teachers, and to this precious life.
August 18, 2022, West Dennis, Cape Cod
Meghan LeBorious is a writer, teacher, and meditation facilitator who has been dancing the 5Rhythms since 2008 and recently became a 5Rhythms teacher. She was inspired to begin chronicling her experiences following her very first class; and she sees the writing process as an extension of practice—yet another way to be moved and transformed. This blog is not produced or sanctioned by the 5Rhythms organization. Photos courtesy of the writer.
***For NYC dancers, Meghan has a seven-class 5Rhythms series coming up that starts on October 14, “Spirit Drenched in Gold.” Join a single class or join the full series for a discount. Registration is required – https://spiritdrenchedingold.eventbrite.com
***Meghan also has a five-class online writing/dance 5Rhythms “Writing Waves” class that starts on September 15. Registration is required – https://www.eventbrite.com/e/writing-waves-tickets-397987811257