Honoring the Ancestors

Today was the first day in a long time that work thoughts weren’t dominating my mindstream. 

It has been a wild ride at work lately. We are very short-staffed at the school where I teach, and everyone is wearing too many hats and working too many hours – the case pretty much everywhere in the country. As a result, things have been extremely chaotic; and there simply hasn’t been time to process events given the intense pace. On top of work challenges, my 11-year-old son, Simon, has had a difficult couple of weeks himself, which preoccupies me, though I know he has the ability and confidence to move through the challenges that arise.

The first thing I did this morning was create a new altar. The previous summer-themed altar had been lingering for too long. I pulled out all of my boxes of special objects and cloths, and assembled an altar in honor of my ancestors – both biological and spiritual – something I do every year around this time.

During the past two weeks, I’ve been distracted during meditation, often with thoughts of work.

Today, I sat down and was absorbed into a state of still concentration. Tears began to pour down and I rocked myself from side to side, “listening” to the wisdom of the ancestors. I had been contemplating extensively the role of a teacher, and my role in particular. The idea that knowledge does not come from a teacher came through strongly. A teacher sets the conditions and holds the container, but the learner makes the knowledge through their personal process. 

I love how Albert Einstein, who was famously oppressed by his teachers, puts it, “The only source of knowledge is experience.”

The mistaken idea that a teacher is the source of knowledge (especially if the teacher holds this idea) leads to a fundamental misunderstanding. What poured through was the understanding that it is not me, it is not any genius teacher, but is rather source pouring through and taking its form in this moment. 

This understanding is freeing, humbling, and empowering. Freeing because I don’t have to hold it all myself and I’m not solely responsible for what arises; humbling because I understand that teaching does not serve my individual ego, and empowering because the well of power that flows from source is infinite, and is not limited to my own small reserves.

This insight feels important both in my work teaching mindfulness and meditation with teens in a Brooklyn high school, and to the 5Rhythms teacher training, which I am currently participating in.

I imagined my heart was an opening flower that poured light throughout my body.

After this session and breakfast with Simon I drove to Riis Park to practice the 5Rhythms.

As I crossed the wide beach, I considered picking up a scooped half shell, but rejected the idea since the shell seemed too ordinary – the beach was strewn with many similar shells and I already had a number of the same type at home.

But I pushed back on my own discrediting voice. “Yes, you DO need that shell,” I countered. And I went back and picked up the shell. I found two more, and decided to create another altar, this one on packed sand, with the three shells representing past, present, and future.

If I hadn’t gone back, I don’t know if the world would have opened to me as it did.

I wandered aimlessly, feeling like the world was unfolding to offer its magic to me, and like I understood the language it was speaking. I found a large, compressed, glittering rock and put it into the past shell. I found a piece of smooth, striated, peach and purple shell and put it into the future position. 

The present shell I filled with beach glass. I’ve been collecting beach glass my entire life, following a passion of my mother’s. I love that glass is made from sand, and sea is in the process of returning it to sand, and that the glass is made by human hands, and that its journey is a collaboration between humans and the elements.

Today beach glass was more abundant by a factor of two or three than it has even been in my life; and I was finding giant, translucent pieces with smoothed edges in dark green, light green, aquamarine, brown, and frosted white.

These jewels were being offered in abundance; and it seemed important that their sharp edges were now refined and smoothed down.

I moved closer to the water, and began to range across the packed sand. Today Flowing felt whispery. My body was both heavy and light at the same time. A flock of birds circled over the water, looping as white shapes, then disappearing into thin lines as they curved, then coming back as a flock of white shapes and looping away again.

I stayed in Flowing for a long time, asking for help with a difficult decision and letting the universe pour in. Sharp stones and rocks were under my bare feet, but my feet stayed aware so even when I stepped on a sharp edge I was able to soften and avoid injury. I let the push and pull of the waves and gravity as I moved up and down the sloped sand move me in circles. 

Staccato started to spike, and I began to exhale more forcefully. 

I fell back into Flowing again, noticing how much physical activation came from moving into Staccato, and how much I preferred to stay in Flowing, or move through into Chaos. 

I started to move from one shell or rock to another, imagining myself as a fighter. I directed force in different directions, vocalizing, dropping my weight, and shifting my gaze.

Finally, Chaos started to come through and I let fly. At first it seemed whispery and patient, like much of this wave, but before long it turned demon-fast. I was flung around by my whipping and coiling spine, tossed off balance and turned out, the bright sun shifting to cloud cover and back to bright sun, turning my vision orange behind closed eyelids, throwing shadows across the sand and sea.

***

This was written on October 17 near the full moon, and I returned to the beach again today, now almost to the new moon. Though the tide was low, the surf was wild, owing to heavy winds. Someone was kitesurfing down the beach – a graceful, green curved kite held taut against the wind that dipped and curved like a dragon. I moved along with it, with clouds racing across the sky, waves piling up and crashing, and birds soaring in shifting groups. I kept thinking: I remember I remember I remember. 

I remember the way home.

This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.

Photos: Original images by the writer October, 2021.

Moving with Mosquitos

I have the most mosquito bites I’ve ever had per square inch of skin. The most affected area is my left calf, but there are bites covering my entire body.

This year I’m spending the summer with my parents in Northern Connecticut, along with my 11-year-old son, Simon. In the past, I brought a heavy duty speaker and set it up under a shady maple tree to dance. A big patch of grass was worn away by mid-August last year and the dirt was dusty and hard packed. 

On the days I didn’t dance in the yard, I would run to a place I love in the woods by the humble Scantic River and dance there instead.

This summer, I didn’t bring the heavy duty speaker, so my best option has been to dance in the woods. 

The only problem is the mosquitos.

On Monday there were a lot of mosquitos. But Tuesday and Wednesday were ridiculous. 

Turning down the road into the woods, gnats and mosquitos swarmed my face. Both days, I was happy to find my favorite spot available, and no one fishing anywhere nearby. Making sure I was alone, I created a circle on the sandy riverbank, asking all ancestors, deities, guides, and protectors to support me in my practice. The mosquitos smothered me as I moved through this ritual, landing on my arms and biting right through my leggings. At one point, I looked down and there were five mosquitos all attached to one leg.

I realized it was either leave the woods or surrender, so I stopped my wild swatting and said, “Ok, mosquitos, have at it! Feast on me for all you’re worth.” And I started to move in Flowing. I found that the more I moved the more I was able to discourage the mosquitos from landing, but they continued to bite as I turned my attention to the soles of the feet, noticing the pull of gravity and allowing it to draw me into circling.

Sustaining attention throughout an entire 5Rhythms wave for nearly an hour both days, I barely noticed the tiny parasites.

Later, scratching the many bites on my legs, I asked myself if this was really the best idea. It was a valuable experience to decide to re-cast something that was extremely unpleasant into something neutral, but I thought I might have to suspend the woods practice at least temporarily if the mosquitos kept up at this level.

I wasn’t feeling inspired about moving in any other spot, though. 

So I decided to try a little harder to make it work. I laid leggings, a tank top, baseball hat, running shoes, and socks over a chair on the deck and sprayed them down with a highly concentrated Deet bug repellent. As soon as the Deet dried I put all of this on. Despite the over-100 soaring temperatures and high humidity, I also pulled on a pair of light, loose pants over the leggings, hoping to thwart the mosquitos who had bitten me right through the leggings on the previous two days. I tucked in the tank top and tied the pants at the waist. Finally, I sprayed my exposed skin with a citronella bug repellent, and sprayed my sneakers again for good measure.

I told Simon I would be back shortly and set out for the woods. Today, I once again found my favorite spot available. Again, I drew a circle in the sand of the riverbank and asked for support. The mosquitos were still thick but they didn’t seem to be swarming my head as much. 

Since I’ve been training to become a 5Rhythms teacher, my practice takes one of two frames. Either I work with what’s inside and around me, allowing whatever needs to arise. Or I practice teaching, talking out loud and providing prompting to an imaginary class. Today, I taught to a class. 

In practice, I never know what will arise. Today, I led my class into Flowing from the ground up, encouraging them to patiently enter the space, to connect with the floor, to consider helping me to move around the perimeter of the room, recognizing that space is sacred because we choose to define it as sacred. 

In nature, with no music, on an angled river bank, I could feel the pull of gravity and of the earth’s center, so I initiated a theme of feeling the immense density, the magnetic pull of the earth’s center, and allowing it to pull us into weighted circling. 

A pickup truck drove by, rushing the road gravel not far from my sandy riverbank. I looked out the side of my eye, wishing for solitude and hoping they would leave quickly. I continued to move anyway, regardless of self consciousness and a slight flavor of fear. Thankfully, they pulled out again long before Staccato sparked. 

Occasionally I said too much, diluting the power of my prompts, so I backed up and offered the same prompt again, aiming to be economical with words, to say just what was needed.

I led myself – I mean my imaginary class – through a gravitational version of the body parts meditation, moving with strong engagement. When Flowing was well established, and my feet felt soft and awake, I invited the class to breathe in and allow the elbows to feel the pull of the earth’s magnetic center, and to allow it to pull them into circles.

I invited them to meet a partner with their elbows as my breath grew sharp and I began to snap and cut the hips. Each partner took a turn to dance their heart, while the other partner witnessed. I kept bringing my gaze to a nearby tree stump – a sort of surrogate partner. “What if none of these gestures are arbitrary?” I offered. “What if this moment is your destiny? What would it mean to meet your destiny in this moment? What are you holding back right now? What more can you give right now?” This series of prompts hitched a sob in my throat, and I lowed slowly, feeling tears rise as I continued to move.

After meeting every partner in the space, we started to notice that holding all of those stories was too much. “You are not responsible for all of these stories,” I said. “You don’t have to hold them in your body. You can let them in completely and then let them all go.”

Chaos was vivid, emphatic. I found new patterns and new ways to disorganize my patterns. “Nothing to grasp toward, nothing to push away,” I intoned. “What are you holding back?” I said evenly as I hung my baseball hat on a cut off branch and released my head completely. “This moment is your destiny. There is nothing but this.”

Lyrical found me looping and extending, energetically porous, circling in an entirely different way. I led myself and the imaginary class through the portal of the body and into infinite space, sharing an ancient practice that was given to me by a sky goddess.

When the final gestures of Stillness concluded, it occurred to me that I’d been in the woods for a long time, and that I needed to get back and make sure Simon was ok. I again noticed the pesky mosquitos and the grueling heat, marveling that I hadn’t paid attention to either for at least an hour – and perhaps quite a lot more – as I had been absorbed in this beautiful practice. 

I wondered what else in my life I can decide not to be irritated by, and what ways I can give more, what ways I can step up for the life that is right in front of me, the destiny that calls me to it and is only available right now – the rest is just holding back.

Meghan LeBorious is an artist, writer, and meditation teacher who lives in Brooklyn, New York. This blog consists of her own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher. Photos are courtesy of the author.

Inner Currents

After several beautiful beach days in a row, this one was stormy. I spent last week at Cape Cod with family, a tradition that has continued since my mother was 13, in 1963. This year had an excellent turnout with 20 family members scattered through various cottages, including my 11-year old son, Simon, and three other kids. Maybe the drain from this long year of isolation and uncertainty made us crave time with family more than usual, though I found that I still needed a lot of time alone.

Each morning I packed a small bag with drinking water, a towel, goggles, and swim cap, then hiked around jetties and down several beaches to the two-mile-long West Dennis beach. Then I would put my bag under a lifeguard chair and walk until it felt far enough and swim back to where I started. On the way I might be rocked by choppy waves, find beachgoers’ lost treasures, or observe golden sand ripples and busy crabs under calm water.

A storm at sea made the water so turbulent and green-grey opaque that I was afraid sharks would be near the shore. I put on my bathing suit and packed my bag anyway, this time putting loose legged pajamas back on over my suit and tying my towel and bag inside a plastic shopping bag so they wouldn’t get soaked. 

I planned to dance a 5Rhythms wave on the sand, then decide later if I would still swim along the shore. The tide was nearly high and there was not much packed sand to move on, but I started to circle in Flowing, giving full attention to my feet as they churned half moons and indentations in the sand. The rain faded from the center of my attention and I got wetter as my body warmed up from moving. After some time, I realized I hadn’t given any attention at all to the sea, and shifted to feeling the pull of its depths and moving with the broken, asymmetrical waves as they were dragged back into the sea’s body.

At the beginning of the week, I had noticed a rare arising. My inner talk was gently confident and self-compassionate. In contrast, on this day, I could feel the drag of inner currents; and self hatred kept flaring. I dropped lower and returned attention to my circling feet every time I noticed my mind turn against me, or turn away from the feet, the wind, the sea, the feeling of rain and mist on my skin, the sounds of crashing waves and crying birds, or the smell of seaweed and salt.

I expanded my radius briefly but a heavy cache of sharp slipper shells was too much for me and I returned to a smaller area. The tide was climbing higher, leaving me just a thin margin of packed sand for my dance floor. A longing I don’t have language for swelled in my throat. I moved in this small space, and kept my wide pajama legs clear of the landing waves to avoid getting totally drenched. These factors became part of my dance, too.

As the sand darkened with wet, I moved into a short phase of Staccato. A lone beach walker with her rain jacket tied tightly around her face approached. I moved toward the water, making space for her as I sank into the hips, exhaling strongly and moving emphatically as the waves rose and crashed.

Chaos came and went quickly on this day. My spine coiled, curved, and twisted – gestures originating in the hips and tailbone, then whipping along the length of the vertebrae and out the top of the head. 

I threw a piece of drift-plastic close to my towel so I would remember to put it in the trash can on the way out and a black-faced tern hovered just above it, thinking it might be a snack. More terns and several seagulls came rushing in. The wind caused them to jerk and wobble, ready to fight over it.

I rose up onto my toes and followed the birds, moving in light, extended loops as they expanded into wider and wider orbits, cutting the wind with the flats of my hands as they changed direction and arced back around. The wind passed right through me as much as it whipped my hair and clothing.

Stillness was several breaths of gazing at the wide horizon and balancing different parts of me against other parts.

This led into a yoga practice which seemed to last a long time. I moved around my small dance floor to find better packed sand for my hands and feet so I could balance more easily, frequently changing the direction of my front from east to west so a different hip would be tipping downhill. Sand caked my wet skin and pajama pants as I stretched on the ground.

Eventually I settled into a sitting pose just past the tongues of waves and wrapped a big towel around my shoulders against the rain, resting my hands on my knees. I usually spend time tucking myself into a custom-made sand cushion so I can meditate comfortably, but on this day, I moved effortlessly into a comfortable seat. I rocked side to side with the wind, wet and covered with sand, still subject to an indescribable longing, still grateful for time with family, and feeling absorbed by the elements, blissfully connected.

My brother walked onto the beach just as I was about to leave so I joined him for a swim before heading back to re-join the rest of the family.

This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher. Photos are courtesy of the author. Meghan LeBorious is an artist, writer, and meditation teacher who lives in Brooklyn, New York.

What Just Happened?

“What just happened?” my entire nervous system seems to be asking. My son, Simon, just completed elementary school, I just finished up the school teaching year, and we just moved homes. 

Moving day was in the high 90’s and extremely humid, and by early afternoon I had heat exhaustion. My eyes were strained to the point that it hurt to look sideways. I pushed on regardless, telling myself that somehow it simply had to happen. By evening I felt like I was spinning off the surface of the earth. 

I managed to get a small air conditioner from the old apartment to the new one and up the stairs to the third floor, then shut the door to one of the bedrooms and cranked it up. I stripped down and stretched out on a bare mattress, hoping a rest would re-set my system. My skin felt hot to the touch; and I was trembling and throwing up. Logically, it seemed likely to be a combination of de-hydration, heat exhaustion, and anxiety, but I felt like I was dying. I wondered if I might have a brain tumor, a stroke, or some other terminal malady; and went on long thought trains trying to decide if I should go to the emergency room. 

I woke up the next day feeling better but still shaky. I walked into Home Depot in Bed Sty and realized that it was hard to see anything at a distance. This is most likely because my eyes are going downhill, but I got scared again. I could feel adrenaline spiking and flooding my body’s systems. I managed to calm down and get what I needed, but I still felt vulnerable. I spent the day building closets out in the new apartment and drinking liter after liter of water. Despite my precautions, I started to feel extremely weird again by late afternoon.

My sister, a marathoner and iron man athlete, has been heat exhausted countless times, and has also suffered from at-times crippling anxiety. “I’m really sure you’re ok. This is what anxiety does. You think you’re dying. Even if you logically know you aren’t. It’s fight or flight.” I found this reassurance immensely helpful. I also spent some time slowly breathing out for longer than I was breathing in, which helped to calm my overstimulated nervous system. 

Simon was with my parents so he could be shielded from the chaos of the move and I could be freed up to work efficiently. We moved into the apartment we are just leaving as he was taking his first steps; and now, ten years later, we are leaving as he gets ready for middle school. My priority was to arrange his room so it would be inviting for him when he first walked in and this kept me going even as stress hormones continued to flood me.

On the fourth day, I decided to do one more trip to the old apartment to rescue a box of drawings I had decided against; and I found that I had also forgotten my checkbooks and the hardware for Simon’s bed frame. 

I had the odd feeling that we were a receding tide in this place. In the front of the building, I said good bye to my favorite tree. As tears heaved up, I circled its trunk with my arms, thanking it for watching over us all these years (and very much hoping no one was noticing this display of emotion).

I did not practice the 5Rhythms for these four active days, or the two days previous – an unusually long break in practice.

On the afternoon of the fourth day I left to travel to my parents’ house in northern Connecticut and re-unite with Simon. 

Last year during the first stretch of the pandemic, Simon and I stayed with my parents for 6 months. During that time, I made it to the woods and to the Scantic River most days, and often danced in nature, in solitude, and in relative silence. In winter, the river flowed along with only the bare trees as witnesses. In early spring, the water level was high and the water flowed rapidly. By late summer, the banks had widened and the river had shrunk down to a small stream.

Last summer was the first of many years that Simon and I didn’t travel; and it turned out that this opened an unexpected door. 

To my immense surprise given many years of poor credit, I was able to buy a place in Brooklyn – something that had never seemed like even a remote possibility. This was because of a brief buyer’s market when many flocked away from New York City, the fact that I didn’t spend thousands of dollars on summer travel, and the support of many friends and family members.

Today, following a torrential rainfall, the river was swollen, fast, and muddy. I ran on a loop trail, then decided to do a 5Rhythms wave – that is, I decided to dance through each stage of the 5Rhythms practice: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness. The ongoing light rain intensified, but I found a spot on the trail that was sheltered by tree cover. 

I thought I would just dance a two minute wave, but it opened up once I started moving. There was a slight incline, and I used the feeling of gravity pulling my body downhill to find my way in. I noted the sensations of the moving feet, and took deep breath after deep breath. The rush of thoughts settled much more readily than I had anticipated that it would. 

My experiences from the previous year when I had danced by this same river almost every day came back to support me. 

Today Staccato arrived with ease and precision. I had no problem moving with decisive, clear gestures. The sound of the rain on the tree canopy increased; but I was still shielded and the ground stayed soft rather than muddy. 

Chaos disorganized me. “Faster than you can think,” ran through my head, something Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms, would say. It occurred to me that moving faster than the brain can process proprioception might indeed allow us the opportunity to short circuit our habitual patterns – the things we do again and again to escape discomfort, avoid pain, and reassure ourselves that we exist, that we are separate, and that we will never die.

I thought about how territorial I had been during the weeks leading up the move – no doubt an attempt by my mind to reassert what it knows and relies on. 

The rain got lighter again as Lyrical arrived, and I rose, extending as I stretched my arms upward, casting and arcing around my small dance circle.

Stillness always calls me strongly in this place, and I moved with quiet absorption.

I left the woods and ran back home in steady rain, barely noticing the steep uphill climb, just taking it one single footfall at a time.

July 2, 2021, 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. 

Afternoon Inertia

Little has outwardly changed about my practice in the last many months. After a long day of remote work and before picking up my 11-year-old son, Simon, at his pod learning group, I roll up the rug and dance in my apartment living room. 

Some days, like today, I was slow to start. I moved from the living room to my favorite bookcase – the one directly across from my bed that houses the books that have inspired my life, including three books by Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms dance and movement meditation practice. I opened Gabrielle’s book Connections to a random passage and patiently drank it in.

Returning to the living room and my pandemic dance floor, I turned on the music. Today I started with a TV on the Radio song that makes me shake. An email I had received right before the end of the work day was on my mind. It was hard to shake it loose, but the more I moved the easier it was to remember that petty posturings and the impulse to guard my territory are not useful. In fact, it occurred to me that if I do choose to protect my territory, though perhaps good for my career, it will destroy my own practice and everything I stand for. 

I sank to the floor for a tonal song and stretched the parts of me that rolled into reach and into my attention as I curved and arched. In Flowing, I gave myself to circling to the extent that I could, noting still the impact of the earlier email. A mild inertia influence held me ever so slightly heavy. I could feel myself on the verge of accelerated transition – about to move homes, Simon about to end elementary school – and stories radiated off of me. A million ideas of where to focus, where to steer myself, what calls me, arose. I let myself off the hook on trying to figure out the big vision, and just settled into the knowledge that new territory is opening up.

Staccato came too fast. I was still feeling a tint of inertia. It continued to cling to me as I swung my hips wide, watching myself in the reflection of a turned-off TV. Not breaking a sweat, I explored the big gestures, micro-cuts, scoops, and sways of the hips as the music brought on more and more beat. I sank low, almost langorous for these first two staccato songs.

It never even crossed my mind that it was just me, no partners, no witnesses, no one to witness, but I’m thinking of it now as I write.

The next songs increased in tempo and intensity. Inertia kept the slightest hold, but I moved with inspiration, ranging throughout the space of the living room.

Time was running short, so I cut the wildest chaos song to its last couple of minutes, closed my eyes, and took it on – hopping side to side, and letting my breath get erratic. The next chaos song was lighter, and I cast myself wide and diagonally, spinning and shaking.

Between Lyrical and Chaos, I played a fast, sarcastic song that I love, and I twisted and coiled the spine, letting my hips throw the rest of me into motion.

I couldn’t remember what I had next on the playlist but was delighted when I heard Mumford & Sons I Will Wait. It hit me like Irish music, like bluegrass, like rollicking summer. I I leapt and soared, barely noticing the slight inertia, almost evading it, and totally forgetting the email that had made me feel territorial and small.

I was almost out of time so thought to put on a stillness song to settle for at least a few breaths before picking Simon up. But to my surprise the Jamaican classic Murder She Wrote by Chaka Demus made its way into the air. I moved with delight and speed, finally losing the inertia – the weight and distraction – that had somehow carried me through today.