Finger Pointing Instructions

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. Where the Wild Things Are

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. Meditating in the pre-dawn hours as light seeps into the sky
  7. The Rocky Mountains
  8. Exquisite cheese
  9. Having candlelight breakfast every day
  10. Running and diving into the ocean, then doing butterfly timed with the swelling waves
  11. 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
  12. My sister’s extraordinary ability to animate puppets with breath
  13. Having clear closets and clean weekly systems
  14. My father’s commitment to meaningful civic action
  15. My mother’s commitment to disrupting the status quo in favor of beauty and human dignity
  16. My uncle’s tireless work to create a community health center
  17. Beach glass
  18. Dancing with the sea
  19. Poetry
  20. Song swelling in the body then expressed as vibration
  21. Fireflies
  22. Dancing with fireflies
  23. Having a fuzzy caterpillar crawl across your bare foot
  24. Eating burritos on the top of a mountain with my brother
  25. The ocean at night
  26. A story that makes me ache
  27. A joke that gets wrapped around four times, including everyone in the humor, yet impossible to re-tell
  28. When your best friend answers your text right away and sends an emoji that perfectly matches how you’re feeling
  29. The joy of wonderful-smelling deodorant
  30. When linear time loosens its grip and you are free to move through multiple dimensions
  31. The first garden tomatoes of the season
  32. Falling in love more after you break up
  33. Getting to know your grandfather more after he transitions to after-living
  34. Petals blowing all over my Brooklyn street in early spring
  35. Missing the train
  36. Snow under streetlights
  37. Daylight savings when it means more daylight
  38. Daylight savings when you’re forced to return to the austerity of winter
  39. My spirit entourage
  40. Being somewhere no one can catch you in their gaze
  41. Being in front of an audience
  42. My mother’s love of rich pattern
  43. The densest, coldest, deepest part of the Hudson River
  44. Protected space
  45. Parking tickets
  46. Patient attention with no agenda
  47. Being reprimanded by your boss
  48. Speaking your truth
  49. Cutting through bullshit
  50. Going on a hike with a big group of people you barely know
  51. A reflective glacial lake with no boats
  52. Portals
  53. Ley lines
  54. The movie E.T.
  55. When smell opens memories
  56. Bedtime routines
  57. Singing to my son
  58. Singing with my Dad (even when he gives me evil eye if I’m off key)
  59. Straining to sing a lyric
  60. Resonating and singing a challenging lyric with ease
  61. Singing publicly
  62. Singing alone
  63. The incense and candles at Catholic church
  64. The sound of rivers
  65. Horrific boredom
  66. Poorly fitting underwear
  67. Purring
  68. Puppy enthusiasm
  69. Holidays when no one gets too drunk
  70. Meditating on the beach in the early morning
  71. Snow angels
  72. When your mind gets so quiet you can hear energy
  73. When your eyes get so quiet you can see molecules
  74. Traffic jams
  75. Dancing while in labor
  76. Dancing to integrate failure
  77. Dancing to remember your place in things
  78. Dancing everywhere
  79. Owls
  80. Snowy owls
  81. Did I mention owls?
  82. River spirits
  83. Card games
  84. Scrabble
  85. Dancing the grief of spirits
  86. Dancing with birds in flight
  87. Dancing your relationships
  88. Dancing your life cycles
  89. Sleeping through the entire night and remembering your dreams when you wake up
  90. Turning off the flashlight and walking through pitch black woods at night while listening to owls, wolves, and stars
  91. Clear water in glass bowls
  92. When someone paraphrases you so well they show you something you didn’t realize you said
  93. Avocado with lemon
  94. Having somewhere with a beautiful view to write
  95. Community
  96. Ferocity
  97. Integrity
  98. Mindfulness
  99. Vision
  100. Love

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”

 

Spring Staccato

The birds have been downright rowdy this week. It still looks and feels like winter, but the birds seem to think spring has arrived. 

I went to Jacob Riis Beach today, as I have on countless Sundays since the start of the pandemic. Part of me wondered if it was time to let go of my weekly practice of dancing with the sea, to clear space for other, perhaps less solitary practices, possibly to make more space for activism and community action.

I had to keep the windshield wipers on the second highest setting on the way, and I wondered if it was worth getting cold and wet. I had faced bigger obstacles to dancing with the sea in the past, including snow, ice, sub-zero temperatures, and heavy winds. These challenges gave me the chance to choose practice again and again, to remind myself that practice means you do it consistently, even when it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable. That’s when a practice really gathers traction. But I started wondering if all the heroics were really necessary. 

Sometimes it’s time to soften and allow a practice to shift and change. The biggest clue is if it’s starting to feel rigid. Finding the right zone for a healthy practice is always a balance between giving up too easily, and clinging on too tightly. 

Discipline is essential, but rigidity is death.

I made my way across the wet sand, noticing several species of birds – soaring, tottering along the beach, criss-crossing each other in the sky, screaming each other’s names, and bobbing on waves just past the breaks. 

I gathered a few objects and bits of beach glass as I crossed the wide beach, shifting back and forth between looking down to panning the wide horizon.

I passed the spot where I had seen a snowy owl earlier in the winter, and scanned the dunes in case she was there again.

I used the objects I’d gathered to set up a small altar, then drew a giant circle around it with a long stick, and walked around it two more times, defining a space and setting the intention to listen on every possible level.

Beginning to move in Flowing, I wandered all through the circle I had created on the packed sand closest to the water. There was a slight incline and I let this help to pull me into circling, almost a kind of swooning. I noticed a slight pull of inertia, perhaps of general exhaustion, and kept bringing attention back into the sensation of the bottoms of the feet again and again. I softened and let in, pulled and swirled by any current that swept through. My feet felt curiously gentle, almost stealthy. I imagined that I was moving with the snowy owl, that she was teaching me to move through the woods at night, teaching me to see what is invisible to most eyes.

In the past I’ve associated the rhythm of Lyrical most strongly with spring, but lately I’ve been interested in exploring the staccato qualities of spring. 

Spring isn’t just about joy for me. It’s also about action. It can feel like a damn of energy that breaks and then is gushing out everywhere – sometimes in the form of “spring fever.” It can also be the push toward light that comes after a long period of waiting, contemplating, and gathering strength in darkness. It can be very directed.

Even so, when I’m dancing alone, sometimes the spark of Staccato is slow to ignite. Today I moved through a body parts practice, beginning with the feet, then the knees, hips, spine, head, shoulders, and arms. For each body part, I experimented with internal and external rotation. I saved the elbows for last, knowing they could lead me directly into Staccato. 

Given the rain and chilly weather, I was mostly alone so I could sing, growl, coo, and groan as much as I wanted to. Today I found definition, engagement, format. Partway through Staccato, I noticed a person in a yellow raincoat watching me from far away. Soon a lone walker crossed the top of my circle, too. I tried to avoid eye contact and dug deeper, cutting and stepping back across myself, staving off Chaos until I could again be alone.

I thought back to an in-person class I had attended the previous week, and of all the new ways of moving I brought into the group dance. I had found a new way to shake my head free, sinking low and finding the flinging momentum of diagonals. I brought it into the studio, and it visited me again on the beach today. In Chaos I also tottered downhill, skittering at the edge of balance, and hopped from side to side until the rush of manic chaos whipped me into wild spinning again.

Lyrical passed like a patch of sun moving across the sand and expanded the spaces between my ribs. Then I moved in Lyrical Stillness for a long time, with whispering feet – interior space merging with exterior space.

I think I will keep this practice for now, but perhaps hold it a little more lightly to make space for new possibilities and new priorities. To make room for the coming spring and all that it offers.

Carved in Stone

Sunny days can be a lot of pressure. It’s like you know you should be grateful and cheerful. Everyone around you seems grateful and cheerful. But if you don’t feel grateful and cheerful, challenging emotions can feel amplified. 

On a morning just before the spring equinox, I woke up way too early. The familiar squirm of anxiety made it feel like I wasn’t even waking up, just opening my eyes.

I decided to go for a run and headed to a sprawling cemetery where I had run one other time. The last visit, I had been pressed for time, and only just dipped in. This time, I set the intention to see what the place had to offer.

Instead of running straight, this time I turned right, past mausoleums with the names “Abel” and “Heath.” The path continued to wind uphill. Soon I took another turn, and another. Before long I was lost, feeling receptive and curious. I noticed angels in all manner of repair, some soaring above sections of graves with the far-off NYC skyline in the distance, some sunken to the level of the knees in the soft earth, some even missing their heads. I moved off the path to investigate and took pictures whenever something captured my attention.

Around one bend I discovered a section dedicated to the “Love” family. If I had been looking for a sign this would have been a perfect fit. I lingered, feeling more and more a sense of grace. 

Eventually I continued my run along the winding paths of the cemetery. Pausing to check out another grave, I heard a loud thud as my phone skidded on the pavement. I discovered that the slip-on pocket I had on my ankle had torn. I checked and found only one of my two keys remaining. 

I decided to try to retrace my steps to try to find the key I was missing. I took a left, a left, a right. And another left. Things looked familiar but I wasn’t sure. I second-guessed myself. The only landmark I remembered for sure was the Love grave. It crossed my mind to wonder, “What if my key was right in front of the Love grave?” “Nah,” my mind said to my own self. “That would be ridiculous. What are the chances? No way.” 

I guessed I was off track, so backtracked again to the last fork and went left. There it was once again, the Love grave, unmistakeable, carved in stone.

And, yes, you guessed it. There I found my key. Silver metal glinting in the sun, directly in front of the Love grave. Love is the key to everything, after all.

There was an employee close by on a riding lawnmower. Even so, I crumpled and started to cry, deciding that any thoughts that flowed through were a gift from the spirits, and listening intently in case there was more that needed to be heard. After considerable time of lingering, praying, listening, and giving thanks, I headed back through the winding paths to the exit.

A couple of days later, I found myself dancing a prayer for the Spring Equinox at Jacob Riis Beach. It was much colder than I thought it would be and I had been overzealous, dressing in just a spring sweater. I was tempted to bail, but decided I would step in, if briefly, do a 5Rhythms wave – which is to say that I would dance through each of the five rhythms: Flowing Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness – and see what might happen. 

I started to move right away to ward the cold from my body, but shifted and decided to make a good beginning, drawing a big circle on the sand to dance inside of and walking around it three times clockwise. The cold wasn’t as strident as I feared, and I settled into Flowing. At first I was not totally engaged, thinking I might go through the motions and get back to the warm car as quickly as possible. I found my way in by adding a prompt for myself, playing with internal and external rotation in different body parts, beginning with the feet, then the knees, hips, spine, shoulders, head, and arms. I ended with the elbows, anticipating that they might pull me naturally into the rhythm of Staccato. 

I really got into Staccato this time. I thought about the aspect of Spring that is this wild rush of energy, this incredible push of plants that have been moving and creeping underground in quiet darkness, and finally gathering up the force to break through the surface to sunlight. 

Some passersby stopped to spectate and I both tried to pretend I didn’t see them, and sharpened my moves – seeing myself briefly through their eyes.

I slowed briefly, for a moment ashamed of this unabashed joy, even in the face of so much suffering in the world, even as the earth’s temperatures heat up and wild storms are unleashed, even as my own uncle hovers on the verge of dying, even with so much that is fucked up and painful and brutally unfair.

I dug even deeper into Staccato, sinking down and pulling my low belly in, then pushing breath out sharply.

Chaos was a relief as it overtook me. I was a little tired at the outset following an active day, but found that I had a lot more energy than I needed at this point. I thought of the way I was downright ebullient at work on Friday despite significant obstacles and discouraging setbacks over the last several months following a few minutes outside in the warm sunshine. Every year, I’m reminded that Spring really does help. That joy might just erupt if I can get over the guilt I feel about it, and if I can get over the guilt about not feeling it even when I think I should.

Lyrical came and went. Soon a soaring bird and a glowing sky opened the doorway into Stillness; and I made my offerings and petitions in honor of the season, then sat quietly, seeing and hearing the crashing waves and barely feeling the cold.

Nothing is carved in stone, I reflected. Except Love, of course. That, I can assure you, is one thing that is carved in stone. The one force worth serving. The key to everything.

Working with Gaze in 5Rhythms Practice

Today I went to the woods to dance for the third day in a row. The only footprints in the surface of the snow were my own from the previous day. I choose a spot close to the river and walked a big circle to dance inside of to set a container for myself.

It took some exertion to get started given the crusted over surface of the snow, but once I moved around more, taking care to visit every part of the circle, the going got easier. 

The low afternoon sun cut through the bare trees and dazzled my vision. It was hard to avoid meeting the sun’s eyes, and brightly colored yellow, then red afterimages flashed on the snow, always disappearing as soon as I turned to them.

In Flowing, my focus tends to be soft. My eyes are slightly lowered, gaze often resting not far from my circling feet. When I’m dancing with others, I sense and internally acknowledge the people around me, but don’t typically make direct eye contact. 

In the woods today, it took awhile to let some of to-do list types of thoughts run though. As I brought my attention again and again to my feet, my breath started to deepen, and my senses became more noticeable.

The first sign that Staccato started to break through was that my gaze lit on a tree across the clearing, and I directed my attention to it. In Staccato, my eyes lift to my personal horizon line. They seek and find. I turned sharply to a different tree, then to a spot in the river. Then to yet another tree 180 degrees behind me, aligning my gaze with sharp, clear gestures.

Dancing with others, this is often the moment that I’m called to partnership. When I’m drawn into someone else’s field and I don’t question it, I just move toward and step in. I might meet someone’s eyes and smile. I might do a full turn while tipping my head back to hold their gaze the entire time. I might have a conversation in gestures, or any other kind of exchange.

Today I was strongly aware of the transition from Staccato into Chaos, because of how my relationship to gaze shifted. In Staccato, my eyes would find something, then I would lock into it, narrow my field, and respond. But when my gaze started to land on things at the same time that I was starting to respond to them, I started to feel the shift into Chaos. Whereas in Staccato, my vision was targeted, in Chaos, vision started to attend more to the peripheries, scanning rapidly for movement at the edges of my field of vision. As my head and body released more and more, vision started to get blurry, and flashed through sky, trees, river, feet, and snow with increasing speed.

In Lyrical something interesting often happens when I’m dancing outside. I start to notice sound in a different way. It’s like all the racket I was making in Chaos ceases and hearing is turned up. Sometimes my gestures are similar to how I was moving in Chaos, but it sounds really different. My gaze lifts up and sees more space. I start to see patterns everywhere – the ripples on the water, the overlapping branches and roots, the drifted snow.  

When I’m dancing with others, I might meet different people’s gazes and move quickly throughout the room, taking everyone as a partner, seemingly at once. I might also dance with something I’m sensing just above the people, or race through with a partner, playing hide-and-seek or lead-and-follow, as connected when we’re side by side as we are across the room, somehow seeing each other even when our line of vision is blocked by other dancers.

In Stillness, the gaze might become internal and (for lack of a better word) cosmic. This is when mundane vision might recede. Sometimes it’s like I turn inside, and the quality of that inner looking opens up a new doorway. Then I might start to see past the surfaces of things and experience a different level of reality – the relative yielding to the absolute, which is always available to us, yet is often invisible.

Today was no exception. One wide plane of undisturbed snow glittered green, purple, pink, and blue. I tried to capture it as a photo but none of the magic came through and my engagement shifted once I took on the camera’s gaze, the viewer’s gaze, the reader’s gaze. 

I sank down onto my knees and bowed, grateful for all I’d seen.

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.

A Prayer

Tap Tap. Tap Tap Tap Tap. Tap Tap.Tap Tap Tap Tap.

When I heard this sound I had already danced a 5Rhythms wave on the snowy bank of the Scantic River and was sitting cross-legged inside the circle of snow that had been packed down by my dance. I was offering thanks and saying a prayer for 5Rhythms teacher Mati Vargas-Gibson, who is terminally ill at this time.

I got back up from my seated pose, and moved in the rhythm of Staccato, dedicating the dance to Mati, someone I have never gotten the chance to know aside from a few digital interactions, but who I have very much admired and have hoped to one day connect with.

I moved with my exhalations, listening carefully for the woodpecker who was making this gorgeous pattern, hammering away at a tree on the other side of the river–measured and persistent. In no rush and clear on her objective. Confident that if she kept at it she would find what she was looking for.

Earlier I had parked by the road and hiked in–breaking the surface of new snow as I made my way to the river.

I wandered around looking for the most inspiring spot to dance, eventually finding myself in a small clearing on the river bank. Beginning to move in Flowing, I noticed a lot of work ideas coming and going, sometimes hanging on for long trains of thought. My feet moved without friction on the snow. As the snowfall got heavier I tried to watch one flake at a time as they cruised to the ground, but soon gave up and surrendered to being part of this quiet crowd of endings and beginnings.

Back to the dance with the woodpecker, her clear patterns became more erratic. I followed her, loosening, coiling, still moving to the beat she was tapping out but giving up on trying to understand it, giving up on finding a way to translate it, just spinning and quivering and falling and rising.

As Lyrical descended I remembered my hands, and noticed the sensation of the soft ski gloves on my fingers. My perspective widened. I heard the gurgling sounds of the river and identified the water obstacles that were giving rise to them. I also noticed the complicated patterns of ripples on the river’s surface and began to move with them.

In Stillness, I was porous, moving with infinite patterns now, grateful to the woodpecker for providing a rhythm to move with, for reminding me that all of existence can be read as a score for our dance.

Blessings to you, Mati. Thank you for your many gifts. May your memories rest lightly at this sacred time. And may your wisdom and teachings live on. 

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.

Remembering the Way Home

I woke up at some point during the night. Things I hadn’t gotten around to yet that had been nagging at the edges of my mind moved to the foreground. Even so, I kept bringing attention to any muscle that tightened and encouraging it to relax – forehead, stomach, jaw, the arches of the feet. Eventually I fell back to sleep.

After meditating and several hours on the computer, I decided to run to one of my favorite places, a small system of trails near the Scantic River in Northern Connecticut, where my twelve-year-old son, Simon, and I are staying with family this week.

I was surprised to find several utility vehicles near the modest river, and picked up the pace to investigate. My attention shifted suddenly when I felt a pinch in my right inner thigh. I paused and gently stretched it, hoping it wasn’t a pulled muscle. A couple of weeks before I’d had a similar sensation while running, but it had disappeared overnight.

I moved out of sight of the utility vehicles, looking for an inspiring spot where I could dance a 5Rhythms wave, part of my daily personal practice. The light rain picked up; and I wondered if it would rain hard enough to damage my phone. I climbed down onto a small, muddy beach but quickly realized that the mud and the slight incline would be too much of a strain on the vulnerable muscle, so climbed back up onto the main trail.

I moved cautiously, taking care not to cut into the muscle in question, and began to circle in the rhythm of Flowing. Some writing I had been working on drifted in and out of my mind, bringing new ideas and perspectives. I continued to move, not holding tightly, knowing that whatever is important would still be there when I sat down to write later. 

Needing to move cautiously made it harder to feel engaged. I decided to make a video to show a viewer what Flowing might look like from my perspective. This idea drew me in, and soon I put the phone away and started imagining what the palms of my hands were seeing as they moved all around me, above, below, around, behind. I moved in a looping matrix, seeing with new eyes, including things that are normally invisible. Soon, I also started to “see” with the soles of my feet.

Moving into Staccato, I played with slicing the air with the edges of my hands, sinking low, though continuing to be careful of taxing my legs or twisting too suddenly – more ideas for writing and life came and tested themselves out. A very slight pop in the side of my right knee seemed to relax the tight thigh muscle in a tiny increment, but I continued to move gently.

Chaos was subtle today, too. I started with jiggling my right leg, then the left, and let myself bob and coil until a quiet Lyrical emerged through the tops of the bare trees. Stillness brought me back to the sound texture of the river and the cold rain on my face. I also remembered the feeder stream to this river, the river this river feeds, and all the bodies of water they connect to.

Then I ran back home. In fact, if I look at it a certain way, everything I experience can be seen as part of this process of coming home. 

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.