It has been a wild ride lately.
There are serious teacher and substitute teacher shortages at this time and as a result, many are carrying an almost-unsustainable work load. Also as result things have been chaotic, which has arisen to more fights than usual among the teens we teach. The principal was hurt breaking up a fight three weeks ago, and hasn’t been in the building since, though she has been trying to lead from afar.
On top of that, someone in my home building stole an amazon package, and a loud physical fight over a parking space erupted in the street in front of the building. The day before, a teen was hit by a car and thrown a huge distance. The driver left the scene while me and some other horrified neighbors tried to protect the severely injured child from traffic. We waited ten minutes or more for an ambulance.
I chose this place to be as close as possible to my son, Simon’s, middle school when we had to find a new place to live this past summer. I’m praying I made the right choice and that he can feel safe here. He keeps telling me he feels like he has to be “on high alert” though.
Today I had some time to myself; and I went straight to Riis Park beach.
Akin to the previous week, it was clear that the sea had surged over the boardwalk and all the way up to the bathroom area–a vast distance of beach swallowed up by high winds and high tides. Wet sand pooled in rivers and you could see dark and light sand patterns left by the receding waves.
It was not so cold that I needed snow pants, but cold enough that there were few beachgoers. I made my way along the boardwalk. The entire beach landscape was wet and smoothed down. Even the sand hills that are made in winter to protect the boardwalk from storm surges had been rounded and smoothed.
In the car on the way, I sobbed raggedly, thinking about the state of the world and how my personal experiences have intersected with it. I decided to dance with an intention today: physical and emotional safety for Simon, for friends and family, for the students I teach and members of my school community, and for all beings.
I found a driftwood board and made it into a small table with some rocks and shells. Then, I decided to search for objects to place on this altar that I would charge with protecting power, and give to some of the people I was hoping to send protection energy to.
We also got an email from Simon’s principal on Friday advising us that there had been a shooting on the corner right by his school in the middle of the afternoon. This is the first year he takes the bus alone, with only a peer and no adult supervision. He likes to stop for a snack at the deli on the way, and wasn’t happy when I told him he should go straight to school from the bus stop.
To give my attention something to hinge on, I decided to look for purple shells. It was low tide, and I spent some minutes searching for suitable objects among those embedded in the packed sand of low tide.
Last night when I was tucking Simon in, it occurred to me that the baseboard heaters get very hot, and it might not be a good idea for the bed and couch to be pushed right up against them. I consulted google and confirmed that bedding directly on the heater is not recommended. (Duh). I told him we needed to adjust and started moving things to make it safer. He was furious and screamed loudly that he was just trying to fall asleep.
My fingertips were cold and I wished I had thought to bring gloves. It was too cold for bare feet and I kept my shoes on as I started to move in Flowing.
Thankfully, I was quickly absorbed.
In part inspired by some somatic anatomy lessons led by 5Rhythms teacher Erik Iverson, I played with internal and external rotation in various body parts, moving from the feet, toes, arches, ankles, and heels on up through the rest of me. I spoke it aloud, teaching myself and also trying to be clear and concise as though I was leading a class.
Staccato felt like too much risk today. Every time I wondered about that, I just settled more into Flowing, feeling the need to settle my system and sink deeply into mindfulness of my feet–a core practice in the 5Rhythms system. At times I closed my eyes to allow me to turn further inside.
When I finally started to toggle quickly between internal and external rotation, especially in the shoulders and hips, Staccato started to emerge. I also began to play with pushing through the heels of my hands, then letting energy flow, and similarly pushing then releasing into the gestures of the heels of my feet.
Finally warm enough, I took off my shoes and coat and let my feet touch the cold sand as I trailed them in lines and dug them in deep twisting circles. I turned away from the water and into the land, moving with my own shadow on the sand as I cut and dipped, pushed and released, clipping, sinking, rising up, pausing, then letting the gesture fly, sometimes with sharp vocalizations
I remained completely absorbed as I moved into the rhythm of Chaos and continued to prompt myself with various body parts, internal and external rotation, and pushing then releasing through the heels of my hands and feet.
In Lyrical, the pushing that was coming through the hands and feet opened up into full looping gestures. I imagined myself as the blue of the sky, with clouds passing through my torso.
In closing, as the sun climbed higher into the morning, I moved with the dark inside myself, feeling both density and weightlessness, imagining I had no references points and no cardinal directions.
I walked back along the boardwalk with still-bare feet, feeling quiet and calm, and cautiously ready for the coming week.
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. All photos are courtesy of the writer.
Today I danced a clean wave.
A wave – in the 5Rhythms dance and movement meditation practice, that’s when we move through each of the five rhythms: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness – might feel heavy, spastic, reluctant, spacious, inspired, cathartic, precise, or any other way.
Today it felt clean.
The heat stopped working in my car yesterday, and I debated if I wanted to go to the beach to dance – a personal practice that has emerged in recent months – in such frigid temperatures. I was afraid I would be uncomfortably cold when I arrived, cold on the beach, and cold when I got back into the car to drive home.
Since the start of the pandemic, many of us have gotten a lot heartier about cold. All over Brooklyn, friends are posted up dining at plein air restaurants, kids are playing outdoor soccer in January, and people are meeting up on park benches to laugh and commiserate together.
I put on my son Simon’s bib snowpants, a heavy coat, balaclava, winter hat, wool socks, and ski gloves and made my way.
Arriving at Riis Park Beach, the wind was strong at my back as I headed across the vast beach to the water. The tide was extremely low, and the water was unusually calm, with the waves moving almost parallel to the beach. I was delighted that this revealed a huge section of packed sand – a much larger dance floor than usual.
Beginning to move in Flowing, I noticed that it was easier than usual to let go of thoughts as they arose and drop my weight down, settling the body as the slope toward the water pulled me into circling. I felt dragged by the ending waves, as they too were pulled by gravity, and I dipped and curved with the waves’ contours. In my heavy coat, my arms looked stiff in the shadow cast on the sand, so I unzipped the coat and softened my shoulders, allowing the arms to rise, fall, and circle along with the rest of me.
Often when I dance with the sea, it takes a really long time for Staccato to spark, if it comes at all, but not so today. A staccato song I love came to my head and I played with the energy of it, though the only soundtrack was my own breath and the gently lapping waves. A seagull came close, standing on the strong wind with her wings up, probably hoping I would toss out some Taquis or french fries or something. Birds don’t usually bring Staccato to my mind, but this one was literally suspended in a pause ten feet from me, eying me directly, in my mind wanting to connect. I dropped into my hips and played with her, moving my own elbows and shoulder blades, open to her message, willing to share mine.
After this spike of Staccato, I sank back into Flowing again – the river under every rhythm – with a deeper ability to luxuriate in circling.
I took off the heavy coat and put it down on sand. The wind kicked it over, also picking up little rivers of sand, looking like the ancient spirits who were accidentally released in the 80’s adventure movie Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Before long Staccato came back and I beamed, playing with small, tight movements then bursting overtures, before long adding crossovers, stepping one leg back across the other and leaping into spin, crossing one arm over the other and finding a descending angle with a hip sharply to the side. As I turned the planes of my body, there was a precise fulcrum when the wind faced one side of me, then shifted onto the other side of me as I turned.
I noted a man walking two big furry dogs a short distance away, and a family with two kids on top of the sand hills that the beach rangers erect in winter to protect the park buildings from being battered.
This distant potential audience gave me a tiny push to get bigger, and I shifted into a relaxed Chaos. I expanded to a wider radius, noticing rolls of Lyrical, drops back into Staccato, and the easy, sustainable momentum of a patient Chaos that’s fueled by both the underground river of Flowing and the heat of Staccato.
Chaos with a flavor of Stillness visited, as I raised my eyes to the horizon and followed a soaring bird with my gaze and gesture.
By now I was sweating and breathing heavily, but there was no sense of exertion.
Lyrical emerged right on cue, taking me to an even wider radius, casting me down and up again. A tiny bird scurried by and I followed her, sinking low and shimmying my hips along the edge of the water, then leaping up into the fingertips and stretching my chest with each soaring opening of the arms, one at a time, then both, casting down and rising up, extending into the farthest reaches of me without dropping my weight, relying on a different kind of balance.
Stillness called me; and I felt the sea’s depths and the wide horizon. I closed my eyes and moved with wind and breath. I emerged on the other side of this wave feeling cleaned out, and ready for the next wave.
January 24, 2021, Brooklyn, NY
(Image from bridgeandtunnelclub.com)
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
The wind was blowing west so I decided to move in the same direction, in sync with the waves. It was like using a pedal-assist bike. Each time I pulled the water with my cupped hand I shot forward. The sea rocked and lifted my body, and I kept my senses immersed, timing breathing with the rolling swells. After several days of this daily ritual, I started to feel grounded, like I could let go of the stress and anxiety of the previous months and move into the oncoming stress and anxiety with less baggage.
Usually by the end of July I’m really starting to relax. I look my best and feel my best. But this year, as fall looms, my stress level is increasing rather than decreasing as I scramble to organize conditions for my ten-year-old son, Simon’s, schooling, and prepare for my own job, which is also in a school, during the ongoing pandemic.
Driving to Cape Cod with my Dad, we ranged through heavy topics, like the upcoming election and issues related to racial justice. I used an expression – I wish I could remember what it was now – and realized I had no idea about its origin. I shared that for all I knew, it could have racist roots and I should find out its history before I used it again. My Dad shared that he had recently heard an expression that definitely has racist roots, but was used in conversation without its original intention. He felt that if the original intention was lost, it was no longer problematic. I disagreed with him, and we also talked about whether or not the association of light with positive things, and of dark with negative things might have a racial implication. He felt like this was going too far, and expressed frustration. I said, “I’m not trying to shut anyone down or make it impossible for anyone to express themselves. But I’m very interested in mining language for clues about my unconscious and the culture I’ve been raised in. And everything seems like fair game for examination at this point.”
Something small triggered me one evening during the week, and I realized how sensitive I was. I took a break and went to the beach as sunset lit the sky. Walking west, I talked by phone with my brother, who advised me there had been a significant COVID spike in the area of Cape Cod where we were staying along with extended family for the week. Anxiety surged in my body.
Dusk and the sky’s full expression had my back as I headed toward home. Pausing a few beaches away, I decided to dance a 5Rhythms wave, which is to move in sequence in the energy of each of the 5Rhythms – Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness.
There were still some lingering beach walkers, but (feeling slightly conspicuous) I drew a big circle in the packed sand close to the water, calling my ancestors, guides, and helpers to help make a space of safety and power, where I could work with the strong emotions that were coming and hear underneath what can be heard with my ears.
As I settled into the circling cadences of Flowing, I tried to avoid eye contact as a group passed by. “What are you dancing to?” a middle-aged white man in a baseball hat asked curiously. “To the waves and the wind,” I answered, trying for good humor. “Oh! And you made a circle!” “Yes, there’s a lot to move with lately,” I responded in a trying-for-bantering tone as they passed, though this probably made no sense whatsoever to them.
I settled deeper into Flowing, giving myself the space to express the obvious underpinning of anxiety: fear. My mind gushed with recent news items such as the local COVID spike, conversations, possible scenarios for fall, and ideas for how to protect Simon and myself. But I kept bringing my weight low, and bringing attention back to the feet and back to the senses, gathering mindfulness, and accepting the fear that has danced with me and so many others for months now.
I doubted I would ever move from the rhythm of Flowing into the second rhythm of Staccato. Instead, I rocked myself in motion, churning up the sand in every section of my inscribed circle, but staying inside its boundaries. I gave myself the space to settle my body – language emphasized by Resmaa Menachem, whose excellent book on embodied personal, generational, and racial trauma I read over the course of this healing week.
I finally did move into Staccato, but only for short intervals, noting the increased energy and activation, then settling the body back into Flowing again and again. I sensed or imagined that a presence joined me, a dark goddess, almost a pillar in the center of my circle, energetically overlapping with my body. I moved in and out of Flowing and Staccato, feeling her power and support.
I moved into the third rhythm of Chaos, again only for short intervals, again repeatedly returning to the first rhythm of Flowing. I let go softly as the sky drained of light, leaving only streaks of purple and blue on the west edge of darkness, feeling less conspicuous and more a tiny moving part of vast dynamic emptiness. “What do I need to hear?” I asked as I danced in shadows, and the sky whispered back.
I thought about Resmaa’s remarks on how important it is to know the difference between when we are productively settling the body, and when we are escaping into a calmly drugged state. This led me to reflect that intuition, conditioned responses, and trauma responses can look very similar, and how important it is to learn to discern between the three, especially as we are working to unravel racism in our bodies, minds, and cultures.
The next morning, I did my swim as usual, gently rocked by the sea as I moved along the shore. I went past the lifeguards, past the beachgoers, and nearly to a river in the town of Yarmouth. After some time, I emerged from the waves and walked back east.
I stopped at the beach I’d danced on the night before to pick up an exquisite piece of beach glass – with smoothed edges and frosted white surfaces – and held it in my hand.
I turned toward the ocean, remembering my dance of the night before, with tears streaming down my face. I could feel the entire universe in this one little piece of glass – the sand used to form it, the fire process that made it into glass, the person who used it and held it, the process by which it made its way into the sea, the vast body of the ocean and its endless motions smoothing the edges of things, and bringing this little piece of glass in with the tide, and now into my open hand.
Simon was already on the beach with my Mom when I finally made it back, so we got into the water together, playing at climbing onto an inflatable raft and trying to tip each other over, then letting the waves rock us and talking about the world and our place in it.
August 10, 2020, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
Photo1: Photo of artwork by Meghan LeBorious. Please not copy without permission. Photo2: https://www.theknot.com/us/christine-mariano-and-adam-frymoyer