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.
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.
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.