by meghanleborious | Aug 18, 2022 | Notes on Practice
Practice aligns me.
This week, in West Dennis Cape Cod with extended family, my mornings are devoted to practice with the ocean. Today was my earliest start time this week, since many of my family members–including my 12-year-old son–were up early for a deep sea fishing trip. By 7:30, I was walking ankle deep in the waves toward West Dennis Beach.
I treat all parts of this process as practice, which is to say that from the time that I leave the cottage to the time that I return, I do my best to settle into the experience and not press forward, wishing time away. It also means that I show up every day–or nearly every day–regardless of conditions and sometimes regardless of what I feel like doing. For example, yesterday’s forecast was for 100% likelihood of rain. I wasn’t eager to get up early and head out to the sea, but I pushed a little, recognizing that practice means you don’t evaluate it every day; and you don’t allow your mind to have a conversation with itself about the pros and cons. I put my towel in a plastic shopping bag so when I got out of the water it wouldn’t be drenched, and headed out.
Today was bright and high tide was falling. My mom, who is delightful, enthusiastic, walked with me for a while. We paused to interact with a dog, fondly remembering our own dog of many years ago who was mostly the same breed as this one based on our best guess.
After I passed the Lighthouse Inn, I pulled out swim goggles and cap, peeled off the layer I had on over my bathing suit, then dropped my backpack with afterswim supplies on the sand and continued west.
Walking away from the morning sun, I gave my attention to the feet as they fell on the ultra-soft sand, to the sound of the waves, and to my moving body, inviting the shoulders to relax down, the belly to soften, and the hips to deepen in their sockets. Whenever I shifted into a story, a plan, an explanation, an analysis of my body’s symmetry, or an argument for or against my good character, I noted it and gently shifted attention back to the feet when I could so without excessive effort.
At Bass River, the boundary between West Dennis and Yarmouth, I turned my back to the wind and bent over to gather my hair in my hands, then stood up and turned toward the wind to coil it just behind the crown of my head. I put on the bathing cap and goggles, then hesitated briefly, tightening my shoulders against the cold water and wind, then wading in and diving hands first, heading back east.
There was a fierce chop today, and the wind was coming from the southwest, an assist on today’s eastward journey. In a pool, once my attention starts to settle with movement, I move my focus throughout the body. But in the ocean, there is usually plenty to anchor my attention in the present. Today, the waves rolled across me, lifting me up and casting me down, and I had to pay attention to the timing of my breaths to avoid getting a mouthful. The water was ochre and gold, the bottom rippled sand or obscured in stands of seaweed. I noted razor shells, clam shells, one big conch with an animal still inside it, and horseshoe crabs underneath me.
Periodically, I lowered a leg down to make sure I could still stand. I can handle the deep water just fine as a swimmer, but a (somewhat irrational) fear of sharks keeps me close to shore. And I figure if a shark ever does attack me, I’ll have a better chance of survival if I can stand up on my feet and punch them in the nose. I have it all figured out.
That doesn’t stop me from an occasional mounting shark panic, but I try to see even that emergence of fear as another opportunity to work with my mind.
I’ve been doing this swim or a similar swim for over 20 years now. It started back when I actually competed in triathlons, and really took off when my sister was doing triathlons too. Those days are long gone, but I still love long swims in the ocean. At first it was an occasional thing, at any time of the day it happened to fit. Over the years, I noted how much it helps me–not just during the week that I’m doing it but in the bigger picture, too–and became more and more committed to the point that I actually plan around it, even declining the offer to join a deep sea fishing trip with my son, my Dad, and other family members this morning.
That’s just how it went when I started to dance the 5Rhythms 15 years ago. At first it was just a class or two here or there. But within less than a year I was planning my life around attending Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves class in the West Village, and also added whatever additional classes I could squeeze in and every workshop that came up.
Everything changed for me then. I galloped through layers of trauma and learned habitual patterns. Creativity exploded. I was able to connect with people with much greater intimacy. I was more playful. Walking on the sidewalk in Midtown became a game.
I also moved through agonizing stretches of feeling isolated, witnessing my own self abuse, and coping with difficult emotions, but following each period of agony somehow emerged even more committed to practice.
After the wild west end of the beach, I passed the first lifeguard chair: white painted wood with a red number 8 on its side. The wind and waves helped me out, and I continued to note each successive chair from 7 all the way to 1 as I made it the two miles back to my backpack in what seemed like a shorter time than usual.
I moved quickly to the towel, then changed my wet bathing suit for loose pants and long sleeve shirt. I sat for a while in meditation, then decided to do some yoga movements to warm myself up. Once I was warm I sat for longer, in no particular hurry to get on to anything else.
Last night, I danced the 5Rhythms. I walked with some family members, but they headed west and I stayed put. The evening beach was more crowded than I hoped, but I found a quiet-ish corner to practice. The tide was high and I circled up and down from the high tide line as I began to move in the rhythm of Flowing. In this session I made a clear distinction between each of the five rhythms–Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness–as I moved through each of them. I could see my sister, brother, brother-in-law, and niece in the distance, occasionally bending over to gather a treasure, and figured I would dance just until they made it back to me. After moving through each of the rhythms, an internal gear slipped me deeply into Stillness, and I whisper moved with the waves, the horizon, and the soaring birds. Vision tracked energy. I could feel heat rising to my cheekbones and the crown of my head. Chemical releases in my leg muscles set loose a shake. When they were almost back to me, I reconnected with my feet, intending to reconnect with day-to-day reality, though practice had opened the doorway to a different layer.
This morning, caked in sand, muscles awake and stretched, wind making a flag of my loose shirt, hair knotted and half-wet–I could feel my edges softening, recent and past experiences moving through, and my selves gliding into alignment.
Thank you, my beautiful son. Thank you, family. Thank you, ocean. Thank you, Gabrielle Roth. Thank you, practice. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. I bow down to the universe, to my teachers, and to this precious life.
August 18, 2022, West Dennis, Cape Cod
Meghan LeBorious is a writer, teacher, and meditation facilitator who has been dancing the 5Rhythms since 2008 and recently became a 5Rhythms teacher. She was inspired to begin chronicling her experiences following her very first class; and she sees the writing process as an extension of practice—yet another way to be moved and transformed. This blog is not produced or sanctioned by the 5Rhythms organization. Photos courtesy of the writer.
***For NYC dancers, Meghan has a seven-class 5Rhythms series coming up that starts on October 14, “Spirit Drenched in Gold.” Join a single class or join the full series for a discount. Registration is required – https://spiritdrenchedingold.eventbrite.com
***Meghan also has a five-class online writing/dance 5Rhythms “Writing Waves” class that starts on September 15. Registration is required – https://www.eventbrite.com/e/writing-waves-tickets-397987811257
by meghanleborious | Jul 14, 2022 | Notes on Practice
Summer means something to me.
Daily routines during the school year can be crushing. Not only am I a teacher with a long list of roles and responsibilities, but I also work hard to support my own 12-year-old son in his learning.
There are many things to catch up on, projects I want to attend to, outings to plan, and many competing priorities.
But for the moment I’m in a Flowing space. Flowing is the first of the five rhythms in the 5Rhythms dance and movement meditation practice. It is receptive, circular, patient, grounded, and humble. It bides its time. It listens to the vibrations in the ground. It reminds me that if I try to charge forward without first finding my “ground” any actions will lack integrity.
It takes me awhile to change gears and trust that I don’t have to press to do every single thing in the most efficient way possible. I think it’s partly because the longer days make me feel like I have more time.
Even when I’m trying to work my way through my list, for the past week I’ve more or less drifted from task to task.
“You have to know what you want! You have to really see it, visualize it, know it as real, to make it a real thing!” Excellent job-seeking advice from a trusted advisor.
But I’m just not there.
I’m still detoxing, integrating, processing. I don’t know the way forward just yet. My practice at this moment has been to take a break from trying to know, and instead to dive into practice.
Today I practiced and practiced and practiced. I did sitting meditation, yoga-type movement, ran in the woods, and danced multiple 5Rhythms waves to music in the backyard at my parents’ house, where my son and I are staying for much of the summer.
I played with weight in the rhythm of Flowing, imaging my feet were weighted, or that they were made of metal and the ground was a magnet. Before long, I also imagined that my hands were weighted, dragging me toward the ground after a dramatic rise, and pulling me into endless circling. Moving into the rhythm of Staccato, the powerful ground that had been established opened the doorway for exuberant expression.
I have nothing tangible to show for these many hours spent in practice. And yet, the time feels well spent. To be honest, I don’t think there could be any better use of my time.
Later, as I ate dinner on the back deck with family, the sky started to rumble and wind coursed across the landscape like contour lines on an elevation map.
I sat myself down to meditate by my little altar as the sky opened, wracking every surface with pelting rain.
I remembered another thunderstorm, this one during a meditation retreat at Garrison Institute that I wrote about in 2019, during a period of community silence and relentless heat.
“We were told there was a severe weather alert and that if we felt nervous we could take shelter on the lower level of the building. The storm tore the sky apart, and it was like the outside came resoundingly inside the soaring, once-Franciscan-cathedral main hall. Still in silence, several of us made our way to the front steps where we had a view of the sweeping lawn and river. The pavement and plants gave off steam. Mist exhaled into the entryway and landed coolly on my exposed arms, legs, and face. A white cliff-waterfall on the other side of the river tripled its size. A woman seated next to me on the marble steps ate a crunching apple, savoring each bite.
Back in the meditation hall, the storm continued as mindfulness became increasingly concentrated. At one point, I realized it was too intense for me, and stepped into the foyer, intentionally interrupting practice. After a few minutes, I went back in and sat down on the cushion again. Then, I had a sharp, sudden sensation on the left side of my head, and was seized by the fear that I might be having a stroke.
I remembered something the vipassana teacher, Dipa Ma, once told a practitioner who was freaking out during a sitting period. She sat next to him and said, “If you can stay with this sensation, you will accumulate great merit.” I settled down and the flash of pain and fear soon faded.”
Later I realized this was an important turning point in my path; and revelations poured through in the coming days. I have always loved storms, but now a storm can feel like a blessing.
In the evening, I finally sat down to write about practice.
Today new information about the January 6th insurrection also poured in, and I am amazed to find that my jaw can still drop. For now, I am gathering, receiving, biding my time, and listening to the ground.
July 12, 2022, Broad Brook, Connecticut
by meghanleborious | Apr 5, 2022 | Notes on Practice
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.
by meghanleborious | Mar 23, 2022 | Notes on Practice
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.
by meghanleborious | Apr 12, 2021 | Notes on Practice
Today is my birthday, so I wanted to do all of my favorite things. After breakfast, my 11-year-old son, Simon, meditated with me for a little while, then I continued to meditate on my own. After that, I joined a zoom yoga class with a beloved master instructor who I’ve been practicing with for more than a decade.
Next, I drove to Riis Park, a wide open beach that’s just 30 minutes away on a light-traffic-day. For much of the drive, I had to keep the windshield wipers on maximum, and I was curious about what dancing in such heavy rain would be like.
On the way, I spoke with my mom, who told me the story of my birth, as she does every single year on my birthday. The details of the story change, but the main theme is always the same. “You are loved. You have always been loved. We loved you before you were even here.” I always feel my heart rise up with a tide of tears. Some years I’ve suffered in the face of this love considering my own self hatred, but this year I said, “Tell me about how tiny I was again and what it was like when you first saw me.”
Arriving at the beach, I sat in the parking lot, writing a list of intentions for the year, and also for the new moon, which happens to fall on my birthday. The one that I liked the best this time was, “Set free what is no longer now.”
Simon had loaned me his waterproof spring coat; and I pulled up the hood and tied the strings around my neck. Droplets hitting the hood kept up a constant pattering sound. I could feel the raw air on the inches of ankle left bare by low socks.
The horizon was obscured by white mist as I made my way across the wide, wet beach. The waves were powerful but the tide was low, leaving a wide section of packed sand for a dance floor. Rain seemed to be coming in hard from the side, and the wind pushed against me almost parallel to the water.
A lone pair of people and a dog were visible in the distance when I first arrived, but before long I was totally alone. Still with the hood tied under my chin, I began to move in big arcing loops, enjoying the pull of gravity as I ascended and descended the steep slope by the water’s edge. A whole rush of words, bits of conversations, and fragments of experiences from the week and month came streaming along. Since I was alone, I sang loudly, moving from song to song as they popped up in my head, continuing to move in big circles. I also repeated the intentions from the list I had written in the car, offering them to the dance and trusting its power, repeatedly saying, “Set free what is no longer now.”
Following this flowing chapter, this opening act of my personal dance, Staccato began to catch in my throat and hips. I let out several cries as I sank low, grateful I could let my voice fly to the wind without fear of being a spectacle.
Before long Chaos moved me into energetic space; and I was coiling and spinning, moving closer to the ended waves, giving attention to the heaving sea as it rose as form then broke apart again.
Lyrical backed me away from the wind, rising onto my toes, arms raising up, and turning my face toward the sky. Wisdom poured through, reminders from the universe about my place in things, about letting go of the small stories that keep me afraid and separate. And gratitude came pouring out. Gratitude for this life, for my work, for my son and family, and for the many blessings I’ve experienced.
There was a lot of crying today. Even from just the past week, there is so much that needs to be processed, integrated, and healed. In a way, the path of a life is a million wounds and a million healings. But I guess that’s only if we’re lucky. I guess that’s only if we are here for it, if we can set free what is no longer now, keep moving with what life brings us, and keep finding new ways to dance.
April 11, 2021, Brooklyn, NY
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.