My body breathes a sigh today.
Yesterday, Saturday, the bright sun was too much for me. Grey clouds parted in the afternoon and instead of feeling the joyful charge of spring, I stood in the middle of the sidewalk blinking, unable to take it. The bright, warm afternoon just felt like too much pressure.
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been struggling. What is that tiny shift that happens when things go from workable to hopeless? The truth is that there is nothing wrong – at least not compared to what people around me are coping with. I know better than to try to talk myself out of feeling bad, but still there I was. Miserable and shaming myself on top of it.
I did yoga in the living room in the morning. It helped to move, but a few times I noticed myself stopping. Not like taking a break, not even like holding my breath, really. More like just blanking out in the middle of a chaturanga with my face to the floor. And thinking vaguely of some ancient reason I should beat myself up until I gave a little shake and restarted the breath and movement.
My thirteen year old son, Simon, was feeling down, too, and I was happy that he decided to join a friend’s family for dinner and a sleepover.
Almost simultaneously, I learned that Amber Ryan was offering a 360 Emergence class at Paul Taylor studio on the Lower East Side; and I bought a ticket immediately. Amber is a former 5Rhythms teacher; and the 360 Emergence is a new practice with deep roots in the 5Rhythms.
I barely had time to gather my things, bring Simon to his friend’s house, and find parking. On the way, I learned that a powerful storm was in the forecast, and that there was a tornado watch.
Me and a crowd of afflictive emotions walked up the stairs, and they all entered the studio with me. I paused to move through an energetic ritual as I crossed the threshold, then walked across the wide floor.
One friend’s gaze seemed to skitter over me, not registering when I tried to catch his eye to silently say hello.
I moved around the edge of the room to orient myself to the space and the group, bringing attention to my feet, and occasionally glancing my fingertips or inner arm along the wall to wake up sensation in different parts of the body.
And soon delight arrived.
It’s not always like that. You never know what will happen when you step into practice. Sometimes you even feel worse at the end than when you started. But on this evening, I made the barely perceptible shift from feeling like things were hopeless back into believing they are workable.
Within ten minutes, I was ranging softly through different levels, stretching intuitively, and tasting the air in the different parts of the room.
Amber guided us through a practice to connect with different energy centers in the body. As encouraged us to engage the ribcage in moving energy around the solar plexus, a wide groan escaped me along with unleashing some painful teen and early adult memories.
Since Simon has become a teen recently I’m finding that I have new strata of unresolved trauma – trauma that I thought had been long dispensed with. I recognize the need to move with it quickly, so I can be clear and direct in parenting this extraordinary human, and not mire him in the tangles of my own psychology and the fears that arise for me.
A friend from my long-ago days in the underground dance world found me this week, too. She wants to hold a reunion – a rave, actually – for those of us who are still alive. I was happy to hear from her, and plan to participate, but it knocked on the door of some pesky demons.
My whole face was wet with tears as I threaded throughout the space, slipping through gaps between bodies, sliding in and out of partnerships, and collaborating with the circling room.
Amber kept inviting us to pause and return to “zero” throughout the class.
Many years ago, Amber led a workshop in this very same space called “Zero Zone,” which was the first time I heard her talk about zero.
I wondered briefly if “zero” was influenced by Dzogchen, an energetic Tibetan practice of dropping into raw awareness on the spot. And I wondered how it relates to Stillness in the 5Rhythms. And a chain of other associations. Then, the thoughts receded again into the background as my own body and its experiments emerged in the foreground.
At one point, Amber invited us to very intentionally move with the breath, then opened up the music again to allow us time to integrate these new seeds that had been planted.
When the intensity peaked again and again, I found myself right in the middle a lot of the time, moving with all the energy I could need, sinking to the ground, then spiraling back up, casting upward, diagonaling myself back down and across, sometimes finding myself face to face with a partner, and sometimes on my own.
I was so engaged that I didn’t notice darkness shining through the many windows until there was a flash of lightning outside.
In an experiment that involved taking turns with one person in the middle while three others supported them and held space, I felt heat rising to my face and crown when it was my turn to be in the middle. And I felt just as engaged when it was my turn to hold space. I remembered my nature as a healer, as an energy worker, and that we are all healers and energy workers.
In the final stretch of dancing, some stayed with their small group, while others moved through the space. Amber put on an electronic dance song with an engaging beat that pulled us deeper into motion. Then, to my surprise and delight, the beat dropped fast in a low, heavy bassline and the room exploded.
I found many new ways to move, sometimes quirky, jerking, skimming, bursting. I found a new loop around the back of my neck, a new way to rise up through my back from the hips, a new flutter in the heels, a new triple count step to stop short without jamming.
All that is to say that I found new ways to be alive.
Before stepping in, I wondered if I would have the energy to move given how disheartened I had been feeling.
By the end I felt grateful again. Grateful to be alive, grateful for the dancing path, grateful to have the chance to do my best as a parent, grateful that my body has accumulated decades of athletic experience yet still hasn’t broken down, grateful for the spirits and ancestors who I believe dance with me. Grateful for all of it. For everything.
My body remembered why I set foot on this dancing path to begin with. I also remembered what my body never forgets – that the mysterious tiny shift I was contemplating is really just a matter of being embodied. Of being alive to this moment, to this precious life.
Thank you, Amber. Thank you, Gabrielle. Thank you, my son. Thank you, this body. Thank you, this life. I am blessed in every sense. My path is strewn with flowers, and I can again see the gentle rain of blessings.
Meghan LeBorious is a certified teacher of the 5Rhythms dance and movement meditation practice. This writing is not sanctioned or commissioned by the 5Rhythms organization and is solely the writer’s personal experience.
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
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.
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:
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Meditating in the pre-dawn hours as light seeps into the sky
- The Rocky Mountains
- Exquisite cheese
- Having candlelight breakfast every day
- Running and diving into the ocean, then doing butterfly timed with the swelling waves
- 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
- My sister’s extraordinary ability to animate puppets with breath
- Having clear closets and clean weekly systems
- My father’s commitment to meaningful civic action
- My mother’s commitment to disrupting the status quo in favor of beauty and human dignity
- My uncle’s tireless work to create a community health center
- Beach glass
- Dancing with the sea
- Song swelling in the body then expressed as vibration
- Dancing with fireflies
- Having a fuzzy caterpillar crawl across your bare foot
- Eating burritos on the top of a mountain with my brother
- The ocean at night
- A story that makes me ache
- A joke that gets wrapped around four times, including everyone in the humor, yet impossible to re-tell
- When your best friend answers your text right away and sends an emoji that perfectly matches how you’re feeling
- The joy of wonderful-smelling deodorant
- When linear time loosens its grip and you are free to move through multiple dimensions
- The first garden tomatoes of the season
- Falling in love more after you break up
- Getting to know your grandfather more after he transitions to after-living
- Petals blowing all over my Brooklyn street in early spring
- Missing the train
- Snow under streetlights
- Daylight savings when it means more daylight
- Daylight savings when you’re forced to return to the austerity of winter
- My spirit entourage
- Being somewhere no one can catch you in their gaze
- Being in front of an audience
- My mother’s love of rich pattern
- The densest, coldest, deepest part of the Hudson River
- Protected space
- Parking tickets
- Patient attention with no agenda
- Being reprimanded by your boss
- Speaking your truth
- Cutting through bullshit
- Going on a hike with a big group of people you barely know
- A reflective glacial lake with no boats
- Ley lines
- The movie E.T.
- When smell opens memories
- Bedtime routines
- Singing to my son
- Singing with my Dad (even when he gives me evil eye if I’m off key)
- Straining to sing a lyric
- Resonating and singing a challenging lyric with ease
- Singing publicly
- Singing alone
- The incense and candles at Catholic church
- The sound of rivers
- Horrific boredom
- Poorly fitting underwear
- Puppy enthusiasm
- Holidays when no one gets too drunk
- Meditating on the beach in the early morning
- Snow angels
- When your mind gets so quiet you can hear energy
- When your eyes get so quiet you can see molecules
- Traffic jams
- Dancing while in labor
- Dancing to integrate failure
- Dancing to remember your place in things
- Dancing everywhere
- Snowy owls
- Did I mention owls?
- River spirits
- Card games
- Dancing the grief of spirits
- Dancing with birds in flight
- Dancing your relationships
- Dancing your life cycles
- Sleeping through the entire night and remembering your dreams when you wake up
- Turning off the flashlight and walking through pitch black woods at night while listening to owls, wolves, and stars
- Clear water in glass bowls
- When someone paraphrases you so well they show you something you didn’t realize you said
- Avocado with lemon
- Having somewhere with a beautiful view to write
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”
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.
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.