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.