Listening to Your Deepest Self (Why I Dance)

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One evening, feeling kind of sorry for myself, after breaking up with my girlfriend, I walked into a bar, and saw a couple swing dancing.  It was the end of 1999, near the height of the swing dance craze that had swept the nation, and I got swept.  My technology job ended, and I chose my next project largely on the basis of  swing dance scenes around the country.  I ended up in San Diego, CA, dancing every chance I got.

Family and friends would ask me “why do you dance so much?”  I had to say, I didn’t know.  I just knew I was compelled.  I went out dancing at least 4 nights a week.  A good portion of my substantial paycheck went to private dance lessons and weekend workshops.

It wasn’t until several years later that I could form an answer.  After years of dancing, the meaning of “self” had completely transformed in my lexicon.  The reason “I didn’t know why I was dancing years ago was because who I thought of as “I” was transformed by dancing.  As long as I could remember, the “self” I identified with was my thoughts.  Somewhere along the line, I started thinking of “self” as mind and body.  It was as if my future-self had pulled me into dancing before I knew it was me, with no rational explanation my hitherto “self” could grasp.  This new concept of “self” that had a physical presence in the world was a lot more fun, a lot more present in the world, and much warmer and fuzzier.  Only instinct had led me from the limited sense of self I had carried for years, into this more integrated self-image.

And the choice to dance gave me so much more.

  • It was an injection of joy into a life that sorely needed it.
  • Every partner I danced with reflected something back to me about who I was being — generous or self-focused, creative or consistent, joyful or sad, playful or passionate — a mosaic of self-awareness I could not have found anywhere else.
  • Confidence entered my life in a way I had never known before, as I mastered this craft.
  • Each dance, a “3-minute romance,” was an exploration in relationship, a chance to learn how to create a trusted space where my partner could express herself fully.
  • Dancing made me feel beautiful.

This process has repeated itself for me many times, since.  Each life-changing experience I have chosen, I could not explain why I chose it at the outset.  It was only after learning what it had to teach me that I could explain why my intuition sent me there, as if being informed by my future-self.

“All of life’s important decisions are made on the basis of insufficient data.”
  – Sheldon Kopp, psychotherapist and author 

There is a voice inside that knows what you want; knows what you need.  It doesn’t always seem to make sense.  But if you are quiet enough, you will feel it.  Deep in your belly. Sometimes, we call it intuition.  It is your rudder.  If you are not used to following it, you may find it challenging to follow, at first.  But that is how you train the muscle.  Whatever choices you are facing, just let yourself feel what you feel, and you will be guided to your deepest self.  The part that knows what makes you come alive.

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

With love,