I love to dance ~ I danced in a performance group in college and I really missed dancing once I moved on to “real life.” Several years ago I was happy to discover that the dance studio my daughter attended also offered Moms’ classes. Awesome!
Until I discovered that my new class would include tap. I took an introductory tap class once, over 10 years ago. That’s it. Now I had to learn a full tap dance routine for recitals and competitions.
While I enjoy tap dancing, it is really hard. I have to concentrate so fully on each step that I cannot think of anything else when I am in class. I can’t let my mind wander to lesson plans, to-do lists, Netflix queues, or any of the myriad other distractions known to tempt my monkey mind.
When the instructor tells everyone in class to do a time step, they execute a seamless move. Since I don’t know the full move by heart, my mind has to think through each individual step at a time: “stomp, brush, hop, shuffle, step, fah-lap, ball-change, stomp, repeat.”
It’s a bit like learning how to drive ~ at first, every single action required our full attention. We fully experienced driving. But now we can drive, literally, on auto-pilot: we go through the motions and our minds could be a million miles away.
But not my mind during tap class. My class is a helpful reminder to me of what mindfulness is. It’s not just sitting in meditation ~ it can be active and engaging. It can be single-pointed concentration on one activity.
Mindfulness is also not “not thinking” — it is paying attention to our thoughts.
It is focusing entirely on the present moment, and doing the current task as if it were the only thing to be done, without fretting over the past or worrying about the future.
When I dance, my mind is fully focused on the present moment, on every one of the complex movements of my body. I am aware of the coordination of the muscles and the bones of my feet, ankles, and legs as I learn a new step, and hear the satisfying taps and clicks of a busy dance classroom. I go easy on myself, and try not to judge my mistakes. I leave class feeling refreshed and energized.
From Mindful to Mind-Full
Many years ago, my tap class taught me a perfect lesson on the contrast between mindfulness and mind-full-ness, of non-judgmental awareness and being wrapped up in powerful emotions.
As I was driving home from class, I checked my phone while waiting at a red light. A message popped up from my husband’s Twitter account: “Someone is spreading a nasty rumor about you,” followed by a link. It was the week before this blog launched. I had just joined Twitter a few days ago, I had spent an entire weekend developing the blog, and had started linking myself online to this website.
I panicked! I have haters already!?! Someone is spreading rumors about me and slandering me online just before I am going to launch the blog I am so excited about!? Before I could click on the link, the light turned green and I couldn’t get any more information.
My heart was racing, I felt dizzy. My mind ran a-mile-a-minute. I’m going to ditch the blog! I know I’ve put so much time into it, but this isn’t worth it! What are people saying about me? Why would someone do this?….
I went from being mindful to being swept up in a storm of emotions ~ anxiety, fear, panic. I felt ill. Was there anything I could have done about it right there in my car? No. But did I still freak out? Yes. Did I mindfully observe the situation before reacting? Definitely not.
I got home, raced inside, and prepared to log-in to the presumed rumor-filled site. I asked my husband what his message had been about. What is the nasty rumor? I was terrified to hear it.
“What message? What rumor?” he asked.
When I told him, he replied, “It’s spam. It’s been going out to all my Twitter followers.”
Spam!?! I had gotten all worked up over a stupid spam message? Damn spammers!
It took a good half hour for my body to relax, for the panic to subside. Instead of taking in the information and thinking clearly when I received the email, I wasted valuable time and energy freaking out. I let my emotions, fear, and drama-filled mind take over.
There is a Zen Buddhist saying that tells us “The whole world is medicine.” There is a lesson in each life experience. The quick, sharp contrast between my calm state of mind upon leaving class, and the sickening panic a few minutes later was definitely a teachable moment for me.
Mindfulness lesson learned: Pay attention wisely. Pause before reacting.
I’ve learned to apply the same approach I take to dance class — breaking my moves down into their component parts, seeing how everything fits together — to the things that might cause me to freak out. Had I carefully attended to my husband’s alleged message, I might have realized, “He would never message me through Twitter. He would never leave such a vague message…”
I love how this small anecdote illustrates how mindfulness helps us with things both big and small throughout our days: it allows us to cultivate the sustained attention on our activities that helps us achieve a pleasant state of “flow,” and it provides powerful tools for when those states are broken by the inevitable unexpected hiccups during our day.
I simply remind myself to breathe, and to dance.
And if all else fails, I repeat the following mantra: “stomp, brush, hop, shuffle, step, fah-lap, ball-change, stomp, repeat.”
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