What Dance Taught Me About Making Decisions

What Dance Taught Me About Making Decisions

I’ll never forget my first pair of ballet shoes. My Mum took me to Nolan’s shoe shop on the high street of our small Irish town and I sat on a little three legged stool transfixed as Mr Nolan brought out several pairs of soft leather slippers in the palest coral pink. This was it – I was really going to be a ballerina!

My dream didn’t work out quite as planned (bum, boobs and thighs not yet welcome in the professional ballet world), but I gained so much from the ten years I spent at the Wicklow School of Ballet, not least the ability to tune in and connect with my body in a way that I am only now, 35 years later, beginning to fully appreciate.

For me, there has always been something other-worldly about dance as an art form and before I discovered meditation it’s probably the closest I came to accessing that blissful, meditative state of ‘everything that’s happening right in this moment is just perfect and just as it should be.’ I loved everything about dance – the physical challenges of exhorting your body to stretch that bit further, kick that bit higher and bend and fold in a myriad of different ways. I loved the powerful emotions that were stirred in me when I danced, and how movement became a vehicle for expressing things I could never convey in words. I loved the sense of achievement I experienced when a sequence of steps became a story, and how the curve of an arm or the arch of a back or the sweep of a leg told you all you needed to know about what lay at the heart of that story. It was and is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

My relationship with my body has not always been an easy one, but as the years have gone by I have come to appreciate more and more the powerful mind/body connection that was cultivated through my years of ballet and modern dance. When I’m uncertain of the answers in my head, I now turn to my body for guidance, and the more I trust in it, the clearer the decisions become. It is comforting and reassuring to know that when my brain is tired and foggy, besieged with emotion or just plain refusing to play ball, I can check in with my body and see what it has to say.

So then, how does this work? Well a good way to start nurturing this mind/body relationship is by simply noticing what you experience physically when you react to things emotionally. Where does fear, anxiety, hurt or anger sit in your body and what physical reaction do these emotions bring about? Do you feel tension in your shoulders, tightness in your chest? Do you hold your breath or start to breathe more quickly? Now you are beginning to notice what happens when you experience dissonance. By contrast, notice how your body feels when something feels resonant – when you are happy, excited, relaxed, chilled, proud or pleased. You will likely feel very different physically. Your body knows there is nothing to fear and nothing to worry about so it defaults to its ‘home base’ state. The more you practice this, the more you’ll be able to turn to your body when you need to make a decision about something that’s enveloped in strong emotion, or when the stakes are high and it feels like the wrong decision might derail you completely. Find a place where you can be still and breathe slowly and steadily for five minutes. Bring your awareness to your physicality and ask your body to give you guidance. You’ll be surprised how quickly it responds.

Be. Here. Now. Lessons In Parenting From A Tummy Bug

Be. Here. Now. Lessons In Parenting From A Tummy Bug

‘Your homework this week is to practise being in the moment,’ said Jennifer Grace, creator and master trainer of the Creative Insights Journey I am currently taking on Monday evenings. I could feel my whole body tensing with resistance before she had even finished the sentence. I don’t do Be Here Now. I do plenty of Be Somewhere Else Now – as in the recent and not so-recent past, the possibly-may-never-be-future and the fabulous fantasy life I create for myself where I’m five pounds lighter and can run up hills without looking like a particularly decrepit zombie. Here – not so much. I’m just too much of a butterfly; my mind always flitting off to find the next tasty cabbage leaf.

But, you know, homework is homework, and I’ve paid hard earned pounds for the privilege of doing this homework, so I put my positive head on and resolved to give it my best shot. But maybe I wouldn’t start straight away, I’d just see how I went. Do the ‘wandering butterfly’ for another day or so and just ease myself into it. This, I decided, would be the best plan, so I went about my business and didn’t give the Here And Now another thought.  The Universe, however, had other plans for me, and just a couple of hours later, a particularly brutal toddler-incubated tummy bug was beginning to make itself at home in my very tired and run down body. By midnight that night, the only thing I could focus on was the hhhhhhhhheeearrggghhhhhhh and now. If you get my drift…!

The following day was what you might call a total KO. Like I say, it was a brutal bug, and the sweats, aches, shivers and judders that accompanied it were exhausting. I managed to drag some clothes on and take the biological weapon (my three year old) to nursery, then returned home to collapse in a heap on the sofa where I lay for most of the day, practising entirely unintentional mindfulness. I felt so bloody awful, all I could think about WAS how bloody awful I felt – but here’s the thing, there was a lesson to be learned in it. I focused intently on the aches in my body, I tuned in to the pounding in my head, and was curious about the involuntary shivers that shook me every now and then. I listened to my breathing, and I was acutely aware of the very strange sounds emanating from my tummy. It was all just so…’mindful.’ ‘Hey,’ I thought to myself, ‘look at me being all Here And Now with this bug. I get it. I’m doing it.’ Now, one might argue that it wasn’t so much mindfulness as wallowing I was practising, but when I dragged my sorry self off the couch approximately 7 hours later to go and collect my wee man from nursery, I decided to put my learnings to the test. Just to see what would happen.

Wee man was in fine fettle, completely oblivious to the fact that Mummy looked like a cadaver, and all fired up to play his current favourite game of ‘giving Mummy presents.’ This involves gathering up every toy, book and cuddly toy he owns and piling them up in the vicinity of wherever I happen to be. Usually at this hour, I am trying to get some housework done, or cooking dinner, or still on the laptop trying to get some work finished, and my mind is on anything but the game of ‘giving Mummy presents.’ But today, as I lay supine on the sofa, being buried under toys, all I could do was join in – in spirit at least. I watched my little boy as he toddled around the room, gathering up things to give to me, and telling me to close my eyes every five seconds because everything was a ‘surprise.’  I tuned in to the sound of his little voice, high pitched with excitement and the sheer joy of what he was doing. I noticed the smell of his hair as he climbed beside me to pile yet more ‘presents’ on top of me, and I, for the first time in a long time, just enjoyed ‘being’ with him, engaging as much as my poorly body would allow with this delightful game we were playing.

And then, I felt really really sad as it dawned on me how much of my time is spent not really ‘being’ with him at all. Oh I might be here in body but my mind is elsewhere, planning the next step for my business, fretting about all the things I have on my to-do list, getting fed up and flustered because the house is a mess. And all the while, precious seconds are ticking by, seconds that could and should be spent enjoying this remarkable little person who, in the blink of an eye, will be on to the next stage and no longer interested in burying Mummy in a pile of cuddly toys. The Here And Now is those precious seconds, they can never be replaced and they are gone before we know it, taking the gorgeousness that is my toddler at his most adorable with them. As a solitary tear made its way down my face, I resolved that this would change. I get to be his ‘Mummy’ for such a short period of time. I get to hold him and cuddle him, look for dinosaurs under the stairs, hide from dinosaurs under the duvet, make blue sparkly cookies and cats out of Playdough for just a few more years before ‘Mummy’ inevitably becomes Mum and he no longer runs to me with arms outstretched for a hug. How can I be anywhere else but Here?

So, thank you to Jennifer Grace, and thank you to the Universe for your impeccable timing with that tummy bug. You have brought me back to the present, where my beautiful little boy spends every second of his time, and where I intend to spend a lot more of mine.