Life is like dancing. To make the most out of it, you have to fully engage with your full self and find your flow. If not, everything will feel like a clunky dance.
In Cuban Salsa, there is continuous rotation of partners, with no pre-determined choreography or routine. It is all about improvisation, deconstruction and reconstruction of patterns and moves. But the dancers still need to know the core moves and basic syllabi, which they use as the basis for their improvisation. However, this requires them to be adaptive, flexible and open to the experience as it is unfolding. To fully focus and respond spontaneously to the unexpected signals or reactions of their partner. As a process, this is deeply fulfilling and fun.
Nevertheless, there are cases where the dance just doesn’t work. This is because the partners are either too rigid, or too loose and chaotic, with no focus, and no connection with each other. Usually, this has nothing to do with dancing and has more to do with the individuals involved. As the expression goes “It takes two to tango“. To take this a step further, it takes your full self to tango, or else you cannot find your flow.
In my previous article I discussed how we limit ourselves by adopting narrows personas, often influenced by our social context. I also talked on what we can do in order to become complete again.
Here, I take it a step further, examining how to find our full self and live fully.
Our dancing minds and how to find your flow
In dancing, the partners or the group of dancers, like in Rueda de Casino, self-organises in response to the changing rhythmic patterns of the music. Self-organisation is a property of the group of dancers that is determined by the interaction of its members. When there is cohesion in the group there is a continuous and dynamic flow. The result is beautiful.
Similarly, our minds self-organise to external stimulation based on the interaction and integration of the several domains of our brains. You can consider this as the internal dance that takes place inside our minds.
According to Daniel Siegel, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA, when there is good integration, there is flow and harmony in our life.
The Path to Integration
Daniel Siegel has identified eight domains of integration in our brains that define how we experience a “sense of self”. These are: consciousness, horizontal, vertical, memory, narrative, state, interpersonal, temporal.
Integration of Consciousness
This is about our ability to focus our attention and become conscious of our internal emotional states and moods. As a result, we can regulate our emotions and have a more flexible and stable mind. However, this is not always possible and sometimes we become too rigid or too chaotic in our emotional reactions. Meditation and other practices can help us see ourselves from a distance, and regulate our emotions.
This refers to the integration between the left and right sides of our brain. Most people use both sides in balance. But when there is no integration, mainly due to traumatic experiences, one side may completely dominate. For instance, when the left side dominates, we become too logical, and literal in our thinking. We are unable to express emotions and feel others.
This refers to the integration of our nervous system, which is vertically distributed across our body. People who have gone through a trauma may not be able to sense what their body is saying at any given time. In other words, they can only think with their heads, unable to listen to their gut or their heart.
This is about our ability to integrate our implicit memories with our explicit memories. Our implicit memories comprise of the mental models we construct to interpret the world. Usually, we are more conscious of our explicit memories (autobiographical information and facts) than implicit memories that remain hidden. Consequently, people with traumatic experiences in their past, react to present events influenced by their past emotions and reactions.
This refers to the way we make sense of our lives by creating our life stories in a coherent, flexible, and deeply integrative manner. When our narrative is blocked, we need to detect the root cause of it, to reveal hidden aspects of our lives that lie dormant.
This refers to accepting and integrating our ‘multiple selves’ as distinctive parts of who we are, rather than rejecting them. In How to discover and embrace your whole self I explored how we limit ourselves by adopting very narrow personas. But this does not mean that we can just ignore the presence of other self-states, as they unconsciously shape how we behave and respond.
This is related to how we connect with other humans and how our minds interweave with theirs. Often partners, friends or families get locked in repeating and often dysfunctional patterns of behaviours (defensiveness, miscommunication) that become rigid and toxic over time. These are usually driven by past events. By reflecting and openly addressing them we can integrate with others and build our empathy and kindness.
This refers to our relationship with time and mortality. Being conscious of time and mortality can lead to Obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety and feelings of helplessness. Sometimes we want to be too much in control and struggle to accept risk and uncertainty. However, whatever we do, this is the reality of life and we have to learn how to dance with risks.
Knowing others is intelligent.
Knowing yourself is enlightened.
Conquering others takes force.
Conquering yourself is true strength.Verse 33 from Tao Te Ching – Translated by Stephen Addiss and Stanley Lombardo
What can you do to find your flow
The natural state of things is to be an integrated whole. However, sometimes we become blocked due to traumatic events or negative past experiences. This leads to a fight-flight-freeze mode that takes over and pushes our behaviour towards chaos or rigidity.
Our brain has a tremendous capacity to rewire itself. The brain comprises of billions of neurons. Each neuron is linked to other neurons through tens of thousands of connections. As such, there is an infinite number of firing patterns between them, which in turn translates into an infinite number of possibilities to shape our minds.
Through focus, conscious effort, and experience we can shape the firing patterns of our brain, and strengthen or create new synaptic connections. This is similar to practicing a dance move many times over until it becomes automatic. There is a threshold of effort we need to cross before this happens. But when it does, it leads to a significant change in our perception of the world, and behaviour. This property of our brain is called neuroplasticity.
Essentially, throughout our lives we are work in progress!
It is up to us to break the limitations of our old patterns of thinking, unlearn and rewire ourselves. Many authors and philosophers refer to life as being a continuous learning experience, a never-ending journey of exploration. If we are open to experiencing new things in life and reflect, we can discover whole new aspects of ourselves. Unfortunately, many of us go through life, playing safe.
It is up to us to create new possibilities, find our flow and live life to the full. Sometimes we need an activity or unexpected experience that will push us out of our comfort zones and make us more aware of our hidden potential.
Mine was dancing!
What is yours?