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Ballet Lessons: Don’t Think So Much

I’ve noticed something in ballet class: when I stop thinking so darned much, I dance better — sometimes much better.

I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Zen teachers have been harping on about this for ages now: quiet the monkey mind. Be Here Now.

Proponents of other meditative paths, from Catholic mysticism to just plain ol’ secular meditation, say the same thing. Your mind has to be quiet if you’re going to hear that still, small voice, and so forth.

As people living in the modern world, we’re raised to trust our minds above all else. Wisdom, we think, resides in those billions of neurons; in the chemical sparks jumping the gaps between them. We can best solve problems, we imagine, by thinking about them.

Yet, sometimes, we do our best thinking when we’re not thinking at all.

And I know that I, for one, do my best dancing when I’m not thinking at all.

Not to say there’s anything wrong with thinking — far from it. After all, when we imagine, impart, or learn choreography, that’s thinking. And when we analyze our strengths and weaknesses, that’s thinking, too — but maybe it’s thinking that’s best done after class, after the performance, after we take off our shoes.

During class or on stage, sometimes we do best when we leave the thinking behind — when we make space in ourselves for the still, small voice to move out into the world (where sometimes it becomes sort of a big, loud voice).

Thinking is great. Without thought, we wouldn’t have made it very far as a species.

Sometimes, though, the best thing we can do is stop thinking and let our minds get out of the way.

Sometimes, when we do that, we can really surprise ourselves.

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