We all know that metaphors are colorful, contain essential truths. I kept talking about "dancing my brains out" and I never quite listened to the words: dance my brains out. That is exactly what I want to do.
I go to tennis, and to dance, to forget the rest of the world. You can't think about the rest of the world -- your troubles, starvation in Africa, your problems with a friend -- and dance. In dance, you must concentrate, be there, or you will dance badly, play tennis badly. You must "block out the rest of the world." Again, a metaphor that says a great deal. Great players, great dancers, great scientists -- almost anyone who achieves greatness -- blocks out the rest of the world, concentrates on the task at hand.
Over and over we are told that it is hard to live in the moment, to enjoy the present. We are always wondering about the future, regretting the past. We can't seem to live in the moment. Well, if you go dancing, if you go play tennis intensely, you will learn to block out the rest of the world, live in the moment, dance your brains out -- or you will dance & play tennis badly.
The concept of dancing your brains out is a rich concept. To achieve greatness you must empty your mind. You can't really think about what you are doing; it must become instinctive. Zen practitioners speak of emptying the mind. To achieve peak performance one must get rid of the mind because the mind gets in the way. Stop thinking. Dance your brains out and then you will really dance.
When I think about dancing I become a clumsy dancer. One of the loveliest dance partners I ever had kept saying to me: "stop thinking Henry," and every time she said it, she was absolutely right: I had just "thought" about a dance move, and my feet stumbled. Instinctively, I am, at times, a gorgeous dancer. It all becomes fluid and effortless. But when I try hard I produce clumsiness. So I work hard to dance my brains out.
Another dancer said to me, "My mind checked out about an hour and a half ago." Again, what a wonderful metaphor. The preceding was said at the end of a long dance weekend. Not only do you, second by second, live within the moment, at the end of a long weekend of such moments, your mind is no longer there -- it checked out an hour and a half ago. You are wonderfully tired, unable to think straight. You don't want to be asked to think: you know you are incapable of thought. And that's okay. That's why you came to dance: to get rid of that constant companion, that voice that is inside your head from the day you are born until the day you die. Well that idiot -- some call him-it-her a conscience, checked out an hour and a half ago. Don't ask me any questions, don't give me any directions. My mind is empty, incapable of thought. And I worked hard to get it that way. I danced my brains out.
Copyright © 2001 Henry Morgenstein