The dance floor of the mind

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

black silhouettes of crowd of people dancing against colored background of bricks
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


In my last post, I wrote about the idea of dancing with my shoulda-coulda-wouldas, and I received a number of questions from readers about what I meant by the idea of dancing with these thoughts.

I know from my experiences in teaching in the past that if I'm getting multiple questions on a topic, it generally means that there are even more people by confused by a concept than the number who actually ask about it, so this week I want to re-visit the idea of dancing with my thoughts in a more general way to explain what I mean by this metaphor.

First, when I think of dancing in this way, I'm picturing my mind as a big dance floor with my thoughts being the dancers that are all around me. Maybe it's just me, but my mind often has the feel of that kind of chaos.

In the case of the should-coulda-wouldas I mentioned last week, my mind might be remembering some old event, but that's only one of the "dancers" present in that moment.

At the same time, my mind is also full of a bunch of other thoughts, like thinking about how I wish it could have happened differently (a second "dancer") and thinking about what that event says about me (a third "dancer") and how that event affected other people or relationships (another "dancer") and thinking about how I don't want to be remembering this memory (yet another "dancer") and about how I'm hungry and what needs to be done next on the piece I'm working on and what I'm going to have for lunch and ....

It's a crowded place in there most of the time.

With that image of my mind as my starting point, there are four key ideas that come together to make the idea of dancing with my thoughts most helpful to me. Those interplaying ideas are ones of autonomy, lightness, detachment, and self-compassion.


When I'm actually out dancing, I may not get to choose who else is on the dance floor around me, but I do get to choose who I dance with and what dance steps I do.

I can choose to partner up with another dancer for something like a waltz with prescribed choreography or I can choose to do my own free-style dance by myself.

The same thing is true in my own mind. Just because another dancer (or thought) is on the dance floor, that doesn't mean that I am obligated to engage it in a specific dance. Even if I've done the waltz with a certain memory down a specific pathway of thoughts a hundred times before, I can still choose to move in a different way the next time it appears.

I may not be able to kick a given thought or memory off the dance floor of my mind altogether, but I am still free to engage (or not engage) with any thought as I see fit, just as I would engage (or not) with another dancer on the dance floor.


The lightness of the dancing metaphor is one of not taking my thoughts or memories or the meanings my thoughts attach to those stories so seriously.

When I imagine myself on a dance floor, it's a space for having fun and a place where I hold myself (and others) lightly. It's a reminder that I don’t have to take my thoughts or myself seriously.

I can side-step any given thought in my dance around the floor by not getting caught up in the emotions that these stories and the meanings I attach to them. Just like I could react to an out-of-control dancer nearby that’s stepping on my feet, I can simply move away to a different part of the dance floor instead of starting a fight.

With lightness, I can see the humor of how frequently the same old stories keep showing up like I would smile at a fellow dancer who only knows one move.


It's so easy for me to get caught up in thinking that whatever thoughts are going on in my head are real and true and a part of me, which makes it harder to disengage from them.

With detachment of the dance floor metaphor, I can see them as nothing more than other dancers on the same dance floor that I am on.

That means that I don’t have to identify with any of the thoughts in my head, or make them right or wrong, or even judge them in any way. I can just let be what they are and keep dancing my own dance.

Or, if I want to, I can engage in gentle curiosity wondering why stories with similar themes seem to be gathering together at the moment without needing to make them true or false or make myself right or wrong. I can just observe my fellow dancers, notice what’s there, and keep dancing.

Mostly I’ll just keep doing my thing to pick my next dance step and let the thoughts and memories around me do whatever dance step they do without needing to engage any of it.


I am not at all the world’s most graceful or accomplished dancer (literally or figuratively), so self-compassion allows me to see that despite my often-uncoordinated fumblings on the dance floor, I am doing my best to dance well with what abilities I’ve got.

When I see my mind as nothing more than a big dance floor, it's so much easier to apply that same self-compassion to my attempts to dance with my thoughts. Sometimes I get overly engaged with dancers who make me stumble. Sometimes I trip over my own two feet. Sometimes I forget I have choices about how I dance and get stuck in a rut.

Reminding myself that it's just a dance allows me to recover from my mis-steps and compassionately start again.

And, of course, the better I learn to do that in my own head on this dance floor that is my mind, the easier it is to offer that same self-compassion to myself for my mis-steps in life as a whole. It's all a big dance, and I'm dancing the best I can with what I've got (even on the days I trip over my own two feet).

So when I think about dancing with the shoulda-coulda-wouldas (or any other thoughts for that matter), these four interplaying ideas of autonomy, lightness, detachment, and self-compassion are what help me navigate the chaos of mind as if it as dance floor (instead of a mine field).

What does the metaphor of dancing with the thoughts in your mind mean to you?

Are there other aspects of dancing that I've not mentioned that you find helpful?


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