Sometimes Regaining Control Means Letting Go
Life rarely turns out the way we plan it. If, for example, someone would have told me ten years ago that my early thirties would be spent dancing at music festivals, clubs, and warehouses, I would have called them a filthy liar. For starters, I had always envisioned my 30s as the decade when I would finally settle down and start a family. While “raving” and raising families aren’t mutually exclusive, children can put a damper on nightlife. Not to mention, for the majority of my life I have hated dancing, despised it even. It literally baffled me that people would allow themselves to look so vulnerable in such a public setting.
I spent many weddings and nights out at bars huddled in a corner, watching my friends from afar, glad not to be a part of the spectacle. Then my life turned upside down. I lost everything and everyone I had believed in and absolutely nothing made sense anymore. And in a moment when I thought all was lost, I let go and I danced — really danced — for the first time in my life. I danced so fervently you would have thought my life depended on it, and in many regards, I guess it did.
Life Doesn’t Care about Your Plans
My life had a plan: I was going to get married by 30 and start having children at 32. Just one month shy of my 30th birthday, I walked down the aisle in a gorgeous dress and said, “I do.” On the eve of my 32nd birthday, the final decree of divorce arrived in the mail. Somewhere along the way, my plan had gone awry and try as I may, there was absolutely nothing I could do to change it.
My world had shattered. The future I had envisioned for myself was gone. I was struggling to pick up the pieces of my broken life and figure out what to do next. And the more I tried to control my circumstances the more challenging and out-of-control the situation became. But this destruction of my former life came with the opportunity to create something new and better, even if I couldn’t see that at the time.
I was undergoing a spiritual death. I had outgrown the person I used to be and was in the process of shedding my skin and transforming into someone new. But I did not fully understand this new person yet. And this fear of the unknown caused me to resist this most necessary transformation. After all, it’s much easier to stay with the devil you know than venture out into the great unknown.
Still devastated from my divorce and equally curious as to where my new life would lead me, I began saying yes to things that were out of character for me. Agreeing to go to a three-day dance music festival, for example, would have been my personal form of hell just one year earlier. But I found myself intrigued by the prospect of putting myself in a situation that terrified me to my core. There were only two things worse than dancing: being outdoors and being judged by others, and I anticipated both coming to pass.
In reality, choosing to go was just a simple decision. We make hundreds of simple decisions every single day. But sometimes I shudder to think what might have happened had I declined the invitation to that festival. There was no way of knowing then, that the experience would usher in an era of healing and personal transformation that I did not think was possible for me at the time.
In my normal state, I am a tense person. My jaw is always clenched and my shoulders are usually so tight, they reside somewhere near my ears as if I am bracing for some physical act of violence to occur. If anyone was given a window into my inner thoughts, they would likely run screaming from the level of paranoia and anxiety I am riddled with on a regular basis. Suffice it to say, the concept of “letting go” was completely foreign to me as I preferred to cling onto the same negative thought patterns I’d known my whole life.
As cliche as it sounds, at the end of those three days, it felt as though a switch had been flipped. I was no longer burdened by outdated expectations of who I thought I was supposed to be. I no longer cared about what anyone else thought of me. My demons released me from their grasp and I finally felt whole as I realized at that moment that I was, in fact, enough.
And instead of continuing to resist my pending transformation and the beginning of a new chapter of my life, I allowed myself to let go. And in that state of surrender, I was reborn as I discovered that the music was the antidote to my chaos.
The first evening was miserable. I wanted to be present and live in the moment, but I was distracted by the magnitude of stimuli that engulfed me. I felt out of place and completely unfamiliar with this world I had just entered. There were hordes of people all around me, some dressed in costumes, each was in their own very unique state of bliss as they danced to the beat of the music. I was not what you would call a free spirit, at least not then, and the more I took in my surroundings the more I could feel myself resisting the winds of change. For the most part, I stood still with my arms crossed for the entire night
The second night, I made the conscious decision to embrace every single moment of the festival as if each was my last, no matter how uncomfortable it made me. My world had been so dark for so long, I didn’t really have anything to lose by agreeing to be open to new experiences for just one evening.
There was something so magical about the sensation of the electronic bass pulsating throughout my entire body. With each beat, every hair on my body stood on end and my skin felt electrified. I could feel my muscles slowly begin to relax as I gave myself over to the music.
Nothing could have penetrated the darkness I was in at that time — nothing except those bright flashing lights and the fire cascading from behind the stage. And as confetti rain poured from under an electric sky, I surrendered for the first time in my entire life.
My body moved, at first reluctantly, and then it felt as though it was under the spell of the DJ. His music acted like incantations, sending signals to my body telling it what to do next.
My mind was liberated from all worrisome thoughts. Actually, it was liberated of all thoughts. It just simply was. With each bass drop, the venom that poisoned me was being purged from my soul. The vibrations were so overpowering, they frightened my demons away.
For once, the anxiety had been turned off and all that mattered in those sublime hours was dancing for as long as the music kept playing — and I prayed it would never stop.
My thoughts are usually consumed by feelings of inadequacy. But not when I dance. When I dance I am free from my doubts. The voices that persistently tell me I’m not enough are drowned out and I can finally break free from the storylines I’ve trapped myself in my whole life.
Join The Dance
From the day we first became acquainted, the dance floor has welcomed me like an old friend offering a familiar and safe embrace. It has given me a space to heal and to process my emotions before they grow so intense I can no longer control them.
Throughout the last year and a half, I’ve danced in crowded clubs, outside at festivals, and alone in my apartment. I’ve danced to express utter joy, and I’ve danced because I feared that if I stopped, the darkness would swallow me whole. I’ve danced when I’ve found the answers to difficult questions and I’ve danced when I’ve had no idea what to do.
I’ve danced while my heart was breaking, when I was so overwhelmed with emotion I almost couldn’t breathe. And I’ve learned more about myself in those moments when my eyes were closed and I gave myself over to the music than at any other point in my life. And through this surrender, I have experienced a level of healing and joy that I didn’t think I was worthy or capable of experiencing.
The late and brilliant Alan Watts once wrote,
“When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point. And exactly the same thing is true in meditation. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.”
For me, dancing is a form of meditation. It thrusts me into the present and allows my mind to be still and create space for my emotions and thoughts. When I am dancing, all that matters is what is happening right there in that moment. And that mindfulness has taught me not only to let go on the dance floor but to let go in life as well. Because what is life if not a dance floor?
When I step on the dance floor I relinquish control, because I have to. No matter how much I may want to, I cannot control the actions of other dancers anymore than I can control other actors in my real life. So I have a choice: live in a constant state of anxiety while I try in vain to control everything around me, or let go and dance.
Life is constantly changing, and the lack of control can drive you mad if you let it. Watts also wrote:
“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
My life did not turn out the way I had expected it would. But it turned out exactly as it was supposed to, because what is, simply is. And I wouldn’t trade any of it. So instead of trying to control everything or wasting precious moments of my life drowning in misery over what might have been, I’ve decided to join the dance.
I have no idea what the future holds for me. But I’m open to whatever comes my way. For the first time in my life, I have no plan. And what is perhaps most refreshing, is how unconcerned I am about that lack of path and control. Right now, my primary focus is on my own healing. And for me, there is no greater form of therapy than a DJ and a dance floor.
I may not spend my weekends dancing at festivals or clubs for the rest of my life, in fact, I might even settle down and have a family someday. But so long as there is music to be heard, felt, and experienced I will be dancing.
And to those who might not understand my new love of dancing, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes, which is often attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche:
“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”