Tuesday Wonder: How to be Led?
Contributor
Written by
Cyndi Briggs
December 2010
Contributor
Written by
Cyndi Briggs
December 2010

This is today's entry from my blog, The Sophia Project.

About four and a half years ago, I took my first salsa lesson. It happened because of a dare from my friend Jenny, who'd started taking lessons that spring. I'd mentioned to her that "salsa dancing" occupied a line on my bucket list, but 'til then, I'd been too chicken to try it. So on the night of my dissertation defense, I took her dare and headed out to a club in Corvallis, Oregon, to see what all the fuss was about. I sucked at it. I wore the wrong shoes, so my sneakers squeaked all night like a high school basketball game. I couldn't keep the basic step in mind. I stepped on my partners' feet and nearly tripped over my own several times. It was humbling. And yet, in spite of all the foibles of that first try, I loved it. I signed up for lessons, and my confidence grew as I learned new steps, bought the proper footwear, and minimized injuries to myself and others. My hips started to move in new and interesting ways and I found the music called up a specific brand of energy that still captivates me, all these years later. But as my confidence grew, so did my need to exert control when dancing. In the partner-dance world, we call this "back leading", when the follower attempts to call the shots. I developed into a exceptionally bossy back leader, trying to predict and control the development of the dance. Finally, one of our instructors called me out on it. "The followers role is to follow. To keep the rhythm. To make the dance beautiful." But I'm a feminist, I thought. The whole idea of simply shutting down my brain to let someone else lead me around a dance floor clashed with my political and philosophical leanings. But what I learned over time is this: good leads, truly exceptional leads, do not boss or bully followers. Excellent leaders invite followers into the dance with respect and care. They keep followers safe on a crowded dance floor, and never push the follower beyond her capabilities. Great leaders take responsibility when the dance breaks down, and help followers grow in experience and ability. And so there you have it. Metaphor on the dance floor. This past weekend, I was in Atlanta at a 3-day Cuban salsa event. While I long ago gave up my need to back lead, I still revert back to over-thinking on the dance floor when I'm tired or when I'm dancing with someone new. During the second night of dancing, I hit the wall and started to feel the fatigue in my legs. A man asked me to dance, someone I'd never met nor danced with. As the song started, I caught myself wondering what move he'd pull out next, trying to anticipate his intent, and generally over thinking the whole process. And as a result, the dance felt unnatural, one-sided, and clumsy. About a minute into the 4-minute song, I reminded myself that my role was simply to be led. I didn't need to know all the answers. I didn't need to see three steps into the future. I didn't need to work so hard to understand it all. So I shut my mind down like a wind-up toy running out of steam, and I let myself be led. Once my mind was quiet, I found I could follow the subtlest movement from his hands and fingers. I could intuitively sense the flow of the dancing. My steps smoothed out, and I relaxed into having fun again. I stopped thinking, trusted my partner, and simply let myself be led. I'm always amazed by the deep wisdom found in dancing, and the analogies that apply so neatly to life. Right now, I'm writing at my desk near a sunny window in downtown Winston-Salem. I live here because I allowed myself to be led. About a year ago, I decided to embark on a journey of radical trust, to stop thinking so much, and to trust the still, small voice inside of me insistently clamoring for my attention. And now, four months after my move, I have moments of intense doubt about whether or not I did the right thing. I know I am happier now, more content. I'm enjoying life a lot more. But what of my career? What happens next? And when I find myself thinking five years into the future, trying to anticipate, to predict, to determine what will happen next, I find myself turning wooden and clumsy, just as I did three nights ago on the dance floor. Because my brain, for all its awesome function, is still such a limited contraption. My brain can only picture what it already knows for my future. It cannot yet understand what might be possible if I'll simply stop thinking and allow myself to be led. Because when I still my mind and cease thinking, I find all kinds of new, intuitive knowledge flooding into my awareness. Without thinking about it, I simply know what direction my path needs to take. And I can't see miles into the future, but I can see far enough to progress through today and tomorrow. So this is my wonder for you today: How are you led? How do you allow yourself to be led? And are you able to put aside your own limited ideas for the future to live into something far grander than you can imagine? See you on Friday, and peace to you on the journey.

Let's be friends

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