Life Model Bite #2 – Joy Dance
One of the basic skills taught in the Life Model and at the Thrive conferences is sharing joy with others, and thereby building up the joy center in our brain. It is the first of 19 vital brain skills that help us to reach the maturity appropriate for our physical age.
It’s a very simple exercise and we did it multiple times during the Thrive conference. Probably it not only helped us learn the skill of “Sharing Joy” but it also provided the connection with our training partner that we needed for other exercises. You can find it described in the “Basic Thrive Skills, Year 1” training guide, written by Jim Wilder, Chris and Jennifer Coursey.
I found a similar description of this exercise in a book from Susan Kuchinskas “The Chemistry of Connection” and she calls it “Attachment Dance.” Based on these two sources I decided to call it “Joy Dance”.
The following is a combination of the instructions of these two sources.
Wilder & Coursey’s description is more intended for intentional exercises, while Kuchinskas’ description is more naturally integrated into everyday life. Kuchinskas gives one description for parents and caregivers, and another one for adults. The following is based on her instruction for adults.
- Pick a quiet time and a situation where it is natural for you two to be face to face, such as sitting at a café or talking in your living room. Sit close enough that your knees could be touching.
- Begin to notice when you two look into each others eyes, and when one of you looks away. Give yourself the permission to look away whenever you feel like it. (This is not a stare-down contest à la Garfield.) 😉
- Intentionally hold your friend’s gaze for a few moments whenever comfortable. Observe your body reaction: Is your breathing slow, or do you feel a constriction in your chest? Are you leaning back, sitting upright, or leaning forward?
- Whenever necessary, let your gaze move around the room again. You may look at your friend’s mouth or hands, or at something else in your environment.
- Look back at your friend and notice when she (or he) returns your gaze. If it feels natural, say something positive about her or your relationship. If it doesn’t feel natural, say it to yourself. You might think something as simple as, “I really like her” or “She is such a precious person.” Think about what you appreciate about your friend.
- Continue to observe how your body reacts. Is there any change? Whatever you experience is ok.
- Repeat the process as long as it feel right.
- If you want to do this with a friend as an intentional exercise, agree to do it for 3 minutes, connecting and disconnecting as needed, and afterward discussing what the experience felt like.
(Wilder & Coursey p1-2; Kuchinskas p67-68)
The purpose is to stay in your comfort zone as you draw closer to the other person and then retreat a bit from connection. If the exercise is successful, you will feel a stronger bond with your friend. You will feel closer to that person and experience familiarity with her (him) as well as shared joy. In an unsuccessful exercise you will feel tension, anxiety and fear. You might feel like avoiding the person or running away.
Wilder & Coursey also mention that it does not work well when you are tired, or upset by something else, or you do not have a positive bond with the other person. In my experience, it won’t work well either when there is a lingering tension in your relationship. On the other hand, even if you don’t know the person very well but both of you are motivated to learn this skill, it can work very well despite the lack of a previous bond. At least that was my experience at the conference. However, it is not recommended to do it with a person of the opposite sex who is not your partner.
So, what is actually happening here?
The whole process is a nonverbal communication between the right-brain hemispheres between two people, communicating our most desired positive emotional state – that we enjoy being with another person. It strengthens our joy center, thereby increasing our joy strength, which enables us to better deal with problems and suffering. And it releases dopamine.
Recent brain science has discovered how our right-brains communicate with each other. A signal is sent from one person’s right brain (to be precise – the right orbital prefrontal cortex), and expressed through the left eye (or the left side of the face), perceived by the left eye of the other person, and communicated to the other person’s right brain. Then the same kind of signal is sent back, from right brain, to left eye, to other person’s left eye, and to the right brain. This back and force communication happens six times per second and grows stronger over time. Isn’t that fascinating? This is of course completely subconscious and cannot be faked.
You have probably seen people whose eyes sparkle when they look at each other. This happens when people are in love, but not only then. It also happens between parent and child. It happens between good friends. It happens every time when we are glad to be with somebody. It is our right brain telling our vis-à-vis nonverbally about our joy of being with them. Without this joyful experience of being with people who are glad to be with us, we cannot experience wholeness. Even though we can enjoy beautiful things, such as a sunset or a painting, joy is relational and therefore most powerful (and amplified) when experienced between people. According to some neurologists, the most basic human need is to be the “sparkle in someone’s eye.” Or in other words – to do the Joy Dance. 🙂
On this background, I am even more touched by the passage in Zephaniah 3:17 –
The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
with his love he will quiet you (or: calm all your fears),
he will rejoice over you with singing.”
It took me a long time to understand that God delights in me, rejoices over me, even when I have messed up. His love and joy over us does not depend on our perfection. It took me a long time to grasp and believe that God is doing a Joy Dance because of me. Today I know it’s true, and it fills me with great joy and thankfulness.