Changing Catastrophic Thinking

As a young person, I was caught up in what I called “morbid thoughts”. Whenever anything went a bit awry, I would begin the litany of all the worst potential outcomes in my head. I instantly ruminated on all the most destructive and unpleasant possibilities. I would gear myself up to withstand the bad, the ugly, and the hurtful.


My body would, of course, reflect this type of thinking. My breath became shallower, my muscles tensed and I would want to hide like a turtle withdrawing into its shell. Self imposed mental unhappiness would result in actual physical discomfort.


This way of thinking became a pattern which was hard to switch off. The dendrite highway became deeply grooved in my head. It was the path of least resistance for my thoughts. Is it any wonder that some of these negative thoughts became my reality?


Eventually through continuous disciplined practice, I began to shift the thought highway I traveled on. I discovered that if each morning upon awakening I imagined the best possible outcomes for all the planned events of the day, I could avoid some of the morbid thoughts. If I added some exercise outside, the combination of movement, fresh air, and the observation of the natural world around me also helped fight the habit of creating negative thoughts. Additionally, I repeated a phrase that I changed periodically but which essentially boiled down to reaffirming my self-worth. Finally, I began to weed out those people I knew who were negative themselves or made me feel unworthy.


Throughout this process, I focused on how my body felt whenever the catastrophic thinking began. Concentrating on my body and consciously letting go of physical stress helped change the mental images that floated in my head. When my body relaxed, so did my thoughts. Instead of careening into negativity, I tried to remember to take a deep breath and wait a beat before going off on the downward spiral. More and more occasions occurred when I was able to stop myself from going down the well worn dendrite path and then shift to a less well traversed lane that would lead to more realistic observations.


When the film, What the Bleep Do We Know?, came out in 2004 I eagerly watched it several times (trailer link: ). It represented in graphic and scientific terms what I had experienced in my personal life. It gave me a picture of what the dendrite highway looks like.  It reconfirmed my belief in the connection of mind and body; thoughts and reality.


Sometimes, especially in the dead of winter when the snow seems to be never-ending and cabin fever abounds, I pay a return visit to catastrophic thinking. Fortunately, I recognize its pattern more quickly than I did when I was younger. That particular dendrite roadway does still exist. However, through disuse, it is now more like a fading trail that can barely be seen through the grass that has grown up.


© 2011 by Sheila Peters. All rights reserved.

The Implication of Dance Playshop

We so enjoyed and appreciated the experience of working with the participants of our Implications of Dance Playshop during the Play with Purpose conference. Now that we have a few days distance from it, we wanted to contribute to the discussion forum with our thoughts about the experience. We also wanted to summarize what we presented to you and let you know what we had heard from you about the event. We invite you to continue the conversation with your comments and observations about what may have continued to resonate for you.


We began the workshop with a 5 minute introduction of concepts of dance, improvisation, play, performance and collaboration that looked at:


  • How as dancers, we are our instruments.
  • The performer must be mindful and aware of self, fellow dancers/creators, and the audience.
  • Performance is an act of humility; a gift; and enabled by an ability to listen to self, colleagues and audience.
  • Performance as a sacred experience, one that is ephemeral but also touches and draws upon the work of past, future, and present dancers and audiences.
  • Dance is about communication on the deepest physical level and dance performance incorporates the unexpected improvisatory playfulness that a live event always evokes.


To start the process of awakening the dancer inside each of you, we worked on increasing your physical awareness. During these first stretching exercises you prepared your body to move but also became more aware of your body’s state. With the partner stretch, you practiced increased observation and awareness of another person’s body.


Leveraging this enhanced awareness, we taught you a dance phrase. You learned it for two purposes:


  • So you could use the movement phrase like jazz musicians would use chords for improvisation, and;
  • To practice the skills of observation, mimicry and rehearsal which you needed to embody in order to subsequently co-create with others.


We then asked you to create a new dance in groups with each other based on this movement phrase. Here you practiced improvisation, collaboration and learning from each other. You played together with the purpose of creating art. You were all artful.


At the end of the Playshop, we asked you to perform your creations and also act as the audience for your fellow participants. This was an opportunity to act, listen, and respond to each other through your performances. Performance is not complete without an audience reaction. Thus you were able to experience both sides of this interaction as performer and as audience.


Finally we joined together in a short reflection period.  We treasured your participation and creative work and reflections. The following is an outline of what we heard as your reflections.


  • The model of respectful relationship between JP and Sheila formed an environment of respect between Playshop participants
  • Lack of competition in the process – “Yes and “ concept/experience  through non-verbal communication contributed to an atmosphere of comfort for participants
  • The Playshop was an opportunity for body/mindfulness, thus raised personal awareness of fellow collaborators
  • Heightened the sense of how we affect people on a non-verbal basis
  • Liked stretching warm-up, particularly the partner stretch.
  • Personal physical touch helps build a sense of security/safety.
  • Structure can be the basis of improvisation; in fact, some kind of structure is very often the catalyst or spark for improvisation. “Technique” leads to freedom.


We hope that you will add to this list if we have not touched on points that were important to you. We applaud your creative and playful performances and are grateful for the chance to have shared this Playshop with you.  Sheila & JP


© 2011 by Sheila Peters and JP Harris. All rights reserved.