Dance on the Head of a Pin

Sheila Key

Peggy Spencer

In the Eastern view, the dualistic energies of heaven and earth meet within the human body. Many Western traditions say as much: we are soul made flesh.

I picture the divine in each of us as a ballerina en pointe. Exquisitely balanced, gorgeously graceful, she (or he) hovers between heaven and earth, barely alighting. She goes by the name Best Self, and as good as she is, even she slips sometimes. Too much earth, not enough heaven - or vice versa - and things go off-balance. We're only human, after all. Forgive yourself, as any angel would. Regain equilibrium, and strive upward once more, as if on angel's wings.

Pondering the Imponderables

Puzzling over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin is a job for the so-called higher brain, seated in the frontal lobes of our cerebral cortex. Seated, you might say, as if on a throne, for this most highly evolved region of the brain is our skull's resident scholar, the one who can do what the very best brains of other animals cannot: crunch numbers, use reason and logic, collect arcane trivia in hopes of winning on Jeopardy! someday...that sort of thing.

Well, were I to risk it all to speak truth to power, I would put this question to that royal-highness of a brain: "So tell us, Your Majesty! With all those super, human smarts of yours - not to mention your savvy for programming machines to think like you - how come you haven't designed a robot yet that can even walk with the grace of a human, let alone dance like one? Eh, Yer Highness? How high is your ‘higher brain' functioning now?"

Enough, enough. Lest I forget, I'm making a case for the better angels of our nature, here.

Jack Be Limbic, Jack Be Quick

I got snotty there for a minute to make this point: the higher brain may be clever enough to do math and use logic and even win on brainy game shows, but it doesn't know - nor does it care - one bit about hurt feelings (or sex or food, for that matter). What's worse, it couldn't run you out of a burning building to save your soul.

Higher brain, my foot. If dancing with angels is what you want, come on down to the limbic level, what Peg and I like to call the Limbic Lounge, 'round the bend from the frontal lobe, in the temporal lobes on the sides of the head. The limbic system may not rank as high as the higher brain, but it's the more feeling brain, the brain who cares! It knows where your edges are and senses beyond them. Gut feelings plug into the limbic brain, and its fight-or-flight sentinels stand ready to save you. Thanks to the limbic system, rock-a-bye motion soothes the crying babe, and deepening emotion transforms strangers into friends....

Yeah, life would be mighty dull without a limbic brain in our heads. Except for the even sadder possibility that we'd all be extinct by now.

Be an Angel, Will You, Love?

The compassionate limbic brain evolved to aid survival. Before it emerged, about 100 million years ago, the most sophisticated animal brains were "reptilian" - and you know how snakes can be. If they happened by as their own eggs were hatching, they'd be like, "Hey! Lunch!" But not us mammals. Our limbic systems ooze with emotion, and we fall in love with our babies, just as we fell for their daddies or mommies before them (not to mention countless grannies and aunties, cousins, and buddies). Forget saving ourselves: we'd run into burning buildings for these guys!

My sister Theresa gave our brother Sean two-thirds of her liver. The risks were enormous, her children were still at home, but she never wavered in her decision to try to save Sean's life. And she did. The way I see it, Theresa now dances among the angels - in a beautifully scarred body still living right here on earth!

Cool Moves: Balance Challenge!

Practice hatha yoga's Tree Pose (Vrksasana) every chance you get. Stand tall with your feet together. Place the right foot against the (inner) left leg at the level of ankle, knee, or thigh (mid-thigh or higher up), as you're able. Higher placement = bigger challenge. Fix your gaze on a low spot about ten feet in front of you. Inhale and raise your arms overhead, with palms facing each other or touching. Straighten the elbows, arms to ears, chin slightly tucked. Breathe mindfully. Grow upward! Hold for twenty to thirty seconds. Repeat on the other side.

Things to Try at Least Once

  1. Dance. With a partner, alone in your room, fast, slow, cha-cha-cha! Take dance lessons - ballroom, ballet, belly - whatever moves you. Just get up and booooogieeeee!

  2. Pick an angel, any angel! Consult a deck of Angel Cards and let them lift you with their single-word encouragements.

  3. Take on balance challenges. Ride a bike, play hopscotch, climb rock walls, spin a ball on your fingertips, play tennis or soccer, balance a yardstick vertically at arm's length, or pretend the curb is a balance beam and that you're going for Olympic gold!

  4. Host a Dancing Angels film festival. Invite your friends (or not) for a marathon of movies about angels and dance. Might I suggest Wim Wenders's Wings of Desire, the American remake of it, called City of Angels, and anything by Busby Berkeley?

50 Ways to Leave Your 40sExcerpted with permission from the book:

50 Ways to Leave Your 40s: Living it Up in Life's Second Half © 2008
by Sheila Key and Peggy Spencer, M.D.

Printed with permission of the publisher, New World Library, Novato, CA. or 800-972-6657 ext. 52.

For more info or to order this book.

Sheila Key

Peggy Spencer

About the Authors

Sheila Key & Peggy Spencer, M.D are the authors of 50 Ways to Leave Your 40s: Living it Up in Life's Second Half.  Visit them online at

SHEILA KEY is an award-winning writer and graphic designer who has freelanced for publications ranging from corporate business journals to New Age magazines to anthologies of poetry and art. Before writing and designing full-time, Sheila worked in radio for ten years. Sheila lives with her husband and two children in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

PEGGY SPENCER has a B.A. degree from the University of California Santa Cruz and an MD from the University of Arizona. She completed a residency at the University of New Mexico, is board certified in Family Medicine, and is currently employed at UNM as staff physician at the Student Health Center and adjunct faculty at the School of Medicine. She writes a column for the New Mexico Daily Lobo newspaper answering reader-submitted health questions, and contributes articles to UNM Parent Matters and UNM Today. Peg is married with two children and lives in Albuquerque.


Enjoyed this article? Share with your friends...

perfectly-imperfect-connections-the-joy-of-nonattachment by Susan L. Westbrook, PhD. The first step to connection is to open ourselves to the possibility that we can survive the hurts and failures that...Read More
soaked by Kurt Koontz. If Noah were alive, this would have been a nice day to bring the ark out of retirement... I woke up early and started walking in the...Read More
new-hope-for-the-world’s-driest-regions Globally 1.2 billion people live in areas of water scarcity — defined by the United Nations as locations with an annual water supply that drops below...Read More
how-a-new-dutch-library-smashed-attendance-records Facing declining visitors and uncertainty about what to do about it, library administrators in the new town of Almere in the Netherlands did...Read More
debunking-marriage-myth-5-in-a-good-marriage,-all-problems-get-resolved by Marcia Naomi Berger. Couples can resolve virtually any problem by conducting marriage meetings. The meetings foster a spirit of goodwill and...Read More
making-herbal-medicine by David Hoffmann FNIMH AHG with Diana DeLuca. There is nothing mysterious or even particularly clever or skillful about making healing formulations...Read More
the-power-of-protection-the-light-within-your-soul,-higher-self,-and-angelic-teachers by Barbara Y. Martin and Dimitri Moraitis. The light within your soul is what gives power to your consciousness. It gives you the energy to do anything....Read More
raising-taxes-on-corporations-that-pay-their-ceos-royally-and-treat-their-workers-like-serfs In the 1980s, corporate CEOs were paid, on average, 30 times what their typical worker was paid. Since then, CEO pay has skyrocketed to 280 times the...Read More
super-moon-super-month by Sarah Varcas. The first week of August is characterized by a combination of sensitivity and inner drive which could turn us into something of a...Read More
healing-yourself-by-creating-art-the-muse-that-heals by Michael Samuels, MD and Mary Rockwood Lane, PhD. When art is expressed from the deepest levels of our being, profound healing occurs. Just as you may...Read More
are-you-really-available-for-relationship by Barry Vissell. Can we look deeper at the meaning of availability? On the surface, it means accessible to another person, or readiness to love...Read More
intelligent-programming-choosing-what-you-pay-attention-to by Alan Cohen. The world is filled with all manner of subject matter and intention. You have the power to understand what is of value to you and screen...Read More