Welcome to Reflections of a Buddhist Pole Dancer!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

1happygrrl's Proust Survey

1. I am 1 happy grrl because

2. I am courageous when

3. I am most compassionate toward

4. When I see myself as complete I

5. I am working on

6. Every woman needs to know

7. If I had a magic wand

8. I’ll be best remembered for

my answers (tonight)

1. I am 1 happy grrl when I am living my truth.

2. I am courageous when I lean into the sharp points, learn from the pain, and still choose to soar to new heights.

3. I am most compassionate toward animals, those who have less, and those who I understand.

4. When I see myself as complete I smile, say, "Oh, there you are!" and melt into the warmth of being enough.

5. I am working on developing compassion for those who harm me, including myself, and staying present. 

6. Every woman needs to know that courage lives in her core, compassion circulates through her veins and she is complete right now.

7. If I had a magic wand I’d cure diabetes and move with my kids to Disneyland.

8. I’ll be best remembered for my smile.

Monday, February 21, 2011

I Love to See Fit People Fail!

I am currently doing a 90 day work out entitled “P90X Insanely Reloaded Plus.” It’s an intense hybrid program that combines the P90X, P90X Plus and Insanity dvds to create one heck of a workout. There’s jumping, lifting, squatting, pushing and pulling all week long to ensure that my body never stops and my mind never bores. Man-oh-man, is it challenging!

In the Insanity videos one instructor leads while a group of about 12 super-fit people follow along in a gymnasium. If you’ve never seen the Insanity program, let me just assure you that it is aptly named. It is non-stop cardio that makes my heart race and makes my muscles ache. Throughout each dvd Shawn T yells at participants to Dig Deeper! and push through the pain. Sometimes he orders specific participants to take a break when he sees their form faltering. Some participants collapse during a push-up or fall on the floor with exhaustion during a drill. Their muscles fail. Oh how I love to see them fail.

No, I am not mean or boastful. And I am not referring to crash-and-burn types of failure. The reference here is to those little failures that make us stop what we’re doing and plot a new course. When watching Insanity I don’t find victory in the participants’ failure. I find camaraderie. I see that even fitness-buffs have limits. When the athletes on the dvd can’t do the drill it makes me feel a bit better about taking my own breaks when needed. It reminds me that this is hard work… for everyone. And guess what? These buff-bodies don’t stay down for the count. After they collapse they catch their breath get some water and come back for more. Within seconds they’re back to the level-three drills that took them down moments before.

Outside of the fitness forum there are areas in life where we need to be reminded that it’s okay to fail… there are times when we need to press our own personal pause button (says Tony Horton from P90X). Sometimes we simply need to catch our breath, get some water and come back for more. It’s restorative maintenance and it’s exactly what is needed to dig deeper in our work, our work outs, our relationships and our lives.

Parenting is probably my favorite place to apply this metaphor. There are times when I fail. There are things I wish I’d said differently or hadn’t said at all. There are times when I am anything but mindful and I miss out on the beauty of now. In situations such as these I don’t have the physical pain of muscle failure screaming at me to take a break. Instead, when I am present enough to connect with it, I feel an unsettled gnawing within that prods me to rejuvenate. This metaphorical muscle tells me I am failing…no, not actually failing as a parent, but failing at the activity of the moment. I know I can do better when I am better. I can be better when I catch my breath, drink some water and come back for more.

For me my breathe-hydrate-return routine can be as simple as giving myself a mini-meditative time out or it can be more structured like making plans for restoration so I can return refreshed. A walk, writing, working out, or napping all work well to bring me back to my best. And yes, I can always count on a deep breath and a big glass of water to help as well. :)

What gets you back in the game when you’ve “failed”?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Learning to Fly While Staying Grounded

Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game

Too late for second guessing
 Too late to go back to sleep
It’s time to trust my instincts,
 close my eyes and leap…

And so starts Elpheba’s pivotal flight in the Broadway musical, Wicked. She knows she’s changed and the status quo won’t work for her anymore. She’s not angry, yet empowered. She’s excited and a bit bewildered by her new found faith. She defies gravity and stands up for the one thing she believes in: Herself. I completely “get’ how she feels, don’t you? 

It’s time to try defying gravity
and you can’t pull me down

But gravity is a funny thing, isn't it? In dualistic metaphors we speak of being grounded as a positive virtue, yet we also dreamily entertain thoughts of breaking free and flying past our limitations. We want it all: stability and freedom; predictability and the thrill of surprise. The good news is that they are not mutually exclusive. The base of both is an as-is acceptance of ourselves.

So sisters: We don’t need broomsticks or ruby slippers. We don’t need wishes or fairy godmothers. We don’t need wings. What we need is what Elphie had: we frickin' need to believe. No, not a narcissistic existence, but the belief that we are enough right now! That we are worthy today! That we are complete as is! With this innate knowledge comes innate balance. The wisdom to stay, the courage to go.

Yes. It's much easier said than done.

The prerequisite to belief is the exploration that begins with the simple act of self care. When we arrive at the point of believing in who we are, then we have come to connect with our cores, whether it be through trial and error or grand journey back to ourselves. When we see ourselves-- really see ourselves (free from the labels, pretenses, and stories) we are grounded in our integrity, truth and common sense. Our internal wisdom leads our choices, even if that means doing the laundry instead of going out for a night on the town. Our true north guides our decisions. We are still. We listen. We know. Our actions are regret-free and purposeful, chosen out of responsibility we’re grateful to have. A perspective of pleasure replaces duty. Yes, even sorting socks can be a mindful opportunity.

I’m through accepting limits
‘cuz someone says they’re so
Some things I cannot change
But ‘till I try I’ll never know

This belief also helps us leave the ground and fly. We have the courage to take one step closer to the edge. We’re not quite careful, yet neither are we careless. We simply are. We take worthy risks because we are not afraid. We become a bit bigger and we laugh a bit louder. We say yes to ourselves…to our children…to our responsibilities…to our lives. When the time is right we listen closely and we might even choose a night on the town over doing the laundry.

Whether grounded or taking flight, we are fully awake. We trust, we make our own rules and we leap into the beauty of now.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Two Little Words

It’s the day for love, Hallmark style. With the aid of dark chocolate, red roses and conversation hearts people are eager to hear and say those three little words that make one’s heart skip a beat. Sure, “I Love You” is a powerful mantra, but today let’s focus on two of my favorite two-word combinations that pack a positive punch.

Not Yet! 
I once visited the home of a well-traveled British neighbor who possesses an unyielding zeal for life. She took me from room to room, happily answering my queries regarding artifacts that silently served as witnesses to her adventures. Her home was and still is a showcase of a life well-lived. As we passed a framed print from Africa she asked if I’d been there. No, I said, slightly embarrassed of my lack of world travel. “Not Yet!” she enthusiastically added to my reply. I hadn’t been to Africa...yet. 
“Not yet”-- two little words that opened the door of possibility. A simple “No” put a period on the conversation, whereas a “Not Yet” punctuated with a hopeful dot dot dot... 
See it in action:
After a few tries my six year old throws down the laces and proclaims he can’t tie shoes. Not Yet! I offer and we work on the task together.
My student says she’s not a good speaker. Not yet! I counter, letting her know I’ll show her the way.
I study my Things To Do Before I Die list and my heart sinks a bit to see how many places I’ve not visited, how many classes I’ve not taken, and how many experiences I’ve not embraced. There’s a lot on that list I haven’t done. NOT YET, that is. I open the door to possibility while locking out disappointment.

What’s Possible?
On a recent trip to San Francisco with friends, my daughter (age 9), her friend (10) and I explored the Salon Shoe department at Nordstorm while waiting for a table in the cafe. Knowing I can’t afford to put my big toe in any of those shoes (“not yet!”), it’s a place I usually avoid, but on this day I felt like playing. I asked Macy and her friend, Lauren, to find the most expensive pair of shoes they could. Much to the sales person’s dismay, the girls giggled as they flipped over shoe after shoe, competitively calling out the prices. “$575!” “$750!” “No, you can do better than that!” I lauded. 
And then they found the Jimmy Choo table. 
It didn’t take them long to work their way up to the top of the display where a silver jewel-encrusted shoe perched above all others. Lauren scooped it up and proclaimed with great excitement, “$1995.00!” With that we were satisfied and we went to check on our table. The girls were in awe that people would spend almost $2000.00 on a pair of shoes (which, they concluded, weren’t all that spectacular!). I explained that while they might not ever covet a pair of shoes in that price range, they exist to show us what’s possible. They expand preconceived boundaries and in their own designer way proclaim the power of possibility.
Now when Macy gets discouraged by her own limitations I can playfully say, “Hey, Mac, what’s possible?” “Two-thousand dollar shoes” she says with a smile. This metaphor reminds us that the sky’s the only limit.
Of course these two-word power phrases aren’t meant to replace the three little words we all long to hear. Instead they serve interdependently, offering hope and possibility. Love is the foundation that makes it all work.
What are some of your favorite power phrases that provide possibility?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Morning Mantra

May I meet this moment with gratitude, knowing full well it is all that I have.
I will open my heart with the key of compassion; face each encounter with the courage of a warrior; and gently accept myself as complete.
I dedicate this practice to the bigger context of helping my family, my friends and sentient beings everywhere.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Leaning into the Sharp Points: Staying Present through Painful Times

Bellowing into the microphone the ringmaster, dressed in a red and black tux with tails, commands the attention of the audience. 
“Ladies and Gentlemen! Our next act is unparalleled by any other! You will only see it here and even then you won’t believe your own eyes! Our very own Michelle will lean into a bed of razor-sharp points! She will lean so deeply you’ll shudder with discomfort. And then she’ll lean in a little more! ...Watch! ...Now!
On cue I lean. I lean into the sharp points. I feel the blades puncture the first layer, no, maybe first two, three, or five layers, of my flesh. I want to escape. My body screams for me to stop but my mind says I can do this. I must lean deeper. Further. I press my back into the blades, feeling the pain and knowing I won’t survive. Who could? Like fire melting through wax the sharp points penetrate to the bone. It hurts so much that I cry unstoppable tears.
“If you want to see Michelle lean further, please applaud!” says the ringmaster.
And much to my chagrin the audience erupts with an unsettling round of applause. 
Do they believe I can do it?
I press my body in further. I know I can’t win. The pain is too much. The wounds are too deep.
More applause.
A little deeper.
It’s too intense.
And even more applause.
I must continue...
I start to lose consciousness. 
My body sways.
But I stay...
until I fall to the floor in a humbled heap.
The audience gasps a collective breath. 
And then I stand up. 
Not bloodied, but healed. 
“TA DA!” the ringmaster proclaims as I bow.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sometimes You Simply Need to Change the Color of the Boat

My mother, Sandy, is an accomplished lover of life. With unbridled excitement she enrolls in meaningful classes, clubs, and volunteer organizations. In the past year she’s taken dance lessons, photography classes and a cooking class. She’s worked consistently with a trainer at the gym, learned to knit and has committed to speaking at a local Toastmasters club. She’s been on a top fund-raising committee supporting Juvenile Diabetes research. She’s also taken painting classes in which the students explore colors, techniques and different mediums by replicating the work of a master. 
When she started her art class she couldn’t wait to take on one of her favorite artists, Joan Miro. She loved the colors! She loved the freedom of expression! She loved the bold lines! Much like my mother, Miro seemed to break all the rules but he put them back together in such a fanciful way that no one minded. A natural and a novice at the same time, Sandy relished the classes in which she could re-create Miro’s masterpiece. She was modest and pleased with her finished painting -- enjoying the process as much as the product.
The next assignment was a bit more challenging. Different artist (Maurice de Vlamnick). Difficult to emulate. Sandy couldn’t embrace this one. She found she painted just to get it over with, her inner-critic taunting her lack of skill with each stroke. She dreaded the classes and hated facing that scene of acrylic boats...the little mustard one in particular. 

And then she had an idea.. maybe... what if... could she dare? Could she change the color of the the artist’s boat? Would that be too bold, too brazen? Like any good artist she began to think outside of self-imposed constraints.
After careful consideration coupled with permission from her instructor, she re-painted that little boat and in turn she set forth a wonderful chain of events. That simple change of color-- from the disconnect of mustard to a resonating shade of red-- allowed Sandy to get excited about her painting. From there she started enjoying the project and even further on she actually appreciated the final product. All she had to do was change the color of the boat!
Change the color of the boat. 
So often it’s the same in other facets of life. We find a master, emulate their template but somehow it doesn’t quite “fit.” Thinking the master knows best while doubting our inner voice, we struggle against our longing to tweak and twist the template. But tweak and twist we must! We need to “own” it, to personalize it, and make it ours. Otherwise we risk lack of connection and the commitment and success that follow. 
For example, you find a fitness guru you adore, and you modify the workout by incorporating exercise bands instead of free weights. The recipe from your favorite cookbook calls for onions but you substitute your preference of shallots. The artist you learn from painted his or her boat mustard yellow, but you have an empowered vision that sings to your soul. This freedom to personalize respects the expert, while respecting your own expertise, creativity and knowledge of self.
Learn from the best... and include yourself on that list. Masters are to be emulated, though not necessarily carbon-copied!
How can you tailor the lessons of a respected teacher, guru or master to suit your style, preferences and life? Which boat needs a new color? 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Why a Buddhist Pole Dancer?

For several years I've secretly labeled myself a Buddhist Pole Dancer -- not that it's my email signature or on my business cards, it's just a personal title that balances my spirit and makes me smile. :)

The Buddhist part reminds me that I am being my best when I am mindful-- one of the core principles of Buddhism. The Pole Dancer part reminds me that I am happiest when I engage in some sort of play. The joy that overcomes me from pole dancing sings to my soul.

While I am not an official Buddhist, I am drawn to its teachings. I love the gentle reminders of who we ALL are (Awakening Buddhas!) and that our suffering is a result of grasping pleasure and running from pain. I love learning about the Middle Place and ways of reaching it through meditation and mastery of thoughts. I love the notion of staying put when things are tough, for those moments are the best teachers. I love the eightfold path and its suggestions for how we might speak, think, act, and earn a living. I love the simplicity of Buddhism and the challenge of the practice at the same time. I find I am a better being when studying it. I am happy when I am here, now, no matter what might be going on here and now. At least I can melt into the middle of it and just be. The happiness doesn't necessarily come from the content of the moment, but from the moment itself.

While I am not an official Pole Dancer (at least not a paid one or one who performs for others!), I love pole dancing. I've been doing it for about six years-- smitten after my very first lesson. My pole is in my living room-- I can swing around with happiness and catch a view of the Monterey Bay at the same time. I love the joy I feel when my body flies effortlessly around the pole. I love the strength achieved from new moves, particularly upside-down push-ups. I love the grace and femininity I feel from dancing and moving to the music with only the pole as my partner. I even love the barrage of bruises that cover my legs when I try to master something new. They're indicators of courage and dedication. With pole dancing I also love the playful mystery that surrounds it all.

So I am neither an official Buddhist nor a professional Pole Dancer, but I call myself a Buddhist Pole Dancer. What gives? I am less attached to labels and more drawn to feelings. Buddhist Pole Dancer resonates deep within. As a barometer of my well being I can usually trace it back to these two indicators: my practice of mindfulness and my willingness to play. When I am at my best I am a Buddhist Pole Dancer. Knowing this about myself gives me easy guidance when I am off track. Am I present in my life, nurturing my spirit? Am I playing on my pole and connecting with my body and my innate need for fun? Whereas an answer of No confirms my funk, an answer of Yes indicates a path of wellness.

What empowering descriptors encourage you to be your best and serve as a guage of balance? I'd love to know!

*No Buddhists or pole dancers were harmed in the making of this moniker. I hope they weren't offended, either. :)