My lithe instructor, dressed in hot pants and a black lace bra, cautioned us that this was “not a beginner move,” and that we should just give it our best.
The move we were learning in pole dancing class was called the “corkscrew,” since it involved curling yourself around the pole, knees bent, torso perpendicular to the pole and parallel to the floor, then spinning down the pole like a corkscrew.
Oh sure, no problem!
Since this was my first pole dancing class ever, I approached it with gusto and forgave myself when my “corkscrew” form was far more awkward than sexy or elegant.
She mentioned that it’s common to acquire bruises along the way, since you are often catapulting your body, legs or torso up into the air and onto the pole. Who knew that this dance form was so athletic!
Just Another Life Adventure…
Pole dancing had long been one of the items on my “bucket list.” As a former professional dancer who still dances for fun, I continue to study new forms of dance and to challenge myself. Over the years, I’ve taken tango, salsa, flamenco, belly dancing, ballet, South African boot dancing, hambo, hip hop and more.
The two most athletic dance styles I’ve tackled yet have to be aerial silk dancing, like the kind in the circus, and pole dancing. I signed up for pole dancing classes in Saratoga Springs, New York, recently, figuring it would be a great way to work out, learn something new, feel sexy, and of course check something off the bucket list.
For me, lifelong learning and new adventures are two of the things that contribute to my ongoing happiness. I love challenging myself, and I love trying something new.
Last week was a very, very good week for me because I found many ways to engage in my passions, and had lots of new experiences. I spent time in Dallas, Texas, where I went out blues dancing on Tuesday night. Thursday night was pole dancing class, followed by a few hours of salsa dancing at a local Saratoga club.
I taught a class at a local college on recovering from trauma, since I have recovered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) over the past several years, managing to create a happy and peaceful life for myself. I led life-coaching sesssions, and worked on my book. I spent time with dear friends. I enjoyed the warm but windy early autumn weather, and the changing leaves, trees bursting into red, orange and yellow flame all around me.
I’m so grateful for the mix of things I get to do, but of course am also clear that this is a lifestyle I have consciously cultivated and created. I try to live in a way that keeps me inspired, interested and engaged, and to continue to do the things that make me happy: teaching, writing, dancing, coaching, traveling.
Yet I’m convinced that the number one secret of my happiness isn’t what I do, or how I live, or even what I have accomplished over the years in terms of living my dreams.
The “Unhappy” Years
Truth be told, there were years of my life when I was out there accomplishing whatever it was I set out to do, as a born overachiever, but I was not particularly happy. I was a total overachieving student, excelling in everything, as a child and adolescent, and was born into a wonderful family with extraordinarily loving parents. Yet what I remember most about those years is being filled with self-doubt and anxiety, plagued by a vague but inescapable neurosis and undefined and constant self-loathing.
I went through some traumatic incidents in my early 20s that would continue to haunt me for years, and remained “happy on the surface,” achieving and smiling. Yet I was still filled with anxiety, sometimes with dread, and suffered panic attacks for years.
Six years ago, I finally decided that finding or cultivating inner peace was my number one goal, more important than any external achievements. I just couldn’t live the way I’d been living anymore, happy on the outside, and suffering on the inside.
I found spiritual teachers who taught me basic meditation techniques, breathing techniques, yoga, qigong and more to help me find some sense of inner stillness. I went away on silent retreats. I faced the world only after meditating in the mornings, and spent time regularly in downward-facing dog.
Life was changing, from the inside out. There were years when I may not have accomplished as much, externally, as I was used to achieving, yet the joy levels were constantly spiraling higher. I was learning to be happy, and learning to love my life.
The Power of Attitude
For me, meditation, aerobic exercise, weight training and dancing are practices and routines that continue to keep me feeling healthy, fit, happy, peaceful and inspired. These practices absolutely contribute to my happiness.
And, I regularly take action steps to achieve my current dreams of completing my first book, Burning Down the House, and building my life coaching business.
Yet I, like anyone, have moments where I sit and look at my life and focus on what I perceive to be missing, or what I don’t like. I have to say the moments when I sit and judge my life, or the people in my life, or think about how I think my life “should” be versus how it actually is, are not my happiest moments.
What I have learned over the years is that our happiness is not actually dependent upon what we have or don’t have. After all, “research shows that once ourÂ basic needs are metÂ (e.g. food, shelter, safety) our degree of happiness isÂ notÂ dependent on money, status, or other stereotypical ideas on what makes people happy.”
In my life, I have definitely found satisfaction in doing things that bring me joy, and giving back, both of which make me feel like I am living with purpose and passion.
But I still fall into spells of unhappiness whenever I start to judge my life for what it is not, or focus on what’s lacking.
Living with Gratitude
If I had to identify one consistent characteristic of the people I know, including myself, who are genuinely happy people, I would say that it is living with gratitude.
Neale Donald Walsch discusses the power of gratitude in his book, “Happier Than God.” He writes,
Somebody once said that ‘Happiness is not getting what you want, it is wanting what you get. That ‘somebody’ was profoundly right.
“Gratitude,” he writes, “is the miracle cure for every moment of dis-ease. It is the fastest way to dissolve anxiety, to heal disappointment, to replace negativity with positivity. It is the shortest route from a dead-end back to The Path. It is the connecting energy to God.”
He adds, “When gratitude replaces judgment, peace spreads through your body, gentleness embraces your soul, wisdom fills your mind. Let gratitude replace judgment and your whole experience of life will take a turn for the better in five seconds.
“This is because attitude is everything… A negative attitude will send you down the road to unhappiness. There is no avoiding it. It will absolutely happen, and it doesn’t matter what the problem [is]. A positive attitude will put you back on The Path to inner peace and happiness.”
Be Thankful for What You Have!
This may seem deceptively simple, and I’m sure that everyone reading this could come up with some retort, some reason why you cannot be happy right now because of X, Y, Z problem in your life. However, the opposite is also true, since most of our readers are fortunate enough to have their basic needs met (food, shelter, security) and obviously have access to a computer or smartphone, in order to be reading this. I’d bet that everyone reading this can find something, or many things, to be grateful for in this moment.
Neale Donald Walsch challenges us to not only be happy for what we have, and what we perceive to be the blessings in our lives, but to also find gratitude for the challenges in our lives. Try this exercise, that he suggests:
The next time you are confronted with any undesired outcome, result or experience, just stop. Stop right in the middle of whatever’s going on. Just…
Close your eyes for the smallest moment and say inside your head, “Thank you, God.”
Take one good, deep breath and say it again.
“Thank you for this gift, and the treasure that it holds for me.”
Be assured that it does hold a treasure, even if you are not seeing it right now. Life will prove it to you, if you give it a chance.
I am so thankful this week of all of the experiences I’ve been able to savor, and even for my own limitations. I may not be a master pole dancer yet, for example, but luckily as a professional writer, consultant and life coach, I don’t have to do that for money. I can just continue to dance because I love it!
I am actually grateful for the bumps and bruises along the way in life, because they show that I am out there fully living. As long as I am lucky enough to walk this planet, I plan to practice gratitude for all I have, which means I plan to have a happy life.
Wishing you happiness, beginning in this very moment, starting with appreciating what you have! Celebrate your life this week!