by Caitlin Bargenquast, from The Under 35 Project
“Longing to attain complete enlightenment for the sake of others is what is meant by arousing bodhicitta.”
1.[trans.] [intrans.] the choiceless choice, flow, do nothing and everything is done: Somewhere, and then somewhere again, in the midst of her ride… she let go the reins completely; and everything was exactly as she’d meant it to be. Except it was more magnificent than she fathomed in her toil. So utterly unexpected, so colossal in scope. Perpetually given.
— performance artist and activist King Lexie Honiotes, of The Leading Edge
Synchronize body with mind with music with moment.
I’m a professional. I practice, professionally. I work for tips.
Synchronized, she moves through space. The lights play across her eyes, as they play across her face, her body. As his eyes play across her face, her body. She looks. She sees him. He sees her see, and smiles.
Synchronized she walks across the room, gathering the energy of the dralas about her. Intensifying the space above, around, through even. Gathering her mudra training about her like a cloak, invisible and tangible.
Synchronized she feels her breath, feels her senses magnified by the fantasy she creates. Attention following the movement, following the lines her long limbs create radiating from her center, following the feedback of her audience. Attention following her breath. Following her breath quickening, deepening as the movement intensifies, as she lifts and floats through the air, spinning on the pole’s axis, moving about the stage.
Synchronized, she moves towards him as the music changes. Leans in gently, smelling the fumes of his drink mixing with the subtle scent of him and her washing over him.
“Thank you,” she says, gathering the dollars he has left on her rack.
“Thank you,” he says.
“God, you’re gorgeous,” he says.
“Thank you,” she says.
“What do you do, when you’re not dancing here?”
“Believe it or not, I love to dance,” she laughs, “Also, write and sing.”
“What else,” he persists.
“You look like you enjoy what you do,” he says.
“Oh yes,” she says.
“It must help, because you’re very good at it,” he says.
“I’d say it’s helpful in general,” she says.
As a meditator I practice synchronizing body and mind, on the cushion, and in my life — work, play, and relationship. It is a state in which I practice abiding as a meditator, and it translates brilliantly into my work as a performance artist who must unify a multitude of elements in the present moment of a performance. When I rest in the moment, a walk along the beach can feel timeless, resting in a pool of sunlight after sweeping a garden path can illuminate insight, practicing vocal harmonies in a band rehearsal can resonate throughout my entire being, and working as a stripper can be meditation in movement.
Synchronized body and mind, she dances, she spins and bobs and rolls and turns. Spine undulating, the movement highlights the sensual play of the wave curve of her back, the spread of her legs, the dramatic line of her body emphasized by her costume and poses.
First introduced to the Buddhist concept of bodhichitta when I was 16, I felt a deep longing. I longed to be helpful, awake. I saw incredible, complex suffering in the world, and longed to know how to be of benefit. I began my study of self, and of reality, taking refuge in what I could experience as the truth, and in the precious teachers and community of spiritual friends who could point the way. I began to cultivate the attitude of loving kindness and a dedication of service (to all beings) in as much of my activity as possible, which included my work. Though I felt the potential to arouse this attitude in all tasks, from doing the laundry, to driving a car, to bagging groceries, to cultivating mindful friendships and relationships, to making art for a community, a couple of years ago I hit a wall of frustration. I was a dancer, and performance artist, and I was giving hours and hours of my precious time to jobs that would support me, but were ultimately depleting me of the resource I needed most to practice my craft and develop my livelihood as an artist: time.
I realized after some years of childcare and barista jobs that though they present wonderful and important opportunities for genuine service, I was growing disengaged. My mind was wandering into boredom, and I found myself more and more often playing the mental game of watching the clock, fantasizing about what I could be doing otherwise, planning, even working on writing projects in my head while I was supposed to be wholly focused on the kiddos I was pushing around in the stroller. Something had to change.Through creative collaborations with some women artists in Portland, I was introduced to pole dance, and to the huge strip club industry the Rose City boasts. I loved the dance of sensuality and playful flirtation. I loved its sister form Burlesque, and the art of the tasteful tease. I loved the pole. I loved the idea of working for myself and setting my own schedule. Going to a club for the first time, I was in awe. I knew it wasn’t an industry for everyone, but was just a matter of time before “the itch” got the better of me, and I had to explore the scene as a job. Heading into my first audition I thought, “After these two songs, I am either going to stumble off stage and throw up into a garbage can, or I am going to love this.”
A conversation I had recently with a fellow practitioner about Right Livelihood highlighted the power that can be cultivated practicing in difficult, potentially mindless environments, like a bar or strip-club. He said, “We in the west don’t have charnel grounds.” We aren’t encouraged to practice while going into the places that scare us. I agreed, sharing that I often see spiritual practitioners materialize their aspirations and outright avoid discomfort by subscribing to views that other-ize certain industries, and avoid certain “types” of people who do those jobs. I’ve been dancing for tips ever since that first audition, delighted by how almost all of my assumptions about what it would be like have been challenged, or blown away completely.
As I continue to develop myself as a spiritual practitioner I am deepening my inquiry of how to bring genuine benefit to myself and others in all my interactions. This includes when I perform under a persona. As a performer, I practice bringing authenticity to my show. Aware of my breath, I can weave a fantasy that delights and entertains (perhaps arouses) even as it reveals glimpses of the truth of who I am: I am a mirage, empty and impermanent.
Last spring I had an interview with one of my spiritual teachers, and I was so nervous and embarrassed to admit that I dance for dollars. And she had the most beautiful response to my shame-filled confession. She said, “How wonderful that you are working in such an environment, practicing the bodhi aspirations.”
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