This is the second part of the the blog post Transforming Your Life in Three Ridiculously Easy Steps CLICK HERE for part 1.
Step Two: Conducting Ain’t Easy!
In 2008, I entered the certification program at the Soma Institute of Clinical Massage Therapy, where I was introduced to 750 clock hours of new, exciting concepts about human anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology. This was really challenging to my brain. I had a BFA in performing arts with a minor in philosophy and religion. What the hell did I know about sanitizing solutions, nephrons, and impetigo? A few things absolutely blew my mind. Like, did you know that we are not solid skeletons with our flesh just hanging on for the ride—like I remembered from 5th grade science class? Our bones are actually suspended by chains of something called fascia. We are basically a soft, electrically operated lever-pulley system that is always combating gravity or using it to our advantage. Amazing.
What this period of intense study did to me was quite interesting. On the one hand, I was absolutely fascinated by all the cool stuff our body can do without us even knowing about it (like automatically contorting the shape of our back, so that our eyes will always see a horizontal horizon). On the other hand, it introduced me to a side of myself I had never seen before: the most Obnoxious Hermione Granger. OHG ended up becoming the valedictorian of her class, but she was certainly not winning any popularity contests. Anyone who knew me during this period remembers that I couldn’t shut up about it. At bars, backstage in dressing rooms, on dates: I was o-b-s-e-s-s-e-d.
Simultaneous to this whiplash-inducing myoskeletal education, I was learning to be more in tune with my own mind and body. Did you know you don’t have to hate yourself? Sounds obvious now, but back then I assumed everyone did, ‘cause it was so easy! I joined Weight Watchers because I was sick of feeling ugly and fat. Putting my pants on was an especially horrendous experience, because I’d have to suck in my belly super tight to heave them up and then watch in horror as it ballooned out over the top of the waistband1.
I started taking Pilates from Sara, who was a cirque gymnast. She believed in my balance and strength much more than I did. She was a great coach, and I’m glad I listened to her because she was right. I was not a “clumsy numbskull who couldn’t get the movements right.” It turns out that undoing years of postural habits is HARD. Sara had the patience and perseverance that I lacked in the first six months, and over the next few years she helped me overcome some seriously terrifying walls of self-limitation. I remember the day she stopped spotting me during a move called the “Snake.”
She didn’t tell me she was going to do it, she just let go, and I didn’t even realize I was doing it on my own until afterwards. It was one of those “small” victories that made me cry tears of joy, because it wasn’t small at all—it was a breakthrough.
I was starting to notice a theme, and you may be picking up on it too: limiting, negative, hurtful self-talk.
My mind had been a mess for years; I just wasn’t really aware of it. My mind was a fun factory, constantly yammering, chattering, and broadcasting ingenious and convincing ways I could feel bad about existing in space.
One weekend I (courageously) stumbled into the Shambhala Center for an open house with my out-of-place Jack Kornfield book about meditation, and tried to blend in with the crowd gathering to meditate. Maybe if I put on a stupid grin and emanated peaceful, happy vibes, then no one would notice I was an imposter who had only ever read books about meditation. I wish someone had taken a picture; it was probably hilarious.
A very kind man walked up to me, peered over my book, looked into my eyes, and asked if I’d like free meditation instruction. And so, in time, I started meditating—like for real, every day—and going on retreats. I had been dabbling with Buddhism since college, and now was actually getting serious about making friends with my mind. I took my refuge vows2. and was given my new Buddhist name, Pema Sheldron, which means lotus, crystal, torch. The lotus is a beautiful flower that starts in the mud and grows its way through the murky depths to bloom in the sun. This also made me cry, it was a much kinder and gentler way to contemplate transformation than, “you are a loser, get your shit together.”
Meanwhile, at school, we started learning how to treat specific causes of pain with isolated clinical massage protocols. Some of these treatments felt yummy. Some of them made me want to jump off the table in pain. I knew that the treatments were really effective but it seemed that the philosophy behind these treatments was “search, seek, and destroy” which went against what I knew was finally working in my own life—kindness.
I wanted to study as much as I could in all forms of bodywork. I wanted to understand the myoskeletal system in as many “languages” as I could. So, I got on the floor and crawled on people at Zen Shiatsu Chicago. Steve, the school’s president, is a really cool dude. He’s a dad and a musician, and he taught me one of the most important lessons I’d ever learn about bodywork, and about dealing with challenges: “Approach the issue like you would approach a door that you’d like to enter.” Why would it be necessary to pound on a door that is already open? What good does it do to whisper to a fortressed gate, reinforced with many layers of steel? Just approach the actual door you find, and the way in will become apparent. Although I stand on m
y feet and use a massage table instead of crawling on clients, the Ho/Sha (mother, messenger hand) technique has always remained. My hands “listen” to the body, find the locked doors, and open them using whichever technique seems most appropriate3.
I wanted to pay homage to my love of the Eastern and Western approaches, so I called my new trademarked bodywork practice Bodhiwork Therapeutics. Bodhi (boh-dee) is a Sanskrit word that means to awaken to the true nature of things, and Therapeutics because this wasn’t just a leisure massage—I actually wanted to clinically help people. In hindsight, this was a really dumb decision from a marketing perspective. Who the hell can pronounce “Bodhiwork,” let alone spell it well enough to type it into a browser? I guess I should have just sucked it up and called myself “Goode Hands” or something ridiculously cheesy but easy to remember. But, hey, I never set out to be a business person.
And so my transformation was COMPLETE! underway. I passed my boards, got my license, and now had all some of the knowledge and skills to embark on being the “me” that I always wanted to become! The End.
- Although WW helped me lose the twenty pounds I was aiming for, I did eventually gain it back. I didn’t figure out for nearly ten years that the most important step is to understand that “diet” is a noun, not a verb. We eat a diet of food no matter who we are. We can choose a nutritious diet because we love ourselves, and want to flourish, but should not start dieting because we are ugly, fat jerks that must be punished for sins of gluttony. I mean, unless you want to keep gaining and losing the same twenty pounds, over and over again like I did—then by all means, diet and punish away.
- This may sound like some sort of scary cult thing. But it was actually really fun. I got to invite friends to a ceremony where an Acharya—a man “who presumably had his shit more together than I did”—presented me with my new name, then we celebrated with sake, songs, and conversation.
- Eventually this philosophy led me to Austin where I got certified in cupping, but the story about receiving ten hours of cupping and devouring $60 worth of food at Red Lobster in a single weekend is best saved for another day.