Monday, December 21, 2009

Decorating the House

We decorated the house a little bit tonight. CK hung stockings for each of us and the four cats up on the mantle. We strung the dizzying LED lights on the small, living Norfolk pine we purchased at Home Depot (about 3 feet, w/pot) and hung a few ornaments (origami cranes and a few owls made out of mosses & bark). I put out a couple of snowmen and filled a strange, green glass bowl (from my childhood, I kept it when my Mom got rid of it when downsizing) with the bright, polka-dot patterned crackers I picked up at Finnegan's last week. The candy canes have been put into an old A&W glass, also from my childhood. There is a poinsettia on either side of the fireplace, above the built ins (so far I'm keeping them looking fairly nice).

It really looks beautiful. I can't wait to get the quilted wall hanging we purchased in Hawaii up. The colors are all so bright in here now and the whole space leaves me feeling happy. All the changes we've made to have it feel like our home have really been so cheering and lovely. I look forward to working on things in the house with her.

I wrapped a few things before she came home from work. She immediately started to worry she hasn't enough presents for me. I then immediately started to worry that I've over-indulged. Maybe I have a little, but this year feels so special that it has been hard to resist things I see. I've barely bought anything for anyone else. Even today I found myself nearly ordering something for her (I might yet still, but maybe will save for later).

We have wood to make a fire, we're thinking certainly Christmas Eve. A nice dinner, I'm considering making lasagna, some drinks and a fire sound pretty heavenly. I have this incredible shopping-madness to buy a festive tablecloth. I am just so looking forward to this holiday time with her, the simplicity and relative quietness of it seem so precious and wonderful.

...and then I went to bed, settled down next to CK to read some of the novel I started and we were startled by the crash the tree made coming off of the shelf it sits on, in front of our living room window. The kittens have left it alone until now. The dangling ornaments were just too much.

We took all the ornaments off, put as much dirt back into the pot as possible and CK vacuumed up the rest. Hopefully the lights will be insufficient temptation to climbing into the tree again. They appear to have eaten an origami crane.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Catch Up, Cookies & Teamwork

My posts have been pretty heavy lately, the acupuncture has really kicked a lot of things around for me. The latest round, although very emotional, has once again really loosened the left hip up. It still has some lingering tenderness and tightness, but it was markedly improved by Wednesday morning (even if my emotions still felt brittle).

Wednesday saw me helping a friend out after day-stay surgery on both knees. Thursday saw me at zazen. The first time just sitting in the Sangha for a long time. No list to bring, keep track of and no chanting. It felt good to just bow with the whole community, to just sit as part of the whole body. Friday we spent the evening at a friend's place playing games & having dinner. I made a first try at a Moroccan inspired spaghetti squash dish, which was good but I want to work with it more.

We've had a lot of time at home this weekend and have spent much of it in a flurry of cooking and home repairs (new trap for the basement sink drain). Saturday we spent hours baking together in the kitchen. It stuck us both again and again how well and easily we work together. As we've had more opportunity this year to experience working together on things the easy teamwork between us has just grown more easy & comfortable.

We also hung up some lights on our porch this weekend, which are lovely and bright. After the past few weeks it has been grounding to do these chores around the house. We were going to bake more this evening, but I'm just wiped out. I find that I am not really looking forward to the upcoming week at work. It is really challenging to focus at all on projects when there's a great deal of uncertainty around them even being ever finished.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Clear and Present Anger

Had an interesting discussion with my therapist today about JS's comments about the energy of anger in Chinese medicine. She felt it made a lot of sense for this to be stuck for me. My entire life has been a long series of not having the space to set boundaries. As a child my ability to set them was either denied or taken from me if I tried. As an adult I've experienced having people, partners even, disrespect or undermine the boundaries I would try to set.

The result has always been to over compensate. Just function higher, do more, try harder and pick up the slack. Always.

Oh, and when I fail? Self-direct that anger for a perceived inability to always pick up the slack when other people break down those boundaries. Why, yes, that does mean that I beat myself up for failing to be perfect.

She felt that if I could learn to set those firm, clear boundaries around my needs that it would heal the body that responds in muscle spasms to the energy of the anger being stuck, denied. Even more importantly it would heal the awful shame that arises any time I engage my sense of vulnerability around expressing my needs. That I need to address this in the present to heal the old pain.

This seems more attainable. I've been spinning around this idea, fed in part by the writing about trauma recovery, that I've needed to get in touch with the anger I feel about the abuse. I know I do, it does make me angry and I'm really alright with it. I think this is one of those times it is OK to look at a situation and say the anger is reasonable. I've even met the rage of the child I was at 13 while in sesshin (it was deeply unsettling).

But do I feel some need to throw cups and break them? Maybe a little, only in my mind. The thought of standing out in my yard shattering pottery seems kind of silly and excessive. It is a good metaphor - break the dirty cups of my life I have such a hard time not minding. In practice though, I don't really connect to it. Perhaps because in practice I have this vow I made to not give rise to anger, but to seek the source.

When I do engage the feelings and thoughts around the anger at the abuse I feel grief. When I seek the headwaters of it, so to speak. I feel the intense hurt of an injured child and young woman. At times these things have themselves felt terrifying and overwhelming.

Even at those times when I am in direct painful contact with memories of trauma I don't feel the need to scream and throw things. These times are where I come into contact with grief again and I acknowledge that the anger is reasonable. The anger is just there, with the memory. There are memories that I know will always carry anger around them, but it is old and I don't honestly feel the need to let it come rushing back through me in the now. I just want to get it out of my left leg and hip.

GM said she's always felt that this is a more positive thing anyway, that I don't feel some intense need to express the anger beyond acknowledging that it is there. As painful and overwhelming as it gets sometimes it is expressing the emotions that fuel the anger anyway. If I was still stuck in a rage it would mean I wasn't accessing the grief causing it. She felt there isn't really any need to spend time on trying to express the past, other than to keep present to the hurt that arises and greet it compassionately.

This anger energy in the present, that is something to learn. How to use the energy of bamboo shooting up through cold, dark earth to burst forth into green life in the spring. That is the energy of boundary setting.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Loose Ends

I taught my last Tuesday class at Dishman tonight. I was a little sad before heading out, but felt OK once I got teaching. Which is usual.

I was surprised to end up teaching a more vigorous class including some sun salutations to warm everyone up since it has been so cold (for Portland standards). The requested hip & leg openers got right into some of the "crunchy" congested energy of my hips. The left one doesn't hurt as badly after all the acupuncture earlier today.

It was another long session focusing on detoxifying the meridians. More of the heart-protector again. Some discussion about the energy being caught in the muscles being anger. Not the kind of overblown rage that we often think of as anger, but the energy that arises to set a firm boundary. Something that was denied or taken from me growing up.

In five element acupuncture anger also represents the energy of spring that causes buds to open. It is the energy of rebirth and creativity. It is represented by wood. This is the block that stands out most dramatically.

The needles went into the surface of the back, the tender points between the shoulders, and tears came and stayed for a while. Not hard, just constant. It was a long session, sitting for only 10 minutes before lying on my side, wrapped in blankets except for the bare back for the needles and feeling the energy zoom around.

After teaching a delicious potato & broccoli soup for dinner made by CK while I was teaching. She's been working while I've been finishing up a couple of small art pieces. All the energy drained out of me about 90 minutes ago and I'm hoping I'll sleep better tonight.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Congested Engergy

And how am I...

In the past several days I've been diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency, my levels are pretty low. This is actually pretty serious and can affect a person in several ways. It is the leading culprit for my fatigue, not the chronic pain that I've blamed (on the advice of my physician). The new acupuncturist, JS, is the one who guessed it on the basis of my saying how markedly better I felt in Hawaii.

Am taking a pretty enormous dose of D right now. In 12 weeks they'll test again and see if I'm any where near "normal" levels. Apparently it is fairly common in Portland to be low on it. I guess there's been a lot more attention on it recently and more doctors are testing for it now.

Still having a lot of acupuncture done. Another session focused on detoxing the body, again the heart-protector. Again I suddenly went from feeling absolutely fine, doing zazen with needles in my back, and then I'm suffused with grief and feel a headache & nausea. Not quite as intense as the first time, but pretty significant.

Was doing better and then Thursday the head pounding came back again during our Zen community cohort dinner/meeting. We went home, I went to bed early. Friday through Sunday was down and up, and down again and a shaky even into feeling rather tired today.

Saturday was the big "up" in the middle of the lows of the weekend. We made breakfast together and went for a walk in St. Johns. Coming home we had leftovers and took a nap (more acupuncture causes napping in my life). We watched the first Blue Planet DVD and went to bed early. It was all pretty marvelous until I tried to go to sleep.

Friday and particularly Saturday night into Sunday was a lot of stuff triggered, pretty early pain. Sunday morning it went straight into my left hip and leg, turning into spasm after spasm. The hip pain that for years has been associated with the herniated disc shows up, after being all but gone for two weeks, when I'm seriously emotionally triggered. Can it be any more obvious?

I'm trying to stay focused on how I was able to be present to the pain, the terrifying shame I felt. I retained the ability to talk, to fully, if haltingly, communicate what was going on. I was even able to visualize the way my body felt inside - seeing the pain like lava. This is progress. I didn't shut down completely.

In the middle of the big down, feeling enormously triggered by childhood trauma, I taught yoga. One of those times where I just get out of the way and allow that lineage to teach through me. The class ended up running long and I felt grounded, if unsteady. Coming into a shaky evenness after the storm of emotion and memory.

I worked on small art projects Sunday afternoon, in part alone with the cats. I did no chores. I didn't feel guilty about it.

A picture I took Saturday really resonated with me when I saw it had come out. It was a quick decision to take it, seeing the lines suddenly and clearly.

We were walking back out of the SuperFund site of Willamette Cove.

Cables cut, restoration begun, but toxic areas remain. Native trees reclaim the shoreline.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Willamette Cove

Yesterday CK and I went to St. Johns to explore Willamette Cove. Our plan was to take on a walk featured in Portland Hill Walks, which we recently picked up at Powell's. The walk was from Willamette Cove to the St. Johns Bridge. We decided to call it after coming out from along the river, we'd spent a lot of extra time walking along the edge of the cove under the railroad bridge. We fully intend to do the full walk sometime soon.

The sun was shining and the wind was pretty mild, since it was in the 40s we were grateful for less wind. The day was clear and bright when we started walking at around 11:45. Very quickly we were able to get some great views of the St. Johns bridge.

We continued through the neighborhood to the Open Meadow High School, in the Benson-Chaney house, and spent some time appreciating the stunning views.

And the Oregon white oaks, which are over a couple of hundred years old and are fantastically limbed and grand in the bright, winter sunlight.

From the top of the bluffs we descended down to Willamette Cove. First we pass the reminder of the designation of this as a SuperFund site. We're headed somewhere beautiful, fragile and hopefully eventually restored.

We walked along the curved edge of land. The guidebook noted the need to appreciate, but not to play in the still contaminated sand and mud here.

The view of the railroad bridge was amazing.

Without question we knew we wanted to continue our way underneath it. Making our way along the old, concrete blocks that line the shore we headed to the railway bridge.

At the bridge we had several exciting moments. First was when the Amtrack Cascade Runner went past. I experienced technical difficulties in trying to take a picture while CK succeeded in getting people to wave at us. Then a fast moving barge and tug made their way underneath the bridge, requiring it to be lifted.

An unfortunate sturgeon in these busy waters; this dead fish had been struck by a propeller.

The extra walk around the bridge rewarded us both with a very interesting and new perspective of Portland.

This detour from the walk in the guide is what lead us to not continue on to Cathedral Park, but we had such an excellent time exploring. It was a marvelous couple of hours on a chilly, December Saturday.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Marking Time

Several of my tattoos mark a milestone in my life of some sort, mostly age related. My feet I had done when I finished my first round of Yoga Teacher Training and started practicing Zen. 2009 has seen some really big milestones for me. I finished round two of Yoga Teacher Training (an additional 230 hours). I went to two sesshins. I received Jukai and was given a new name. I started turning my steps towards the truth of myself, even though it hurt both me and others. A big year deserves a big tattoo, a big reminder of my accomplishments.

I have such a difficult time recognizing my accomplishments that maybe it takes a rather large tattoo I can look at every day will help me remember that I owe myself some appreciation & congratulations. It will be my touchstone to reality whenever my Inner Critic says I never finish anything I start.

All that in mind, I had a quite large tattoo started today. It is a little over half done after half a day with the artist. I am exhausted. My right leg aches like it has been burned (normal) and the rest of my body aches from the constant tensing to be still on the point of pain. I'm mostly lying around tonight, leg elevated.

There's interesting practice in tattoos. Really, to be done well, it helps that both the receiver and the giver are present to the art and the bodies. The body receiving, the body giving (which also experiences a specific pain of holding stressful positions and constant vibration starting in the hand). The pain keeps the receiver from straying too far from the present moment and a good artist is focused on the art. The noise both giver and receiver share. Even if you put on noise-cancelling headphones you still hear the noise inside your body. On that point, at varying levels of sharp, insistent pain, the two people stay in complete focus.

Here's what my newest tattoo looks like with all the stencils applied to my leg. In some areas the stencils wouldn't fit right, so the Sanskrit is hand drawn in with a Sharpie. Doing just this part took quite a while because there are three large lines of very straight text. These then must be adjusted to taper down the leg (this was done by Bryan already by means of hand drawing and working with the file on their Mac). Oh, and the lines should have the appearance of being "straight" around the leg. Don't forget - the lower leg is full of flat bits, soft bits, curved bits, hollow bits, bits that stick up, etc. It is not an optimal surface for this kind of stuff.

I took some before shots of my bare leg and some "in progress" shots today. Right now it is wrapped up in day-glo pink compression tape, a large bandage around the ankle particularly, and cling film. I'll take a shot in a day or two once the back starts to clear up a little.

The final product is the first three of the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. Each line will be solid black at the top, fading into blue at the bottom of each line. If you've seen the tattoos on my feet, this work is being done by the same artist.

The Sutras go from 1.1 on the top to 1.2 in the middle and 1.3 around the ankle.

The way I translate these Sutras in my practice:

1.1 - Now begins the practice of Yoga.
1.2 - Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence.
1.3 - With the mind settled we rest in the Essential Self

That is the beginning of my practice of both Hatha Yoga and Zen Buddhism. First we begin to practice. Practice is the stilling of all the mind-noise. When we experience the stillness of a quiet mind we experience the essential truth of the self, or of the no-self.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Just Sitting

Today I got to do zazen with acupuncture needles in my back. Instead of a bell I would wait for JS to come back, see how the meridian points on my back looked. After the first round of 10 minute intervals he noted that I shouldn't strain my back muscles overly sitting upright as I was, but then observed that I was entirely used to sitting upright, still, quiet for long stretches at a time.

And I was fine. Quiet, doing metta practice for myself. Mostly just breathing. Just sitting. It was a rather intense experience being aware of the room, the needles, the sounds. Certainly the most interesting opportunity for zazen I've had in a long time!

Then the fatigue and headache started. JS had said I could carefully lie down on my right side or stomach, but I felt uncertain about movement with the needles still in my back. I've sat in the zendo while feeling downright ghastly at times, just present and waiting until the bell would ring. So I waited for the bell-like response of the door, staying present to the rising fatigue, so like what I'd felt in sesshin in August.

When he checked on me then JS said I should lie down and I agreed. I was settled onto my side and felt myself drifting slightly. Not spacing out, not exactly sleeping, but hazy. More metta, more feeling the breath, feeling the energy tingle and move across my skin. Many, many more minutes as meridians flared even more strongly before eventually settling down entirely. Over 2 hours would pass before I got up.

I'm very shaky tonight, very drained and depleted. JS said that the energy that's getting flushed out of my system by the acupuncture is deeply chaotic. However, he noted that it was the energy that I've been running on, regardless of how unhealthy it is. Getting this energy out, detoxifying my system from it will feel depleting, exhausting. He said I may even feel a bit like I have a hangover.

My doctor ordered lab work for my vitamin D to be checked. Will have to fit that in. No one, including my Mom, seems to know what my blood type is. CK and I are going to make plans to donate at the local Red Cross. It is a good thing to do, I used to actually do it regularly in college & my early 20s, and it is apparently the quickest, cheapest way to learn your blood type! JS is very curious to know the lab results and the blood type, noting there may be some nutritional things to recommend once he knows that.

I stayed home from the Dharma center tonight and CK stayed with me. We picked up take-out from Pho Jasmine and have been watching episodes of Buffy on DVD. The energy cycles go from depleted to drained entirely, I'm trying to keep drinking lots of water and green tea to help my system flush toxins.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Last night I felt pretty darn good post acupuncture. This morning I woke up feeling less pain than I expected - I'm quite often sore the morning after a yoga class. I'm not pain-free, but there's definitely been some kind of change. I was feeling pretty hopeful as I went downstairs.

Then something about a mis-communication between CK and I really hit me wrong. I found myself feeling emotionally overwhelmed and unable to really control it. We got it sorted out but I was still just feeling wrecked - emotional, weepy and nauseated. I finally went back upstairs and lay down on the bed.

JS mentioned that acupuncture doesn't stop when I leave. This makes sense because the work that I have done in massage therapy or the craniosacral therapy IW does continues well past the actual appointment. CK came upstairs, rubbed my back a little, reminded me that she wasn't angry at my crying, and that like the muscle spasms I'd had during the acupuncture treatment, that perhaps the weepy, overwhelmed feelings were a kind of emotional "spasm".

I had 5 meetings lined up, mostly back-to-back until 1:30 this afternoon. I went ahead and worked from home. The flood of emotion had left me feeling really depleted and my head was ached. Having an emotional outburst, particularly tears, feels really unsafe for me, particularly if there are other people around. It felt reassuring to stay home since in the event I was overcome with the urge to weep again I wouldn't have an audience.

I felt grateful that the shaky emotional space persisted but didn't turn into crying again. I got through all the meetings and tried to focus the rest of the afternoon. Around 5pm I felt hugely fatigued and lay down. It felt like the same kind of exhausted state I experienced during sesshin in August. I wasn't sure I was truly sleeping, but I felt like I was drifting in and out of dreamless sleep and focused attention. When I felt that attention, felt present, I did metta practice for myself and the rest of the time I just let myself drift into something sleep-like. About an hour of this and I felt more wakeful and not terribly groggy.

For a long time my therapist has told me that she doesn't think I rest enough. I am constantly in motion, constantly working on projects, teaching, and judging myself for not getting enough done. She even has suggested I don't rush to replace my teaching nights in the new year, that I just take some time to really rest. I am not sure I really know how to rest.

It occurs to me that I don't know how to really let go and rest because for the vast majority of my life if I really rested, things would fall apart. Granted that things fall apart all the time in life, but in my experience they would fall apart because the people I depend upon to pick up the slack, to be responsible, would fail to do what they promised. Decades of this taught me that I must always be alert and ready to step in to fix things right away or end up being stuck with the mess anyway.

This is part of the anxiety I feel relaxing into my relationship with CK, why having a responsible partner is on some levels traumatizing. I have no skill for letting go and resting, for trusting that the other person really will pick up the slack and take care of the things that need attention. It may take me quite some time to really be able to trust that I can depend upon it.

Random Poetry Recieved

Earlier this month I posted a poem I'd written for a little project. A random poem created out of 15 words taken from a book I was reading. I sent that random poem off on postcards to 3 different people. Yesterday I received the last of the 3 poems sent to me an thought I'd post them here - I've tried to keep true to the alignment & spacing that the authors used.

Words taken from How to Make a Journal of Your Life, poem by Beth Bendickson

As photography is
to years discoveries,
tell! Books, pens -
forget machine.
Totally, forcefully,

Words taken from Spiritual Housekeeping, poem by Judith Alkema

Can you
clutter your honor,
smother your soul,
weary your body,
with all these
half-hearted treasures?
Or is it something else
that you designated
so ultimately important
to your collector's heart
that you can not lt go
and freely as a bird
flies from its nest
let those feathers drift?
Let go.
Let be.

Words from The Shadow of the Wind, poem by Carol Gibson

an order
all watched
a family remembered
beneath comfortable desk
and papers
room with rows.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I had my first visit with an acupuncturist today. It surprises people that I've not tried acupuncture to help with my back pain, but I have had some resistance to it. I think there's some child-part of me that went through so many medical procedures as a child that I just had a hard time looking into this. It is one of the few things I haven't investigated.

I've been having the muscle spasms more frequently and some stuff seems so stuck. So I finally asked IW for a referral. Her connection apparently has got me on the list of an acupuncturist that's difficult to see as he doesn't usually take new clients. My massage therapist even tried to see him once and couldn't get an appointment! JS specializes in a older school/style of acupuncture, Classical Five Element.

He was very quick to put me at ease and we talked about my back pain as well as touched upon some of the assorted trauma I've been through in my life. He was interested to hear about things I've encountered during sesshin practice as well. We also talked about general medical stuff, like medications, supplements, etc.

CK was there for most of the time spent during the actual procedure. As I've been told, the needles (which really reminded me of the cats' whiskers more than a needle) barely hurt at all. The first session I spent a long time with the seven needles in for quite a long time and my body had some interesting reactions. I was really grateful CK was there. Although I didn't feel the same level of anxiety that I get at a lot of physical exams & some dental appointments, it was still comforting to be present to my body's reactions with her nearby.

I left feeling tired and heavy. Not in a lethargic, mired down kind of way. Just the sensation of the weight of my body parts as I tried to move them. I got home, had some leftovers for lunch and took a couple of calls. JS had suggested that I try to nap or rest some today, especially before teaching tonight, but I felt fairly energized. I worked on some art projects for a little while and eventually lay down for a little bit.

Teaching tonight felt pretty good. The heavy feeling had subsided somewhat and the series of twists and warrior poses I did seemed to shake it off. Afterward I went and steamed at the gym, deciding to add to the energy cleansing quality of the acupuncture and the twists, with the chance to warm up to my core and sweat out any toxins. I felt really energized by the time I had a cool shower.

I'm seeing JS again on Thursday then once a week for a few weeks. I'm using some money from savings to cover the appointments. I think it is really worth trying to get at this energy that seems stuck in my body. CK also mentioned to me that I should let her know if I needed some money from her to make things not as tight this month - which brought up the usual mix of anxiety & guilt, but I gently reminded myself that it really is OK that she helps me when I need her to and that she won't be angry at me for it.

Very curious to see how I'll feel in the morning after the class and the long acupuncture session. I'm supposed to stay away from alcohol (not a big deal) and coffee (a disappointment) for the next little bit. He suggested I have as much green tea as I like, so it will be good for me to switch from my pots of black tea & regular lattes for a little while.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Work Stress/Changes

In March 2002 I was laid off from a company and it took until July 2002 for a company I was a vendor for to clear the red tape and hire me. Pure nepotism, I lucked out and a client offered me a job.

The company I've been working for has been shrinking. There's been layoffs, encouraged retirements and other outright reductions for employees. Since February 2002 I've not been around an environment that doesn't have some kind of downsizing going on. My manager and the director of our team have been trying to get me a promotion, even just in title alone, to recognize the work I've been doing for 4 years. Nothing.

It has been utterly exhausting to be working in this kind of environment. On top of that - a lot of the work I've been doing has become increasingly frustrating, increasingly tiring, and pretty demoralizing. I've been feeling increasingly down about myself and my abilities at work for months now.

And then we get the announcement that our overall department is being dismantled. It is baffling in some ways since we have one of the most highly engaged, award-winning, and revenue-generating teams. Why take us apart!? Our executive retiring. The director of my team retiring. A manager for a team I worked with is leaving. I'm fearful my manager might end up being downsized. There has even been talk of moving my team into IT - where we'd probably end up being downsized from in the first few months of 2010.

I've polished up my resume over the last week or so and have started to look around town at postings. I feel really anxious about it, about even considering leaving all the comforts I have of working from home, liking the people I work with, having lots of flexible time to go to appointments and volunteer. It has reached the point where all those financially intangible things that have made the rest of the stuff bearable aren't helping as much anymore.

In all my disaster planning I'm also trying to hold onto the idea that it might go really well. I might get to stop doing all the programming and systems work to just focus on the stuff I'm both good at and enjoy - writing things like requirements, documentation and test cases. Yeah, maybe I'd still be fighting that uphill battle for the promotion, but the work would at least be more satisfying, less frustrating, than it is now and those intangibles would mean something again.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Unexpected Remorse

My relationship with my Mom has changed a lot. I didn't want to cut her off entirely, but at times when I'm processing some of the events from my childhood it makes it hard to be around her. Her health has been poor pretty much my whole life and drives so much of her constant state of anxiety & irritation that I make a conscious decision not to confront her about the past. For the same reason I try to nurture the connection between us, knowing how painful for her it would be if I stopped communicating.

To me it has felt the more compassionate choice for both of us to find a way to be present to her while taking care of my boundaries and needs. When angry, frustrated and hurt I try to do Loving-Kindness practice for myself and not feel too guilty for not seeing or talking to her. Hogen suggested that I ignore her behavior when it is hurtful, not compassionate and really make a point to give attention to her when I recognize behavior I know is healthy.

I have worked to accept that I cannot change my Mom or expect her to learn or change. I do have control over the way I learn from my past and how I choose to react to it. I am the one who is in the present moment and I can respond to that. That is how I face that my Mom has consistently minimized, re-framed, and passed off all responsibility for the actions she chose during my childhood.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday my Mom actually admitted that while she thought sometimes she was making a good decision for me, she knew she wasn't. She also said she knew at times she wasn't doing the right thing. Mom particularly noted that she feels remorse for forcing me to respect my aunt and my grandmother, punishing me when I questioned that respect.

For all the present-moment-wasting times I've played out conversations in my head with her she never once admits responsibility. It is so entirely unexpected. I was honestly stunned and just tried to stay open, neutral and present to her when she was talking. Oh, that and safely navigate the car in ugly, suburban traffic.

CK asked me if I acknowledged her for telling me all this, for taking responsibility. We both went back to Hogen's advice. I said I don't think I did, I was too surprised by it. I'm trying to come up with a way to make sure I do bring some mindful appreciation to her action.

I'm still rather stunned by this. I've played out conversations in my head with my Mom so many times. Conversations with people is one of the things my brain does a great deal of the time when I'm avoiding the present moment.

These imaginary conversations have often been painful, sometimes angry, but never has she taken responsibility. I never practiced my response for that in my head.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Resenting Resentment

I feel like I've been sensing those gray edges of depression for a few weeks now. No, I don't feel like I'm sliding deeply into that dark funk, just aware of how it shows up as the growing frustration that seems closer at hand lately. I am so spun up with self-doubt from my Inner Critic that it is causing me to have problems processing what people say to me. Everything I hear comes through the filter of self-doubt and only then seems to confirm the uncertainty I feel or as if I am truly being questioned about my ability.

It is getting tedious.

A suggestion was made to me today - Perhaps I need to actually allow myself to feel the anger I have. To resent the hell out of the things I resent until I'm done resenting them. Yes, I may have acknowledged that I feel it, but I view as if from afar.

Anger feels terrifying to me. This is something not uncommon in abuse survivors. Anger is a signal that things are about to go seriously wrong on some, if not many, levels. Quite often as children we are denied it, punished for it. It is pretty understandable that I really don't have any tools to express it now.

So there it sits. I look at it and go, "eeew, scary anger." Rather like viewing a scary predator at the zoo or aquarium*.

And there I am minding the dirty cup and ignoring the pure wine in it. Again.

Today I was also reminded that the sensation of being broken, that is just the element of suffering we all share. Bad, unfair things happen and each and every one of us is touched in some way by them. We all have some way in which we feel that sensation of brokenness. This is the First Noble Truth.

Leaning into the anger, going through it, is a very sharp point indeed. Practice has taught me that it is possible to relax into grief, to settle into it. I was able to navigate myself, teach myself even in the grip of terrible, ages old fear. But my mind really pulls away from experiencing the anger.

I hear my fearful-mind rationalizing, looking at the anger closely and reminding me of the Ninth Precept. "Oh no," she says, "we cannot give rise to anger."

Yet I know that's another way of keeping that scary predator safely in the tank, behind glass. Viewed, appreciated, acknowledged, but not touched. If anger turned outward is unhealthy for those around us, and anger turned inward is depression, then what is the middle was of experiencing anger in a way that is healthy?

*Just on a side note - I fortunate to see the Great White Shark that was at the Monterey Aquarium a while ago. She was, to borrow inspiration from Umberto Eco, beautiful and terrible, like an army arrayed with banners.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Nothing But Cranky

I woke feeling tired and stayed in bed doing a couple of hip releases before getting up to go sit zazen. I wrapped myself up warmly and settled into my breath first, then into metta practice.

And then 'My Favorite Things' from The Sound of Music played on and on and on and on and on and...

ding ding


Cats fed, a little yoga to loosen up the hips further, hot shower and into work.

Choppy day of meetings, punctuated by a tedious & frustrating call with Verizon customer service, and going out to lunch with some of my teammates. Wet walk to meet CK and I nearly missed her due to my headphones being on, it being noisy, and my back being turned (I expected her to come from a different direction).

Teaching class tonight lifted the cranky feelings a little. The responsibility of teaching others tends to ground me when I'm feeling off. I got home only to have Puck eat the second pair of headphones of mine in the past couple of weeks. I just replaced the pair I'd had for a couple of years last week.

My fault, I left them out with my iPod. Still... it brought the cranky right back.

I went upstairs and read a little bit before coming back down to heat up some leftover stew for dinner. While we ate we watched an episode of a show (CK has finally persuaded me to watch Buffy with her and I'm finding it to be lighthearted & amusing fun). The combination of simple fun and dinner helped me feel a bit more centered. After feeling put off by the whole day it was comforting to just hang out for a little bit with her.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Dirty Cups

CK bought me two beautiful editions of Rumi's poetry for my birthday. On the flight home from Hawaii I came across the following piece, gorgeously illustrated in The Illuminated Rumi


Step off
proudly into sunlight,
not looking back.

Take sips of this pure wine being poured.
Don't mind that you've been given a dirty cup.

I read that as CK dozed next to me on the long flight over what appear to be endless water and clouds, then darkness. It really made me sit up and blink. The last line particularly resonated with me.

Don't mind that you've been given a dirty cup.

I tend to see my life, especially the fragile, bruised beginning, as a "dirty cup". This life where my Inner Critic relentlessly condemns my goals, my present actions, my trauma-triggered responses - the whole of me. To that critical voice my life is a dirty cup, unworthy of pure wine being poured by the Beloved.

Greater than the Inner Critic who immediately deems me as unworthy, is that on many levels I mind. I mind ferociously that I experienced abuse, repeatedly. I mind a world where every step I move towards truth alienates and invites insult from much of the society I live in. I mind the very idea of suppressed memories surfacing unannounced and involuntarily pulling me backwards into misery. I mind tremendously that CK was hurt. I mind that my job frustrates me and leaves me feeling unable to accomplish anything.

Alright, so I mind a lot of things. All those things that stack together in an ugly heap, the dirty cups of my life. I mind them. Some of them I downright resent the hell out of. Some I want to pick up and hurl into the wall I mind them so much.

Which would then leave me without a cup for the pure wine.

Leaning into this suffering to feel compassion for myself is hard, excruciatingly difficult. When I do I almost immediately run into either drowning in grief or completely overwhelmed by fear. Sometimes I kind of ping-pong back and forth between the two. There was a whole lot of that back in April during the Loving-Kindness sesshin.

Yet in fighting these realities, in minding the "dirty cup", I'm staying stuck in the fear and grief. I can touch back to moments during the Grasses, Trees & Great Earth sesshin in August where grief came up and I was just able to be there with it. It wasn't that I didn't cry, but I didn't have the overwhelming fear about crying. I just cried some and the moment of grief passed. I even had a pretty awful memory bubble up and I was also able to stay still with it.

I was so stilled by the outright exhaustion that hit me at the start of the sesshin that I lacked the energy to fight. It even felt like my Inner Critic was quieter, minimized due to the soul-deep fatigue. Regardless of why, it was still a taste of just being present to the grief and able to witness & accept the memories.

The knack of doing this is something I need to cultivate in my practice. Waiting until I am utterly exhausted by the tension isn't terribly sustainable. Besides, I am weary of being exhausted by fear.

I'm also taking Bansho's suggestion and considering a suitably non-threatening, perhaps slightly comical name for my Inner Critic.

Random Poetry

I am participating in a swap of poems with people. The goal is to take a book you are reading and take every tenth word from a page until you have 15 words. Then take those 15 words and somehow assemble them into a poem.

I'll be posting poems I receive in the mail as they show up. The first one I've received so far, from another Oregonian, is very cool!

The women's Dharma group I'm participating in is embarking on a deep study of Pema Chodron's book 'When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
' so I picked my words from the first page of the first chapter. My words, in order selected from book, are:
  1. to
  2. journey
  3. setting
  4. with
  5. will
  6. get
  7. the
  8. drawn
  9. if
  10. become
  11. it
  12. different
  13. we
  14. activities
  15. emptiness
The poem I assembled out of these words:


Setting the activities.
drawn to will.
Get with it.
Different journey.

We become emptiness.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ch... ch... Changes... (and a simple novel)

I'm still kind of stumbling around mentally after that snapshot of the Inner Critic moment. I am considering the suggestion of giving her a "non-threatening" name, so I can talk to her. I thought about staying home on Monday after taking that picture but went out instead to the women's Dharma group I participate in. I was glad I went even though I felt very resistant to it.

Tuesday I talked with CS at Dishman and resigned from teaching there now that CC & EB have said they will take over the two classes. Feels weird even now typing it. Felt big and shaky doing it. I immediately got off the phone with him and went to Dishman to teach a class. That felt even weirder. I've not told them yet, I'll bring it up over the next 5 weeks, my last classes. I'll officially end teaching at Dishman on December 20.

And I have no where to teach. I've been talking about teaching at our Zen center, but I have a whole lot of back-and-forth feelings about it. In some part I'm worried that the space, so amenable to Zen practice, is not the best for yoga practice (carpeting, everywhere). I sent a message over to a new studio in my neighborhood today and have been chatting with a new studio in Northwest Portland.

I've been considering other changes too. Looking very strongly at what I'm doing at work, what my motivations are for that work, and considering all the feelings I have about work carefully. At the very least it might be good for me to do the practice of writing my resume (it has been nearly 8 years since I did that) and see what kind of response I get to it. Might convince me to tough out this rough patch, might remind me that I do possess a lot of skills, and it might be a new step on my path.

And I've been letting myself wholly enjoy a good novel. I picked up Sunshine at Powell's the other day, it was on sale, on an end cap as I walked through and I've always enjoyed Robin McKinley's books. It is fun to be reading something so lighthearted, relatively, compared to my stacks of poetry, Dharma and yoga books!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Inner Critic Revealed

I'd like to introduce you to my Inner Critic. I talk about her a lot here and a new art project in my Zen community inspired me to catch her in the act.

I had this clever idea to use Photo Booth on my MacBook to "catch" my Inner Critic. Earlier this morning I'd thought about writing down some of the top things I hear from my Inner Critic on a note card and photographing them with me in the background looking angry, disgusted. When I finally got this done this afternoon I found myself really taken aback by the image.

Wow, is that some nasty shit. Inner Bully is more like it.

And yet that's the person I hear nearly constantly. Something about having this image really kind of creeps me out. The enormity of this voice, the judging and harshness of it. The ugliness fully revealed, not just alluded to.

Somehow seeing this visual representation helps me get a grip on why I've felt so self-doubting these past several weeks, why it is so hard to feel any sense of accomplishment when this is the constant negativity I'm bombarded with. No wonder my therapist will interrupt me occasionally during our sessions to remind me, "I don't like it when you talk about Sherri that way!"

Yeah, need to keep working with this voice.

I burned the note card in the fireplace and lit some incense just now. It felt like the right thing to do. A cleansing step.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I had a meeting with a dinosaur today. Well, at least I'd like to think of him as a dinosaur. The kind of change-resistant, judgmental, dismissive males in technology I'm really hope are becoming the exception to the norm.

Another team asked my boss for me to sit in on some meetings to discuss migrating a very old system they used. They know I have a lot of experience with systems migrations as well as knowledge of Free/Open Source Software. I had said I looked forward to working with them, on a project where I felt like I knew what I was doing.

During the meeting I asked a question and was suddenly, brusquely asked by a member of the other team, "Who are you?"

I explained which team I was a part of, the background I had with systems, and he responded back, "Huh. Never heard of you."

Each time I asked a question or made a comment he would cut me off, dismiss my input as irrelevant, unnecessary and misinformed. It was one of the worst 30 minutes. I tired to just be open, positive, and present.

After the call I felt awful. I've felt so down on my skills or ability to get projects done this year already that this call made me feel just totally demoralized. My Inner Critic immediately piped up to point out that I probably won't get a bonus for this year. Ick.

Within 10 minutes of hanging up I was craving sweets particularly, but rich food in general. I just sat with it for a while. Checked out that I was hungry, but the Halloween candy and cookies were not what I needed. The craving for those things wasn't hunger, but the strong desire to comfort my hurt feelings with something tasty. The coping mechanism I was raised on.

Instead I made a baked potato with some chili on it for a late breakfast and ate a reasonable lunch. For dinner we had leftover white bean, kale, potato & leek soup with a reasonable amount of bread. Afterward I finally did have some cookies with CK. I stayed mindful of each sweet, chewy, gingery bite.

This afternoon I saw my therapist and talked about how listless I feel. That it feels like I'm not getting enough done at work, that I'm very unfocused and then feel guilty, which makes me want to distract myself more. Vicious cycle.

Rather than offer me pointers on how to not procrastinate, what I believe I was hoping to hear. GM pointed me to examine how I'm tying my sense of measuring accomplishment to ticking projects at work off as "finished". That I once again don't think I'm doing enough and I'm seeing the bonuses and raises as an indication of my value. I'm so focused on that external, financial input that I don't examine the tremendous accomplishments of the weight loss, buying a home, huge strides in making my life & relationships healthier, intense spiritual growth -- all of those things I've done but don't feel how they indicate to me I've succeeded.

The day yielded a lot of positive input from good friends, most of them men in technology. It felt better to talk it over with a few people, laugh a little about it, and be reminded of just how great some of the men I know are. I will continue the practice of cultivating patience with my frustration at work and the feeling that I'm not doing enough.

Monday, October 26, 2009


I live in one of the best examples of my lack of skill in recognizing when I have accomplished something. It is coming up on 3 years in my home, purchased in a hurry when my 10 year old rental was sold. I get glimpses of ownership, literally of my accomplishment. It is not insignificant that I alone qualified for the loans to buy a 3 bedroom, 1926 Craftsman style home in my North Portland neighborhood.

Yet most of the time I still feel like I'm an irresponsible child about finances. Any minutes now the authorities will discover I'm just faking and escort me off the premises. I feel like I never live up to all the goals and expectations a "grown up" should have around money.

CK and I sat down and talked budget and debt tonight. I've been feeling really anxious about this conversation, fearing that she'd discover I wasn't a "real adult" and call things off. I've also been feeling a lot of hurt, some bubbling up in the form of anger, about how finances have been handled in the relationships my entire life. I feel sabotaged by the people who should have been there to help and support me.

She's so calm about money, it is just another process to her and it isn't tied up in a lot of triggering memories. I'm a bit jealous at her skill around finances and business. I hear my Inner Critic compare my own skill and find me lacking.

I finally pulled open my spreadsheet with all the debt statistics on it. Amounts owed, to who, at what interest rate, etc. CK very calmly got out her calculator and figured how I could pay it all off in just over 3 years without her help. Then she pointed out how she planned to spend what I find to be a serious amount of her own earnings helping pay the debt down after building up our mutual savings significantly in the coming year.

I teared up. I really can't remember anyone wanting to do this for me. I put myself through college and in high school didn't participate in a lot of things because I couldn't afford the fees and my parents weren't willing/couldn't afford to pay them. It wasn't really until I was in my 30s that my Mom started being more giving with money to me. Then I moved onto relationships with two men who were equally destabilizing financially, one in a more outright emotionally damaging way than the other.

I've felt kind of aimless and tired for a few weeks now. I'm having a hard time focusing on work, overall. It's made it feel extra urgent to get little things done around the house. Not only grounding in the mundane tasks of home, but being buoyed up by feeling like I'm getting some tasks done!

I'm accepting that some of this may be months worth of low-grade infection slowly gobbling up my energy reserves. I also feel like I'm reacting to the support I am feeling in my relationship with CK. To be in a relationship with another person willing to be entirely wholehearted. Sadly, I find it entirely unknown territory to have another person say they're going to help and feel like they really will follow through. I don't know how to relax and let go, enjoy the stability that working together in a relationship can bring.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Present to Exhaustion

I am waking up with a lot more energy the past few days. I still reach a point during the day or evening where I am suddenly just worn out. Right now I have a pile of skin from some Delicata squash I roasted earlier. We've been enjoying the thin skin of the squash lightly coated in oil then roasted low until it is crispy.

But I had an enormous pile of phone calls today then rushed around getting stuff together to make a great dinner, vacuumed the front rooms & hall, and cleaned up a bit. We met with our insurance agent for the oh-so-boring and "grown-up" task of discussing life insurance. After he left we had the most marvelous dinner (squash casserole, no recipe yet), watched an episode of Big Bang Theory (CK has introduced me to this and we're watching back episodes online). I've cleaned up a bit, CK made chocolate almond biscotti, and I just ran out of steam.

I'm trying to remember that I've apparently had a low-level infection for quite some time. I'm taking enormous doses of antibiotics. I have chronic pain, which tires me too. It isn't unreasonable that I'm prone to running out of energy. Sure it is a great opportunity to practice with the body, with the impatience I feel with it, but I'd honestly like a little break.

It has let me look at the exhaustion I felt during the Grasses, Trees & Great Earth sesshin in August. I suddenly was stopped and some of the exhaustion from the infection was able to express itself. That little crack opened by the actual physical illness I was fighting, present to it without the distractions of work, life, etc. opened me up to feel a deeper exhaustion within me. It was so utterly consuming, I had the sense of never having had enough rest in my whole life.

The first time I saw Chozen for sanzen I told her about the exhaustion. Not just a drowsiness of wanting to avoid being present, but a cellular weariness. I said that I was so tired, so warn out that even my Inner Critic wasn't getting much traction on me. It was if a very young version of myself was saying plaintively, "Oh go away. I don't feel good."

She told me to do the most restful practice I could. It was unusual to have even my Inner Critic silenced by anything at all. I would find myself sliding in and out of a very heightened awareness of the sound of the rain. I'd be watching it fall, hearing the different sounds of it as the water connected back to the earth, and drift off to a very light sleep. When I'd open my eyes it would feel as though I was blinking very slowly. The whole world seemed to move slowly.

The whole of the sesshin I was in a present, slow state of alertness and sleep. During every break I'd crawl into my bed, under the blankets and fall immediately to sleep until the bell rang. At night, when sitting ended, I'd take a hot shower to loosen up my back & hips, crawl into bed again and fall asleep. I experienced very little insomnia, for me. This is significant since I actually cannot recall not having insomnia.

During zazen I might drift off, but not know it. It would only have that lazy, strange sensation as if I'd just blinked very slowly. My Inner Critic never grew loud during these times, never berated me for my bad practice. I just let myself be present to the exhaustion I felt.

I felt rested by the time I left. Slow moving still, but not as brittle & bright feeling as I'd felt leaving the Loving-Kindness sesshin in April. I felt profoundly grateful at the end of our last early morning zazen.

I'm trying to be mindful of how judging I can be of my energy level away from the container of sesshin practice. How quick I am to either bemoan my lack of energy or prod myself to get just one more chore done. How unwilling I am to just be present to the sensation of being tired, the sensation of the body needing rest to heal.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Red Leaves

I've been enjoying the small red maple leaves that blow into our yard from a neighbor's tree. Some are still speckled yellow, while others are already turning brown. I found myself with a small clutch of them in my hand, trying to press & dry them. A few have found their way onto very small art pieces.

I believe one of those art pieces will incorporate this haiku about them.

In the air, red leaves.
Impermanent gifts, wind-brought.
Brief gems of autumn.

Transition Practice

Stayed home and rested much of the weekend. I still feel like my energy just deserts me at times, but the head/ear pain has subsided. I'm feeling a bit gloomy that I have 5 more doses of the antibiotics. They're working but they make me feel a bit nauseated and leave my mouth tasting as though I have a handful of pennies in it.

I taught a class on Sunday that ended up with many adjustments, to such a degree that it was good practice to stay with compassion even while I felt frustration arise. When I finally gave space, silence to it I am able to see that frustration really arises out of the fear that my students will feel like I don't give individual attention fairly and that I worry some students may need assistance but I am often asked to help a very stiff, over-achieving student.

Today I took a big step in my teaching. I've started to contact friends who are also yoga teachers to see if any of them want to take over my classes at Dishman at the beginning of the year. Right now I have the luxury of working out details to offer a class at my Zen center. I see it more of a way to enrich my practice of teaching by letting it become even more deeply co-rooted to the Dharma. I'm also checking around at other studios to see about teaching a class somewhere else.

I think I am finally being able to let go of the "guaranteed money" of teaching at the community center. I have these two classes, I'm always on the schedule, and I get paid regularly. Not a lot, but for the past 4 years it has become something of my personal fund for books, a couple of my tattoos, and clothing. Once I could start to let go of that I could start to approach people I'd really like to take over my class.

I have a big soft spot in my heart for these classes. I've learned so much in teaching them and I want to leave them feeling as though I've done everything I can to support those classes continuation. I believe at least one student will follow me when I move to the Dharma center, so perhaps I'll get to experience that connection to my first teaching practice as I move into new waters of teaching.

And I've been having fun working on two "Artist Trading Cards". Autumn themed and I've been playing around with pressing leaves then decoupaging them down. On one I've drawn a very simple tree in pastels against a grey, about-to-rain sky. Another has three leaves on muted, smeared oranges and yellows.

The Autumn rain awoke me early this morning, before the alarm, and I snuggled down a bit with a cat while listening to it on the roof (I love that my bedroom is under the attic so I can hear the rain on the roof). The day that ended with an orange-y sunset peeking through dark grey clouds. All that in mind, a haiku for the rain.

Autumn Downpour

Dawn and hard rain sound,
Thrum of water on my roof.
Autumn serenade.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Prescription & Poety

Last Friday I was diagnosed with what may be the same sinus infection I was fighting in the spring. This was my doctor's thoughts on why I've also been having hives occasionally as well as some distortion happening in my left eye. Bacterial infections can start to cause systemic allergic reactions - this explains the hives. The visual distortion may be migraine being tiggered by having had a sinus infection for this long.

Ugh. I'm on a second round of antibiotics now, much stronger ones. Hopefully this really knocks this out. The nearly constant head ache combined with the usual 3-7 level of pain my hips & back has me feeling worn out. I've even been napping, which I don't do unless truly sick.

Enough kvetching about being ill and on to the poetry!

I had an Amazon gift certificate and today my "prizes" arrived. I haven't been writing much poetry, but it really seems to be what I've been reading lately. I think the books of poetry have been edging out the fiction and non-fiction on my nightstand. Today, I added 3 more poetry books: New and Selected Poems (volumes One & Two) by Mary Oliver and The Gift
by Hafiz (which CK nearly purchased for me for my birthday but instead choose two marvelous editions of Rumi's writing).

And on that note I am off to lay around with a bag of hot flax seeds on my head and hopefully dream peaceful dreams. Here is some Hafiz:

And For No Reason

For no reason
I start skipping like a child.

For no reason
I turn into a leaf
That is carried so high
I kiss the Sun's mouth
And dissolve.

For no reason
A thousand birds
Choose my head for a conference table,
Start passing their cups of wine
And their wild songbooks all around.

For every reason in existence
I begin to eternally,
To eternally laugh and love!

When I turn itno a leaf
And start dancing,
I run to kiss our beautiful Friend
And I dissolve in the Truth
That I am.

Monday, October 12, 2009

My Inner Critic

The tasks around Jukai, particularly sewing my rakusu, writing about the Grave Precepts, and making my lineage chart, have riled up my Inner Critic hugely.

What occurred to me tonight, while lying on the bed with a hot bag of flax seeds on my face and doing Metta practice for myself because I feel lousy, was that I've been able to more clearly hear the words of my Inner Critic lately. I've experienced a lot of the sensations of shame, guilt, anxiety, unworthiness, etc. that my Inner Critic builds up in me, but not the words.

It isn't even that I'm arguing with my Inner Critic (that still riles up a lot of childhood anxiety about the consequences of "talking back"). I can just make this internal voice out more clearly, which is kind of different.

My Inner Critic seems at times to be made up of a bored Greek Chorus of 13-14 "cool" kids from middle school. Not the self-conscious & longing to fit in kind of kid, that was me, but the disdainful, judging, mean-spirited kind. Nothing but pure anxiety-inducing spite and sarcasm.

My rakusu? Sucks.
Lineage chart? More sucking.
My writing? Lame. You're such a hack.
My name?! Yeah, right!

You get the picture... Bullying, arrogant, jerks.

In fact, that "Yeah, right!" response to the name given to me was immediate upon hearing Chozen tell me that my name means Peaceful Person. That bored, young-adolescent voice snorted in derision, rolled their eyes and said, "Yeah, right."

I insisted to myself that I was not allowed to start laughing in the zendo, in the middle of Jukai, right after my teacher gave me my name. In retrospect they both probably would have encouraged that laughter to just take form. I was conscious of the same Inner Critic who denies me the right to say I'm "Peaceful" then denied me the option of laughing about it. For a moment there my Inner Critic taking on my Mother's voice about proper behavior.

I'm still juggling how to deal with this voice, or voices it feels like at times. The very fact there is a distinct voice instead of just pure, overwhelming surges of emotion feels like an interesting shift. When I started writing this all down I wondered if some of these sensations would make a little more sense, I'd be able to define the "voices", and maybe that's what's happening now. The combination of the writing practice and the furnace-like intensity of preparing for Jukai have started to reveal some clarity.


Konin is the name Chozen & Hogen gave me on Thursday during the Jukai ceremony. It means "Peaceful Person" and is pronounced like, "Koh - Neen".

Ko, meaning: Peaceful, safe, secure
Nin, meaning: Person, human being, human kind

Three times that evening Chozen reminded me that it not only means that I aspire to become a peaceful person, but I am a person who helps all people to a peaceful state. I help manifest peace for all beings. It struck me the third time she told me that in naming me Konin my teachers were bestowing an enormous responsibility as well as a reminder for my own practice. It feels as though this name reflects Chozen's request for me to write about my weight loss and the pull towards teaching yoga, particularly a yoga that is flavored with Metta practice and cultivates the attitude of loving-kindness towards the body.

I have been weighing this name the past several days and how it marks a significant point in my life. One of Pure Precepts is to actualize good for others. For me, with this name, I know the good I will be working on is helping people find peace. It is also my constant reminder to maintain a more gentle, compassionate, and understanding approach with myself.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Good Mu

I woke up hurting all down the left side of my body. From aching sinuses in my head down the side of the leg to the ankle. I was glad to be working from home today and have even opted to not attend the women's practice group I started going to last week. I could have finished up the reading and went, but I decided that some rest tonight would probably be more beneficial.

I did go down and sit in the new "zendo" space I cleared up for us over the weekend. It is in a little nook at the back of the sitting area. On Saturday I hung various wall hangings over the rather unsightly unfinished walls and put down the carpet that had been upstairs. The dull olive green of the carpet looks rather cozy in the lower light and smaller space.

While sitting I had what felt like a rather silly realization - I could do Mu chanting at home! I really have enjoyed toning and Mu chanting while in retreat at Great Vow, but never had made this connection to including it in my home practice. I've even done some chanting practice at home as part of the my last Ango commitment.

I was aware of the dull ache of my neck, I think the amount of sneezing I've been doing may be part of the problem. My tailbone hurt and in turn that ache radiated into my hip. My mind was all over the place, just unsettled and full of anxious, judging thoughts.

Breath practice? Nope, let's consider the unwashed dishes.

Body scan? Nope, instead we shall reflect upon the practice group we made a commitment to and now are missing when we're not really sick.

Metta practice? Are you kidding us?! No! Have you see the state of your studio/office upstairs? Someone needs to sleep there on Thursday!

Now, quit all this sitting here nonsense and go organize the storage area!

I don't know why it struck me to start Mu chanting, but I did. Several loud, long, powerful, deep breaths worth of Mu. I felt the vibration of it deeply in my whole body. Like I've done up at Great Vow I envisioned concentrating, focusing the vibration into my sore head & neck and into my back.

I felt more clear after a few minutes of this and returned back to Metta practice. Whenever a thought arose, I let out another Mu. There was no one in the house my Inner Critic would say I was bothering, so I just went with it. Felt the thought, felt the irritation at catching myself thinking, and...


Take that, Discursive Thoughts! Mu!

Mu, to you, Inner Critic!

Mu, indeed!

My thoughts settled further and my need to use a "Reminder Mu" did to. I was able to sit in silence, practicing Metta for all the fears and anxieties that have come up the past several weeks. When the bell rang I felt much calmer than I had in several days. There's even been a little popping and shifting in my tight muscles.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Craving Distraction

This afternoon I dropped CK off at Great Vow for the Beginner's Mind retreat. The others held in spring and summer fell on weekends that weren't at all possible for her to go (one of which we were in Hawaii) and she must go this weekend if she is to take the first five precepts on Thursday. She has really wanted to take these first vows when I will be taking my 16 vows. Despite it still not being a great weekend, what with her family coming next week for the ceremony, she's there and I am home craving distraction.

That makes this "Fun with the 5th Precept" weekend. How many ways can I watch the desire for distraction arise and how many times will I catch myself in the midst of distraction.

I already ate too much for dinner, have checked my email a handful of times, watched Ken Burns on the Colbert Report, tried to watch episodes of Last Chance to See (damn you, BBC and your non-working players), and even have cued up a movie I've enjoyed in the past (Cold Comfort Farm) on Hulu. I've heaved huge sighs, talked to the cats and am curled up in bed, wearing the sweatshirt she had on earlier today.

I feel apathetic about cooking for the vegan Fakin' Fest tomorrow, uninspired to work on the house for the impending family arrival (regardless of how anxious I am about their coming) and unmotivated to write (tonight's blog bright you to by Vriya & Tapas). Oh yes, and silly, I feel very silly because I know she's at Great Vow, retreats are a core element of Zen practice, she's just fine, and I wholeheartedly support her practice. I am still aching a little, chafed from last night's raw emotions, and I'd just like to curl up with her.

I also feel guilty for telling my Mom I could only come out for a few hours and only help with lightweight stuff tomorrow. She's going to be staying in an apartment in Gresham part of each week so she can get around to appointments and see people without having to rely upon someone driving her from Corbett. I think this is a good idea and said I'd come out tomorrow to help her with some things.

As per usual when stuff from my childhood percolates up, I haven't wanted to see her right now. Honestly, tonight, I don't even feel much like seeing people tomorrow afternoon and evening at the events I've been urged to attend. I was honest with Mom that I didn't have a huge amount of time and that my back & hips have been hurting, so I don't want to be lifting too much. I did say, honestly, I'd come out though and help, meaning it.

She called back after a few minutes and said I shouldn't come. I felt hugely relieved and guilty all at once. She made a comment about it not being very nice that CK chose to be at the monastery the weekend before her family visits, leaving me alone to work on the house. I responded that CK had to go this weekend, it wasn't a choice she liked to make, but her taking her vows on Thursday is very important to her. I explained it calmly and honestly despite feeling very angry at her for comment in the first place.

It was right after this phone call I ate too much of the dinner I'd picked up. The combination of anger and guilt, on top of feeling lonely for CK's company, dropped me right down into feeling irritated and craving distraction. Dinner was delicious, I really enjoyed it, but I wasn't mindful of my stomach as I ate it all. I was caught up in the slurry of uncomfortable emotions and the desire to just enjoy the tasty food.

There I was, uncomfortably full and mindful of some disappointment that I really was too full to eat any cookie from the bakery. I did't try to push past that and have a bite of cookie anyway, craving the sweetness of it. I didn't get angry and I don't feel guilty for eating too large a serving, ways I would have reacted in the past. I just noticed that I was feeling too full and looked at why I had not heard my body's messages to me. What I find interesting is that the point at which I feel too full has changed a lot. Ten years ago I would have eaten the whole cookie.

Unlike the past I haven't let my Inner Critic beat me up... much. It isn't the end of the world if occasionally I eat too much. It is good to acknowledge the irritation that comes up from the way my Mom always jumps to a negative assumption and judgement. It is just fine to feel like I'm not ready to see her when I'm letting raw emotional memories settle down, even though doing so leaves me feeling like a bad daughter. It is perfectly alright that I miss CK, even when I'm happy she's practicing wholeheartedly.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Luxury of Choice

I am deeply aware that being vegan is a luxury and I am profoundly appreciative for this great ability to make a choice about what I consume.

Most people don't get the choice to make a decision about food based upon anything but scarcity. Food is food, when you manage to get enough of it. The desperate need to preserve life outweighs any ability to weigh the ethics of the fish you were lucky enough to catch for your family.

I am extremely privileged that I do not have to subsist from meal to meal, worrying about how many I will miss, resigned to need and hunger. Even when I was very young and my Mom was on public assistance, we had enough food. It is the dishes of beans and cornbread, those cheap but filling meals, that I often crave as comfort food now. When cornbread shows up while I'm in sesshin at Great Vow I always feel a happy warmth in my heart.

Often I point out to people that the diet I mostly eat, consisting of legumes, some grain or starch, and some veggies with a sauce, is the kind of meal eaten by many people all over the world. I say mostly because in Portland I also get the tremendous luxury of vegan bakeries, restaurants with everything from vegan grilled cheeze sandwiches to hearty quinoa pancakes. Not to mention my choice of cuisines from all over the world. Truly, I am spoiled by the vegan goodness all over Portland!

In America I am unusual in that I choose this vegan cornucopia of foods over the dominant culture that exhorts us that Beef is What's For Dinner (unless you want The Other White Meat, chicken, fish or shellfish) and that I need to drink 8 glasses of milk a day in order to keep my body healthy. And I shouldn't forget to pick up some ice cream on the way home.

"You work hard, you deserve the luxury of this diet of plenty", suggests the radio.

It made me sick. I saw how it made all of the women in my family sick (heart disease, diabetes and strokes). I decided I didn't want the luxury of sashimi, brie, Gorgonzola, or roast beef. I didn't want to Have It My Way anymore. I wanted to go my own true way, not the way millions of marketing dollars told me I wanted to follow.

The ability to just enter a market and buy whatever you choose to is a huge luxury. That we also may consciously make choices that reduce suffering is astoundingly fortunate. This great fortune allows us to be mindful of our connection to all living beings when we are making purchases.

I am profoundly grateful that I have the luxury to choose vegan products. Having this choice in my life has deepened my compassion in ways I'd never have guessed. It also helps me cultivate a more peaceful mind with which I may greater benefit all living beings.

Countdown to Jukai

It is a week away and I don't feel excited or happy about the Jukai ceremony next week. It has felt like every task (sewing my rakusu, making my lineage chart, and writing about the precepts again) has done nothing but stir up my Inner Critic and/or trigger painful memories. For the most part I'm just feeling apathetic, tired and emotionally raw.

And I'm still waffling on asking my Mom to attend. Right now part of what I'm stuck on is pure logistics. Mom doesn't drive, is out in either Corbett or Gresham (long story, another post), our house is already going to be filled to the brim (yep, source of anxiety) as are our cars, and I'm not sure her husband or anyone would be willing to come into Portland on a Thursday evening. Add all of those headaches to having stirred up a lot of painful emotions around growing up and I still haven't talked with her about it at all.

My neck/head still ache, particularly the left side. IW worked on it yesterday at our therapy appointment, but there's this lingering heavy feeling to it all. I think some of it is allergies/sinus and some feels like all this icky, sticky energy. CK and I talked again last night about my seeing someone for acupuncture to get some of that stuck stuff moving. Massage and the physical/craniosacral therapies have helped, but stuff still feels stuck at times.

Tonight before sitting we had a meeting with our practice group and I shared that I felt lousy, cranky and didn't really want to be there. It was suggested that we talk about working with emotions in our practice and I felt like I had a total meltdown, including muscle spasms, stuttering, and crying of course. We ended up not staying for zazen and instead went to the gym to sit in the steam room, which helped relieve some of the muscle tension.

What really hit me was feeling angry that here I've worked so hard to reach this point, to receive Jukai, and I don't even appreciate it. I'm so worn out and exhausted by all the painful emotions it has brought up that I can't even enjoy the accomplishment. I feel that I've been robbed of feeling good about this, like so many other times in my life the abuse in my past has taken from me.

Before we left one of my Dharma sisters reminded me that I have a week to go, that maybe by next week I'll be able to appreciate the work I've done. I hope so.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bus Poem

Something I like about Tri-Met are the bits of poetry hanging in the buses & trains. It is part of a project called Poetry in Motion. Up between signs reminding you to wear headphones, give up your seat for someone who needs it, maps, advertising, etc. there's poetry. Pretty simple and it certainly falls into the category of "Small Happinesses" in my life.

Right before leaving for Hawaii I spotted this one on the way home from the office on the Number 4 bus.


Your eyes must stay open
To the color of flowers.
wherever their bright flash
Catches your gaze, water flows.

You see rain
Days after it stopped raining.
in your breath you taste
The river running underground.

Paulann Petersen
from A Bride of Narrow Escape

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Tenth Grave Precept

Experience the intimacy of things. Do not defile the Three Treasures.

I find the precepts to have moments of clarity, times where I think it they are obvious and then suddenly I'm finding layers of where I don't apply them. When I first sat with this precept my mind immediately jumped to insisting that I'd never "defile" the Three Treasures. That other bit though, experiencing intimacy...

The intimacy of the Dharma, that's part of what draws me to Buddhism. It isn't just some words written down by people hundreds of years after some guy said them. It is the collected teachings from the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, to the teachers we have now. Considering, applying wisdom and compassion, and most importantly to me, a growing, living thing. There is an approach with the Dharma that reminds me of the way a scientific theory is considered, tested, discussed, tested, and considered some more. If anything, I think I can too easily sink into isolated intimacy of the Dharma without ever touching the other of Treasures.

The intimacy of the Buddha, of falling back into the 10,000 arms of Avalokiteshvara and knowing with certainty I'll be caught? This is pretty scary stuff for me. I don't fall back on my own easily and the Loving-Kindness sesshin certainly felt like one hell of a shove at times. During the Grasses, Trees & the Great Earth I think I got a little taste of actually letting go, allowing the feeling that my entire soul was exhausted just press me down into the warm floor of the cedar grove.

The intimacy of the Sangha is the most terrifying of them all to me. Having moved so often as a child and having had such a dysfunctional, rejecting family I really don't feel like I know how to belong to a group. For quite some time I came to zazen with the community and fled immediately after sitting was done. I enjoyed that I could come, sit in the depth of shared, communal silence, and not have to talk to anyone at all. Early on the ability to "sit and run" (as a Dharma sister names it) was part of the appeal of Zen.

Yet here it is, nearly 4 years later and next week I'm going to stand up in front of people next week, of my community, and take the vows of Jukai. I've even joined a practice group for women on Monday evenings, giving myself some structure while CK is taking a woodworking class, and shoving myself into a scary place - the close company of a group of women. We met for the first time this Monday evening.

As I talked about why I came (essentially because I was afraid of it) I could hear my voice speed up with the anxiety I was experiencing acutely and could feel my face & ears grow hot. I tried not to listen to my Inner Critic, tried to just stay with the way anxiety feels in my body, and when the next person began to speak kept my attention focused on her, not giving into the rather desperate urge to evaluate, judge, and criticize what I had shared. It feels like progress.

The Ninth Grave Precept

Actualize harmony. Do not be angry.

I made a mistake about this precept very early on, assumed this meant I could NOT get angry and gave my Inner Critic another way to beat up the times when I did feel angry. I finally took this error to Sanzen where Hogen reminded me that it meant we should not give rise to anger, rather I should look deeply at why the anger was arising. This precept directs me to accept that I will feel anger at times, to seek the source of my anger, and not give rise to the anger.

Anger can be a scary emotion for me to be around. In my family we were given the message, reinforced by punishment, that anger cannot be displayed. Raising your voice was forbidden. The image of the “happy family” presented to outsiders must be preserved. In response to this artificial, false act everyone ate inappropriately to feed the hurt feelings since acknowledging the anger, the hurt wasn’t allowed. It wasn’t OK to tell someone that a quietly spoken insult wasn’t acceptable, but it was just fine to have a piece of pie to make yourself “feel better”.

There are times, looking deeply at the source of anger, where I am put back in contact with memories of abuse. The frightened, unsupported child I was is heard and at times seems to be attacking me for not acknowledging her. I was introduced to her anger during the Loving-Kindness sesshin in April and her anger is a ferocious thing.

When I look at that anger, the rage of the child I was who experienced abuse, I can try to be calm with it and acknowledge it. Not only is that anger legitimate, it deserves to be heard since I was always told any anger I tried to express as a child was "inappropriate" or "over-reacting". Even still, even as understandable as that anger may be, when I feel the heat of it rise up in me I can breath into it, offer comfort to it, and instead respond to the situation with as much compassion as possible for myself and others.

I am far more comfortable with the work of actualizing harmony, especially for other people. I was a child who thought she wanted to be in the spotlight, but as an adult I've found I really enjoy being in the background, helping with all the little details. In a much more direct way, I feel profound gratitude for the opportunity I have to teach yoga, it is this very clear path to helping others actualize harmony, particularly a state of harmony towards the body. I try to remind myself to include myself in the people who deserve this kind of energy from me.