Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gratitude

Tonight I was in a rush to leave the office, to walk to the flat, to feed Atari, and rush over to SE to meet CK and DTH for dinner. I had planned to not rush, but got caught up in finishing setting up some things at work for one of my projects, ran late and then was rushing.

I was walking very quickly and felt tense with trying to remember what I needed to do. By the time I got to the flat from MAX my right knee ached. I changed into "zendo clothes" and rushed off to Belmont to have dinner. As I parked it hit me that I'd forgotten my zafu, wagessa (a small cloth "scarf" I wear to signify that I've taken the first five of the 16 Precepts), and a little flax seed pillow I use to support my hands. These are not minor things to forget.

During dinner, which was a lot of fun, I felt myself stiffening up. My knee and my hips ached. I took some ibuprofen when we got to the Dharma Center, hoping it would help. I tried to walk evenly, but felt myself favoring my right leg a lot.

At the Dharma Center there's extra zafus around, even of the inflatable type I have that was made at Great Vow. I popped up to the zendo when we got there and set up my spot with a zafu I adjusted until it was the same amount of air as mine and a bench, so I can switch if my hip gets too sore. I set my wrap down on CK's zafu and went back downstairs.

HB caught me before I was going up with one directive for the chanting I'd do later, "Sweetly." he said smiling.

I laughed and said I was trying. He noted the progress I've made from rushing anxiously through the chanting service, now he wanted me to work on bringing sweetness to it, treating the sutras with affection and care in addition to precision and projection.

Then I headed up to sit. Only the zafu I'd set up for myself was gone. I quickly looked at the shelf at the back and didn't see another inflatable one. This set off some worry in my heart. The last time I'd tried to sit without an inflatable zafu my legs fell asleep and I had hip cramps from the pressure on my sciatic nerve. I dashed downstairs quick and HB spotted me. I noted quickly that someone had grabbed my zafu.

HB and I have discussed how to manage my chronic leg, hip and back pain during zazen and part of that management is an inflatable zafu. He and I both looked around the downstairs and didn't spot one!! He ducked into the teacher's room, came out with some of the zafus he & CB use, we sorted out the right one for me to take, I quickly went back upstairs and settled myself down.

After the bells finished I took some deep breaths to settle myself after the rushing around, so much rushing tonight! As I started to settled down my mind finally hit upon my teacher giving me one of their cushions to use. I suddenly found myself in tears.

I think it is more of that perspective shift. I was suddenly struck with profound gratitude and love for the community I have around me now, I see how it continues to include me and provide support. I have never felt the support of an organized group like this. I've always felt a bit on the outside. To feel this way provides as disorientating shift in view where I can suddenly grasp the profound lack of this kind of community I've felt. Hence the tears.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Normal

On Sunday during Sanzen I told HB about my Mom, about the two possible cancers. As we talked about it he reminded me that this is "normal", it is normal for me to be coping with my Mother's ill-health. It was something I really had to sit with for several days, this shifting in the concept of normal.

I talked with GM today during our session. She found it very interesting, HB pointing me to the normal-ness of the situation and yet I feel sorrow overwhelming me at times. I feel just pummeled by what feels like an unending litany of pain both present and past. CK commented to me this evening how deeply someone can be affected when they grow up with their primary caregiver gravely ill. When she wasn't ill I was unsupported in other ways. None of it good.

GM surprised me today by commenting that each time she sees me I look younger, lighter in energy. She liked the sweater I was wearing and noted the energy in the colors and pattern of it, how it suited who I am now. Finally she that I looked happy.

I pointed to the grief.

And she agreed there is a lot of it and probably more to come. She noted that in my practice I have cultivated far better tools for working through it. What we eventually came around to what that the support and love I feel now, regardless off it being in the middle of chaos going on around me, has given me a huge perspective shift. I suddenly can gauge the enormity of the grief and fear I felt, particularly as a child when I was expressly forbid from expressing it or punished when I did show it.

My childhood was a near-constant state of extreme tension, fear, uncertainty, and anxiety. Broken up with long periods of being grounded, which was peaceful since I generally passed the time reading. The adults around me weren't supportive in the ways they really needed to be and seethed with anger at most times, always kept just below the surface and let out in vicious, small sentences. And Mom was ill, so often. So many doctor's visits, hospital rooms, and the raw fear of losing my only parent.

That was "normal".

Not that it was good or that I should rejoice over any of the awfulness, it was just my version of normal. I didn't really come to figure out until my 20s just how different my concept of normal was. As I mentioned to CK tonight, I thought it was perfectly normal not have the ability to recall most of my childhood.

To have a relationship that is truly nurturing and mutually supportive feels so unusual from what I'm used to that I feel somewhat destabilized by it. It creates this enormous perspective shift and I suddenly can gauge what merely felt bad was actually horrible. With this shift it seems like I'm being closed in on by all the grief I lacked the clarity to see before.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Just a Tuesday

Nothing but the buzz of irritation today, especially during the day. I went into the office for the first time in ages and it was tough being around people. I've been so used to being on my own during the day that it felt difficult to integrate with co-workers and hard to focus on the work I need to get done.

Let a message for Curtis about changing my Tuesday evening class to a 6PM start time. Have had feedback from Sunday students that they would like to come Tuesdays, but it is just too difficult to make it there at 5;45. This shouldn't be a problem. The front desk person (kicking myself for drawing a blank on her name) even noted I should just tell people next week that we're moving the time and when people call to register the front desk crew will just tell them.

Friends from college and I are discussing trying to get everyone together within the next two years. Not really associated with Beloit, just getting a group of us together to catch up, play games, and meet families. It is a bit strange to be reconnecting with everyone after so many years, not in a bad way, just part of the general oddness of reconnecting with myself again.

I had intended to start work on the homework I have due on Saturday but instead enjoyed watching the rest of 'The Giant Buddhas'. It is a really marvelous documentary about the destruction of the sculptures at Bamiyan and the efforts to make a memorial there. Rather sadly we discover that a memorial, and being declared a World Heritage Site means the displacing of people who had lived in the caves for generations. The film also takes us to the Kabul Museum -- very sad to see the extent of destruction, but still inspiring to see efforts to restore the cultural heritage of Afganistan.

Monday, January 26, 2009

More Metta

I feel like I'm slowly pulling myself back towards practice -- sitting, writing. Last night during sanzen Hogen reminded me of doing Metta practice for myself when I was talking to him about my Mom. He said to avoid the spiraling grief, as a way anchor myself to positive practice, I needed to focus on doing Metta for myself, most importantly myself.

I had done Metta in desperation the last time my mind stumbled across horrible realization during zazen. I'd been amazed at how well I could stay with myself that time. It had been the first time I was able to do Metta for myself and it made me feel like I could stay on my cushion, not break down crying, screaming or running.

Hogen talked about there being the well of universal grief, all of us share parts in it. Whenever we experience the many sorrows of our human lives we are part of that grief. I can very easily turn towards all of that grief, focus my energy on generating compassion to all the people suffering. Turning away from my own suffering, refusing to face it. In doing so I do not offer the same love and compassion to myself that I easily can offer to others.

He brought me back to the instruction of loving-kindness for myself. That I must learn how to do this practice, whatever it takes. Start by focusing my energy on someone I genuinely love, really touch that love and then switch that energy to my face. Laughing he said even if I had to imagine the most adorable puppy ever, then put a photograph of my face on the puppy's head. Or the sweetest kitten, "With Sherri's nose ring!" he said.

Even I had to laugh at Hogen coming up with the image of a fuzzy kitten with my nose ring. He urged me to think of this, to find some way to make myself recipient of the love and compassion I so easy turn outwards. That he said is how I need to practice with the grief, to keep working with the awful intensity of it that just seems to keep building up.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Gift of Sharing Pain

It has been a week since I saw my Mom, gauged the depth of fear in her eyes. I have been trying very hard not to freeze up myself in fear. I've also been trying not to fall deeply into any kind of blaming or anger as AM & I move towards our divorce. It has been especially difficult since I was already really feeling a lot of hurt and anger around that relationship so adding the worry about Mom has felt very hard. I've tried to create space for myself, letting go of even more of the things I think I need to do.

Going to sign the paperwork for the divorce really unsettled me a lot this past week. That it included a discussion around finance made it feel especially difficult. All the choices I made two and a half years ago, counting on things staying the same, don't make as much sense now. I keenly feel the weight of the debt I am in and it is painful.

After signing things the tension between AM and I was pretty great. We ended up having a painful discussion about the ways in which we've both been let down by the other. In the end it doesn't change anything, I'm still a lesbian who needs to not be married to a man any longer, but perhaps it was good for us both to let the light into the shadows between us.

I really want to see AM succeed and I don't think he would have done so with me. It is painful to think about and hard not to resent. I see him making efforts now that we're in the process of a divorce that I've wanted to see him make all along. As happy as I am that he's had any kind of catalyst in his life, it hurts that it couldn't have happened when I was there to appreciate it with him - as selfish as that sounds.

He's angry that my promise that he matter, he was different, was wrong. AM understands that at the time I made that promise, I meant it. That I continued to want it to be true, was unwilling to see that it wasn't earlier because I love him and don't want to hurt him at all. I wanted to not him more than I wanted to acknowledge that I felt hurt knowing that I was unsatisfied with him and unsatisfying to him.

That was Tuesday and after that painful conversation I had to pull myself together to go teach yoga. I was hugely relieved when only one student showed up, a student who's game for anything she can learn. It made it easier for me to only have to pull my attention to the present for one other person.

During that private class this student revealed to me that some of her neck and shoulder tension arises out of being abused as a child. I felt silenced by her sharing, touched that she felt comfortable sharing with me. After what felt like some long moments I revealed to her that for me the fear from abuse settled into my hips and lower back. We worked on gentle ways to get her shoulders to open and on some breath. I made sure to thank her for being willing to share with me and for letting me learn from her as well.

The power of yoga to settle one into the body in compassion and awareness is why I think it will be helpful to teach it to people recovering from trauma. This act of open sharing with my student, coming after such an emotionally raw day, helped me feel grounded and focused. It is a path of deeply knowing the body from the inside out and inviting compassion to flower for the body, the self.

A lot times I don't feel capable of teaching in this capacity. I'm afraid that in the middle of a workshop I'd start crying uncontrollably, overcome with grief and fear. I doubt my ability to teach and question if I am stepping beyond the boundaries of being a yoga teacher, assuming some kind of knowledge of psychotherapy when I clearly lack that training.

The act of sharing with my student on Tuesday showed me that I was safe. I was able to reveal my own PTSD and abuse to someone else and have it be met with acceptance and compassion. I was able to hear someone else and respond with love, gentleness. I am reminded that I know the asana and pranayama that help with PTSD on an intimate level. I do not offer counseling, I merely offer the space for emotions to arise, a container for the pain, and quiet space in which to observe that pain & cultivate compassion right where it hurts most.

The Brightness of Day

It has felt like an especially long week where I have felt guilty for my inattention to the present, especially to people, and feeling like my emotions are right up near the surface is very challenging to me. It can be very difficult for me to be alright with needing people, with needing support.

I am far more comfortable giving support and strength to someone than I am at receiving it. I try to be mindful that my opening up to receiving creates space for another person to practice giving, but it is still very challenging for me. I often feel like I am imposing on someone else when I am not capable of being strong and giving all the time so it makes it even more difficult to ask for support and care, even when I really need it.

One place that helps me practice are the times when my yoga students tell me the appreciate something I've taught them. It is still actually uncomfortable, receiving praise, but since it is a result of something I've done it feels easier to work with than accepting support. What it makes me realize at times, like today, is how accepting praise gratefully and gracefully offers me support in my life as well.

Today's all-levels class at Dishman posed several challenges. My body ached this morning and really didn't want to have to leave the cozy comfort of the flat. When I did arrive to Dishman one of my regular students revealed his newly broken right wrist, left elbow, pulled right hamstring, and a scrape the size of a poker chip on the left knee! I inquired if he was certain he should be there, but he assured me he wanted to be there. Everyone else arrived to reveal they felt cold, tired and "curmudgeonly". A newer student arrived who is very new to yoga asana and isn't really in is body yet, so it is extra work to help him into correct alignment. What a mix!

Looking around at all of them I announced we'd do some gentle stretches to open the legs and back, some twists to wring all that cold energy out, and we'd do a lot more breath work, Pranayama. Everyone seemed fine with that and I led them through some basic seated asana, a twist, then we sat doing Viloma breathing for a while before some time for meditation.

During this time I decided to practice in an area that's not the most comfortable for me -- guided visualization. I don't do well with visualizations or counting when I meditate. Any mental activity related to cognitive thought sets me off and I think, think, think, think, think! Nothing but monkey mind, a whole roomful of monkeys analyzing, computing, theorizing. Because of this I focus my attention on my diaphragm and the movement of breathing there.

With this bias I know that I most often teach mindful breathing, of following the breath into the body. During this time I will remind my students to just be aware of a thought arising, notice it, "Hey, there I am thinking again." and let it go, return to the sensation of breath. Sometimes I add the suggestion from Thich Nhat Hahn to mindfully label the breaths. I'll suggest that the mind's activity merely identify, "This is me breathing a long, deep breath in. This is me breathing a long, deep breath out. This is me breathing a short breath in. This is me breathing a short breath out."

I admit I'm biased so today I decided to add a visualization in there, one that Joy's taught us and I've heard before elsewhere. I suggested to everyone that they imagine their minds as a deep, blue, clear, still lake. Whenever a thought came up, just see it as a bubble rising to the surface of the lake and popping there. Watch the ripples from that arising thought move towards shore, how they get further and further apart until the lake surface is calm, still again.

We then moved through three different asana to awaken and strengthen the core abdominal muscles. With that heat and awareness built I seated everyone again to do Kabalabhati. I was pleased that this time I was able to stay more focused on what I'd be teaching next -- the first time I tried teaching this I was energized but distracted! Everyone came up into Bridge pose to lengthen out the muscles of the abdomen after working so hard. A few half salutes to shake out the body, Tree pose, ending with their choice of Down Dog or half forward bend at the wall, a supine twist and savasana. During savasana I invited them to return to the visual of their mind as a lake.

It was probably the fewest poses I've taught in a class that wasn't designated as a 'restorative' class, but no one seemed to mind at all. Afterward people commented on feeling very good, stiffness wrung out a bit, and the mental cobwebs clear. The student with the injuries especially said it had felt very good to him. He noted that people had asked him in surprise about his coming to yoga, having injured himself on Monday, but he said to me that he'd told them he knew that I'd be able to come up with something for him! Talk about my student having greater confidence in me than I do!

Another gift was from my student who is the most new to yoga and is still learning how to feel his body, be in his body. He said that he has a hard time with the breathing and meditation, but today's class focusing on those things really helped him a lot. He said the visualization of his mind as a still lake just rang true for him. That visualization, which doesn't work well at all for me, was an "Ah-ha!" moment for him. He suddenly understood and connected to the concept of watching his thoughts arise, not getting caught up in the thought, and letting the mind settle again. He left class telling me what good teacher I was, that my ability to teach him despite his confusion, stiffness, and distraction made him feel safe learning something very new and uncomfortable.

Wow. Talk about shining some pretty bright lights in my little corner of the world!

When my students tell me things like this I feel so deeply humbled by it. I've often said that I when I teach Hatha Yoga I feel like I am merely a conduit for the 5000+ plus years yoga has been practiced. I merely am the vehicle for a long lineage of teaching. A student recognizing me, the person teaching, for skillful instruction is such a precious affirmation of my ability to rise to the challenge each class presents. The idea that I personally help them to know compassion and comfort in their body, regardless of the ease or dis-ease in that body, is incredibly precious.


In honor of the brightness brought into my life by sharing Hatha Yoga with students I titled this entry after one of Alphonse Mucha's paintings, The Brightness of Day

Friday, January 23, 2009

Chanting and Breathing

I've haven't felt a lot of light these past several days. Consequentially I haven't felt like writing, working on any art I have in mind, knitting, or doing much of anything. My energy feels pretty low this week and I feel like I'm reached the overload point of things to work with in my life.

Last Sunday after teaching yoga at Dishman I went out to Corbett, out into the thick of the windstorm to my Mom's. They had no power and a tree and lines were down on the road to them, forcing a detour around the back. I saw a tree down over a house and other trees down all around, even one nearly on the road I was driving. The wind was howling at gusts between 60-70 mph. It would have been easy to imagine Dorothy flying past a window. It didn't occur to me until later, when someone exclaimed at my going out there in the middle of a windstorm, that I'd done anything that unusual.

When I got there I saw that Mom looked pale, scared and tired. I just listened to her for a while as we drank tea made with water heated on a kettle a top the wood stove. I opened the Christmas present she'd got for me. The whole time I felt tight inside, aware of all the muscles around my heart locking up, the coldness in my chest.

Finally I got Mom to settle in a chair and taught her some Pranayama. I could tell she was breathing in the top of her lungs only out of pain and fear. I coaxed her to take breaths that were as deep as possible, to learn to feel how the body moves when the breath moves into the whole lungs, just feeling the breath breathe the body.

I told her as far as any meditation goes, just to keep coming back to what the body felt like breathing. That's all she needed to try to do, that and to scan the body, finding the places that do not hurt as much. Like Hogen told me as a technique for sesshin, when my chronic pain gets really bad. What hurts is obvious, the noise of the hurt is so loud in the body & mind, find what doesn't hurt and take refuge there for a while. Feel the breath in the parts of the body that do not hurt. I told her to try this even it was only the top of her right ear that didn't hurt!

I taught Mom the most simple form of Nadi Sodhana (alternate nostril breathing), just a breath on each side. I was pleased to see doing this left her looking a little more clear in the eyes. Although I have great faith in Nadi Sodhana to restore calm and balance, some part of me was tensing against my Mom not really trying it, dismissing it as silly. She nearly did stop, not liking the feeling of breathing through one nostril that was a little congested. Much to my surprise she kept going for a while and said she did feel a little better afterward. I'm going to record this for her, I think she'll be more apt to practice if it is guided.

It was hard watching her. It felt like being a kid again, sitting waiting for her to be finished with chemo treatments. Feeling anxious and scared myself, watching all the other faces taut with fear around me. Trying to immerse myself into a book while I waited and waited, through so many appointments, until she would come out ill & frightened and we'd go home. At least I had something to do this time, teaching her to breathe and be still in her body, that is more than I've ever had when she's been sick.

This latest scare feels somehow larger and more frightening than ever before. I'm terribly aware of the ill-health Mom's experienced over the past year, how she isn't as strong. I'm trying not to actually call it cancer yet. Neither has been diagnosed, just suspicions... more tests are needed, results are inconclusive. I'm trying to hold onto that, to not react in fear to what is not yet certain. I'm finding it difficult not to tighten around the fear, to keep opening to what arises in the present.

Since last Sunday I've felt drained all week. It has felt dark to me and the momentary joy of Tuesday morning's inauguration has felt tarnished by the disappointment in Mayor Sam Adams for lying. Even worse than feeling disheartened by the lies I've felt great irritation with the media for whipping the whole thing into a frenzy that's a distraction from the real problems facing Portland. Work has been extremely frustrating all week. It just felt extra hard to generate much light at all, even for my own small corner. I've been sustained by the light others shining around me, for which I'm truly grateful.

Just this afternoon something, someone just reminded me about the light I offer. Just by my being open and receptive to the suffering of others, to being present to it. Just by offering to chant a persons name.

I maintain the list of names we chant during service with the Portland Sangha of the Zen Community of Oregon sits zazen together. Service contains a part called the Transfer of Merit. We recognize that we generate energy when we practice together and dedicate that merit to people who are ill, in distress, or who have recently died.

Most weeks I get names from people. Emails, people chatting with me at the Dharma Center. Whispers of Stage IV cancers, old age, failed business... Sometimes nothing other than a name, which list it belongs on (in distress or died). I set the list out on the table before and after zazen on Thursdays, so at times I merely see new names appear, handwritten on the page I bring each week.

This week, this afternoon in particular I've been able to tell people that I'd add a name to the Merit List. Even after performing this service for the Sangha for a year now I remain a little surprised at how so small a gesture means to people. A friend said to me she was so touched just by my offer of support for her fear for her father's health, just that I came forward at all. Another sent me a message to let me know how much it means to her and her friend to add a name to the list. A complete stranger, brought to me by way of to me by way of the Internet (friend of a friend of a friend...) emailed to ask me to chant for his brother who just died, how it was of comfort to him. It is merely my open offer to acknowledge the suffering of others that generates light.

Some days it doesn't feel like much, I think I forget how much this small thing can mean to someone suffering in grief, anxiety. It is merely the act of being open to the suffering of another person, not wishing it would go away fast and not getting too caught up in my own fears of potential, inevitable loss, just being present for their suffering and offering to formally acknowledge it.

Once a week I chant all of these names, there are other people who chant them during the rest of the week. I recite each name carefully and clearly into the silence of the zendo. Giving time to each name so everyone there can all hold the names of each person in mind. It is this small thing I can do, even when my own light feels very dim, just show up each week and say the names, even when it is tremendous effort to do so. Using my voice to make the container for the grief and worry we all carry with us.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sustaining Light in Darkness

The day after writing about the necessity of creating our own light I got some pretty dark news. First the news a dear friend's marriage has turned abusive. She's in Kentucky, his idea, and arranging to try to move back to Portland is pretty difficult. Immeadiately after getting off the phone with my friend I called my Mom back.

Last year they gave us a real scare by telling her that her chest pain might be due to a suspicious shadow on her right lung. Then suddenly everything changed and the cause was congestive heart failure and over 20 pounds of fluid in her chest cavity. They explained the shadow as interference due to all the fluid.

Only her chest still hurts and it isn't her heart, the congestive heart failure is under control. Several x-rays ahve revealed the spot is still there on her lung, right about where she's been saying her chest hurts all along. She is being scheduled to see an oncologist this week.

She's also been going through a lot of very serious procedures to help with her vision loss. Last week they told her that they didn't believe the loss was due to her diabetes and gave her a tenative diagnosis of retinal carcinoma. There's some additional tests needed, but it is rare so arrangements are being made for her to be seen at the Casey Eye Institute up at OHSU.

My Mom has had several forms of cancer: cervical, breast (twice), skin. She's had several other major health problems too. Since I had a lot of problems with asthma as a kid and was sick a lot, between my health and my Mom's I spent a lot of time reading in waiting rooms at doctor's offices, clinics, and hospitals.

It is hard, difficult news to hear and I feel the instinct to draw in tight around myself, close up around the pain. Hogen told us recently that this is the very thing that must be resisted, this reaction to shut down into the darkness. This is where the energy of practice is at once the most needed and most difficult to sustain.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What Good is Revisiting

I woke up feeling heavy, cold and anxious this morning. I got out of bed early thinking I'd take a hot shower, sit zazen a little, and then I'd be up to going to work. Instead I felt worse in the shower, no amount of heat seeming to help the cold grief I felt. After drying off, feeling small, I crawled back into bed, crying.

I'd gone through yesterday feeling tight with the tension of the news I'd received in the morning. A close friend's marriage, which has taken her into isolation in Kentucky, has turned abusive. My mother's received tentative diagnosis of retinal carcinoma and a suspicious shadow on her right lung. She'll be seeing a Kaiser oncologist for the right lung and arrangements are being made for her to be seen at the eye institute at OHSU. I just felt a kind of shock at it all. On top of getting ready to sign the divorce papers it is a lot to take in.

Visiting with my therapist yesterday we talked about my ability to compromise myself out of something I really need. How I'd felt really shut down when AM wasn't able to share my practice with me. How I have a weakness for being talked out of my needs, for being convinced that something else is just fine. She pointed out that I was going to compromise my sexuality, not experience a fulfilling relationship with a woman because I was able to not look at my needs.

In part it is conditioning for often being told that something else was good enough and I was being selfish for not seeing it. I grew very adept at knowing the good in situations, trying to focus on that because the times I didn't my Mother could be very angry with me, even striking me across the face once.

I can feel that part of my brain, immediately upon noting how she once hit me. Instantly going to re-frame, make that sound better. I note how it only happened once, minimizing the damage. It is the part of my mind that will insist that I was never injured by any of my family members, never had to seek medical help for anything. Like somehow the the lack of greater trauma made it all OK.

I asked CK to come to my physical/craniosacral therapy appointment with IW, trying to listen to the voice that needs. It was good to have her there and IW taught her a few releases for some of my recurring trigger points in my back and left hip. I decided not to write at all last night nor did I end up sitting.

This morning, crying in bed I decided to take the day off. Well, CK helped me to decide, helped me listen to the ways in which I just needed to cry, to rest, rather than listen to my inner critic who kept telling me to get up, get dressed, and go to work, be a grown up. Even suggesting that I was selfish and stupid for being so upset, that I was going to waste a potentially happy vacation day in the future I could spend with CK. An endless stream of reasons as to why I shouldn't just tell work I was taking a day off.

After logging in and seeing I had no meetings, I sent out a message that I wasn't feeling well. CK made me some toast and tea. After finishing those I slept for quite some time, utterly exhausted. I've resisted the urge to do more work beyond logging into my email a couple of times. I have knit a little and we're going to go for a walk out in the sunshine soon. I may even take another nap.

GM noted yesterday that she still thinks I'm expressing grief I've felt and held back for a very long time. I asked her, especially from my Zen perspective, what good is this to go back and look at this, to revisit these things. She said that in going back an feeling the grief I didn't, couldn't allow myself to express I can also look at why I felt that way. In the case of not getting to share a practice with Andy I can look at my need to share a spiritual practice with someone is important and use that experience to remember why I must express my actual needs, rather than rationalize myself, or be rationalize out of them.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

We Merely Need to Shine

On Sunday CK and I were watching the second installment of 'The Story of India' which particularly deals with the history of the Buddha. In talking about Gotama's death I mentioned to her his last words, in doing so I was reminded of Mary Oliver's poem, The Buddha's Last Instruction (which is at the bottom of this post). I had noted this to her as well so today I went looking for it again to send to her.

The instruction from Gotama as he lay dying was, "Make of yourself a light". This fascinated me when I started investigating Buddhism, I thought it was very beautiful this last directive to continue to looking within the self for guidance, not outside.

Investigating Zen lead me to Shunryu Suzuki Roshi's playful interpretation of these words, "We say, to shine one corner of the world—just one corner. If you shine one corner, then people around you will feel better. You will always feel as if you are carrying an umbrella to protect people from heat or rain."

This sentiment is something I've found myself repeating many times. All we need to do, each of us, is to concentrate on shining our light in just our corner. Merely by making this effort we positively affect those close to us, encouraging them to shine more brightly in their corner. Think of the illumination of the whole world if each person merely concentrates on doing their very best to shine brightly in their corner.

I try to remind myself of this regularly. I tend to try to do too much, push myself too hard, and am far too quick to offer criticism to myself. At those times I try to recall that when I treat myself like that I'm not shining in my corner, I'm cultivating darkness instead. It is good to remember to just do my best at those times, to make the most ethical & compassionate decision I can make at any given moment. By doing this so I can still shine even when I feel tired, in pain, and uncertain.


The Buddha's Last Instruction
by Mary Oliver

"Make of yourself a light"
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal-a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire-
clearly I'm not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Vriya, Tapas

Joy has encouraged my teacher training class to attend one of the once-a-month 'Full Moon Yoga' classes. This classes are taught by Rae and are a very different style from the usual classes. I planned to get this class done today, but the I woke up sore, stiff and very tired. I felt like I needed a nap the whole day. I just kind of meandered through the day's work.

I really didn't want to go to yoga tonight. By 5PM I was talking to AM while he put dinner together and thought about not going to the class. It was a late one too, starting at 7:35 and going past 9PM! Dinner didn't help with the heavy tiredness in my body.

What helped were two things that I try to include in my practice, Vriya and Tapas.

Vriya, which encompasses the idea of energy, diligence and effort, is one of the Paramitas, or Perfections in Buddhism. One of the six qualities of an enlightened being, Virya is the sustained energy of practice over a long period of time.

Tapas, which can be translated as "Burning Effort", is one of the Niyamas and is what we feel after holding some asana for several breaths and we stay with it; the warmth in the shoulders many breaths into adhomukha svanasana. It is also the constancy which keeps the fire of our practice burning over years and years.

Vriya and Tapas are what bring me to the cushion, to the mat, again and again.

My reward tonight was discovering that Rae's class was very closely modeled after classes in Kripalu style I'd taken for some time at Yoga Shala. I really enjoyed Sarah's classes a lot, but the effort to make it over to SE PDX from NoPo after getting to the house from Downtown -- it had just become such a chore that more and more I was finding myself making excuses to not have go out again into traffic to try and get to a class. Since she's changed where she teaches, now days my schedule just does not align to allow me to take classes with her.

Eventually I started studying at Prananda, at first because it was so close to the house. I've stayed and deepened my study at Prananda because of how welcoming the space and the people all are (teachers and students). Tonight's class was a nice visit back to a style of yoga I enjoyed a lot and have missed.

Making Do

With a day of reflection acknowledging the disappointment I'd felt back in 2006 when I was wanting to share my Zen practice with AM I've been brought round to how I so easily look past my needs. Something that CK has called my attention to. Just tonight the way she did something called my mind to this. There's a "Full Moon" yoga practice tonight at Prananda that she'd been planning to join me at. For several reasons she isn't going, but she checked in to be sure I was really feeling OK with that or if I would benefit or just want her there with me tonight for support.

At what point does the ability to be good at compromise turn into letting go of what I feel is important?

I can think of instances large and small where my memory and my Mother's collide. Where she talks about making sacrifices, and to be fair she did try do things I wanted. It was just so often there was some part of it where it was what I wanted, done to her specifications. So maybe not exactly what I wanted, but I was always pointed to how it was just as good, if not better than what I wanted. In the face of such little support, and sometimes outright threat of punishment, it is no wonder I became an accomplished compromiser.

Going to Beloit was something I really wanted and I didn't get to finish that, a decision that was lead by my Mother. Sometimes I'm still amazed that I listed to her, but I then remind myself that I'd been having a year-long emotional breakdown. I suppose it comes up when I think about it because I still feel some sadness over just leaving suddenly like I did, over not finishing something.

Just layers of having my wants undermined, second-guessed. Yes, it taught me how to see the positive in all kinds of situations. It has also taught me to ignore any disappointment or sadness I felt around something. I spent most of my first marriage doing it. When there started to be disconnects between AM and I, we both looked away and I reminded myself that things weren't bad, I wasn't that unhappy. That it is entirely fine to make do, make the best of what is there.

The depth of contentment, happiness I feel sharing my practice with CK turns me around to look at not sharing a spiritual practice with AM. When I began practicing with a Zen community there where a couple of years where I asked him to share this with me and he said he couldn't because he had his own practice, it wasn't the same as mine. And this is so completely true. Buddhism reminds us again and again, we must make our own way on the path. He also noted that he also tried to pull back so I would have space to have something that was my own.

Yet, I felt hurt about this even though I did understand his reasoning and even agreed with it. What I need to be mindful of is how I also dismissed my hurt and just reassured myself with reasonable compromise. I realize now that what I was craving was the feeling of Sangha, the community of people practicing together, supporting one another on their solitary way. When I practice with my partner I feel how we two make a very small Sangha, giving synergy to our individual practices as well as to the practice that is our relationship.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Go Team Pranayama!

I received the most amazing, wonderful, absolutely cool compliment today from one of my yoga students today!

Z waited for me until after class got done and people finished asking follow up questions. She told me that over the break she had faced a very difficult, life changing decision. A decision that could have dire consequences if she followed her desire over what her heart told her. She said she'd been trying to meditate and wasn't really coming to a clear answer no matter how hard she sought one.

Finally, Z said, she thought to try a Pranayama technique I taught her in last session, Kumbhaka Antara. She said that she used this technique for some time as part of meditation and when she finished sitting her answer was there. Although it wasn't the answer she was hoping for, she needed to not follow what she wanted.

Within a week, she went on to tell me, things changed so dramatically that had she followed desire she would have very likely lost her home! She told me how very grateful she was for the Pranayama I had taught her, that it was now a very useful tool in her life, helping her a great deal.

I feel so touched and humbled when a student tells me yoga helps them in any way. Having a student tell me that a yoga practice I taught them literally saved their home is just stunning!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Delayed and Present Pain

Today kind of sucked, well the two and a half hours of asana, the same asana over and over again, really had my hips and my emotions hurting. I was just utterly spent by the time I got to the flat and found CK waiting with ibuprofen, practically at the door, and dinner well under way. I felt so entirely happy, relieved and grateful to see her tonight.

I talked to her about the hurt I've been struggling with around AM resurgence of commitment to practice. I felt it keenly last night during savasana when I had said I was grateful for my practice. What I had fully in my heart was how sweet it was to be laying in savasana next to CK, how fulfilling it feels to share my practice with someone so deeply. I feel this way at times when we are sitting zazen next to each other. Just feeling profoundly grateful to share a very vital part of myself with someone and have it by nurtured by their own practice.

She asked if what I felt wasn't new hurt so much as delayed hurt. That I dove into three years of zen practice and never really felt like I truly shared it with AM. I appreciated that we each had a separate practice, but I noted at times that I'd like to deepen our relationship by sharing being part of our Zen community. I hadn't looked at it quite like that, it feels a kind of newness, but it makes sense.

Rather like the issues dividing showing up and growing several years ago, but neither of us wanted to the be the one to point them out, I never wanted to acknowledge that I was sad my spouse didn't want to share my spiritual path with me. How I deeply wanted to feel like these things that have become such a vital part of who I am are really shared, supported and mutually appreciated.

I hold onto the fact that had AM done all those things we would have eventually come to this same place. That it doesn't change anything. I suppose I'm merely mourning what I wished could have been. Not terribly productive and I try not to get wrapped up in this, staying in past regrets and wishes. Especially not when the future holds the very thing I didn't choose to recognize I was missing.

Tough Practice Earns Documentary

I am just utterly worn out from over 2 and half hours of asana technique and critique during the longer teacher training program I'm doing. Each of the 9 of us taught nadi sodhana (alternate nostril breathing pranayama) and two asana. For at least two student teachers you would be an assistant, doing corrections. That meant doing 6 rounds as a student, repeating two of the same sequences.

Let me break that down, everyone started with nadi sodhana.
  • Yogini A taught intense side stretch and revolved triangle (I assisted)
  • Yogini B taught figure 4 and pigeon
  • I taught warrior 1 and 2
  • Yogini C taught figure 4 and pigeon
  • Yogini D taught warrior 1 and 2
  • Yogini E taught intense side stretch and revolved triangle
  • Yogini F taught figure 4 and pigeon
  • Yogini G taught intense side stretch and revolved triangle
  • Yogi H (the one guy in the class) taught warrior 1 and 2 (I assisted)
All of the poses in red are hard for my the chronic pain I get in my lower back and hips due to the herniated disc I have at the base of my spine. The revolved triangle pose is a particularly challenging asana. I kept coming down to child's pose, resting my head on the ground. I felt very weak and upset by the pain to day. It was a really difficult and my dedication to yoga, to desiring to go more deeply into teaching yoga is what held me in my practice.

When I got home I was so delighted by the scent of roasted delicata squash hinting at dinner well under way I thought I'd cry with gratitude! the winter squash was served with some sauteed zuchinni, quinoa and mixed legumes. I noted afterward that I was still feeling rather burned out from class so CK and I decided to watch the first episode of the BBC documentary last year, The Story of India. A well done culture/history show sounded like just the thing to unwind.

I am really enjoying this documentary so far. It is beautifully filmed and just fascinating after the first episode (there are 5). I appreciate the interviews and the gorgeously shot scenes of ancient excavations of the earliest of Indus and Aryan civilizations!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Workshop?!

Each month I have a one-on-one phone call with my manager. We discuss what I'm working on, if there are other priorities I should attend to, what is getting in the way of my accomplishing my goals. We usually spend some time talking about ourselves. I often tell her about how my practice is going.

At the end of this year, as I was reflecting on 2008 and my practice with the precepts, how there is one peer at work who really challenges me. I find myself holding onto irritation with behavior of hers that I consider unprofessional. Not just the ways she interacts with me, but the way she treats others. I will have a call with her days after something happens and find myself curt with her, still irritated. Hanging onto the story about the irritation and anger for days.

As I work with the precept to not give rise to anger, rather to seek the source of it, I realized my co-worker offered a perfect opportunity to practice. I had thought about Bhagavan Das saying in the new and amazing production from 1 Giant Leap, What About Me?, that, "Worrying is praying for what you don't want."

In holding onto the anger and irritation it was just another way of praying for what I do not want in my life. I need to practice with working that those emotions, understand where they arise from and move forward from compassion instead. Why not start learning this at work, since I spend so many hours engaged in it.

I finished explaining all of this and some of the ways my teachers have provided insight on how to look deeply. My boss noted that on a very uncomfortable phone call with this person I had managed to interject something that sounded completely calm and supportive even though my manager said she knew I had to be infuriated by the behavior.

She then said that an objective for me around team building this year was to come up with a workshop for the whole team on how to work with irritation, change and uncertainty. Emotions my team has felt very much of this past year especially. KE told me she had this fear that I would become so in demand as a workshop presenter that I'd retire from my job very early. She said she really saw this, really saw me as providing workshops that integrate mindfulness and yoga for people in business, care givers, and trauma survivors.

When I told CK about it later, how I was so surprised and feel like I'm not up to coming up with a workshop for my team she smiled at me. She pointed out how wonderful this is, I now have my day-to-day job willing to pay me to come up with workshops for presentation to business! I hadn't thought of it that way at all, I'd been more focused on feeling entirely unprepared and lacking in skill for this kind of task -- listening to my inner critic!

Grateful

Tonight in yoga class JW had questions for us. After reading a quote from Thich Naht Hahn noting the relationship between a rose and compost, asked each of us if that brought anything to mind. I said that there were lots of things going on right now in my life, things decaying and things blooming. I didn't want to elaborate but thought of how I'd been reflecting yesterday about the sadness of endings and how I also have these wonderful beginnings, this blooming in my life.

AM have nearly finished getting the paperwork together for the divorce. We are settling into the ways in which we are separate. In doing this there is the stickiness of acknowledging the disconnect that has been there, how deep it has grown we were just both not wanting to see it. It is akin to look at my childhood and facing how painful it had been. It is the compost of my life, the decay that I have set my roots in and grown.

During savasana JW asked anyone who felt comfortable to share what they were grateful for. I had offered that I was grateful for my practice. In my heart I expressed my gratitude for CK for the flowering in my life she has brought. I made sure to tell her afterwards, whispering it into her ear with a kiss as we put away the props.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sadness

In looking at the local news this morning I saw that the teacher of some of my dearest friends died unexpectedly. I felt the sorrow rising at this news. Not long after corresponding with one of my friends I spent several minutes on the phone with a lawyer going over some questions about my divorce. A couple of hours after that I received news that our very close knit team was going to lose the support of a very talented team member. By 2PM my left leg hurt from the hip all the way down the back of the leg.

One of my friends stopped by and we were able to talk briefly of the grief he and his congregation are facing and I was struck at the enormity of the loss. It made me think of the absolute, inconsolable anger and grief I'd feel to lose one of my teachers. In this frame of mind I tried to get the Merit List printed, including Reb Aryea's name, and had technical difficulties. By the time I got to the Dharma Center and saw CK standing there I had tears in my eyes even though I'd told Hogen in a tight voice that I was, "OK".

Sitting seemed to help, I felt a little more settled. Perhaps it was just the pain in my left leg that was distracting to the noise in my head. No sudden, painful, horrible thoughts arising in the quiet. I felt very grateful for that. At times I feel fear in going to sit with my Sangha these days, afraid of what fresh agony from childhood will surface in my mind in that deep stillness. When that happens it erodes the feeling of safety zazen gives me -- even if I know I shouldn't hold onto zazen as being safe.

After I was invited to be part of a group recommending guidelines to how we will grow our Sangha, how to reach out to more communities to show them that the Dharma is truly accessible to all in ways small and large. I felt deeply disappointed when I was told I wouldn't be able to participate if I was unable to come for the two days designated to this activity. It is an area I feel so connected to and to be told I couldn't be a part because I was learning to be a yoga teacher felt hard.

I found myself crying for a moment upstairs alone when I put the Merit List back into the Ino's notebook. It wasn't that I felt judged or that the group was intentionally being hurtful. I did believe what I'd told them. I understood they would want to keep the group whole. I knew I could trust my Sangha to make wise decisions. I just felt taut with all the sadness, all the good-byes I've said lately and changes I'm making.

When I came back downstairs after composing myself, or so I hoped I had, JM caught me to say that they wanted me to be part of the group for as much time as I could devote. That they felt it was important to include me since this was an area that so deeply called to my heart. I was very touched and in my tenderness felt tears coming up to my eyes again.

On the way home from the Dharma Center I picked my laptop up from the office (I'd forgotten it when I left earlier) then popped by CK's to pick up some of my stuff. She had tea waiting for me and I sat talking with her a bit. When I tried to say I felt a little silly being so emotional she drew my attention to the whole of my day so I would see that it was a day heavy with sadness and the constant pain-noise in my left leg made it feel very hard.

Death Comes

Last night, as I wrote about savasana (corpse pose) some of my very dear friends were with their congregation, wailing in sorrow over the loss of their teacher, Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield. I saw one of them briefly this evening before going to the Dharma Center. We talked a little about how he and his community, P'nai Or, are doing; this is a time of what feels to be inconsolable grief. An agonizing sorrow compounded by uncertainty as to when the funeral will take place. In a religion where tradition asks that ceremonies are to be performed within specific time frames, this uncertainty only brings further sadness.

This is a terrible blow to many, many people. Reb Aryeh was a voice for inner-faith dialog, peace, music, and teaching. I said to one of my friends, when she'd confirmed the news I'd read, that I believed that we as humanity are lessened when we lose teachers like this. At times I feel as if there are so many voices of division, difference, negativity, and hatred, that the silencing of a voice of Love is particularly sad.

There is a terrible, sharp brilliance to the uncertainty, to those changes that surprise us in ways that bring us suffering. These moments stand out, cause our breath to catch in our throats, tears to spring to the eyes, and a rock of grief to settle in the belly. I could not help reflect on what it would feel if ZCO were to suddenly loose Chozen or Hogen. I thought about my teachers who also faced the unexpected news of the death of their teacher, Maezumi.

In Zen we reflect on the fact that it is only in the absolute truth of uncertainty that we can truly take refuge. To return again and again to rest in the constancy of change is all we can do. Even when, especially when it feels as though there is nothing to offer in the face of inconsolable grief or when sorrow feels unending.

Hogen was reminding of this in a Dharma talk after zazen. During the times when we most want to withdraw, become small and tight around our pain, we need to keep reaching out of the hardness of it and know that it will change. Just as we can reassure ourselves during the dark and cold of winter, that spring will surely come.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

About Savasana

Tonight the wind outside howls down 9th Avenue, buffeting the sides of the flat and providing ample opportunity to appreciate the roar of the heater. How that noise means I'm warm and safe inside. The flat is cozy and I've just had a very tasty dinner. I'm enjoying sitting with CK, she's working on ideas for the new website for ZCO and I'm writing.

Got back to a yoga class at Prananda tonight. It felt gentle while still getting deeply into some areas. I'm still feeling the shoulder strain, especially in the left one I injured last spring. As frustrating as it is (which is to say as impatient as I feel), I know I need to keep being very gentle with them. I found myself going into adhomukha svanasana (downward facing dog) a lot between other poses, just feeling the relief of stretching my body and releasing the headache that had showed up during work.

Joy threw out a joke about a homework assignment at the end of class, to write a poem called "Sweet Savasana". I may have one in mind. It called to mind for me when Hogen asked me why it is called "Corpse Pose".

I had told him that a corpse is heavy, returning to the earth. There is no longer any tension whatsoever, all of the little anxieties hidden in the muscles are released. A corpse has no worry, no fear, no shame, no anger...

As the Heart Sutra states, "No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no sight, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind; no realm of sight, no realm of mind consciousness."

Just the body returning to the earth. We mindfully end practice this way, releasing the body from the effort of asana and returning to the breath. That breath, that is the sweetness of savasana. For we lay with the complete release and emptiness of a corpse, yet each expiration of the breath continues to be followed by another inhalation.

Silence of Practice

Finally went back to a class at Pranada tonight! It has been so long and I've felt disconnected from my yoga practice. I've been finding it interesting to note that I felt a really deep quiet practicing zazen alone, especially when I was snowed in at the flat with Atari and CK down in Sacramento. I really found myself appreciating deep quiet of those days.

Not so much with my asana practice. There is something so vital about being in a class, some synergy that happens when teacher and students come together for a class. Most of the time going to a class leaves me feeling clear and grounded in a way that practice at home doesn't quite get to. I do get to the silence, the quiet of home asana practice, but it is the energy that comes from sharing practice that I miss the most.

I still struggle with feeling nervous in my Zen community. It really has been just over a year that I started to share myself with my Sangha and only in the past handful of months that I've really started to feel like I can really open up. Sangha is the most difficult of the Three Treasures for me. I think is why silent zazen felt like such a deeply, richly silent space when I was alone.

That a shared practice of asana is a comfortable space reminds me that I will not always feel so nervous with my Sangha. It is just taking longer to get to that point of comfort. Maybe it is the deeper physicality of asana practice that leaves me more comfortable there. That the space for laughter, tears and groans to arise freely and release. I'm also nearly 2 and a half years further into my Hatha practice. Slow progress, but steady, just like asana.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Welcome Return

My Tuesday has been a welcome return to routine. Got up early, sat zazen then had a shower and headed downtown. Talked to people worked on projects, ate lunch with CK and this evening one of the yoga classes I teach started up again. Although there were parts of it where I was feeling resistance to settling into the less-than-exciting, just wanting to be entertained, it was good to get back to even that familiar irritation. Nice to have rainy, chilly Portland back as well!

Class tonight featured one returning student who's been coming for a while, two people who've never studied yoga before, and one drop-in student who's taken a few classes here-and-there. The Tuesday class has favored toward the small side for a few sessions now. I've wondered if the 5:45PM start time keeps people away. I suspect we might be able to do a 6-7:15 class if it was very punctual about ending to accommodate the 7:30 Pilates class taught in the same room. I know one of my returning students didn't plan to start coming regularly again until spring, not sure about the other two who've been regulars.

With all the new people and a very stiff returning student, along with my still babying my shoulders, it was a fairly easy class. Spent some time in breathing, just introducing the practice of a deep, complete, yogic breath before moving through deep postures to open the hips and shoulders. Ended with garudasana (eagle) and virabhdrasana II (warrior 2).

I'm feeling a bit stiff, noticing how my legs and hips are feeling after the effort. I made sure to ice my shoulder even though I didn't use it too much. Trying to be mindful of Iris' advice after working on it to not use it too much and let the strain heal.

What You Don't Want

"Worrying is praying for what you don't want" says Bhagavan Das in the second production by 1 Giant Leap, What About Me?

It is a direct summation of the futility of being caught up in the future-moments, wasting the present. Worry is such an ingrained habit with me, I was raised in a family of worriers (in addition to the grasping and hating that went on). If I let it be there is a nearly constant chatter of revisiting what I have done, and wish I'd done better, or about what might go wrong.

Worry is the manner in which my Inner Critic communicates with, controls, keeps me from being present. Quite often it isn't even fully formed sentences or thoughts, just unchecked anxiety and shame. GW has worked with me to try and recognize the out-of-control emotion surges as damaging energy to be turned around. To mistrust the emotions and seek for the truth in the present moment.

With all the changes going on right now it is very difficult not to get sucked into the habit of worry. I'm concerned for AM, for his well being now and in coming years. I so want to see him happy and in a relationship where he can grow. I am very concerned for CK, for our relationship together, for me and my fears of something all going terribly wrong. When I go to far to those places I'm not here for the sound of Atari's kibble clinking in his bowl, CK illuminated by her laptop's glow, the taste of fresh pear in my mouth.

I used to think worrying was a kind of planning, not avoiding what could go wrong but planning for it. As if I could plan away pain. In staying with the sounds of the room, being present to sensation, I'm not avoiding the possible challenges of the future. I know we'll have challenges, but staying in the present moment helps to remind me that we're equipped to face them.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Routine Visits with the Inner Critic

Today was the start of getting back to routine. I worked from home, conducting or joining four meetings throughout the day. Spent a fair bit of that time showing users how to use tools. Some of the time was devoted to clarifying some questions about automated messages a tool will send out and in the late afternoon I was able to settle into some productive coding.

It felt good getting back into routine today. I enjoyed sitting in my little room with my headset on, laptops both handy, and plugging away at my projects. Zonker came upstairs around noon and kept me company for the rest of the day. When I got a chance to grab some lunch Phoebe came and lay on her back beside me while I at, patting me with her paws so I would rub her belly. I missed being around CK, I've come to realize that her energy around me, even when she's working on her projects, just feels good to me.

I'd thought about going to Dishman for a swim this evening, but at 5:50 I was just wrapping up a couple of code changes, fixing some bugs. I went downstairs and helped AM make some Thai style curry for dinner; chopping veggies for the pan. It was a nice, companionable to be chatting while making dinner together.

I've spent the evening writing about the fun Friday CK and I shared in Eugene. I also tried playing a bit with the layout and look of this blog. AM have watch episodes of Top Gear, DW has been off babysitting for some friends. I also wrote to my teacher.

At the New Year's party I had laughed when my teacher forgot my name. Mere moments before I had been introduced to someone from the Dharma Rain Zen Center and had chatted with her for several minutes. When CK came up to us I found I was uncomfortable with the realization that in my nervousness I'd forgotten the new person's name entirely.

I was feeling the anxiousness of being in a room full of people I don't know very well, if at all. Tight tension across my chest and my mind feels scattered. Add to it the hum and murmur of many people chatting in a small, hard walled space and it is difficult for me to focus on things like names. It has improved in the years I've practiced with ZCO, coming to trust in the ways my complete self fits into my community, but it is still difficult.

When HB could not recall my name while introducing me to someone I felt so relieved at his humanity that I forgot that he's been troubled lately by forgetfulness. This is the kind of mindlessness that leaves me feeling mortified that I could be so thoughtless as to laugh. Who cares about my relief at the simple humanity of my teacher, it is all about my Inner Critic shaming me for not being perfect in remembering the potential uncomfortable spots for people.

In the past I'd have sat with my Inner Critic. Cringing away as my faux pas was replayed for me again and again. Letting the shame and guilt close my mouth and heart up tight. I'd have said nothing, avoided contact and hoped it would eventually be forgotten, not used to punish me.

Instead I wrote HB an email this evening. I am not sure if I wait until Thursday to very rightly apologize in person I'd be able to do it. Too many days of hearing nothing but my Critic's voice. The email leaves a bridge for me to say something on Thursday, now that it is sent.

What I realized is that I'm not perfect compassion. I forget sometimes because the anxiety can leave me so clouded. Other people forget sometimes too.

I appreciate my teacher for what he teaches me. I know that I appreciate his humanity immeasurably.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Eugene Holiday - Day 2

We woke at about 8AM and got ready for our breakfast. By the time we opened up the door the delicious scent of breakfast, coffee & vegetables being cooked, drifting up the big staircase. We were served fresh fruit, a dish of sauteed tofu & veggies, and some delicious muffins that Jack had picked up for us at Sweet Life P√Ętisserie along with tea, rich coffee and some guava juice.

Baiah, who was making our breakfast told us that usually Anne-Marie, the other half of the innkeeper pair, made the vegan breakfasts. She was trying to remember what had been done and was worried it wouldn't be good. We assured her the mixture of crumbled tofu, spinach, onions, garlic, and red peppers was very tasty and flavorful. The muffins were very different and equally delicious. A whole-grain one with seeds and dried fruit, topped with rolled oats. The other was like dessert for our breakfast; a cake-like Marionberry muffin topped with large crystals of sugar. We enjoyed lingering over the muffins and our coffee & tea, talking about the day before slipping outside to enjoy the beautifully landscaped yard of the inn.

Miniature Train Set

To keep things simple, low-key we settled upon visiting museums at the University of Oregon campus. Deciding upon the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art and the Museum of Cultural and Natural History. It was an easy trip over, although we were a bit confused about where to park and lacked quarters for the meters. Finally a call was made to one of the museums, we were told they had a lot & would give us a pass for the day!

It was fun looking around the Museum of Cultural and Natural History. The exhibits were put together well, making it easy to identify pieces on display. After we checked out the gift store and were bemused by yet more terrifically friendly Eugene residents! We ended up selecting some lamp work glass pieces, a slug and a snail made by local glass artists! These were charming pieces and we felt they were lovely reminders of our anniversary trip.

DSC_2919.JPG

Then off to the beautiful Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art on the other side of campus. We were told where we could stash our wet jackets and that the museum was free on this day!

DSC_2966.JPG

I was thrilled to spot the only Art-o-Mat in Oregon behind the front desk! I read an article about these machines quite a while ago and have always wanted to pop into the art building on the Lane Community College campus to check out the one in Oregon. Turns out this machine is at the Schnitzer museum until March, saving us a separate trip to see it.

DSC_2950.JPG

The Schnitzer building itself is very beautiful, including a gorgeous courtyard reflection pool. We enjoyed wandering the revolving and permanent collections until we'd finally walked off our delicious breakfast.

DSC_2945.JPG

It was a quick, lovely walk over to the shops clustered near the campus.

DSC_2965.JPG

We decided to check out Caspian Mediterranean Cafe and what kind of falafel they made. We ordered the lunch special, a falafel sandwich & bowl of a Persian style soup, and a side of hummus. The hummus was good, different from the very smooth types served at Habibi (well, that entire family's restaurants) and Aladdin's Cafe. The falafel, tahini sauce and bread were all quite tasty, even with out-of-the-bag pita. The best part was the delicious, rich soup made with onions, spinach, lemon, lentils, garbanzos, red beans and some rice! I'd happily go back to have the soup again and I spent part of the time enjoying the soup trying to deconstruct how to make it!

We poked around the Duck Store but weren't tempted by anything with logos on it. Eventually we meandered through town and on to visit the very highly recommended Sweet Life P√Ętisserie. We already knew the muffins were good and decided to go check out the other vegan sweets they were known for.

After quite some time and much prevaricating we ordered a peanut butter cup (for me alone) and I said I'd help with the ridiculously enormous slice of chocolate cream pie (vegan). The place was crazy packed so we sat down outside in the chilly air and enjoyed our treats that way. Both things were excellent! The peanut butter cups reminded me of a candy my Mom would make around Christmas-time, only better (very good, dark chocolate cup). The pie was very rich, very creamy, and delicious. It was also a ridiculous slice, so big we couldn't finish it!

Vegan Treats

We settled into our lovely room after our outing. I'm still down several games of cribbage to CK after playing for a while. There was more cable TV indulgence in watching The Darjeeling Limited, nice since I'd not seen it before. Jack brought us up a nice late harvest viognier from a local winery, Eola Hills.

The weekend was wrapped up with a rather tasty dinner at Ring of Fire, also highly recommend and within walking distance of the inn (one of those moments where good food is found in a very assuming, mall-like environment). We had tempura style veggies for an appetizer -- it is hard to go wrong with deep-fried food served with a sweet sauce and this was very tasty. For our shared entree we picked the Pra Ram, a Thai peanut sauce curry, with tempeh. The veggies were crisp, the nappa cabbage particularly nice I thought, and the sauce flavorful and I would have enough to have for lunch late Saturday during a break in yoga teacher training! We also ordered a couple of drinks (the restaurnt is very highly rated for cocktails), a "Dragonfly" (a guava juice based drink containing no alcohol) and a "Blue Devil" (containing Bombay Sapphire gin, Curacao, and a ginger lemonade.

We'd enjoy another excellent breakfast on Saturday morning before heading back to Portland, the same sauteed dish, red potatoes with onion, and more yummy muffins from Sweet Life again! That breakfast we were joined by a Eugene couple just staying the night for an easy get away. We enjoyed hearing more about things check out on a future visit!

Eugene Holiday - Day 1

We slept in a bit on the first having finally fell asleep past 1AM after coming home from the very full night of celebration at the Dharma Center. There had been rather serious discussion about going to Joy's New Year's Day yoga class at Prananda; end the year in zazen, start with asana. Since morning found us moving slow and still needing to pack up a couple of things we got ourselves together and on the road to Eugene.

It was a uneventful drive down aside from the pounding rain. We made it down a little ahead of schedule but the gracious innkeeper at the C'est la View Inn, Jack, showed us the rooms available. We'd reserved the Matisse room but switched to the Monet room after seeing the lovely koi details and the amazing etched window (a gargoyle of Notre Dame de Paris overlooking the Seine) above the enourmous tub.

While we settled into our charming room Jack called a few restaurants he knew served vegan food but after a bit he told us he'd not had any luck reaching any, a lot of places were closed for the holiday. He gave us some directions to a couple of markets where we could find a snack and we set out to do a little foraging/exploring.

We found Capella Market and picked up some hummus, dolmas, bread and vegan marshmallows! I also found a bottle of the Italian sparkling wine I'd forgotten in the fridge at the flat. We sat in the car eating the tasty food. We both had realized that it was 5PM, we'd eaten at Laughing Planet many hours ago, and were now very hungry.

Feeling better we set out into the dark, wet of Eugene, following signs pointing us "downtown". We made a note of restaurants actually open, I spotted the bakery Jack was going to get us muffins from, and we eventually came around the corner and past Sam Bond's Garage, which was listed on the Happy Cow page as having vegan options.

It was a great feeling place immediately. At a couple of tables a couple of youngish 20-something guys argued the politics of economic with what appeared to be a trio of older lesbians. Not angry, good natured debating and airing of opinions. We sorted out that ordering was done by going to the bar and telling them what you wanted from off the chalked up menu. CK selected the pizza & a seasonal ale and I decided to indulge in the tempeh sloppy joes & an oatmeal stout.

CK was told there were cards & games on a shelf around the corner; we were wishing we'd brought the cribbage board with us. We settled down at a cozy table made from a slice of log and were enjoying our beers in pint jars when a couple asked us if we wanted to play a card game. Perhaps they had seen us eyeing their deck with envy?

We're not sure if people in Eugene make people in Portland seem like angry misanthropes, but these folks were just indicitive of many people we'd meet. Enthusiastic and pleasant, willing to share. Morgan and Cat taught us a very simple, quick and fun card game. When our food arrived we all sat and chatted.

The pizza was very tasty and gave us great ideas! Instead of a red sauce the pizza was covered in mashed yams! This tasty base helped hold the toppings in place - cranberries, slices of pear, roasted garlic cloves and mushrooms (which were picked off). Seasonal ingredients and an excellent combination. The tempeh sloppy joe was served on a whole grain bun and was very tasty, very filling. It came with a salad of mixed greens served with a garlic tahini dressing that reminded me of the sauce on the falefel at Habibi. Yum!