Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sympathy Deficit Disorder

I admit, I'm just trying to be clever with the title. Well, mostly.

Amidst all the "usual" emails in my inbox at work Thursday morning was news that a co-worker, had lost her dog. I happen to know that R, the director of one of my client teams, absolutely adored her dog. He was really her little furry "kid" and he meant the world to her. R even gave people pictures of Spike!

As a person with little furry "kids" in my life I really felt a lot of sympathy for R. I've had to make the decision to be a part of ending a pet's life due to the suffering that comes of extreme illness or old age. It is the hardest part of the joy of pet companionship. My heart went out to her when I read the news.

During a break between meetings I made a point to pick out a sympathy card to send to R while picking up some lunch. I sent a message out to my team that I had a card at my desk her, letting people know they could sign it before I mailed it off. Everyone in the office on Thursday signed the card and we talked about our own pets.

Except one person. K told me, with great discomfort and awkwardness, how she really didn't know about Spike at all. Then K went on to say how R had been a major part of a decision to downsize a team in Portland several years ago. K had been part of that team. Many of her team mates at the time had lost their jobs and K ended up transferring onto the team we are both now a part of. K said she's never been able to let go of those hard feelings and didn't feel right signing a sympathy card. I responded that it was quite alright, that K need not feel pressured to sign the card.

Really I felt funny about it myself. Inside I was surprised that someone would withhold sympathy from another suffering being. I appreciate how deeply the wounds are when a company eliminates a team, the last job I had ended when the parent company closed the Oregon office. Despite understanding that on a very personal level it feels so obvious to me that we should respond compassionately to the suffering of others.

In some ways I was reminded of my Mom and the way she holds grudges, holding onto her anger even after a person has died. I believe there are people my Mom would withhold her compassion and sympathy. My whole family could be begrudging emotionally and materially.

It was after this brief, terribly awkward interaction with a co-worker I normally find so compassionate and recalling the own miserliness of my own family I was reminded of the eighth precept, "Not to withhold spiritual or material aid, but to give it freely when needed."

I guess I see responding with sympathy and compassion, particularly towards someone grieving a loss, is a reflection of eighth precept. It is an area where all we have to do to give is to listen and acknowledge the suffering another person is experiencing. Nothing more is necessary than that, just the compassion of a sympathetic ear.

Friday, February 27, 2009

On the edge of illness

I've felt exhausted and not fully well pretty much all week. Haven't been ready to call myself "sick" yet, but just not well or at my usual standards. On top of that, or because of that I've felt extra down on myself all week. Something about feeling on the edge of illness that brings out my inner critic.

I actually decided to take off the planned yoga class for this evening and we gave our usual Friday night event, watching BSG at the Bagdad after eating Fujin's while waiting in the queue to get in. CK's still not fully back to health and I look as exhausted as I feel, so it seemed like a good evening to just hang around, make some tacos (used pinto beans in my "Quickie Lentils" recipe - yum!), watch something from iTunes, and look at the theater season.

We're starting late tomorrow, 3:30, because Joy has caught this bug going around. I feel hugely relieved that I'll get so much of my Saturday free tomorrow. After the intensity of last Saturday, which I'm still feeling tonight, I felt hugely grateful for the rest tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I'm too tired and burned out feeling to write about me today so instead I'll talk about seeing Coraline instead.

I read the book when it came out and like pretty much everything Neil Gaiman has put down, I found it charming, thoroughly engaging, and in the bits where it was supposed to be, creepy. I've never lost my appreciation for chapter books for young readers, picture books and other such things and as a person who's appreciated Mr. Gaimen's work for quite a long time (it was 1988, I'd finished reading Black Orchid and became an immediate fan) I was delighted when he started writing books aimed at young readers.

When I read the news that Henry Selick was adapting Coraline for a movie I was really hopeful it would be wonderful. The Nightmare Before Christmas has been a favorite of mines since seeing it the week it was released. As news further developed that the film was being done in Portland by a fledgling company, Laika, I was completely draw into the anticipation.

Life has been such increasing madness and CK has been sick since Friday, which has hampered plans to see it. I'd heard from a couple of people that it was really fun to see it in 3D, worth the effort of trying to squeeze it in mid-week (since the Jonas Brothers thing is going to bump the 3D version come Friday). All that in mind I rushed over to pick her up at 4:40, she didn't look well but was gamely getting herself together so we could make it over to Lloyd.

Love the trick with the Fandango machine... No, don't go to the bother of pre-ordering the tickets, just use the machine to purchase them directly and go directly to theater. So much better than standing in line to get tickets and I continue to be surprised at how many people haven't figured this out. I'm actually one of them, CK figured this trick out.

For the record, I've never actually seen any movie in 3D before. Several comics, yes, but never a movie. Having seen this I'm glad I waited until the technology was this far along, at times it was really quite striking how detailed the 3D effects were, particularly in scenes were things were floating through the air. Very happy to have made the effort to see it this evening despite the rushing and feeling a wee bit guilty for having CK out when she clearly feels poorly.

Visually this is a stunning film on many levels. I loved the vibrancy of the colors especially since the loss of them as the story nears the end is all the more striking for it. The real life, hand crafted things were as amazing as all the comments I've read. Craft has been buzzing with images, comments, and adoration for the miniature knit gloves. Everything has such focus on the details and accuracy. It is truly inspiring for any DIY person!

And the adaptation of the story was charming, sweet and true to the original. At times, when called for, it is downright creepy and sinister. I particularly loved the voices of Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders as Ms. Spink and Ms. Forcible. I wondered and hoped that Ian McShane had a fabulous time voicing Mr. Bobinski. The unexpected appearance of a TMBG composition was a delightful surprise!

Monday, February 23, 2009

No Such Thing as Nothing

Briefly, because I'm not a physicist of any means, I'm fascinated by the fact that truly there is no such thing as "nothing." There's always something, the buzzing of matter. Nothing I can see and stuff that eventually makes my brain go all quiet in awe when I hear about it, but very certainly something.

My Zen brain pings around with this. I think about the part of the Heart Sutra which reads, "Form itself is emptiness, emptiness itself form."

Then my mind zips over to ponder Dogen's words in the Genjo Koan referring to an ocean of an infinite variety of realities.

Physics speaks of an emptiness that is never empty. We are constantly awash in that ocean of infinite realities in our world consisting of swirling, changing matter. It is the something that is the form out of emptiness.

The Critic & Writing

I was really touched by a comment on a recent post from a friend from my Sangha. I thought it was really interesting to know how another person could spot my inner critic at work. I didn't even think of it that way, but as soon as I read Patrick's comment I thought, "Ah-ha, there you are again!" I could suddenly recognize the same voice of my critic stopping me from using art supplies until my creations were "good enough".

I am trying to be mindful of this critic when I look at my writing and learn not to dismiss my writing in the same ways I tend to dismiss my art, my voice, and my own needs & desires. I'm trying to look at writing as a practice for learning how to spot my critic, hear her words more clearly, and am then able to work more effectively with her. It is also remind myself that writing is a means for sharing with my community.

Honestly, I've always enjoyed writing. Pretty much since I figured out that I could do more than merely read the books I dove into at a very young age. I would draw my own pictures and write about my life. When I began to learn about poetry, haiku first, I wrote that too. I even enjoyed writing papers in college, especially researching for them. At work now I enjoy creating clear, concise, helpful documentation.

The past year seems to have been about my voice. From the very literal way of become one of the chant leaders for my Sangha, being asked to write about my experience with mindful eating, to writing about the places I visit -- all of it deepens my connection to this practice of words.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Lineage of Yoga & Elephant Jackets

Yesterday I spent the day at the Portland Dharma Center as part of a small workshop on the theme Upholding the Sangha Treasure. I've been drained from the intensity of yoga teacher training and this was my only Saturday off since beginning of the year. In some ways it was the most focused discussion I've ever been a part of with Sangha members and I finished it just aching from the attention, the searching, the thinking, and often feeling like I wasn't doing a very good job.

CK had come down with a cold Friday evening and I was exhausted mentally & physically when I returned from the workshop. After minimal discussion I phoned Dalo's and placed an order. Once we'd enjoyed injera with the veggie platter (spicy lentils, mild split peas, cabbage/carrot/potato, and spinach/onion) we felt up to popping into the video store. Wall-E in hand we went home and curled up to watch it.

I'd wanted to catch Wall-E in the theater, but it didn't work out. I've heard and read nothing but good things about it since the release. I'd already purchased a copy of 'Down to Earth' to put on my iPod (well, that's more due to my decade-long appreciation of Peter Gabriel). It was really comforting to finally get to settle down and watch it, especially when I really felt the need for a quiet night. It was as beautiful, charming, and thoughtful as I'd heard.

Today I woke up feeling kind of shaky, not sure if I'm coming down with CK's cold, but my head hurt and I felt drained. I did not want to go teach yoga. It was certainly a morning where the commitment to teaching, the fact that people will show wanting me to teach them, sustains my practice. Without the knowledge that students would arrive starting at 11AM I would have easily crawled back under the covers the rest of the day.

That knowledge propelled me into the shower and out the door to Dishman. A brand new student arrived who'd decided to try a class out since she'd gotten tired of her DVDs at home. Dove's Mom, Claudia is visiting from Eureka. It is always a delight to see both of them. We did some side opening, hip opening, and several poses for the core muscles. I ended the class with the challenge of half-moon pose.

After class there were smiles and people telling me how much better they felt than at the beginning. I too felt better, I nearly always do feel better after teaching a class. It is those classes where the disciple of practice and the respect for my students brings me to the mat, but I just let myself be a vehicle for the five thousand years of history. At those times I am grounded, centered in the practice of upholding the lineage of teaching asana.

When class was over, as people were gathering up their stuff to go, Zoe held up a marvelous white jacket asking if anyone would like to have it before she donated it to Goodwill. The jacket has embroidered patches featuring elephants, beads and small bells. It had been a gift to her from a friend but she no longer wore it. I asked to try it on and everyone still there smiled, saying I had to keep it.

And so I did. I believe I'll be wearing it at the "graduation" party when teacher training ends. I look forward to a suitably festive ZCO event to wear it to in the future.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Investing in Self

I was chatting with CK today about technology. Well, my want of newer technology. I have an iBook that came to me 4 years old... a year ago. I said it was OK, really I mostly just write, blog, email, but it gets boggy & hard to work with... a lot. In fact, as I as I try to write this.

With the way my back bothers me carrying around a laptop gets really tiring. For travel I've been considering a micro, maybe something running Linux. Really, I've coveted a Macintosh Air.

I'm getting a bonus at work, which both surprises & delights me. I thought maybe I'd just set a chunk aside for my birthday in August and if there was enough left over buy one. Not think about it too hard, just go do it.

The day after I found out about the bonus the hot water heater went. What I then discovered as a home owner is that the cost to install the hot water heater professionally was going to cost more than the unit itself. We talked about it and picked out the most energy efficient unit we could get, with a 12-year warranty, and $1120 later the house has very hot water again.

And so go the thoughts of an Air. Only this afternoon CK was talking about how we should get one for me. What I came to see how my worry about the money, that I was spending too much, frivolously, was based in not seeing myself as worthy, devaluing myself. I finally commented to her how until the last year or so no one had ever commented upon my writing as something useful to them.

In the past year people have told me how much they've enjoyed, found useful and even meaningful my writing has been to them. This week my teacher Chozen asked me to write about my experience with mindful eating for her blog. Something I already wrote for her was included in her recent book.

Despite this evidence of merit, that my writing isn't merely some frivolous thing I do, I still am questioning if I really need such an expensive piece of technology. Regardless of the improvement to me, the help to my back, or any of those positive things it is hard to recognize that it is OK to want something like this and have it. What it really makes me wonder is why it is so hard to really invest myself at that level when it is easy to spend truly small amount of money on myself frivolously. To really spend money on myself that isn't absolutely necessary, like a hot water heater, that I judge as not being responsible.

Wisdom's Heart Includes All

The following article appeared in my Sangha newsletter, Ink on the Cat. Since a few people have asked me about it, I wanted to post it here too.

Wisdom's Heart Includes All

Inclusive (adjective)

Including the specified extremes or limits as well as the area between them: the numbers one to ten, inclusive.

I believe that at wisdom's heart, the absolute center of wisdom, is love. Love is the foundation of the Brahma-Viharas. It helps us to grow into wisdom like trees reaching towards the sun. From this place of love we learn to be at peace with ourselves and open to the world. This opening allows us to accept unfamiliar people, ideas, and beliefs. We develop a greater capacity to see the limits and the extremes, as well as the area between, and enfold all in our boundless heart.

Our sangha is committed to finding a building for a downtown center. I hold the aspiration that our sangha grows to include the community in which we practice, and look forward to our home becoming a safe, inclusive place for all people to experience the container of zazen and the support of an open-hearted community.

ZCO has grown to welcome a small, rural community to the beauty of Zen practice and the melody of marimbas. Our practice of inviting teachers, writers, artists, and musicians from many traditions enriches the ground of our Dharma knowledge. Members in pilgrimage together deepened their practice by visiting ancient sites and, in including non-travelers back home through beautiful emails.

This spring we grew to include two Burmese families in our sangha. We have found that despite differences of culture, language or even faith (the families are Christian), we are a community because we share our humanity and the desire to be happy. Our practice with this family has taught me about the ways in which we communicate as humans first and, when we do that based in the love at wisdom's heart, language is immaterial. I've also had the joy of learning that Legos require no directions, only a surface where they can be safely strewn and playfully assembled.

The feeling of being included is not something I knew growing up. As a young child I knew that all living beings are deeply connected, but I felt alienated by my family. Because of this I have withheld myself, my essential being, in ways small and large. Any ease I had within groups was tied to a persona so elaborate that I no longer knew it was just a facade.

During the past seven years I have given up that persona as I worked to change my life in order to adopt a healthier way of living. Besides practicing hatha yoga and Zen, I've become a vegan, lost 150 pounds, lowered my cholesterol 100 points, started teaching yoga, and took the first five precepts. I've rediscovered the silence that was my childhood safe haven, while my teachers have encouraged me to find my voice hiding in that quiet. I'm slowly learning to trust that even when I reveal true differences about myself I am still welcomed in my sangha.

All I've learned in the three years I've been practicing with ZCO, combined with happy excitement at the thought of finding a literal home for our community, gives me great hope that we will grow to include others who may feel alienated from society, family, and self, that more people enter, feel the silence and wisdom that illuminates the heart of our temple, and sit down to rest in the essential self.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Kindness and the First Grave Precept

Of all of the Yamas and Precepts, the first of each is the one that changes, enriches, and fills my life.

The first Yama: ahimsa, "non-harming"
The first Grave Precept: "Do not kill. Affirm Life."

When I was studying the precepts in more depth my teachers shared with me John Daido Loori's writing on them. For each "do not" there is an positive "do". This enriched my view of ahimsa greatly so that it not only contained the idea of non-harming, but grew to include the goal of sustaining, enriching life as well.

I've come to see kindness as a partner of non-harming in practicing the first precept. One could easily withdraw from the world, limit contact in order to promote non-harming, but to affirm life draws you directly into the world. Simple kindness provides a way to enrich and nourish life.

In 2000 I realized I'd moved away from being a kind person. I can recall about myself as a child that I was kind and genuinely interested in each being around me. My family didn't exactly foster this and our society often disparages kind optimists as "Pollyannas". The feedback I got over the years was to hone my wit and protect my heart. In doing so I grew disconnected from people and from myself.

There was a moment where I suddenly saw my behavior towards a person as being impatient, arrogant and very unkind. That night I reflected upon it and felt ashamed of myself. I hadn't bothered to exert myself to remember I was interacting with another person, that I didn't need to bother.

And I was bothered by it. Greatly. So I started with kindness.

Every time I talked to someone I tried to give them attention. When I was in a check-out line at a market I made eye-contact and honestly responded to the automatic, "How are you today?" greeting. What's more I made sure to ask how the person helping me was doing today. I listened to their response. I made sure I wished them a good rest of their day too.

What amazed me was how little effort it took me. Even on a less than stellar days. Rather than be irritated or lie and say I was fine I would honestly tell someone I was having a lousy day. I tried to smile a lot.

Even more amazing was the response I began to see, how immediate and dramatic it was. People smiled back, all the time. They were gracious funny, sympathetic, caring and wonderful. I've even have learned new things from many people. When I tried this at restaurants and shops I would get awesome service that I then made a point to acknowledge, be truly grateful for.

There are so many ways in which the First Grave Precept has affected my life. Many of the major changes I have made are rooted in my vow to do no harm and to affirm life. Of all of the things this precept has taught me, the need to root ourselves in loving-kindness is one of nourishing.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


CK commented the other day I was prolific, maybe I've already mentioned this. I wasn't sure at first if this was OK, if my wordy-ness was a bother. There's a bit of a laugh in it since so often I feel like I am at a loss for words. I have tried to make writing be part of my practice in order to help me sort out words from the cacophony of competing voices or find the way out in moments of fear.

Next month some members of my Sangha have proposed a challenge -- 30 poems in 30 days. Seems like both another outlet for writing practice as well as a way to reconnect with writing poetry. In the past few years the occasional haiku has been about it. Since it was the first type of poetry I learned about it feels like I've gone back to my roots somehow.

I don't have any of those first haiku poems I wrote. I wonder now what they were like -- full of all the earnestness, curiosity and silliness of my nine year-old self. 31 years later and I'm still fascinated by the rhythm of haiku, the way the handful of words shift around until they settle down.

On that note, one came to me last night when CK asked if I'd posted something to test a blog she's started for the Sangha Poem Challenge. I didn't have anything new to post there and couldn't think of anything at that moment, I didn't have any words handy.

And then words arrived.

Finding Words

Sometimes the words come
Slowly - like finding agates
Scattered on the shore.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I haven't written much in days, they have been so full and what time that's not spoken for I haven't wanted to fill with the solitary pursuit of writing. As this current course of yoga teacher training draws closer to completing it seems the days are just filled completely. I'm really beginning to feel the extreme busyness my life has known since September.

Mostly I haven't thought about it. I just accepted that when I decided to pursue more training my available time would be come even more precious for seven months. It was just what had to be added to a full time job, teaching 2 yoga classes, going to the Dharma Center at least once a week, an assortment of visits to the folks who help keep me well, and some time in there for the personal relationships in my life. Since I never think about it in a list I'm able to keep it in perspective, just going to each thing when it is time.

It has been weeks now with this schedule, some major life changes showed up to add into that list, and today I paid over $1K for having a brand-new hot water heater installed. I'm just tired. It has been a long winter filled with both fear, sorrow, anger and joy.

I was reading an article this evening about Sharon's Salzberg's deep practice with metta, how it became a foundation for her to find peace from profound tragedy in her childhood. I have been thinking particularly about a passage that reads, "every moment now there’s another chance to let go-not to strain to be something better, not to strive to get over anything, not to practice life in any kind of harsh, judgmental, demanding or controlling way-but to just let go, moment after moment after moment. And in that moment of letting go is kindness."

In the face of the busyness, the stress and big emotions I've tried to let my practice be to meet each day fully and be as completely present as possible, especially when I'm with other people. What I am trying to learn is how not to use any of my practices: writing, zazen, mindfulness, or Hatha yoga; as means to judge myself too harshly when I don't live up to the level I set for myself. That sometimes letting go of writing, even for a couple of days, in order to spend time being nurtured by connection with people is an act of metta for myself.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


This summer, August 28 to be exact, I will be 40 years old. A nice round number, as I've have taken to saying lately.

A couple of days ago I was recalling my Mother turning 40. We were living in Vancouver, Washington in a old rambling apartment building that served a lot of low-income residents my Mother was the manager of. It had a collection of strange and interesting people that I would hang out with.

Several of my Mother's friends got together and threw a surprise birthday party for her despite her express wishes to entirely ignore the occasion. She was depressed about where she was in life and she hated her body (I'm sure she has always hated her body to some degree or the other).

I recall her crying. Not in joy or delight that her friends and family so wanted to honor her that they threw the party anyway, but in abject misery. I remember her laughter that bordered on hysteria throughout the event and the hard, sharp words she had later when everyone had left.

As I'm approaching this point in my own life I've come to realize that the older I get the more uncertain I feel. During the Dharma talk tonight Chozen asked us all what age we feel like in our minds. It occurred to me that lately I tend to feel somewhere between 9 to 14 and painfully aware of my uncertainty about ever attaining the state of being a so-called "grown up".

I don't know that I've become more comfortable with the uncertainty, I'd like to think that I have. What I do know is that I'm not approaching 40 with the same level of dread and horror as my Mother. I know that I want to great that occasion with a deep appreciation for my life, how far I've come. In a way it is just one more instance where my Mother has shown me the way by providing an example of what not to do.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


At Dishman they've been splitting my classes into 5-class series and tonight began a new series. A few weeks ago the activity director and I decided we'd set my class start time to 6PM in response to some feedback I'd received from students. The spring calendar will print this, but for the remaining winter class he said that the front desk would just let students know the change in time when they register.

Tonight I set out for Dishman, found some parking and headed back to the room my classes are held in at 5:50. Sitting on the floor of the room looking confused were eight new students. I asked them if they'd been informed of the new start time and all said they had not.

Yikes! And the props closet was locked! I popped my head into the site director's office and checked -- the change in time had never made it into the computer! Well, at least the answer was obvious. I quickly got back to the room

I really dislike it when things like this happen. I make a point to have a few minutes before students arrive to set up my mat and sit for a few moments so my mind is settled. I don't like feeling rushed in the first place, but feeling rushed around teaching yoga is especially irritating to me and unsettling too!

This are the kind of situations where I really try to remember that when I teach yoga I am representing a lineage of teaching thousands of years old. It doesn't matter that I'm flustered, I need to be the method by which the teaching is transmitted to others. I just need to rely upon the knowledge in my body and let my words drop into just vocalizing what my body is telling.

The class went just fine. Yes, in being flustered I occasionally was off in the directions I mirror to my students. People were smiling, the class didn't seem to overly tax anyone, but a new student who's studied Hatha yoga for a few years still enjoyed herself. The new student who's been told that she needs to no longer practice Bikram style due to the heat said that the class was very different, but she enjoyed it.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Walking Meditation

This arose out of a comment made by one of the Zen priests in my community during kinhin, or walking meditation, last night at the Dharma Center. He remarked upon the deliciousness of the sounds of kinhin in the zendo. Later that night CK remarked that kinhin at the Monastery, with the beautiful bamboo floors, that it sounds like a heartbeat.

And thus haiku arrises...

The sounds of kinhin --
Footsteps moving in rhythm.
The zendo's heartbeat.

A Kindness Reminder

I woke up feeling fatigued, anxious and cranky this morning. Just one of those days where I wished I could crawl back under the covers and hide until the world settles down. Instead the grown-up inside my head propelling me through each day reminded me that I was stiff and needed to move around, that I had piles of meetings today, and a long list of tasks.

Today was one of those days when that inner grown-up felt like a bully.

And then my laptop for work booted to just the picture on my desktop and began to emit a high-pitched squeal out of the speakers. Last week I'd discovered that the right single to the speakers wasn't working, not even with headphones. I've had other problems too, but nothing this dramatic. Then it wouldn't boot at all. Around 2PM I tried again out of pure exasperation and it came up.

The morning spent trying to use a Java client to access work files, and having it crash every hour or so, plus a pile of meetings, and a stream of bugs on something I just turned over for testing didn't help with my feeling that the day was just too much, too irritating, too demanding, too much stress.

What did help at the end of my day was a friend sending me a message asking about mindfulness and kindness. I finally responded to them that I now feel that kindness gets rather dismissed in our culture, even seen as a weakness. The nature of kindness, the heart of it lies within the first grave precept, which is also the first of the Yamas in yoga, Ahimsa, or non-harming.

The Zen teacher John Daido Loori writes this precept as such, "Affirm life. Do not kill."

The heart of kindness resides in the directive to affirm life. I was really grateful to my friend for providing me such a good shift in a day that was growing in that feeling of psychic irritation. Where my mind seems to chafe against the difficulties of life and expends energy on devising how to best avoid them (although all ideas seem to lead back to hiding under the covers...). My mind testing the waters of suffering instead of abiding calmly in the present, which really isn't too bad and has some rather glorious moments to it.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Easing Up

As part of my "doing something nice for myself" theme I'm not beating myself up for not having a "real" post today on my main blogs for writing. I have acknowledged that I added something to the vegan cooking blog I started and am making myself recognize that my practice of writing should not get wrapped up in what I write. It is just that I make an effort to write each day.

Besides, I need to see that there is effort in recording the steps I take when I make a tasty meal we enjoy. Especially when the people I love ask me how I make something they enjoy very much. To dismiss my effort to offer them my knowledge isn't honoring their request.

Sorted out my second sesshin for 2009 so I can take Jukai in October. My teacher recommended that I take one in August with the other teacher of our Sangha. It is one I've actually been interested in for a couple of years, Grasses, Trees and the Entire Earth. I'm relieved to have set my intention to do these, deciding which ones to do just helps me feel more rooted in it.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Something Nice for Myself

This morning we woke up early and headed downtown to CK's office building across the street from Backspace. A studio moving sale a floor above her office listed having a microwave for sale which we picked up. No more cold leftover lunches!

Microwave-mission accomplished we headed over to Blossoming Lotus for some brunch. I finally tried out the live wrap and CK ordered then Indian bowl. The wrap -- carrots, sprouts, & cashew creme rolled into kale leaves with a side of some kind of creamy, cilantro sauce -- was delicious, if messy. The curried veggies in the Indian bowl were tasty and the curry rich and satisfying over brown rice (I know, I had the leftover for a late lunch later).

Powell's was next for coffee/tea and wi-fi. Being that it was an increasingly nice day Powell's was already pretty busy by 11AM. CK spotted a table while I ordered our drinks. She read a new JQuery book she had just received while I jotted down some notes on a guided visualization to use at the end of a yoga class, Savasana. When I finished I popped upstairs and found another great Lonely Planet guide and we talked about birthday trip ideas until it was time for me to head to Prananda for another day of teacher training.

At last Saturday's class Joy had told all of the teacher trainees that we had to do something nice for ourselves this week. I've felt a little like a faker on it this week, not really making an effort at it. In reading E's blog post about really taking time to fully experience and be present for the blessings in her life really struck me a lot. How we don't have to make some grand gesture at all in doing something for ourselves.

I reigned in my Inner Critic and let up on feeling guilty for just not having the mental resources to write an OSCON proposal this year. It was due on Tuesday and Monday found me just staring at a screen with no ability to really pull anything complete together. I'm letting myself feel excited about the prospect of a birthday trip, a BIG trip, in fact the biggest trip I've ever taken in my life so far! I asked for and received a happy offer to help me in my goal for my 40th birthday -- to start the day in an unsupported headstand! To all of that I get to add a really wonderful morning today.

Despite the intense pressure going on right now with work (the weekday job that supports my Practice), with the huge changes in my personal life, and the uncertainty around my Mom's health -- despite all that I can be present for all of the beauty, joy and Love that is there too. That is the nicest thing I can ever do for myself and for the people I interact with. Practice, be present.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


All my dragging of feet over talking to CK about how much debt I have right now came to an end when AM wrote a blog entry (public), not considering how I would feel about people knowing that fact. Suddenly it is out there and I felt anxious, ashamed. Finances are an area where I never have felt quite like I really get it. I get that I need to pay people certain amounts by certain dates and through painful error learned I must do this.

That I bought a house in 2006 is astounding and a little frightening to me, still. I never lived in an owned home growing up and within a few years of my parents finally buying a manufactured home my Dad was dying and my Mom ended giving the house back to the bank after all the planned upon pension payments dried up. When I was young my Mom and I lived in early Section 8 apartments, the first Christmas there we were one of the families "adopted" by the local fire department. I believe I got a tea set for present.

Cash was always short when I was a kid and the resulting tension was a constant companion, even while playing in the apartments of other kids I was friends with there. It got better when there was some more money, but I've come to have the perspective to see how poorly finances were managed. How sometimes decisions were made to spend money not because it was the right time, but because something was wanted. It was an environment impossible to learn good skills in.

Enter my first husband who ended up putting all the effort of household finances on me, not helping out when things were tight if it impacted his bills, quick to suggest that my bills be short changed, and even quicker to anger when things got messed up. I would try so hard, but even he provided the example of impulse spending to be made up for later (only later never arrived). When a roommate (his idea to have move in) began forging checks, stealing from us, once causing a short-fall and bounced check that then caused a utility to be turned off he was livid with me. After the truth came out, why there was a short-fall, that it wasn't my fault, he never went back and apologized for yelling at me. I still feel like at any moment I'm going to be screamed at for doing things wrong.

And into another relationship where immediacy was more important, impulse and gratification. During a time when there were two good incomes I managed to just stay ahead of the debt and what money I did save paid for a wedding. We would talk and talk about budgeting, getting better at staying within our means, and it wouldn't happen. Decisions would be made, effort wasn't made int he right place, and a couple of major feelings of disappointment over the fallout. So here I am hugely in debt, embarrassed about it.

CK has been calm, loving, supportive and positive. So much so I am unnerved by it. Here I am looking at things to cut out of my life, telling myself "no" to purchase after purchase, and feeling deeply ashamed of not being good with finances. Like I'm a very poor sort of grown up.

And instead she's talking about going to Hawaii for my 40th birthday in August. And she means it, if finances go well, which she thinks they will.

I've gone on very few big trips in my life. My parents sent me to one with my older step-sister when I was 13. An "American Heritage" tour of the D.C. area. It was probably debt they couldn't afford but did anyway. We took several car trips and would go camping, but most often my summers were spent partly with my Aunt J or, after she married my step-dad, with my Aunt D and Uncle J in Bremerton.

AP and I talked about a trip. I even got a map and hung it on a wall, pinpointing the journey. After a while I came to see that it would never happen, would never be a priority. I saw it at first with AM, but then he stopped working, wasn't really able to find anything and we adjusted. I knew we weren't going to make a lot of trips after that.

I felt unsettled by the discussion. At once excited, hopeful, and yet still feeling like I couldn't trust it. My mind was equally certain that something wasn't right and thinking, "after all I've messed up, why am being rewarded? Why isn't she yelling at me?"

Maybe just all along I've needed someone who is willing to share knowledge with me. Show an example of another way to approach things. Like so many things in my life I feel like I've had good ideas, but with no support or guidance they have never come to be what I imagined they might. From school projects, to artistic endeavors, to saving money.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Fast and Slow

I finally tracked my Mom down on Monday by way of calling her husband and asking him to make sure phoned me. My Mom gets into the habit of either a) not calling or b) avoiding calling me because she has bad news. Given the rather serious news she shared with us I was beginning to get worried having not heard from her in over two weeks. She'd also not returned a voice mail I'd left.

When she phoned she said she was doing OK. She doesn't see the opthamological oncologist at the Casey Eye Institute until the 20th. Having had cancer before she prefers to see an oncologist at Kaiser she's seen before, however, he's on sabbatical for February. She should him the first week of March.

There's all these ways in which I'd wish life would slow down. I find myself surprised that it is February. That it is 2009 seems fantastical at times. Whoosh! The weeks just fly by at an ever increasing clip. The precious hours of doing nothing but resting, enjoying some down time, I wish those times would lengthen out, get to where I can just linger.

Here I was on the phone whit Mom wishing those days and hours gone, done and at least some more information. I'm impatient with waiting for these appointments. This limbo state of
"tentative diagnosis" is uncomfortable and I feel my patience for life itself stretched thin with effort.

She apologizes for not checking in with me. A part of my mind observes how easy it is for her and I to live our very separate lives without talking often. She sometimes remarks at how I used to tell her everything. Only I didn't, but I don't break the fondness of her idealized memory. I am aware of the distance there is between us, the unresolved issues that will never know closure.

I am delighted to find out she is still trying to do Nadi Sodhana. She notes that she's practically stuck her finger in her nose a couple of times. I told her that concentration was the only fix for that problem.

I am truly delighted she is doing this and rather surprised. It is a bit strange, but she's really trying it out. I didn't actually think she'd do it without me there, that's why I'd been looking at recording myself guiding her through the breath practice. It is a pleasant shock to find out she's doing it on her own.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Grounded in Teaching

Had a great time at my class tonight. Only a couple of students showed up so I tried out the idea I'd had for a class that worked towards doing shoulder stand. I was amused to discover that after doing a series of forward bends and hip openers that my stretched leg was an inch longer than the un-stretched one! Confirmed how stiff I had felt last night after class certainly!

With just the three of us it was a small class with lots of time for questions. It was very comfortable and a lot of fun. I tried out the lift adjustment on a regular student who was there, it was a lot of fun to be able to assist someone further in shoulder stand. With it being just the two students it was very easy to check in with them both often.

The energy of a large group is fun, but it is very special to devote my attention to just a couple of people at a time. My Sunday class has become such a mix of students needing modifications and students who are more practiced that it was really nice having a easy night without a lot of modifications and the space to just flow through the whole class. I think it is the mix of Sunday that makes it challenging since I'm mindful of keeping things moving along for the students who have had more practice or are not injured.

I've noticed I feel a little tired after Sunday's class from the effort of keeping track of everyone. Not that it is bad, I don't feel drained or exhausted, just noticeably tired mentally. I feel the recharge of teaching, the way it is grounding to me. Just a bit tired from the extra effort to track so many different levels of practice at once. Even still, each class I teach grounds me in the conviction to teach more.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Speed and Slowness

I wanted to write a proposal for OSCON. Since it has been moved to San Jose I thought the best way to convince work to let me go again would be to be an invited speaker. I've talked about it since last year, giving a presentation either on change control or yoga. But the deadline is tomorrow and for the past couple of week's I've felt just entirely uninspired to come up with anything at all.

Tonight I feel burned out and exhausted. We went to have all the dissolution (divorce) paperwork reviewed and discovered we'd done such a good job it was pretty much ready to file, minus a couple of check boxes and final signatures. Suddenly the clerk was saying to us, "and you can go around the corner to the cashiers and pay the filing fee..."

There we were. So we shrugged and nodded, stepped over and paid to file all the paperwork. I'd been so stressed just going to have it reviewed, I figured there would be things missing and we'd have to take care of them first. In fact I hadn't listed the complete legal description of the house, but the clerk just had me phone over to the County Assessors office to get the information. Done. He commented on how quick this would be, the job we'd done was very thorough . I felt a little tight with shock at the unexpected speed.

Finally talked with my Mom some more today. Nothing but waiting -- she doesn't see the specialist at the eye institute until the 20th and won't see the Kaiser oncologist for her right lung until the beginning of March. I feel impatient for her to be seen, to have confirmation or perhaps the knowledge she doesn't have cancer (wild optimism).

It was a lousy day too. I am so keenly feeling the pressure from all of this already and today was yet another day that started with a panicked jolt at 5AM followed by dozing off for another two hours. I just don't feel like I'm resting, my brain is back to busy, anxious dreams so I wake up feeling just as tired as when I went to bed. On top of it I'm taken aback by both the quickness of something and slowness of others -- in quite the opposite arrangement than I'm comfortable with.

I am just going to give up the idea. I'm enjoying the ideas I'm sharing with someone from Dharma Rain Zen Center to offer teaching on yoga and meditation to the Portland tech community. I like the idea of it, but I think just letting it go this year is for the best for me. Maybe I'll work on something for the local conference and next year propose for OSCON, maybe there will even be a travel budget again by then.

JW told all of the teacher training students on Saturday that our homework this week was to do something nice for ourselves. She said it especially applied to me, that I am the worst of everyone. Practicing self-compassion is not my strong suit. The past several days have been an on-going reminder about it. Maybe letting go of some of the things I want to do, like submitting a proposal for OSCON, are part of practicing doing something for myself. Not sure JW would think it counts, but cutting myself some slack without judgement is so contrary for my usual behavior I feel how it counts.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Ninth Precept

A part of the work towards taking Jukai in October I am supposed to make a mental notes to review the precepts each day. Not for any opportunity to judge myself, encouraging my Inner Critic to point out all the ways I fail the precepts. Rather just to keep them close, learn from them.

In looking at the ninth precept, "Not to give vent to anger, but to seek its source.", I've tried to beyond the obvious fierce rage. Instead I've tried to play close attention to all the little ways frustration comes to the surface. How at work my teammates and I even call it "venting" when you just need to have someone let you complain. Let off some of the pressure of a situation by talking about it. I've come to see how this is can be a method of seeking the source so long as the frustration being shared is done so with the intention of also examining why it is so present.

I had an unexpected way to look at frustration and anger arising in myself a couple of weeks ago while I was in the car and headed over to the house. We'd made a detour and had turned around to make sure we would come down MLK in order to stop by the bank. Those few minutes of detour meant that we were on the stuck side of a parade turning onto MLK from Killingsworth.

Not so bad, right?

Except it was a pro-life protest march.

In the car in front of us a dog barked in great agitation at all the people marching by "his" car. He jumped up and down against the window. We sat silently in the car and I felt my anger rising up to the surface. At some point it occurred to me that my mind, in it's agitated state, was just making noise like the dog.

"Just how much is this police escort costing my taxes?"

"How could they bring their children along?"

"How dare they impede my busy day with an opinion I vehemently disagree with!"

"Why did we have to make that detour, if we'd gone right the first time we'd have been past this!"

All of it just so much barking! I started to watch the anger I felt, where it traced back to. It was hard. It is far easier to just stay angry, to let frustration and indignation boil over. It is so warm and energizing, enticing to just cozy up around that energy. The choice to trace that energy down and see the fear and uncertainty laid bare takes a great deal more effort.

By the time the very last marcher had turned south onto Killingsworth I could be more honest, more compassionate. No, not that I agree with any of them at all, not even close. What I am glad is that the police would block traffic if I were to march to express my opinion, regardless of how popular my opinion is, or is not. That is part of the service to the community, to ensure the right to assemble and express opinions.

Some deep breaths and willingness to deeply look and I found a little calm in a present moment I didn't enjoy. Although I cannot come to any agreement or even true understanding of the pro-life marchers, I could agree with the idea of upholding the right to express opinions. At times what I can hold to is the common desire of all beings to be heard. I may passionately not want to hear opinions from every being, wanting to close myself off in the strength of my disagreement, but I can move beyond that in understanding of the desire to express and be listened to.