Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Moving right along...

Finally, after a long wait in which many other projects were accomplished (including our wedding), I've been setting up my blog on a new site with a dedicated domain.

Please come check out Like Words Together at the new site!

If you have comments to make, please go to the new site. All future posts will be put there.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Why I'm Not "Going Pink"

Ahhh, October... there's a crisp bite to the air, the leaves have begun to fall, there's 50 pounds of apples in my refrigerator, and I'm once again bombarded by the nauseating pinkness of "National Breast Cancer Awareness Month."

For years it has just been the ever increasing tide of pink consumer crap in the stores, and that has been bad enough. However, for the past two Octobers I've watched cutesy memes take over Facebook. Last year it was women coyly posting the color of their bras in their status updates. When it finally started to come out that bras, therefore, breasts, were the topic at hand I'm sure everyone rushed to donate to the Komen Foundation (more on them later). This year it is the suggestion that we post where we like to put our purses when we get home, e.g., "I like it on the table".

Now, leaving aside my irritation at the assumptions that only women get breast cancer (they don't) or that all women carry purses (they don't), I'm just left with the annoyance that not only does this juvenile status update meme have absolutely nothing to due with breast cancer, but that it uses breast cancer as the reason to make some kind of sexualized joke. How does this puerile humor have anything at all to do with breast cancer? Once again, do you see this kind of nonsense and rush right out to buy something pink or donate money to Komen?

Yes, you might think that I'm being a stick in the mud about this. I mean shouldn't I just lighten up and enjoy the whimsy? Isn't this just a harmless joke used to raise awareness?

To those who might say I'm being shrill and a kill-joy, I say:

Really, is anyone in the western world not aware of breast cancer at this point? Seriously?

If there are people unaware, perhaps it because they are buried under the load of pink consumer crap and juvenile Internet memes that we're bombarded with every October. So much money is spent on enticing us to buy pink M&Ms (yes, really) and BMWs (yes, really) that we're hopefully distracted from the lack of funding that goes to understanding the causes of breast cancer and the utter disorganization of those efforts.

We're so pinkwashed that we hopefully won't notice that many of the companies with products directly related to causing breast cancer are funding our "awareness". Those companies hope that we'll be so charmed by all the pink and whimsy that we won't ask them why the hell they're still producing the crap that is killing us.

Keep in mind that the "National Breast Cancer Awareness Month" was created by a drug company that is now called AstraZeneca. Yes, that's the same company that in addition to producing & hugely profiting off of breast cancer treatment drugs, also profited substantially off the sale of an herbicide known to cause cancer. That alone makes me question all of the happy, cheerful messages designed to raise my "awareness".

I am bashing the Komen Foundation, that sacred pink cow of breast cancer activism, a little bit too. After all, Komen manages to blithely take in thousands in contributions from the very chemical companies who market products that cause breast cancer! They put on these hugely expensive races and events that push mammograms and say nothing about the causes or prevention. This is the very same organization that helps market pink cars while ignoring the powerful link between a chemical produced in the exhaust of cars, benzo(a)-pyrene, that is one of the most powerful carcinogens known and was connected directly to breast cancer by the Peralta Cancer Research Institute in the 1980s. Yeah, go Komen...

What can you do? Well, know your risk and make efforts to reduce it.
  • There is a lot of evidence that shows that maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, having moderate or no alcohol consumption, and following a diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains is beneficial.
  • Buy organic if possible as many herbicides and pesticides have also been linked to breast and other types of cancer. I totally sympathize to the economic barriers to this suggestion and know this is not an option for a lot of people, but if you can, buy organic.
  • There are known links between r-GBH (recombinant bovine growth hormone - used on dairy cows) and breast cancer.
  • A healthy vegan diet has many benefits; reducing the risk of cancer is only one of them. Yes, this is one of the many reasons I am vegan.
  • Get your vitamin D level checked, particularly if you live in the Pacific Northwest like I do. There have been several studies linking low levels of vitamin D to cancer, particularly breast cancer. People in the Pacific Northwest are known for being chronically low in vitamin D.
Check out Breast Cancer Action, an organization I think is doing things right. They aren't busy "going pink", they are demanding action to reduce causes, educate people (not sell them pink crap), and find more effective, less toxic treatments.

BCA also created the fantastic "Think Before You Pink" campaign to educate people as to where the money goes when those pink Tic-Tacs are purchased.

All of this is said from my perspective as the daughter of a two-time breast cancer survivor. Yes, that puts me in a higher risk category and I take it very seriously.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Cup Gazing

The latest and greatest installment in what continues to unfold for me with this bit from Rumi:

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

Last week I realized that I had a Tuesday evening completely free. Since I would be busy with Ignite Portland on Thursday I decided to go to the zazen and discussion held on Tuesdays. The leader for last Tuesday had suggested that people bring quotes or short readings that inspired their practice. I brought the Rumi.

When I shared it I commented that what has started to really get through to me are the two words, "Don't mind". These are the important bit, as my teacher had commented to me. When I don't mind the cup is stained, that's when the stains clean themselves. Just recently it has finally felt like I'm in a place where I am starting to get the whole not minding thing.

Fresh off my sharing at the Dharma center this little gem of Rumi's came up during a conversation with PB. How I've been working with it, seeing the cup as my life and the traumatic moments as the dirt on the cup. She offered that perhaps I should consider buying a new cup.

I immediately, passionately said that wasn't the point. I can look at all the ways I tried to keep re-inventing myself during my teens, 20s and into my 30s as merely trying to "buy a new cup". It doesn't work, you cannot buy or acquire your way out of this one. You have to work with the cup you're given.

I said that it also felt that wanting to discard the cup because it was dirty wasn't compassionate. In honoring the cup, using it, it equally honors the person I was. In particular it acknowledges and holds the child I was in loving-kindness. To want to get rid of the cup is to want to get rid of that child and she doesn't deserve that. Besides, that isn't the point.

One of the younger priests in my Zen community once suggested upon hearing this Rumi that "There is no cup."

While that's very Zen and strolls right along that uncertain path called "No Self", it misses the point. The cup, the dirty cup is an intrinsic part. We must have a cup in order to partake in the pure wine that is life.

The point is not minding the dirt.

Not minding that I was hurt doesn't mean I condone it, rather it means I don't see myself as intrinsically flawed because of the "stain" of those events. Yes, those events affected me greatly, still affect me, but they are not an indicator that something is wrong with me. None of it was my fault.

Which brings me to a mug I purchased at SFMOMA in May. The colors and the simple ginkgo leaf pattern make me smile, it was also on clearance in the gift shop (bonus!), and I drink tea from it pretty regularly.

Tea can be a pretty strong dye and in short order my new favorite mug for tea had acquired stains that the dishwasher doesn't affect.

Do I mind? No. Does it affect the tea? Not in the least. Is the cup still completely pleasing to me, stains and all? Yeah, absolutely. It isn't exactly self-cleaning, but I don't mind. Silly as it may seem, given that the stains appear on the mug not out of some act of violence or deception, but still this mug is a good reminder.

This cup holds my tea and if it is a green tea I can even appreciate the stains on it when I'm drinking from it. They indicate nothing more than the ability of strong liquids to leave a mark. It is the outcome of this mug having a life. A perfectly good mug and I like it stains and all.

My life shows the effects of everything that has happened to me. Some of those things leave me feeling pretty sad and hurt. Taken as a whole, I have learned a lot about not minding my life. I even have begun to relax occasionally into even enjoying it, not minding the stains at all.

Monday, September 27, 2010


I have been on a bit of a cleaning frenzy since yesterday. The house had become hugely chaotic with stuff not put away. It was just a mess, truly, and bugging both of us. Merely moving some things down to the basement where they belong (yoga props I'd loaned to a Dharma sister) and getting some things taken to our respective offices made a lot of difference. Today I've vacuumed, dusted, sorted, and organized some. That and laundry - I'm kind of tired, but it feels good to have things cleaner.

Amidst all of that frenzy, while dusting, my cane caught my eye. It is mixed in with rolled up yoga mats, hiking poles, and an old paper umbrella. The handle of it was covered in a rather thick layer of dust.

As I cleaned it off I was struck at how long it has been since I've used it. From 2000 until well into 2004 I would use it occasionally when the pain and weakness in my hips would necessitate the extra assist. I purchased a cool, lightweight one with the ability to be broken down like a tent pole. People commented on it a lot for the coolness factor and they were mostly too polite to comment on a woman in her 30s using one. I generally resented the hell out of it but admitted that I really needed it.

I'm not exactly sure when I moved my cane into the cluster of stuff. Sometime in the past couple of years it took up residence with the hiking poles, which feel like an accomplishment instead of an accommodation. My third yoga mat. CK's mat. The paper umbrella I've had for years; I've been pondering how to repair a tear in it and re-purpose into an art project. The cane had an impressive amount of dust on it.

I'm also not entirely sure when I stopped using it, even very occasionally. At some point it just became a thing in my house that I never interacted with. I didn't need it, so I never went looking for it.

What I am aware of is the meaning of that dusty handle. The lack of use, the accumulation of dust as the cane sits next to my scratched up hiking poles is a testament to my Yoga practice and to the hundreds I've spent on one form of therapy, including body work, or the other. Amusingly enough the dust is a rather powerful indicator of progress.

Yeah, there's still a truly mechanical failure I deal with. It does affect me, but now it is just another part of my physical practice. Tomorrow I'll probably really feel all the cleaning and organizing I've been doing the past couple of days. I'll most likely be moving a little slower, a little more cautiously. I might wake up with a bit of a groan.

Even still, I won't need that cane.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

If I Don't See That I'm Strong Then I Won't Be

The title of today's post comes from Maxi Jazz. Specifically from the amazing song 'My Culture' which is featured on the first 1 Giant Leap music disc. Seriously, check this stuff out.

This song randomly popped up on my iPod a few minutes ago and I was struck once again by those lyrics. They pretty much catch my full attention anytime I listen to 'My Culture'. We're not strong if we don't think we are. We lack confidence when we think we don't have any reason to have any.

That brings this post around to chatting this morning with my EMDR therapist, PB, about my anxiety around the job search, my current lack of job. Next month my severance package, my "lovely parting gifts" from my last job, will run out leaving me on unemployment. I'm feeling a lot of dread and downright panic about this.

CK says I should take my time, find a job I'm really going to like. Sure, most of me believes her, but there's a rather insistent part that doesn't trust it. I've never been able to count on anyone to have my back and this habit is very hard to unlearn. Under it all there's a part of me that doesn't trust anyone, particularly anyone who says they love me. After all, my experiences with people who've said they love me have been pretty negative.

That shines a bright light upon the part of me that is pretty sure that all of those negative experiences have happened because I'm fundamentally not worth that kind of love. I'm so deeply flawed and such a misfit that eventually people will become disenchanted and hurt me again. It is the same part of me that dearly wishes I could be possessed of an average IQ and settled down into a seriously mainstream, ordinary, invisible kind of life.

All this insistence despite the preponderance of the evidence to the contrary. The larger part of me trusts CK and her love for me. That greater self also knows with certainty that the further I've moved away from the "mainstream" the more in touch with my essential self I've become. I know that when I tried to play that game, reinventing myself to be what would make my boyfriend/husband/family/friends/etc. happy, I was seriously, deeply depressed and had a weight & cholesterol over 290. It was a fraud, all of it.

The reality: Vegan, Queer, Buddhist, Yogini, Liberal, Smart, Poetry-Reading Freak.

As they tease CK (in a friendly way) at her office, "Edge Case".

What's underneath this job stuff? Well aside from the not trusting anyone to make sacrifices while I'm not bringing home an income and really have my back, I'm pretty intimidated by the popularity contest that job seeking feels like. It takes me right back to all the unease and awkwardness I felt as a adolescent. I got my last job through the sheer nepotism of being hired by the team I was a support engineer to when I was laid off. No interviews, I was the only qualified candidate for a job requisition written to match my resume.

I'm afraid all my inherent freakiness somehow seeps off of my resume and all hiring managers take one look and say, "No way!" Surely this can be the only explanation for my marked lack of anything resembling an interview. Clearly my lack of confidence is well founded. Right?

PB told me to work on being aware of the physical sensations that arise around this fear, especially since I experience this more as a physical sensation rather than a voice in my head telling me horrible things. She also said to work at bringing awareness to those moments, even if there are mere seconds, when I remember that I'm a strong, capable, talented woman. And that being a freak isn't so bad. Neither is being smart.

If I don't see that I'm strong then I won't be.

Monday, September 20, 2010


The entire time we've been working toward our ceremony CK and I have known that we wanted to include the first five Grave Precepts. Both of us have spent a lot of time with these vows. We've each written about them and have taken them in a public ceremony with our community (sangha), friends and family present. At those times we looked at how these vows informed our own personal practice.

Including these vows as part of our marriage ceremony would reaffirm the most basic of the vows of our Buddhist practice together. Ultimately we sat down with several translations of these vows to write ones that we felt truly reflected the practice we share together in marriage. Of the many wordings we looked at, we were strongly influenced by the vows we both have taken within our Zen community, the writing on the precepts by the late John Daido Loori Roshi, and the interpretation of the precepts by Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Naht Hahn.

During the ceremony we each recited the following vows to one another:
  • In the practice of our marriage, I vow to affirm, cherish and protect the lives of all sentient beings.
  • In the practice of our marriage, I vow to be generous with my time, energy and material resources and to take only what is freely given.
  • In the practice of our marriage, I vow to be aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct and to cultivate my responsibility to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families and society.
  • In the practice of our marriage, I vow to manifest truth, to cultivate loving speech and deep listening. I will refrain from using words of discord and will make every attempt to resolve conflict, great and small.
  • In the practice of our marriage, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.
We each then wrote our own vows we were taking in our marriage. After reciting our own writing of the first five Grave Precepts we then gave our own vows. Here are mine to CK:

I will always remember seeing you on the first day of 2008. It was merely the third time I had seen you in person, but in the bright light of early afternoon I suddenly knew with certainty that my life was about to change in a significant way.

So it did, and here we are today in front of friends and relations. All of us gathered to honor the power of publicly taking vows to love, honor and cherish one another. It has been a mad dash to get to this dazzling finish, complete with unexpected news, arguments, wild passion, laughter, and tears. I’m told this is perfectly ordinary even though it feels to me rather extraordinary.

In addition to the precepts, which I have vowed to make a fundamental part of the practice of my marriage with you, I offer these vows from my heart:
  • I vow to nurture unbridled joy in equal measure with gravitas.
  • I vow to great each day with loving-kindness.
  • I vow to nourish my health so that we may explore many more years together.
  • I vow to create art, write, sing and cultivate playfulness together with you.
  • I vow to admit when I am wrong.
  • I vow to offer you cheer, humor, deep listening, and wise counsel. Whenever needed.
  • I vow to challenge myself and you so we continue to grow fully into who we can be.
  • I vow to read you poetry.
For my birthday last year you gave me a collection of Rumi’s poetry translated by Coleman Barks; an edition I did not have. It had been an amazing day spent celebrating my birthday and you fell asleep early. I stayed awake longer to read poems and enjoy my cake. One poem in particular really caught me; I knew I wanted to say some of the words from it to you at our wedding. Although I feel rather presumptuous playing with Rumi’s words, I do so as an act of love and from a deep honoring of the original poem, “The Self We Share”. These words especially speak to me of you and of this moment when written in this way:

The Prayer of Each

You are the source of my life.
You separate essence from mud.
You honor my soul.
You bring rivers from the mountain springs.
You brighten my eyes.
The wine you offer takes me out of myself into the self we share.

Doing that is religion.

I am a prayer.
You're the amen.

CK's vows to me:

My dearest Sherri: You are one of the most generous, compassionate and courageous spirits I have ever met. From the beginning, you opened your heart wide to me and while cautious at first, I have learned to take great refuge in your presence.

In addition the precepts we have already shared, I offer a few of my own vows:

Because our life together will not always be easy, I vow to meet challenges in our relationship with a sense of compassion and adventure.

Because our family is but one piece in a very large puzzle. I vow to live a life of service to you, to our marriage and to our community.

Because while love is not scarce, many resources are, I vow to make sure you always have the things you need most such as food, water, shelter and art supplies. I vow to utilize our resources wisely.

Because I want to spend the most amount of time possible with you and grow old together, I vow to care for my body and mind.

Because play is just as important as work, I vow to cultivate playfulness, laughter and lightness in our relationship.

Because what I was hiding, deep inside, you brought out into the light, and even thought it is terrifying at times, I vow to stand bravely in the light of your love.

My dearest Sherri, You are the first person who made me truly feel loved. I look forward to sharing a life of practice with you and I am truly honored that you are making this commitment with me here today, in front of our friends and family.

When we exchanged our stunning, one-of-a-kind wedding rings, handmade by local artist Barbara Covey, we each said the following words to one another:

May our marriage be nurturing, intimate and supportive throughout the years. May our marriage be a refuge to us as we cultivate kindness and compassion toward all sentient beings. I give you this ring as a symbol of my vows and commitment to you with body, speech and mind. In this life, in every situation, in wealth or poverty, in health or sickness, in happiness or difficulty.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wedding Poems

There's been so much going on, joyful (our wedding) and hard (Mom being in the hospital and missing our wedding) that sitting down to write has been a far lower priority. I'll be getting back to it more since there's been a lot I've wanted to write about, but for now my return to posting is to share the three poems we had read during our wedding ceremony.

Oh, and a great picture taken by a friend after the ceremony!


CK's mother read this poem:

I Want Both of Us

by Hafiz

I want both of us

To start talking about this great love

As if you, I, and the Sun were all married

And living in a tiny room,

Helping each other to cook,

Do the wash,

Weave and sew,

Care for our beautiful


We all leave each morning

To labor on the earth’s field.

No one does not lift a great pack.

I want both of us to start singing like two

Traveling minstrels

About this extraordinary existence

We share,

As if

You, I, and God were all married

And living in
a tiny


One of the Zen priests, a dear friend and inspiration to our practice, read this:

Entering the Shell
by Rumi

Love is alive, and someone borne
along by it is more alive than lions

roaring or men in their fierce courage.
Bandits ambush others on the road.

They get wealth, but they stay in one
place. Lovers keep moving, never

the same, not for a second! What
makes others grieve, they enjoy!

When they look angry, don’t believe
their faces. It’s spring lightning,

a joke before the rain. They chew
thorns thoughtfully along with pasture

grass. Gazelle and lioness, having
dinner. Love is invisible except

here, in us. Sometimes I praise love;
sometimes love praises me. Love,

a little shell somewhere on the ocean
floor, opens its mouth. You and I

and we, those imaginary beings, enter
that shell as a single sip of seawater.

Another friend from our Zen community read this:

The Plum Trees
by Mary Oliver

Such richness flowing
through the branches of summer and into

the body, carried inward on the five
rivers! Disorder and astonishment

rattle your thoughts and your heart
cries for rest but don't

succumb, there's nothing
so sensible as sensual inundation. Joy

is a taste before
it's anything else, and the body

can lounge for hours devouring
the important moments. Listen,

the only way
to tempt happiness into your mind is by taking it

into the body first, like small
wild plums.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

News and 5 Summer Haiku

Well.... It has been quite the past six months or so. Mom's apparently doing fine on hew heart medication and wrestling with the concept of stress reduction for the ulcers. I'm searching more in earnest for a job, hoping to have something lined up by October. We've enjoyed the first cucumbers and cherry tomatoes of the season. Apparently there's some little orange eggplants I must go pick and enjoy too.

The wedding is less than 3 weeks away. There's a lot to be done even as simple as we've kept things. CK and I are apparently experiencing pre-wedding stress, which to us feels bad but my therapist assured me on Monday that it is actually perfectly ordinary. I suppose it further proves the point that a same-sex wedding is in no way different from a heterosexual one... we even get terribly stressed out!

CK has inspired me to experiment with making very large origami cranes. I made one yesterday out of watercolor paper and then painted it. I want to do one and paint it with clouds. We're going to put paper cranes of all sizes around the reception venue and encourage guests to take them home.

All that and a little summer haiku:

Sweetness of summer.
Stonefruit nestled together
In market basket.

The cats melt into
Sleeping puddles of warm fur.
Waiting for cool night.

Deep green summer leaves
Yet still adorn the lilac.
Look, brown edges form.

On hot days grateful
Sighs are heard in shady spots
Along the steep trail.

Cucumber hiding
Shyly under the low leaves.
Summer's abundance.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Last Saturday our plans to sleep until noon to recover from all the sleep lost during OSCON were dashed by an early morning call from my Mom, phoning from ER. She'd spent much of the night with terrible chest pains and her husband had taken her into the closest hospital. By Saturday afternoon she was back at the hospital associated with her health care group and we went up to see her.

Here's where it goes weird.

Through some miscommunication my Mom believed she had been given a firm diagnosis of stomach cancer. That was back in February. I assumed that they'd done a scope, some blood work, and all those usual things to diagnose something like that. But they hadn't.

On Sunday morning they performed the scope and saw some spots that looked like ulcers that had likely been bleeding. These were cauterized and a tissue sample was taken for biopsy. On Monday some abdominal and chest x-rays were taken and nothing suspicious was found. We're still waiting to hear the results of the biopsy, but as of this moment it appears that Mom never had cancer.

Mom is furious that she was lied to. No mention of a "diagnosis" from a doctor appears in her charts anywhere; Mom sees this as a conspiracy and is certain records have been deleted. On the advice of her naturopath I've mentioned that she should make sure that all her records, even things marked as "sensitive" be evaluated. Mom is more concerned about having to tell people she was wrong about having cancer than she is happy to be freed of this burden.

CK and I believe that there was very possibly not a firm diagnosis. Mom was referred to an oncologist, but never went. She also had been told that it would be 8 weeks to get her in for the stomach scope and possible biopsy. She also never went. We feel that there probably was the suggestion that the digestive distress she'd been experiencing could be a recurrence of stomach cancer. Upon hearing that Mom went into her consistent behavior of reacting from fear and impatience, deciding that she did have cancer.

After a second Sunday visit CK said to me in the car on the way home, "That's what you grew up with?!"

I am first and foremost thrilled. On the other hand I'm furious with the way Mom spins stuff. I'm frustrated with her continual impatience and her drive to try and control everyone else while refusing to take care of herself. In trying to just offer sympathy at listening to her irritation I've been accused of belittling her.

Today we had a long phone conversation and she was much more rational to talk with. When she went off about her husband not taking care of himself I told her to let it go and take care of herself instead. She doesn't like taking care of herself and would prefer to think she's in control of everyone else so she doesn't have to think about her own needs. She also prefers to let other people take care of her and angry when they don't "do it right".

In a big moment for me setting boundaries as to what is acceptable I asked her to stop sharing a childhood story because for me it is a very painful, traumatizing memory. She hurt at hearing that this incident causes me nightmares to this day but wasn't defensive. She agreed to never talk about it again and made additional overtures in accepting that many times she did not make the best decisions for my well being.

All this and an incredibly intense EMDR session yesterday. Last night's sleep was frustrated by nightmares. CK reminded me again this morning that I need to "give in" and take Xanex when that happens. I'm about to head off to see my acupuncturist and hopefully that will settle some of this energy. It has been a really long, exhausting week and I'm feeling pretty worn out from the intensity of it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Bitterness

Mom's back in town and I took her to see NEM on Monday. She was in really poor shape. She talked about her disappointment at not feeling better and the expectations she'd held close that the Chinese herbs and acupuncture would be more significantly healing. There is also the resentment she feels toward her husband and the motor home trip they took recently that should have been restful and connecting, but wasn't. She talks sadly about not having the energy to be a better mother to me and says she means in the present. A not insignificant part of me believes she's wishing she could affect the past by suddenly improving now.

I shared with her what my Zen teachers offer - that clinging to those expectations, even having them in the first place, leads to suffering. My Mom and her expectations, and the suffering of not having them met underlies so many of the selfish decisions she made in my childhood. She wasn't overtly hostile to this information, just unable to really hold onto the idea of trying to not have expectations.

When I see Mom like this, in terrible physical and emotional pain and so clearly suffering, it is difficult. I feel deep sympathy and compassion for her, I try not to let it slip into pity. I feel anger at her all in the same moment as the love and concern. I hear her regrets, her bitterness, her disappointment and know it is the same thing I've been hearing my whole life. It is painful and I struggle to accept, without guilt and shame, that when she is gone I will feel tremendous relief.

I've been mulling one of Mary Oliver's powerful poems. So many of them capture practice, nature and life so well that I just sink into the words. A handful of her poems cut right to the core of suffering and seem to haunt me. One of her poems, A Bitterness, has been resonating with me a lot recently around what I feel about my Mom and the way I see her many cancers as some kind of physical manifestation of all the anger, resentment and bitterness she's held close to her heart during my life.
A Bitterness
by Mary Oliver

I believe you did not have a happy life.
I believe you were cheated.
I believe your best friends were loneliness and misery,
I believe your busiest enemies were anger and depression.
I believe joy was a game you could never play without stumbling.
I believe comfort, though you craved it, was forever a stranger.
I believe music had to be melancholy or not at all.
I believe no trinket, no precious metal, shone so bright as
your bitterness.
I believe you lay down at last in your coffin none the wiser
and unassuaged.
Oh, cold and dreamless under the wild, amoral, reckless, peaceful
flowers of the hillsides.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Contemplating the Dirty Cup

Wednesday's appointment with the EMDR therapist was honestly grueling. I left feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically drained. The lowering of intensity wasn't as profound, but then it was such an inter-connected, multi-year mess of stuff that to even reduce it minimally is progress. That I was unable to neatly separate out the events to work on individually, something I'll continue to work on with PB, underscored something my cognitive/mindfulness based therapist has been saying for some time. The trauma I experienced in my late teens served to reactivate earlier, unaddressed trauma from childhood. The events become intrinsically linked to my mind and body regardless of the differences of time, place and people.

The session also brought up muscle spasms, particularly in my legs. I vocalized something important in reacting to the pain and strangeness of them. When I have muscle spasms I do not feel like my body is my own. The statement came up a couple of times and in the second visit it hit me hard. We looked at it, the age I felt and it was in that 4/5 age range. It is painful to accept that I felt like I did not control my body at so young an age.

The last four weeks of intensive EMDR have revealed another uncomfortable truth. On a lot of levels I believe the abuse was my fault. That I possess some intrinsic flaw that makes me an easy target for abusers. To a part of my mind it seems like the most reasonable explanation as to why I experienced abuse from so many different people I trusted across so many years. "Clearly I am flawed.", says a part of me.

Last night I was having a hard time getting to sleep with anxiety creeping in. Bits of bad memories popping into that liminal time where I'm just starting to drift into sleep. I hoped to sleep in to make up for it but that energy is still around this morning and I awoke rather early. Something that has been kicking around for the past two days is the bit of Rumi I've been chewing on since early September.

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

I've written about this bit a little already and have let it just be a part of my everyday life. It keeps unfolding for me the longer I keep it close. It brings up for me again and again how much time I spend wrapped up in the stains on the dirty cup and not able to fully engage with the pure wine of life.

All the thrashing around trying to cling to the notion of My Happy Childhood is just another way of obsessing about the stained cup. PB gently pointed out to me that recalling the brief hours here and there where I enjoyed my childhood does not make a happy one. All I'm doing is staring at that cup and trying to say, "Look here, this spot isn't dirty, it is clean and lovely. Yes, that's the cup I want!"

Many weeks ago GM asked me why I practice Zen. I feel unheard when my community treats veganism as anything less than the deep reflection of my vows and practice. Retreats leave me feeling like I was pulled by my heels through glass. Sitting down to do zazen has nearly continually woken up my Inner Critic for over a year now. At times, for no apparent reason beyond a mere nanosecond of silence, I find I am completely triggered emotionally and physically. Why do I do it?

At the time she asked I had no answer but I've kept practicing hoping one will be revealed to me. The sad answer is that those triggers and pain happen because the trauma was real. Feeling unheard about being vegan awakes the years my voice, my thoughts were not valued by my family. I've spent years trying to make these things not true, to persist with the idea that if I just don't acknowledge them or talk about them, they will go away. The truth is that no amount of cherishing the few hours of baking with my Gram or picking berries with my Mom makes up for the the rest of it.

Zen and yoga point us to the truth. What is the essential self? What is true? I practice because it reveals the truth. The truth points us to what is real. Some truths mean we live on the edges of what the whole of society considers "normal". Most importantly, as radical as acceptance sounds for some truths, not accepting the truth is suffering.

The truth is that my childhood was profoundly unhappy. It is the "dirty cup".

Equally true is that the sun is shining brightly into the lovely, generous home I share with my wonderful, future wife. Our cats are alternately basking in sun beams and playing. I have a very good cup of tea, the prospect of a delicious breakfast, and the hectic fun of preparing for a party ahead of me today. This is the pure wine of this present moment.

In this moment the wine is pure, precious, and briefly I am able to rest in knowing that the stained cup is irrelevant.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


I was a "good kid" and flew under the radar or went sideways through my family. I quickly learned to how follow the rules, even when they were illogical, and tried to avoid meeting conflict "head on" in order to hold onto things that sustained me - riding my bike, being outside, swimming. At those times I was isolated, which was often, I read and read and read. I think I came out of childhood with a better understanding of how to slay dragons, solve mysteries, and practice the intrigue of a Dumas' hero than how to interact with other people, communicate my needs effectively, or sustain my energy through complex projects.

As an adult I comforted myself with the notion that I never was injured physically, was only struck in the face once, and because no one could ever tell the depth of abuse going on from the outside then maybe it really wasn't so bad. Maybe, just maybe I could pretend it was OK and that the profound memory loss I have around much of my childhood isn't some kind of dramatic indicator of PTSD. If I could just continue to move sideways through the world then no one would know and I would never have to admit the truth of my unhappy childhood to myself or anyone else.

I also ate and comforted myself with food. I relied upon unhealthy food choices, unhealthy portions, and emotion-motivated eating. Those same, "acceptable" coping mechanisms taught to me by my family.

It didn't work. That sideways path may have offered me a way to avoid the truth of the suffering, but I wore in the pounds I carried. That extra 140+ insulated me from the truth and when I lost it, not intending to discover anything but lowered cholesterol, I lost the ability to hide from the suffering. Maybe if I'd stayed with just studying yoga I could have pulled it off? Probably not, since yoga drives you toward truth as relentlessly as Zen when you practice it deeply. The fourth of the Niyamas in the Yoga Sutras is svadhyaya, deep study of the self as well as spiritual writings.

I know that I will never undo the past. The events that happened can't be made less traumatic, cannot be considered anything but abuse, including the considerable periods of time I was isolated from others. No amount of swimming, zazen, therapy, or cake will erase the past or somehow turn those events into moments of a happy childhood.

I found myself crying a little in the steam room yesterday, realizing that the blue funk I was in was just grief processing through me again. On Wednesday morning I'd done some major processing of an event that had happened when I was 14. Although the work with the new therapist took down the intensity of this memory until it no longer felt like I was being swept up in it like a riptide, it still hurt deeply.

Rather than resist the hurt I feel for myself now, or the profound pain I experienced at 14, I tried to practice acceptance of it. Acceptance that doesn't condone or excuse the cause at all, but rather accepting that it is reasonable and rational for me to feel pain over that event. It will never be something that feels happy or normal, but it can be brought to a point where it just merely aches like an old injury and I don't feel the need to hide it. I can't rewrite history, but I can lean into accepting the pain I feel because of it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Letting Go of (the myth of) a Happy Childhood

In the past week I've started seeing another therapist. No, not a replacement, in addition to the therapist I've been working with for years. The new woman specializes in using EMDR with PTSD, particularly childhood trauma. It is really stressful for me to take this step for all kinds of reasons (talking to a new person, having to honestly look at my childhood & process it, the feeling I don't deserve the tremendous expense of seeing 5 different care professionals, etc.), but it seems like such a necessary choice.

My primary therapist has been working with me to let go of the notion that I had a happy childhood on any level. I'm really fighting this. I can feel myself clinging to the idea that on some level, in some way I must have had a happy childhood. The truth that really I didn't have a happy childhood seems impossible to process. When I try to take it in I feel nauseated, dizzy, hopeless and notice tight pain in my stomach, heart & throat chakras.

That brings us to all the body work. I've started acupuncture again and once again it sets off little emotional bombs within two days of an appointment. I leave feeling rested and have a good day following and then some kind of breakdown. I had a couple of days where I felt utterly worthless and incapable of doing anything well. I had a couple of days where I just felt a lot of grief about my childhood.

After some discussion with all these amazing people who've done body/energetic work with me it is totally clear that there is a deeply somatic component to my PTSD. It is the reason why the cognitive work I do with my primary therapist is oftentimes so slow, so painful and at times feels impossible to learn. There are areas where the traumatic response is so physical, I don't get the negative voice of the Inner Critic so much as I feel the grief, the sensations of worthlessness and shame, in my body. I also am struggling with feeling a lot of shame around the fact that I didn't have a happy childhood, that on some level it was my fault after all.

So, in spite of my absolute resistance to working with another therapist, I am seeing one who specializes in the kind of somatic work with trauma I clearly need. On her advice I've also been trying to be more attentive to a yoga practice combined with regular visits for lap swimming or water exercise and using the steam room at the gym. A combination of burning off some of the energy and tapping into the comfort & safety I feel while in water or in the steam room.

I'm also returning again and again to the sensation of the breath in the body, my first and best known form of zazen. I'm combining this with a body scan to just take inventory as to what is there, not to respond, just to observe. Occasionally I offer in some phrases of Metta practice, but lightly and with less focused attention than I have used.

Monday, May 24, 2010

After the Memorials

I've been to the two memorials for AH in the past couple of weeks. First was a public one that took place the last morning I was in San Francisco. The second one took place for our Sangha the week following. Immediately following each departure something kind of special happened.

First was trying to leave the public memorial at a chapel inside of cemetery grounds set above the Willamette River along a road that wound through cemetery grounds. In leaving CK waved me ahead, calling out, "since you know your way better."

I would then proceed to get the two of us lost. Plus another car behind CK who had the mistaken notion that the person in the lead car (me) would know what they were doing (wrong). So around and around we all went.

At first I was so demoralized by this. Not knowing where I was going. People thinking I should and now I've let them down. All that "Blah, Blah, Blah" of the Inner Critic layered atop my feeling beyond exhausted by the day. I'd slept fitfully, awoke at 4:30 to drive hard, fast, but safely, in order to make it just on time to the service. The incense offering, while beautiful, had me coughing painfully and my whole body ached.

Tears came to my eyes at this indignity of being lost in the cemetery. Soon however, the absurdity of the moment sunk in. Her we all were in our cars, in mourning, and unable to figure how to get away from the memorial chapel. It was as though we were in a comedy.

For several moments, as I tired to sort out the maze of the winding road, I would burst out in loud, helpless laughter.

"How inappropriate" I could hear my Inner Critic remark, perhaps in my Grandmother's voice.

Since I was the only one in the car, and a part of felt like AH would appreciate the absurdity of the moment, the voice didn't take hold. I laughed some more, wiped tears from my eyes and eventually sorted out how to get back onto the bit of winding road that lead out.

The next memorial was a week later for our Sangha. Several members of the women's practice group had decided to read some of AH's poems. I had picked one to read and doing so just depleted me of all the energy I had for the day. I left immediately afterward, feeling crushed, leaving behind the carrier I use for the cupcakes I'd brought, and going home to bed.

On the way home, my face pale and my eyes red from crying, I had to stop and get gas. The light had come on in the car and I didn't want to chance running out. I pulled in and asked the attendant to fill the tank. His face was worn down, he'd seen a lot of living, but his eyes were bright and compassionate.

He came back to ask me if I was alright. I said I'd just been at a friend's memorial service. He asked if she was young or old, was the death expected. I told him she was young and her death was unexpected. He shook his head in sympathy and compassion, said how sorry he was, and he then said he was going wash my windows.

When he came back again he told me his name was Ben and told me a really sad and terrible story of losing his wife of 2 years to a car accident. He found out as the driver of the tow-truck called to the scene to retrieve the vehicles. Truly a tragedy.

Ben made sure I knew that he hadn't told me to cause me more pain at hearing his awful story. He said that he told me so I knew that when he said he was sorry for my loss that he truly understands what it is to loose someone precious. I thanked him for his willingness to share with me, to make sure I felt his compassion for my suffering. He patted my hands with his beat up ones before I left and told me to drive safely.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Thinking About AH in San Francisco

I've been.... Well, awfully busy for someone without a job. Let's see, I've been:

Taking Mom to see the naturopath/Chinese medicine doctor, plus errands, once a week for a few weeks. For those in the PDX Metro area that's from North Portland to Gresham to Lair Hill to Gresham to North Portland. For those for whom that makes no sense, just be assured that it is a lot of driving around. These days exhaust me physically and emotionally, often well into the following day.

I've been working with my Zen community to address the pain trying to practice with them as a vegan has been for CK and I. Trying to improve things for us all. This too is uncomfortable and painful. I feel singled out around being a vegan and experiencing this now reminds me that this sensation was one associated as dangerous as a child. It is very hard work to try and learn that being singled out can be an expression of loving-kindness.

I also have been making art and trying to work in the garden. These things have been really good.

CK and I also started making plans for our wedding ceremony. This is filled with all kinds of exciting emotions, mostly lovely.

Then CK got sick. Then I got it. Then we drove to L.A. to see Peter Gabriel perform, I was still quite sick. A day there and then driving up to San Francisco with a friend while CK took a flight back home to get to work. I was still sick and slept much of the drive up I5. The drive through the mountains, away from the Interstate was beautiful.

It was outside of Gilroy, CA, when I got the news that AH had died uxpectedly.

And it hit me in the chest, between the heart and the throat chakras. Hard, cold, dark, painful. Today's massage tried to work some of it loose.

Where I got the news the cellular signal wasn't great and CK was still in the air, flying home. Besides, I felt like I wanted to be stopped, not driving, somewhere safe to try and convey the news. I didn't phone her right away, waiting until I was parked outside my friends' house in San Francisco, alone to phone her. Ultimately she felt disappointed I hadn't left a message earlier. I just felt so stunned at the moment I got the news, I just froze.

I also started to think of my mother and all the challenges to her life I have witnessed, including those she dangers she chose. These memories found me as I drove alone out of Sunnyvale up I280 after dropping my friend off for a short visit there.

So there I was, in San Francisco, staying with one of my very closest friends, on vacation. There's really nothing could be solved by rushing home and KK, the friend I'm traveling has plans she is looking forward to as well. Heck, I have plans and many friends who enjoy my company who have made plans to spend time with me.

No amount of DO-ing will fix anything at all. There is this dichotomy of new pain, old pain, feelings of inadequacy, and a holiday in a city I really love to visit with people who love me. Just staying put, letting life tick on forward. Trying to let myself just enjoy the company in the present moment, the present place.

In the mornings there I woke to the constancy of traffic noise, the busyness of San Francisco. I'd lay in my friend's office with my mind thinking about AH, my Mother and CK. In and out, back and forth. Having been coughing hard for nearly a week I found it even harder to settle my mind by watching the breath because of the painful way my breath moved in my body.

It was a quieter visit than many. I was still coughing badly and conscious of the sorrow I felt. I didn't feel capable of rushing. I mostly rested and relaxed in the mornings. A bit later in the day my friend and I'd go out. One day to SFMOMA and the second afternoon he drove us across the bay to Berkeley. Each day was quieter and more reflective.

It was in the glorious, golden light of evening that streamed across Berkeley that I was just struck at how happy I am - how lucky, how fortunate.

Right there with that simple joy I felt welling up in me was this hard, sharp point of AH's death. My mind returning again and again to her smile, sometimes so sly, and so often gleaming in her eyes with mischievousness. Her hugs, the warmth I felt in each and every one of them. Her curiosity about life which makes her death so hard to process. I nearly felt silly, but I kept thinking how I'll miss her wonderful sweaters & scarves and how seeing her in them often brought a lightness to my heart when it felt heavy.

I commented to SJ as we walked that there is this strangeness in practice where we learn to accept that we feel all of these things at the same time. If we are present to everything there in front of us, it is all in there together. The awful and the glorious.

There is the unspeakable grief that sticks in the space between my heart and throat chakras, stealing my voice, incomprehensibly intertwined with a gratitude & happiness that is too precious for words. All there, all together. I noted that I could just sit down with a thump into that dark sorrow, or rush back pointlessly to Portland, but if I did so I'd be turning my back on the dear friend with me that moment and the incredible beauty surrounding us.

So I was simply happy strolling across Berkeley in the evening light. Choosing that brightness and wrapping it around the jagged edges. There's nothing that makes that sharpness go away, but there is some cushion between the points in allowing myself to be present to the joy that exists simultaneously alongside them. I'm grateful to have so many loving people in my life, so many safe havens where no one minds that I go from tears to laughter within moments.

Good-by, AH, I will miss you.
May we all be at ease.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Joy and Creativity

It has been a long several weeks. CK and I have met with two members of our Sangha Harmony Committee about the feelings around our vegan practice not being recognized or included. For me these meetings have highlighted just how terribly uncomfortable group dynamics can be for me. I feel utterly at a loss around them at times. Having moved over and over again throughout my childhood, really up until the time I moved out in my early 20s, I really never learned the knack of groups. Whenever I started to fit in at all, we moved, as it was I didn't fit in well with a lot of peers to begin with.

The 17th I got to play host to a day of creativity for our Sangha. A spring community day celebrating Earth Day and the Earthstore Bodhisattva. It was small, intimate, joyful, silly, and simple. I put myself in charge of the food, carefully labeling things with known allergens for one of the participants and items that weren't vegan (only one thing that had dairy). Friends came with a box filled with vegan cupcakes, which was really touching. I had time to sit down, enjoy making a Jizo shrine, sharing lunch, and listening to stories.

Although I was tired at the end of the day I felt contented and connected by it. This was just the kind of sangha activity I needed! It was especially sweet when a Dharma sister, who has been part of the Harmony meetings, later emailed me to say that in the evening it had occurred to her the mindful attention I'd paid to her dietary needs. How having all the food labeled so she knew what to take was something that could be felt as an expression of being loved and cared for. It helped her to understand why this is so important to me.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Vegan Practice

This past Sunday CK and I met with two members of our sangha that are part of the Harmony Committee. It was exceedingly painful to open up to them about how I'm feeling excluded. Despite reassurances to the contrary, just trying to address it leaves me feeling as though I'm breaking the vow to not speak ill of the sangha. It was sobering and upsetting to acknowledge that the lack of respect I feel as a vegan is something that has kept me from feeling safe and included for the entire time I've been practicing with my community.

Monday evening one of my teachers phoned me at home. I found it a little ironic that he rang just as I got up from sitting zazen. He had wanted to touch base with me, having heard that I was experiencing a lot of unease lately.

We talked a little about my feelings of being excluded as a vegan in the community. He said to me that he felt it was important that our community feel very inclusive. He'd also commented about seeing the ethical choice I make being a vegan and that as a teacher he feels pleased to see a student exceed him in this area.

I believe it was the first time one of my teachers actually discussed my veganism with me. Acknowledging that it is an ethical choice that is the foundation of my practice. It was good to have it really seen as that important. Some part of it did feel painful, my wishing it could have been acknowledged this way, without my having to express how much suffering this has been causing me.

What has struck me the past few days are these thoughts:

Being vegan is not an allergy, but it feels like it is treated as such. This difference is accommodated but not celebrated as a deep expression of practice.

Our community is built upon a deep respect for people who's sobriety is an essential part of their practice. I feel like

I feel terribly guilty for not having spoken up sooner. Had I vocalized these feelings to my Zen community sooner than perhaps the environment would be more inviting to CK now.

Although I am hurting tremendously about my Mom, it does not lessen the importance of addressing this. I am not the only vegan who's felt excluded at times and it has been quite painful to me to see how this has impacted CK.

Although I appreciate that people in my community, including one of my teachers, seeing my veganism as being further along the path of compassion for all living beings, I don't just want to feel complimented. I feel that some change in our community is important. Just compliments have left me feeling like I have been - left out.

I also appreciate the suggestions that I show people through cooking how easy making vegan food is. However, just making cupcakes hasn't solved the problem. I've been doing this for years and although people appreciate my cupcakes, it hasn't cultivated mindfulness around this being my practice. Those same people might very well bring a non-vegan dish to a practice group that has asked that vegan dishes be brought.

I also acknowledge that people in my community may not understand that the lack of options around vegan food is seen as alienating and disrespectful to me. At the same time I have to recognize that for now that alienation feels rather painful.

Through all the busyness and discomfort I am trying to find my way along the thin thread of practice.

The Opposite of My Mother

Mom was having a bad day yesterday. She tried phoning the house at 10:30 to say I shouldn't come out, but I'd been gone all morning and was already headed out the Gresham. She didn't answer the door right away and I could hear her dog whining a little at the door. When she finally did I could tell immediately she wasn't alright. Her blood sugar was a little low and she was very nauseated, immediately lying down on the sofa with the crackers she was trying to eat.

I'd picked up a gluten, soy & sugar free muffin from Sweetpea for her as part of my morning errands and put it on a plate for her. As she started to try and eat that I took out her trash and put her outgoing mail in the drop. I went up to the office for her apartment complex and had them make a key for me. I also had them put my contact information down for emergencies since Mom's husband is sometimes up on Larch Mountain and could miss a call quite easily.

When I got back to the apartment she'd managed to eat the whole muffin and felt a little better for it. Mom hasn't been very forthcoming with details, so I tried to get a few from her about her health. Aside from just wanting to have a more complete picture of what is going on with her health, CK and I are hoping that an early October date for our wedding will be soon enough for her to be there.

Mom ended up saying something about it not mattering. She is so happy for CK & I and she loves CK. She doesn't mind it if she has to miss our wedding. Mom ended this exchange with the comment that if she had to feel the way she was feeling at that moment for many months she'd rather just die now.

And it hurt. It really hurt. She totally missed the point that maybe we were trying to have a wedding when she was well enough to be there for my sake, for our sake. That we wanted her to be there. I left pretty soon after this exchange to let her get some rest.

Later in the day she phoned me and we talked for a while. I said I wanted her to make sure I could speak with her doctors. Ultimately what I found out was that after being informed about the cancer Mom has cut off most of her contact with the doctors. She was referred to an oncologist, but felt like she was being pressured to sign up for tests, chemotherapy and all the things she doesn't want to go through. She hasn't done much of anything since, falling back into a typical behavior for her - throwing up her hands and refusing to deal with the situation.

I ended up talking her through some things. EB had advised me that Mom is entitled to ask for a hospice team and CK noted that Mom should be referred to a palliative care specialist. She's been given a very serious diagnosis and she shouldn't feel that she has to choose "treatment". I told her on Thursday we could look at some things at Kaiser. She also agreed to try acupuncture if I would help her find someone.

Once again I found myself stepping into the role of the "grown up" in dealing with my Mother. I've been the adult in our relationship most of my life. Even now we are each falling into the roles we know best.

I feel pretty beat up today. It hurts seeing her suffer, the familiarity of it has never lessened the pain of it. The inevitability of eventual death for everyone doesn't in anyway soften the blow. Her behaving exactly as I expect her to, exactly as she's always done doesn't make it any less painful. There's a part of me that just wants to scream at her and ask why she cannot be the grown up at least once in my life.

But she can't be the adult. If she couldn't at the rare times she was healthy, to expect her to do it when she is dying isn't very reasonable. As painful as it is for me to have to once again take care of things, especially the arrangements for her approaching decline & death, it feels wrong to mimic her. I really would rather throw up my hands, claim despair and not deal with all of this, but I have always done best in life when I choose to behave the opposite of my Mother.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Weight of Her Regret

It has really hit me the past couple of weeks just how ill my Mom is. It wasn't that I was truly in denial, but just a real depth of grief that I've been feeling. I think the bittersweet energy of getting ready for a trip to the Oregon coast this past weekend, the sense of urgency around taking trips with her while she can still enjoy them is part of it. Another was overhearing her say to someone at a gallery that she was dying.

What occurred to me is that I've never heard my Mom make that kind of admission. She's always met cancer, or her other ills, head on and ready for a fight. Her response has always been that she's going to beat this latest assault to her body. Now she doesn't say that, she says that she is dying. She's does offer that she believes in miracles, so who knows what could happen, but that is usually an aside to saying she's finally, right now, alright with dying.

The cancer, somewhat at the top of her stomach, is late into Stage 2. This usually means it has spread to multiple layers of the stomach and/or the lymph nodes. It is causing her discomfort, nausea, and vomiting, particularly if she eats things that are difficult for the stomach to process. Because of these problems she's fighting some malnourishment already.

Last week CK and I picked up Mom and took her to a small place south of Yachats. She had been a little worried at first about what she'd eat, but finally decided she was up for trying new things. I spent much of last week cooking several dishes that were vegan and all soy-free except for the chick pea salad, which had Vegenaise in it. Mom has at times been a little sensitive to soy, although it has been hard to pin down.

We noticed she did pretty well with small meals. I made her a fruit smoothie each morning and added some brown rice protein. She enjoyed our vegan, some raw, dishes very much and didn't seem to get sick from eating them. She did end up eating too much of the lentil/walnut loaf with mashed potatoes & gravy, this made her somewhat nauseated, but she was alright after laying down to rest for a while.

One afternoon we ate out and she ordered a hamburger with bacon and cheese. We didn't say anything, at this juncture it seems rather pointless to bug her. After, back at the inn, CK and I went out onto the rocky shore and Mom lay down. She told us later that this overly indulgent meal ended up making her really nauseated and she eventually vomited. I was relieved when later that day she was able to eat and enjoy a tostada with homemade, refried black beans on a baked corn tortilla.

There she was, very literally made ill by her bad choice and regretting it. I would later point out, after she was feeling better and able to hear it, that the animal proteins and fats are probably more difficult for her stomach to deal with, especially in such a large serving. I don't think a vegan diet will save my Mom's life at all, but I did see in the long weekend that the smaller, vegan meals we're easier on her body.

I later recalled listening to her order that hamburger, hearing the mix of defiance and guilt in her voice. She knew she was doing the wrong thing for her body, but she didn't want to feel like she was somehow denying herself. My Mom's choices so often seem like a child is making them, a child who wants to be indulged and doesn't give a damn about any potential consequences. I've watched this pattern with her again and again, in so many different variations.

Like so many things it seems pointless, cruel even, to shine a light too brightly on her continually making poor choices. Once or twice something she said triggered a painful memory and I felt angry at her for trying to rewrite events in my life, trying to cast herself in a more favorable light. It would strike me how childish the behavior was in many ways, like the bad choices about food, and how sad. The anger would die down pretty quickly I noticed, leaving behind layers and layers of sadness.

I'm sad my Mom is dying. I'll think about something, like what she's doing for Christmas, and it will occur to me that she could be gone before then. I'm sad for the anger I still feel over many of the selfish, mindless choices she's made, but it seems so trivial to bring them up when I watch her and see the layers of pain she's dealing with. I'm sad for all the poor choices she's made and the many ways those choices have left her regretful and unhappy; I can see the weight of the unhappiness and regret on her.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Zen Vegan

I haven't written a lot about the struggles in my practice with my Zen community around my veganism. Instead of writing about it publicly I've just reminded and reminded people about the need for vegan food, brought my own treats, and have practiced tolerance & patience when I feel hurt. When people engage me with questions I openly talk about the way in which I feel my veganism is intrinsically linked with my practice.

No group, no community is ever perfect. Everyone is unique, struggling, and trying to make their way. It is inevitable that we step on each others toes once in a while, so to speak. In this way Maezumi Roshi likened sangha to a bag a rocks. It is by rubbing and grating against one another that we are polished.

I'm feeling rather over-rubbed and raw right now about my sangha. I've spent over 4 and a half years facing the discomfort of trying to feel like I belong to a community at all. One of my extra-honed skills from surviving trauma is my ability to find nourishment even in environments that aren't supportive or perhaps even toxic. I can adapt and find something that is beneficial almost all of the time. I have managed to do that when I've felt hurt by my community and in staying I've learned a lot that has helped me so far.

Around my veganism it has become increasingly tiring to stay, to smile and remind, to continuously make food because I can't assume something will be there, and to patiently listen to comments I find insensitive, at best . I accept that being vegan is separating myself, stepping away from commonly held beliefs and emotions surrounding the use of animals and refusing to take part. I don't feel that my veganism is an act of fear or anger, rather I see it as an act of deep compassion. Living peace, feeding peace for the sake of ALL living beings.

However, it is hard and draining to be out on the edge. I have found it increasingly hard in my Zen community because I feel that a spiritual community should strive toward inclusiveness. I often feel like my veganism might be accommodated (but not always, not reliably unless I remind), but I quite often do not feel included. I've written about this before, it was something I very strongly felt while attending a special function last summer and it hasn't felt like it has improved much.

I also have been watching how this lack of inclusion has been hurting CK and it has affected me a lot. The lack of support in our community, from our teachers, around being vegan is painful to her. Honestly, it affects me a lot as I hate seeing her hurt. It makes me look at my tendency to dig in and find some, small hospitable corner for myself, despite an uncomfortable environment, and question it hard. Am I clinging to the parts of my community that I do find insightful because I afraid of exposing myself to something new and have worked too long at what little comfort I have? Am I ignoring the pain I feel because I don't want to be judged as a bad student?

In the years I've been practicing I find that my sangha still must be reminded all the time if I am going to be attending something. If I forget to do this I will surely be left out of whatever special treat someone has brought. I've missed out on the special treats for teas, celebrations for teacher's accomplishments, and the fancy desserts served on Sundays at the monastery. I've also heard countless jokes about people being addicted to cheese, how veganism is just too hard, and the like. Even more painful are the times when people refer to our teachers, including Dogen, as a reason why it is just fine to consume animal products. I hear these types of comments from every level in my community, from priests to lay people alike, and they are really quite painful to me.

When I've missed out on a treat I've spent a lot of time reminding myself that I don't need a treat. That I'm trying to not gain back the 100+ pounds I once carried and a treat is just unnecessary calories. That only works a small portion of the time, if at all. Deep down, where it feels like the response of a small child, I hurt and feel unwelcome.

During retreat practice many of the most painful moments, times when I felt things went completely off the rails for me, have been triggered around not being included. Not having the same food at dinner, not being given very much of a specially set aside food, spending an entire week picking blackberries but the resulting pies contained animal products, and not getting a special treat with tea after a full day of meditation. I've learned, painfully, to bring treats I keep in the drawer by my bed. On some level they help, the 4-year-old who awakes with howls of fear and pain is somewhat comforted by the fact that there is a treat, but the pain of not being included weighs on me.

Despite my bringing my veganism up repeatedly to my teachers I don't feel a lot of engagement from them about it. I talk about how it is the very foundation for my practice, how I feel compassion in nurtured, but feels like something that is just shrugged off. My weight loss has been looked at as this remarkable accomplishment, but the fact that it is tied to my veganism doesn't feel to me as though it is regarded as important and is even brushed aside.

Tonight is a meeting with my practice cohort and I'm dreading it. Although one of the students who leads it now reminds people to bring a vegan dish, I am preparing myself to be calm when I see that someone has forgotten or brought an animal product anyway. Last month it was a bowl of cheese next to the salad. It honestly frustrated and pained me to see it there, like somehow the meal would be so incomplete if there wasn't some kind of animal product there. Most likely there won't be vegan cookies for tea unless I go to the market and buy some on the way there.

I was talking about my Zen practice a lot on Monday when I saw GM. I had burst out that some of my worst moments related to my PTSD, the most awful flashbacks and raw pain have shown up during meditation & retreat practice. How many of those moments have been triggered by not being included around food. I don't think I'd ever told her this before. She shook her head at me in amazement and asked me why I keep going.

The painful answer was that right now what is keeping me going is a sense of responsibility and bad-student guilt. I am coordinating a much-needed community day next month, preparing a yoga workshop for August, and I volunteered to create a practice cohort for sangha members who identify as queer. It is a group that we lack and are very much needing, but it is hard to feel enthusiastic when I feel unsupported in what I consider the very foundation of my practice.