Gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Normal

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

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

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

I pointed to the grief.

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

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

That was “normal”.

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

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

Just a Tuesday

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

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

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

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

More Metta

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

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

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

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

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

A Gift of Sharing Pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Brightness of Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chanting and Breathing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sustaining Light in Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Good is Revisiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Merely Need to Shine

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

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

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

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

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


The Buddha’s Last Instruction
by Mary Oliver

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

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