Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.

31Jan/100

Art Stretch

I made a couple of artist trading cards this evening featuring some of the brushwork I was learning at Great Vow earlier this month. I'd been quite taken with the cursive writing of the character for "Ink". Something about it reminded me of the twisty, circuitous route we take on the path of awakening, a "meandering lifeline" as poet David Wagoner writes in his poem "Getting There".

This evening, in a total break from everything else I'd been doing this weekend with the thinking/planning brain, I got out the box of water colors and the cheap brushes. I practiced once on some scrap paper to get the feel of the making the much smaller paper and carefully painted two cards of watercolor paper with the cursive character for "Ink". Since these are for a trade I included some lyrics from a song by the Indigo Girls about crooked lines.

I feel very anxious about these two little pieces. They are so unlike anything I've created yet. To me they seem quite flat compared to the layers and levels I use in my paper collage pieces. CK really liked them and I'm ignoring my Inner Critic who says that CK only likes them because she's biased.

Even though I feel great anxiety about creating, I deeply appreciate the opportunity and support to explore art.

Here's the whole poem by David Wagoner I referenced earlier.

Getting There

You take a final step and, look, suddenly
You're there. You've arrived
At the one place all your drudgery was aimed for:
This common ground
Where you stretch out, pressing your cheek to sandstone.
What did you want
To be? You'll remember soon. You feel like tinder
Under a burning glass,
A luminous point of change. The sky is pulsing
Against the cracked horizon,
Holding it firm till the arrival of stars
In time with your heartbeats.
Like wind etching rock, you've made a lasting impression
On the self you were
By having come all this way through all this welter
Under your own power,
Though your traces on a map would make an unpromising
Meandering lifeline.
What have you learned so far? You'll find out later,
Telling it haltingly
Like a dream, that lost traveler's dream
Under the last hill
Where through the night you'll take your time out of mind
To unburden yourself
Of elements along elementary paths
By the break of morning.
You've earned this worn-down, hard, incredible sight
Called Here and Now.
Now, what you make of it means everything,
Means starting over:
The life in your hands is neither here nor there
But getting there,
So you're standing again and breathing, beginning another
Journey without regret
Forever, being your own unpeaceable kingdom,
The end of endings.

And while I'm at it, the song I used the lyrics of is 'Closer to Fine'

Closer To Fine

I'm trying to tell you something about my life
Maybe give me insight between black and white
The best thing you've ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously, it's only life after all
Well darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
And lightness has a call that's hard to hear
I wrap my fear around me like a blanket
I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it, I'm crawling on your shore.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

I went to see the doctor of philosophy
With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee
He never did marry or see a B-grade movie
He graded my performance, he said he could see through me
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper
And I was free.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

I stopped by the bar at 3 a.m.
To seek solace in a bottle or possibly a friend
I woke up with a headache like my head against a board
Twice as cloudy as I'd been the night before
I went in seeking clarity.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

We go to the bible, we go through the workout
We read up on revival and we stand up for the lookout
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in a crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine
The closer I am to fine
The closer I am to fine

30Jan/100

Plays & Poetry

CK and I went to see a production of Snow Falling on Cedars tonight at the Portland Center Stage courtesy of my haiku. I'd written about it earlier, when I'd found out about winning their contest on Twitter for the best winter themed haiku, but tonight we actually went. The production was really very good, very well staged and acted. We left with an intention to see more performances there.

CK said she is all for my continuing to win contests with writing. This may actually be the first time my writing has yielded something quite like this and it feels special. Since it is Ango, since I'm being mindful appreciating my life, I'm am careful to note the way part of me wants to pull away from really feeling the accomplishment, the desire to minimize, draw attention away from the accomplishment.

"It is just a little bit of haiku."

They were very good tickets. We enjoyed ourselves very much. I'm just going to leave it at that and appreciate the evening and how my writing provided it.

29Jan/100

The Body That Practices

I finally brought my notes together into a rough draft of the workshop on Metta Yoga, "Union with Loving-Kindness". I've been thinking about this for so long and tonight a question from a Dharma Sister wondering if I'd set a date in a few weeks reminded me I needed to not loose focus. I'd brought up to Hogen that I was deeply committed to teaching this workshop, that I see it is so necessary to cultivate love and compassion for the body that practices.

Once I started writing down times and what practice went where I was surprised at how quickly I brought it together. A morning introducing Metta practice before moving into Asana to warm the body and open the hips before resting. Sharing lunch, including some time to just eat, perhaps even 10 minutes of silent eating before people talk. Then gather people back together for discussion about the body, how we view it, how we compare it, and how we stop that cycle in favor of cultivating gratitude and compassion for it. Deep focus on Pranayama after discussion before moving into another hour of Asana practice to open the heart and focus the mind. Time to practice Metta during meditation and then ending in full Savasana.

There it was, a full day of yoga built around Loving-Kindness practice, cultivating love for our body. A part of me feels like a big fake. I have a lot of days where I rush to put my clothes on, even more disappointed with my body after weight loss than I was when I weighed 290 pounds! I certainly have times when I feel entirely unqualified to teach anything and no one wants to hear about my experiences.

And then I'm brought back to center. I become present to my body, that which supports me even on days like today when I don't feel very good. I've become better at recognizing when I need to rely upon the loving support and encouragement from CK, my friends, my Dharma family, and even my Mom. These people are all my Sangha, the good company of people seeking the Way. Like falling backwards into the thousand arms of AvalokiteĊ›vara, I let myself feel the support of all of those hands of my Sangha and through that find belief in the truth they see in me in those moments I am unable to see it myself.

I am grateful for the belief of my Sangha and for my body which supports my practice, the Sagha of me.

28Jan/100

Ango Appreciation Art

A friend from my Zen community has decided that for Ango he will collect stones, two per day picked up as he goes about his routine, and use them to make a small stupa in his meditation space. It coincides with an art project he's doing to create a piece that is built over 14 weeks and for his is a wonderful combination of his spiritual and creative practices.

I immediately was inspired to consider an Ango art project for myself. I went back to my vows and my teacher's direction to appreciate my life. How could I incorporate this into an art project? This thing that I get stuck on, spinning around the things like about my life and trying to ignore the things that hurt. The "I appreciate everything but THAT" rut.

Each day of Ango, starting with today, I will write or otherwise express something I appreciate about my life onto a piece of paper. It could be one word, it could be a collage. I am considering making a sort of assemblage mobile with them, FL even commented upon how interesting it would be to watch the piece move and shift. Maybe I can use them all assembled in one large collage.

Tonight I'm going with what I'm most appreciating right this moment - my warm, cozy, cheerful home I share with CK and the cats. She is typing on her computer, the cats are being goofy, the heat came on a moment ago. How can I not appreciate this life?

A haiku for tonight's piece of paper (a piece out a gift of paper from a Dharma sister):

Cozy, sacred home.
Alive with Love, cats, color.
I know gratitude.

25Jan/100

Appreciate Your Life

Ango starts up this week and I'm entering it with four commitments.

  • I vow to appreciate my life.
  • I vow to sit twice a day.
  • I vow to incorporate bowing practice into each day, at least 9 bows.
  • I vow to be gentle with myself.

That first one is a biggie and a repeat addition to the list. It is what Hogen gave me two years ago and I'm still milling about this one. I came up again at Great Vow on Sunday during Sanzen with Hogen.

How do I work with the shame I suddenly see so clearly after all that acupuncture. Horrible gripping stuff. Feeling like the abuse I experienced was my fault. Particularly the sexual abuse, all of the times that happened in my lifetime.

The answer I got was to continue to do Metta practice for myself. Hogen was glad I've returned to his suggestion to do this practice while facing a mirror, looking at myself. I find it far easier to stay with this practice for myself now and am finding that watching myself in the mirror isn't as panic inducing as it once was.

The rest of the answer was to appreciate my whole life. To be mindful of the present moment and appreciate it fully. Appreciate the whole of my life. Yes, the abuse happened but I lived and thrived in spite of it. I watched the disordered ways around me and without support chose peace health. It shaped me into the person I am now, the person CK loves, the person who teaches others yoga, and is passionate about cultivating more Love in this world.

It may have been awful. The grief and anger will always be a part of me. I'll always have times when my memories are triggered and a flood of fear, pain and shame will rush in. When it happens I just need to hang on, breathe and not shove it away. I need to acknowledge that it is reasonable for those emotions to arise and to comfort them. It is way easier said than done.

All of it serves to make me very present and compassionate when another person tells me that they too were abused as a child. I can offer sympathy, reassurance and humor when someone tells me that they had an emotional breakdown, after all that happens to me several times a year. It softens my heart and opens my ears to the cries of the world so that I may offer my compassion outward.

Aside from all those really big, grand statements I have been taking time to stop and just really feel how much I appreciate the life I have now. When I'm not feeling overwhelmed by the shame and fear I am very mindful of the amazing happiness I feel. Just working, studying yoga, making meals and sitting zazen surrounded by insistent cats - it is a wonderful life.

21Jan/100

Gratitude

Today was a pretty rich day. On one hand it was somewhat frazzled feeling. It also had these amazing moments in them to remind me to be grateful for and appreciate my life.

This morning I received deep reminder about how grateful I am for my ability to make wise, compassionate choices in my life, particularly in choosing to be vegan. The world is full of people who have very few choices, particularly about what food they it. If they eat. Those people are as far away as the other side of the world and as near as your neighborhood.

I dished up a very nice salad, made from vegetables donated by local markets, for people at Blanchet House, a shelter downtown. This is the second time my team at work has done this, volunteering to help serve meals at lunch, and I was struck again at my good fortune.

I am in my own home, in good health, employed, share my life with a loving partner, have sufficient income to pay my bills, travel, and choose what I want to eat. This connection today to people who are depending upon benefits for food and find that they run out of what they do get too quickly, or people who are homeless - people for whom these meals are a lifeline, they get what is served to everyone. Like oryoki, the people there might not choose to eat all that is served, but everyone is served the same food.

Several times throughout the day, especially when back at my desk eating my meal of steamed broccoli, grilled tofu, steamed buns & salad, how grateful I am. How precious it is to choose what to eat. It feels to me that it is so very precious a gift that it cannot be squandered on food that comes from the suffering of other sentient beings.

Cooking miso, udon soup for us for dinner was a joy. Making food often is joyful or grounding, or both. It is very meditative for me and tonight it was such a gift. To touch the vegetables, the pots and pans, appreciate the aroma of the dashi I'd made last night and the rich tang of the locally crafted miso. Again, so precious to choose compassionately.

Later at the Dharma center I had the chance to connect with someone about sesshin practice, painful childhoods, and Zen. Another chance for me to openly talk about being hurt and thriving in spite of it. I also acknowledged the tremendously painful parts of my sesshin last April. I was open and honest about these things and once again, to my surprise, I didn't explode. In fact there was connection and more gratitude. Positive reinforcement that telling is good.

And will all that gratitude I am off to a retreat this weekend with all-around amazing Zen scholar, artist, and translator, Kaz Tanahashi. My first event at Great Vow where speaking will be allowed and there will be art! Lessons in Zen calligraphy for the next three days. Another precious gift in my life.

19Jan/100

Mom’s Pastor, Marriage Rights, and I

Mom was in and now back out of the hospital again over the weekend. Has made for some rather up & down energy for me. I reminded myself, as Hogen has so often reminded me, that at least this is a stress I'm rather adept at dealing with. Mom's been sick that majority of my life. I've been to so many doctor's appointments and into so many hospitals over the years. It never is comfortable, but the knot of anxiety in my throat is familiar, known.

Sunday night we went up to visit her after having been out at Great Vow all day for service, a Jukai ceremony, lunch, and CK met with DT. It was a very long day and we were a bit tired up at the hospital. Mom's pastor and his wife showed up to visit her. I am uncomfortable around him, perhaps even more so these days. He represents a stress that is more new, but it brings up old, familiar pain.

During Mom's wedding ceremony a few years ago her pastor made a point to include his opinion on marriage. As we all stood there, I was Mom's maid of honor, her pastor went on about the importance of marriage being between a man and a woman. It brought pain to the entire day for me.

Right now with the trail of Proposition 8 in California I feel even more sensitive to this issue. Sitting there on Sunday with the person I love, but am constitutionally barred from marrying, I was aware of anger and dislike arising. These stress emotions take me right back to childhood feelings of not fitting in, not being wanted. Old stress, new triggers.

When I am around this man I try to stay polite, not giving rise to the anger I feel around this man, just watching it inside of me. I also try to focus on the compassion and concern he shows my Mom. In some ways it is more confounding and painful that this compassionate, loving person is so wrapped up in his own fear and judgment that he vehemently denies CK and I the right to the same benefits he enjoys.

I don't linger too long in my Mom's decision to stay with this congregation despite knowing how they feel about me and my partner. I know she's made a point to tell many people, including the pastor, that they are being narrow-minded, yet still some hurt arises for me that she continues to share spiritual practice with these people. I can feel the angry hurt of a child who feels abandoned, betrayed arise in this.

These feelings make this one of those times when I recognize that the most important thing I can do is Metta practice, to offer loving-kindness to myself and to CK. If all I can do is be polite to him and mindful of the need to offer love to the hurt I feel, then that is OK. When it doesn't hurt quite as keenly I can even try to offer him loving-kindness in hopes that if he is freed from his fear he won't feel the need to judge and deny couples like CK & I.

Love, Good for Everyone
12Jan/100

And 2010 Is Off!

It has been a very busy several days. I've been working on a few more cards (ATCs) and will post pictures soon. I realize a recap is going to make me feel tired...

Last Friday my leg tattoo was finished in 2.5 hours of intensity. It still aches and throbs a bit today. I did yoga at home and it felt alright, kneeling down or being in child's pose is still pretty uncomfortable and I won't be doing meditation using my kneeling bench anytime soon! It is beautiful, striking, and impressive. And I can't wait until summer!

On Friday Mom was moved into the regular cardiovascular unit and out of the ICU. What a relief! She was doing much better by the time we got there after having a bite to eat. We stayed and talked for a while then came home to get some rest.

Saturday CK was up very early to help our Zen community set up the 12-Hour Chant for Peace event we were organizing! She suggested that I sleep in to get some rest after the body-stress of the tattoo. This also meant I could bring goodies from Sweetpea Baking Company when I came later in the morning!

It was a very powerful event. Chanting, walking & chanting, and the space of being with community in the room where AM had set up snacks and chili to sustain every one's practice. I got to chant in Latin, which reminded of how much I love chanting in Latin!

In the midst of this amazing space of compassion, peace, love and community I got the news that Mom was discharged from the hospital! They really felt she had been so sick (Norovirus) on the cruise last month that she hadn't been able to keep enough of her heart medications in her. This caused her congestive heart failure to flare up very badly, but it was quickly brought back under control.

I stayed and chanted more after this news. It was just such a good space to have that news and just be able to be grateful for my Mom. I spend so much time having to really be mindful and practice when I'm with her, not to mention be aware of my painful, conflicted emotions at times. What a double-relief to just be present to happiness that she could go home.

Sunday CK went back to Sweetpea Baking Company for a waffle-tastic brunch. Back at the house she worked and I worked on the art projects. In the afternoon we met with a handful of friends in the Portland technology community and got the Open Source Bridge conference rolling for 2010. 3 hours later and we've got things off to a start. I feel pretty excited to get to be a part of this.

Dinner, laundry, zazen and talking to Mom. We had an interesting encounter with a woman at New Season's while picking up a couple of things after the meeting, but that actually deserves a separate post. Suddenly it was time for bed, the weekend had flown by.

Monday I took the car in for general maintenance and worked on some on-g0ing projects. We have an upgrade going in the beginning on next month so I have additional meetings to discuss release plans and things like that. Some other rather interesting things happened too, but they need time to percolate before I write about them.

Suddenly it is Tuesday night. It felt good doing yoga at home tonight. Sun salutations, some core muscle strengtheners, and some twists. Felts some shifts while doing it and since. I made a marvelous bean and winter veggie stew tonight. Once again in a massive amount. I must have been a tenzo in a former life!

7Jan/100

Mom

My Mom is in the hospital again. The Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit, or CVICU, to be exact. Her congestive heart failure is acting up again, she's gained nearly 20 pounds of fluid in 10 days, she's been having chest pains, they're checking to see if she's had a mild heart attack, and they may be doing an angiogram tomorrow or Saturday.

For close to three-quarters of my life I've lived with the fear of her death. Cancer, repeatedly, diabetes, pneumonia, and heart problems. On my maternal side most of the women have had heart problems. That I've avoided them speaks strongly to how much of that risk is lifestyle.

It was an upsetting call. The shock of her being in the hospital is not the hard part anymore. As I was trying to talk to her they were attempting to do a blood draw from her hand. After many rounds of chemotherapy and IVs my Mom's veins are pretty shot. Combined with her arthritis and fibromyalgia it means that the blood draw, which apparently entirely missed the vein the first attempt, was very painful. Hearing my Mom crying out in pain left me feeling like a small, helpless child.

Once again we weren't at zazen, instead we had Vietnamese food and went up to the hospital. We sat and chatted with her until nearly 10pm and she seemed very relieved & pleased we had come. He husband wasn't there tonight, something that prompted a long discussion between CK and I about how we would handle things if one of us were in the hospital.

I'm struck by my Mom's unhappiness and unhealthiness. I cannot recall my Mom being content, being happy. Maybe moments, but the discontent is always close at hand. I find it terribly sad sitting with her now, seeing how unhappy she's been her whole life.

I hope she improves. I hope in some way I can do my part to maintain this relationship we have. In the short run - I hope we can take her to the beach for the weekend in March for her birthday. Maybe it will be another small pocket of happiness and contentment for her.

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6Jan/100

Holding

I've attended several yoga classes in the past few weeks, about two a week. It has been a real dive back into this level of effort as the classes are much more intermediate than the ones I'd been teaching at Dishman and they push me more than I'll push myself at home usually. Tonight's really wore me out, but I didn't feel any of the nausea I used to.

The acupuncture has really shook things up, out, and shifted things around. The chronic trigger points in my hips are gone. If they get triggered again, I know I can make an appointment with JS and get that energy out of there! I am still weak in that area, but pushing into that weakness doesn't cause me intense pain.

What I'm aware of now, after IW worked on me at the end of last month, was the tightness in my side. I think of myself as very open, very flexible in my side body and able to breathe very deeply. And yet this are is tight, bound up.

I hold my breath a lot. Yoga has really made we aware of it, as has meditation. When I'm anxious, I hold my breath. Angry, hold the breath. About to cry, very tightly held in breath. I learned this as a child as a method of sometimes holding in emotions that would get me punished or out of some wish to become invisible. What kind of yucky energy is caught there in that holding of the breath?!

I saw the pain the hips as being a black/gray sludgy, thick energy that sat over searing hot, orange and red energy. Bringing awareness to my sides I can sense some of that sludgy stuff there too. Less than the hips, but similar.

The horrible shame that arises I'm realizing is that dangerous, terrifying, burning angry energy below the sludge. Not entirely sure how to work with it yet. I'm trying the practice of loving-kindness while looking at myself in the mirror. I've also started visualizing myself as a young child, sitting closely and lovingly with that child-me, and telling her over and over that she is not to blame, that she doesn't need to carry that shame anymore.

Might just about be time for sanzen again. I felt so overloaded by the sesshin last year that I haven't really gone. Just seemed like I had so much to work with in my practice that I really didn't need, didn't feel I could handle any more input. I also find it really hard to go out on Sunday night. Not teaching Sundays means I'm going to devote at least one Sunday a month to attending service at Great Vow and having sanzen.

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