tap. tap. tap. Hey, is this thing on?
I feel that at least a short summary on all the things that have been going on is long over due.
By October of last year work became intolerable to the point of triggering my PTSD and my Mother flat out told me that she didn't want to work with me/us to live together or even have a relationship with me. In early November 2013, as I was trying to put on Ignite Portland, Mother pulled the granddaddy of all tantrums in order to get her own way and strike out in one massively hostile, abusive, dangerous action. And I? Well, I just had to stop and was encouraged by HR to go on short-term disability.
I was granted the benefits for two months, but instead of personal recovery I had a couple of frantic months where I was still dealing with Mom's stuff and hostile behavior. I also frantically looked for another job. Then day came where I was supposed to go back to work and I really just kind of halted, the human equivalent of a core dump. My health care providers told me to stop all of it and sleep, take walks with the dog, make art, read and take lots of hot baths. There's new medications too, which have helped me to start sleeping again and keep my PTSD at a more manageable level. I have also officially left my position at my old company.
So I run errands during the weekdays and have been working on organizing more things around the house. Spending a couple of years constantly dealing with my Mother's stuff has had me taking quite a few trips to Goodwill to get rid of things I realize I no longer use, read, wear, etc. A friend of mine and I created two new flower beds in our yard last month, one in the back and the other right outside the front door. I love that whenever arriving home or leaving, the first thing we see now are flowers.
My health care providers remind me that I am doing the necessary work of healing after years of exhausting work from being on-call for so many years and the even harder work of healing the wounds from the abusive relationship with my Mother. Lately there's been more good days than bad, which helps me feel like there's "progress".
Still, there are days were I find it hard to get myself to leave the house. Seeing old co-workers causes panic attacks. News or contact by my Mother causes a week of nightmares and days-long anxiety. Finding yet another box of her hoarded, expired medication exhausts me. I'm told that the level of breakdown and extreme exhaustion I was at in December was pretty severe and recovery may take a long while. I have been strongly encouraged to "retire" early from high tech positions and instead teach yoga and start selling my artwork.
If I were to be hoping to return to tech, my doctor has said that she would consider releasing me to that kind of work until January at the earliest. However, my care providers have enthusiastically released me to start teaching occasional yoga classes. I'm going to be trying to get on the substitute teacher list at some of the community centers, athletic clubs, and yoga centers.
I also am now legally married to CK, which is amazing and wonderful. In early June Oregon's ban on same-sex marriage was overturned and we got our license within hours of the legal ruling. On June 14th we were legally wed in our backyard with a few close friends, CK's Mom & Step-dad, and sister were in attendance.
I've been adding a few new recipes to Vegan Nosh. I love that my food photography has improved so much from the class CK and I took together last year. I've found a linoleum block carving class the day before my birthday and have broadly hinted to CK that I'd love us to go together.
This weekend I will be attempting to spend some time at the World Domination Summit. Ticket was bought a year ago, when spending a crowded weekend with a few thousand people sounded fun. Giving myself permission to just go for the things I want to go to.
Several years ago, at the last company I worked for, there was a team building initiative that saw my team and the client team we worked with. We all received a copy of Now, Discover Your Strengths, asked to take the "StrengthsFinder", and share our results.
While I don't think companies can manage people on the results of these kinds of tests, I do find them rather interesting. I think they can provide a little insight about people you are working with. Outside of work I've occasionally run into people who've also taken this and I've enjoyed talking with them about what they've learned about themselves from the results they got.
Here are my Top 5 Strengths from a few years ago:
Fast forward to my new company. One of the directors in the IT organization has a few initiatives to reach out to other women at the company. Next week she's having a facilitator join a group of us to talk about the results we had from taking the "StrengthsFinder" test. We all recieved a copy of StrengthsFinder 2.0 and were asked to take the test and send results so the facilitator has them ahead of our meeting.
Given how interesting I found this process the first time, I signed up. I also was very curious to find how, or if, my top 5 strengths had changed much. A few years ago 3 of my 5 showed that learning was vitally important to me. That combined with the other strengths really showed, accurately, my love not only of learning, but of sharing what I'd learned with others.
Here are my results based on yesterday's test:
I'm not at all surprised to see that my ability to learn still tops the list. I feel like that "Restorative" strength has deepened and grown into "Empathy". Given how strongly I feel about the interconnectedness of all things, I'm also unsurprised to see that Connectedness remains one of my top strengths.
However it is the addition of Strategic and Responsibility that really make me think. In the past few years I've become more involved in community building, helping to put on events that see hundreds of participants and sometimes spanning multiple days. I think this kind of volunteering has really grown my ability to think strategically. I think I've always been mindful of being responsible for my own work and actions, even if during some times in my life I've tried to pretend otherwise. Now it has evolved into a real strength.
I really look forward to what comes out of the session with the facilitator next week!
I've mentioned before that Thanksgiving is a rather meaningful holiday for me. I love the celebration of the harvest, particularly in preparing delicious vegan food for a big feast. I also really love looking back on the year, reflecting on the events that have past as the darkest days of the years tick down. Sharing this holiday with people I love means a lot to me.
This year CK and I nearly spent the holiday in Sacramento with her family. Her Father is trying to cause some problems and she hasn't been down in a while. Ultimately we realized we were feeling very stressed in planning to go down. Bigger than her concern that she was falling back into the habitual behavior learned while growing up, CK realized that Thanksgiving with her family, complete with both turkey and ham being served, was another example of a communal meal that would leave us feeling distracted, sad, being made to feel othered by our being vegan, and complicit in the suffering of sentient beings.
So we stayed home and several friends came over to celebrate with us. Another friend came by to foist more dessert upon us and DW dropped by between our place, her Dad's and her brother's adopted family. We all enjoyed a big feast, with our friends bringing food and wine to celebrate with us. I'm so very grateful for this meal, this time with friends who share and support our desire to live our lives honoring peace and non-violence. I'm really honored by CK and her desire to make this holiday one that celebrates peace and non-violence -- even when doing so means dealing with a lot of hurt feelings from her family.
*CK has posted a really good article about her decision to not partake in a non-vegan Thanksgiving on her blog.
This year also brings me gratitude for my new job. Just last Thanksgiving I'd gone out on an icy cold, windy day for my interview. I'd talked about it with friends during dinner last year, but had been certain I wouldn't get an offer. It has been nearly a year now, much of it filled with an intensely busy project schedule, but I'm so grateful for a team that respects me and I feel like I can grow my skills further at this company.
It doesn't feel right not to reflect upon how grateful I am for my wife. This past week we worked hard together making our basement closer to habitable and mourning the discovery that several of our old, leather-bound books have suffered mold due to the increased humidity brought on from the house being insulated & weatherized. CK hung vivid red curtains in our living/dining room, making the space feel cozier and brighter. I was once again how struck I was at finally having a partner in my life who was there for me during the hard work and the fun. It makes all the difference and I am filled with gratitude for CK.
There are also our animal companions to be grateful for. They bring us so much joy and despite the regularity with which we find ourselves cleaning up messes, barf, and endless piles of fur, we wouldn't have it any other way. I'm so grateful that we're able to open our home to our little herd.
Finally, some gratitude that extends beyond my home for the news this past Tuesday that our current governor announced a moratorium on executions for the remainder of his elected term. This news is so welcome and I am so profoundly grateful for it. Although I wish he'd go so far as to commute all death sentences to life in prison, making an even stronger statement against the death penalty, I at least feel like his announcement opens things up to serious discussion. I felt particularly touched by this quote from the statement that was released, "I refuse to be a part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer; and I will not allow further executions while I am Governor."
That's kind of what life does. When we're little it feels like it moves intolerable slow, as we age we find ourselves looking up, blinking in astonishment at how quickly things speed by.
Case in point. Here it is November, nearly middle of. Gracious!
Work remains very busy. I've come to accept that the crazy busy feeling at first wasn't the "ramp up" period of getting used to a new job, new team, etc. My team just seems to run on "damn busy" all the time and I'm trying to find peace with the fact that I end each week just worn out and feeling like I haven't accomplished nearly enough.
This past week I received a very nice compliment from one of the project managers. I'd run a meeting to review and validate user acceptance testing. It was a busy 90 minutes of keeping client testers on task and keeping our developer from feeling overwhelmed and picked apart. Later that day the project manager made a point to tell me how impressed he is with the work I put into making this project run. He went further to say that he felt he could really learn from the way I run my meetings and projects.
I'm trying to just let that one sit and feel good about it. I feel like I'm behind on all the tasks for that given project, so it would be far to easy to pick apart that compliment until there's nothing left but my task list. Instead I'm just reminding myself that I am actually very good at what I do and that people both see and respect it.
Mom... I haven't seen her since this summer. I've spoken to her several times, but I can't quite get enough energy together to see her in person. It is a combination of the fact that spending time with her literally eats away one of my precious weekend days, complete with a bunch more driving, and feeling the hurt of how she treated me.
We got into something of an argument on Monday night. I won't go into the details, but it mostly all got hung up on how angrily she meets my setting boundaries. When I fail to respond how she wants me to, she lashes out at me and at herself. I'm still growing the skill of setting a boundary and not rising to the bait when she responds negatively. It is hard practice and somehow seeing her in person seems like just one stone too many right now.
Her health remains precarious. She has ulcers that are bleeding and she's receiving transfusions about every 6 weeks. He husband's health is failing rapidly and she feels alienated by his family, like they don't trust her. It is hard and I feel so very sad for her suffering.
On my health front things are well. I've lost 10 pounds and my cholesterol isn't the 219 it tested at at the employee health fair, but a far happier 178. I've been going to the aqua power class on Saturday mornings and trying to go to a Zumba class offered at the gym at work. Being in the water on Saturday really helps a lot. Zumba really feels out of my comfort zone, I generally just try to keep moving and not crash into anyone else, but the group of women who go are generally encouraging and supporting, which helps.
In December something exciting happened. I was offered a job. There was a little moment on one day where I was close to three offers, but in the end two companies pulled out and made my decision really easy.
Right now I'm a contractor, but the plan all along was to interview someone, bring them on board right away and hire them permanently. I'm in a strange limbo where we're essentially trying out the position. The company is checking me out and I'm seeing how I like it there. Unlike most contractors at the company my boss has set up weekly one-on-one meetings with me and I have my own office.
I'm kind of on pins and needles about it. I don't want a "try on" period, I already know I love it there. I still am a little dazed at having this job appear "out of nowhere" (I was contacted by a recruiter). There's a little part of me that is worried about letting on just how thrilled I am for fear it will somehow "jinx it". (yes, pure irrationality).
The downside is a rather substantial commute; 35 minutes in the best traffic and nearly 90 minutes at the worst so far (for me, by Portland standards, that's bad). In order to beat some of the worst of the traffic I've been getting there between 7 and 7:30 which means waking at 5:30. It is also a bit of a shock to my body to get back into the routine of sitting at a desk for many hours a day, several days a week. I've been pretty dead tired since starting in mid-December.
Really though, I am just thrilled beyond words. It is the one area of IT that I'd still enjoy working in, which is to say the thing I'm a geek about. The team is great and they work as a team; there are people to support me! I'm being paid very well, in fact so well that it kind of weirds me out (yeah, seriously... more therapy fodder that one).
Did I mention there's a gym on site with free towel service? Free yoga classes (which aren't too bad). The Commons (where the gym is) also has a cafeteria with a decent salad bar (featuring three kinds of legumes and seasoned tofu) and I had a pretty good, made-to-order Thai-style curry last week.
There's also several ponds, walking trails, and an active wetlands habitat for birds (multiple kinds of herons, ducks, geese, etc.). Really, the job thing is pretty awesome and I'll feel so enormously relieved when this "try out" period of being a contractor is over.
And here's a view of the stroll back to my office (yes, really, my OWN office with a door and everything) one morning after getting a latte at the Commons. The coffee... well, it isn't bad but I do miss being close to really awesome coffee.
Mudita, one of the four Brahmavihāras (divine abidings), one of the mind-states of an enlightened being. Mudita is the state of rejoicing in the happiness of others, the state of sympathetic joy. It can also been see as the recognition of an inner joy we always have access to which helps us to appreciate our lives.
Bhāvanā is Sanskrit for 'development', 'producing', or 'cultivation'.
Mudita Bhāvanā is the cultivation of the mind-states of joy and appreciation or gratitude.
I recently invited a group of people, not necessarily Buddhist practitioners or mediators, to join me in looking at a mindfulness exercise based on one Chozen Roshi sent out last year.
Part of her mindfulness task included the following: "We want to engage in Mudita practice as an investigation of what we can or are appreciating in this moment rather than as a way of suppressing or ignoring negative mind states. We want to broaden our awareness to consciously include and embrace what we appreciate and notice what effect that has. Do negative mind states drop away by themselves when we focus on what we appreciate? Does our habit or conditioning to notice and become obsessed with the negative change with Mudita practice?"
We would spend a week spent dedicated to the practice of Mudita Bhāvanā. At the end of the week each participant would write a little bit about their experience and share it with another participant in a letter. In the end, nine people participated. Right away people commented on how just anticipating the dates to start the experiment brought mindfulness to their daily life. I was thrilled to receive this feedback and have made it part of my own practice. It has been an opportunity for me to gratefully receive positive feedback and fully, truly enjoy the excitement of others.
I've been making a practice around appreciation for all of Ango. I continue to note something I appreciated about my day each night before bed. On the nights I forgot, I merely note it and write something in the morning. I stay mindful of my vow to be gentle with myself and do not let my Inner Critic beat me up too much about not doing this task exactly when I "should have".
This past week of really staying mindful to gratitude and sympathetic joy has been far more challenging than I expected. On the 5th I was given the opportunity to take a severance package at my job of 7.5 years. I wasn't actually on the list to be laid off, however, if I volunteered it would mean upper management wouldn't look at having to lay off someone with only a few years left to retirement with pension intact.
The truth is, I am grateful for my job. I appreciate the illusion of security and comfort it provides me. Some of the people I work with, particularly my boss, have become real friends over the years I've known them. However, most of the time my job has been unsatisfying, frustrating, and stagnant. Upper management has denied me a promotion for a few years now. Bearing all that in mind I said I'd volunteer to be laid off. My boss and I discussed early May as a potential target for me to leave and I was very appreciative of this time to wrap up loose ends.
Tuesday morning I was told that my volunteer offer had been accepted. However, despite my careful planning, the separation date would need to be the end of this month. I would have less than two weeks to wrap up the most demanding of the loose ends. I also am forbidden from sharing the news with my teammates until Monday; they will get 5 days warning.
I've spent the past two days in "triage mode" trying to determine what is critical to be changed starting Monday, once the people who will assume my responsibilities are informed. This morning I had to lie during a team call as to why I couldn't pick up a new project. It felt awful.
In that moment, on the verge of tears and feeling nauseated, what could I feel grateful for? Could I turn toward the positive things about that moment instead of feeling crushed by the negative mind-states rapidly manifesting? Having been focused on this practice I found that a long list came to mind very quickly.
- I felt grateful that I was working at home and not having to be face-to-face with people.
- I was appreciative of the sun breaking up the clouds and beginning to brighten my home office.
- At hearing nervous discussion about job cuts happening in my department I felt grateful knowing that having volunteered to go it meant some of those nervous people would keep their jobs for the time being.
- I deeply appreciated the encouraging words from CK via instant message.
- I was/am profoundly grateful to have a partner who is glad I'm being laid off and reassures me that she's got my back.
- I'm so grateful that she doesn't mind reassuring me a lot these past few days.
- I was appreciative of the cup of very good tea I was drinking.
- I was happy to be at home where I could go out to the garden or enjoy the company of the cats.
After directing my thoughts toward all the positives in the present moment I did feel better. The tears subsided as did the tightness in my throat and chest. I was able to focus and come back fully into the present moment, including the challenging team meeting.
In the past week I have found that each time I mindfully direct my thoughts towards sympathetic joy and gratitude there is a noticeable sensation of feeling lighter. Whereas my anxiety manifests itself in a tight, crushing sensation, Mudita feels as though weight has been removed. I feel anxiety as a terrible weight, a tearing at my heart center, but when I mindfully cultivate joy and gratitude, I feel my heart pulse with life and open to the present moment.
I have found it interesting to compare the practice I do with Metta, Loving-Kindness (another of the Brahmavihāras), and Mudita. When I practice Metta for myself I feel comforted, protected. I don't feel an openness in my heart until I turn my Metta practice toward others. It is almost as if my self-directed Metta is more about nurturing my hurt than about becoming more open. Mudita is entirely different in that I feel that opening in my heart when I practice for myself.
I've really found it useful to first do Metta practice for myself, comforting the hurt my heart/mind feels, and then cultivating Mudita from that safe, nurtured space. Using the two practices together this way has felt very powerful. Although it isn't easy yet, I have found that the more I practice Metta and/or Mudita, the faster my mind shifts. Even if this shift is small and I am not entirely lifted out of the negative mind-state I've found myself in, these practices still create space, light, and ease.
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.
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 Avalokiteśvara, 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.
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.
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.