15 Dec 2012
in Uncategorized Tags: EveryDayStuff, gratitude, healing
I’ve never actually taken time away without some “reason” for it. Work trips are obvious and account for the largest number of solo trips I’ve taken. I’ve also spent time away on my own to pursue yoga training, definite structure there. Then there’s Zen retreat, which is nothing but structure and silence. One weekend meditating and learning about calligraphy from Kaz Tanahashi. A multi-day, Buddhist retreat for women with some guided writing practice.
Trips alone have to involve purpose. That’s my way of allowing myself to go. I have to work for it.
So to be here, perched on a little bluff, in a tiny cabin, overlooking the crashing waves and buffeted by howling winds, is entirely new. A retreat from the humming and drumming of my very busy, everyday life. A retreat from structure.
From work I enjoyed the view of the barest sliver of the new moon appearing behind clouds. Once I hit the forest a long, winding, dark, and foggy drive took up all of my attention. I was grateful to stop in Waldport for a few groceries.
I arrived to the cabin outside of Yachats to find the sky miraculously clear for winter on the Oregon coast. I bundled up in my beautiful wrap, in the two blankets provided just for the purpose of sitting on the tiny deck, and watched the night. The vastness of sea and stars and wind and cold surrounding me.
Orion was bright and huge above the forested slopes of the mountains, with Betelgeuse glowing intensely red. The brightest glow, streaking out toward the sea and seeming to illuminate a patch in the center of my field of vision, was Jupiter. Eventually, my cold attention was delighted by a meteor, one of the Geminids peaking so beautifully this year. It streaked directly overhead, shooting out over the sea, or so it appeared.
This morning I searched the beach below the bluff, but struck out in my agate-hunting. In 2010 the largest agate I’ve ever found was hunted on the small beach here, but of course the rock field has changed considerably. I came back in as the rain picked up, my head pounding, and ate some breakfast while watching seals out in the waves. I lay down to watch the waves from the warm bed in front of a large window, eventually falling asleep again.
I could have gone to rock hunt elsewhere, but the cold made my head pound more. I went into Yachats, thinking I might go by a spa that a teammate at work recommended, or have a late lunch at a restaurant recommended to me. Instead I bought some crackers and soup before driving slowly through town, checking out some roads I’ve not gone down before. I stopped to watch the crashing waves from the car.
I’ve mostly rested today, my head intermittently pounding. The weather has stormed all day, the wind howling so fiercely at times that it feels like it is trying to blow us up the mountain! I made some food, ate some, read, slept some more, watched a movie, and listened to a new guided meditation one of my therapists gave me. I ate too much ice cream.
I have another full day tomorrow. I can choose to act on the impatient energy that compels me to do something (go for a hike, go to the Christmas celebration at Heceta Head, go to the spa, go rock hunt) or I could spend it inside again reading and napping. I’m trying to not make a plan, not to add structure. If tomorrow I feel like I want activity, it is available to me, but I’m just staying with the idea that it is also perfectly fine to just sit here with the sound of the waves and weather, resting.
Searching below Ocean Haven – March 2010
15 Apr 2012
in Uncategorized Tags: 30-Poems-30-Days, healing, metta, poetry, practice
On Saturday we saw a performance of The Vagina Monologues that featured CK’s Mom performing one of the pieces. It was fantastic, moving, and I feel so privileged to have been there.
At the end the directors asked everyone in attendance to stand if they were the survivor of sexual abuse or domestic violence. It is hard for me at times like this. I feel a little like a traitor because I don’t stand. I feel ashamed…. and then I feel ashamed of my shame.
Ugly. It too is a Practice. Someday it won’t be so terrifying to stand or someday I’ll just be alright with the fact that it terrifies me to self identify as a survivor of abuse, particularly a survivor of sexual abuse.
Powerful Art - Sacramento, California - April 14, 2012
Metta Prayer for All Survivors
May I be
From the thought
It was my fault.
Rest in the
Truth that I
Be free from
Anxiety and fear.
May we all
Be at ease.
May we all
04 Apr 2012
in Uncategorized Tags: 30-Poems-30-Days, Haiku, healing, Inner Critic, metta, practice
I had acupuncture today, a long session to discharge all the chaotic energy I’ve been running on for weeks now. Mostly the only poem I could come up with is:
So here’s a great opportunity to practice with the side of me that stokes up that chaotic energy to just tough it out, get through. The side that prods the voice that’s tired and small into producing anyway. Here’s a chance to practice a gentleness that encourages that a haiku “counts” and isn’t slacking off on the 30-poems-in-30-days goal.
New Butterflies, Westminster, Colorado, May 2011
And here it is, a haiku about new butterflies.
Wings wet and still unfurling.
17 Feb 2011
in Uncategorized Tags: grief, healing, metta, practice, PTSD, Zen
I learned the art of “checking out” early. I would shift my attention from my body to some small detail of the moment. The vivid colors of cartoons on the television. The quality of the morning sunlight coming in through the north facing windows of my Mother’s bedroom. The pattern of the paint and plaster on a ceiling. Code. Work. Writing ideas.
You get the idea. Something I could make so deeply engrossing that I was no longer connected to my body. I was outside of what was happening to my body. It is a pretty useful defensive tool and it has got me through abuse, doctor’s exams, and dental work.
As a Zen practitioner we work toward being present to the moment. Fully conscious of the whole moment. The sensations of the body. The speeding of the mind. The sounds, textures and entirety of the present moment.
When I first was given the practice of Metta from my teachers it was profoundly difficult for a long time. I could send Metta all the live-long day to people I knew, people I was neutral toward, and even became more comfortable cultivating loving-kindness toward people I found difficult.
Where I got stuck was cultivating loving-kindness toward myself. The idea with Metta is that you start with yourself, filling yourself with so much loving-kindness that it very naturally extends outwards to benefit all living beings. I was right there with the benefits to all living beings, but not myself.
I realized with some shame that when I tried to focus on myself I’d “check out”. Many people have a struggle with their inner critic who finds any number of reasons why they don’t deserve loving-kindness, but I didn’t get that. I just left the scene.
My teachers gave me all kinds of ideas on how to stick with myself. After many months, well over a year, of working with Metta practice, I can finally stick with myself. I built up slowly through the phrases, getting stuck on wishing myself happy for quite some time. Now though I can even find myself truly wishing that I be free from fear and anxiety, may I be peaceful and happy. I also sometimes add an additional loving wish that I be free from shame.
In this case it has felt like a victory to not “check out” (such a gentle way of saying “disassociate”). However, I’ve noticed in the past few months that I don’t really check out anymore. I’m going through a period right now where it doesn’t feel like progress or healing at all. It feels like I’ve lost one of my best allies.
I find myself fully, wholly present to what is happening to my body and mind. While at times it is great and other times tedious (chronic pain is, above all things, tedious), there are other times when it is truly horrifying and awful. I feel utterly defenseless against memories both mental and somatic. At those times I really grieve the loss of my ability to disassociate.
Don’t know when or how it happened, but I feel bereft. I’m sure there’s some combination of Yoga, Zen and EMDR therapy at work in this.
I am assured by both therapists that it is very certainly progress even though it feels like a terrible loss. They’ve also pointed out the progress I’ve made in being my own advocate and asking for what I need. My cognitive therapist even noted that I’ve been able to more clearly articulate events that have happened.
At this point I’m just going to accept that it is progress and stick with things. But I miss it.
14 Nov 2010
in Uncategorized Tags: healing, relationship dynamics
In my 20s I was involved with someone, A, who had a daughter, DW, with a friend of his. It wasn’t planned and he didn’t really want to be a father. In fact, I only found out about her after he and I had been going out for a while. There came a time when her mother wasn’t capable of providing a secure home for DW and A felt pressured to step in to obtain custody.
It was a rather quick, but unpleasant custody battle. In the middle of it all A and I got married. DW became my step-daughter when she was 4 and I was 25. DW hardly ever saw her biological mother again. Ultimately DW’s mother committed suicide when DW was 14.
When I was 30, despite enormous misgivings around DW’s well being, I decided that the relationship between her father and I was really unhealthy for me. I also felt that the unhealthy state of the marriage was not a good environment for DW. I was desperately depressed and my anxiety was so intense that I’d gone on medication for it.
DW was devastated by this change of events. We talked about it and she wanted reassurance that I wasn’t divorcing her. She felt like it was her fault, as children often feel during a divorce. I let her know over and over again that the problems were between her father and I, that it wasn’t her fault, and that I would do my best to remain a part of her life.
Things were really hard for a while, a few years in fact. DW spiraled into all kinds of unhealthy behavior. I kept trying to get through to her that while she was a minor my being her “Mom” was wholly contingent upon her father going along with it. That her choices were jeopardizing any help I could offer, particularly if she were injured in any way. I was heartbroken when I finally told her that she had to live with her father for a time until she could have honest communication with me. She was furious.
While she was living with her father DW ran away. She was 13.
I was utterly, completely devastated and as an adult who was not her biological nor adopted parent, and having divorced her father no longer even a step-parent, I had no legal recourse to demand to be involved in all that followed she was eventually picked up by the police. I was convinced that it was all my fault. I felt like the worst person in the world for having so grievously failed DW. More than anything else that I’ve been through in my life, these events are what finally drove me to seek therapy.
I would barely see or hear from DW for a few years. The incredibly strained relationship with her father meant that he quite often didn’t think it was important to share information with me. When she was closer to leaving mandated treatment and group home I was asked to join a meeting with the DW and her father. She was incredibly angry when I said that I wasn’t ready to just open my home to her unless she could agree to adhere to some ethical behaviors. When she left treatment at 16 she went back to live with her father and saw me infrequently.
DW made a dangerous choice in her life when she was 18. Once again it was terribly painful for me to watch her while she struggled. Even more painful to try and set my own boundaries knowing that DW felt let down by my response.
Now she’s just about 5 months shy of her 21st birthday and has completely turned her life around. It admirable and a great joy to see her grow into the ethical, responsible, compassionate human I would glimpse often during her childhood. We’ve grown a lot closer this past year and it has meant so much to me to share her life. I feel very proud for her accomplishments, all the hard work she’s done to be person she chooses to be now.
Now that DW’s an adult I’ve shared more with her, opened up about things she felt I was withholding from her as a child. I admit to her honestly that I was withholding, but not because I didn’t think she was old enough to know or didn’t trust her. It is a relief to me that she is able to understand that I withheld things from her because I didn’t want to color her young mind with my feelings toward her father. I wanted to treat DW and her father ethically, no matter how painful it was for me to have her feel like I wouldn’t talk to her.
DW still calls me “Mom” and has told me that I’m the only one who really tried to be her mother. She just refers to her biological mother by her name, never “mom”. Neither of us bother to explain our complicated relationship to people when they exclaim at the idea that I could have a nearly 21-year old daughter. If I’d had her when I was 20 it would be true. I didn’t, but that doesn’t really matter to either of us. We are the family we choose to be and that is no less compelling or important than biology.
We laugh a little when people remark upon our looking similar.
27 Sep 2010
in Uncategorized Tags: gratitude, healing, health, pain, practice
I have been on a bit of a cleaning frenzy since yesterday. The house had become hugely chaotic with stuff not put away. It was just a mess, truly, and bugging both of us. Merely moving some things down to the basement where they belong (yoga props I’d loaned to a Dharma sister) and getting some things taken to our respective offices made a lot of difference. Today I’ve vacuumed, dusted, sorted, and organized some. That and laundry – I’m kind of tired, but it feels good to have things cleaner.
Amidst all of that frenzy, while dusting, my cane caught my eye. It is mixed in with rolled up yoga mats, hiking poles, and an old paper umbrella. The handle of it was covered in a rather thick layer of dust.
As I cleaned it off I was struck at how long it has been since I’ve used it. From 2000 until well into 2004 I would use it occasionally when the pain and weakness in my hips would necessitate the extra assist. I purchased a cool, lightweight one with the ability to be broken down like a tent pole. People commented on it a lot for the coolness factor and they were mostly too polite to comment on a woman in her 30s using one. I generally resented the hell out of it but admitted that I really needed it.
I’m not exactly sure when I moved my cane into the cluster of stuff. Sometime in the past couple of years it took up residence with the hiking poles, which feel like an accomplishment instead of an accommodation. My third yoga mat. CK’s mat. The paper umbrella I’ve had for years; I’ve been pondering how to repair a tear in it and re-purpose into an art project. The cane had an impressive amount of dust on it.
I’m also not entirely sure when I stopped using it, even very occasionally. At some point it just became a thing in my house that I never interacted with. I didn’t need it, so I never went looking for it.
What I am aware of is the meaning of that dusty handle. The lack of use, the accumulation of dust as the cane sits next to my scratched up hiking poles is a testament to my Yoga practice and to the hundreds I’ve spent on one form of therapy, including body work, or the other. Amusingly enough the dust is a rather powerful indicator of progress.
Yeah, there’s still a truly mechanical failure I deal with. It does affect me, but now it is just another part of my physical practice. Tomorrow I’ll probably really feel all the cleaning and organizing I’ve been doing the past couple of days. I’ll most likely be moving a little slower, a little more cautiously. I might wake up with a bit of a groan.
Even still, I won’t need that cane.
19 Jun 2010
in Uncategorized Tags: healing, practice, PTSD
I was a “good kid” and flew under the radar or went sideways through my family. I quickly learned to how follow the rules, even when they were illogical, and tried to avoid meeting conflict “head on” in order to hold onto things that sustained me – riding my bike, being outside, swimming. At those times I was isolated, which was often, I read and read and read. I think I came out of childhood with a better understanding of how to slay dragons, solve mysteries, and practice the intrigue of a Dumas’ hero than how to interact with other people, communicate my needs effectively, or sustain my energy through complex projects.
As an adult I comforted myself with the notion that I never was injured physically, was only struck in the face once, and because no one could ever tell the depth of abuse going on from the outside then maybe it really wasn’t so bad. Maybe, just maybe I could pretend it was OK and that the profound memory loss I have around much of my childhood isn’t some kind of dramatic indicator of PTSD. If I could just continue to move sideways through the world then no one would know and I would never have to admit the truth of my unhappy childhood to myself or anyone else.
I also ate and comforted myself with food. I relied upon unhealthy food choices, unhealthy portions, and emotion-motivated eating. Those same, “acceptable” coping mechanisms taught to me by my family.
It didn’t work. That sideways path may have offered me a way to avoid the truth of the suffering, but I wore in the pounds I carried. That extra 140+ insulated me from the truth and when I lost it, not intending to discover anything but lowered cholesterol, I lost the ability to hide from the suffering. Maybe if I’d stayed with just studying yoga I could have pulled it off? Probably not, since yoga drives you toward truth as relentlessly as Zen when you practice it deeply. The fourth of the Niyamas in the Yoga Sutras is svadhyaya, deep study of the self as well as spiritual writings.
I know that I will never undo the past. The events that happened can’t be made less traumatic, cannot be considered anything but abuse, including the considerable periods of time I was isolated from others. No amount of swimming, zazen, therapy, or cake will erase the past or somehow turn those events into moments of a happy childhood.
I found myself crying a little in the steam room yesterday, realizing that the blue funk I was in was just grief processing through me again. On Wednesday morning I’d done some major processing of an event that had happened when I was 14. Although the work with the new therapist took down the intensity of this memory until it no longer felt like I was being swept up in it like a riptide, it still hurt deeply.
Rather than resist the hurt I feel for myself now, or the profound pain I experienced at 14, I tried to practice acceptance of it. Acceptance that doesn’t condone or excuse the cause at all, but rather accepting that it is reasonable and rational for me to feel pain over that event. It will never be something that feels happy or normal, but it can be brought to a point where it just merely aches like an old injury and I don’t feel the need to hide it. I can’t rewrite history, but I can lean into accepting the pain I feel because of it.
09 Dec 2009
in Uncategorized Tags: anger, healing, PTSD
Had an interesting discussion with my therapist today about JS’s comments about the energy of anger in Chinese medicine. She felt it made a lot of sense for this to be stuck for me. My entire life has been a long series of not having the space to set boundaries. As a child my ability to set them was either denied or taken from me if I tried. As an adult I’ve experienced having people, partners even, disrespect or undermine the boundaries I would try to set.
The result has always been to over compensate. Just function higher, do more, try harder and pick up the slack. Always.
Oh, and when I fail? Self-direct that anger for a perceived inability to always pick up the slack when other people break down those boundaries. Why, yes, that does mean that I beat myself up for failing to be perfect.
She felt that if I could learn to set those firm, clear boundaries around my needs that it would heal the body that responds in muscle spasms to the energy of the anger being stuck, denied. Even more importantly it would heal the awful shame that arises any time I engage my sense of vulnerability around expressing my needs. That I need to address this in the present to heal the old pain.
This seems more attainable. I’ve been spinning around this idea, fed in part by the writing about trauma recovery, that I’ve needed to get in touch with the anger I feel about the abuse. I know I do, it does make me angry and I’m really alright with it. I think this is one of those times it is OK to look at a situation and say the anger is reasonable. I’ve even met the rage of the child I was at 13 while in sesshin (it was deeply unsettling).
But do I feel some need to throw cups and break them? Maybe a little, only in my mind. The thought of standing out in my yard shattering pottery seems kind of silly and excessive. It is a good metaphor – break the dirty cups of my life I have such a hard time not minding. In practice though, I don’t really connect to it. Perhaps because in practice I have this vow I made to not give rise to anger, but to seek the source.
When I do engage the feelings and thoughts around the anger at the abuse I feel grief. When I seek the headwaters of it, so to speak. I feel the intense hurt of an injured child and young woman. At times these things have themselves felt terrifying and overwhelming.
Even at those times when I am in direct painful contact with memories of trauma I don’t feel the need to scream and throw things. These times are where I come into contact with grief again and I acknowledge that the anger is reasonable. The anger is just there, with the memory. There are memories that I know will always carry anger around them, but it is old and I don’t honestly feel the need to let it come rushing back through me in the now. I just want to get it out of my left leg and hip.
GM said she’s always felt that this is a more positive thing anyway, that I don’t feel some intense need to express the anger beyond acknowledging that it is there. As painful and overwhelming as it gets sometimes it is expressing the emotions that fuel the anger anyway. If I was still stuck in a rage it would mean I wasn’t accessing the grief causing it. She felt there isn’t really any need to spend time on trying to express the past, other than to keep present to the hurt that arises and greet it compassionately.
This anger energy in the present, that is something to learn. How to use the energy of bamboo shooting up through cold, dark earth to burst forth into green life in the spring. That is the energy of boundary setting.
08 Dec 2009
in Uncategorized Tags: acupuncture, healing, teaching
I taught my last Tuesday class at Dishman tonight. I was a little sad before heading out, but felt OK once I got teaching. Which is usual.
I was surprised to end up teaching a more vigorous class including some sun salutations to warm everyone up since it has been so cold (for Portland standards). The requested hip & leg openers got right into some of the “crunchy” congested energy of my hips. The left one doesn’t hurt as badly after all the acupuncture earlier today.
It was another long session focusing on detoxifying the meridians. More of the heart-protector again. Some discussion about the energy being caught in the muscles being anger. Not the kind of overblown rage that we often think of as anger, but the energy that arises to set a firm boundary. Something that was denied or taken from me growing up.
In five element acupuncture anger also represents the energy of spring that causes buds to open. It is the energy of rebirth and creativity. It is represented by wood. This is the block that stands out most dramatically.
The needles went into the surface of the back, the tender points between the shoulders, and tears came and stayed for a while. Not hard, just constant. It was a long session, sitting for only 10 minutes before lying on my side, wrapped in blankets except for the bare back for the needles and feeling the energy zoom around.
After teaching a delicious potato & broccoli soup for dinner made by CK while I was teaching. She’s been working while I’ve been finishing up a couple of small art pieces. All the energy drained out of me about 90 minutes ago and I’m hoping I’ll sleep better tonight.
07 Dec 2009
in Uncategorized Tags: grief, healing, PTSD
And how am I…
In the past several days I’ve been diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency, my levels are pretty low. This is actually pretty serious and can affect a person in several ways. It is the leading culprit for my fatigue, not the chronic pain that I’ve blamed (on the advice of my physician). The new acupuncturist, JS, is the one who guessed it on the basis of my saying how markedly better I felt in Hawaii.
Am taking a pretty enormous dose of D right now. In 12 weeks they’ll test again and see if I’m any where near “normal” levels. Apparently it is fairly common in Portland to be low on it. I guess there’s been a lot more attention on it recently and more doctors are testing for it now.
Still having a lot of acupuncture done. Another session focused on detoxing the body, again the heart-protector. Again I suddenly went from feeling absolutely fine, doing zazen with needles in my back, and then I’m suffused with grief and feel a headache & nausea. Not quite as intense as the first time, but pretty significant.
Was doing better and then Thursday the head pounding came back again during our Zen community cohort dinner/meeting. We went home, I went to bed early. Friday through Sunday was down and up, and down again and a shaky even into feeling rather tired today.
Saturday was the big “up” in the middle of the lows of the weekend. We made breakfast together and went for a walk in St. Johns. Coming home we had leftovers and took a nap (more acupuncture causes napping in my life). We watched the first Blue Planet DVD and went to bed early. It was all pretty marvelous until I tried to go to sleep.
Friday and particularly Saturday night into Sunday was a lot of stuff triggered, pretty early pain. Sunday morning it went straight into my left hip and leg, turning into spasm after spasm. The hip pain that for years has been associated with the herniated disc shows up, after being all but gone for two weeks, when I’m seriously emotionally triggered. Can it be any more obvious?
I’m trying to stay focused on how I was able to be present to the pain, the terrifying shame I felt. I retained the ability to talk, to fully, if haltingly, communicate what was going on. I was even able to visualize the way my body felt inside – seeing the pain like lava. This is progress. I didn’t shut down completely.
In the middle of the big down, feeling enormously triggered by childhood trauma, I taught yoga. One of those times where I just get out of the way and allow that lineage to teach through me. The class ended up running long and I felt grounded, if unsteady. Coming into a shaky evenness after the storm of emotion and memory.
I worked on small art projects Sunday afternoon, in part alone with the cats. I did no chores. I didn’t feel guilty about it.
A picture I took Saturday really resonated with me when I saw it had come out. It was a quick decision to take it, seeing the lines suddenly and clearly.
We were walking back out of the SuperFund site of Willamette Cove.
Cables cut, restoration begun, but toxic areas remain. Native trees reclaim the shoreline.