Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Hit Pause, This Feels Wrong

I talked to my therapist today about the struggle around intimacy I've felt in my relationship. I told her how I'm really not angry I just feel a bit lost and miss the feeling of connection on that level. I immediately burst into the tears that were just barely contained this morning.

She summed it up perfectly by noting that she imagined, given all the things she knows about from the the years we've been working together, that I must be feeling abandoned. Part of it is the newness of the relationship, we're still fitting together so withdrawal feels very big and scary. Once it was stated that way I could see how it certainly triggers old programming -- the numerous times in childhood and into adulthood I'd become attached to someone they would either change & hurt me or we'd move away & I would lose that connection. It feels so big that it is very hard not to feel like it is my fault regardless of being assured it isn't.

What I'm also finding really difficult is that being reassured, reminding myself of my accomplishments, sometimes doesn't make me feel better. In the rush of relief there is also a flood of absolute grief and the shaky realization of just how much shame, guilt is in there. CK made a point this morning to remind me that the distance we feel right now isn't anything I've done and I felt tears heat up my eyes. Same as when AM makes sure I know he is OK, that he isn't angry with me. I'm just shaking inside with relief and the realization that I'd fallen back into preparing to be punished. Yes, it is so good and helpful to hear these assurances from my loved ones, but it also seems to expose a raw hurt that I'm not entirely sure what to do with.

My therapist gave additional suggestions to my idea that I should distrust my first emotional response. She said I should just hit pause in those moments so I can really check in. She also thinks that in that pause I need to remind myself of my accomplishments, how those things are true and whatever rush of anxiety or fear I'm experiencing is based in the bad information I was given as an impressionable child. AM commented that I can also remind myself how I'd felt afraid in the past and needn't have been.

I finally voiced the anger I was feeling. I resent that the rest of my life will be filled with moments where I have to question myself, rein in the emotional response, and correct it. Like having to do some chore, vacuuming, at unexpected moments, for the rest of my life. Yes, with practice it will become easier, but it will always be there and it is so damn unfair. In these feelings I hear my 11 year-old voice, sobbing out the words, "This is so unfair!" to an angry mother who refused to hear any other viewpoint, would not hear any words I spoke.


Writing a Voice

Last night on the way home from the dharma center AM and I were talking about the concept of the inner critic. I've noted often that I don't often get a tangible voice in my head telling me I should be ashamed, that I'm bad, that something is too ambitious for me, etc. Every once in a while one pops up, but now I am most often able to spot the absurdity of the statements it makes.

AM commented that perhaps I should stop trying to figure out why I don't get a tangible inner critic to work with. Stop comparing my experience to others and assume that I should be the same. Start working with the way my mind works, moving forward from what does happen. I think I hear people in my sangha talk so often about the work they do with their inner critic I feel a bit strange that I don't seem to have one to really work with in the same way.

Most of the time I get what feel like just rushes of emotion, wordless and omni-present. Occasionally my mind just checks out of the moment and is thinking about work, teaching a class, planning what to say at some even in the future. I don't even really notice it starting to wander off until I gain awareness of how far I've moved out of the present. I noted in the discussion last night there are times it as almost as if someone just happened to stroll by and pop a bag over my head leaving me blind, deaf, and speechless to the present. It makes it difficult to try and resist, work with it.

Now I try to first figure out what the emotion is, or at least what is on the top of the layers. I really try to stay present, check in and determine if the emotion appears to be excessive for the given moment. I have to pull down through more recent experiences and remind myself that something won't blow up. The first emotional instinct may quite often be out of place, an echoing call of the past intruding upon a future that is far safer. It is such effort to do this and I feel like I mess it up all the time.

The emotions, they're what I can call the inner critic; like feeling as if I mess up all the time. My inner critic doesn't yell at me; perhaps I can envision some sorcerous creature that summons forth the crashing emotions and unleashes them upon me. That's what I think was coming through when I titled a blog "Thrashed on by the inner critic".

Maybe writing is another door as well, when I write about the emotions the voice comes out more. "I mess it up all the time" is certainly a voice talking and not just the raw emotion of inadequacy, failure, and shame. Those are definitely the feelings that are coming through when I think about struggling with my anxiety. Expressing those feelings through writing suddenly gives them a voice. Not that I think I'll take up arguing with myself in my blog, but I do have the opportunity to be mindful of a voice coming up, saying exaggerated and hurtful things about myself.


command line metta

The impending rain was the last straw in my deciding not to bicycle to the office today. I'd woken up sometime before 4AM with a start (AM had crashed into the nightstand), then needed to go to the bathroom, then Phoebe waking me up to pet her. I dozed fitfully after that until the alarm sounded at 6:30. The thing that needed to give was my desire to bicycle in today.

I phoned CK to let her know, feeling a bit bad for doing so. The route to use had seemed a contentious topic, so calling to say I wasn't up for it regardless felt a bit silly. She was understanding, of course, agreeing that I am not equipped at all to deal with rain (either on my person or my stuff).

Work was filled with the usual work stuff, including an inability to access the documents I keep on Google. Some new measurements of the corporate IT and/or security folks. One more reason to give thought to looking to be somewhere smaller. Made some progress on some things, little on others. My head ached by the end of the day.

Quick snack at home, AM had made samosas and I had one with a little sambar. Then off to teach yoga. Tonight I rushed off to the dharma center afterward because they needed someone to chant and do bells. I volunteered because no one else had and somehow my mind things this is somehow a "make up" for bailing out on them last Thursday.

Tuesdays are seated meditation (zazen) followed by walking meditation (kinhin) then discussion, a bit more zazen, and ending with chanting service. I like the idea of this a lot, but since I finish teaching a little past 7PM each Tuesday it means to go I must wolf something down in the car on the way over to sitting at 7:30PM. Now having done it I can confirm that it really makes for a long day, even if I hadn't started out short on sleep.

We discussed the wrap up, well for me first discussion about the Bhramaviharas ("Divine Abodes") and I mentioned how difficult it is for me to apply these to myself. That I find it far easier to cultivate these things when I deal with others. Yes, things are still challenging when I interact with people closely, but it is far less effort to practice these states of being with others.

I especially mentioned how doing metta practice for myself is such a challenge, that is the time when I am most distracted. So distracted I don't even notice I'm no longer attending my meditation; I don't consciously distract myself so much as mentally shift to other activities. HB has suggested practicing in a mirror, but that really is difficult and even upsetting at times. GR offered the idea of doing it a different way, perhaps writing it out.

When we had our second sitting period I tried this. Not literally, no pen and paper. I envisioned the feel of my fingers on a keyboard, typing out the words. My mind saw the letters appearing on my monitor, in a terminal window. This variation helped, my mind stayed more focused on the metta practice and aware of the potential to wander off. After chanting service I made sure to share that the "writing" suggestion was very helpful.

And I'm finally in bed again. My right side especially hurts. From the side of the tail bone down the entire leg, lighting up the hip and knee particularly. I felt so drained from work today, not energized by it at all. I am trying to not lose track of how tired I am and how the down shift in the weather to mist, drizzle and rain leaves me feeling chilled and slow. These things and the rush of anxiety last week have left me feeling thin again. Some of the irritation at work is truly magnified by these things and not just work itself.


Grinding Gears

After my massage today I feel more tired, the pain across the lower back is less intense, and the raw emotional energy right at the top has settled a little. Not enough, I still feel tired out and a bit thin on resources, but a little better. While Beth worked I could feel some of the intensity rushing up to the top, pain and energy moving around. Reached the point where I was no longer talking so much as I was just breathing. Sending the energy of the breath through my body, drawing in renewing energy and moving it through the areas clamoring from Beth's attention.

Made sambar in the pressure cooker! Comes out very tasty and very quick. I've really wanted to make it for a while, it has been several months since the last time I made it. CK met me at Beth's and we rode back to the house together. We all hung out and played a round of Magic.

Everyone is tired today. Tired from lack of sleep, an excess of emotional energy, and too much to do. It was interesting to see how communication degrades when reserves are lower. Almost as if our gears are turning at different speeds and the teeth no longer connect up as neatly. Trying to be mindful of this, not reading anything further into the evening.

Tomorrow will be very busy, rather long. Going to try to bicycle into work. Ride home, teach yoga, then go to Tuesday zazen, discussion and service. A person is needed for Ino duties and I said I could come. AM will bring me something to eat quickly in the car and we will just get there on time for sitting. I'm glad to be going to a Tuesday evening gathering, but it will be a very long day!


Don’t Listen to Instinct

In the early morning hours I had dreams of being lost in some airport in the desert. Separated from both AM and CK, phone not working correctly, not fluent in the language spoken around me, and entirely disoriented, lost. "Crisis dreams" are what AM calls them. I have all kinds of variations on them, often related to travel.

It had been such a rush of a day yesterday, my anxious feelings still present making it hard to communicate with either AM or CK well. Going hiking in the Gorge, having lunch out, going to a movie (found it pretty lame... glad I saw it at a second run brew pub), dropping off the visiting friend, getting CK's bike, going back to my house just to grab stuff and bicycle to CK's flat. I was missing being at home, missing my cats, and still utterly thrown off by trying to work with the anxiety CK was experiencing.

We'd hit one of those bumps last night; where we freeze up and fear rushes into the place where our connection resides. It becomes excruciatingly difficult for me, own fears that I've hurt her, that I've screwed up fundamentally, from rushing to the forefront. Certainly one of those areas where I have to fight the instincts that clamor. Easy to link that directly to dreams of being lost and disconnected from the people I love. And so I woke up with tears already welling up in my eyes.

Just barely time enough to get the tears calmed down, hiding just below the surface again. Time to reconnect then rush off to teach class. So grateful for 3 students only, one of them CK. Having to rush off to teach was frustrating because CK had just told me that she loved me and we were able to be close with less fear. Once I got into the rhythm of class I found it welcome in that it connected me back to the calming of my mind that comes from teaching.

I rode over to New Seasons from the community center to pick up some DLPA, the Arbor Lodge store specially stocks what seems to be the only vegan variety available in the U.S. Once I got home AM and I decided to run over to India-4-U to see how Kumar and Alka were doing as well as pick up a few things we've run out of. We had some very tasty lunch at Red & Black and picked up a "Bake in Black" t-shirt from Sweet Pea Baking Company.

The rest of the day AM and I have just hung out, talking, reading, and watching things on the Science channel. I feel just worn down, absolutely exhausted on so many levels. I'm so incredibly grateful I have a massage scheduled with Beth tomorrow, I really feel the need to have her help with the muscle spasms in my back and the energy of emotion that is so hot right now.

Just sitting with it I'm starting to get a feel for the subtle, nearly voiceless ways in which my PTSD manifests. Sometimes it is so obvious, so silly that it is easy to laugh at it and know it is wrong (like this morning having the thought that it is so hard for CK to have space to cry because I'm so busying crying all the time).

Children who are abused cannot comprehend that something is wrong about the adults around them and therefore assume they are at fault, to blame for the situation and/or deserving of the punishment. No matter how many times my rational mind may understand that something is in no way caused by me, a part of me reacts in shame for having done wrong. It becomes another practice to resist the initial instinct that signals I've done wrong and/or am in danger. I know that these past couple of weeks I've been trying to practice this but it doesn't come easily yet and I feel as though I tire easily.


Absolute Beginner

I feel really resistant to the practice of writing tonight. I really don't want to write and am relying upon the "practice" part of this to get me going. I'm tired physically and mentally. My emotions still feel right up at the surface, unsettled. Maybe not as bad as last July, so some progress, but like my going up hills on bicycle, it feels slow.

AM and I, as well as CK and I, have been talking about going to the NVC (non-violent communication) class being offered by our Zen community next month. Learning how to more compassionately express our needs and emotions to one another. I am looking forward to this chance to learn really useful skills together although it is tough since right now my emotional stuff feels so present and big.

I'm listening to Absolute Beginners right now and there's a sweet irony to it. My feeling so inadequate these past few days, all the emotions and challenges that my family relationships bring up, fits with the idea of a beginner in one view. I don't feel very comfortable being a beginner for the most part. In most everything I do there's some level of anticipatory-anxiety, dread.

There's the other side of being a beginner, the state in Zen described as Shoshin. Shunryu Suzuki was known for saying that in the beginners mind there are many possibilities, in the experts mind there are few. My mind in the state of beginner sees endless possibilities for humiliation, retribution, anger, shame, and utter failure. My inner critic summons up wild waves of fear and blinds me to any other outcomes. The work in retraining my mind is to see the possibilities for joy, for success & accomplishment, pride, happiness, and peace. Not to try and eradicate the thoughts based in fear, just to achieve parity in vision so I perceive the thoughts based in peace equally.



Woke up still tired and wishing I could stay in bed. AM asked if I wanted him to drive me down instead of biking from CK's and part of me wanted to do that. Instead I got up, took a hot shower, we went over to CK's so I could get my bike.

When I got in there I found her looking unrested and hectic, rushing around picking up socks and things, asking me if some socks were mine as I walked in. She revealed that she not slept well again; unsettling dreams cascading into one another all night. Instead of hopping on the bike and rushing off to the morning keynote presentations I sat down and listened to her talk. After a little while and time for many hugs I rode the rest of the way down to the convention center.

CK had told me that she'd been researching jobs for me, not to try and "solve" everything, just to give me ideas. I felt a momentary rush of surprise that she would do that for me, followed by the understanding that of course she'd do this for me, then just gratitude that she wants to be a part of my life all the time, for real. Both things stayed with me all morning. The idea that I really should look at the job market again and the gratitude for the amazing relationships I'm blessed with.

Talks this morning ranged from amusing, to interesting, to rather dry. I logged into
work and exchanged messages about training. I felt less of the feelings of inadequacy that had swelled up in me yesterday and even managed to chat with some people during the morning break. I mentioned the idea of doing a presentation next year on change management and the people I talked with said it was a topic they were interested in.

I was happy to get an email back from CK during the final series of talks letting me know she was feeling better than she had this morning, less exhausted. Shortly after that she popped onto the IRC channel set up for OSCON, we chatted for the last bit I was there. Then I was back on the bicycle to home, I thought it would be a good test since it would be about the same as coming home from downtown.

After I made it home AM and I got some pizza at Hot Lips then picked up a couple of things at
TJ's. Checked into work, let myself look at some job listings on Craigslist just to get an idea, and talked with AM for a while then rode over Prananda for a class. Just myself and another student but Joy held the class anyway. It was a nice class and a good way to transition from OSCON to "normal" again.

Nice having downtime tonight. AM made tortilla soup for dinner and we sat on the deck having some as the sun set. CK is spending time with a friend who is up from San Francisco. We've kept close over messages. It helps to have the easy, immediacy of communication when we're not together. Little reminders of love and desire.


Thrashed on by the Inner Critic

Well, this has been a long day. CK and I even slept in some so we'd have more rest and more quiet time together before heading off to OSCON for the day. We felt we were doing a bit better, reconnecting together again. It had been tough yesterday as the sheer pressure of being at the conference together had taken a toll on the somewhat emotional place we'd been in on Sunday. There is just so much mental input, constant noise of people talking, and countless screens to watch.

After having trying to be present through days of feeling a real disconnect from CK, trying to connect, then dumping ourselves into the mass of people that is OSCON, we were really feeling the intensity of the lack connection was producing irritation, anxiety, and just draining us both utterly. I took a bath, we ate a little, and felt somewhat better.

Laying down to cuddle and rest I felt a rush of anxiety come back. The unreasonable flash of panic earlier that the stress of a conference full of geeks would be the end of us was echoed back to me. I finally thought that the anxiety that I'd been experiencing when we'd been together earlier was being recalled too. All of it just flashing through me again. We ended up drifting into sleep.

Sleeping in, waking up without rushing out the door helped as well. And then we were off to the conference. At some point during a series of talks about Perl I just felt the anxiety hit me. I felt so inadequate. I felt utterly outclassed and a poser of a programmer. It felt like I shouldn't be there at all. I didn't like diving back into the boys' club that is technology.

AM and I had dinner together and talked about the just drained, anxious way I was feeling. He was able to note how he just feels lonely without me around. Our friendship is so close that he really feels my absence. In talking to him, in being reassured again that he wasn't angry, wasn't going to treat me to snide comments and coldness like my ex-husband had done so often, I was able to see my fears are too big. He is OK even if his loneliness brings up irritation. He isn't angry at me. He truly wants to help foster the happiness that CK & I have in our relationship. When I'm feeling so anxious it is hard to relax into trusting this, hard practice.

Talking to AM this evening I had a realization about some of the anxiety about feeling inadequate professionally, intellectually at OSCON. The last time I did a conference like this I still weighed at least 80 pounds more than I do now. I still had the body armor of my weight, my long hair, anger, and a carefully constructed persona that included an intense bravado, a "fuck you" attitude.

Because of my practice I don't have any of that anymore. I'm present with all of the feelings of inadequacy that I was distracting myself from. I wasn't expecting to have a run in with my inner critic this week and it hurts. I practically begged to get to come to OSCON, I've been so excited about it.

I ended up not going to the Dharma center tonight. Showing up, leaving the merit list for the week, and pleading illness. Hogen asked if I could sit with all of this and I told him I couldn't there, not in zazen. I was too nauseated and my hips and back hurt so much. Once I'd had some tea and some real food that nausea passed, suggesting blood sugar contributing to some of the feelings of illness.

I'm trying to refocus on the encouraging people I've met. Suggestions of else I could be doing besides programming have occurred to me. There has been things that felt like what I wanted, more community to learn from. Trying to work on that inner critic.

CK had it pegged perfectly, how the inner critic was speaking through me today. In talking about what I want to do, I focused on everything I think I don't do well. I had noted that I'm having a difficult time articulating what I think I'm really good at.

My not being able to articulate my true ability, that is the inner critic with hands over my eyes and blinding me. The ability to clearly detail everything that is not a strength, that's very obviously that critic.


mad crush of geeks

Today at OSCON was the craziness of the expo floor opening. T-shirts, Mac Air prize give-aways, flying toys, headhunters...

And relationship stuff that feels hard to navigate and that always leaves me feeling a little stressed. Hard to feel connected to either CK (stress and lack of quiet) or AM (because I'm not there).

My back and legs really ache. The combination of biking, tiredness, stress, sitting in conference chairs, standing talking... not so great. I'll be happy for my massage therapy appointment with Beth on Monday.

I'll be happier next week to return to something even slightly resembling "normal" schedule.



I am so tired, exhausted really. My head aches from the effort of attention, sinus pain, and just an ache from having a headache all day. My eyes are tired from processing data on screens large and small. Today I have awoken at 6:15, had a shower, got dressed, bicycled to CK's, discovered a sweaty back from bicycle & a cotton shirt don't mix, changed to a t-shirt of CK's, had toast, bicycled to OSCON, sat in on a very good workshop on PHP, had nearly the exact same lunch as yesterday (not worth elaborating upon... salads), went to what I feel was a terrible workshop on PHP, left early, got gvim working on my Mac, ate some soup, changed clothes, bicycled to Dishman, taught a yoga class, rode back to CK's flat, changed yet again, bicycled back to OSCON, and listened to various presentations & awards (geeky, inspiring, mind-boggling, funny...) until 10PM, and finally CK & I rode back to her flat! I promptly put on my pyjamas and sat down with a thump on the bed.

CK heated up more soup for us, which helps as has the water. Seeing the day up there in a list gives me perspective on why I'm so tired and hurt so much. It is a day that really presses on my resources rather hard. Although there are evening events at OSCON for two more nights, tomorrow won't be so long as CK & I already plan to leave a bit earlier, rest a little, then go to a yoga class. Thursday will be zazen and by then the sheer crush of so many people, so much talk, countless slides projected on screens will make settling into silence such a blessed gift.

The workshop we went to in the afternoon was very disappointing to me. Not only did I find it to not be very professional, even accounting for cultural differences (presenter is from France), but on a level where I felt that economically it wasn't worth the time spent, especially for someone like her who doesn't have a big company footing the bill to attend (which should be her choice to be irritated about, I didn't need to take it on to be annoyed on her behalf). CK finally propelled us towards going home early to rest a bit before I had to teach, plus I'd have time to eat a little. I hadn't wanted to go, wanting to stay and salvage the 90 minutes that weren't useful. She finally noted that I was having a hard time letting it go. And I was. The ride home helped burn off some of it as did fixing something on my Mac that was making it hard for me to work on code projects.

The irritation feels pretty far away now. I can look at the afternoon and spot it, but it lacks the immediacy that was making it hard to let go of. With that time shift I wonder how one irritation in the day might rile up other feelings of irritation that lurk below the surface. It is a slippery slope to follow irritation down into anger.

I used to have the mistaken impression that in Buddhism anger isn't allowed, better yet we somehow transcend it. I asked Hogen about it and he made sure to reinforce to me that it isn't that we never feel anger, that's unreasonable because we will feel anger. It is that we don't give rise to the anger. We don't let it manifest into unkind words spoken out of that heat that is just a few degrees hotter than irritation.

So CK became my important Sanga of one today. A fellow traveller upon the Way who merely noted that I wasn't letting go. Had she not brought me back, giving me perspective, I may have easily let the irritation rise into anger.