Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


OSCON08 by Bicycle

At OSCON today I was telling CK how much I enjoy sharing the experience of being at the conference, learning with her, that it feels very organic and collaborative. So often in the past it felt very competitive, having to prove myself as a woman in unix systems administration. Now at work I more of a coach so there isn't that feeling of collaboration in the same way. Plus this is another way in which she teaches me, we share learning, and that is very precious. I am enjoying sharing the challenge of learning to bicycle again with CK and how I'm able to actually just relax into her taking care of me.

Back at the house after what felt like a long, but possible bicycle ride to the house AM had experienced an unsettled day. We talked about one thing that kept at him was that despite of how Love has been written about but that some people just will not know that kind of connection. I especially liked his comment that we don't find love, we are conduits for the energy of Love in the universe. It reminded me of the idea that we are growing, cultivated by our relationships with one another.


Revisting the Genjo Koan by Bicycle

Oh I slept so poorly last night even having taken some melatonin. I tossed and turned from some combination of pain and travel dreams. That busyness of rushing to a destination, unsettled. I could not help but whimper a little when my alarm went off at 6AM. I hauled myself out of bed and got myself together, onto the bicycle and off to CK's.

I made it a little more quickly to her flat this time and had some breakfast while she finished getting ready. It took us only 10 more minutes to bicycle over to the Convention Center for OSCON. We locked up and watched all the guys walking by with badges on. We laughed at how relieved we were to be there together. She's not been to an event like this before as an attendee and I've not been since 2000.

We got through registration, through the Starbuck's line, and onto our respective sessions. I had all Perl workshops today while she did one on PHP and another on A/B testing. We were fed salads topped with grilled veg and tofu, which was pretty good. Tomorrow she and I both will be in PHP workshops together. I'm looking forward to it a lot.

The ride home was hard since the wind was blowing right down N Williams making the hill climb up to Alberta challenging. Other bicyclists passed me in a parade of faster rides powered by legs more trained than mine currently are. I just kept pressing my feet into the peddles and trying to breathe through my nose, control my breath.

CK asked me later if a year ago I would have thought I'd be commuting on a bicycle. I'm so thrilled that I can do this, very surprised too. I didn't really think it would be possible to find something that I felt both comfortable and safe on. It is intimidating to be out in traffic again, I found the big trucks loud and close as they rushed past me on Russell. As tough as I find the hill up to Alberta, I'm still so grateful to be huffing & puffing my way up it.

In answering her I found myself stumbling over one of Chozen's Dharma talks from last winter. The sangha had been studying Genjo Koan for several weeks. One evening Chozen focused on the image of a boat that reappears in Dogen's lines. She talked about how we feel when on that boat, with nothing but ocean in four directions. How would we see the ocean at that point, how is the boat viewed.

In that kind of situation we tend to cling to the boat, the idea that the ocean is enemy at that point. If we loose the boat, we are consumed by the ocean. We don't see the limitless, boundless, teeming depths of the ocean as our element, we cannot sink into the idea of merging with it, abandoning our little boat and our wish to see land soon.

Chozen taught that our mind is that boat floating upon the boundless ocean of the BuddhaDharma, but our tendency as we age is to close our mind which shrinks that boat. We start telling ourselves that we're too old to learn something, no longer willing to try new things, and believing we're not capable of something. Chozen found herself, at 60 learning how to play piano for the first time.

And I find myself riding a bicycle. My shoulders, mid-back, side ribs and chest ache. We realized that it is most likely because I'm gripping the handlebars with such tension as I learn this skill all over again. Still, I'm making my way through trucks and the whoosh of cars.


The Soil in Which I Grow

I'm in a spot where I'm winding down, between laundry loads -- last two are folded & put away, the last for the night is in the dryer. In what I find to be the meditative space of folding laundry I was thinking about the weekend I'd had. The bicycling on Saturday and a day of shared chores & dinner today. The time talking in between to CK and with AM. The feelings that come up around being cared for.

I got back to my laptop after getting the laundry done for the moment, the leftovers put away, and sat down to most lovely message from CK. She commented to me how she used to think of relationships as plants, things to be tended. She said that now she saw each of us as a plant, the relationship is the soil in which we all grow.

My eyes closed to just let the words settle. It is so lovely, so apt.

Hogen has told me that all the terrible things that I have survived can become potent medicine. Something so powerful and healing is able to be distilled of awfulness. I had shared this with CK earlier while lying on the bed upstairs feeling the breeze from off the river move over us. I was very mindful in repeating this to her how hard this is to me, how often I observe myself trying to hide or push away the the parts of my history that arouse shame, fear, deep grieving, and worry.

I thought of our compost pile. The things which make a plant grow big, healthy, and in the case of vegetables, most nourishing. Our vegan house sends that majority of all food waste and scraps into the compost. Quite often things go into a very large container at the side of the sink, the mostly clear plastic presents a view of decomposing plant matter. This stuff that looks rather nasty to my eyes will go out into the pile, be broken down further, mixed with clippings, and existing compost. The stuff will get hot, chemical reactions happening all the time, beneficial stuff culturing & growing until the whole of it steams with energy.

In the end it is a beautiful nourishing thing. The compost builds up the hard, clay soil here, slowing helping what wasn't nurturing much of anything into something that will grow the plants that in turn will nourish us. The growing of food is such a direct and intimate relationship with what we eat; all made more productive by having rich soil, compost.

The somewhat overdone plant analogy is a lotus. Out of the nasty, black muck of a pond's bottom a lotus grows. From the deep darkness it reaches upwards to produce the most radiant of blossoms. The lotus represents purity, renewal, creation -- all because it grows out of the nourishing slime.

So is my history. Damned awful stuff I went through, but out of that nastiness I have not only managed to grow, but now find myself thriving. Like the compost pile, it is all thrown in, stirred around, and in the steaming heat all is distilled into goodness, potent medicine.When I allow myself to feel the range of things, even the nasty stuff, I grow. I grow in the rotting, steaming compost of my past and I grow in love.



Riding my bicycle over the Broadway Bridge for the first time today, with CK riding behind me for support and encouragement, brought me back to wondering why sometimes it is so easy to sink into feeling good about being cared for. Not only that it feels good, but it is easy to sink into it and just be in it. At other times being cared for by another person simultaneously arouses feelings of guilt and unworthiness. I find it impossible to sink into, just relax in the sensation of being cared for. It is pretty easy to look at it and trace back to how fraught my childhood was with the feeling that being cared for had strings attached or that my input on how best to care for me was unnecessary, bothersome.

Today was an easy day. Perhaps it is because I feel so new to bicycling, returning to it after years of not doing it at all. Traffic is more intense, both cars and other bicycles, and the gear has changed a lot too. Immediately back to a beginners mind when it comes to bicycling, so the feeling of being watched out for, kept safe, was helpful and comforting.

I found it harder when CK bought me a book at Powell's. Little twinges of guilt. She makes comments about my birthday coming, hinting at gifts, and I felt small for a moment, off center. I'm wearing the hoodie she bought me at UBC, which I love to wear because it is warm, comfy, and reminds me of CK. When she said she wanted to get it for me I felt, all at once, pleasure & excitement and guilt & discomfort, not wanting to seem a burden.

Similar emotions all rushed up when she gave me a massage in Vancouver. Eventually I was able to relax into her touch, until such time as our energy mutually shifted to being less relaxed. Always so many moments where my initial reaction to her caring, her affection is a feeling of uncertainty and not being worth it. I shift past that immediate response, into reality and the present, sometimes that transition takes longer, feels more rocky.

I make it eventually, able to at least truly feel the way I'm cared for even if I feel the discomfort in it at the same time. Finding some way to be on the mid-span, bridging two extremes. One extreme is the place where I feel shaky, uncertain, ashamed, unworthy, and afraid that if I sink into being cared for it will be suddenly pulled away from me in a way that inflicts humiliation. The other place, the other side of that bridge is where I am fully able to relax into being cared for, trust in it and be nurtured by it.


Broadway Bridge

I rode my bicycle across the Broadway Bridge today. I felt so exposed, so shaky, so frail and vulnerable. The river seems so big and the bridge so long from a bicycle. I've not ever been on any of Portland's bridges in anything other than a car.

Almost like a return to watching the bird on the sidewalk earlier this week; that connection to the delicate and tenuous nature of our existence. In a car you might feel a very big gust of wind coming off of the river or a large truck, but on a bicycle I would feel my arms shake and the frame and I would wobble just a little.

Going over the first time I couldn't bring myself to ride on the right hand side, which I should be doing so faster riders are able to pass me on the left. The rail on the right side looked so very low and open, so much so that I have no appreciation for the beautiful metal-work of the rail, only a feeling of anxiety that I could easily be over the rail and plummeting towards the river. That someone died jumping off of the Hawthorne Bridge earlier this week -- just for a lark, he and his friends were all doing it...

Finally I was off the bridge and waiting at the light. I sat through a green light not realizing that the bicycles have their own light! Riding up Broadway, through the hotel zone and the shopping around Pioneer Square, was a bit unnerving. I even put my foot down once and braked when I should have kept going. Cars jockeying for parking, drivers not even bothering to look for bicycles. Then up the hills to the Portland State University campus, which ended finally and we locked up our bikes.

CK said I had a huge grin on my face when we were standing there at the edges of the Farmers Market. I was still breathing heavily from going up the hills. It just feels so hard. I wasn't down in my lowest gear, but I was pretty low and felt as though I was moving so slowly. CK said I was doing fine and wasn't nearly as slow or shaky as I felt I was (this seems like a theme in my life... my therapist notes that I always evaluate myself far more harshly than others do).

I was so incredibly grateful to have CK riding behind me today, calling out instructions the whole time. She reminded me not to stop suddenly in bicycle traffic, as I had a couple of times due to nervousness in the hotel zone. She gently chided me later for answering my mobile and chatting briefly with AM, "Pull over to talk on the phone". I felt safer and less anxious with her there caring for me.

Tagged as: No Comments


Today turned out to be less productive and more stressful than I was anticipating. DW came to have lunch with me finally, after changing schedules, over sleeping and coming late. Things went OK until I commented on that I felt sometimes she wasn't very compassionate in her view towards people in general. She got defensive immediately, I withdrew and noted to never mind because I just wanted her to have a good trip. She immediately stormed off to her car. Upon my insisting she talk to me she made a point to defiantly light a Camel.

This blow up is really a long time coming. When I split up with her father she really made a lot bad choices that hurt everyone in her life a lot. It culminating her in assaulting a police office and being put into state mandated therapy, at first in a locked up facility. She told me in as many words to stay out of her life.

Per the therapist decision they decided to work with the relationship between DW's father and her, leaving me out. Since I made both DW and her father uncomfortable they were both glad to leave me out. A couple of years passed. DW even made a point in her blow up today to note that she didn't decide to leave me out. I chose not to point out to her that her therapist didn't preclude her from contacting me, rather the decision was to limit family therapy to just her Dad and her.

Later she contacted me a little, making a couple of hesitant phone calls. When she got closer to being released I was invited to come to a final therapy session. At that time DW noted that she just had to be in the present, wouldn't talk about anything that had happened, and was very defensive. When I suggested that there wasn't any "going back" to how things had been years prior, that things would have to be established all over again, including trust, DW told me I was being unreasonable. Just as she expected.

Since then I have seen very little of DW. She has been doing the things she wants to do, even more so now that she is 18. He father continues not to talk to me -- DW tells me it is because I have wounded him so much; I did point out that he hurt me a great deal too. She will come over, occasionally when I've made a point to contact her, for dinners and tell me everything she is up to.

Today I found out that I have just not been living up to the expectations of "Mom". DW really feels a need to have me be in the role of mother for her since her own mother was crazy and abusive. I'm the only person who has ever given any serious effort to the role in her life and that I went on with my life when she told me to get out has apparently been very painful. I was told I should have not listened to her, I should have pushed it on her.

She continues to be so defensive that it was really impossible to get her to see that it isn't blame that I'm laying at her feet, I'm just noting the truth. She didn't want me involved in her life and I listened to her. I've tried to make myself available to her, but she has set priorities to be with her friends and do the things 18 year-olds do. I've often had to be the one to send text messages or leave voice mails to get her to come over and let us know how she is doing.

Ultimately things ended on a more positive note. I think it made it clear to her that although one relationship is gone, we cannot time travel and do it over again, but there is a way for us to build a new relationship. Oddly enough this is practically what I said to her when she was released to her father's custody again. Maybe she's in a better place to hear it now. I hope so.

I don't have a good road map for being a good mother. An 18 year-old, who isn't even my daughter by biology or marriage, wanting me to be a good mom seems to be a really big challenge. I can think of a long list of mistakes I made when I was trying to parent her age 4 through 12. I do believe I owned up to making a mistake with her right away, if not immediately, apologized, and tried to not ever make the same mistake again. But now, how do you suddenly parent an adult?

Kind of moot for a while. DW is off to parts East to see the country. Wander her way around with no responsibilities. I think it is OK that she does this although it is clearly something that my own mother would never have let me do. I was paying bills, paying for college, paying for books, paying for loans, and encouraged to get out of the house as quickly as I could. Pushed into the decision to move in with someone before I was really ready to. It is something I've always kind of wished I could do and now seems even more unlikely.

Maybe by the time she's back I'll have a better handle on her wanting me to really be in a parent role again. Funny how it is totally a role. The only thing keeping it in place is the desire to have it there. She wants, from the way she sounded this afternoon, feels a need to have me play this role for her. There was part of me that just wanted to walk away when she stormed off. I guess some part of me still plays the role too since I went after her instead and despite it looking strange, sitting on the sidewalk next to her car while she talked to me.


Bridge Anticipation

I feel quite a bit better today after aching a lot for days. Iris worked on my very sore left side. My feet, which have been cramping so much, feel better a bit too. I'm relieved since tomorrow CK and I are going to bicycle into downtown together.

I'm going to bicycle on a bridge -- which leaves me feeling a little nervous to be honest. I'm even more excited to get to go bicycling with her than I am anxious about being on a bridge! Since I live in Portland I really need to get over this nervousness or resign myself to never going to the West Side unless I figure out how to take the Townie on MAX or a bus!

Tagged as: No Comments


I wanted to write about the ways in which I find being cared for by another person to be both wonderful and a bit scary at times. How sometimes it feels easier when AM cares for me, sometimes it feels easier when CK is doing it. Sometimes it just feels like a struggle regardless of who is trying to do it. Almost as if allowing myself to be cared for is creating a kind of vulnerability I am uncomfortable and lack trust in.

But I feel exhausted and lousy. My first monthly cycle in months and I've felt chills, flushed & feverish, and overall an increase in the muscle spasms in my legs, hips and around my tailbone. I take birth control pills continuously in order to suppress my cycles precisely because I'm so miserable and my existing condition in my back is exacerbated so much. I'm even having a much lighter cycle than I used to and I'm still feeling lousy.

CK gave me that look since yesterday -- noting at times I've looked gray and also look just exhausted. AM came to pick me up at CK's this morning when I let him know I wasn't able to go downtown and sit at my desk; having my legs down like that is very painful some days. My therapist noted how she's so used to seeing me with so much energy that it almost seemed like I was depressed today. At the Dharma center people were noting that I didn't look myself.

And I don't think I look myself. I look ill and unhappy. This change in my system, the way all of the nerves, muscles, tendons and other tissue around the reproductive organs are so affected by the cycle just amazes me. Similar to my back; that such a small change in the back causes such significant problems. We're so incredibly complex and delicate in so many ways.

In a way it ends tonight back reflecting on the bird I saw yesterday; sharing a moment with a creature even more delicate and also highly complex. To me it did not highlight my power compared to so tiny a creature so much as it reminded me that all beings are, in their own ways, equally fragile and terribly precious.

I hope I feel better tomorrow. I want to ride my bicycle. I especially want to ride it Saturday morning downtown to my office and the farmers market.

Tagged as: No Comments

Bird on the Sidewalk

This morning the alarm went off at 6 and I turned it off through a wave of fatigue. Not necessarily any greater level of pain, just feeling so very tired. I asked AM if he would drive me in so I could rest a little longer. Phoebe jumped over me and we curled up to watch the bright light of morning, then dozed a little longer.

I decided to get a coffee, my weekly indulgence in coffee, so AM let me off by Half and Half so I could grab a latte before my weekly team meeting started. It wasn't too busy and I was quickly presented with a lovely soy latte, complete with foam leaf on top. I should get a picture sometime when they do this, not all of the folks there do it. Really dense foam.

Doing OK. Little tired, sore in the left hip from the ride home last night with all my stuff. Not looking forward to my upcoming meeting. Looking forward to meeting CK at Chaat House for lunch a little after 1. I'm headed down the couple blocks to my office and I'm stopped short by something.

In the center of the sidewalk is a small, brown bird. At first, walking up to it, I thought it might be dead already. The victim of a neighborhood cat. But as I came up to it I could see it breathing, see just how small it was against the concrete. It didn't make a noise, didn't move or show any alarm.

At first, perhaps having had the initial thought that I was about to see a mangled bird on the sidewalk, I assumed the bird was in distress. I stood there, nearly frozen, watching. It just was there, breathing. I began to wonder if it was dying, if the breathing that appeared rapid to me was a sign of great pain. Then I noted how small the bird was, how it just sat there blinking tiny eyes and moving air through it's body, almost as if it were resting to regain strength after exertion or shock. Maybe a younger bird still not with the full experience of flight.

I just stood there, looking down at this tiny being. I thought of Norman Fisher's words in the article Coming Home to the Body in the current issue of Shambala Sun, that this tiny creature and I were sharing breath. We are all of us sharing our breath, all of the breath that has ever been breathed we share.

So I stood there, breathing, realizing that in observing the bird, feeling my concern, curiosity, desire to react -- all of these things my brain was doing and my body wasn't breathing right. In standing there in the middle of the sidewalk, my brain ran down many pathways and the breath tightened in my chest so it was as rapid as I supposed the little bird's to be. I felt the side ribs in my body, moved my breath toward them, back toward even breath.

For a moment I recited metta for this little bird, either at the end of it's life or just regaining strength. I didn't know what else to do and wondered if I should always be in reaction mode like that anyway. In the corner of my vision I saw two men approaching. I stood up, facing them, noted to, "Mind the bird."

As I stepped away, I looked back twice more, wishing merit for this very small being I'd just shared the practice of breath with. Then I headed off to meetings starting momentarily and co-workers. Frustration, laughter, tasks, lists, connection, and the general busyness of a workday. It all flew by, up until now when I'm writing and contemplating sleep.

It of course wasn't there that I could tell when I left the building later. I've tried not to wonder about all the possible reasons for seeing the bird. I have just been aware that since that moment this morning in the back of my mind I've kept a small, brown bird. Holding space for it to be free from anxiety & fear, free from suffering, and that in it's own way know happiness & peace.

Tagged as: No Comments

Slipping Back Into Routine

I woke up this morning at CK's when Atari jumped on the bed around 6:30, meowing and wanting attention. He ended up jumping over me and settled in the space between my knees & chest. I noted the golden light coming in under the blinds, pet Atari briefly and listened to CK breath.

It felt so nice, so lovely that I hated having to disturb the quiet, upset the cat. My alarm was going off and I had work to get to. CK sleepily mumbled at me, pulled the duvet up over us. I snuggled up to her a little, giving her little kisses. I wished I could just lay there with the two of them in the cool of the morning instead I reluctantly pulled away from her and took a shower.

When I came out, dressed but for my shoes, CK looked up at me and muttered, "You're already dressed." I sat back down on the bed with her and listened as she tried to wake up, insisting she was going to at least get up and walk with me. I insisted back that she just sleep some more. She drifted back off, her hand slipping off my knee.

My heart had a moment of feeling so full at seeing her there sleeping with Atari curled up by her legs, at home in Portland. She looked like she was really resting. I could appreciate just how sexy she is, how completely appealing to me on that level, but I was also just struck at how sweet and beautiful the morning was. I forced myself up and out the door, putting my headphones on.. The moment on the bed kept my step light all the walking to the MAX stop, riding into downtown, and onto my work day.

Mostly good day at the office. Usual mix of talking with people, even after these several years it feels strange that chatting is encouraged because it encourages strong teams. I did some training, wrapped up some things, finished some script stuff I was working on. Got some really frustrating news from our IT department. About that time, when I was feeling particularly uncharitable, I left to take my bicycle back to the shop.

After teaching asana practice this evening I popped over to CK's for a little visit. Before I left she hugged me close asking if I'd really worried her family would talk her out of our relationship. I told her that mostly I was feeling anxious for her stress down there in Sacramento and my being up in Portland unable to take care of her. From all of that anxiety bubbled up silly stuff that I knew wasn't real at all. It isn't that I don't know she's fully capable of caring for herself. I just like to do things that leave her feeling cared for -- making dinner, helping shop for groceries, just being there to listen to her.

When I got to the house all hot and flushed from the ride AM helped me with my stuff and told me he was proud of me. It feels strange that someone should be proud of me for doing this. I'm trying to keep it in perspective and try to see the accomplishment. I feel that when I reflect on some of the anxiety I've felt at riding a bicycle again, but I fall into the usual habit of not taking pride in what I'm doing.