Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Halloween 2008, Reflecting on Pain Noise

I spent much of the day dusting and organizing in the front rooms. It has been a while since I've done this chore and was helped by AM putting some boxes out in the garage. We've discovered a few boxes of things belonging to NB and need to get a hold of her to get her current address before we can send them on.

Not the usual way I'd like to spend a vacation day, however, it was nice to just have that time to take care of a task like that. I was happy to get things put into the shelves on either side of the fireplace. Moved the clustering, cluttering of glass bottles into the cabinets and other other shelves.

CK came over and also helped some with the cleaning, organizing. She and I carved a pumpkin by consensus (we did a peace sign and stars on it). Finished getting the filling for sushi rolls together. Every thing came together pretty smoothly.

At some point I was trying to get comfortable. CK asked how my pain was and I first said OK then realized that part of my pain was the pressure of my jeans. If the pressure of my jeans is too much on my legs and hips then my pain level is pretty high. I went and got pajama bottoms which felt immediately better. I had just been in such constant motion for so long I was moving past the pain.

One of the many problems with chronic pain. It is very easy for me to tune pain out. My brain is accustomed to the fact that it is given useless information all the time. There is always some level of pain that isn't anything new or worse, but I'm so used to tuning it out that when it really starts to hurt I don't pay any attention to it until it hurts to sit down, wear jeans...

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Moving With the Current

I've felt my inner critic ratcheting up the guilt this week. As each day passed without me writing I felt the guilt-o-meter creep up a bit more. Edging toward that place where I just give up because I feel so guilty for slacking I can't bear the thought of facing the reality of starting over.

When interacting with people and I feel as though I was mindless or unskillful in my speech I can feel overwhelmed by the guilt of it, unable to be present for feeling bad. I'm trying to get better and actually say something to the person, as soon as I am possibly able. In the past I'd feel so ashamed of my behavior that I felt incapacitated to even address it with the person I'd hurt or made angry. Since I've been learning to say something to the person, as agonizingly painful as it feels, I often find that the person really hadn't taken offense at all or if they had, not to the extent I'd built it up to be in my mind.

So I am writing tonight, finally, after many full days. I gave a very well received presentation at work. I should be able to glean things out of that presentation into a generic one I'm going to propose to OS Bridge, a free, "pre" OSCON Open Source conference that some folks are trying to put together for next summer here in Portland (in response to OSCON moving from Portland in 2009). I'm also considering proposing a "Yoga for Geeks" workshop there as well.

Suddenly my prospects of teaching more yoga have grown! Tonight I met with the owner of SomaSpace, a studio that features formal & ecstatic dance, body movement, and she's looking for yoga teachers. The space is convienient and lovely, very comfortable feeling. PB was not merely interested in the ideas I had, but enthusiastic and supportive as well.

We talked about my starting out by offering workshops and perhaps some regular, once-a-month classes. I said I'd like to do workshops on yoga and trauma recovery as well as a regular class for members of the transgender community. I think she'd be equally interested if I offered workshops for hospice workers and other pallative caregivers. I was just stunned by all the names of people she wants to introduce me to, ideas she had about marketing, and even the suggestion that I throw a party/fundraiser for myself to fund buying props!

Then I went to zazen and spent two sitting periods, plus the walking period, trying desperately to NOT plan everything now! Even as I tried to settle myself into my breath, I had to admit I was having very good ideas! One I really like is working towards doing a Metta Yoga workshop out of all I learn from Loving-kindness retreat in April.

For the present, I have the training to finish in March. PB and I agreed to keep in touch during the winter and as it gets closer to April we'll look at some dates. I am feeling that this may be a good arugument for making it to one of her dance evenings once in a while. It is a good way to keep that rapport between us supported.

If we as practitioners think of ourselves as entering a stream, I have this feeling of being moved along by the current. Not swept up, rushing heedlessly off. Rather being supported, bouyed up and moved along in the right direction. The current providing swiftness to my Way.

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Essential Sound

Felt tired and disjointed much of the day, distracted. Got quite a bit done at work despite this. Home, dinner, zazen... Tried using the seiza bench to kneel again and felt very uncomfortable the whole first sit. I feel a resistance to standing up, perhaps I should have since it stirred up enough pain to be uncomfortable on my zafu during the second sit.

I had mentioned to my friend MP about being dilute before, in 1999 when he first got to meet me, in response to his saying how "concentrated" I seemed. He laughed and said he'd meant how concentrated I seemed in terms of Prana. I wrote back thanks for the clarity and told him that I'd liked thinking about being dilute in a sense of the self that was the way I interacted with the world.

He wrote back to me to say, " you have me thinking about di-lute and mono-lute... whatever those might be. Or even tri-lute. Hmm.

"There is something about lutes as embodying the duality of material existence I simply had not strung together."

When I saw this it first of all made me smile, discussions with MP nearly always do this. I am thinking that perhaps we journey towards mono-lute. We settle down all the other tones until it is just one, essential sound of clarity like a perfect Om. One tone that moves throughout several expressions, encompassing all of them.


Recognizing Truth

I had a session with GM today.  Spent some time discussing the whole situation with DW.  I said what had finally settled in me was recalling how unsupported I felt at that time in my life, how quick my Mom was to get me out of the house and working even though I was clearly at a loss, depressed after breaking my ankle.  I remembered listening to a woman at the Dharma Center give her Way Seeking Mind talk to us, noting that when the memory came back to her that she'd been raped by her father she just shut down and spent six months just healing, crying, screaming, and coming to terms with it.  I recall feeling a little envious that her friends and mother and supported such a period of recovery for her and immediately felt a little guilty for it.

I'm not sure if it wrong or right to try and make up for something I wish I'd had.  After all, much of what I suffered from throughout my childhood was my mother trying to make up for what she'd always wanted.  I feel that my wish for DW to have space to recover without being pressured to hurry up and be an adult is more healthy than my mother's wish for me to have fancy dresses.  I'm equally unsure if this will work or will blow up in my face, in which case she's back to trying to find housing through the addiction counseling services she's using.
I talked to her about my discussion with HB around the shame that keeps bubbling up.  How to look at it, recognize it is part of my life but not mine.  It was left behind by adults who abused me, the shame they refused responsibility for so I picked it up instead, blamed myself.  She liked his instruction to check through the precepts validate that I'm fine, not doing anything to be ashamed of.
We talked around the topic of my Mom some before I finally admitted that finally using the word "abuse" around her behavior leaves me feeling even more estranged from her than I feel normally.  I feel myself flinch away from the word when I combine it in my head with my mother.  GW pointed me gently to the word and the hard truth of it.
More things I don't want to incorporate into the me I perceive myself to be.  The very things HB says I need to make part of me, treat with love.  I don't want to love this, I feel in equal parts the desire to throw things, yell and the desire to crawl into bed, hide.  I don't want to be pulled into and through this, it feels suffocating.  
GW says I will be able to, I'll learn the habit of recognizing the shame and fear as artifacts left behind by irresponsible adults.  Like litter across my psyche.  More time in discussion with HB about how to love this, how to sink into this without losing my breath.
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Open to the World

Once again I slept poorly. I just couldn't seem to fall asleep, my mind was racing around. Not even truly anxious, just busy. I kept controlling the breath, trying to focus on it, but only would start to doze before I ached and needed to move or I felt my brain start planning work, planning conversations, planning, planning, planning. When my alarm went off at 7AM, which I had planned so I could get up at sit zazen, have a shower, and work for a little before we would take me to my office and DW to her appointment.

Instead I tried to sleep a little longer, getting up at just before 8AM to get on the daily status call. I found problems as I checked my mail right as the call started. Spent part of the day dealing with that, re-doing work from Saturday night, and sitting in on meetings. Around 2:30 I left to pick up CK at the airport.

She looked tired and I was so glad to see her. I drove us back to her flat and we looked at her photographs from the trip, had some popcorn and chai. It was nice just sitting with her, talking and being close. I rubbed her feet a little bit and then had to change to go over to the community center and teach.

I put up the picture of myself from October 1999 on my Facebook account. My friend MP commented to me how he'd been thinking "how concentrated" I had become. It made me laugh and wonder if I wasn't dilute before. Just aspects of personality filling up the space, not the whole me.

At times it begins to feel less awkward. I guess I'm getting a little more used to my skin, even the extra, leftover skin. It is that I feel any less exposed, like I'm just making it up. I guessed I'm getting used to being that way, being open to the world instead of only interacting with it through a narrow slice.


The Topic I Avoid

A little over a week ago I finally screwed up my courage to discuss a topic I've been avoiding. It was easy to avoid for several weeks while my teacher was traveling, but HB was back in town, I was going to be at the Dharma Center just before zazen teaching yoga on the day when sanzen is available. Months ago I had mentioned the feeling to him and he said I could not work on that for a while, to focus on understanding the anger and other emotions.

For the last several weeks I've felt shame very acutely. I am embarrassed by the passion I feel. On some level I've thought the intensity of my body's response to CK might settle down, but it has only grown as we go more deeply, feel more comfortable with each other. I feel like I'm being inappropriate, wanting too much, unable to control my body, and as though I'm 14 again.

When I've talked to GM about it we've discussed how it very clearly relates to a childhood of being told my emotional responses were out-of-control. A pattern that continued during my first marriage. That I also have a traumatic experience related to being caught naked with a female friend as a child only compounds the problem. Since I'd never been in a very deep, open relationship with a woman before most of this seethed below the surface.

GM said I needed to spot the shame, watch it come up and know that the shame itself is what is inappropriate. Know that when inappropriate feelings like the shame arise it is the voice of my Inner Critic speaking. Remind myself of where I am at, that CK loves me and, far from finding me inappropriate, delights in my passion for her.

Yet still the shame comes. I watch it, name it as wrong, say to it I know where it comes from. And there we sit in impasse, my shame and I. So off to sazen with the impasse.

HB first said that reflecting on where it all comes from is irrelevant, truly, since the events already took place and nothing can be changed about that. He said to use the Precepts as a touchstone, run through them all to be certain I am observing them. If I find I am in accordance with them then I clearly do not have to experience shame for being who I am.

I realized this is another way of exactly what my therapist wants me to do, only deeper. Not only do I bring myself to the present moment but I have my ethical guideposts to affirm that I am not making a poor choice. I thought about this a second and asked HB, "Then what?"

I went on to tell him that I have reached a point in my life that I feel I am living more honestly, true to my essential self, than ever before, ever. It feels exposed most of the time, fragile, I'm more accustomed to maintaining a persona. It is the truth, even when it feels hard.

He said then I need to work on drawing the shame in. Not to hate my past. It isn't that I have to love the trauma, but I should include the child I was in my love. I want to do this, it is why I have tried to mourn that child in ceremony. Yet when I try to process, touch these places that hurt so much, I feel myself recoil. The fear, the shame, the humiliation... all of these feel sticky, like tar, and I feel myself resist going into them.

"My pain." This is the answer I give when I see HB in sanzen and he performs the ritual of asking, "What is your practice."

Sometimes the practice is my physical pain, the fear and tightness around living with that. Other times it is the deeper, darker emotional pain.


Fear, Pain, and Absence

Today was a busy day. I was tired out and slept until 9:30, which was a nice indulgence since I haven't felt like I've had enough sleep all week. It was interesting to compare notes with my co-classmates in the teacher training on Saturday; many of us have not slept at all well this week. JW, who also had slept poorly this week, told us that over the years she's noted that for the few days before and after a full moon people seem to have their sleep disrupted. Of course I find myself writing this past 11PM tonight so I'm not exactly getting back on track!

AM made us coffee and toasted an English muffin for me for breakfast. It was nice to sit with him and share breakfast together. Then it was a rush to take a hot shower, which was worth it as it helped the ache I was feeling after the yoga workshop yesterday. I got ready and went to taught my regular Sunday beginning yoga class at the community center.

Z waited until all the other students left to speak with me. She told me that she once again enjoyed the class, that she enjoys every class. The ability to enjoy my classes comes from the space I create; she said that it is because I continually remind everyone to have compassion for their bodies and selves. To move to the point of intensity, stay with it, breathe into it, but to resist pushing past it. Z let me know that this allowed her to let go of judging her body & its ability and just do yoga.

Once again I found myself humbled by a student, by their complimentary words. Compassion is the foundation for my practice and the thing I hope students learn. I know how judging I am of myself, how difficult this practice is for me to apply to myself. It is so common to struggle with the Inner Critic that my teachers offer a weekend retreat on the topic at least twice each year. In order to help me learn more about this for myself, I try to encourage my students to cultivate compassion. To have a student tell me this exact thing is what helps her is really very special.

After this I hung out with DW and AM at the house until it was time to head out again. I popped by CK's to gave Atari some food and love. Mostly he ignored me. Then off to the Dharma Center to co-teach the last class combining a physical asana practice with the contemplation of the last three Paramitas (perfections). Tonight MB and I read passages to call the students' minds to the Paramitas Sila (ethical, skillful way), Dhyana (meditation, concentration), and Prajna (wisdom).

Then sitting zazen in the chilly zendo; 61 degrees, Fahrenheit and falling tonight. I'd forgotten my dinner and wrap at the house. AM surprised me by bringing my dinner during asana practice, but my wrap was something I missed all evening. When it was my turn for sanzen I went downstairs and talked with HB about my fear around my pain during sesshin.

He gave me several suggestions, like trying seiza (kneeling, I've avoided because of the surgery in my right knee when I was 19), drawing my mind to all the places in my body that felt fine, and when all else fails just standing on my zabuton. Beyond that, if all those things didn't help during sesshin we'd just address it then. He did comment upon my fear over something so many months away. I noted in response that this fear has been eating away with me for two years and is truly the root of my resistance to sesshin.

I felt better after talking to him, less helpless. I went back upstairs to my cushion and began to inspect my body for what did not ache. I found it very easy to settle into the area of my digestive system and notice that my stomach, liver, spleen, kidneys, small & large intestines and bladder all felt absolutely fine, good really. The next kinhin period I spotted a passed seiza bench on the shelf, snagged it the next time I went past, and set it on my zabuton. For the last two zazen periods I sat seiza and found that my knee was OK. Even through the padding I felt the hardness of the bench on my left sitbone, however, I was able to get through the sitting period. On Thursday I'll try using the bench with the gel pad I have.

Picked up DW after sitting was over and drove by CK's to take care of Atari. He was happy to see me and rolled around on the carpet until I rubbed his belly for a while. I gave him some kibble and his pill, right as I was leaving CK sent me a message. At the house I phoned her and told her about the day.

I miss her. I wish I were there with her or that we were just in our usual routine. I don't miss her like this, even when we're not together, when she's just a few miles away.

It isn't that I don't enjoy the time I've spent with AM and DW, time I'd usually be with CK, at her flat. I've really been glad to have the time with them. The time with them isn't a replacement for time with CK, it is just good time with them. There isn't some comparison or measurement. I just miss her. I feel the absence of her place in the humming and drumming of my daily life.



In Yoga tapas is one of the Niyamas, one of the ways we live. It translates as Burning Effort or sometimes just diligence. In investigating the six Paramitas I hear the echo of it in the perfection of Virya. This also is sometimes translated as diligence, but also energy, courage, enthusiasm, and effort. There is at times a element of practice that is just gotten through using nothing but pure, raw tapas.

I had reflected on this idea after reading the phrase, "pure, raw discipline" in The Heart of Being in talking about Zen practice, that it is what gets some people through sitting zazen. Daido Loori Roshi had gone on to note that there must more than just that, there must be something else that draws you to practice in order to both sustain and go deeply into it. That phrase really stuck with me.

Today's teacher training included 3 hours of a core/abdominal (second and third chakra) workshop. I'd felt a little anxious about it since half of my back pain resides in the second chakra and I was still sore from Friday night's practice. It had occurred to me that is what got me through the Jivamukti inspired vinyasa that made everything about my hips, backside and legs ache!

It got me through to the end of the workshop. Towards the end my hips were aching, low-level spasms brought up some of the helplessness I'd felt a couple of weeks ago trying to kick up into adho mukha vrksasana. Tears were springing up in my eyes, smarting at the corners, and I felt demoralized entirely. I finished by doing things to open the hips, relieve them. I recovered a bit eating a snack afterwards, but felt entirely exhausted and was happy to go home.

To news that the hard drive may have given up life (music library!) which is frustrating on a few levels. For a time I just felt taut with raw emotion that I'd just breathed past while relying on raw discipline. AM graciously made dinner so I could go sit zazen for a bit. I wanted to make sure I did it, stop excusing myself from it for any number of reasons. I was exhausted and hurting, but I just sat with it and the emotion. After 25 minutes or so I felt better, quieter in the volume even if I felt the pain intensely yet still.

Tomorrow will be a long day. Teaching my class at the community center, lunch break, then co-teaching a second class at the Dharma Center. I'm going to talk to Hogen tomorrow after that, about my fear and the pain. I know that's what I need to do.

I miss CK, I'm glad she's having a good time. I was very happy she called even though she was tired out. I just miss her and the routine of our life together.

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Resistance, Movement

Yesterday I was all excited to tell KH about planning to attend the loving-kindness sesshin. Then she told me that to take Jukai I have to have attended two sesshin! I really felt my heart sink. It has been so difficult to get to where I feel up to even trying one, but two in the space between April and October seems overwhelming. KH said not to worry, I could always take it the next year.

It has been so difficult to make this decision, well to actually follow the steps to make it happen since I've known I've wanted to do this for a while now. In my mind I really had come to tie taking Jukai after getting my teacher certification done. The two things so equally important, blending into one another, that I wanted that commitment to be done together.

Inside I felt clamoring voices. The amount of projects I'm involved with at work. A lifetime of feeling like I'm putting off until later. So many times I was put off as a child in what I wanted to do either by directly being told something wasn't possible to moving so often.
I was trying to explain it to CK last night after zazen. She asked if it felt like I had worked so hard and was being told it wasn't enough. I agreed that some of it was that. I went home feeling hopeless, small, and like a child (not in a good way). I explained my upset to AM who noted that he'll help make sure things work out for me to do the two sesshins. I slept poorly again.
Despite all of this I felt OK today, even more positive. It occurred me to today, throughout the day but it had time to settle while I was meditating and during asana practice, that my biggest resistance to sesshin is the pain in my body. I maintain my relationship with my pain through movement.
I have found it somewhat difficult to have people understand this who don't have chronic pain. They think about their shoulder or knee aching a little and don't understand. If they're a long-time mediator they may think that just staying with the body and it will shift, often times go away. My pain shifts, but all the twists and turns of it are downhill into more pain. I move, literally pulling my body out of this spiral.
There's also some resistance to having it expose my pain. More bluntly put, I don't want to spend 6 days crying, weeping in front of people. I'm fearful that the insistence of IW and GM, my physical and psycho- therapists respectively, that I cry more, grieve what I experienced, will surface uncontrollably. I see myself crouched in the leaves in the Jizo Garden, sobbing in raw agony like I did this past summer.
Only I won't be able to try and sneak around the back of the monastery and hope no one sees me. Fleeing back to Portland without an explanation.
I explained this to CK after asana practice and she noted that even if it was as bad as I imagined it was finite. Sesshin is 6 days, and of that only 4 truly full days. You arrive ahead of dinner on Monday and leave sometime after lunch on Sunday.
MB asked me if I would co-teach the last class around yoga and the six Paramitas on Sunday. Since that will end at 7PM I believe I will again stay for sanzen. I've talked around this topic a little, but it would be worth being direct about it with HB. I already am feeling less overwhelmed this evening having recognize what the biggest contributors to the fear were. After talking to HB about it I'm sure more of my anxiety will be calmed.
CK is packing to go to California in the morning. This is the first of three trips over the next three months. I will take care of Atari and talk with her on the phone. It isn't that I won't enjoy spending tomorrow evening hanging out with AM, perhaps DW too. It is just that I deeply feel her absence when she goes. I miss our routine, her humor and her sense equally.
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Unexpected Zazen Moment

I left work a little early and took the bus over to have my hair cut. AM picking me up so we could take care of a few things, but since I was done a bit earlier than expected I had some time to kill. I went around the corner to the Chan temple. When I got up the steps I discovered the garden and front gates were all open.

As it was beautiful and warm out so I made way into the garden, bowed to the Four-Faced Buddha there, and to the Guan Yin at the opposite end. I was delighted to discover that the Buddha's altar area was surrounded by benches with a flowing water feature complete with koi. I took off my sneakers, rolled up my jacket (too warm for it anyway), and sat zazen there on the bench.
The orange cat I've met before there, "Beelzebub", nosed around looking at me, peered into the water at the fish, took a drink and wander on. Later a squirrel wandered through and out the gate. The sound of the water was wonderful behind me. I heard voices in the neighborhood and up at the entrance to the temple.
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