Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Long Wednesdays

I feel a little better having resolved to go to the loving-kindness sesshin in April. I have many weeks to prepare and I know that I can rest in the knowledge that some way will be found to work with the pain. I even told my manager, KE today my plans and that I would want to work from home for the entire week following the retreat to move myself back into the noise of work after 6 days of silence.

Work was busy with people interactions. I showed the draft presentation I've been working on to the whole team doing a larger presentation to our directors on the 29th. I could feel myself sweat a bit in sharing it, nervous that people would find the way I used humor to be inappropriate. People liked it very much and when the humor transitioned to what we've actually done the past 2 and a half years someone commented that they hadn't expected to have tears come to their eyes at the meeting! It felt good to have something I had worked very hard on have a positive impact on people.

Then I walked with co-workers, our team building, for about an hour. Popped into the little snack shop run by retirees for a little bit to visit with NP, my friend who retired this summer. And then it was nearly time to go home.

CK & I rode to asana practice. It was a good class although some tough poses, the intensity of the pose being more the challenge. We enjoyed the ride home even though it had started to lightly rain outside. Put together a quick supper, although with the ride it still means we're eating close to 9pm. No wonder I feel like Wednesday is such a long day!


Loving-Kindness Sesshin

I'm tired tonight, fatigued. I still don't feel completely well, my throat hurts a bit. My brain feels like it is cycling in and out of stillness and throwing around ideas to write about. It felt so busy being back in the office today, being around several people again, that stillness is appealing.

I get tired of being at home everyday, working and sleeping in the same place. It is nice to get a break now and again. I suppose if we do find a large home, or turn some large building into a home, that has an office as well we'll have to really make it feel separate. An argument for having an office away from home, like CK does now.

Contemplating sesshin some more. I sent KH a message last night saying that I'd asked Hogen about Jukai and got approval. She sent back that we can talk on Thursday, she'll be at the Dharma Center, but that the immediate thing is to plan to establish my sesshin practice. I realize more than anything sesshin is the thing I feel anxiety about in taking Jukai. Those anxious feelings largely do to my fear around my physical pain.

Well, and maybe some of my dislike of crying in front of people. Combined with how crying sets my body off into spasms it generally leaves me wanting to avoid the experience. That the physical pain, the intensity of it, sometimes leaves me off-balanced and like crying.

When I read the sesshin schedule I feel a clench of anxiety. The amount of sitting is so much more than I've done. I'm anxious about muscle spasms that leave me nauseous, crying that causes my whole body lock up. The silence is fine, I feel comfortable in the silence.

I made myself look at the calendar, just get it over with. In doing so I believe I have found a sesshin that fits well. In April, a few weeks after I finish my teacher training program, Chozen will be leading a sesshin on loving-kindness.

Loving-kindness, metta, practice is something that challenges me when I try and direct it towards myself. I believe it underlies the ability to incorporate the traumatic events in my life. Hogen told me that I cannot try to "get rid of" these things, that they are part of the whole of who I am. To do that I must be able to extend that love to those parts of myself that talk in the language of shame, feeling inappropriate, of fear.

It is daunting, it also seems like a sesshin destined to have me in tears, often. But perhaps a silent week of trying to generate loving-kindness for myself, for the child who was hurt and is still afraid, will be a week of worthy effort. I put it onto my Google calendar.

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I happened to spot an old picture of myself from October 1999. When people ask me how overweight I was this is one of the images I think of. Nine years ago I loved this photograph me, I thought I looked lovely in it and used it for some of my online profiles. Now it is like seeing a ghost.


There was a time where I was entirely comfortable being that person. I weighed over 290 pounds. I could be loud, brash, imperious and over-the-top, knowing about sexuality. This was the person I became in response to a life filled with distractions; food, sex, video games, television & other media, trashy novels... really anything that kept me from thinking about why I was trying so hard to entertain myself at all costs.

Nine years later and I weigh less than half that and look much more like the person who graduated from Beaverton High School in 1987. Seeing 1999 Sherri, thinking of who I was then, is almost this sad experience. This larger-than-life personae I invested everything into. This facade who needed a substantial dose of anti-anxiety medication to keep her on an even remotely even keel. Who was avoiding the misery in her life, a long history of it.

I'm not sure what started to change first, video games I think. When I split up with my ex-husband, AP, he took all the computers so the LAN games were a thing of the past. I quickly grew bored with the Playstation games I had, which has always been the case with every console game I've owned.

When I started changing my approach to food it began to affect other things. I was vegetarian by 2002, not really intending to go that way but ending up there after meat began to taste very bad to me. It was my cholesterol I was trying to change, not my weight, so I'd started trying vegetarian dishes hoping it would be healthier and found them so good I just opted for them. In the end my cholesterol would increase (all the dairy), but I would fairly easily loose 100 pounds.

At that point, January 2003, I began to investigate hatha yoga. After only one year I wanted to teach and would spend another year intensifying my practice toward this goal. Three years ago this month I would teach my first class. Now I am intensely studying again, working towards certification through Yoga Alliance. Two asana practices a week in addition to the two beginning classes I now teach and six hours of theory, anatomy & physiology, technique, assists, modifications, and ethics.

In 2005 AM and I both began to investigate Buddhism. While trying out meditation one evening at the Ch'an temple I discovered that sitting caused intense pain in my legs, hips and back. The herniated disc at the base of my spine irritating all the nerves, tendons and muscles into constant spasm. I would seek out a cushion and would in turn discover the Jizos for Peace project in the summer of 2005. In considering my beginning to teach beginning yoga I was drawn to the Zen Community of Oregon.

Last night, during sanzen, I asked HB if I could receive Jukai, to take refuge, next autumn. To all my anxiety and nervous energy around asking that's been building for months now he answered, "Sure, I don't see why not."

Now months to finish tasks. Writing about the precepts, all sixteen of them. Sewing the Rakusu, a representation of the Buddha's robe. Attending sesshin, which worries me greatly since getting through half that amount of sitting last winter at the women's retreat I was having muscle spasms during the last meditation practice. I am sure a way will be found is what I try to remind that anxious voice.

Seeing that ghost me increased my resolve to set myself toward this next goal. I've known for over two years I have wanted to do this, I've just been afraid I'd never really fit in. That if I wasn't playing the role of "Good Zen Buddhist" I wouldn't be able to join the club. Again and again I've been shown I am a part, that even someone who finds their way out on the edges, in the narrow margins is just another person seeking to settle and wake up.


Moving Towards Health

I'm sitting down in my basement after a dinner of leftover, split pea soup with the rest of a loaf of multigrain bread from the Pearl Bakery. Although I have been feeling weak all day I was surprised at my stamina during asana practice tonight at Prananda. I actually feel in better health than before class, still coughing some, but the heat of practice (I was sweating) seems to be beneficial. When we got to bridge pose I felt very tired and used a block to support myself so I could just deeply feel the opening across the heart.

It has been a long couple of days. Wednesday night after asana practice and a warm dinner my coughing got worse. I ended waking CK up at 4AM Thursday with my coughing. I felt so awful when we work up Thursday that I called AM to come pick me up. I ended up sleeping most of the day on Thursday.

In finally admitting to myself I needed to stay home Thursday night, not go to the Dharma Center, I realized how important that night of zazen is to me. Even when things are on an even keel I look forward to the feeling of sitting in the zendo with everyone. Now, particularly, next to CK, hearing her breathing beside me. I feel deeply connected to her when we sit zazen together.

The week had been so stressful. DW had reached a point in her detox process that she was feeling very ill. I felt destablized and afraid, closing in on myself and into silence. I felt myself deeply resenting having to ask someone to take my place as Ino because I was too ill to be there.

I'd make a point later, at a point where I felt just taut with stress, I'd go and sit zazen myself. It near the time the sangha was sitting and I let myself setting into my breath, feeling the connection even across town. I was glad to be home and not disrupting everyone as every 5 minutes or so I'd cough deeply.

I felt better after sitting, back in my body and not flying around in emotions. I'd have dinner and nearly fall asleep sitting up afterward. AM would convince me to go to bed and I was dozing off in bed before I usually finished chanting.

When I woke up this morning I felt considerably improved. I got out my laptop and did some work. I felt well enough to zip over to CK's and have a sandwich with her. I really valued this quick bit of time since I'd been feeling how deeply I was missing our schedule of seeing each other while I was sick and helping out DW.


Resting in Silence

It has been a long day, several long ones actually. After the wrenching news of DW's heroin addiction last week I've felt taut with worry. I sense the way I've changed these past few years because I was able to be present for a lovely, wonderful day with CK on Sunday. Promptly feeling ill on Monday didn't help at all. Normally I'd have fought this off, but the stress of the hum of worry in the background has depleted those resources.

Yesterday, unexpectedly, DW phoned up and asked for a ride to an appointment. She'd explain in the car. AM & I quickly pulled ourselves together, left the house, and picked up a shaken looking DW. She'd made an appointment with an addiction counselor and hadn't been able to catch the bus in time to get there.
After the appointment and picking up a prescription to help her through the detox process DW came back to the house. She talked with AM on the porch, smoking. He left to run errands and we talked for a while. I decided to make applesauce and tomato sauce. It would give us something to do with our respective nervous energy.
So we talked. She talked a lot and I just chopped apples for a while, having her peeling them. When I felt myself starting to react too strongly inside to something she was saying I'd breath and let my mind focus on just the task in my hands. Resting myself in my breath and the act of cooking from time to time.
I felt hopeful but still intensely needing my boundaries. Too much hard, painful history and I've worked to diligently to quiet my life from the constant noise in DW and AP's respective lives. The effort of staying present, but largely non-reactive was great and I was relieved when AM left with DW to take to a friends. I immediately went into our meditation room and sat zazen, sinking into the silence until CK arrived.
Today I felt scattered and ill. My chest felt congested from the cold. I got on meetings and tried to focus on work. Touched base with SJ about the news and AP phoned to talk with me again. Contrary to my better judgement I made myself got to asana practice tonight. I desperately needed a feeling of my routine, to be grounded by a class.
I felt better once I got moving in class and although I still feel ill, I feel more connected again and less scattered by the intensity of it. CK picked me up after class and I made a tofu scramble at her flat. AM phoned to share what he felt was another hopeful conversation with DW. CK and I are sitting in the quiet and it feels like home.

Just a Cold

I've had a wonderful few days and I'd been planning writing about all of it today. The fun evening AM, CK & I had Friday watching the vice presidential debates we'd DVR'd while we had been at the Dharma Center the night before. My first real serious rain ride, with new Ortleib panniers, on Saturday. I also have wonderful pictures to accompany writing about the wonderful day CK and I spent in Hood River County on Sunday.

However, at this very moment I have a cold and feel rather puny. I've been trying to tell myself it has just been my allergies getting worse with autumn really settling in. On Saturday I was questioning if I was fighting something, but felt well enough to be at teacher training and ride to CK's afterward. Yesterday I felt a little fatigued, but better after CK & I had slept in some. This morning I woke up feeling pathetic and the effort of trying to pump air into my tires exhausted me.

AM came and picked up me and the bike. I worked from home, catching meetings and checking into things. I'm going to go to bed early tonight and will write about the weekend. I'm trying not to resent being sick, I haven't really felt this ill in over a year which is so much better than my health at any time prior to the past 5 years. It was a stressful, upsetting week last week and that on top of an intense schedule really has left me a bit low.


The Weight of Compassion

I was doing OK with things, even during a phone conversation with SJ about all he knew and the phone calls he's had the past few days. I felt sadness and grave concern for DW, but was feeling past the choking pain. The day was filled with busy work and a lunch out at Blossoming Lotus with CK and GK. I didn't tell GK about DW over lunch, didn't want to rehash it at that time.

In the afternoon at home I got the merit list ready, adding DW's name to it. At some point the mind that knew the only thing that can be done right now is to chant for her and the mind that is in pain got separated. The pained mind forgot about my being the one to chant her name.

Until I got to it on the list. My voice freezing up in my throat, feeling like all the muscles and bones around my heart were being crushed together. I didn't want to chant her name and my voice broke, stayed broken and raw for the rest of service. I kept going but felt my face burning in embarrassment and discomfort a top the choking pain.

Afterward I was given the most beautiful compliment and offer of gratitude. RS came up to me and said that as he heard my voice breaking it occurred to him the tremendous weight I carry for the sangha in not only collecting all the names of the suffering and deceased, but in chanting them as well. He said he hadn't appreciated the burden that I hold for all of them and that he feels deep gratitude that I do this. He told me that he hears me as the actual voice of compassion for the whole sangha. Struggling with my own grief I felt the tears springing to my eyes again.

I felt overwhelmed and so humbled by his words. Sitting here now I'm trying to remember these words so I can learn to replace the fear and shame I feel when I cry with them.

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The morning started with my not feeling entirely rested and grateful that AM was driving me into the office. While getting ready I checked into to work email and found that the contract had not been ratified by the union. We're back under the threat of work stoppage and everything that entails. I've asked for a waiver for Saturdays since I have teacher training. Not working a contingency schedule yet, but just trying to plan for it.

After taking the 8AM call I was grabbing my last few things to head into the office, planning to make it there right at 8:30 for the team call. I noted to AM that we had a voice message, he checked it while I grabbed things and put into my bag. The message was from my ex-husband saying that he had very grim news about DW, his daughter. This person who still calls me "Mom".
I phoned him immediately and was told that DW appears to be using heroin. It is truly awful, grim news. I am trying to keep reminding myself that I wasn't a bad step-mother to her. AM, CK and my therapist have been reminding me as well, have been for some time. More than anything I am deeply concerned for her well-being.
It has brought up all kinds of painful memories of living with OM, going through her spiral down into identify theft (mine) and stealing gift certificates from DW herself who was age 6 at the time. I felt so violated by that happening and still occasionally have the horrible memory of trying to clean up the blood in OM's room after she left.
Went to work, had coffee with CK who coaxed me to eat most of a bran muffin, worked on some stuff, we went on a team walk, and worked some more. Taut with tension across the front of my chest all day. Except while I was walking very briskly I felt chilled to the bone.
When I got to my appointment with IW today I told her about my day, tears in my eyes. I felt like I was humming with painful tension despite having mindfully done zazen while waiting for her to finish with her earlier client. She did cranial work on me for a while after covering me up with a blanket. I felt some of the tension lessen up, my heart slowed down a little, and I warmed up some.
While she was working on me I told her about being paddled with hard objects as a small child. Something I'd never shared with IW, some part of my brain holding back because she is my physical therapist. Since IW does craniosacral therapy as well as therapy to address the trigger points in my back and hips, it is an important detail to share.
After I told her she confirmed what I've felt for a couple of weeks. That the abuse contributes to the constant tension and pain. That part of my body tightened up protectively around that pain and has never been relaxed. She told me she really thinks it would help some of it for me to be able to really feel that sadness and grief, to cry.
When we talked about it I was already crying more. She pointed out the constant war in my body when I cry. I relax then everything pulls in, I force myself to relax and it tightens right back up, constantly. When she commented on this I blurted out that I'd sometimes been punished for crying.
"Ahh." she said and noted that it was all the more reason for me to do so now.
After she worked so much on the cranial stuff she found the trigger points in my hips, tail bone and left sit bone. Far fewer of them than usual. IW said that she's going to swap this order from now on, work on the pent up energy first then the points. She believes even more that I can freed of some of the pain in my back.
And now, fed warm dinner and in my new PJs, I feel very tired. Not entirely hopeless as I did earlier today. Waiting to see if SJ is going to phone, he has some input on DW that he's not been able to connect with me on. I don't feel like I'm dreading that quite as much either. It is all just so very hard.