Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Looking Back

The first sounds I heard as the year began where fireworks off in the distance. In the silence of the zendo at Great Vow Zen Monastery we knew it was 2008. When zazen ended we rung the bell, 4 times each for each woman attending the retreat adding up to 108. The morning, the first day of the new year, I had offered a vow to not hate it when I cry the next morning, in the company of my Dharma sisters.

The year has given me many opportunities to not hate my tears, not feel like the world is going to end when I cry. Given me many chances to evaluate who I am, greet myself with compassion and truth, and move forward on my way.

AM and CK were the first two people I saw after the retreat ended. I remember feeling my heart skip a beat when I saw them, feeling an important shift. Later I would dismiss it as my being overly-optimistic because I found CK attractive and I was excited that she'd come.

I'd known her just a few weeks at that point. We'd not spent a whole lot of time together in person yet and had exchanged a handful of emails. I did know that I felt a tight, high, nervous feeling in my heart when I was around her. I'd suggested to her that she come out and have lunch at the monastery since she'd be arriving back to Portland while I was in retreat.

I hadn't really expected her to come. I really wanted her to come, but I was trying to keep myself in check and not get my hopes up. The retreat had been very intense, so seeing her felt like this marvelous surprise.

I've been looking back at posts, I haven't looked at my hand-written journals yet. But I can see where the energy started to really shift. I felt it a little at a time, the feeling inside me that I wanted to protect my relationship with CK. The move towards keeping it safe, sheltered until AM and finally decided we really needed to move on from one another.

I am writing before going to the Dharma Center tonight, joining my Sangha and that of Dharma Rain for a potluck, sacred circle dances led by CB, Fusatsu and zazen through the new year. I am really looking forward to be with my community this year, sharing this celebration with them, they have become an important part of my life. I would like to do the Joy in Mindfulness retreat another time, but this year with teacher training it doesn't really make sense from a time or finance perspective.

As the year ends I'm writing while CK folds laundry. An African stew is cooking for us to take to the Dharma Center for the potluck. I made matcha cupcakes just a little earlier. We are settled into these little domesticities with appreciation.

AM is sitting with his Dharma Punx community and will come to the Portland Dharma Center later to join for Fusatsu and zazen. We have hung out the past couple of nights, just watching things like Top Gear and Dr. Who. Have also been joined by DW and many episodes of Battlestar Galactica. I still feel close to him, to them both really, but we all feel the shift in our lives.

The year has worked towards and ending and a beginning. I suppose all years are like that when you look at them, this just feels dramatic because it is my life and it is a rather big change. It feels like the right direction. Not that a relationship doesn't have compromises, but I said to someone this afternoon that in this new way I didn't feel like I compromise in what I needed to be fulfilled, to be my authentic self.

Over and over this year I've learned the practice of the precepts in each moment. There is no way of knowing if I'm making the right choices for 10 years from now. I can only make the best possible choice in accordance with the precepts in each moment. The moments of 2008, looked back at from New Year's Eve, have been joyful and painful, hard and easy, letting go and opening up; I feel in each of them I tried to be mindful of making the best possible choice in each moment.


A Dharma New Year

I spent the first moments of 2009 on my zafu in the zendo at the Portland Dharma Center sitting zazen with members of both Zen Community of Oregon and Dharma Rain. The silence of zazen was punctuated by 108 rings of the bell. A ring for each of the types of impediments to enlightenment.

Last year I'd spent the New Year at a women's retreat, Joy in Mindfulness. It was a very special time and I look forward to doing it again sometime. Aside from the yoga teacher training (financial and time resources are dedicated to this) and no vacation time, I really wanted to experience New Year's with my community and my beloved this year.

There was a potluck dinner to start followed by sacred circle dances led by Chozen Bays. After we settled into the zendo for Fusatsu, a ceremony where we burned paper where we'd each noted things that are impediments to our true selves, zazen, a chanting service, and closed with some sparkling cider served formal tea style in the zendo! What a full night!

CK and I made an African peanut stew from the Becoming Vegetarian book that we both like a lot and I made some matcha cupcakes, which were very popular when I brought them to a sitting night earlier in the year. Our Sangha must have agreed since both were all eaten up by the time we packed up after midnight. It was a delicious potluck dinner, I may have gotten some unexpected butter, but that may happen from time-to-time. Some of the stand out dishes were several variations of salads made with quinoa that inspired CK & I, buckwheat noodles tossed with a sesame dressing, carrots & tofu, and there was a very tasty lentil & chard soup we'll have to track down the recipe for later. Oh, and Brussles Sprouts, which we both just love!


For some people the sacred circle dances Chozen teaches are a "big snore", but I enjoy them a lot. They are simple, close and always invite a lot of shared, gentle laughter. I am pretty thrilled that CK enjoyed them too!


The only downside to a perfectly wonderful night was when I began to stiffen up and hurt a lot, from my right lower back to the ankle, during zazen. We sat a longer second period, with no kinhin between zazen periods (only a wiggle bell), and I didn't switch to a seiza bench between. They'd opened a few windows to keep the zendo cool (to help keep everyone wakeful) and I grew tight, chill, and further into pain. Always a very challenging part of my practice.

Even still, I'm used to working with the pain so it doesn't detract from events overly. Once we got home, I had some ibuprofen, hot tea and snuggled under a warm blanket until I was feeling better. Sleep will further help.

Tomorrow, today really, we're off to Eugene for a couple of days at a bed and breakfast, a little exploring, and a lot of relaxing.

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OK, Universe, I Get It

I tried out a great new yoga class tonight at Yoga Pearl. I have to take 8 classes outside of my core study at Prananda in eight different styles, seven of which JW has already designated for us. I've been so beat up and IW asked that I take care of my shoulders a bit more, so I decided to take a Yin class and really enjoyed it.

As we settled into class beginning the teacher told us that she was going to continuing to focus on the theme of metta, particularly directing metta towards ourselves more.

OK, Universe, I get it. Here I'd already spoken up before being called upon to recognize that in 2009 I need to practice cultivating metta, patience and generosity for myself. Said it publicly with my Sangha listening.

I nearly sighed aloud when the teacher started talking about directing metta towards ourselves. During the long periods we held the poses she talked to this topic. Rather like doing very slow asana during a Dharma talk.

Clearly I have my "resolution" for the New year spelled out for me!

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Some Yoga in the Pearl

Had a great yoga class tonight at Yoga Pearl. I had planned to take a class this evening at Near East Yoga, inviting people to join me for the introductory Ashtanga class there. However after physical therapy last night my therapist asked that I not undo all her hard work by doing that. "One too many chaturunga!" she said.

I'd taken a class at Yoga Tree in the Mission in San Francisco that was Yin/Vinyasa and had been intrigued by the very deep holding of poses that was the Yin side of things. Since I need to take classes in 8 different styles, one of my choosing, I thought a Yin class would be perfect. Besides, I eat at Blossoming Lotus all the time and have been interested in trying out a class at the very hip Yoga Pearl!

The class was taught by Uma Kleppinger and I enjoyed it a whole lot. The class started in virasana to begin, as part of beginning for meditation. We then moved through baddha konasana, then to setu bandha sarvangasana (chatush padasana per Iyengar) with a block under the sacrum. Then resting a moment flat before coming up into a very modified matsyasana with a block under the shoulder blades and another supporting the head. Supported paschimottanasana and upavista konasana. Double-pigeon, and ending with a little more seated meditation.

I found it very much like zazen in many ways. Unlike other practices in Yin you are supposed to let the body relax into the pose. Not push through the balls of the feet, lengthen the spine, any of the things I'm used to. Just let the body sink into the pose, stay with the body and the breath. Then staying with each pose as the mind resisted being there, wanting to come out, wanting to be told to inhale and come up.

With some of the ideas I've had about workshops in the spring I'm very interested in this style. Even more so than the Ashtanga class I really see myself wanting to learn more about Yin and how to incorporate this deep practice into my teaching.

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Winter Moon

I headed out to NW Portland to an appointment with my physical/craniosacral therapist around 5PM this evening. I noticed as I came into downtown from the Broadway Bridge that the moon, the thinnest sliver showing, was rising above the West Hills, peeking out of the clouds. Down a little in the dark, evening sky was the bright point of Venus.

I wished I wasn't driving, wish I wasn't headed to an appointment. I'd have liked to stopped somewhere to just and enjoyed it. Instead I was mindful of the road and made it to my appointment in plenty of time.

Portland's sky is of the nature to change in the winter, by the time my appointment was finished there was no moon nor Venus to be seen again. I felt very grateful to have caught that momentary glimpse

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Exploding Out

I had an appointment with IW today, the evening sky was so beautiful as I headed over. I took my art journal with me, correctly guessing that she'd find the drawing I did of how my fear feels very interesting. It is so energetic, which is something that my therapy with her touches into, the ways the energy is stored, bound up in my body.

I tried to explain to her that when I first was explaining the energy during sanzen with HB some time ago that the fear felt like a black hole. The blackness pulling in all the light and energy, the way a black hole pulls apart a dying sun.

I'd started the drawing with that blackness, the center of it and added the reds, yellows and oranges. The meditating figure I added later. Eventually I realized it was me, the figure. At the very end I decided to add features to my face. I wanted to feel hopeful so I drew gentle, peaceful features.

IW was excited by the drawing. she felt, contrary to my "black hole" image that I'd draw all the blackness exploding out. She was interested that it was directly over my heart, the black fear and angry reds. IW thought if I'd added lines, containers around it the energy would be shown as trapped inside, instead it was all rushing, draining out of me.

She hopes I'll do more artwork, she thinks it is a great outlet for exploring this energy, these memories. I mentioned to her that I'd got the idea to try some artwork after picking up a crayon during a guided meditation for trauma recovery. IW, like GM thought I have made a good choice in providing myself art supplies after that moment. Especially given how art was something that wasn't really I had a lot of opportunity to do growing up despite wanting to.

We talked a little while she worked on the trigger points in my body. I mentioned that GW thinks my mind lets go of things during zazen at the Dharma Center because it knows that I am safe. She agreed with that, but she also thinks that in the silence my body is able to speak. That through all of this my body is trying to tell me things. Eventually I'll get through all of this and my body will be able to let go of some of the pain because it has finally been heard.

On top of the posi

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End of Year Reflection

Tonight there was a practice circle after zazen instead of the more usual sanzen. As a Sangha we haven't been together very much since Ango ended mid-month; kept away by weather and holidays. That being the case HB thought a circle would let us all reconnect more as a community. He asked us to speak to what we've learned about ourselves over the past year and what our intention is for the coming year.

At first when practice circles are announced I feel deep gratitude for the opportunity to sit back and listen to others. To not have to speak, reveal myself to my community. Given the way the year has gone I voluntarily spoke up about mid-way through the regular members rather than wait to be called upon.

I've learned a lot about myself this year. There have been many hard and painful truths surface. What I settled upon to share, to be brief so all people would have time to talk is that I've realized what a "behind the scenes" kind of person I prefer to be.

I like being generous with compassion, patience, understanding and support with others. I particularly like it when I can do this from behind the scenes, facilitating the progress and comfort of others. Not that I don't like receiving acknowledgement for these efforts, but I prefer that acknowledgement be accompanied with little fanfare.

More importantly I realize how I am not generous with myself. I begrudge myself the same compassion and love that I easily give to others. I set unreasonably high expectations for myself and deny myself when I understandably fail to meet them.


History Revisited

I've been sorting out stuff I've written the past day or so. Digging in and moving stuff around. In part it is to be mindful and protective of those that I write about. I also wanted to create a space that really was just where I talked about living in Portland and places I frequent or travels I make. It has meant I've reopened and reread everything I've written since the end of June. In fact, I'm only part-way through September.

It was a tough summer. There has been so much shifting and changing the past year, just to revisit the past 5 months or so is to see big bumps navigated. Really, the past few years for me have felt like everything has changed entirely. With my practice I've become a different person than the one I thought I was. Strangely enough, I mostly feel very young again.

Hogen said something once, when talking of the vows we take, about looking at what was true when we were children that is still true today. When he asked us to consider this I'd found it unsettling, upsetting even. It was a request that threw me into the pain of my childhood as well as the stark reality of how little I remember. In practice I have started to touch that, to see myself turn towards things I remember feeling were important as a child.

Looking at the past months, reflecting upon what I wrote most days, I see where the hope keeping things together started to unravel. Seeing where I started to shift away from what I thought would always be and try to dive into the truth instead. Revisiting where the steady reassurance and heterosexual privilege of marriage started to unravel.

As painful and unsettling as this has all been, I feel like I'm moving towards the right path for me. I never thought it would move me in this direction, away from what I convinced myself was safe. Regardless, I feel like I'm moving towards what is the truth and there is genuine comfort in it.

Besides, I've come to dive into the shifting uncertainty that is our daily existence. Which is to say that I recognize that I was merely clinging to the illusion of safety. Like the boat on the ocean, with no shore to be seen in all directions. The boat is the illusion of safety, the small mind that clings to what it knows rather than sink into the limitless, boundless Dharma.


No Guaranty

I have spent a good part of the day hacking my blog writing up into that which is about my path in life, this blog, and something that is more general about living in Portland, travels, and reviews (food, museums, movies, hikes, etc.). Just creating some space between the things. What I haven't done for a couple of days is actually write.

The past two days have been filled with the intimacy of sharing space and time together, helped by the historic amount of snow Portland has had this past week. CK and I spent Christmas Eve hanging out then baking for the better part of the day, into the evening. Our plan was to have cookies to take to JW's for a Boxing Day bonfire. Christmas was spent inside, just being close and talking.

We opted not to go to the party. The weather has warmed but we now have about a foot of icy slush covering the neighborhood streets. We'd be fine once we got out of the neighborhood, but the two blocks to do so might see us stuck. Instead she and I walked up to Whole Foods to get a couple of things for dinner and we rented a movie.

Most surprising about the past several days here at her flat is how things feel possible, sustainable was the word CK used. Even when it is difficult we both manage to stay present, to be in the moment and not escape, even mentally or emotionally. There is deep passion, unquestionably and it deepens as we grow into the relationship, but it isn't mindless.

This is sometimes still feels sudden and shocking, the transition. I was letting the truth that there's no way to guaranty that I'm making the right decision, that any of us are. There's no method at all to prove that 10 years from now that I'll look back on this and know I was correct. That's the reality of the constancy of change we live in. The only thing we have are the precepts.

Yesterday I was standing at the sink washing dishes and thinking about all of this - me, the history surfacing in my present, the love I feel for CK, the ability to recognize the difference in the way that I love AM, the speed at which things are changing. I felt the woosh of time zooming past me and just looked at how I try, imperfectly most times, to turn towards compassion, truth. Holding all the choices up against the precepts and seeing that I'm doing my best to turn my life towards them.

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Instead of concentrating on a project for work I am watching CK sleep. She made it home late last night and we didn't wind down to sleep until nearly 1AM. She had told me earlier how tired she was, how she couldn't seem to really sleep at her Mom's house these past few days. Last night she'd noted how it feels like she can finally relax and let go.

I find it interesting that we can intrinsically know that we're safe somewhere, we aren't going to come to harm, yet we cannot let go of being alert. Maybe it is just those of us who have PTSD since pulling us out of our routines wakes up a vigilant watch for danger. I don't sleep well when I'm not at home, especially not well in hotels.

Occasionally she has woken up, said something small to me and drifted back off. She's even tried to read, but only fell back to sleep again. I realized I was hungry, only had snagged a last chocolate cookie earlier and forgot all about breakfast, and got up to make some toast. I've been sitting here watching her resting, just observing the quiet and my gratitude.

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