Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Vriya, Tapas

Joy has encouraged my teacher training class to attend one of the once-a-month 'Full Moon Yoga' classes. This classes are taught by Rae and are a very different style from the usual classes. I planned to get this class done today, but the I woke up sore, stiff and very tired. I felt like I needed a nap the whole day. I just kind of meandered through the day's work.

I really didn't want to go to yoga tonight. By 5PM I was talking to AM while he put dinner together and thought about not going to the class. It was a late one too, starting at 7:35 and going past 9PM! Dinner didn't help with the heavy tiredness in my body.

What helped were two things that I try to include in my practice, Vriya and Tapas.

Vriya, which encompasses the idea of energy, diligence and effort, is one of the Paramitas, or Perfections in Buddhism. One of the six qualities of an enlightened being, Virya is the sustained energy of practice over a long period of time.

Tapas, which can be translated as "Burning Effort", is one of the Niyamas and is what we feel after holding some asana for several breaths and we stay with it; the warmth in the shoulders many breaths into adhomukha svanasana. It is also the constancy which keeps the fire of our practice burning over years and years.

Vriya and Tapas are what bring me to the cushion, to the mat, again and again.

My reward tonight was discovering that Rae's class was very closely modeled after classes in Kripalu style I'd taken for some time at Yoga Shala. I really enjoyed Sarah's classes a lot, but the effort to make it over to SE PDX from NoPo after getting to the house from Downtown -- it had just become such a chore that more and more I was finding myself making excuses to not have go out again into traffic to try and get to a class. Since she's changed where she teaches, now days my schedule just does not align to allow me to take classes with her.

Eventually I started studying at Prananda, at first because it was so close to the house. I've stayed and deepened my study at Prananda because of how welcoming the space and the people all are (teachers and students). Tonight's class was a nice visit back to a style of yoga I enjoyed a lot and have missed.


Making Do

With a day of reflection acknowledging the disappointment I'd felt back in 2006 when I was wanting to share my Zen practice with AM I've been brought round to how I so easily look past my needs. Something that CK has called my attention to. Just tonight the way she did something called my mind to this. There's a "Full Moon" yoga practice tonight at Prananda that she'd been planning to join me at. For several reasons she isn't going, but she checked in to be sure I was really feeling OK with that or if I would benefit or just want her there with me tonight for support.

At what point does the ability to be good at compromise turn into letting go of what I feel is important?

I can think of instances large and small where my memory and my Mother's collide. Where she talks about making sacrifices, and to be fair she did try do things I wanted. It was just so often there was some part of it where it was what I wanted, done to her specifications. So maybe not exactly what I wanted, but I was always pointed to how it was just as good, if not better than what I wanted. In the face of such little support, and sometimes outright threat of punishment, it is no wonder I became an accomplished compromiser.

Going to Beloit was something I really wanted and I didn't get to finish that, a decision that was lead by my Mother. Sometimes I'm still amazed that I listed to her, but I then remind myself that I'd been having a year-long emotional breakdown. I suppose it comes up when I think about it because I still feel some sadness over just leaving suddenly like I did, over not finishing something.

Just layers of having my wants undermined, second-guessed. Yes, it taught me how to see the positive in all kinds of situations. It has also taught me to ignore any disappointment or sadness I felt around something. I spent most of my first marriage doing it. When there started to be disconnects between AM and I, we both looked away and I reminded myself that things weren't bad, I wasn't that unhappy. That it is entirely fine to make do, make the best of what is there.

The depth of contentment, happiness I feel sharing my practice with CK turns me around to look at not sharing a spiritual practice with AM. When I began practicing with a Zen community there where a couple of years where I asked him to share this with me and he said he couldn't because he had his own practice, it wasn't the same as mine. And this is so completely true. Buddhism reminds us again and again, we must make our own way on the path. He also noted that he also tried to pull back so I would have space to have something that was my own.

Yet, I felt hurt about this even though I did understand his reasoning and even agreed with it. What I need to be mindful of is how I also dismissed my hurt and just reassured myself with reasonable compromise. I realize now that what I was craving was the feeling of Sangha, the community of people practicing together, supporting one another on their solitary way. When I practice with my partner I feel how we two make a very small Sangha, giving synergy to our individual practices as well as to the practice that is our relationship.

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Go Team Pranayama!

I received the most amazing, wonderful, absolutely cool compliment today from one of my yoga students today!

Z waited for me until after class got done and people finished asking follow up questions. She told me that over the break she had faced a very difficult, life changing decision. A decision that could have dire consequences if she followed her desire over what her heart told her. She said she'd been trying to meditate and wasn't really coming to a clear answer no matter how hard she sought one.

Finally, Z said, she thought to try a Pranayama technique I taught her in last session, Kumbhaka Antara. She said that she used this technique for some time as part of meditation and when she finished sitting her answer was there. Although it wasn't the answer she was hoping for, she needed to not follow what she wanted.

Within a week, she went on to tell me, things changed so dramatically that had she followed desire she would have very likely lost her home! She told me how very grateful she was for the Pranayama I had taught her, that it was now a very useful tool in her life, helping her a great deal.

I feel so touched and humbled when a student tells me yoga helps them in any way. Having a student tell me that a yoga practice I taught them literally saved their home is just stunning!

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Delayed and Present Pain

Today kind of sucked, well the two and a half hours of asana, the same asana over and over again, really had my hips and my emotions hurting. I was just utterly spent by the time I got to the flat and found CK waiting with ibuprofen, practically at the door, and dinner well under way. I felt so entirely happy, relieved and grateful to see her tonight.

I talked to her about the hurt I've been struggling with around AM resurgence of commitment to practice. I felt it keenly last night during savasana when I had said I was grateful for my practice. What I had fully in my heart was how sweet it was to be laying in savasana next to CK, how fulfilling it feels to share my practice with someone so deeply. I feel this way at times when we are sitting zazen next to each other. Just feeling profoundly grateful to share a very vital part of myself with someone and have it by nurtured by their own practice.

She asked if what I felt wasn't new hurt so much as delayed hurt. That I dove into three years of zen practice and never really felt like I truly shared it with AM. I appreciated that we each had a separate practice, but I noted at times that I'd like to deepen our relationship by sharing being part of our Zen community. I hadn't looked at it quite like that, it feels a kind of newness, but it makes sense.

Rather like the issues dividing showing up and growing several years ago, but neither of us wanted to the be the one to point them out, I never wanted to acknowledge that I was sad my spouse didn't want to share my spiritual path with me. How I deeply wanted to feel like these things that have become such a vital part of who I am are really shared, supported and mutually appreciated.

I hold onto the fact that had AM done all those things we would have eventually come to this same place. That it doesn't change anything. I suppose I'm merely mourning what I wished could have been. Not terribly productive and I try not to get wrapped up in this, staying in past regrets and wishes. Especially not when the future holds the very thing I didn't choose to recognize I was missing.


Tough Practice Earns Documentary

I am just utterly worn out from over 2 and half hours of asana technique and critique during the longer teacher training program I'm doing. Each of the 9 of us taught nadi sodhana (alternate nostril breathing pranayama) and two asana. For at least two student teachers you would be an assistant, doing corrections. That meant doing 6 rounds as a student, repeating two of the same sequences.

Let me break that down, everyone started with nadi sodhana.

  • Yogini A taught intense side stretch and revolved triangle (I assisted)
  • Yogini B taught figure 4 and pigeon
  • I taught warrior 1 and 2
  • Yogini C taught figure 4 and pigeon
  • Yogini D taught warrior 1 and 2
  • Yogini E taught intense side stretch and revolved triangle
  • Yogini F taught figure 4 and pigeon
  • Yogini G taught intense side stretch and revolved triangle
  • Yogi H (the one guy in the class) taught warrior 1 and 2 (I assisted)

All of the poses in red are hard for my the chronic pain I get in my lower back and hips due to the herniated disc I have at the base of my spine. The revolved triangle pose is a particularly challenging asana. I kept coming down to child's pose, resting my head on the ground. I felt very weak and upset by the pain to day. It was a really difficult and my dedication to yoga, to desiring to go more deeply into teaching yoga is what held me in my practice.

When I got home I was so delighted by the scent of roasted delicata squash hinting at dinner well under way I thought I'd cry with gratitude! the winter squash was served with some sauteed zuchinni, quinoa and mixed legumes. I noted afterward that I was still feeling rather burned out from class so CK and I decided to watch the first episode of the BBC documentary last year, The Story of India. A well done culture/history show sounded like just the thing to unwind.

I am really enjoying this documentary so far. It is beautifully filmed and just fascinating after the first episode (there are 5). I appreciate the interviews and the gorgeously shot scenes of ancient excavations of the earliest of Indus and Aryan civilizations!



Each month I have a one-on-one phone call with my manager. We discuss what I'm working on, if there are other priorities I should attend to, what is getting in the way of my accomplishing my goals. We usually spend some time talking about ourselves. I often tell her about how my practice is going.

At the end of this year, as I was reflecting on 2008 and my practice with the precepts, how there is one peer at work who really challenges me. I find myself holding onto irritation with behavior of hers that I consider unprofessional. Not just the ways she interacts with me, but the way she treats others. I will have a call with her days after something happens and find myself curt with her, still irritated. Hanging onto the story about the irritation and anger for days.

As I work with the precept to not give rise to anger, rather to seek the source of it, I realized my co-worker offered a perfect opportunity to practice. I had thought about Bhagavan Das saying in the new and amazing production from 1 Giant Leap, What About Me?, that, "Worrying is praying for what you don't want."

In holding onto the anger and irritation it was just another way of praying for what I do not want in my life. I need to practice with working that those emotions, understand where they arise from and move forward from compassion instead. Why not start learning this at work, since I spend so many hours engaged in it.

I finished explaining all of this and some of the ways my teachers have provided insight on how to look deeply. My boss noted that on a very uncomfortable phone call with this person I had managed to interject something that sounded completely calm and supportive even though my manager said she knew I had to be infuriated by the behavior.

She then said that an objective for me around team building this year was to come up with a workshop for the whole team on how to work with irritation, change and uncertainty. Emotions my team has felt very much of this past year especially. KE told me she had this fear that I would become so in demand as a workshop presenter that I'd retire from my job very early. She said she really saw this, really saw me as providing workshops that integrate mindfulness and yoga for people in business, care givers, and trauma survivors.

When I told CK about it later, how I was so surprised and feel like I'm not up to coming up with a workshop for my team she smiled at me. She pointed out how wonderful this is, I now have my day-to-day job willing to pay me to come up with workshops for presentation to business! I hadn't thought of it that way at all, I'd been more focused on feeling entirely unprepared and lacking in skill for this kind of task -- listening to my inner critic!



Tonight in yoga class JW had questions for us. After reading a quote from Thich Naht Hahn noting the relationship between a rose and compost, asked each of us if that brought anything to mind. I said that there were lots of things going on right now in my life, things decaying and things blooming. I didn't want to elaborate but thought of how I'd been reflecting yesterday about the sadness of endings and how I also have these wonderful beginnings, this blooming in my life.

AM have nearly finished getting the paperwork together for the divorce. We are settling into the ways in which we are separate. In doing this there is the stickiness of acknowledging the disconnect that has been there, how deep it has grown we were just both not wanting to see it. It is akin to look at my childhood and facing how painful it had been. It is the compost of my life, the decay that I have set my roots in and grown.

During savasana JW asked anyone who felt comfortable to share what they were grateful for. I had offered that I was grateful for my practice. In my heart I expressed my gratitude for CK for the flowering in my life she has brought. I made sure to tell her afterwards, whispering it into her ear with a kiss as we put away the props.



In looking at the local news this morning I saw that the teacher of some of my dearest friends died unexpectedly. I felt the sorrow rising at this news. Not long after corresponding with one of my friends I spent several minutes on the phone with a lawyer going over some questions about my divorce. A couple of hours after that I received news that our very close knit team was going to lose the support of a very talented team member. By 2PM my left leg hurt from the hip all the way down the back of the leg.

One of my friends stopped by and we were able to talk briefly of the grief he and his congregation are facing and I was struck at the enormity of the loss. It made me think of the absolute, inconsolable anger and grief I'd feel to lose one of my teachers. In this frame of mind I tried to get the Merit List printed, including Reb Aryea's name, and had technical difficulties. By the time I got to the Dharma Center and saw CK standing there I had tears in my eyes even though I'd told Hogen in a tight voice that I was, "OK".

Sitting seemed to help, I felt a little more settled. Perhaps it was just the pain in my left leg that was distracting to the noise in my head. No sudden, painful, horrible thoughts arising in the quiet. I felt very grateful for that. At times I feel fear in going to sit with my Sangha these days, afraid of what fresh agony from childhood will surface in my mind in that deep stillness. When that happens it erodes the feeling of safety zazen gives me -- even if I know I shouldn't hold onto zazen as being safe.

After I was invited to be part of a group recommending guidelines to how we will grow our Sangha, how to reach out to more communities to show them that the Dharma is truly accessible to all in ways small and large. I felt deeply disappointed when I was told I wouldn't be able to participate if I was unable to come for the two days designated to this activity. It is an area I feel so connected to and to be told I couldn't be a part because I was learning to be a yoga teacher felt hard.

I found myself crying for a moment upstairs alone when I put the Merit List back into the Ino's notebook. It wasn't that I felt judged or that the group was intentionally being hurtful. I did believe what I'd told them. I understood they would want to keep the group whole. I knew I could trust my Sangha to make wise decisions. I just felt taut with all the sadness, all the good-byes I've said lately and changes I'm making.

When I came back downstairs after composing myself, or so I hoped I had, JM caught me to say that they wanted me to be part of the group for as much time as I could devote. That they felt it was important to include me since this was an area that so deeply called to my heart. I was very touched and in my tenderness felt tears coming up to my eyes again.

On the way home from the Dharma Center I picked my laptop up from the office (I'd forgotten it when I left earlier) then popped by CK's to pick up some of my stuff. She had tea waiting for me and I sat talking with her a bit. When I tried to say I felt a little silly being so emotional she drew my attention to the whole of my day so I would see that it was a day heavy with sadness and the constant pain-noise in my left leg made it feel very hard.


Death Comes

Last night, as I wrote about savasana (corpse pose) some of my very dear friends were with their congregation, wailing in sorrow over the loss of their teacher, Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield. I saw one of them briefly this evening before going to the Dharma Center. We talked a little about how he and his community, P'nai Or, are doing; this is a time of what feels to be inconsolable grief. An agonizing sorrow compounded by uncertainty as to when the funeral will take place. In a religion where tradition asks that ceremonies are to be performed within specific time frames, this uncertainty only brings further sadness.

This is a terrible blow to many, many people. Reb Aryeh was a voice for inner-faith dialog, peace, music, and teaching. I said to one of my friends, when she'd confirmed the news I'd read, that I believed that we as humanity are lessened when we lose teachers like this. At times I feel as if there are so many voices of division, difference, negativity, and hatred, that the silencing of a voice of Love is particularly sad.

There is a terrible, sharp brilliance to the uncertainty, to those changes that surprise us in ways that bring us suffering. These moments stand out, cause our breath to catch in our throats, tears to spring to the eyes, and a rock of grief to settle in the belly. I could not help reflect on what it would feel if ZCO were to suddenly loose Chozen or Hogen. I thought about my teachers who also faced the unexpected news of the death of their teacher, Maezumi.

In Zen we reflect on the fact that it is only in the absolute truth of uncertainty that we can truly take refuge. To return again and again to rest in the constancy of change is all we can do. Even when, especially when it feels as though there is nothing to offer in the face of inconsolable grief or when sorrow feels unending.

Hogen was reminding of this in a Dharma talk after zazen. During the times when we most want to withdraw, become small and tight around our pain, we need to keep reaching out of the hardness of it and know that it will change. Just as we can reassure ourselves during the dark and cold of winter, that spring will surely come.

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About Savasana

Tonight the wind outside howls down 9th Avenue, buffeting the sides of the flat and providing ample opportunity to appreciate the roar of the heater. How that noise means I'm warm and safe inside. The flat is cozy and I've just had a very tasty dinner. I'm enjoying sitting with CK, she's working on ideas for the new website for ZCO and I'm writing.

Got back to a yoga class at Prananda tonight. It felt gentle while still getting deeply into some areas. I'm still feeling the shoulder strain, especially in the left one I injured last spring. As frustrating as it is (which is to say as impatient as I feel), I know I need to keep being very gentle with them. I found myself going into adhomukha svanasana (downward facing dog) a lot between other poses, just feeling the relief of stretching my body and releasing the headache that had showed up during work.

Joy threw out a joke about a homework assignment at the end of class, to write a poem called "Sweet Savasana". I may have one in mind. It called to mind for me when Hogen asked me why it is called "Corpse Pose".

I had told him that a corpse is heavy, returning to the earth. There is no longer any tension whatsoever, all of the little anxieties hidden in the muscles are released. A corpse has no worry, no fear, no shame, no anger...

As the Heart Sutra states, "No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no sight, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind; no realm of sight, no realm of mind consciousness."

Just the body returning to the earth. We mindfully end practice this way, releasing the body from the effort of asana and returning to the breath. That breath, that is the sweetness of savasana. For we lay with the complete release and emptiness of a corpse, yet each expiration of the breath continues to be followed by another inhalation.

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