Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.



I haven't written much in days, they have been so full and what time that's not spoken for I haven't wanted to fill with the solitary pursuit of writing. As this current course of yoga teacher training draws closer to completing it seems the days are just filled completely. I'm really beginning to feel the extreme busyness my life has known since September.

Mostly I haven't thought about it. I just accepted that when I decided to pursue more training my available time would be come even more precious for seven months. It was just what had to be added to a full time job, teaching 2 yoga classes, going to the Dharma Center at least once a week, an assortment of visits to the folks who help keep me well, and some time in there for the personal relationships in my life. Since I never think about it in a list I'm able to keep it in perspective, just going to each thing when it is time.

It has been weeks now with this schedule, some major life changes showed up to add into that list, and today I paid over $1K for having a brand-new hot water heater installed. I'm just tired. It has been a long winter filled with both fear, sorrow, anger and joy.

I was reading an article this evening about Sharon's Salzberg's deep practice with metta, how it became a foundation for her to find peace from profound tragedy in her childhood. I have been thinking particularly about a passage that reads, "every moment now there’s another chance to let go-not to strain to be something better, not to strive to get over anything, not to practice life in any kind of harsh, judgmental, demanding or controlling way-but to just let go, moment after moment after moment. And in that moment of letting go is kindness."

In the face of the busyness, the stress and big emotions I've tried to let my practice be to meet each day fully and be as completely present as possible, especially when I'm with other people. What I am trying to learn is how not to use any of my practices: writing, zazen, mindfulness, or Hatha yoga; as means to judge myself too harshly when I don't live up to the level I set for myself. That sometimes letting go of writing, even for a couple of days, in order to spend time being nurtured by connection with people is an act of metta for myself.

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This summer, August 28 to be exact, I will be 40 years old. A nice round number, as I've have taken to saying lately.

A couple of days ago I was recalling my Mother turning 40. We were living in Vancouver, Washington in a old rambling apartment building that served a lot of low-income residents my Mother was the manager of. It had a collection of strange and interesting people that I would hang out with.

Several of my Mother's friends got together and threw a surprise birthday party for her despite her express wishes to entirely ignore the occasion. She was depressed about where she was in life and she hated her body (I'm sure she has always hated her body to some degree or the other).

I recall her crying. Not in joy or delight that her friends and family so wanted to honor her that they threw the party anyway, but in abject misery. I remember her laughter that bordered on hysteria throughout the event and the hard, sharp words she had later when everyone had left.

As I'm approaching this point in my own life I've come to realize that the older I get the more uncertain I feel. During the Dharma talk tonight Chozen asked us all what age we feel like in our minds. It occurred to me that lately I tend to feel somewhere between 9 to 14 and painfully aware of my uncertainty about ever attaining the state of being a so-called "grown up".

I don't know that I've become more comfortable with the uncertainty, I'd like to think that I have. What I do know is that I'm not approaching 40 with the same level of dread and horror as my Mother. I know that I want to great that occasion with a deep appreciation for my life, how far I've come. In a way it is just one more instance where my Mother has shown me the way by providing an example of what not to do.

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At Dishman they've been splitting my classes into 5-class series and tonight began a new series. A few weeks ago the activity director and I decided we'd set my class start time to 6PM in response to some feedback I'd received from students. The spring calendar will print this, but for the remaining winter class he said that the front desk would just let students know the change in time when they register.

Tonight I set out for Dishman, found some parking and headed back to the room my classes are held in at 5:50. Sitting on the floor of the room looking confused were eight new students. I asked them if they'd been informed of the new start time and all said they had not.

Yikes! And the props closet was locked! I popped my head into the site director's office and checked -- the change in time had never made it into the computer! Well, at least the answer was obvious. I quickly got back to the room

I really dislike it when things like this happen. I make a point to have a few minutes before students arrive to set up my mat and sit for a few moments so my mind is settled. I don't like feeling rushed in the first place, but feeling rushed around teaching yoga is especially irritating to me and unsettling too!

This are the kind of situations where I really try to remember that when I teach yoga I am representing a lineage of teaching thousands of years old. It doesn't matter that I'm flustered, I need to be the method by which the teaching is transmitted to others. I just need to rely upon the knowledge in my body and let my words drop into just vocalizing what my body is telling.

The class went just fine. Yes, in being flustered I occasionally was off in the directions I mirror to my students. People were smiling, the class didn't seem to overly tax anyone, but a new student who's studied Hatha yoga for a few years still enjoyed herself. The new student who's been told that she needs to no longer practice Bikram style due to the heat said that the class was very different, but she enjoyed it.


Walking Meditation

This arose out of a comment made by one of the Zen priests in my community during kinhin, or walking meditation, last night at the Dharma Center. He remarked upon the deliciousness of the sounds of kinhin in the zendo. Later that night CK remarked that kinhin at the Monastery, with the beautiful bamboo floors, that it sounds like a heartbeat.

And thus haiku arrises...

The sounds of kinhin --
Footsteps moving in rhythm.
The zendo's heartbeat.


A Kindness Reminder

I woke up feeling fatigued, anxious and cranky this morning. Just one of those days where I wished I could crawl back under the covers and hide until the world settles down. Instead the grown-up inside my head propelling me through each day reminded me that I was stiff and needed to move around, that I had piles of meetings today, and a long list of tasks.

Today was one of those days when that inner grown-up felt like a bully.

And then my laptop for work booted to just the picture on my desktop and began to emit a high-pitched squeal out of the speakers. Last week I'd discovered that the right single to the speakers wasn't working, not even with headphones. I've had other problems too, but nothing this dramatic. Then it wouldn't boot at all. Around 2PM I tried again out of pure exasperation and it came up.

The morning spent trying to use a Java client to access work files, and having it crash every hour or so, plus a pile of meetings, and a stream of bugs on something I just turned over for testing didn't help with my feeling that the day was just too much, too irritating, too demanding, too much stress.

What did help at the end of my day was a friend sending me a message asking about mindfulness and kindness. I finally responded to them that I now feel that kindness gets rather dismissed in our culture, even seen as a weakness. The nature of kindness, the heart of it lies within the first grave precept, which is also the first of the Yamas in yoga, Ahimsa, or non-harming.

The Zen teacher John Daido Loori writes this precept as such, "Affirm life. Do not kill."

The heart of kindness resides in the directive to affirm life. I was really grateful to my friend for providing me such a good shift in a day that was growing in that feeling of psychic irritation. Where my mind seems to chafe against the difficulties of life and expends energy on devising how to best avoid them (although all ideas seem to lead back to hiding under the covers...). My mind testing the waters of suffering instead of abiding calmly in the present, which really isn't too bad and has some rather glorious moments to it.


Easing Up

As part of my "doing something nice for myself" theme I'm not beating myself up for not having a "real" post today on my main blogs for writing. I have acknowledged that I added something to the vegan cooking blog I started and am making myself recognize that my practice of writing should not get wrapped up in what I write. It is just that I make an effort to write each day.

Besides, I need to see that there is effort in recording the steps I take when I make a tasty meal we enjoy. Especially when the people I love ask me how I make something they enjoy very much. To dismiss my effort to offer them my knowledge isn't honoring their request.

Sorted out my second sesshin for 2009 so I can take Jukai in October. My teacher recommended that I take one in August with the other teacher of our Sangha. It is one I've actually been interested in for a couple of years, Grasses, Trees and the Entire Earth. I'm relieved to have set my intention to do these, deciding which ones to do just helps me feel more rooted in it.

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Something Nice for Myself

This morning we woke up early and headed downtown to CK's office building across the street from Backspace. A studio moving sale a floor above her office listed having a microwave for sale which we picked up. No more cold leftover lunches!

Microwave-mission accomplished we headed over to Blossoming Lotus for some brunch. I finally tried out the live wrap and CK ordered then Indian bowl. The wrap -- carrots, sprouts, & cashew creme rolled into kale leaves with a side of some kind of creamy, cilantro sauce -- was delicious, if messy. The curried veggies in the Indian bowl were tasty and the curry rich and satisfying over brown rice (I know, I had the leftover for a late lunch later).

Powell's was next for coffee/tea and wi-fi. Being that it was an increasingly nice day Powell's was already pretty busy by 11AM. CK spotted a table while I ordered our drinks. She read a new JQuery book she had just received while I jotted down some notes on a guided visualization to use at the end of a yoga class, Savasana. When I finished I popped upstairs and found another great Lonely Planet guide and we talked about birthday trip ideas until it was time for me to head to Prananda for another day of teacher training.

At last Saturday's class Joy had told all of the teacher trainees that we had to do something nice for ourselves this week. I've felt a little like a faker on it this week, not really making an effort at it. In reading E's blog post about really taking time to fully experience and be present for the blessings in her life really struck me a lot. How we don't have to make some grand gesture at all in doing something for ourselves.

I reigned in my Inner Critic and let up on feeling guilty for just not having the mental resources to write an OSCON proposal this year. It was due on Tuesday and Monday found me just staring at a screen with no ability to really pull anything complete together. I'm letting myself feel excited about the prospect of a birthday trip, a BIG trip, in fact the biggest trip I've ever taken in my life so far! I asked for and received a happy offer to help me in my goal for my 40th birthday -- to start the day in an unsupported headstand! To all of that I get to add a really wonderful morning today.

Despite the intense pressure going on right now with work (the weekday job that supports my Practice), with the huge changes in my personal life, and the uncertainty around my Mom's health -- despite all that I can be present for all of the beauty, joy and Love that is there too. That is the nicest thing I can ever do for myself and for the people I interact with. Practice, be present.



All my dragging of feet over talking to CK about how much debt I have right now came to an end when AM wrote a blog entry (public), not considering how I would feel about people knowing that fact. Suddenly it is out there and I felt anxious, ashamed. Finances are an area where I never have felt quite like I really get it. I get that I need to pay people certain amounts by certain dates and through painful error learned I must do this.

That I bought a house in 2006 is astounding and a little frightening to me, still. I never lived in an owned home growing up and within a few years of my parents finally buying a manufactured home my Dad was dying and my Mom ended giving the house back to the bank after all the planned upon pension payments dried up. When I was young my Mom and I lived in early Section 8 apartments, the first Christmas there we were one of the families "adopted" by the local fire department. I believe I got a tea set for present.

Cash was always short when I was a kid and the resulting tension was a constant companion, even while playing in the apartments of other kids I was friends with there. It got better when there was some more money, but I've come to have the perspective to see how poorly finances were managed. How sometimes decisions were made to spend money not because it was the right time, but because something was wanted. It was an environment impossible to learn good skills in.

Enter my first husband who ended up putting all the effort of household finances on me, not helping out when things were tight if it impacted his bills, quick to suggest that my bills be short changed, and even quicker to anger when things got messed up. I would try so hard, but even he provided the example of impulse spending to be made up for later (only later never arrived). When a roommate (his idea to have move in) began forging checks, stealing from us, once causing a short-fall and bounced check that then caused a utility to be turned off he was livid with me. After the truth came out, why there was a short-fall, that it wasn't my fault, he never went back and apologized for yelling at me. I still feel like at any moment I'm going to be screamed at for doing things wrong.

And into another relationship where immediacy was more important, impulse and gratification. During a time when there were two good incomes I managed to just stay ahead of the debt and what money I did save paid for a wedding. We would talk and talk about budgeting, getting better at staying within our means, and it wouldn't happen. Decisions would be made, effort wasn't made int he right place, and a couple of major feelings of disappointment over the fallout. So here I am hugely in debt, embarrassed about it.

CK has been calm, loving, supportive and positive. So much so I am unnerved by it. Here I am looking at things to cut out of my life, telling myself "no" to purchase after purchase, and feeling deeply ashamed of not being good with finances. Like I'm a very poor sort of grown up.

And instead she's talking about going to Hawaii for my 40th birthday in August. And she means it, if finances go well, which she thinks they will.

I've gone on very few big trips in my life. My parents sent me to one with my older step-sister when I was 13. An "American Heritage" tour of the D.C. area. It was probably debt they couldn't afford but did anyway. We took several car trips and would go camping, but most often my summers were spent partly with my Aunt J or, after she married my step-dad, with my Aunt D and Uncle J in Bremerton.

AP and I talked about a trip. I even got a map and hung it on a wall, pinpointing the journey. After a while I came to see that it would never happen, would never be a priority. I saw it at first with AM, but then he stopped working, wasn't really able to find anything and we adjusted. I knew we weren't going to make a lot of trips after that.

I felt unsettled by the discussion. At once excited, hopeful, and yet still feeling like I couldn't trust it. My mind was equally certain that something wasn't right and thinking, "after all I've messed up, why am being rewarded? Why isn't she yelling at me?"

Maybe just all along I've needed someone who is willing to share knowledge with me. Show an example of another way to approach things. Like so many things in my life I feel like I've had good ideas, but with no support or guidance they have never come to be what I imagined they might. From school projects, to artistic endeavors, to saving money.


Fast and Slow

I finally tracked my Mom down on Monday by way of calling her husband and asking him to make sure phoned me. My Mom gets into the habit of either a) not calling or b) avoiding calling me because she has bad news. Given the rather serious news she shared with us I was beginning to get worried having not heard from her in over two weeks. She'd also not returned a voice mail I'd left.

When she phoned she said she was doing OK. She doesn't see the opthamological oncologist at the Casey Eye Institute until the 20th. Having had cancer before she prefers to see an oncologist at Kaiser she's seen before, however, he's on sabbatical for February. She should him the first week of March.

There's all these ways in which I'd wish life would slow down. I find myself surprised that it is February. That it is 2009 seems fantastical at times. Whoosh! The weeks just fly by at an ever increasing clip. The precious hours of doing nothing but resting, enjoying some down time, I wish those times would lengthen out, get to where I can just linger.

Here I was on the phone whit Mom wishing those days and hours gone, done and at least some more information. I'm impatient with waiting for these appointments. This limbo state of
"tentative diagnosis" is uncomfortable and I feel my patience for life itself stretched thin with effort.

She apologizes for not checking in with me. A part of my mind observes how easy it is for her and I to live our very separate lives without talking often. She sometimes remarks at how I used to tell her everything. Only I didn't, but I don't break the fondness of her idealized memory. I am aware of the distance there is between us, the unresolved issues that will never know closure.

I am delighted to find out she is still trying to do Nadi Sodhana. She notes that she's practically stuck her finger in her nose a couple of times. I told her that concentration was the only fix for that problem.

I am truly delighted she is doing this and rather surprised. It is a bit strange, but she's really trying it out. I didn't actually think she'd do it without me there, that's why I'd been looking at recording myself guiding her through the breath practice. It is a pleasant shock to find out she's doing it on her own.

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Grounded in Teaching

Had a great time at my class tonight. Only a couple of students showed up so I tried out the idea I'd had for a class that worked towards doing shoulder stand. I was amused to discover that after doing a series of forward bends and hip openers that my stretched leg was an inch longer than the un-stretched one! Confirmed how stiff I had felt last night after class certainly!

With just the three of us it was a small class with lots of time for questions. It was very comfortable and a lot of fun. I tried out the lift adjustment on a regular student who was there, it was a lot of fun to be able to assist someone further in shoulder stand. With it being just the two students it was very easy to check in with them both often.

The energy of a large group is fun, but it is very special to devote my attention to just a couple of people at a time. My Sunday class has become such a mix of students needing modifications and students who are more practiced that it was really nice having a easy night without a lot of modifications and the space to just flow through the whole class. I think it is the mix of Sunday that makes it challenging since I'm mindful of keeping things moving along for the students who have had more practice or are not injured.

I've noticed I feel a little tired after Sunday's class from the effort of keeping track of everyone. Not that it is bad, I don't feel drained or exhausted, just noticeably tired mentally. I feel the recharge of teaching, the way it is grounding to me. Just a bit tired from the extra effort to track so many different levels of practice at once. Even still, each class I teach grounds me in the conviction to teach more.

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