I was a skinny person who became obese. I was underweight at birth, throughout my early childhood, and was pretty thin until the last year of college when the combination of traumatic breakdown, plentiful rich food, a foundation of disordered eating habits, and injury combined to really add weight onto my frame. I left college at least two sizes larger than I started.
Then another injury while my brain was still fragmented from trauma, locked into silence. I broke my left ankle playing volleyball after work. Within a year I'd added a couple more sizes. Throughout my 20s that's how it went, a size creeping on nearly every year until by the time I was 30 I had gone from a size 5/7 when I started college to a size 24/26.
I never was comfortable with my thin body, especially as a teen. This is the place where body issues, PTSD, and sexual orientation meet head-on. In my thin body as a teenager I was encouraged that girls wear sexy things. I was directed away from my "tomboy" style as much as possible, especially for dressier occasions. It didn't feel right on so many levels.
Dressing up, showing off my thin body like girls were expected to brought attention that made me uncomfortable. Even at my largest I was never entirely comfortable in the various dresses, skirts, high heels and corsets. It was always a costume, I was always reserved, a bit stiff, and very self-conscious. When the attention of men lead to intimacy with men I felt incredibly awkward most of the time, sometimes I would feel entirely disconnected. It has been painful, but illuminating to figure out in my 30s that part of the problem all along is that my sexual orientation is strongly directed towards women, learning to use the words "Lesbian", "gay", and "queer" more openly.
Losing the weight has felt like this slide right back into adolescence at times especially being combined with all the sexual confusion. Yep, just like being 15 all over again, but with mortgage payments. Here I am back in a body that gets attention, especially from men. If anything I'm more hyper aware of my discomfort around my attractiveness because I'm no longer disassociated from the traumatic episodes. But I'm also not in exactly the same body and driven by the images of bodies we are surrounded with, so I'm quick to judge the way the extra skin moves very harshly and am sometimes so distracted by it I am not fully present to anything but feeling ashamed of my body.
I'm still trying to pick my way through it all. When I first lost all the weight I was entirely without all the girly clothes that had been my costume when I was obese. My back condition had already made it so I'd given away all my high heels. I swung back to being a "tomboy" with a vengeance. I even got into a fight with my Mom over it when I'd bought a really nice outfit for her wedding that was based around some green trousers.
I still have the skirt I bought in protest, I was wearing it last weekend. As uncomfortable as I felt with my body in the black dress I bought, there's part of me that enjoyed wearing it a little bit. It is the same part of me that occasionally enjoys the way a skirt moves around my legs in a breeze. I am finding some element of compromise between the "tomboy" and the girl who never got to pick being the "princess" on her own terms.
It was one of those realizations during zazen that felt like it kind of thumped into me. Why writing about, talking about the weight loss is so difficult.
I feel shame for having gained all that weight in the first place. For having abused my body so much.
Every day I'm reminded of it by the skin. I mention it sometimes, like wanting to wear something with long sleeves to cover my upper arms, the underside of which have a great deal of loose skin. People shrug and say how that happens to a lot of people, it is genetic.
Only really, this isn't like that. It is extra skin. One of my dearest friends, who has had a lap band surgery, calls them her "Bat Wings". More exercise and different body care products will not make the skin go away. There or any of the extra on my belly (upper and lower abdomen), breasts, and thighs particularly. There is quite possibly 10 extra pounds of skin. That's what happens when someone goes from 290+ to 140 +/- (I stay within a few pounds of that in either direction).
I mentioned it to Chozen and Hogen after sitting. I was reminded that instead of shame I need to honor my accomplishment by helping others. I joked with Hogen, asking if he kept a tally sheet under the sazen cushion for how many times I'm told this lesson. He laughed and said only for me. Chozen noted that I needed to go back to the piece I'm writing for her with this mindset.
And Loving-Kindness, of course.
I haven't done it yet. We were in Sacramento all weekend visiting CK's family. It was an inferno there compared to Portland, painfully bright. There was a lot of family dynamics and tension I was getting introduced to at the same time. It brought up some tough stuff in my past.
On top of that CK's step-dad, a professional photographer, took a series of photographs of me. Well over an hour of going through yoga poses again and again, turning to get different angles. It was exhausting on so many levels.
I shouldn't have looked at the images mid-way, but he was making a light adjustment for me to do standing asana, so I looked. He was complimenting my chaturunga, how great it looked to get it in series. He does yoga, so often he had a comment or suggested a couple of poses I hadn't done.
I couldn't stop looking at the way the loose skin on my upper abdomen hangs down. Gravity being what it is there's just this round line. It doesn't matter how strong or lean my core muscles are in my abdomen, nothing will make that skin hang smooth against my body again.
I continued on with the asana, working up a real sweat in the warm house in my yoga outfit with long sleeves and pants. CK expressed surprise several times, noting how I could do some poses she didn't even realize I was capable of. I wasn't able to move away from feeling shameful about my body for a while, it wasn't until I looked at other poses that I could work my way back to appreciating my alignment in the asana the way a teacher would. Moving towards looking at my body as just a students, not actually my own.
Back to the writing for Chozen. Now that I'm out of excuses and have zeroed in on at least one big reason I'm so uncomfortable with it. I suspect there's others but this appears to be a good one to start with.
I've gotten OK with writing about quite a lot of stuff. I've now even managed to write three things to be put into zine-type publications and have the work be personal, from my own experience. Writing about the weight loss is tough, weird, and it is one of the topics I think I get asked about the most.
Chozen was at the Dharma Center tonight and thanked me for writing a nice review of her book on Amazon. This prompted me to blurt out that I'd finished a draft of my assignment from her but I was still unhappy with it. I noted that CK had thought my voice seemed distant in it. She said usually reading my writing seems as though I'm there talking with her.
Off to the zendo and zazen I went with that little burst of anxious, "bad student" guilt, courtesy of my Inner Critic. It struck me in that first period why I find writing about the weight loss so difficult, why I try to distance myself from it. I feel ashamed for having abused my body with gaining that weight. Every day I see the loose skin as some kind of testimony to my guilt.
Second sitting period starts. I breath in... and Hogen's telling us to work on feeling satisfaction with ourselves, our breath, our bodies. Ugh! I feel like I've just been double-teamed by my teachers. Then I directed the madly spinning brain wheels to some Metta practice.
In chatting with both my teachers after sitting I was reminded of what I am told again and again. To take this history, the lessons I've learned from it, and use it to help others. Turn it all into potent medicine to heal the world. I sighed and laughed, feeling a bit sheepish (which is a variation on the bad-student anxiety, only with more kindness).
Chozen reminded me that she asked me for this writing because it means more for me to say that it is possible to change your life through mindful eating. She said that they might listen to hear about struggling with chocolate desires, but I truly speak the voice of someone who has successfully lost 150 pounds and kept it off. Proof that there is a way.
So I'll pick it up again over the next few days. Read it aloud, feel the words and where my discomfort rises up around them. Practice Metta and remind myself why I'm writing about this stuff (to help others, not so I won't feel guilty around Chozen... OK, maybe both).
Still processing the Founder's Dinner. On one hand it was wildly successful and I am so grateful. Then there's the other hand...
Yes, the chef was donating his time and ideas. Yes, we'd already asked him to prepare a vegetarian dinner. Yes, vegan meals had to be asked for towards the end of planning.
But like so many events the accommodation for a vegan was just leave dairy/eggs out of the vegetarian dishes, a couple of which had no option (I'm sure the fritters were lovely and we didn't even try the chard from the garden). Dessert? Yes, a plate with a few of the strawberries in syrup that garnished the beautiful shortcakes served to everyone else. Shortcakes that our teacher used to guide everyone in a mindful eating practice.
Why is it that dessert always seems to be the bit that really sticks out? My first weekend at Great Vow, for a Beginner's Mind retreat, I had no dessert options when it was time for tea. By the time I came for the women's retreat that Sandy Boucher and Martha Boesing teach in the winter there was a scramble to serve me dried dates at tea. During Loving-Kindness I brought a package of store-bought cookies so there would always be something. Admittedly there was more than one tea where I struggled with the hurt child's voice inside who couldn't help but notice just now nice the cookies served to everyone else were.
I've been practicing with this voice, this hurt child who is me, for a few years now. She made a deafening howl at times during the Loving-Kindness sesshin. As far as being vegan goes, I have reasoned conversations with that child about how being vegan is so critically important to our practice of Peace, the practice that heals us. That our need to be literally nourished by a diet of peace is the very foundation of our Practice.
The Founder's Dinner became another chance to practice with that voice unfortunately. I was already nervous at being all dressed up and helping as a Table Host (which meant talking to people, answering questions and asking for money). Instead of relaxing into the evening I practiced with that child's disappointment and my concern for CK, who was having a rough time with the same issue.
I guess the word "accommodate" jumps right out. It doesn't mean include. It does imply making something suitable or giving consideration to someone's needs, which is important but it isn't the same as including someone in a group. In the overall scheme of things it often a huge accomplishment to get a group, society to accommodate someone. Hell, I don't need the State of Oregon or the whole of the United States to include me or make me welcome in everything, but I'd be elated if they would merely accommodate my right to marry the person I love.
But my spiritual home? This is the community I want to include me, not merely accommodate me. This is the essence of the article I wrote for our Sangha newsletter, Wisdom's Heart Includes All. As vegans we are an extreme, although there is a precedent of a Zen teacher advocating a vegan diet (Thich Nhat Hanh), but I feel we are an important part of our Sangha. Inclusion means we gather in those extremes as well as the nice, comfortable, filled-out center.
What does this mean? I am not entirely sure yet. I know I am filled with gladness and gratitude that JQ, the tenzo at Great Vow, is using more vegan recipes, is excited by the cookbooks we sent, and I love talking to her about cooking. I am delighted to share recipes and ideas with my Sangha. I'd love to host some cooking classes! I want to hear about any special events in advance so either CK or I have the time to make something special to bring. Maybe, just maybe, the next time we have a fancy dinner planning for vegan members will be considered at the beginning, I hope that at least one dish will be entirely vegan for the whole group, and we'll actually get a real dessert.
I do know with all my heart I want to be a part of the founding of the Heart of Wisdom Zen Temple, but at times it is painful, challenging practice to feel "accommodated".
CK's open letter she wrote in response to her feelings at the Founder's Dinner is also online.
So worn out today. It has felt like we have been at a run for the past two weeks. CK's brother, house guests, Atari's passing, tattoos, big shopping expedition, then days of activity around Open Source Bridge, parties, and the Heart of Wisdom Zen Temple Founder's Dinner (which I helped out at). On top of all the busyness of the past couple of weeks I've not been sleeping really well, neither has CK.
I'd woke up early and sat zazen, planning to head into the office. I felt generally exhausted, had a headache and was generally nauseous. I opted to work from home and dragged myself, with as much mindful attention as I could muster, to meetings. I was grateful to head over to an appointment with Beth for a massage.
I warned her I might fall asleep on her, but some of my muscles were so bunched up and tight that it would have been impossible to doze off. The pain in my left shoulder and back reminded me how grateful I was to have ordered a new bag on Saturday. My beat to heck bag from Vy & Elle is not good to carry around even my ultra-light laptop. I felt merely tired when she was done, some of the thick fog of exhaustion had let up a little.
Had told E I'd take her yoga mats back to her this evening but was enjoying making dinner with CK and just didn't feel like leaving the house. She got the marvelous artichokes we picked up at the King Farmers Market on Sunday ready and researched how to do them in the pressure cooker (cut in half, 8 minutes, yum). She also made a balsamic vinaigrette to dip them in. I sauteed the stems of the rapini we'd picked up, added all the green tops and balsamic to steam. I caramelized half a sweet onion then added a whole, heirloom tomato with some more balsamic to make a simple sauce. I tried making steamed amaranth, but it came out something between porridge and polenta, but stickier. Despite the not-what-I-was-going-for texture the amaranth was still tasty, especially paired with the onions, tomatoes, vinegar & mustard-y rapini. We are all fired up to experiment further with it, amaranth is another "super grain".
Another late night tonight, haven't been home since 8:30 this morning and am currently on the top floor of the Hilton downtown in the Hacker Lounge for Open Source Bridge. CK brought the snacks from the car, which helped the low blood sugar cranky/coldness I was feeling earlier. Someone from San Francisco handed me a porter a few minutes ago and there's been a great sharing of and talking about tattoos.
Yesterday I gave my session on yoga and was totally delighted and blown away by the number of people who showed up, tried the poses I suggested, dove into the breath work and all laughed a lot. Several people told me how much better they felt afterward. Tonight someone in the lounge asked me if I'd posted up the notes from it on my website yet and another asked me where I teach!
CK and I were chatting last night on the way home and noted how my offering yoga in the midst of a developers conference, as "one of them", makes it seem more accessible, not as imposing as going into a studio filled with flexible, toned bodies in tight yoga clothes. To me it really just confirms for me once again how yoga really is for everyone.
Tonight 32 people showed up for CK's session on meditation for geeks, "Re-factor your brain". She did a great job, I felt very proud and so happy for her. I get such a kick getting to watch her talking about the things she has a passion for. I am feeling so fortunate to have someone in my life to share these things with. We have these areas were we overlap, like meditation and yoga, but there is never this feeling of competition, just a wonderful synergy that continues to fill me with gratitude.
What does a vegan do when they are attending a conference with no plans for vegan food, no vegan food anywhere nearby (because no, I do not count french fries), and a partner who's coordinating all volunteers who will need to eat.
Option A would be to bitch about it. Loudly and at great length. Thus perpetuating the "cranky vegan asshole" stereotype. No thank you. Option B would be to go hungry, have low blood sugar, and both CK & I cranky. Nope, pass. Option C would be to make tons of yummy stuff and bring it with us.
This evening's yoga class had no students show up again, which is a little sad. I'd rushed out of a good-bye party to teach, which was too bad. Who knows if I'll have students for real come July, hope so. It isn't that I count on the money, but it is good practice for me to be teaching.
I went to New Seasons and grabbed a couple of things for the rest of the week then went home. I got the garbanzos going in the pressure cooker while I began chopping carrot & celery sticks, washing dishes, and slicing up some sweet onion. A pasta salad thingy sounded good, but the soba I'd hoped was good was stale (whoops), so I found some gemelli to use instead. Made a dressing with white miso, fresh peanut butter, ginger and a little rice milk so it would be creamier.
I was so in process on also making tofu salad that I finally made myself dish up some of the pasta when it was done and eat! Then a big batch of the tofu salad split in two parts. CK likes extra, extra yellow mustard in hers (I probably still could have put in more). I like a lot of Bubbie's dill relish and a mix of yellow & dijon mustard in mine. Done and delicious!
CK was off at a PHP meeting while I was doing all this mad cooking. There was a part of me that questioned my pleasure at being home alone cooking while CK was out socializing with our peers. Some kind of strange gender role going on? While I finally ate I took a look at this and discarded the thoughts as silly and less than useful. I just like being at home and love cooking healthful food for us.
Little nervous about my 45 minute talk/class on yoga tomorrow evening. Part of me is sure no one will come, that everyone will be off to dinner & beer before I even go to my room. I think part of me is anxious about being at a conference. There's so much going on, so many people, so much stimulation that I feel a bit overwhelmed at times.
I'm going to drive the car down, with our lunch & snack provisions in the morning. We decided it would be good to have the car there in case any urgent errands needed attending to. I am reminding myself that if I get overwhelmed I can always go sit a little zazen in the car!
I feel at loose ends tonight. I could have went with CK to go stuff the bags that will be handed out as people show up for Open Source Bridge starting Wednesday morning, but I didn't feel like being around a bunch of people talking. I didn't feel anxious or anything, just not very social. I'd also rushed to go to the post office, drop off DVDs and picked up some veggies for dinner. Then a rush to make dinner so CK could eat and dash off.
Dinner's star was the beet greens. CK thought I was inspired by the tattoo of a bunch of beets sported by the woman who helps manage Scapegoat, maybe I was. I picked up a bunch of 4 small beets with gorgeous, lush greens and popped them into my bag along with kale, zucchini (soon won't need to do this) and other yummy produce. We've been eating out so much that it was really nice to have a very simple diner at home, even if it was rushed.
I had felt all fired up to get started on some art projects and have had some very clear thoughts as to construction, etc. I got upstairs and just felt unfocused. I ended up finishing Chozen's book, Mindful Eating, finally. Then I went downstairs to put away leftovers and do the dishes. After that I popped outside and tried to get the cages around the now very grown tomatoes. The effort of this and dinner have left beet
Mostly I've cleaned in my little office that lacks all things from an office (no desk, etc.). The space has been quite cluttered during the move and I'm feeling like it is contributing to my feeling unfocused when I'm in there. It isn't perfect and I need to make a plan to take a pile of clothes to the Useful Goods Exchange swap shop my friend runs in Southeast. It is a bit better, am shifting my sitting arrangement too.
I'm trying to remind myself, those voices inside that criticize and push me a long, that pretty much all of September through April has been change and upheaval. Yep, all for the good, but BIG. Things have just kind of piled up ad still seem to be piling around. I don't have to be constantly producing all the time - whether it is teaching yoga, making art, cooking (I turned down CK's idea that I make cookies tonight), writing, or anything else those inner voices deem as "Good Productive Work". Once in a while it is just fine for me to do nothing but finish a book, do the dishes and call it good.
After the sadness and quiet of Friday we slept in late on Saturday before hitting a very full day. We popped by the annual Buddhist Festival in the Park and dropped of flyers for my class today as well as running over to the Dharma Center to pick up the post cards CK had printed of the various meditation times. Saw several members of ZCO there and we had planned to get back, but the day's errands just took over!
We decided we would take advantage of the Let Live fundraiser being held by Scapegoat Tattoo, a $30 tattoo with a vegan and/or animal rights theme. We lucked out and were the last ones to get our names on the list for my 9th and CK's first tattoos. It was a good thing we had several errands since we ended up being all bandaged up around 11:30PM. Afterwards we went off to Whiffies to get celebratory pies!
Today CK made some maple walnut cookies to share after my yoga class in the morning. Given that we hadn't had much time at all to publicize the event and there were so many conflicts this weekend (the biggie being Pride) I was thrilled that 3 students came and donated money towards the Heart of Wisdom down payment fund.
I learned a lot teaching this mini-workshop on Metta Yoga. I started by doing some simple stretches to open the body a little in preparation for meditation. I allowed several minutes to just settle into the breath and then introductions the three phrases of loving-kindness practice for five minutes each. After meditation we moved into an asana practice that included sun salutations, abdominals, and a warming of the legs in preparation for some heart openers. I offered Side Bow as a challenge option at the end before moving into some twists and forward bends, still opening the hips up. I allowed over 15 minutes for a long savasana and used a guided body scan that offered appreciation and loving-kindness to the body. At the very end I read the translation of the Metta Sutra from the San Francisco Zen Center that Chozen read to us one of the days during the Loving-Kindness Sesshin.
I would like to offer this workshop again in the fall, maybe September and perhaps for 3 hours. I don't want to cut down the meditation at the beginning or the body scan at the end, but the asana practice in the middle felt a bit rushed to me. I'd wanted to do a few more poses to go more deeply into the hips and legs, especially prepping for bow pose at the end. I also felt like I offered too few hands-on adjustments since I was moving quite quickly - only getting up to correct in bridge (four-footed-pose) since the precision is very important for the feet & knees.
I had a good chat with another member of ZCO after teaching and a meeting for the Founder's Dinner next Sunday. I expressed that I was feeling like I was to a point where I wasn't sure I wanted to keep teaching at the community center. More than anything I'm tired of asking students to come put their faces down on a floor that is often covered in glitter, dried mud, Skittles, and bits of popcorn. I also walk around on this floor barefoot - ick! The absolute privilege and joy of getting to teach at the Dharma Center highlights just how nice it feels to teach in an enviroment that supports practice.
I don't require a fancy location, but I look forward to a clean environment that supports the practice (Saucha!). To that end I expressed interest in working out teaching a couple of classes at Heart of Wisdom, when we have our own building, instead. I just felt that if I was splitting the earnings from teaching with a studio space, I'd rather split that money with my Zen center to help support it. It was wonderful to hear her agree that this seems like a good fit for Heart of Wisdom and my practice of teaching. I really look forward to working towards this goal in the future and helping support my sangha in this way.
Today afforded me the opportunity to practice with impermanence again. In this fleeting world each day offers us this chance, some days are just more dramatic than others. Today was one of those dramatic days. This afternoon CK and I were with Atari as he passed away.
His health hasn't been good really much in his life, the past four and a half years particularly so. We were now looking at trying to treat diabetes in a cat who couldn't be handled enough for the vet to perform a full exam. He's been uncomfortable, unhappy, and nothing that has been done, or could be done, would give him consistent quality of life. He would have a few, fortunate days strung together between days of tremendous anxiety, pain, fear, and the resulting aggression.
Of equal importance in my mind today was a close college friend having surgery - a total hysterectomy and "debulking" of cancerous tumors. They found that she has ovarian cancer that has caused cervical cancer as well. Given my history of growing up with the fear around Mom's several bouts with cancer, including cervical cancer, and other major illnesses, hearing someone has cancer always brings some echo, no matter how small, of the deep fear I felt for her as a child.
Last night I felt my voice desert me for a moment when I came to her JAD's name on the merit list while I was chanting service after zazen. I felt my words halting and catching, revealing the Love that causes my voice to shake. For a moment after service, during tea & cookies, I felt as though I would start weeping for JAD and Atari, for CK and I, for all the names on the list in my hands and for all the people who have added those names. I was enormously relieved to find a short, but positive update from her husband had been posted when CK and I returned from the vet with our sadly empty pet carrier this afternoon.
Over the past several days I've been considering that although we can come to intimately know the truth of impermanence that knowing does nothing to alleviate the sadness impermanence visits upon us. Regardless of this knowing, this certainty of sorrow, we go into life with an open, loving heart. This is the essence of Love. This is the rich ground where we are able to cultivate the fearless compassion necessary to offer one another as we face changes, illness, and losses together.
We sink down into the inescapable truths of the Five Remembrances and embrace the certainty of our own suffering. This is what it is to be fully engaged and present in our life. In On Love from The Prophet it is written that some choose not to fully live, preferring to avoid how Love is a thorough shaking of our deepest roots. This may feel safe, however, in choosing to avoid the vulnerability of loving fully we are doomed to never laugh all of our laughter nor weep all of our tears.
It is the hard, messy facts of Love that crowd in around us and require us to become fully present to life. CK commented to me tonight that it is easy to be present for the good stuff, but how important it was to her that I am willing to be present for the really awful stuff. All I know is that I feel grateful to be present for the hard stuff, together.
It is only in being open to Love, the the desperate, beautiful impermanence of it that we can really say we are truly present with our own life. When we become fully present we are able, finally, to weep all of our tears and laugh all of our laughter.
The Five Remembrances
I am of the nature to grow old.
There is no way to escape growing old.
I am of the nature to have ill health.
There is no way to escape having ill health.
I am of the nature to die.
There is no way to escape death.
All that is dear to me and everyone
I love are of the nature to change.
There is no way to escape being
Separated from them.
I inherit the results of my actions of body, speech and mind.
My actions are my continuation.