Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Is weeping speech?

I've been thinking on the poem I Have Five Things to Say from Rumi, (translated by Coleman Barks, down at the bottom of the post). So many of Rumi's poems leave me feeling as though I've been struck in the heart and this one is no exception. I've only recently been reading some poems from Hafiz and find they too have such depth and such ability to touch the tender places.

I have a lot of internal struggle around crying and have been actively working with it since 2008. One thing I remind myself over and over is that Kwan Yin's response to the cries of the world is to weep. The vessel she is often depicted with contains her tears, which have become a healing elixir. I remember this when my Inner Critic is beating me up for crying, for looking silly because I'm crying, for causing me to worry that I'll be caught crying and punished...

Ugh! I spend a pretty ridiculous amount of time worrying about crying. "Just cry!" is pretty much what all my teachers say to me in one form or another. All of them. It is damn hard to relearn this stuff and some days I feel loads of Bad Student Guilt over seeming to need to hear the same message over and over again.

When I read the line in the poem, "Is weeping speech?" I thought of Kwan Yin, She Who Hears the Cries of the World, and her wordless response, suffused with compassion for all the suffering of the world. Her act to hear terrible suffering and respond with the open vulnerability of crying reminds me of the very positive quality to tears and how they are a way of speaking when words utterly fail us.


The wakened lover speaks directly to the beloved,
"You are the sky my spirit circles in,
the love inside love, the resurrection place.

Let this window be your ear.
I have lost consciousness many times
with longing for your listening silence,
and your life-quickening smile.

You give attention to the smallest matters,
my suspicious doubts, and to the greatest.

You know my coins are counterfeit,
but you accept them anyway,
my impudence and my pretending!

I have five things to say,
five fingers to give
into your grace.

First, when I was apart from you,
this world did not exist,
nor any other.

Second, whatever I was looking for
was always you.

Third, why did I ever learn to count to three?

Fourth, my cornfield is burning!

Fifth, this finger stands for Rabia,
and this is for someone else.
Is there a difference?

Are these words or tears?
Is weeping speech?
What shall I do, my love?"

So he speaks, and everyone around
begins to cry with him, laughing crazily,
moaning in the spreading union
of lover and beloved.

This is the true religion. All others
are thrown-away bandages beside it.

This is the sema of slavery and mastery
dancing together. This is not-being.

Neither words, nor any natural fact
can express this.

I know these dancers.
Day and night I sing their songs
in this phenomenal cage.

My soul, don't try to answer now!
Find a friend, and hide.

But what can stay hidden?
Love's secret is always lifting its head
out from under the covers,
"Here I am!"


A Tiny Room

Portland has been baking in unusually hot weather. It was over 100 degrees (37.7+ C) here today, for the second day in a row. Tomorrow will be the same. We'll "cool down" to the mid 90s on Thursday. It has been humid as well, 43% humidity at this moment.

I am trying to meet the heat with equanimity and curiosity, but right now my head aches and I feel a little sticky. The upstairs, particularly the bedroom, feels as though it has been transported to India or SE Asia. Tonight sleeping up there will give us practice for visiting those places!

We're trying not to use the small air conditioner units which sit in the window. Cooling the house by opening it up and using fans. We're also spending time down in the basement. I'm practicing gratitude for our spacious home that has a comfortable basement. If it is too unbearable up in the bedroom we can set up to sleep down here, another thing to be grateful for.

The heat affects the air quality which makes my sinuses ache. Between that, the jaw pain (which has improved since my massage therapist worked on it, but is still there), and the allergies irritated by all the dust from moving at the office, my head has had a constant, dull, ache for days now. It does ebb and flow a bit, but there always seems to be some level of headache. It doesn't leave me feeling very focused or productive.

I'll leave off the complaints about the weather & my head and instead post this poem by Hafiz. Chozen read this to us during the Loving-Kindness sesshin in April and it has remained in my mind since.

I Want Both of Us

I want both of us
To start talking about this Great Love

As if You, I and the Sun were all married
And living in a tiny room.
Helping each other to cook,
Do the wash,
Weave and sew
Care for our beautiful

We all leave each morning
To labor on the earth’s field.
No one does not lift a great pack.

I want both of us to start singing like two
Traveling minstrels
About this Extraordinary Existence
We Share,

As If,

You, I, and God were all married

And living in
A Tiny


What Causes the Pain?

I get asked about my physical pain a lot. Rather than repeat over and over, I'll post a full summary here so it is easy for me to refer to.

My chronic pain started one morning in late December 1999. I woke up and couldn't move without wanting to scream, cry or both. I had experienced a major muscle spasm in my lower back several years earlier so I didn't panic. Unlike that time I didn't get better, nothing was relieving the pain and I started to feel rather anxious about it. In 2000 my doctor sent me in for an MRI and then sent me along to a neurosurgeon to have the results explained to me. On the films he pointed out how my first three lower vertebral discs were bulging out (S1/L5, L5/L4, L4/L3). The rather hazy diagnosis for all of this was Degenerative Disc Disease.

I was given prescriptions for vicodan and very high doses of ibuprofen, sent to a physical therapist, and to water therapy as well. The physical therapists arranged for me to have a TENS unit. It didn't really get better, the physical therapists, who were more accustomed to dealing with injury as opposed to chronic condition, grew frustrated with my lack of "progress".

The first few years were struggle to learn how to adjust to being in pain all of the time. Really, ALL the time. No break in the pain, just variation on how bad it is. I have come to describe it to people as "noise". There is always the noise-information of my pain. Always. I am in pain if I am awake or asleep. The only variation is if the volume is at 3 (mildly, but constantly, irritating) or 10 (worst pain ever). Since 1999 my pain level has never been at 0 (no pain).

The pain medications that were prescribed generally made me feel worse. The ibuprofen upset my stomach. It turns out that I am allergic to opiates, they not only caused stomach upset (a common complaint) but I would break out in hives, sometimes waking up with huge scrapes all over my body when I'd start scratching in my sleep. To take even half a dose of pain killer I must take Benedryl as well.

Every day was exhausting those first years. It was all I could do to wake up and drag myself to work. Thankfully I could telecommute some days when I was too exhausted to go into the office. In the evenings I would just collapse into bed. It was as if my life came to a standstill. I would work and collapse, spending the entire weekend resting enough to start all over again.

By 2002 I was exhausted physically and emotionally. What strength I had once had from regular water exercise, walking and lap swimming was gone. I had very little flexibility left at all. I wasn't a candidate for surgery because of where the discs where degenerating. There was nothing to be done but suggest body work, more pills, and some kind of exercise.

Having first learned to swim when I was still a baby I've always felt at home in the water. While unemployed in 2002 I started to go to water exercise classes again. First I went to a class aimed at slow movements and low intensity. It felt so good to be doing something with my body and I started to get some flexibility and strength back. After a few months of this class I moved into a regular class, then back to some lap swimming, and eventually settling into a deep water exercise class where I would experience zero impact in my joints, especially my hips and spine where the pain was worst.

In 2003 I started studying yoga. It was incredibly hard, I had to stop and rest a lot regardless of what the other students were doing. I could tell it made a difference though so I kept with it even though it sometimes really hurt. Even more than water exercise, yoga let me help treat and work with my own pain, which was very powerful. I'd also lost around 90 pounds by this time. I felt like I had a lot more energy even though the pain was still pretty intense.

Another MRI in late 2004 revealed good and bad news. The third disc (L4/L3) was fine. There was no mention of anything unusual about it at all! The bad news was my first vertebral disk, between the sacrum and the first lumbar vertebra. This disc had ruptured sideways (which bit unusual). The middle disc (L5/L4) was still bulging.

The ruptured disc causes nerve compression (sciatic nerve especially) on both sides of my legs; the left particularly so. Quite often there is a very low level of spasm that is happening most of the time in my lower back and hips. Sitting, particularly with my legs down (how one normally sits in a chair), aggravates the pain.

Over the past 9 years I've become very adept at managing the pain. A combination of body work (massage, physical, and craniosacral therapies), yoga, weight loss, rest, exercise, and water/heat therapy I use has actually lowered the level of pain I'm in over all. When I interrupt those things my pain increases. Occasionally that increase appears as an overwhelming spike of "noise" that sends me to rest more and take a muscle relaxant. Sometimes the only interruption comes from something like stumbling over my own feet or sneezing without holding onto something or sitting down first.

Most of the time people do not know I'm in pain. It is an "invisible" condition that sometimes causes people to question things like turning down invitations because I need rest. Eventually, if someone spends enough time around me, they will see evidence of what I work with. Sometimes it is only that they catch me on days when I'm very tired and am limping or dragging my left leg a little. Once in a while I get caught off guard by much more major muscle spasms and am barely able to breath much less walk.

It is such a small thing really, but our bodies are so carefully, precisely assembled and nerves are so sensitive that even being pressed into a few millimeters causes significant response. My spine is a constant reminder to me of how even a small change causes a much larger impact. It is also a reminder that pain is merely information our body gives us and I am not defined by my pain.

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The lastest delusion

Feeling fat... yep, that's me these days. I have been feeling fat, frumpy and kind of uneven all over. Maybe it was getting on the scale at the gym the other day - in the evening - and finding it weighed me as 6 pounds heavier? Whatever source, it appears to be the latest delusion by my mind to undermine any sense of accomplishment for losing weight.

I gave away a few more bags of clothing that is too big last night. I felt a little strange, thinking to myself, "Oh no, what if I need those clothes again!"

Not that any of my clothes are too tight. None are too big now either. I'm down to clothes that actually fit for the most part and seem to have stabilized around a size 8/10 (small/medium). Regardless of the preponderance of evidence my mind has been stuck in the feeling fat mode.

In a sad irony about food cravings, the fatter I feel the more I crave cookies (really, baked goods in general). I am trying to watch this arise and crash around. I feel fat and lumpy, then I crave a sweet to make me feel better, which then gives fuel to feeling fat... And around and around we go! Thai food has been high on the craving list too - pad see ew particularly.

Instead I had a big salad for dinner and after we got back from the Dharma center I had a little sweet, sugary cereal. I spent the two sitting periods just working on Metta for myself some more. Trying to get back to answering the rising self-criticism and random anxiety with loving-kindness.


a kind of distancing

It was the way an old friend from high school described me recently. Something he never could pin down about me when we were friends back then. There was "a kind of distancing" in my personality he noted. An aspect that was always a little "off".

I've always felt kind of off from center, never entirely a part of any group, including my family. Moving as often as we did complicated matters further. I rarely had time to get used to a group, begin to make close friendships and I'd be changing schools again. I cannot recall clearly how many schools I went to before graduating high school. I can say that in the time I first started high school at age 14, until the time I graduated at age 17, I went to 4 different schools.

My disconnect with my family stemmed in part from the way my Mom was treated herself in the role of the "younger daughter/black sheep". Her mother and older sister always treated my Mom as though they expected and believed the worst of her in any given scenario. In addition to all the general negativity I got from being my mother's daughter and the youngest, I was generally considered to be freakishly smart by all of them.

NT was one of my closest high school friends. We shared our writing together. I'd thought of him this spring when I found an old writing project from those years. Finding the project set off a lot of sad, troubled memories, but it had caused me to think about him.

I've been turning over in my mind how someone close to me, really as close as I let anyone be to me, saw in my teens that I was distancing myself from people, from life. That they could see this coping mechanism I'd built. It shows how at that young age I'd already had some pretty well developed survival skills in play.

I was asked today if I find that validating. I suppose in a way I do. The problem I have with things that are validating like this is that they are also pretty creepy and disturbing. OK, so it is good to have this outside observer who could tell something wasn't alright despite my playing my part as "average teenager" as well as I possibly could. Then again it is just one more reminder, one more stone taken out of my wall of denial, that it was awful.

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I grit my teeth, particularly in my sleep. With sufficient force that I need to have sealants done on the 12 cracks caused by the force of my clenching my teeth. I've done this since I was in my teens. Probably earlier, but in my teens they pointed to it as a cause of the terrible headaches I would have.

Uh yeah. No sign of anything in that one. Nor the insomnia I can remember not having.

Anyway, I've been having one of those headaches for days. My "BruxGuard" broke several weeks ago. It was going towards 2 decades old, so I can't really complain except for the need of having molds taken of my mouth and the cost of a new guard.

So, yes, I put it off until my head is just pounding. It isn't helped by the fact that my allergies are still pretty active and I've been sneezing a lot. It hurts from my shoulders up my entire head. Throbbing particularly bad in my left molars. Generally it has begun to feel like something has hit me across the face. Joy.

Today my new guard arrived and it is gigantic compared to my old one. I've had wisdom teeth come in on top, since the first guard was made, so it stretches around those teeth and right into the gums of my lower teeth (where no wisdom teeth ever appeared). Ugh.

I was directed to sit and wait until they could get a chair for me. So much for my In-and-Out plan at the dentist with no anxiety medication or someone to be there with me. Metta practice in the waiting room (much to the interest of the late teens waiting as well). Then into a chair with all the familiar, unsettling smells and noises. More Metta until the dentist came and while he was there.

There was much grinding and rather painful fitting this afternoon. Better when he finished with it but it still feel enormous in my mouth tonight. I'm to try it out for a few days to see if I can sleep with it, if not he grind it down a bit more. I hope so, I really need to give my head a break from the pressure at night.


Cupcake Double Happiness Thursday

In which I make two batches of vegan cupcakes on conference calls and delegating work.

That's how my Thursday went. Oh, and I made 60+ petals out of marzipan to decorate the green tea cupcakes with 5-petal blossoms.

It was a mad dash most of the day. I went in late to be at a retirement party. 3 more people encouraged to take retirement now after the four from my team last year. Lots of smiles, well-wishes, cupcakes appreciated, and lovely cantaloupe & pear sorbet!

It feels unsettled at my office, especially so since we're moving up two floors soon and my desk is surrounded by boxes. I hate moving so much. CK and I just got the living and dining rooms empty of boxes. Being around them at work just makes me want to cry sometimes. Despite this I packed up all my work related books this week and have begun packing the small items (shells, toys, altar stuff...).

It was nice to go to zazen tonight at the Dharma center after such a hectic day. I felt really settled in my sitting tonight and wished there had been a second sitting period. I was happy to give up the second sit since we got to hear the current shusso (head of zendo), who is stepping down after a year's service, discuss the koan he's studied. It was a lively and bright interaction, at more than one point the whole sangha shared laughter together!

The cupcakes, which had been denied to CK earlier in the day, were handed out to our teachers and the old and new shussos first. I have misplaced my mini-cupcake pan and had made full-sized ones, which meant there were not enough for everyone. I felt a little bad about this when someone asked after they'd been put out if there were more cupcakes.

Other than that it was fun to share something special with my sangha. I focused on the appreciation of everyone who got to have a cupcake and have tried not to let it be an opportunity for my inner critic shaming me for not being "perfect".



My practice has felt out of step. The free fall feeling after the teacher training ended was kept at bay by teaching classes got worse in June when I had no classes to teach. Both my yoga and zazen practices have faltered during this time and I feel out of step, anxious and tired.

The past couple of days I've felt like I was all written out for a little bit. I know I'm not done processing, I'm trying not to cling to the idea of someday being "finished", but I do feel like I've shifted down a little from the intensity. I credit some of this to seeing Iris last week and feeling they way she was shifting some of the energy.

Tonight, at a point where dinner was cooking and I had 15 minutes, I did a quick yoga practice. Downward dog, side dog, several variations in uttanasana and 3 full, classical sun salutations. I felt myself warmed up.

Dinner turned out marvelously. It has been a lot of fun for me to really cook. I've been enjoying this outlet of creativity too!

I also sat tonight in such a way. Just taking 15 minutes to mindfully sit. Not just squeezing a little zazen in here and there, but just sitting a little. Just coming back to practice again.


May I Be at Ease

Had a nice mini-class, only two students, yesterday. The inconsistent scheduling at Dishman doesn't help consistent students. People get a 3+ week break and stuff gets filled in the way of their practice. Still, two returning students who are both a joy to talk with, so it was a nice class.

Muscle spasms when I was exerting through the right leg, so I took it easy the rest of the day. Even laying down for reading/napping after a light lunch. We did a little grocery shopping, I made split pea soup for us, we cleaned up, sat zazen, then played card games until bed.

Two full days with less rushing, more resting. I still feel a bit depleted today, but like I have recharged a lot with this weekend. CK is improving, slowly. Still coughing and today's information from the allergy clinic only confused things further.

Today's meetings left me feeling anxious about my technical skills and feeling behind on stuff. All that fun and then I went to my dentist's office to get impressions made of my teeth. My rather ancient bite guard finally broke and the rather constant pressure and jaw ache I've had since has convinced me I cannot wait until September's cleaning/check-up to have the impressions made.

CK drove me after I finally got over my awkwardness about asking her too. I think I feel most worried about driving because I feel how distracted I am going to the appointments. It wasn't too bad, I was able to keep most of the panicky feelings at bay with less medication that some visits have required. While they would hold the molds with alginate in my mouth (the worst part) I kept my hands in samadhi mudra, kept feeling for my breath and repeated the loving-kindness phrase "May I be at ease." in my head.

Then I came home and napped for a little while.

Working how to make our simple lentils for tacos in the pressure cooker. Draining a little and cooking longer causes them to stick and burn a bit. The result still tasted good but it will be better when I get a ratio of water and ingredients down that can right into the cooker from the beginning.

Aware of how much I'm craving sweets again today. Tried getting some chocolate cake from New Seasons, which we'd done before and were pleased with it, but this stuff had lumps of flour in it and was very dry. Fruit is nice, but not quite what I'm craving.... yeah, carb-tastic baked goods... My brain has this voice that keeps reminding me that we deserve a cookie after being good at the dentist! Thankfully I have discovered that the maple frosted mini shredded wheat cereal from TJs seems to satisfy the sweet cravings!



I had a moment of panic last night, about an hour after I'd posted. Fear of being found out, fear of revealing, fear I'd said too much. Nothing but swirling fear and shame. I curled up next to CK who rubbed my back and told me it was alright, good that I'd written everything, until I felt calmer.

This morning I first awoke at 6AM, noticed the time, appreciated the sun coming in through the open window and went back to sleep. 90 minutes later I was wide awake so I went downstairs, fed the cats and sat zazen. My brain was bouncing all over the place this morning. It was just active, alert energy instead of the anxiety of the previous night. The fears over the post had subsided to worrying that I've written too many "downer" posts in a row. For the whole 25 minutes I sat zazen I just kept trying to come back to Metta practice, my breath and stay bemused, rather than judging.

Today has been one of the first Saturdays that has had nothing planned in weeks. CK appeared to be sleeping, not coughing, so I made a pot of chai and answered an email from an old friend. When she did wake up I made up a scramble of russet potatoes, seared tofu, red pepper, sweet onion and garlic.

It has felt like a creative day today. Making the scramble was a lot of fun and something we haven't had in a while. I also finally came up with a ginger-miso dressing recipe I'm happy with. I actually made the mini-box lotus shrine I've had in my mind for RG and a panel to go into the mint-tin shrine I'm working on to send to JAN. It felt really good to get back in touch with artistic pursuits. CK commented that she really enjoys watching me work on art projects.

After enjoying dinner out on the deck - quinoa, aduki beans, kale & the dressing I'd made - CK and I picked beans in the garden. We ended up with pounds of string beans - yellow, red, and green. I washed them and spread them out on the kitchen counter to dry a little before I put them in the fridge. We also picked a few cucumbers and a summer squash.

Before we went in we stood admiring the whiteness of the clouds, touched by the pink of the sunset, against the blue sky. She wrapped her arms around me, I leaned back against her, and looked for swimmers & pouncing cats in the clouds. After the heaviness of the past few months today has felt like a complete treat. I did my best to be present to this joy.