Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Aversion, Delusion, Attachment and Me

Maybe, just maybe the reason why it is easier to rest in the anxiety of blaming myself for some events in my life, "my failings", than it is to look truly deeply, openly at the real causes. The anxiety, the shame are the lesser pain and they are they pain I'm accustomed to. Comfortable suffering.

It is far easier to blame and castigate myself for "allowing" myself to gain over 150 pounds than it is to realize the truth of my family's deeply disordered behavior around food, body image and personal interaction. Less painful to say that my marriages "failed" or to just rest all the blame on being gay than to look at how the faith and energy I put into those relationships was not met with equal effort. The pain of saying I failed at college is far, far less significant than looking at how a combination of my family environment & childhood abuse and 2 sexual assaults in the 3 years I was at Beloit led to a breakdown.

Anger is merely intensified aversion and Buddhism teaches that aversion (anger) is one of three root causes of suffering (attachment/greed and delusion/ignorance being the other two).

On Wednesday my therapist was shaking her head and half laughing as she asked me if I really, truly was trying to blame myself for all these things. She asked me if I could really see how I was turning into failures things that everyone else in my life sees as amazing successes. She smiled and said that she really thought that only I would find some way to blame myself for behaving exactly the same way as everyone else.

Self-directed blame becomes just another way to avoid being present to the grief and pain. Generating anger at the self has a kind of delusional quality to it, distorting reality until I always come out the failure. Clinging to the idea that things really weren't that bad, attached to my comfortable, known suffering out of fear of sinking into the whole truth.


Mind States

I am mindful that I have been craving chocolate cake pretty much all day long. I have come to know that I crave cake (particularly), cookies and other sweet, baked goods when I am feeling distracted by anxiety and/or feeling angry with myself. It was intensified by a chocolate ice cream cake being served at a potluck at work today. Watching people enjoy it I was mindful that I was alright with the bowl of fresh berries I had, they were very tasty, but that I should have brought a cookie for myself.

There's a mailing list maintained at Great Vow you can get added to and each week a Mindfulness Task will be sent to you. It is part of an experiment in a Year of Mindfulness that Chozen is writing about next. We're on week 7 and today I got this in an email from Kyoku:

This week our task concerns recognizing and working with mind states. Part 1 of our task is to check our mind states a few times during the day and identify our mood or predominant feeling tone. When we recognize a negative mood, part 2 of our task is to use creativity and practice tools to see if we can change negative moods (e.g., stressed, sad, angry, discouraged) to neutral or positive mind states (e.g., calm, creative, playful, generous).

What are some tools we can use to effect change? Some favorites that we have practiced with in other weeks include stop and breathe, Metta (loving kindness) practice, smile, take refuge in sangha – the company or counsel of excellent friends, exercise or do physical work, silly walking and of course meditation and investigation. How well do these work, especially in the moment? What works best for you in different moods and circumstances? We each need to be creative in working with our unique character and circumstances.

Remembering that mind states are continually changing and that each has value we are cultivating emotional intelligence. To use a mind state to its full advantage we must make effort first to be aware of mood, next to recognize the feeling tone and then gradually develop an understanding of how the mood arises and what works to transform it. This is freedom.

Just in time for me feeling cranky and angry with myself.

Last night I sat doing some zazen before lying down to sleep. I felt anxious, sad, and could get a sense of the swirling anger of my inner critic. I was stinging with having this anger pointed out to me. Being reminded how ridiculous and unfounded it is for me to be angry at myself or try to blame myself. It is so perversely comfortable to remain in the wash of anxiety than to let go of the belief that somehow I just could have worked harder, done a better job.

Back to basics of Metta practice, just focusing on myself. Breathing in compassion, breathing out loving-kindness. Still, present and seeking the source of the anger.

At least around the weight one thing presented itself in the silence. There is a part of my anger at my family for fostering disordered behavior towards food and body image. Mixed in that is more grief, more sadness for the child me who never had any chance to have a reasonable, healthy relationship with food. I feel set up by the adults in my childhood, set up to have become an obese adult - just like they all were. I feel sad, hurt by the reality that food, such a basic was just one more way in which my family was unsafe, unsupportive.

Chozen has said it to me again and again now. Metta is the only protection that is needed. It is the best tool I have at my disposal. I'm so good about sending Loving-Kindness outwards, but I just to have to keep it focused on me, that I am deserving of as much of it as there is.


Inner Critic Out of Control

Not sure when it happened, but my Inner Critic has gotten the upper hand again.

My therapist today commented in the midst of my ranting about how angry I am at myself, that only I would find some way to manage to avoid giving myself credit for something I've done by saying I was ashamed of having to do it in the first place. I've taken my weight loss and turned it into anger at myself for gaining weight in the first place, a way to beat myself up for something in the past rather than appreciate my accomplishment.

Yes, that sounds even more ridiculous typed up than it did a few hours ago. That's how powerful my inner critic's voice can be. I'm not even sure when it started up, but here I am. Am I that terrified of having people read my writing that this has come up

So back to the hard work of hearing the voice that offers gentle encouragement and reminding. Reconnect again to the part of me that remembers how to over loving-kindness to myself.


Just Practice

CK was coughing on and off much of the night, her second full day without antihistamines was really taking a toll. When my 6AM alarm went off I had a hard time turning it off and tried to sleep a little longer. My entire head, neck and hips hurt, I felt queasy and exhausted.

Worked on a field definition document for building new database tables and was able to focus on it fairly well. After lunch I was able to get more done but at around 2 I was just overcome with exhaustion and actually napped for little bit. I woke up feeling more focused, so I must have really needed that nap. Had some mango lemonade leftover from the party and worked hard until just past 5pm.

Went rushing over to Dishman only to have no students show up again. Curtis looked up and said two people have signed up. They're going to phone them and make sure they're still attending, so I'll come back next week. This class has been moved around so much and the August/September scheduling will be all over the place. The big breaks aren't good for consistent students, people quite often don't come back after a 4 week break! Sometimes this feels like another hint that I need to move my teaching practice on.

I've had a couple of inquiries now about private instruction. I'm honestly befuddled as to what to say I charge! I have one barter offer, which is pretty interesting. It is just this big step, change so it feels a little uncertain.

When I came home from Dishman I cleaned up the deck a bit more then kept myself focused on doing a short asana practice. I've felt this low-level mental fuzziness, resistance, depression that just has me wanting to stick close to home and avoid interacting with the world. I have an awareness of wanting to curl around it, sleep. It has been getting in the way of my practice, especially my yoga practice.

It was gorgeous on the deck and I tried to soak in the gratitude I felt for the summer evening, the clean deck, my effort to make it so. Even still my asana practice felt so boring and uninspired. I reminded myself as I exerted energy through three classical sun salutations that sometimes our practice is just Tapas and Virya Paramita. Just the burning effort that sustains the perfection of diligence.

CK reminded me last night that it has been a heck of a year so far. It isn't unreasonable that I'm still feeling some of the anger and grief around it. Yet here I am, frustrated that I am still feeling the ripples of these emotions. Why am I always so impatient with my grief?

Yep, there's my Inner Critic calling me a "Remedial Zen Student" again.

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Consistent Appreciation

After working so hard yesterday CK and I rewarded ourselves with a lazy, wandering day. Went downtown, got coffee and enjoyed it sitting in Pioneer Square. Then off to catch The Brothers Bloom, which was excellent, has wonderful music, and beautifully filmed. We then just ambled around downtown, making our meandering way to the Saturday Market.

We even indulged in a little bit of bargain shopping. CK found a great white dress shirt with French cuffs and a blue striped tie. She modeled them for me when we got home and she looks awesome! I found a t-shirt with a pattern on it that reminds me somewhat of collage and has beautiful butterflies and dragonflies on it.

I nearly didn't try it on -- one of those moments where I pick something up, look at it and decide it there is no way something so small could possibly fit me! CK insisted it would fit and encouraged me to at least try it on. It is meant to hug the body, but similarly to the way my yoga clothes do. I was glad she got me to try it! I found a black sweater hoodie printed with a fantastic butterfly motif - just that kind of day.

It has been so busy for so long that it was wonderful to just have a quiet day together. We talked a lot about the appreciation we have for each other. She asked me if I thought we were a good team and I said yes, without hesitation. I said what was more amazing was that I felt like there is consistency; that my "teammate" was consistently a good, supportive partner.

To end a beautiful day we came up and I made up a salad from the ideas she gave me. We got to sit out on the newly cleaned off deck in the cool breeze and enjoy dinner together. I found myself looking at her while she's unaware, something she catches me doing a lot, but at times I just like to watch her and be present to my joy & gratitude.



CK and I held our first "official" party tonight. Many people came and brought wonderful, vegan food to share. I just finished packing up all the leftovers & cleaning up while listening to dj Cheb i Sabbah's last release, Devotion.

Cut time a bit close - I was grateful that the first guests arrived after I'd managed to grab a quick shower and get dressed! We spent the day in a full push against the yard, deck and house. We worked out in the yard until it was past noon and too hot, too bright to be out in it. Inside we cleared out the living & dining rooms, which now look lovely, open and spacious. I also finished up the kitchen and gave the bathroom a good cleaning.

CK made some macaroni salad, which she felt like she couldn't taste. I found myself in the kitchen half cooking, half talking to guests and cooking with one guest (who made fresh green beans stir-fried three ways), which was a lot of fun for me. I was making potato salad as guests arrived -- this means it didn't turn out quite as planned, but still tasty. I also started some baked beans this morning in the Crockpot - first attempt at them and I am pretty happy.

The deck looked beautiful with candles everywhere and a string of fairy lights. CK is going to hang more. I look forward to having dinner out there with her and with friends this summer. The yard has had so much progress made and it was fun talking about our plans.

Everyone had a lot of fun while the more pyromaniacally inclined of the party-goers light off a bunch of the fireworks we have. It seems like each year a few more are leftover! Maybe we'll throw a hungry ghosts/birthday party in September and light off a few more.

It was nice having this first night of real entertaining. We are both exhausted and aching now, but it felt good working hard together to make things look nice and make the food come together. I was really touched, if a bit overwhelmed at times, at how many people did come for us throwing the invite out there a few days ago!

The good and bad thing about a party -- all your friends show up, or at least most of them. I commented to CK when she returned from taking a friend home (he's too sick to bicycle or bus, but wanted to come) that we know some really interesting people! We're going to try to invite people over regularly, in small groups for dinner so we can focus on getting to know people better.


Spasm Storm

Frustrating day at work. Primary production tool server was having problems, kind of. Not so critical that we called for a mid-day outage, but impacting enough things to annoy my most demanding client team. I spent much of the day responding to their complaints about having to use a work around and wanting to escalate, regardless of this impacting several other teams. Then the test server for our enterprise reports environment was stuck.

I noticed after having a good sized, delicious lunch of last night's leftovers (Anasazi beans, mango salsa, rice/barley/radish seed steamed, and chard & beet greens) that I was craving sweets. In between the client irritation and the tedium of defining all the database fields & tables my brain was stuck on, "cookie, cookie, cookie.... give us a cookie..."

No cookie. I was mindful of all the emotions pushing me towards sweet gratification, offered loving-kindness, got about my day the best I could, and looked forward to zazen. My reward was to leave a little earlier and join CK. I had an iced coffee and a couple of bites of a blueberry muffin and felt pretty good.

Had a great group meeting at the Dharma center. We shared a potluck, light meal and talked about practice. I even talked briefly about being wrapped up in working with how I felt about my body, how having the photography session really triggered some painful stuff. I didn't explode...

Well, at least I didn't explode until I stood up to put away dishes and gather up things for zazen.

The cramps started in my left hamstring and my right foot. I dropped back onto the floor in the center of the room trying to calm my legs down. Both legs were cramped and in spasm from hip to toe and my feet pulling tightly, curling up involuntarily. The right one along the front of the leg, the left along the back and side. Breath-stealing agony with an audience as more and more people arrived.

Each time I'd try to stand up to lengthen my legs the spasms and cramps would intensify. I eventually gave up and inched myself to a sofa, lay on the ground and put my legs up on the cushions. This began to help although the left upper leg remained in spasm. I felt myself crying.

"I hate my body." I said from the floor to a concerned Sangha member checking in on me.

Right in that moment I meant it. Even if for a second. I felt like my body was one giant, muscular panic attack and crying, lying helpless on the floor with people around me added a layer of emotional vulnerability that only made things worse.

Ultimately we went home. CK still isn't feeling great, even though she is improving slowly with the antibiotics, so it was good for her to come home. There was no way I could sit zazen, something that was pretty apparent to everyone. Hogen made a suggestion regarding levels of trace minerals, something he'd come started asking me about when he spotted me in distress, and had even gone to get his bag to see if he had anything to give me immediately. He saw us out and wished us well.

I'd really been looking forward to zazen and the Dharma talk tonight. CK helped me to the car as I cried and limped. I felt the hurt 4-year-old inside of me wailing at having been denied cookies earlier and now having her "normal" Thursday night taken away. I also felt tremendous fear at being "stuck" like this, with CK having to help me when she is so young and healthy.

I keep reminding myself that I haven't been shutdown with muscle spasms like that in a couple of years. There was a time when this was a weekly, daily thing. So I have improved. It is still scary though to have that happen. I feel pretty helpless when it does, overloaded by the barrage of information.

Most days I feel like I have some say in my pain, how I function with it. I had even commented earlier in the evening as we shared dinner how yoga had helped me be comfortable with the inside of my body. Even though my body experiences some level of constant, chronic pain, I'm able to feel comfortable inside it. The massive storm of muscle spasms rob me of even that small feeling of comfort.

Everything changes, especially our feelings of comfort.

I am trying not to hate my body. I am working on moving out of the shame I feel towards it, especially the outside of it. I am trying not to feel unbalanced by this overload of pain information tonight.

Some Dharma gates we must crawl through.

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