Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.



I'm going back and forth between feeling really excited for the trip Wednesday mixed with my usual pre-trip anxiety. Like so much of the anxiety I don't expend as much energy trying to figure out why it happens and just try to work with it. A lot of people, even those without PTSD, get anxious about big trips. I'm just one of them and because I have PTSD it sometimes riles up other things making it seem more intense. End of story.

What's funny is that generally I'm anxious when the trip starts. CK is anxious the day before we're due to go home. Both of us have this fear that all hell will have broken loose while we're gone. I'm afraid I won't be there to help take care of it and CK fears having to come home to the uncertainty of it.

I started to pack clothing. I know I'm over packing but wanted to have a few options. The weather is supposed to be rather wet, especially the first few days. A tropical storm is coming near so a lot of rain. Should be dryer on the Kailua-Kona side, where we're headed on Thursday, and out on the boat/ocean on Friday. By the time we're hiking (probably Sunday) it should have some sunny times.


Hitting the Ground Running

Got back from sesshin on Sunday night after a class on the Robes & Lineage in our Zen tradition followed by dinner! Whew! It was a heck of a long Sunday for me.

I've worked from home the past few days, just going into the office for the first time today. Monday had 5 meetings on the calendar, two of which I was supposed to run and send documentation out for. It has been pretty busy with the usual day-to-day, the catch-up from being gone a week, and the getting ready to be gone another week.

Not sure I'd recommend this planning method.

Between the busyness of work, swimming, teaching yoga, meeting kittens, getting a massage, and zazen tonight I've not had time to do much writing at all. It hasn't felt overwhelming, just, but trying to write as well would be asking too much. What time left has been for some connecting with CK and the chance to make some amazing tomato soup with the tomatoes from our garden!

Oh, and arranging for us to swim with dolphins on my birthday. This involves a side-trip to the Kona side of the Big Island since the excursion meets at 6:30AM. We'll be staying the night in Captain Cook in order to have a quick drive to the harbor. We'll spend the day after the drive exploring the Kona side and driving back along the north coast.

Sesshin was another deep experience, there's a lot there including what I felt I learned after a week of picking blackberries. There will just have to be some catch up reflections later!



Metta is the only thing we need Chozen reminded us again and again in April. It is the most vital tool to get one through all that has happened, all that may happen, all the myriad ways of suffering we encounter in our lives. Whenever we are feeling anxious or sad, do Metta practice.

It isn't just words. We have to mean it, we must cultivate an attitude of loving-kindness for our bodies. Without that love for the very body that moves the concept of "self" around, as well as love for that collection of memories, reactions, and ideas that is the "self", we cannot sustain ourselves. We easily fall into behaviors that lead to ill health.

If we love others, want to be loving towards others, we must start with the love of the self. The most important thing we can do for our loved-ones is to be here, to be present, and open-hearted from a foundation of loving-kindness. Helping to alleviate the suffering of others means being around to do so.

I had news about MJ today, not very good news. She still isn't stabilized and could quite easily have another stroke. She has slurred speech and quite a lot of body impairment. She has experienced some cognitive damage as well.

MJ doesn't recognize her daughter and thinks she's a nurse. MJ keeps telling the daughter, through very slurred speech and thinking she's a nurse, that she is so reminded of her daughter. They are considering calling her son to come home from Minnesota where he's working right now. It is possible that she may not recover much past this point and need assisted care for the rest of her life. There's a chance she may not even live.

As a kid MJ seemed so much older. When I would visit during the summer, quite often for a month at a time, she would drive me around. She was sweet to me and generally pleasant, but quite often seemed far removed and onto her adult life already. At some point growing up I realized that MJ was not actually that much older than I.

High blood pressure, diabetes, morbid obesity and a stubborn refusal to go to a doctor. Every time I would see MJ these past few years I would think that she really needed to loose some weight. I was concerned for her, it really wasn't just a few extra pounds, it was a problem.

Kind of a tough note to start sesshin on, although I suppose if not this then something else would pop up. I feel rather shocked and rattled by this news. More than anything it is the double-wammy of this news combined with my friend's cancer news. I'm also just really struck again at the ways people avoid taking care of themselves. MJ particularly avoided truly taking care of herself, putting it off, not wanting to think about it.

It is just kind of hard to watch sometimes. Sending her Metta, all that can be done.


Hungry Ghosts

Today CK and I checked out the Letterpress Printer's Fair this morning. It was a lot of fun and great to see a huge crowd of printing enthusiasts of ages there. I picked up a pack of awesome recipe cards which might be fun for giving away recipes to friends (some read, "Yum!" and others, "Eat me"). We both got to use an old press. CK carefully kept her piece untouched and I forgot so the ink got a bit smeary on mine.

Some lunch was had at Por Que No on Mississippi before we packed up the cookies CK had made and headed off to Great Vow Zen Monastery for the Jizo-Bon festival. Neither of us had been before and were looking forward to it a lot.

We made prayer flags and hung them in the Jizo garden. CK added a little drawing of Atari on the flag she made. I did a large tree in the center of Jizo's stamped all around the edges with the words, "May all beings be at ease."

I also painted a lantern by drizzling blue and orange paint onto it.

It took a while to dry...

We enjoyed a great dinner (a tofu, veggie miso stew), formal tea ceremony (with some of the most delicious matcha I've ever had), listened to traditional flute music (shakuhachi), watched a very silly & charming puppet show, and then we sung as we walked through the Jizo garden with our lanterns.

Calling all you hungry hearts
Every where, in every time.
You who hunger, you who thirst
I offer you this Bodhi mind.

Out in the garden several of the monastery residents were playing the part of the "Hungry Ghosts". The wore dark costumes, capes, masks, had painted faces and some wigs of Crazy Hair on. They howled and sobbed from the woods. As we entered the garden we laughed in response to the silliness as well as the eerie quality of their wailing.

I felt tears spring to my eyes at more than one point as we made our way along the path. I recalled the weight of grief people leave in the garden during the Jizo ceremonies for those who have died, especially children. My own tokens for my step-dad and father, which by now have become part of the garden, and my cats, which still sparkle in the trees, are in this garden. When we came to the big tree, near to the Jizo that represents the childhood I was denied, we gathered around and enticed the "ghosts" to join us

We feed them popcorn as a representation of the spiritual food that can truly sustain us. Again, a mix of grief and hilarity. Shivers of memories coming up while watching Hogen dump popcorn out of an enormous bowl onto the head of a "ghost" howling in the leaves at his feet.

We coaxed the "ghosts" to join us in the zendo for the Ksitigarbha (the Indian name for Jizo) ceremony. Some of us taking a "ghost" by the hand to encourage them in, comfort them. The ghosts continued to shake, occasionally cry out and some tried hiding beneath the cushions. Eventually they settled. When the ceremony was over we went outside and set of some fireworks.

I commented to others afterward that watching the "ghosts" in the zendo was like seeing what my mind goes through in sesshin. The howling, crying, and desire to flee, or hide beneath the cushions, before eventually settling is what my mind processes through in one day, one sitting period sometimes, during retreat practice.

Jizo Theater

Unexpected News

CK was feeling gradually worse at the Dharma Center this evening. The cough has been coming back, which is worrisome. I do feel some relief knowing she's had a chest x-ray that showed no problems. She wasn't feeling well enough to sit, fighting the coughing, and was going to bicycle home. I decided to drive us both home.

Good thing. Being home early meant I was home to get a phone call from my Mother. My cousin in the hospital, in Seattle. She had two strokes in the left, frontal area of her brain. Mom was talking fast, but I believe she said they were ischemic strokes. The first one Friday, the second probably Saturday. Her husband fought with her a couple of days before getting her to agree to let him take her to urgent care (normal behavior for her).

She also has diabetes they found out at the hospital. She has some paralysis and speech impairment. She doesn't want to see anyone yet. Her husband is distraught. So is my Mom, she is really close to MJ.

I felt the hard agate of the mala on my wrist. "Do Metta." I swear I could hear Chozen & Hogen say to me. So I did, just sitting, feeling my breath, feeling the earth in the beads on my wrist and offering loving-kindness to relieve the fear everyone is feeling right now.

I'm glad we ended up at home tonight regardless of the reason.

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Mala Tool

Talked with GW today about the anxiety that comes up around sesshin, around practice in general. I occasionally get really wicked flashbacks during meditation. Oh how I wish they were just like some creepy movie playing in my head. Zen meditation is done with the eyes open, but unfocused and relaxed. I found this to be amazingly helpful instruction that I shouldn't close my eyes while meditating. That totally got rid of the "movie in the head problem".

I get auditory flashbacks. Yes, that means I hear what clearly that cannot possibly be there, that was decades in the past. I also get tactile, sensory flashbacks. Yes, that means I feel like I'm being touched.

Yes, they make me want to start screaming and run.

For the longest, longest time I never told any one about these. I'd stick with nightmares, those were bad enough and fit the PTSD stereotype of "a terrifying movie you can't wake up from". Meditating in Zen fashion, with my eyes These other types of flashback really left me feeling like I was going insane. It was only after years of therapy that I admitted it to my therapist. To my relief she only cringed and commented that those were bad ones.

Her recommendation to me seemed so obvious, get a mala. When it happens give myself something concrete, from the present moment, to hold onto. Let it help bring me back into the present when a flashback has hauled me backwards into the past.

I remembered the story of Mara attacking the Buddha as he meditated. Throwing all manner of visions to terrify, tempt, or otherwise distract the Buddha from his focus. In the end the Buddha touched the ground, saying that it would bear witness to his practice.

Flashbacks are nothing but pure, unadulterated Mara. It is so strong that it can totally pull me out of the present moment. The trick, says GW, is not to hang out there. Find the resources, the tools to pull yourself back into the present. Touch ground.

On the way to another appointment in NW Portland I picked out an agate wrist mala at New Renaissance Bookshop. It has several moss agate beads on it and reminds me of the ground. My new tool in working with the anxiety.



Today has been all waves, ups and downs.

It started with feeling tired and a headache. I jumped into communicating with someone in IT on a project that releases next month and before I knew it was past 8. I threw myself together and out the door to catch the bus.

Lunch with AM today and lots of catching up. I'm feeling sad for the relationship troubles he's just gone through, for both he and the person he was seeing. The rest of the day I spent much of trying to get something to work on a coding project only to end the day wanting to scream. Oh how my head pounded. The whine of the router in our new office area does not help.

There was a time when learning a new programming language or systems short cut was exciting, challenging and fun. More and more it isn't that way anymore, I just go straight into feeling dumb that I haven't figured it out yet. Don't know, maybe it is just some short-cut my inner critic has found to really get to me and fast.

Came home cranky and in a rush to change because I'd stayed a little too long at the office before catching the bus. I had no more than 15 minutes of "down" time before leaving again to go teach yoga. I was even just barely on time to start my class! Ugh!

And then teaching yoga does what it nearly always does. I settled down mentally and emotionally. I listened to my student's needs, touched the lineage of yoga and just taught. I felt cooled, centered, and my head felt better.

I put on some lentils to cook to make into a salad and finally faced calling my Mom. After all my stress over telling her I won't be going to the wedding she responded with an, "Oh. OK."

She said she understands how my family hurt me and why I might not want to see them yet. She also really felt like my desire not to have my relationship with CK potentially turn into "Family Drama" at a wedding was reasonable. We made plans to have a late lunch and some thrift store shopping on Sunday.

I made a great, late dinner and got the downside of the wave catching up with my friend JA-N. Her cancer pathology report was sent onto the Mayo Clinc and even they were only able to give a "best guess" as to where the cancer started. The diagnosis, endometrial cancer, suggests a chemotherapy treatment that is known to have the most side-effects. She's scared about it and I totally understand.

In between the surprising Up wave of talking to Mom and the Down wave of catching up on news from my friend there is the middle. I felt the happiness at hearing CK get home from a meeting and now watching Zonker snuggle up to her on the couch. I don't feel unsteadied by any of the news I've received today. I do feel rooted in compassion, especially towards those who are experiencing pain that leaves me feeling sad in response to their suffering.

Metta on the Up waves, on the Down waves, and in the space between the next wave starting.



I'm practicing telling my Mom something she won't want to hear. Preparing myself to meet the way she'll project guilt at me and how to keep things on topic.

A second cousin of mine is getting married Saturday and Mom really wants me to go. What's left of my whole family on my Mom's side will be there. She has in her mind how she'll have this big family, all happy together.

Only the thought of going leaves me feeling anxious and angry. I've been sifting through so many unhappy parts of my childhood and I don't particularly feel like being around my cousins who quite often made me miserable as a child. I also feel very anxious about coming out to my family in this manner. I don't want to be reminded in the future how inappropriate it was for me to spring my girlfriend on them at the wedding.

Maybe that's somewhat of an excuse to give weight to the resistance I have towards seeing my whole family. I do feel anxious about revealing this about myself in this way. Not that I want to hide my relationship with CK at all, I really just feel like there is potential for drama around it and I don't want it detracting from the wedding. The idea of that happening just fuels the anxiety and anger that feels so present since I've been processing painful memories.

To make it worse -- Mom sent me some money for my birthday. She also included this incredibly sweet note about her memories of Hawaii. I hate the idea of calling to thank her and disappoint her all at once!

What I really want to do this weekend is go out there on Sunday after I get done teaching, have lunch, and go to thrift stores. It seems to be the time she and I enjoy our company the most. We have fun looking at stuff, laughing at crazy things we find, and appreciating what one another find. It is something we've been doing since I was a little kid (she had to when I was little, but it still something we had fun doing).

Tomorrow I'll give her a call and talk with her. I hope she is free on Sunday so we can just spend the day together. I feel like I'm making the right decision for myself by not going to this family event, I just hate facing my Mother's disappointment.

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