Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.



I had a meeting with a dinosaur today. Well, at least I'd like to think of him as a dinosaur. The kind of change-resistant, judgmental, dismissive males in technology I'm really hope are becoming the exception to the norm.

Another team asked my boss for me to sit in on some meetings to discuss migrating a very old system they used. They know I have a lot of experience with systems migrations as well as knowledge of Free/Open Source Software. I had said I looked forward to working with them, on a project where I felt like I knew what I was doing.

During the meeting I asked a question and was suddenly, brusquely asked by a member of the other team, "Who are you?"

I explained which team I was a part of, the background I had with systems, and he responded back, "Huh. Never heard of you."

Each time I asked a question or made a comment he would cut me off, dismiss my input as irrelevant, unnecessary and misinformed. It was one of the worst 30 minutes. I tired to just be open, positive, and present.

After the call I felt awful. I've felt so down on my skills or ability to get projects done this year already that this call made me feel just totally demoralized. My Inner Critic immediately piped up to point out that I probably won't get a bonus for this year. Ick.

Within 10 minutes of hanging up I was craving sweets particularly, but rich food in general. I just sat with it for a while. Checked out that I was hungry, but the Halloween candy and cookies were not what I needed. The craving for those things wasn't hunger, but the strong desire to comfort my hurt feelings with something tasty. The coping mechanism I was raised on.

Instead I made a baked potato with some chili on it for a late breakfast and ate a reasonable lunch. For dinner we had leftover white bean, kale, potato & leek soup with a reasonable amount of bread. Afterward I finally did have some cookies with CK. I stayed mindful of each sweet, chewy, gingery bite.

This afternoon I saw my therapist and talked about how listless I feel. That it feels like I'm not getting enough done at work, that I'm very unfocused and then feel guilty, which makes me want to distract myself more. Vicious cycle.

Rather than offer me pointers on how to not procrastinate, what I believe I was hoping to hear. GM pointed me to examine how I'm tying my sense of measuring accomplishment to ticking projects at work off as "finished". That I once again don't think I'm doing enough and I'm seeing the bonuses and raises as an indication of my value. I'm so focused on that external, financial input that I don't examine the tremendous accomplishments of the weight loss, buying a home, huge strides in making my life & relationships healthier, intense spiritual growth -- all of those things I've done but don't feel how they indicate to me I've succeeded.

The day yielded a lot of positive input from good friends, most of them men in technology. It felt better to talk it over with a few people, laugh a little about it, and be reminded of just how great some of the men I know are. I will continue the practice of cultivating patience with my frustration at work and the feeling that I'm not doing enough.



I live in one of the best examples of my lack of skill in recognizing when I have accomplished something. It is coming up on 3 years in my home, purchased in a hurry when my 10 year old rental was sold. I get glimpses of ownership, literally of my accomplishment. It is not insignificant that I alone qualified for the loans to buy a 3 bedroom, 1926 Craftsman style home in my North Portland neighborhood.

Yet most of the time I still feel like I'm an irresponsible child about finances. Any minutes now the authorities will discover I'm just faking and escort me off the premises. I feel like I never live up to all the goals and expectations a "grown up" should have around money.

CK and I sat down and talked budget and debt tonight. I've been feeling really anxious about this conversation, fearing that she'd discover I wasn't a "real adult" and call things off. I've also been feeling a lot of hurt, some bubbling up in the form of anger, about how finances have been handled in the relationships my entire life. I feel sabotaged by the people who should have been there to help and support me.

She's so calm about money, it is just another process to her and it isn't tied up in a lot of triggering memories. I'm a bit jealous at her skill around finances and business. I hear my Inner Critic compare my own skill and find me lacking.

I finally pulled open my spreadsheet with all the debt statistics on it. Amounts owed, to who, at what interest rate, etc. CK very calmly got out her calculator and figured how I could pay it all off in just over 3 years without her help. Then she pointed out how she planned to spend what I find to be a serious amount of her own earnings helping pay the debt down after building up our mutual savings significantly in the coming year.

I teared up. I really can't remember anyone wanting to do this for me. I put myself through college and in high school didn't participate in a lot of things because I couldn't afford the fees and my parents weren't willing/couldn't afford to pay them. It wasn't really until I was in my 30s that my Mom started being more giving with money to me. Then I moved onto relationships with two men who were equally destabilizing financially, one in a more outright emotionally damaging way than the other.

I've felt kind of aimless and tired for a few weeks now. I'm having a hard time focusing on work, overall. It's made it feel extra urgent to get little things done around the house. Not only grounding in the mundane tasks of home, but being buoyed up by feeling like I'm getting some tasks done!

I'm accepting that some of this may be months worth of low-grade infection slowly gobbling up my energy reserves. I also feel like I'm reacting to the support I am feeling in my relationship with CK. To be in a relationship with another person willing to be entirely wholehearted. Sadly, I find it entirely unknown territory to have another person say they're going to help and feel like they really will follow through. I don't know how to relax and let go, enjoy the stability that working together in a relationship can bring.


Present to Exhaustion

I am waking up with a lot more energy the past few days. I still reach a point during the day or evening where I am suddenly just worn out. Right now I have a pile of skin from some Delicata squash I roasted earlier. We've been enjoying the thin skin of the squash lightly coated in oil then roasted low until it is crispy.

But I had an enormous pile of phone calls today then rushed around getting stuff together to make a great dinner, vacuumed the front rooms & hall, and cleaned up a bit. We met with our insurance agent for the oh-so-boring and "grown-up" task of discussing life insurance. After he left we had the most marvelous dinner (squash casserole, no recipe yet), watched an episode of Big Bang Theory (CK has introduced me to this and we're watching back episodes online). I've cleaned up a bit, CK made chocolate almond biscotti, and I just ran out of steam.

I'm trying to remember that I've apparently had a low-level infection for quite some time. I'm taking enormous doses of antibiotics. I have chronic pain, which tires me too. It isn't unreasonable that I'm prone to running out of energy. Sure it is a great opportunity to practice with the body, with the impatience I feel with it, but I'd honestly like a little break.

It has let me look at the exhaustion I felt during the Grasses, Trees & Great Earth sesshin in August. I suddenly was stopped and some of the exhaustion from the infection was able to express itself. That little crack opened by the actual physical illness I was fighting, present to it without the distractions of work, life, etc. opened me up to feel a deeper exhaustion within me. It was so utterly consuming, I had the sense of never having had enough rest in my whole life.

The first time I saw Chozen for sanzen I told her about the exhaustion. Not just a drowsiness of wanting to avoid being present, but a cellular weariness. I said that I was so tired, so warn out that even my Inner Critic wasn't getting much traction on me. It was if a very young version of myself was saying plaintively, "Oh go away. I don't feel good."

She told me to do the most restful practice I could. It was unusual to have even my Inner Critic silenced by anything at all. I would find myself sliding in and out of a very heightened awareness of the sound of the rain. I'd be watching it fall, hearing the different sounds of it as the water connected back to the earth, and drift off to a very light sleep. When I'd open my eyes it would feel as though I was blinking very slowly. The whole world seemed to move slowly.

The whole of the sesshin I was in a present, slow state of alertness and sleep. During every break I'd crawl into my bed, under the blankets and fall immediately to sleep until the bell rang. At night, when sitting ended, I'd take a hot shower to loosen up my back & hips, crawl into bed again and fall asleep. I experienced very little insomnia, for me. This is significant since I actually cannot recall not having insomnia.

During zazen I might drift off, but not know it. It would only have that lazy, strange sensation as if I'd just blinked very slowly. My Inner Critic never grew loud during these times, never berated me for my bad practice. I just let myself be present to the exhaustion I felt.

I felt rested by the time I left. Slow moving still, but not as brittle & bright feeling as I'd felt leaving the Loving-Kindness sesshin in April. I felt profoundly grateful at the end of our last early morning zazen.

I'm trying to be mindful of how judging I can be of my energy level away from the container of sesshin practice. How quick I am to either bemoan my lack of energy or prod myself to get just one more chore done. How unwilling I am to just be present to the sensation of being tired, the sensation of the body needing rest to heal.


Red Leaves

I've been enjoying the small red maple leaves that blow into our yard from a neighbor's tree. Some are still speckled yellow, while others are already turning brown. I found myself with a small clutch of them in my hand, trying to press & dry them. A few have found their way onto very small art pieces.

I believe one of those art pieces will incorporate this haiku about them.

In the air, red leaves.
Impermanent gifts, wind-brought.
Brief gems of autumn.

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Transition Practice

Stayed home and rested much of the weekend. I still feel like my energy just deserts me at times, but the head/ear pain has subsided. I'm feeling a bit gloomy that I have 5 more doses of the antibiotics. They're working but they make me feel a bit nauseated and leave my mouth tasting as though I have a handful of pennies in it.

I taught a class on Sunday that ended up with many adjustments, to such a degree that it was good practice to stay with compassion even while I felt frustration arise. When I finally gave space, silence to it I am able to see that frustration really arises out of the fear that my students will feel like I don't give individual attention fairly and that I worry some students may need assistance but I am often asked to help a very stiff, over-achieving student.

Today I took a big step in my teaching. I've started to contact friends who are also yoga teachers to see if any of them want to take over my classes at Dishman at the beginning of the year. Right now I have the luxury of working out details to offer a class at my Zen center. I see it more of a way to enrich my practice of teaching by letting it become even more deeply co-rooted to the Dharma. I'm also checking around at other studios to see about teaching a class somewhere else.

I think I am finally being able to let go of the "guaranteed money" of teaching at the community center. I have these two classes, I'm always on the schedule, and I get paid regularly. Not a lot, but for the past 4 years it has become something of my personal fund for books, a couple of my tattoos, and clothing. Once I could start to let go of that I could start to approach people I'd really like to take over my class.

I have a big soft spot in my heart for these classes. I've learned so much in teaching them and I want to leave them feeling as though I've done everything I can to support those classes continuation. I believe at least one student will follow me when I move to the Dharma center, so perhaps I'll get to experience that connection to my first teaching practice as I move into new waters of teaching.

And I've been having fun working on two "Artist Trading Cards". Autumn themed and I've been playing around with pressing leaves then decoupaging them down. On one I've drawn a very simple tree in pastels against a grey, about-to-rain sky. Another has three leaves on muted, smeared oranges and yellows.

The Autumn rain awoke me early this morning, before the alarm, and I snuggled down a bit with a cat while listening to it on the roof (I love that my bedroom is under the attic so I can hear the rain on the roof). The day that ended with an orange-y sunset peeking through dark grey clouds. All that in mind, a haiku for the rain.

Autumn Downpour

Dawn and hard rain sound,
Thrum of water on my roof.
Autumn serenade.


Prescription & Poety

Last Friday I was diagnosed with what may be the same sinus infection I was fighting in the spring. This was my doctor's thoughts on why I've also been having hives occasionally as well as some distortion happening in my left eye. Bacterial infections can start to cause systemic allergic reactions - this explains the hives. The visual distortion may be migraine being tiggered by having had a sinus infection for this long.

Ugh. I'm on a second round of antibiotics now, much stronger ones. Hopefully this really knocks this out. The nearly constant head ache combined with the usual 3-7 level of pain my hips & back has me feeling worn out. I've even been napping, which I don't do unless truly sick.

Enough kvetching about being ill and on to the poetry!

I had an Amazon gift certificate and today my "prizes" arrived. I haven't been writing much poetry, but it really seems to be what I've been reading lately. I think the books of poetry have been edging out the fiction and non-fiction on my nightstand. Today, I added 3 more poetry books: New and Selected Poems (volumes One & Two) by Mary Oliver and The Gift
by Hafiz (which CK nearly purchased for me for my birthday but instead choose two marvelous editions of Rumi's writing).

And on that note I am off to lay around with a bag of hot flax seeds on my head and hopefully dream peaceful dreams. Here is some Hafiz:

And For No Reason

For no reason
I start skipping like a child.

For no reason
I turn into a leaf
That is carried so high
I kiss the Sun's mouth
And dissolve.

For no reason
A thousand birds
Choose my head for a conference table,
Start passing their cups of wine
And their wild songbooks all around.

For every reason in existence
I begin to eternally,
To eternally laugh and love!

When I turn itno a leaf
And start dancing,
I run to kiss our beautiful Friend
And I dissolve in the Truth
That I am.

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My Inner Critic

The tasks around Jukai, particularly sewing my rakusu, writing about the Grave Precepts, and making my lineage chart, have riled up my Inner Critic hugely.

What occurred to me tonight, while lying on the bed with a hot bag of flax seeds on my face and doing Metta practice for myself because I feel lousy, was that I've been able to more clearly hear the words of my Inner Critic lately. I've experienced a lot of the sensations of shame, guilt, anxiety, unworthiness, etc. that my Inner Critic builds up in me, but not the words.

It isn't even that I'm arguing with my Inner Critic (that still riles up a lot of childhood anxiety about the consequences of "talking back"). I can just make this internal voice out more clearly, which is kind of different.

My Inner Critic seems at times to be made up of a bored Greek Chorus of 13-14 "cool" kids from middle school. Not the self-conscious & longing to fit in kind of kid, that was me, but the disdainful, judging, mean-spirited kind. Nothing but pure anxiety-inducing spite and sarcasm.

My rakusu? Sucks.
Lineage chart? More sucking.
My writing? Lame. You're such a hack.
My name?! Yeah, right!

You get the picture... Bullying, arrogant, jerks.

In fact, that "Yeah, right!" response to the name given to me was immediate upon hearing Chozen tell me that my name means Peaceful Person. That bored, young-adolescent voice snorted in derision, rolled their eyes and said, "Yeah, right."

I insisted to myself that I was not allowed to start laughing in the zendo, in the middle of Jukai, right after my teacher gave me my name. In retrospect they both probably would have encouraged that laughter to just take form. I was conscious of the same Inner Critic who denies me the right to say I'm "Peaceful" then denied me the option of laughing about it. For a moment there my Inner Critic taking on my Mother's voice about proper behavior.

I'm still juggling how to deal with this voice, or voices it feels like at times. The very fact there is a distinct voice instead of just pure, overwhelming surges of emotion feels like an interesting shift. When I started writing this all down I wondered if some of these sensations would make a little more sense, I'd be able to define the "voices", and maybe that's what's happening now. The combination of the writing practice and the furnace-like intensity of preparing for Jukai have started to reveal some clarity.



Konin is the name Chozen & Hogen gave me on Thursday during the Jukai ceremony. It means "Peaceful Person" and is pronounced like, "Koh - Neen".

Ko, meaning: Peaceful, safe, secure
Nin, meaning: Person, human being, human kind

Three times that evening Chozen reminded me that it not only means that I aspire to become a peaceful person, but I am a person who helps all people to a peaceful state. I help manifest peace for all beings. It struck me the third time she told me that in naming me Konin my teachers were bestowing an enormous responsibility as well as a reminder for my own practice. It feels as though this name reflects Chozen's request for me to write about my weight loss and the pull towards teaching yoga, particularly a yoga that is flavored with Metta practice and cultivates the attitude of loving-kindness towards the body.

I have been weighing this name the past several days and how it marks a significant point in my life. One of Pure Precepts is to actualize good for others. For me, with this name, I know the good I will be working on is helping people find peace. It is also my constant reminder to maintain a more gentle, compassionate, and understanding approach with myself.

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A Good Mu

I woke up hurting all down the left side of my body. From aching sinuses in my head down the side of the leg to the ankle. I was glad to be working from home today and have even opted to not attend the women's practice group I started going to last week. I could have finished up the reading and went, but I decided that some rest tonight would probably be more beneficial.

I did go down and sit in the new "zendo" space I cleared up for us over the weekend. It is in a little nook at the back of the sitting area. On Saturday I hung various wall hangings over the rather unsightly unfinished walls and put down the carpet that had been upstairs. The dull olive green of the carpet looks rather cozy in the lower light and smaller space.

While sitting I had what felt like a rather silly realization - I could do Mu chanting at home! I really have enjoyed toning and Mu chanting while in retreat at Great Vow, but never had made this connection to including it in my home practice. I've even done some chanting practice at home as part of the my last Ango commitment.

I was aware of the dull ache of my neck, I think the amount of sneezing I've been doing may be part of the problem. My tailbone hurt and in turn that ache radiated into my hip. My mind was all over the place, just unsettled and full of anxious, judging thoughts.

Breath practice? Nope, let's consider the unwashed dishes.

Body scan? Nope, instead we shall reflect upon the practice group we made a commitment to and now are missing when we're not really sick.

Metta practice? Are you kidding us?! No! Have you see the state of your studio/office upstairs? Someone needs to sleep there on Thursday!

Now, quit all this sitting here nonsense and go organize the storage area!

I don't know why it struck me to start Mu chanting, but I did. Several loud, long, powerful, deep breaths worth of Mu. I felt the vibration of it deeply in my whole body. Like I've done up at Great Vow I envisioned concentrating, focusing the vibration into my sore head & neck and into my back.

I felt more clear after a few minutes of this and returned back to Metta practice. Whenever a thought arose, I let out another Mu. There was no one in the house my Inner Critic would say I was bothering, so I just went with it. Felt the thought, felt the irritation at catching myself thinking, and...


Take that, Discursive Thoughts! Mu!

Mu, to you, Inner Critic!

Mu, indeed!

My thoughts settled further and my need to use a "Reminder Mu" did to. I was able to sit in silence, practicing Metta for all the fears and anxieties that have come up the past several weeks. When the bell rang I felt much calmer than I had in several days. There's even been a little popping and shifting in my tight muscles.


Craving Distraction

This afternoon I dropped CK off at Great Vow for the Beginner's Mind retreat. The others held in spring and summer fell on weekends that weren't at all possible for her to go (one of which we were in Hawaii) and she must go this weekend if she is to take the first five precepts on Thursday. She has really wanted to take these first vows when I will be taking my 16 vows. Despite it still not being a great weekend, what with her family coming next week for the ceremony, she's there and I am home craving distraction.

That makes this "Fun with the 5th Precept" weekend. How many ways can I watch the desire for distraction arise and how many times will I catch myself in the midst of distraction.

I already ate too much for dinner, have checked my email a handful of times, watched Ken Burns on the Colbert Report, tried to watch episodes of Last Chance to See (damn you, BBC and your non-working players), and even have cued up a movie I've enjoyed in the past (Cold Comfort Farm) on Hulu. I've heaved huge sighs, talked to the cats and am curled up in bed, wearing the sweatshirt she had on earlier today.

I feel apathetic about cooking for the vegan Fakin' Fest tomorrow, uninspired to work on the house for the impending family arrival (regardless of how anxious I am about their coming) and unmotivated to write (tonight's blog bright you to by Vriya & Tapas). Oh yes, and silly, I feel very silly because I know she's at Great Vow, retreats are a core element of Zen practice, she's just fine, and I wholeheartedly support her practice. I am still aching a little, chafed from last night's raw emotions, and I'd just like to curl up with her.

I also feel guilty for telling my Mom I could only come out for a few hours and only help with lightweight stuff tomorrow. She's going to be staying in an apartment in Gresham part of each week so she can get around to appointments and see people without having to rely upon someone driving her from Corbett. I think this is a good idea and said I'd come out tomorrow to help her with some things.

As per usual when stuff from my childhood percolates up, I haven't wanted to see her right now. Honestly, tonight, I don't even feel much like seeing people tomorrow afternoon and evening at the events I've been urged to attend. I was honest with Mom that I didn't have a huge amount of time and that my back & hips have been hurting, so I don't want to be lifting too much. I did say, honestly, I'd come out though and help, meaning it.

She called back after a few minutes and said I shouldn't come. I felt hugely relieved and guilty all at once. She made a comment about it not being very nice that CK chose to be at the monastery the weekend before her family visits, leaving me alone to work on the house. I responded that CK had to go this weekend, it wasn't a choice she liked to make, but her taking her vows on Thursday is very important to her. I explained it calmly and honestly despite feeling very angry at her for comment in the first place.

It was right after this phone call I ate too much of the dinner I'd picked up. The combination of anger and guilt, on top of feeling lonely for CK's company, dropped me right down into feeling irritated and craving distraction. Dinner was delicious, I really enjoyed it, but I wasn't mindful of my stomach as I ate it all. I was caught up in the slurry of uncomfortable emotions and the desire to just enjoy the tasty food.

There I was, uncomfortably full and mindful of some disappointment that I really was too full to eat any cookie from the bakery. I did't try to push past that and have a bite of cookie anyway, craving the sweetness of it. I didn't get angry and I don't feel guilty for eating too large a serving, ways I would have reacted in the past. I just noticed that I was feeling too full and looked at why I had not heard my body's messages to me. What I find interesting is that the point at which I feel too full has changed a lot. Ten years ago I would have eaten the whole cookie.

Unlike the past I haven't let my Inner Critic beat me up... much. It isn't the end of the world if occasionally I eat too much. It is good to acknowledge the irritation that comes up from the way my Mom always jumps to a negative assumption and judgement. It is just fine to feel like I'm not ready to see her when I'm letting raw emotional memories settle down, even though doing so leaves me feeling like a bad daughter. It is perfectly alright that I miss CK, even when I'm happy she's practicing wholeheartedly.