Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


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.

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