Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Decorating the House

We decorated the house a little bit tonight. CK hung stockings for each of us and the four cats up on the mantle. We strung the dizzying LED lights on the small, living Norfolk pine we purchased at Home Depot (about 3 feet, w/pot) and hung a few ornaments (origami cranes and a few owls made out of mosses & bark). I put out a couple of snowmen and filled a strange, green glass bowl (from my childhood, I kept it when my Mom got rid of it when downsizing) with the bright, polka-dot patterned crackers I picked up at Finnegan's last week. The candy canes have been put into an old A&W glass, also from my childhood. There is a poinsettia on either side of the fireplace, above the built ins (so far I'm keeping them looking fairly nice).

It really looks beautiful. I can't wait to get the quilted wall hanging we purchased in Hawaii up. The colors are all so bright in here now and the whole space leaves me feeling happy. All the changes we've made to have it feel like our home have really been so cheering and lovely. I look forward to working on things in the house with her.

I wrapped a few things before she came home from work. She immediately started to worry she hasn't enough presents for me. I then immediately started to worry that I've over-indulged. Maybe I have a little, but this year feels so special that it has been hard to resist things I see. I've barely bought anything for anyone else. Even today I found myself nearly ordering something for her (I might yet still, but maybe will save for later).

We have wood to make a fire, we're thinking certainly Christmas Eve. A nice dinner, I'm considering making lasagna, some drinks and a fire sound pretty heavenly. I have this incredible shopping-madness to buy a festive tablecloth. I am just so looking forward to this holiday time with her, the simplicity and relative quietness of it seem so precious and wonderful.

...and then I went to bed, settled down next to CK to read some of the novel I started and we were startled by the crash the tree made coming off of the shelf it sits on, in front of our living room window. The kittens have left it alone until now. The dangling ornaments were just too much.

We took all the ornaments off, put as much dirt back into the pot as possible and CK vacuumed up the rest. Hopefully the lights will be insufficient temptation to climbing into the tree again. They appear to have eaten an origami crane.


Catch Up, Cookies & Teamwork

My posts have been pretty heavy lately, the acupuncture has really kicked a lot of things around for me. The latest round, although very emotional, has once again really loosened the left hip up. It still has some lingering tenderness and tightness, but it was markedly improved by Wednesday morning (even if my emotions still felt brittle).

Wednesday saw me helping a friend out after day-stay surgery on both knees. Thursday saw me at zazen. The first time just sitting in the Sangha for a long time. No list to bring, keep track of and no chanting. It felt good to just bow with the whole community, to just sit as part of the whole body. Friday we spent the evening at a friend's place playing games & having dinner. I made a first try at a Moroccan inspired spaghetti squash dish, which was good but I want to work with it more.

We've had a lot of time at home this weekend and have spent much of it in a flurry of cooking and home repairs (new trap for the basement sink drain). Saturday we spent hours baking together in the kitchen. It stuck us both again and again how well and easily we work together. As we've had more opportunity this year to experience working together on things the easy teamwork between us has just grown more easy & comfortable.

We also hung up some lights on our porch this weekend, which are lovely and bright. After the past few weeks it has been grounding to do these chores around the house. We were going to bake more this evening, but I'm just wiped out. I find that I am not really looking forward to the upcoming week at work. It is really challenging to focus at all on projects when there's a great deal of uncertainty around them even being ever finished.


Clear and Present Anger

Had an interesting discussion with my therapist today about JS's comments about the energy of anger in Chinese medicine. She felt it made a lot of sense for this to be stuck for me. My entire life has been a long series of not having the space to set boundaries. As a child my ability to set them was either denied or taken from me if I tried. As an adult I've experienced having people, partners even, disrespect or undermine the boundaries I would try to set.

The result has always been to over compensate. Just function higher, do more, try harder and pick up the slack. Always.

Oh, and when I fail? Self-direct that anger for a perceived inability to always pick up the slack when other people break down those boundaries. Why, yes, that does mean that I beat myself up for failing to be perfect.

She felt that if I could learn to set those firm, clear boundaries around my needs that it would heal the body that responds in muscle spasms to the energy of the anger being stuck, denied. Even more importantly it would heal the awful shame that arises any time I engage my sense of vulnerability around expressing my needs. That I need to address this in the present to heal the old pain.

This seems more attainable. I've been spinning around this idea, fed in part by the writing about trauma recovery, that I've needed to get in touch with the anger I feel about the abuse. I know I do, it does make me angry and I'm really alright with it. I think this is one of those times it is OK to look at a situation and say the anger is reasonable. I've even met the rage of the child I was at 13 while in sesshin (it was deeply unsettling).

But do I feel some need to throw cups and break them? Maybe a little, only in my mind. The thought of standing out in my yard shattering pottery seems kind of silly and excessive. It is a good metaphor - break the dirty cups of my life I have such a hard time not minding. In practice though, I don't really connect to it. Perhaps because in practice I have this vow I made to not give rise to anger, but to seek the source.

When I do engage the feelings and thoughts around the anger at the abuse I feel grief. When I seek the headwaters of it, so to speak. I feel the intense hurt of an injured child and young woman. At times these things have themselves felt terrifying and overwhelming.

Even at those times when I am in direct painful contact with memories of trauma I don't feel the need to scream and throw things. These times are where I come into contact with grief again and I acknowledge that the anger is reasonable. The anger is just there, with the memory. There are memories that I know will always carry anger around them, but it is old and I don't honestly feel the need to let it come rushing back through me in the now. I just want to get it out of my left leg and hip.

GM said she's always felt that this is a more positive thing anyway, that I don't feel some intense need to express the anger beyond acknowledging that it is there. As painful and overwhelming as it gets sometimes it is expressing the emotions that fuel the anger anyway. If I was still stuck in a rage it would mean I wasn't accessing the grief causing it. She felt there isn't really any need to spend time on trying to express the past, other than to keep present to the hurt that arises and greet it compassionately.

This anger energy in the present, that is something to learn. How to use the energy of bamboo shooting up through cold, dark earth to burst forth into green life in the spring. That is the energy of boundary setting.


Loose Ends

I taught my last Tuesday class at Dishman tonight. I was a little sad before heading out, but felt OK once I got teaching. Which is usual.

I was surprised to end up teaching a more vigorous class including some sun salutations to warm everyone up since it has been so cold (for Portland standards). The requested hip & leg openers got right into some of the "crunchy" congested energy of my hips. The left one doesn't hurt as badly after all the acupuncture earlier today.

It was another long session focusing on detoxifying the meridians. More of the heart-protector again. Some discussion about the energy being caught in the muscles being anger. Not the kind of overblown rage that we often think of as anger, but the energy that arises to set a firm boundary. Something that was denied or taken from me growing up.

In five element acupuncture anger also represents the energy of spring that causes buds to open. It is the energy of rebirth and creativity. It is represented by wood. This is the block that stands out most dramatically.

The needles went into the surface of the back, the tender points between the shoulders, and tears came and stayed for a while. Not hard, just constant. It was a long session, sitting for only 10 minutes before lying on my side, wrapped in blankets except for the bare back for the needles and feeling the energy zoom around.

After teaching a delicious potato & broccoli soup for dinner made by CK while I was teaching. She's been working while I've been finishing up a couple of small art pieces. All the energy drained out of me about 90 minutes ago and I'm hoping I'll sleep better tonight.


Congested Engergy

And how am I...

In the past several days I've been diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency, my levels are pretty low. This is actually pretty serious and can affect a person in several ways. It is the leading culprit for my fatigue, not the chronic pain that I've blamed (on the advice of my physician). The new acupuncturist, JS, is the one who guessed it on the basis of my saying how markedly better I felt in Hawaii.

Am taking a pretty enormous dose of D right now. In 12 weeks they'll test again and see if I'm any where near "normal" levels. Apparently it is fairly common in Portland to be low on it. I guess there's been a lot more attention on it recently and more doctors are testing for it now.

Still having a lot of acupuncture done. Another session focused on detoxing the body, again the heart-protector. Again I suddenly went from feeling absolutely fine, doing zazen with needles in my back, and then I'm suffused with grief and feel a headache & nausea. Not quite as intense as the first time, but pretty significant.

Was doing better and then Thursday the head pounding came back again during our Zen community cohort dinner/meeting. We went home, I went to bed early. Friday through Sunday was down and up, and down again and a shaky even into feeling rather tired today.

Saturday was the big "up" in the middle of the lows of the weekend. We made breakfast together and went for a walk in St. Johns. Coming home we had leftovers and took a nap (more acupuncture causes napping in my life). We watched the first Blue Planet DVD and went to bed early. It was all pretty marvelous until I tried to go to sleep.

Friday and particularly Saturday night into Sunday was a lot of stuff triggered, pretty early pain. Sunday morning it went straight into my left hip and leg, turning into spasm after spasm. The hip pain that for years has been associated with the herniated disc shows up, after being all but gone for two weeks, when I'm seriously emotionally triggered. Can it be any more obvious?

I'm trying to stay focused on how I was able to be present to the pain, the terrifying shame I felt. I retained the ability to talk, to fully, if haltingly, communicate what was going on. I was even able to visualize the way my body felt inside - seeing the pain like lava. This is progress. I didn't shut down completely.

In the middle of the big down, feeling enormously triggered by childhood trauma, I taught yoga. One of those times where I just get out of the way and allow that lineage to teach through me. The class ended up running long and I felt grounded, if unsteady. Coming into a shaky evenness after the storm of emotion and memory.

I worked on small art projects Sunday afternoon, in part alone with the cats. I did no chores. I didn't feel guilty about it.

A picture I took Saturday really resonated with me when I saw it had come out. It was a quick decision to take it, seeing the lines suddenly and clearly.

We were walking back out of the SuperFund site of Willamette Cove.

Cables cut, restoration begun, but toxic areas remain. Native trees reclaim the shoreline.

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Willamette Cove

Yesterday CK and I went to St. Johns to explore Willamette Cove. Our plan was to take on a walk featured in Portland Hill Walks, which we recently picked up at Powell's. The walk was from Willamette Cove to the St. Johns Bridge. We decided to call it after coming out from along the river, we'd spent a lot of extra time walking along the edge of the cove under the railroad bridge. We fully intend to do the full walk sometime soon.

The sun was shining and the wind was pretty mild, since it was in the 40s we were grateful for less wind. The day was clear and bright when we started walking at around 11:45. Very quickly we were able to get some great views of the St. Johns bridge.

We continued through the neighborhood to the Open Meadow High School, in the Benson-Chaney house, and spent some time appreciating the stunning views.

And the Oregon white oaks, which are over a couple of hundred years old and are fantastically limbed and grand in the bright, winter sunlight.

From the top of the bluffs we descended down to Willamette Cove. First we pass the reminder of the designation of this as a SuperFund site. We're headed somewhere beautiful, fragile and hopefully eventually restored.

We walked along the curved edge of land. The guidebook noted the need to appreciate, but not to play in the still contaminated sand and mud here.

The view of the railroad bridge was amazing.

Without question we knew we wanted to continue our way underneath it. Making our way along the old, concrete blocks that line the shore we headed to the railway bridge.

At the bridge we had several exciting moments. First was when the Amtrack Cascade Runner went past. I experienced technical difficulties in trying to take a picture while CK succeeded in getting people to wave at us. Then a fast moving barge and tug made their way underneath the bridge, requiring it to be lifted.

An unfortunate sturgeon in these busy waters; this dead fish had been struck by a propeller.

The extra walk around the bridge rewarded us both with a very interesting and new perspective of Portland.

This detour from the walk in the guide is what lead us to not continue on to Cathedral Park, but we had such an excellent time exploring. It was a marvelous couple of hours on a chilly, December Saturday.