Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


As a Result of Poety

I really thought I'd written about haiku, learning the form. It is a cherished memory and activity from the year I was nine. Generally that year was one traumatic event after another, but I also was taught the form of haiku that year. It is a form of poetry I've returned to over and over in my life, although I really moved away from in during my twenties. When I started practicing yoga and zen I noticed that haiku just started to appear in my mind.

And that brings me to this past Friday. My love of haiku has borne fruit, as it were. I am being given a pair of tickets to see the production of 'Snow Falling on Cedars' at Portland Center Stage as a prize for a winter haiku I wrote! They sponsored a concert on Twitter for the best winter-themed haiku, or "snowku" and I submitted this:

Bare branches rattle.
Evergreens shiver and sway.
Winter's breath blows cold.

On Friday they posted a message that I'd won. What a delightful surprise to see appear on my computer screen while working! CK & I'll be going on the 30th and are very much looking forward to it.

I'm trying to take this into my practice too. Ango is approaching and I'm given the gift of a chance to remember the focus Hogen gave me during my first Ango: Appreciate my accomplishments.

I discount my writing a lot while at the same time am anxiously attached to it. I minimize my poetry. I even diminish the accomplishment of having my writing appear in ZCO's publication, Ink on the Cat.

"After all, they're your Sangha, they have to act like they like your writing." says my Inner Critic.

This little surprise of winning these tickets is pretty hard for even my Inner Critic to diminish. I mean someone in the "real world" liked something I wrote. Gosh.

Hah! Take that, Inner Critic!

In Kilauea Iki Crater on the Big Island in August 2009


Once in a Lifetime

Seems kinda surreal still. 2010.

Where is my flying car! Where's the aliens? Where's my house in the clouds?

Well? How did I get here?

But wait for it....

This is my beautiful life.

This moment, with my headache, tired eyes and CK cursing loudly & creatively in her office downstairs. Every aching, cat fur covered, damp, rainy, cranky bit of this moment is the Pure Lotus Land.


I wrote a note to Hogen several weeks ago in which I talked about Practice being this means to clean up the metaphorical dirty cups of my life. But it has occurred to me in the recent downtime I've been experiencing that I'm just trying to find a way to tidy my life up. Once again, I'm trying to DO something, in this case Zen practice, hard enough to make the icky bits disappear.

The whole point of the Rumi poem is that the dirty cup does not, should not matter! The cup is just the thing that holds the wine. It is the wine, it is that essence that is important. I need to quit staring through all these pure, wondrous moments in order to focus on the smudges at the bottom of the cup!

As for the rest of my day?

I've resumed looking at myself in a mirror during zazen and pointedly doing loving-kindness practice for myself. This is something Hogen suggested in Sanzen ages ago, but it really kind of upset me when I first tried it so I set it aside. It feels like the right time to try this again. This afternoon my zazen helped my headache enough to not need ibuprofen. Tonight the Too-Big-Fridge was bought by a very grateful family. I can pay off the Home Depot account entirely and am relieved of the financial tightness around finishing my tattoo and going to Kaz's workshop this month.

I finished a new draft of the article for Chozen this evening.


2009 in Review

Looking back at 2008

As the year drew to a close I was in a strange state of limbo. My husband of 7 years asked for a divorce a few weeks before our 7th wedding anniversary. By the end of the year I was staying a good part of each week at CK's small studio while AM and I sorted out the end of our married life.


Began the new year at the Dharma center with my Zen community. CK and I enjoyed a potluck dinner, the simple & sacred circle dancing Chozen teaches, and a long evening of fusatsu (a ceremony of renewing vows and repentance) & zazen. It was good to begin a very new stage in my life this way, although it made for a very tiring night. I recall by the end being very cold, very tired and worried about the cats.

CK and I then headed down to Eugene for a mini-vacation. We stayed at a lovely bed & breakfast, visited the U of O campus, had some ridiculous vegan pastries, tolerable Thai (the drinks were better than the food), enjoyed the ability to hangout at a popular local pub. We really enjoyed the museums on the campus, art & cultural/natural history, and I really loved getting to make purchases from the Art-o-Mat.



The big deal in Portland in February was our Mayor, Sam Adams, having to fess up to having had a relationship with a 17 year old. It was disappointing on so many levels. I felt pretty angry that yet another man had decided to become a statistic for unethical behavior, for thinking with his hormones instead of his mind. Regardless of my deep disappointment in him, I did not support the strident calls for him to be removed from office. As ugly as the facts are, they amounted to kissing and lying about it and I didn't feel it was worth the energy or expense to remove Sam from office. After all, many public figures have done the same and survived and will do so in the future, I'm sad to say. I also felt that some of the intensity of calls for his removal were because Sam is gay.

CK and I felt so strongly that we attended a boisterous, chilly rally in support of Sam staying on as mayor. It was very interesting to recognize my anger and my support, how these two conflicting things could exist side by side. The evening had an unexpected highlight - CK was able to meet Dan Savage and let him know how much she appreciated his work.


AM and I finally got our paperwork filed for the dissolution of our marriage. It was simple, easy and painful. There were no questions asked, no hitches, and with much less effort than it took to have the wedding, our divorce was in process. I began to push AM towards getting his own place more, wanting more than anything to be settled in the house I'd purchased.

My Zen community started a poetry challenge, 30 Poems in 30 Days, and for most of the month I wrote a new poem each day. I also finally completed my second round of yoga teacher training, over 230 hours. It was incredibly stressful getting to that point and the sudden freeing up of my time combined with the impending finalization of the divorce felt destabilizing.


Within days of AM finally moving out, although it would be weeks of getting his stuff out of the house, CK began the process of moving in. Amidst boxes, unsettled cats & humans, and with CK fighting bronchitis I left for Great Vow for a week; finally sesshin practice. I'd avoided it for so long and finally I had to begin this essential part of Zen practice; days long silent retreat. I still haven't written a lot about this retreat, around the theme of Loving-Kindness. It was deeply, deeply painful, but worth it.


CK and I continued to work on the house, settling in and making it feel like our home. We continued to sort through junk, AM's belongings, and start to address the neglected yard. Our first house guest arrived for the Memorial Day weekend and we enjoyed showing of Portland as well as a day trip out to the coast and another to Hood River.


June started out with a terribly painful decision - the end of Atari-the-Wonder-Cat's increasingly unhealthy, unhappy, troubled life. I felt largely ineffectual as CK struggled to make the right decision about his life. In the end we both know it was the right decision, but it was very painful.

We had the opportunity to get tattoos at Scapegoat Tattoo as part of a fundraiser for the Let Live Foundation. CK choose to get an old school style flash heart to memorialize Atari and to signify her commitment to veganism. I got a carrot in honor of my own commitment to veganism.

Carrot Tattoo on Sherri

I helped out at the Open Source Bridge conference, largely doing whatever CK needed me to do and making sure she was taking care of herself as she did the hard work of coordinating all of the volunteers. I presented a small yoga class, a kind of "yoga for geeks" mini-workshop, and was surprised by the large number of people who came (lots more men than I expected too).

John Labovitz took this great photograph of me at Open Source Bridge.

Sherri Montgomery

Later in the month I surprised CK with rather good tickets to see Rent. She knows all of the music by heart and had never seen the stage production. We went on her birthday, had some great drinks, and really enjoyed ourselves immensely. This was also the first time for me to see a Broadway production.

CK and I went down to Sacramento at the end of June and visited with her family. I find her family pretty intense when they're all together, so the trip was something of a struggle for me. There were some very good moments to it and some painful ones. While we were there we spent part of one day at the campus in Davis, revisiting her college memories.

Egg Heads!


July was spent working on our garden and getting ready for a big trip for my big birthday. I also found out that a dear friend from college had cancer. In addition to the worry about JAN I spent a lot of time reflecting on the ways my Mom's bouts with cancer and illness affected my childhood. July also saw a lot of continued processing of the sesshin in April.

We also really enjoyed a day trip out to Sauvie Island to pick berries and getting to see Son Volt and Cowboy Junkies at the Aladdin Theater - what an amazing show!



This was one of our busiest months for the whole year! Looking back on it I'm amazed at just how much stuff we packed into one month! We had an awesome day trip to Ecola Beach with friends, checked out cool stuff at the Letterpress Printers' Faire, had fun at the Jizo Bon at Great Vow, I attended my second sesshin (Grasses, Trees & the Great Earth), we went to Vegan Prom, and the biggest trip ever (for me) - a week on the Big Island of Hawaii for my 40th birthday!


We settled back into our routine in September. Worked on the hugely overgrown garden and said goodbye to our good friend, and favorite house-sitter, SO as he'd decided to move back to Missouri. The big change in September was welcoming two kittens into our home. A Sangha friend fosters cats & kittens for the Humane Society and we fell in love with two of them. They stayed with JSS until we returned home from Hawaii and were ready for them.

Puck (stripey one) and Oberon (tuxedo & tabby) settled into the house pretty quickly. Zonker fell in love. It would appear he's been waiting his whole life for kittens. Phoebe took a little more time to warm up to them, but now plays with both kittens.


This month CK started a new job and attended the Beginner's Mind retreat while I stayed in Portland and went to the vegan Fakin' Fest. Soon after two of her brothers, Mom & step-dad all came up to attend the Precepts and Jukai ceremony. I was given the Dharma name "Konin" by my teachers and formally became a Zen Buddhist. CK took the first 5 Buddhist precepts as well. It felt very good to share that ceremony with her, making those vows together.

We also managed to squeeze in seeing the Monsters of Folk (truly awesome concert) and a fun day trip out to Hood River with friends for getting apples, pumpkins and lunch at the Full Sail Brewery. We celebrated Halloween by inviting friends over and handing out piles of candy & toys to the neighborhood kids.


I began an intensive of 5 weeks of acupuncture this month. It has helped the chronic pain in my left hip tremendously, but it also brought up a lot of emotional pain. I was also diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency and began taking very large, prescribed doses of it. We stayed home for Thanksgiving weekend, going out to Great Vow for the sangha holiday party.

I also started a large tattoo on my lower right leg.


The last month wrapped up with a presentation of a sangha photography project I took part of, Hero with a Thousand Faces. It was very interesting to see the photographs taken by community members as part of a project to honor Daido Loori's life.

December saw the end of my teaching at Dishman Community Center. After over 4 years of teaching yoga there, it is time to move on. I taught my last class on December 20th and it was a bittersweet moment for me. I do not have any classes to teach lined up and am instead resting. I'm also working on an outline for a full-day workshop that will cover asana (postures), pranayama (breathwork), meditation, writing & discussion all around the theme of Loving-Kindness of our bodies & selves; Metta Yoga.

We decided after much discussion to stay home for Christmas, not visiting CK's family in Sacramento. It was a very difficult decision, but I loved getting to spend this time at home together. It felt very good to put up some simple decorations, enjoy making cookies for our friends & family, and exchange gifts.


The cats also seemed to really enjoy having us around so much as well as having fun with their Christmas gifts. (Phoebe in front, Oberon, & Zonker)


We did very little for our week off together. I finished several small art projects and posted pictures.


We went to yoga classes, made food together, and enjoyed an unexpected snow storm.

We also spent New Year's Eve at home, quietly enjoying the last of 2009 together. CK made some cocoa mochi (yum) and I made several dishes inspired by traditional Japanese New Year's dishes, osechi ryori (I'm seen here figuring out what to do with the burdock root).


Looking forward to 2010

I'll be having my leg tattoo finished in January. I hope to attend a weekend workshop/retreat with Kaz Tanahashi in January as well. We hope to attend more concerts this year and make a few more small, weekend trips to places like Seattle, San Francisco, the Coast, and Central Oregon. I look forward to writing even more recipes and about my practice. I'll finish writing about my weight loss for Chozen.