Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Whimsy Gratitude

Today I managed to visit the studios of three artists as part of Portland Open Studios with my friend AF. In the past we've made more of an effort to see many studios across the 2 weekends the event runs, but this year has had some impediments so making it out for a few felt like an accomplishment.

Because we were so pressed for time, going after I'd finished teaching a tw0-hour class, we opted to go to a cluster of studios that we could get to quickly and then walk between them. This meant we saw some artists we would not have picked otherwise. This meant we saw some unexpected things.

Walking up the driveway to one artist's studio we paused to appreciate the mosaic of found objects embedded in the space between the tire tracks. Toys, old phones, sunglasses, letters, sports equipment, random action figures, and more.

Inside the studio of this artist were beautiful wooden sculptures, I loved spotting bits of colored pencil cut down small and added into the wood inlay.  She had a charming long dog, spotted and friendly. There were also all kinds of charming animals, with signs and wearing fruit, dancing around trees.

On such a gray, blustery day I felt particularly grateful to see such whimsy on bright display.


October Gratitude

I've stayed up late with my wife watching a political espionage film, a genre we both like. It has been a long week and I have a 2 hour class I'm teaching tomorrow at 1pm. I'm glad I'm only doing these Saturday classes once a month.

This week, as autumn really hits Portland with rain, wind, and chilly temperatures, the trees have nearly all turned brilliant colors. In the words of  L. M. Montgomery, "I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers."

Autumn has long been my favorite season. I love the return of cool weather and sweaters. This year I'm particularly grateful for the rainfall that's begun in earnest after a long, hot, dry, smokey summer. Whenever I'm out I cannot help but marvel at the impossible colors the trees display as the light shifts down toward winter.


Space to Grow: Gratitude

There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.
― Leonard Cohen

Today's been a little easier, very busy but I'm feeling better about the day overall. I've been thinking about something I was sharing in therapy about my relationship with my wife.

Most of the time, despite us both living with c-ptsd and her managing ADD as well, we connect well and work well together. We have real synergy at times when we're working together. When we're not, when we get off and end up at such opposites it is if we're magnets pushing each other away. She gets bigger. I get smaller and try to disappear.

I even joked, in reference to a tree in a storm I'd drawn, that "I make myself small enough to hide in that gap, down in the roots."

"So you disappear?", my therapist asked in response.

"Not exactly." I responded after some thought, "It is more that I try to find some place dark, warm, and safe until it is safe to come out."

Making myself small and scarce, only doing things that would please my Mother (like silently cleaning the house), helped me survive her rages. For so long, I have perfected making myself small enough to go down into the cracks until the storm blows over.

I want to think of those cracks now, not as places I go to hide, but places I am reminded of the light. Places where I grow from, until I grow out of this reaction to get small enough to disappear from view.

I'm grateful for all the times that pushing myself down into the cracks kept me safe. It was a useful skill.

I'm grateful for all the light that came in to me during those times since it helped me to find ways through the darkness.



Trees Gratitude

Today has been long and tiring, with a headache much of the day. I had my first real visit with my new therapist and my directive was to draw 3 trees; before, during, and after a storm. Once my worries that I'd have to use regular pencils and actually "draw" were put to rest and I had my choice of pastels, medium I'm more comfortable with, I set to it.

I like painting and collaging trees. I love tree pose, Vrksasana, and often teach it with several variations one of my earlier yoga teachers taught me. I love being in forests and in the company of old trees. This love of trees and materials that helped me feel confident made the therapy session art-making really pleasurable.

I was really intrigued at what my art told her, it showed resilience and optimism, a hopeful outlook. Without intending to, I'd made the trees different, with the "after" tree being even more strongly rooted to the earth and taller, having weathered the storm with growth. My before tree also turned out a little larger than the "during" tree, which looks worn a bit thin by the storm. I'm sure it won't always be so lovely and fun, but starting out this way is great and I look forward to my next session in a week.

I'm feeling absolutely worn out tonight, but hugely grateful to have this chance to explore art therapy. Today I'm particularly grateful for all the trees around me here in Portland. I thought to myself while out walking the dogs that I've had some good role models in the trees around here, seeing how they hold strong to the earth despite sometimes fierce storms. Going into teach after therapy I paused walking past all the tall, old trees at the community center, and how I've been coming to see many of them for much of my life! Now that I teach for the City 3 days a week I get to walk in a park I went to frequently in my childhood.


Bathtime Gratitude

I was grateful today was a short day. I taught two classes before noon and was all done. Being done so early gave me time to do some things around the house, including making a pot of soup for dinner. As the day wore on I realized my back was hurting a lot and my whole left side, along my ribs ached. My wife suggested a bath and asked how long it had been.

I realized that it had been at least a month since I had a good soak or any kind of heat treatment (e.g., sauna). My doctor highly recommends I have a super salty epsom salts regularly, as hot as I can stand it for as long as I can. While I also take a calcium / magnesium supplement, a hot soak in 3 pounds of epsom salts dissolved into the tub really does help my overly tight muscles.

Tonight I got fancy, lit the candles and used one of the fancy bath bombs my wife gave me for my birthday. As I luxuriated in the hot, scented, silky-soft water, I felt buoyed up by gratitude for the luxury of a tub full of that much hot water, so much clean drinkable water that I then add salt too! Getting out, I was really enjoying how I can just shut everything down and just soak, just rest in the stillness without worrying about my phone ringing.

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Willingness Gratitude

I've had another tough day, so much so that I've really had to start writing to figure out my gratitude for today. For a moment I thought it might be the fact that tomorrow is another day and I can put this day to rest. However, as I wrote a little bit, it occurs to me that I'm grateful for my willingness to unlearn old patterns of behavior that now, at age 48, really hold me back from flourishing personally, professionally, and in my relationships with the people I love.

Sometimes I really feel like a badly programmed robot.

Having been an isolated, only child and my Mother's predilection for moving nearly every year of school, I often am left feeling that I'm lacking in communication skills. Beyond the isolation of being an only child, my Mother used "grounding" as a frequent form of punishment, limiting me to my bedroom except to go to school and the bathroom. I believe I often would even get a plate fixed in the kitchen and eat by myself in my bedroom. I never thought of sneaking out as a teen, by then I was too afraid of her to even consider trying it.

People who know me primarily as a yoga teacher might be surprised to know that I don't feel like I'm great at communicating. In my years in technology my communications skills were always credited as a contributing reason for promotions, raises, and bonuses. In the realm of more public communication, those connections that feel a little less personal and intimate, I'd say my skills are better than average.

My teacher likes to use the phrase, "Professional Extrovert", which is pretty apt. I can be fairly easy with a group of people in front of me, but one-on-one interactions often feel so much harder and I'll find myself thinking, "How do real humans do this connection shit?!". In the worst case scenarios I freeze up and fall back into old patterns of behavior that don't really help in the present day, and often create more problems.

Knowing it, being aware of it, and being any good at stopping it are all every different parts of the work to do to change behavior. I'm still on the first two and trying to figure out how to get good at stopping it instead of stopping it through painful communication failures. How do I reprogram the routines that convince me that quiet retreat and productivity are the answer, because they always did improve things for my abusive Mother?

Today it feels like there are no answers, however, I am willing to keep digging into the mess of it all, to do the rewiring of old patterns.



Practice Gratitude

Woke up congested and headachy after a night of strange dreams. Skipped all the plans I'd had lined up for the day and tried to get stuff done around the house. I also wanted to be around to offer any support to my wife, who was deeply down today.

Just over 12 years ago I became a yoga teacher. In doing so, it felt very important to me to really step up my practice. I wanted to do more than just the postures and breath work, I wanted to really start practicing with meditation as well as the Yamas and Niyamas, the guidelines for ethical living the are part of the whole practice of yoga.

As I went through my training to become an Integrated Movement Therapist I started to think about how I could help myself address areas in my life I feel I struggle with. Big things, like shame. Smaller things too, like getting better at keeping the dishes done and walking the dogs regularly. How could I "yoga" these areas and would drawing them into my sphere of practice help me?

A common saying in Zen:

Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.

It doesn't matter if something astounding happens, the practice is in the details of everyday living. Doing practice well and getting a cookie isn't the goal, the willingness to show up is the real heart of practice.

For me understanding that willingness has helped me to let go of some idea of perfection in practice. Stop looking for that perfect moment of clarity in meditation and just make peace with calming observing the agitation of my mind. Accepting there is no perfect asana, just what the body feels in that moment as being strong or soothed, or just a sense of well-being in movement. Practice has taught me that I can experience discomfort and still be just fine.

Yoga has been, and will continue to be, a powerful teacher. Given how much it has taught me already, I'm hopeful that trying to apply my practice to the practicalities of being a householder will be of benefit to me. I am so grateful for my practice.


Dogs Gratitude

I suspect I'll end up writing about companion animals a lot, they bring a lot of comfort and love to my life. Today has been tough, I'm hurting for my wife over a family issue that has left her feeling "superfluous", which is a pretty terrible way to feel. Given that it is around an important family event, feeling left out is especially painful. I'd given anything to make it better for her.

This comes less then 24-hours after my wife got home from a stressful business trip too. We had been looking forward to watching the finals game for the National Womens Soccer League together. While we did get to watch it together and our team won, the whole day has been overshadowed by the pain of connections breaking down.

Before the game our younger dog was beginning to act a little wild. Rather than have a rambunctious dog to contend with while trying to watch the game, I decided to take the dogs out for a walk. It was sunny, crisp and beautiful out and the dogs and I got a good walk in, up to our neighborhood park.

The dogs are such comfort and companionship to both of us. When my wife is traveling, they provide me a lot of reassurance as well. We hadn't intended to end up with two dogs, the youngest was an impulse decision to take on a puppy who's owner had become neglectful. It was pretty rough going for all of us for a while, but it has been getting easier and the dogs have really bonded a lot over the past year.

Somedays I'm not wild about trying to get a walk in, but today it was really helpful. Like many things in life, I'm trying to interpret the habit of thinking, "I have to walk the dogs.", making it instead, "I get to walk the dogs." I get to watch their curiosity as well as their determination. I love the way they want us to feel good, our older dog hasn't wanted to leave my wife's side all day, aside from that walk. Today's walk, just breathing and moving with the dogs, helped me manage my own anxiety and refocus my energy on offering support where I could.


Safe Vehicle Gratitude

Today we had an autumn storm in Portland. As I was heading home after teaching I first encountered heavy rain and lightening. Then very heavy rain, thunder, and lightening. Then the hail began. Water was standing and running down the interstate.

As I was making my way steadily through it to get home, I had some extra time to reflect upon how grateful I am for the van I drive. Purchased with the sales money after selling my old house, the van was picked for a camping option. Mere months after it became ours I spent two weeks camping in it while at residential yoga teacher training.

When we had a foot of snow this past winter, the van is what got me out to teach and kept us stocked up. It lets me move a large amount of yoga props, enough for 10 people for a fully Restorative Yoga session, all at once. This summer we camped overnight in it with the dogs before seeing the eclipse.

Last week I was camping in it again while assisting at the same residential yoga teacher training. I look forward to further adventures in the van and I'm so grateful for the safe, steady ride it provides us.


Self-Care Gratitude

Last night I realized that I'd been optimistic about the number of things I'd want to do the first week back from retreat. This morning, before teaching, I contacted a friend I'd been planning to see this afternoon and asked to reschedule. This gave me more downtime at home after teaching my morning classes. Time to catch up on some household tasks, walk the dogs, and feel a little more rested.

Over the past few years I've got better about telling people I can't make it rather than try and push myself through. The years where I could just keep pushing myself are long-gone, thankfully, and I have to make time to rest. I've become someone who naps when I'm tired, tries hard to get at least 7 hours of sleep, if not 8.

A topic my new therapist explored with me was self-care. She's worked with a lot of people who are in caring professions who respond with a blank look when asked about self-care practices. I was glad to be able to honestly tell her that, while I'm not always great about doing it, I do have practices. I also try and practice what I teach, so I journal, meditate, do yoga movement, and have a gratitude practice.

Learning self-care for me was a crash course, necessitated by health crises. I'm grateful for the skills I've learned and continue to learn about caring for myself. It has taken me a while to see that caring for myself is really helping care for the people I love in the long-run; I can't be of help to anyone if I'm too burnt out.