Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.

16Oct/170

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.

 

15Oct/170

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.

14Oct/170

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.

13Oct/170

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.

12Oct/170

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.

11Oct/170

Rain Gratitude

Today I had my first session with my new mental health provider, an art therapist. I was anxious, which left me dropping things and forgetting things, ultimately leaving me running late. I was grateful we didn't dive right into art today, although I did get to play with some Sculpy clay. She had me pick out my favorite color and gave me a package to play with, she'd recalled that EMDR had been effective for me and that playing with clay would provide bilateral stimulation. I even got to take my clay home with me, which for some reason really pleased me and felt special.

Therapy is important, I've given myself a break from looking for a new therapist after my EMDR person moved. My training program had me in on-going therapy and mentoring sessions pretty much every week, so it seemed just fine to take some time off. Now that I'm done, it is time to start back up again.

I'm feeling much more stable, less anxious overall and depression not leaving me feeling as low. This makes it a good time to begin a new relationship, I'm not in crises mode and am managing my Complex PTSD well. Not only will it give me additional resources when my own work with people stirs up my own trauma history, but I will have a resource in place when my missing memories at age 14 decide to surface. I also want support as I work though the shame that drives both my anxiety and my depression, getting in the way of authentic connection with the people I love.

While it makes for a busy morning, I think having these sessions before teaching two yoga classes will work for me. Teaching grounds me, especially for the times when therapy leaves me feeling stirred up.

Today though, it just meant I was tired and having some lunch only left me feeling more tired. The dogs and I were due to go for a walk, but it began pouring rain, then the thunder began. Rather than a walk I ended up with the dogs and the cats on the bed, napping between reassuring the younger dog that the thunder didn't indicate danger.

I love the sound of the rain falling, especially when I'm warm and cozy inside. Today it felt like especially needed self-care, snuggling the dogs and the cats, snoozing while the sound of rain filled the room. I was so grateful to be dry and warm, able to take this time to just rest after an anxious morning. I am grateful too for the rain falling, not only for the soothing sound of it falling against our home, but for the nourishment it is bringing to the still dry forests, to our yard and neighborhood.

The summer was hot and dry, as we walk on the forest path near our home there are still dry cracks in the ground and the paths are baked hard. As the rains of autumn have returned to Portland, all around plants are bursting into new growth. Flowers are awash in color as last blooms appear with the rain. I'm grateful for the return of cloudy days and rain falling.

10Oct/171

Warmth Gratitude

I'm having a tough day. A student sat up in class this morning, was overcome with vertigo, and slumped to the floor. She was fine, and called me this afternoon to reassure me, but it still left me feeling a little shaken. I saw an IMT client this afternoon and am left wondering how people unlearn the habit of solitude and isolation, thinking about aging in general.

All this happening the day after I wrote publicly about my healing journey as someone who's experienced sexual trauma. I feel like I have a vulnerability "hang over" from practicing courage. I also remembered that instead of a nice, slow morning tomorrow I have my first session with my new therapist, doing art therapy, at 8am tomorrow before teaching two classes.

I feel like Past Me set Current Me up.

The reality; I'd be anxious and grumpy going to start sessions with a new therapist no matter when I did it.

During my studies in Integrated Movement Therapy I heard a lot about the benefits of a gratitude practice and I've read books, as well as research papers that validate how a gratitude practice can help our sense of well-being. I've been looking at various ways to  make this practice part of my daily routine, or even weekly to get consistent! I've decided to collect my "gratitudes" here, where it easier for me to refer back to them.

I returned home this past Friday after a week away, up high in the northern mountains of Washington State. I spent several days assisting at my teacher's yoga teacher training. I also took a day off to work on my own artwork, the biggest gift to myself in going. Taking this time off from teaching, from being paid money, felt hard; I still am working on feeling worthy of giving myself this kind of time and money.

To make the trip more affordable, yet still have a private accommodation, I camped in our van. Our van is cozy and one of the reasons we bought it was for camping. However, toward the end of the week the temperatures were dropping to freezing at night which meant I'd awake in the dark of early morning (yoga began promptly at 6am), the van only 40F. Having an electric blanket kept me warm while sleeping, but getting out of bed was hard!

This morning was chilly and cloudy, by the time I finished up with a client visit and got home there was steady drizzle. It took a huge amount of discipline to get out in it to take the dogs on their walk. A daily walk is not only good for the health of all the walkers, but helps reduce the wild, out-of-control behavior in the evening from our younger dog. Still, knowing all this, and even being used to this kind of weather, having grown up with the chill drizzle of autumn in the Pacific Northwest, I didn't want to go out today. By 5pm I was feeling mopey and grumpy, that was before I remembered the new therapy thing in the morning too!

The dogs were happy I took us out into the wet, of course. Walking didn't magically alleviate my feeling of tenderness, residual anxiety, and fatigue, but it felt a lot better than just stewing in those emotions. I was rewarded for my perseverance with the view of raindrops on the flowers of autumn.

Given today's on and off again chilliness, including the chill of anxiety at seeing a student experience a minor health crises, I'm feeling really grateful for warmth. Our warm home, especially as I sit listening to autumn rain coming down. I'm grateful to wake up in a house where heat blows through the rooms at the touch of a button, is programed to come up to warm the mornings. The warm companionship of one of our cats, snuggled up against my legs as I write. The warm feet of the youngest dog, stretched out so he can touch me while he naps to the other side of me. The warmth of cider today, given to me in a big cup I could cup my chilled fingers around. The way I've learned to appreciate the warmth shared in a hug.

 

13Aug/170

Grateful Rain

I keep putting off getting back to writing thinking I need some massive "catch up" post, butI don't really. It is just a reason and not a terribly good one. Poetry is bringing me back, something I connected with as a writer at a young age, poetry and the practice of writing.

It rained in Portland after weeks without any along with long days of hot weather. I heard it last night as I was drifting off to sleep and was overjoyed to bursting to see it this morning when I took the dogs out. Despite feeling heavy with sorry, anger, and horror at the deaths in Charlottesville yesterday due to another white, male American terrorist, I felt such a welling up of gratitude at seeing the rain breathing in the smell of ground that comes with fresh rain.

Soft raindrops falling.
Welcome lull from Summer's heat.
The garden drinks deep.

4Dec/160

Moving Forward

Despite sleeping well, and the cats letting me sleep until 8AM, I felt a little anxious this morning. Thanksgiving marked one year since my Mother died. The first of December a year since I actually found out. With the strange way the news around my Mother's death unfolded last year it isn't too surprising that I think of her death as being in December. I thought about it for some reason this morning, realizing that Thanksgiving, the blues I felt coming on right afterward, ties up closely to her last act of malice against me.

With CK being away visiting her Mom for some early Christmas celebrating, I decided that unless I felt poorly I would do a little community scouting this morning. I went to church. Not just church, I went to an Episcopal church. That's the faith I was nominally brought up in and am baptized in. We were not regular members of any church, I suppose the one I went to most often was the one my Grandmother belonged to. The rest of the time it was largely related to Christmas and Easter.

The nearby church I picked called out diversity on their website, with rainbows, so I was hopeful. I found an open and welcoming community with visibly queer members; I stayed for a cup of tea. When I stopped saying "spouse" and switched to "wife" no one really blinked an eye. Perhaps I needed a year to pass from my Mother's death before setting foot in a church, some distance from the increasingly narrow, judgmental, supposedly Christian beliefs became.

In the time since I came out to her, my Mother went from standing up for me in front of people (or so she told me she did, who knows, really), to manipulating long-time family friends through their "faith-based homophobia" to gain allies. Telling people how she tolerated my lifestyle. Now imagine your whole life being like that. I would go from the novelty of being interesting and attention-getting for my Mother, to being reviled by her, getting her the attention for denouncing her daughter.

I was washing my face this morning when I had a clear flash of the last eye-to-eye contact I had with my Mother, in a hospital room northwest of our home. The look she gave me was one I'd seen on her face before, always directed at other people, when her plans to cause suffering would bear their fruit of ill-will. She looked at me with a blend of malice, triumph, and satisfaction, the hint of a smile on her face. It was terrifying.

Coming to terms with all the kinds of abuse she either visited upon me personally, or facilitated, or turned away from because to protect me would be too much for her. I honestly struggle still with the shame of it all, it is a daily effort to remind myself that I no longer have to carry shame adults thrust upon me, becoming another kind of abuse. Between the shame and having a hard time trusting, I feel like I make a lot of really foolish mistakes in relationships. Mistakes I feel that somehow, at 47, I really should have grown out of by now.

Despite that terrifying look on my Mother's face burning in my brain, or perhaps because of it, I thrust myself out of the house and off to church by myself this morning. I rewarded myself, and the dogs, by walking in the mud and wet through the nearby woods. I did some much needed cleaning tasks and stocked up on food for the dogs and cats, just in case the forecast of possible snow comes true. It has been good, but tiring day and I might just curl up in bed with some light reading.

Dogs - Portland, Oregon - December 2016

Dogs - Portland, Oregon - December 2016

29Nov/160

November Blues

Realizing I haven't posted since my birthday. I had a bit of a slump around my birthday, just spent some downtime, teaching classes and resting on many levels.

I've since been regrouping on all the tasks to complete after finishing my Advanced training in Integrated Movement Therapy, seeing clients, having meetings with my mentor, writing. Then it was October, which arrived uncharacteristically wet. We were overwhelmed with garden produce, unable to get to a lot of it processed.

A guest in October left leaving us feeling exhausted and anxious. About the time it felt like my energy was picking up, well the election happened. The next day each of my three yoga classes had students crying in them, which was a lot of energy to contain and hold gently, tenderly. I was exhausted utterly at the end of that day, the next morning I awoke with a fever and sore throat. That quickly turned into a hacking cough. Missed classes, came back to teaching too soon, relapsed and ended up missing out on the first real rest and treat I'd planned for myself at a yoga & art retreat out at the Oregon Coast.

I'll be wrapping up the last of my to-do items before applying to my internship, I'm not too far off my original goals for my program. I'm grateful to have been able to keep focused on this goal while at the same time working on completing my business plan. This week I'm submitting my application for a small seed grant for starting my business, which I'll be using to pay for internship costs. Things are coming together nicely even with needing some downtime around my birthday.

I'm trying to keep focused on all the I've been getting done, because once again this year November has rolled in with rain, dark, and some serious blues.

Trying to be gentle with myself. November and December bring together the anniversaries of 3 deaths: My Dad (step-father) died in December 2000, the a little over 11 months later my biological father died in November 2011. Next month also marks the first year since my Mother died last December. The year my Mother did her best to blow up our lives, that all started in November, continuing on through into the New Year. When I keep in perspective that these last two months of the year have just held a lot of grief.

Which means this year won't be the year the blues don't stroll on into my life in November. Another year of practicing appreciating what I am getting done and reminding myself that these blues aren't here forever and in a few weeks the light will slowly begin to return.