Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.

19Oct/170

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.

 

18Oct/170

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.

17Oct/170

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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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.