Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Ango Appreciation Art

A friend from my Zen community has decided that for Ango he will collect stones, two per day picked up as he goes about his routine, and use them to make a small stupa in his meditation space. It coincides with an art project he's doing to create a piece that is built over 14 weeks and for his is a wonderful combination of his spiritual and creative practices.

I immediately was inspired to consider an Ango art project for myself. I went back to my vows and my teacher's direction to appreciate my life. How could I incorporate this into an art project? This thing that I get stuck on, spinning around the things like about my life and trying to ignore the things that hurt. The "I appreciate everything but THAT" rut.

Each day of Ango, starting with today, I will write or otherwise express something I appreciate about my life onto a piece of paper. It could be one word, it could be a collage. I am considering making a sort of assemblage mobile with them, FL even commented upon how interesting it would be to watch the piece move and shift. Maybe I can use them all assembled in one large collage.

Tonight I'm going with what I'm most appreciating right this moment - my warm, cozy, cheerful home I share with CK and the cats. She is typing on her computer, the cats are being goofy, the heat came on a moment ago. How can I not appreciate this life?

A haiku for tonight's piece of paper (a piece out a gift of paper from a Dharma sister):

Cozy, sacred home.
Alive with Love, cats, color.
I know gratitude.


Appreciate Your Life

Ango starts up this week and I'm entering it with four commitments.

  • I vow to appreciate my life.
  • I vow to sit twice a day.
  • I vow to incorporate bowing practice into each day, at least 9 bows.
  • I vow to be gentle with myself.

That first one is a biggie and a repeat addition to the list. It is what Hogen gave me two years ago and I'm still milling about this one. I came up again at Great Vow on Sunday during Sanzen with Hogen.

How do I work with the shame I suddenly see so clearly after all that acupuncture. Horrible gripping stuff. Feeling like the abuse I experienced was my fault. Particularly the sexual abuse, all of the times that happened in my lifetime.

The answer I got was to continue to do Metta practice for myself. Hogen was glad I've returned to his suggestion to do this practice while facing a mirror, looking at myself. I find it far easier to stay with this practice for myself now and am finding that watching myself in the mirror isn't as panic inducing as it once was.

The rest of the answer was to appreciate my whole life. To be mindful of the present moment and appreciate it fully. Appreciate the whole of my life. Yes, the abuse happened but I lived and thrived in spite of it. I watched the disordered ways around me and without support chose peace health. It shaped me into the person I am now, the person CK loves, the person who teaches others yoga, and is passionate about cultivating more Love in this world.

It may have been awful. The grief and anger will always be a part of me. I'll always have times when my memories are triggered and a flood of fear, pain and shame will rush in. When it happens I just need to hang on, breathe and not shove it away. I need to acknowledge that it is reasonable for those emotions to arise and to comfort them. It is way easier said than done.

All of it serves to make me very present and compassionate when another person tells me that they too were abused as a child. I can offer sympathy, reassurance and humor when someone tells me that they had an emotional breakdown, after all that happens to me several times a year. It softens my heart and opens my ears to the cries of the world so that I may offer my compassion outward.

Aside from all those really big, grand statements I have been taking time to stop and just really feel how much I appreciate the life I have now. When I'm not feeling overwhelmed by the shame and fear I am very mindful of the amazing happiness I feel. Just working, studying yoga, making meals and sitting zazen surrounded by insistent cats - it is a wonderful life.



Today was a pretty rich day. On one hand it was somewhat frazzled feeling. It also had these amazing moments in them to remind me to be grateful for and appreciate my life.

This morning I received deep reminder about how grateful I am for my ability to make wise, compassionate choices in my life, particularly in choosing to be vegan. The world is full of people who have very few choices, particularly about what food they it. If they eat. Those people are as far away as the other side of the world and as near as your neighborhood.

I dished up a very nice salad, made from vegetables donated by local markets, for people at Blanchet House, a shelter downtown. This is the second time my team at work has done this, volunteering to help serve meals at lunch, and I was struck again at my good fortune.

I am in my own home, in good health, employed, share my life with a loving partner, have sufficient income to pay my bills, travel, and choose what I want to eat. This connection today to people who are depending upon benefits for food and find that they run out of what they do get too quickly, or people who are homeless - people for whom these meals are a lifeline, they get what is served to everyone. Like oryoki, the people there might not choose to eat all that is served, but everyone is served the same food.

Several times throughout the day, especially when back at my desk eating my meal of steamed broccoli, grilled tofu, steamed buns & salad, how grateful I am. How precious it is to choose what to eat. It feels to me that it is so very precious a gift that it cannot be squandered on food that comes from the suffering of other sentient beings.

Cooking miso, udon soup for us for dinner was a joy. Making food often is joyful or grounding, or both. It is very meditative for me and tonight it was such a gift. To touch the vegetables, the pots and pans, appreciate the aroma of the dashi I'd made last night and the rich tang of the locally crafted miso. Again, so precious to choose compassionately.

Later at the Dharma center I had the chance to connect with someone about sesshin practice, painful childhoods, and Zen. Another chance for me to openly talk about being hurt and thriving in spite of it. I also acknowledged the tremendously painful parts of my sesshin last April. I was open and honest about these things and once again, to my surprise, I didn't explode. In fact there was connection and more gratitude. Positive reinforcement that telling is good.

And will all that gratitude I am off to a retreat this weekend with all-around amazing Zen scholar, artist, and translator, Kaz Tanahashi. My first event at Great Vow where speaking will be allowed and there will be art! Lessons in Zen calligraphy for the next three days. Another precious gift in my life.


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.



I had a meeting with a dinosaur today. Well, at least I'd like to think of him as a dinosaur. The kind of change-resistant, judgmental, dismissive males in technology I'm really hope are becoming the exception to the norm.

Another team asked my boss for me to sit in on some meetings to discuss migrating a very old system they used. They know I have a lot of experience with systems migrations as well as knowledge of Free/Open Source Software. I had said I looked forward to working with them, on a project where I felt like I knew what I was doing.

During the meeting I asked a question and was suddenly, brusquely asked by a member of the other team, "Who are you?"

I explained which team I was a part of, the background I had with systems, and he responded back, "Huh. Never heard of you."

Each time I asked a question or made a comment he would cut me off, dismiss my input as irrelevant, unnecessary and misinformed. It was one of the worst 30 minutes. I tired to just be open, positive, and present.

After the call I felt awful. I've felt so down on my skills or ability to get projects done this year already that this call made me feel just totally demoralized. My Inner Critic immediately piped up to point out that I probably won't get a bonus for this year. Ick.

Within 10 minutes of hanging up I was craving sweets particularly, but rich food in general. I just sat with it for a while. Checked out that I was hungry, but the Halloween candy and cookies were not what I needed. The craving for those things wasn't hunger, but the strong desire to comfort my hurt feelings with something tasty. The coping mechanism I was raised on.

Instead I made a baked potato with some chili on it for a late breakfast and ate a reasonable lunch. For dinner we had leftover white bean, kale, potato & leek soup with a reasonable amount of bread. Afterward I finally did have some cookies with CK. I stayed mindful of each sweet, chewy, gingery bite.

This afternoon I saw my therapist and talked about how listless I feel. That it feels like I'm not getting enough done at work, that I'm very unfocused and then feel guilty, which makes me want to distract myself more. Vicious cycle.

Rather than offer me pointers on how to not procrastinate, what I believe I was hoping to hear. GM pointed me to examine how I'm tying my sense of measuring accomplishment to ticking projects at work off as "finished". That I once again don't think I'm doing enough and I'm seeing the bonuses and raises as an indication of my value. I'm so focused on that external, financial input that I don't examine the tremendous accomplishments of the weight loss, buying a home, huge strides in making my life & relationships healthier, intense spiritual growth -- all of those things I've done but don't feel how they indicate to me I've succeeded.

The day yielded a lot of positive input from good friends, most of them men in technology. It felt better to talk it over with a few people, laugh a little about it, and be reminded of just how great some of the men I know are. I will continue the practice of cultivating patience with my frustration at work and the feeling that I'm not doing enough.



I live in one of the best examples of my lack of skill in recognizing when I have accomplished something. It is coming up on 3 years in my home, purchased in a hurry when my 10 year old rental was sold. I get glimpses of ownership, literally of my accomplishment. It is not insignificant that I alone qualified for the loans to buy a 3 bedroom, 1926 Craftsman style home in my North Portland neighborhood.

Yet most of the time I still feel like I'm an irresponsible child about finances. Any minutes now the authorities will discover I'm just faking and escort me off the premises. I feel like I never live up to all the goals and expectations a "grown up" should have around money.

CK and I sat down and talked budget and debt tonight. I've been feeling really anxious about this conversation, fearing that she'd discover I wasn't a "real adult" and call things off. I've also been feeling a lot of hurt, some bubbling up in the form of anger, about how finances have been handled in the relationships my entire life. I feel sabotaged by the people who should have been there to help and support me.

She's so calm about money, it is just another process to her and it isn't tied up in a lot of triggering memories. I'm a bit jealous at her skill around finances and business. I hear my Inner Critic compare my own skill and find me lacking.

I finally pulled open my spreadsheet with all the debt statistics on it. Amounts owed, to who, at what interest rate, etc. CK very calmly got out her calculator and figured how I could pay it all off in just over 3 years without her help. Then she pointed out how she planned to spend what I find to be a serious amount of her own earnings helping pay the debt down after building up our mutual savings significantly in the coming year.

I teared up. I really can't remember anyone wanting to do this for me. I put myself through college and in high school didn't participate in a lot of things because I couldn't afford the fees and my parents weren't willing/couldn't afford to pay them. It wasn't really until I was in my 30s that my Mom started being more giving with money to me. Then I moved onto relationships with two men who were equally destabilizing financially, one in a more outright emotionally damaging way than the other.

I've felt kind of aimless and tired for a few weeks now. I'm having a hard time focusing on work, overall. It's made it feel extra urgent to get little things done around the house. Not only grounding in the mundane tasks of home, but being buoyed up by feeling like I'm getting some tasks done!

I'm accepting that some of this may be months worth of low-grade infection slowly gobbling up my energy reserves. I also feel like I'm reacting to the support I am feeling in my relationship with CK. To be in a relationship with another person willing to be entirely wholehearted. Sadly, I find it entirely unknown territory to have another person say they're going to help and feel like they really will follow through. I don't know how to relax and let go, enjoy the stability that working together in a relationship can bring.



The 2007 Fall Ango Zen Community of Oregon reflected upon a teisho from my teachers' teacher, Maezumi Roshi. The particular teaching we studied was entitled, "Close the Gap Between Yourself and Yourself". Hogen suggested that I really look at how to cultivate pride and appreciation for my accomplishments.

It struck me as "pretty un-Zen" at the time. When I talked with GM about it during that Ango she said she wasn't surprised I didn't get it. One of the things she notes is an area that could use some improvement is my ability to really appreciate my accomplishments. I downplay my achievements all the time.

Really most of the time it doesn't feel like I'm doing anything extraordinary. It just feels like I'm chugging along, humming & drumming through each moment.

So I struggled with this topic and a few weeks into Ango I went back to Hogen and asked for help. It struck me as somewhat comical that I was asking my Zen teacher just how one goes about cultivating pride. He suggested that I consider the task of digging a 100 foot ditch, irrigation or some such thing. He said that when one is digging a really big ditch it is necessary to turn around after the first 5 feet and recognize the effort that has gone into that work. Not to just keep feeling overwhelmed by the 95 feet yet to be dug.


GW agreed that I spend most of my time worrying about the other 95 feet. CK, after she got to know me weighed in with her agreement of this assessment.

This spring for some reason I'm finally starting to get it. In most things in my life I've been a quick learner, adapting with speed to new things. Sometimes Zen makes me feel like a rather poky student.

My doctor, the same physician I've had for over 15 years, called me "skinny" when he saw me last month. He checked out my blood pressure & pulse statistics, shook his head and smiled. Maybe it is that his reactions are so candid, so human that it is finally sinking in that my weight loss is something unusual. There have also been friends and teachers who have been telling me again and again that the changes I've made in my life, have maintained in my life, are unique.

This takes me to the berry patch at Great Vow Zen Monastery. Last week at sesshin my work duty was out in the gardens. In particular, the berry patch where another retreatant and I had been asked to remove pepper cress. There was a lot of pepper cress, it is very successful at sending seeds spraying out in all directions. It seemed like an enormous task.

The first work period I just sat down at the far corner and started pulling pepper cress. By Friday I realized I'd cleared nearly half the berry patch! I stood up looking at the ground, cleared of the invasive weed (although it is edible). I nearly started to laugh as I stood there feeling a great deal of pride in what I'd finished. On Saturday my silent partner and I finished the last 3 feet in a great flurry of weed-pulling after the clean up bell had rung. We closed the gate, laughed together merrily, and I performed a small celebratory dance, waving my 5 gallon bucket in the air. We grinned at each other and continued to chuckle while emptying our buckets before heading back in for more zazen.

I still feel a little uncomfortable with this new sensation. But I can feel the way pride is good. That it is OK to look at something I finished and really let myself feel the accomplishment, the appreciation.