Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Joy and Creativity

It has been a long several weeks. CK and I have met with two members of our Sangha Harmony Committee about the feelings around our vegan practice not being recognized or included. For me these meetings have highlighted just how terribly uncomfortable group dynamics can be for me. I feel utterly at a loss around them at times. Having moved over and over again throughout my childhood, really up until the time I moved out in my early 20s, I really never learned the knack of groups. Whenever I started to fit in at all, we moved, as it was I didn't fit in well with a lot of peers to begin with.

The 17th I got to play host to a day of creativity for our Sangha. A spring community day celebrating Earth Day and the Earthstore Bodhisattva. It was small, intimate, joyful, silly, and simple. I put myself in charge of the food, carefully labeling things with known allergens for one of the participants and items that weren't vegan (only one thing that had dairy). Friends came with a box filled with vegan cupcakes, which was really touching. I had time to sit down, enjoy making a Jizo shrine, sharing lunch, and listening to stories.

Although I was tired at the end of the day I felt contented and connected by it. This was just the kind of sangha activity I needed! It was especially sweet when a Dharma sister, who has been part of the Harmony meetings, later emailed me to say that in the evening it had occurred to her the mindful attention I'd paid to her dietary needs. How having all the food labeled so she knew what to take was something that could be felt as an expression of being loved and cared for. It helped her to understand why this is so important to me.

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Art Stretch

I made a couple of artist trading cards this evening featuring some of the brushwork I was learning at Great Vow earlier this month. I'd been quite taken with the cursive writing of the character for "Ink". Something about it reminded me of the twisty, circuitous route we take on the path of awakening, a "meandering lifeline" as poet David Wagoner writes in his poem "Getting There".

This evening, in a total break from everything else I'd been doing this weekend with the thinking/planning brain, I got out the box of water colors and the cheap brushes. I practiced once on some scrap paper to get the feel of the making the much smaller paper and carefully painted two cards of watercolor paper with the cursive character for "Ink". Since these are for a trade I included some lyrics from a song by the Indigo Girls about crooked lines.

I feel very anxious about these two little pieces. They are so unlike anything I've created yet. To me they seem quite flat compared to the layers and levels I use in my paper collage pieces. CK really liked them and I'm ignoring my Inner Critic who says that CK only likes them because she's biased.

Even though I feel great anxiety about creating, I deeply appreciate the opportunity and support to explore art.

Here's the whole poem by David Wagoner I referenced earlier.

Getting There

You take a final step and, look, suddenly
You're there. You've arrived
At the one place all your drudgery was aimed for:
This common ground
Where you stretch out, pressing your cheek to sandstone.
What did you want
To be? You'll remember soon. You feel like tinder
Under a burning glass,
A luminous point of change. The sky is pulsing
Against the cracked horizon,
Holding it firm till the arrival of stars
In time with your heartbeats.
Like wind etching rock, you've made a lasting impression
On the self you were
By having come all this way through all this welter
Under your own power,
Though your traces on a map would make an unpromising
Meandering lifeline.
What have you learned so far? You'll find out later,
Telling it haltingly
Like a dream, that lost traveler's dream
Under the last hill
Where through the night you'll take your time out of mind
To unburden yourself
Of elements along elementary paths
By the break of morning.
You've earned this worn-down, hard, incredible sight
Called Here and Now.
Now, what you make of it means everything,
Means starting over:
The life in your hands is neither here nor there
But getting there,
So you're standing again and breathing, beginning another
Journey without regret
Forever, being your own unpeaceable kingdom,
The end of endings.

And while I'm at it, the song I used the lyrics of is 'Closer to Fine'

Closer To Fine

I'm trying to tell you something about my life
Maybe give me insight between black and white
The best thing you've ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously, it's only life after all
Well darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
And lightness has a call that's hard to hear
I wrap my fear around me like a blanket
I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it, I'm crawling on your shore.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

I went to see the doctor of philosophy
With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee
He never did marry or see a B-grade movie
He graded my performance, he said he could see through me
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper
And I was free.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

I stopped by the bar at 3 a.m.
To seek solace in a bottle or possibly a friend
I woke up with a headache like my head against a board
Twice as cloudy as I'd been the night before
I went in seeking clarity.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

We go to the bible, we go through the workout
We read up on revival and we stand up for the lookout
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in a crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine
The closer I am to fine
The closer I am to fine


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.


Red Leaves

I've been enjoying the small red maple leaves that blow into our yard from a neighbor's tree. Some are still speckled yellow, while others are already turning brown. I found myself with a small clutch of them in my hand, trying to press & dry them. A few have found their way onto very small art pieces.

I believe one of those art pieces will incorporate this haiku about them.

In the air, red leaves.
Impermanent gifts, wind-brought.
Brief gems of autumn.

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Transition Practice

Stayed home and rested much of the weekend. I still feel like my energy just deserts me at times, but the head/ear pain has subsided. I'm feeling a bit gloomy that I have 5 more doses of the antibiotics. They're working but they make me feel a bit nauseated and leave my mouth tasting as though I have a handful of pennies in it.

I taught a class on Sunday that ended up with many adjustments, to such a degree that it was good practice to stay with compassion even while I felt frustration arise. When I finally gave space, silence to it I am able to see that frustration really arises out of the fear that my students will feel like I don't give individual attention fairly and that I worry some students may need assistance but I am often asked to help a very stiff, over-achieving student.

Today I took a big step in my teaching. I've started to contact friends who are also yoga teachers to see if any of them want to take over my classes at Dishman at the beginning of the year. Right now I have the luxury of working out details to offer a class at my Zen center. I see it more of a way to enrich my practice of teaching by letting it become even more deeply co-rooted to the Dharma. I'm also checking around at other studios to see about teaching a class somewhere else.

I think I am finally being able to let go of the "guaranteed money" of teaching at the community center. I have these two classes, I'm always on the schedule, and I get paid regularly. Not a lot, but for the past 4 years it has become something of my personal fund for books, a couple of my tattoos, and clothing. Once I could start to let go of that I could start to approach people I'd really like to take over my class.

I have a big soft spot in my heart for these classes. I've learned so much in teaching them and I want to leave them feeling as though I've done everything I can to support those classes continuation. I believe at least one student will follow me when I move to the Dharma center, so perhaps I'll get to experience that connection to my first teaching practice as I move into new waters of teaching.

And I've been having fun working on two "Artist Trading Cards". Autumn themed and I've been playing around with pressing leaves then decoupaging them down. On one I've drawn a very simple tree in pastels against a grey, about-to-rain sky. Another has three leaves on muted, smeared oranges and yellows.

The Autumn rain awoke me early this morning, before the alarm, and I snuggled down a bit with a cat while listening to it on the roof (I love that my bedroom is under the attic so I can hear the rain on the roof). The day that ended with an orange-y sunset peeking through dark grey clouds. All that in mind, a haiku for the rain.

Autumn Downpour

Dawn and hard rain sound,
Thrum of water on my roof.
Autumn serenade.



I had a moment of panic last night, about an hour after I'd posted. Fear of being found out, fear of revealing, fear I'd said too much. Nothing but swirling fear and shame. I curled up next to CK who rubbed my back and told me it was alright, good that I'd written everything, until I felt calmer.

This morning I first awoke at 6AM, noticed the time, appreciated the sun coming in through the open window and went back to sleep. 90 minutes later I was wide awake so I went downstairs, fed the cats and sat zazen. My brain was bouncing all over the place this morning. It was just active, alert energy instead of the anxiety of the previous night. The fears over the post had subsided to worrying that I've written too many "downer" posts in a row. For the whole 25 minutes I sat zazen I just kept trying to come back to Metta practice, my breath and stay bemused, rather than judging.

Today has been one of the first Saturdays that has had nothing planned in weeks. CK appeared to be sleeping, not coughing, so I made a pot of chai and answered an email from an old friend. When she did wake up I made up a scramble of russet potatoes, seared tofu, red pepper, sweet onion and garlic.

It has felt like a creative day today. Making the scramble was a lot of fun and something we haven't had in a while. I also finally came up with a ginger-miso dressing recipe I'm happy with. I actually made the mini-box lotus shrine I've had in my mind for RG and a panel to go into the mint-tin shrine I'm working on to send to JAN. It felt really good to get back in touch with artistic pursuits. CK commented that she really enjoys watching me work on art projects.

After enjoying dinner out on the deck - quinoa, aduki beans, kale & the dressing I'd made - CK and I picked beans in the garden. We ended up with pounds of string beans - yellow, red, and green. I washed them and spread them out on the kitchen counter to dry a little before I put them in the fridge. We also picked a few cucumbers and a summer squash.

Before we went in we stood admiring the whiteness of the clouds, touched by the pink of the sunset, against the blue sky. She wrapped her arms around me, I leaned back against her, and looked for swimmers & pouncing cats in the clouds. After the heaviness of the past few months today has felt like a complete treat. I did my best to be present to this joy.


Exploding Out

I had an appointment with IW today, the evening sky was so beautiful as I headed over. I took my art journal with me, correctly guessing that she'd find the drawing I did of how my fear feels very interesting. It is so energetic, which is something that my therapy with her touches into, the ways the energy is stored, bound up in my body.

I tried to explain to her that when I first was explaining the energy during sanzen with HB some time ago that the fear felt like a black hole. The blackness pulling in all the light and energy, the way a black hole pulls apart a dying sun.

I'd started the drawing with that blackness, the center of it and added the reds, yellows and oranges. The meditating figure I added later. Eventually I realized it was me, the figure. At the very end I decided to add features to my face. I wanted to feel hopeful so I drew gentle, peaceful features.

IW was excited by the drawing. she felt, contrary to my "black hole" image that I'd draw all the blackness exploding out. She was interested that it was directly over my heart, the black fear and angry reds. IW thought if I'd added lines, containers around it the energy would be shown as trapped inside, instead it was all rushing, draining out of me.

She hopes I'll do more artwork, she thinks it is a great outlet for exploring this energy, these memories. I mentioned to her that I'd got the idea to try some artwork after picking up a crayon during a guided meditation for trauma recovery. IW, like GM thought I have made a good choice in providing myself art supplies after that moment. Especially given how art was something that wasn't really I had a lot of opportunity to do growing up despite wanting to.

We talked a little while she worked on the trigger points in my body. I mentioned that GW thinks my mind lets go of things during zazen at the Dharma Center because it knows that I am safe. She agreed with that, but she also thinks that in the silence my body is able to speak. That through all of this my body is trying to tell me things. Eventually I'll get through all of this and my body will be able to let go of some of the pain because it has finally been heard.

On top of the posi

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Staying with It

I've been inside most of the day, really all day since the only going outside I did was to walk to the edge of the sidewalk, marvel at the snow and go back inside again. I logged into work and plugged away at a project much of the day, the rest of it was spent completing some online training I had listed as an accomplishment for 2008.

CK decided this morning to drive after finding another person wanting to do the same. The other woman also has experience driving on the snow and using chains. A vehicle was rented, chains were bought and the two of them set off up I-5 from Woodland, California at 11:55 this morning. I've been very relieved to be able to text with her off and on as well as talk with her a couple of times.

Nearly 2 hours ago they passed Eugene and were less than 100 miles from Portland. The would have started hitting the results of the snow and ice storm within the past hour and she sent out a message that they put the chains on about 35 minutes ago (about 8:45PM as I'm writing). I'm not sure if she'll be able to come directly to the flat where Atari and I are waiting for her, she may get dropped into downtown. If the MAX is running, and the Blue Line is, she would have to do the walk from the stop which takes about 15 minutes of brisk walking on a normal day. I may bundled up and meet her partway with more layers.

I worked on things until about 5PM today then decided to wrap it up for the day, my eyes were feeling a bit tired. Felt a little better after some asana practice, some deep forward bends, lots of down dog & twists, and a few sun salutations. I felt so stiff after sitting all day working, the relative cold outside, and an undercurrent of concern for CK. Then sat zazen for a little while, had a difficult time being present today once I tried to settle into stillness with that worry and ache.

Earlier in the day I had started some soup and it had filled the flat with a delicious smell. I finished zazen feeling hungry and impatient. I'd brought my dinner, soup and toast, out and realized that I'd started to check emails, news, road conditions, Twitter... All distraction while I was mindlessly eating dinner. I put the laptop aside and brought myself back to dinner, fully appreciating the very tasty soup I'd made.

I've been online either working or checking personal stuff (email, blogs, Facebook, Twitter) so much today that after eating I put aside my iBook at went back to my journal again. Added the words "NOW" and "HERE" on torn bits of blue paper, plus a red square (an homage to the "you are here" dots on maps) to the cover.

Last night I'd played around with the idea of putting the drawing of myself meditating in the journal. It isn't a realistic style image, it is me because I know it is. It is a drawing I did after explaining to HB what the fear feels like in my body. I had described a dark, heavy, cold blackness at the center of my chest. It felt like tendrils of that blackness snaked out, devouring all the warmth and light around me. Like a black hole consuming the matter around it.

After working on the colors for a while I went back and added just a little definition to show that there was a person there. When I put small lines in the face I decided to give the hint of a smile to the mouth. I wanted to see myself as knowing peace in that effort, despite the crushing, destructive feeling of the fear I still was able to maintain some equanimity. I spent a fair bit of time on carefully cutting out the piece, trying to preserve the tendrils of colors. I mounted it over gold foil, origami paper.

Neither the cover nor the piece inside feel completely finished to me yet. I've set them aside for the night, opting to write some and let my thoughts around them both settle. CK is on the outskirts of Portland now (about 10:24PM as I finish up this entry), making slow but steady progress.

It has been good practice, this past day of being alone. I look forward to waking up with CK tomorrow morning, knowing she is safely back in Portland. Back to the practice we share together.


Until I have something worthy

CK is still in Sacramento. Portland is covered in at least a half inch of ice on top of several inches of snow. At least another half inch of snow has fallen this afternoon. It is cold, windy and totally unlike Portland. Which is why CK is still in Sacramento. And I miss her a lot.

I'm at her flat, my other home is how it feels now. I don't have cable traction devices for the Outback and the ones DW had for her little car were too small so AM drove me over in the truck so I could stay here. Last night I'd noted just how cold the flat was and that Atari hadn't eaten very much. AM and I talked about it and agreed I'd just stay over here if she was still stuck.

Atari was so happy to see me. It took a good three hours to get the flat up to a comfortable temperature. I also turned on the electric blanket and he's now sprawled out on it, a paw outstretched, sleeping comfortably. He's been extra friendly and loving. I'm really glad that AM can be at the house taking care of Zonker & Phoebe and DW so I can be here to make Atari comfortable.

When I first go here I just stayed bundled up, on the bed (on top of the electric blanket), reading. Atari got on my lap after I'd put on some REI fleece pants I had over here and I read Lavinia for a while. It started to snow hard again so I decided to play with the snowshoes, walked up to the end of the street to get a feel for them, and took some pictures. Gratefully came inside, noting how much warmer it felt, and did some chores.

Before leaving the house I did something out of the ordinary. I grabbed some more art supplies. My sketch book and Art Stix had migrated over here, primarily so I could show her something I'd done. I grabbed up the book I'd bought a couple of years ago at Rainbow in San Francisco, my collection of paper (origami, samples from San Francisco, etc.), the pencils and my glue.

I was chatting with CK this evening and told her that I'd started to do a collage on the cover of this sketch book. It is just spiral bound with heavy card stock cover. The inside is filled with high quality, heavy, hemp paper. I bought it for myself on a trip visiting SJ and every time I've opened it I've held myself back. On some level thinking that I needed to save this nice book for really nice work, that anything I'd put in there now wouldn't be any good, unworthy of the book.

So it has been blank all this time. The cover got bent on the front providing a way for me to feel angry at myself for mistreating this special thing (I never use). I just move it around, occasionally open it and appreciate the paper inside, all the blank pages. The book I lug around now is cheap and I judge most of what's in there unworthy. Sometimes I color pieces on it to cut out and use elsewhere.

I love the idea of an artist's journal. I also feel somehow called to honor this desire in me to create this way. I guess it is another place where I get stuck calling myself an 'artist'. I think about journals and never start one, never satisfied with any unifying theme. I made one cool page dedicated to Mondrian in my other book but have never followed on my idea for doing pages around other artists I've enjoyed the work on.

In light of trying to see my creative efforts as worthy in my own eyes I started to cover the bent cover. Adding a collage of papers for creativity as well as reinforcing the bend so it will work better. It doesn't need a theme, I'll just add in things when I am inspired to make them. I already have a couple of ideas to start myself off. It is just the art that is here with me now, which is entirely worthy.


Winter’s Cold

Outside it was frigid today. The cold felt bright, intense, brittle; reminding me of Wisconsin. As soon as I sat in the car the cold sank into my hips and they ached. Winter's cold is not a friend to my body, it tightens and resists the cold, pulling in on itself to try and keep the hearth going.

After my last meeting wrapped up I quick looked at CK's blog, which is allowed on the network at the office and contains her most recent Twitter posts. I saw that her office was not warming up at all, it was a bit past 11AM so I checked to see if she wanted to get lunch. We met up in the Park Blocks and headed over to Blossoming Lotus for delicious lentil & wild rice soup and a very tasty maple glazed tempeh sandwich (messy, CK laughed at the sight of me with stuff on my chin).

I finally saw her office, walked over with her after lunch. I liked the way the window saw the edge of the Chinatown gate, as seen from across a rooftop. On the way back out I realized what the smell in the building recalled -- being in the Wright Art Hall at Beloit. I worked in the Wright, as a attendant in the museum my freshman year, and ultimately as the assistant to the Wright Registrar.

I spent days going through the records of the collection. One project involved affixing the small images taken from cut up proof sheets onto the actual paper record. While working on this project with the modern art print collection I would often be unable to correctly determine the proper orientation of the image. I'd have to take the record, the tiny photograph and a magnifying lens back into the stacks with me, locate the original piece of artwork, figured the orientation of piece and affixed the photograph to the paper.

It was both a tedious task and an utter delight. I viewed photographs of much of the collection, especially the modern art. Working in the museums, I also worked and researched in the Logan collection, also meant that I had numerous occasions to hold priceless pieces in my hands. Old things, amazing things.

Once I took a spinning a weaving class down in the basement of the Wright. Hours spent bent over a 4-harness loom or setting up a back-strap loom using the banister to tie off to for tension. When I last left Beloit one of the looms was holding a half-finished project of mine. Rose colored cotton, chosen mostly for affordability, done in an simple open-work lace. Then plan was to continue the autumn of what would have been my senior year, only I never went back.

CK's office is in a building that smells like the Wright. A dry smell hinting at plaster, paint, pencils, paper... creation. The building evoked memories, many of them precious.

Pulling on clean, cotton gloves to handle artwork or artifacts. The smoothness with which the huge drawers containing prints slid out. The feel of the ceiling mounted storage, the shift of it as you opened them apart like enormous pages. The chill of the ceramics storage in Logan's basement -- particularly there. Many hours coming in from the cold outside to descend into the dry, chill ceramics room. Bundled up, sitting on the concrete making meticulous notes about the Peruvian pieces I was researching for my thesis.

The scent of the medium of artistic is very rich for me I realize. It feels like yearning sometimes, wanting to create. I want to create artwork for CB & HB when I take Jukai next autumn. I am able to picture it in my head but I feel confused as to where to begin.

I imagine the impression of a gate as the back of the piece, with words from the Flower Sermon running on the edges, "I possess the true Dharma eye, the marvelous mind of Nirvana, the true form of the formless, the subtle Dharma Gate that does not rest on words or letters but is a special transmission outside of the scriptures." A wooden artist's model of a hand holding a flower. Perhaps the flower is made of beads on wire, making the flower easy to twine about the hand. Somewhere there is a smile, just the hint of it, Mahākāśyapa's moment of realization. I've thought about the base being an enso with the hand rising out of it.

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