Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Both And

I’m finding that many of my students are welcoming learning more yoga philosophy, more yoga during these times. I realized how I could teach concepts of non-dual awareness based right in the emotions people are having.

Someone shared feeling guilty for feeling bad about missing things and the anxiety they had. They have so much to be grateful for, they shouldn’t feel bad. They could be so more worse, they are being selfish when others are experiencing much more danger.

I reminded them it doesn’t work like that. Feeling anxious about the pandemic doesn’t cancel out your gratitude. Likewise, your gratitude doesn’t make you unable to hold compassion for others.

It isn’t either gratitude or anxiety. Nor is it compassion or gratitude. We don’t have to buy into this binary, dualistic model. The world doesn’t work that way, even if many philosophies have tried to push for this.

Yoga reminds us that life isn’t a series of either/or scenarios, it is both/and. Gratitude, compassion, anxiety, and everything else.

We’re back to Whitman again, “Do I contradict myself?”



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.


Forward Momentum

For the first time in days, weeks really, I felt like I was getting going again on some projects at work. I've felt so unfocused these past couple of months that it has been really hard to dig in and get things started, much less finished. I feel like I could just use a little time to not need to be tied to that paycheck to recharge. That life doesn't just stop to let me process everything is a pretty irritating reality!

It hit me today that since high school I've never had a real break. I started working jobs in the summer and during school then and haven't ever stopped really. The couple of times I've been laid off from work the stress and worry about not having an income did not constitute a break. Things just keep moving along and I just try to keep up. I mentioned this to Hogen right before the Loving-Kindness sesshin started, that I'd just gone through an especially rough week. He reminded me that my whole life has been filled with what most people would classify as especially rough weeks. That I know how to do this getting-through-the-hard-stuff already.

Doesn't make it feel anything but really hard. In fact all of the Zen practice means that at times it almost feels harder than ever before. I've taken away the distractions and denials that got me through into my 30s and am left in the authentic space of really feeling the emotions. All the fear, anxiety, grief and anger simmering there, waiting to be acknowledged. Years of it.

GM told me on Wednesday that I was to stop beating myself up. I keep feeling this awful shame that I let things with AM go on for too long, didn't enforce boundaries, didn't stand up for my needs, told him how much his choices hurt me and then didn't say anything besides express my sorrow when he'd make the same ones over again. She said it took as long as it took for me to learn how to be clear about these things and make them stick.

Hogen commented this evening on my brightness again. I noted that there are still some hard things but that I'm just trying to be present for them. He said whatever I was doing looked like it was working well for me since I looked so well, to keep up the good work.

Be present, stop beating myself up, and keep up the good work. Should be easy...

At least making real progress and a couple of great coaching interactions at work help me feel like I'm moving forward again. Overcoming the out-of-focus-inertia feelings that have churned around spitting out shame, anger and guilt for weeks. Momentum helps with being able to keep moving forward when things are really hard. I guess recognizing that is evidence of Hogen reminding me that I know how to do this.


Sympathy Deficit Disorder

I admit, I'm just trying to be clever with the title. Well, mostly.

Amidst all the "usual" emails in my inbox at work Thursday morning was news that a co-worker, had lost her dog. I happen to know that R, the director of one of my client teams, absolutely adored her dog. He was really her little furry "kid" and he meant the world to her. R even gave people pictures of Spike!

As a person with little furry "kids" in my life I really felt a lot of sympathy for R. I've had to make the decision to be a part of ending a pet's life due to the suffering that comes of extreme illness or old age. It is the hardest part of the joy of pet companionship. My heart went out to her when I read the news.

During a break between meetings I made a point to pick out a sympathy card to send to R while picking up some lunch. I sent a message out to my team that I had a card at my desk her, letting people know they could sign it before I mailed it off. Everyone in the office on Thursday signed the card and we talked about our own pets.

Except one person. K told me, with great discomfort and awkwardness, how she really didn't know about Spike at all. Then K went on to say how R had been a major part of a decision to downsize a team in Portland several years ago. K had been part of that team. Many of her team mates at the time had lost their jobs and K ended up transferring onto the team we are both now a part of. K said she's never been able to let go of those hard feelings and didn't feel right signing a sympathy card. I responded that it was quite alright, that K need not feel pressured to sign the card.

Really I felt funny about it myself. Inside I was surprised that someone would withhold sympathy from another suffering being. I appreciate how deeply the wounds are when a company eliminates a team, the last job I had ended when the parent company closed the Oregon office. Despite understanding that on a very personal level it feels so obvious to me that we should respond compassionately to the suffering of others.

In some ways I was reminded of my Mom and the way she holds grudges, holding onto her anger even after a person has died. I believe there are people my Mom would withhold her compassion and sympathy. My whole family could be begrudging emotionally and materially.

It was after this brief, terribly awkward interaction with a co-worker I normally find so compassionate and recalling the own miserliness of my own family I was reminded of the eighth precept, "Not to withhold spiritual or material aid, but to give it freely when needed."

I guess I see responding with sympathy and compassion, particularly towards someone grieving a loss, is a reflection of eighth precept. It is an area where all we have to do to give is to listen and acknowledge the suffering another person is experiencing. Nothing more is necessary than that, just the compassion of a sympathetic ear.