Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Studio Gratitude

I'm grateful for having space for making art. I have a big desk with decent lighting. My desk sits near a sink for clean up and cabinets for storing canvases, old magazines, boxes, and other media I use in my art.  It hasn't been really usable space for a while, but the past week I've started to really make it a workspace again.

While I was doing my training and internship in Integrated Movement Therapy I really stepped out of making art. I wasn't doing much at all, having stopped creating when we were dealing with the last years of my Mother's life. Time to create art seems to be the first thing I cut as being a waste of time, not really "practice".

I know this isn't really true, the research demonstrates that making and creating is what helps make us feel whole. Still, it is the activity that seems to be least important. I'm trying to change that. Art not only feeds my creative side, but it is a way to express the things that are too difficult, too elusive to put into words.

Seeing an art therapist keeps things really in mind and is giving me some motivation. I do think I want to create a body of work to show. As part of my clean up and reorganizing I've made it so I can see finished works from my desk, to help keep me inspired and focused.


A.M. (After Mom)

Today is my Mom's 71st birthday. I've not sent her a card and will not be calling her later, in fact I don't even have whatever number she now has.

I feel like a terrible daughter, but I'm working on that because I know that having set this boundary with my Mother is the best choice for the sake of my health and they health of my marriage. I wisely scheduled a visit from friends for lunch and therapy this afternoon.

A year ago we were trying to make a celebration in Hawaii for Mom's 70th birthday, an age I never expected her to see. Even though we'd made all the arrangements and took special care, I was left feeling like Mom found her birthday a let down. On her birthday itself we went out to a restaurant where we could all get tasty food and she could have the fish she had said she was craving. She'd have rather gone to a different restaurant, but knew it would leave CK and I with no real choice for something we could eat. Later she'd make a point to tell me how the fish at a restaurant we like wasn't good, in fact she'd tell me at least a couple more times while in Hawaii that her birthday dinner wasn't very good. The travel back home was miserable.

I feels like things started to deteriorate rather quickly after that trip. Mom's increasing dissatisfaction in living with us; snide comments escalating to sharp words. Again overhearing her telling friends how it wasn't what it seemed here, that we didn't really take good care of her or make anything nice for her to eat or special dishes. Worse, her intimating to people that she felt I was misusing my access to her bank account. Attempts to take her out for lunch on weekends were spent in near silence, her eating but not really interested in engaging with us at all.

When Mom came to live with us I still had this desperate hope that I could really help. I had an even more tightly held hope that my Mom wasn't as bad as I thought, that some of my tense, defensive behavior toward her wasn't warranted. Seeing Mom through the lens of CK's view, free of my history, would let me heal some of that distrust that came up for me.

Only that turned out not to be the case, not entirely and not how I hoped. True, we managed to tremendously improve Mom's health. She was in better health than she'd been in for a few years. She was in much better health for making the transition to an assisted living facility. One of the things that hurts is finding out that Mom didn't really want her health improved, she didn't want to let go of her personal mythology that her health was an insurmountable obstacle and she a helpless victim of her bad health. She resented that careful blood glucose monitoring and insulin adjustments, along with a healthier, vegan diet improved her health noticeably.

The rest of it, the harder part, is how quickly CK saw the narcissistic, petty, ill person I'd been raised by. Not only was my feeling the need to defend myself warranted, it needed to be bolstered by setting the kind of boundary I've now set. As painful as this has all been, devastatingly so, I know I wouldn't have been able to see my Mom and my childhood quite so clearly if we hadn't moved Mom in with us. I was correct that in changing my view by seeing her as CK sees her would teach me a lot, the sad part is that it wasn't what I was hoping for. It wasn't that changing my stiff interactions with her would improve anything, not in the long run, since my Mom has never really wanted a relationship with me. The only relationship that is possible with her is the one where I'm not me, I'm her "miracle daughter" who takes care of her every selfish need. The mirror of the person she wanted to be.

That explains it so well, that she expected me to mirror back to her the girl she had wanted to be. Between trying to force me into becoming the person she wished she'd been, and either subverting and punishing me for asserting my own identity, it makes sense. When called on this behavior she attacked us.

I wisely scheduled a visit with one of my therapists today. She asked me what it was I was losing by sticking with my boundary-setting not contacting her. I thought about it a lot, I mean I'm clearly "losing" many things that do not further my life or my health. What is it that I feel loss for, what do I grieve, that's what I thought about. I finally replied that I was losing the fairy tale; a mother who cherished, supported, and believed in me. A mother who cheered me on as I made my way and who would always have my back. The kind of mother I see so many friends write about having. I have to set that particular hope aside so that I can move forward with healing and becoming the person I want to be.

I can still hold her in my heart, sending thoughts of loving-kindness her way along with my earnest wishes for her to experience peace and happiness, or even just contentment. I can feel great compassion for her inability to move towards health, but I cannot see her. Having compassion for her does not mean I set aside my own health or sacrifice my relationship with CK.



Ripple - Stonefield Beach, Yachats, OR, January 16, 2014

I'm not yet ready to write about the past few months. The high level summary is that Mom has not returned and is living at an assisted living facility not terribly far from here. On the advice of multiple healthcare providers, and even more importantly, my wife, I have asked my Mother not to contact me further. Thus far, she has respected my request.

I was asked today by one of those care providers if making this request and having Mom respect it made me feel happy. It doesn't, it doesn't at all, it makes me feel a great deal of sorrow. I fully accept that my Mom's view of reality cannot be challenged, ever. When that happens she either reacts to destroy or flee, or both really. I've stopped responding in the way I was trained to as a child and now threaten that view of reality. For the sake of my health and the health of my marriage, I am moving on with my life.

It is really hard. The holidays, particularly as compared with all the hope I'd been filled with last year, were painful. I'm still at the stage were animated movies with a princess in it can be triggering.

What I have been allowing myself to be fine with enjoying is the feeling of rest. Not having to time my entire life around blood glucose checks and insulin adjustments for a person who was hostile to both CK and I. My relief & gratitude and my grief can be part of me concurrently, within the same space.

Since then? I've been making art again. It had quite honestly been over a year since I'd really created anything, aside from what I'd made in a workshop last May. While I still need to get back to that large project, I've made a handful of new things. I am continuing to enjoy connecting with other artists, mostly all women, once a month.

At the meet-up at the start of this month, we had all brought supplies to share at a common table. Kind of the collage artist equivalent of a party where everyone brings clothes they're no longer wearing and you pick through all the other clothes, taking home something awesome to you. I'd brought a bunch of traditional scrapbooking paper, since I've been really moving toward using mostly things I've created, and stickers. Upon overhearing how I love finding ways to use real stamps in my work, several other women started looking through the pile on the table to help find all of the stamps (quite a bundle) that someone else had put there. Likewise for to giant puzzle pieces, from another women who'd noticed the smaller, altered puzzle piece I'd brought to share. I left with my heart full at how giving, including, and supportive this group is and how grateful I am that I've made space fr it.

I've been continuing to practice my photography. Last week I was fortunate enough to get a few days in Yachats with Dora while CK was away on a business trip. A good friend joined me for 2 of the 3 nights I stayed. It was the perfect time to practice what I'd learned in November.

CK and I have been working on projects around the house and are having some more art professionally framed. It feels like bit by bit we're reclaiming the energy of the house. I've been napping a lot, which I've been advised to find time to continue to do. The same group of care providers have noted that I've been dangerously exhausted. Physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually exhausted and it may take more than a few weeks to recover.

While I don't feel it is possible to be happy about making the decision to separate my life from my Mom, I do feel some wonder and enjoyment at starting to feel like it will be a year of changes to improve my life.

CK pointed me to Henry Miller's 11 Commandments of Writing & Daily Creative Routine. I am particularly taken with his third commandment:

"Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand."

Not bad advice as a new year begins.



Several years ago, at the last company I worked for, there was a team building initiative that saw my team and the client team we worked with. We all received a copy of Now, Discover Your Strengths, asked to take the "StrengthsFinder", and share our results.

While I don't think companies can manage people on the results of these kinds of tests, I do find them rather interesting. I think they can provide a little insight about people you are working with. Outside of work I've occasionally run into people who've also taken this and I've enjoyed talking with them about what they've learned about themselves from the results they got.

Here are my Top 5 Strengths from a few years ago:

  1. Input
  2. Learner
  3. Restorative
  4. Connectedness
  5. Intellection

Fast forward to my new company. One of the directors in the IT organization has a few initiatives to reach out to other women at the company. Next week she's having a facilitator join a group of us to talk about the results we had from taking the "StrengthsFinder" test. We all recieved a copy of StrengthsFinder 2.0 and were asked to take the test and send results so the facilitator has them ahead of our meeting.

Given how interesting I found this process the first time, I signed up. I also was very curious to find how, or if, my top 5 strengths had changed much. A few years ago 3 of my 5 showed that learning was vitally important to me. That combined with the other strengths really showed, accurately, my love not only of learning, but of sharing what I'd learned with others.

Here are my results based on yesterday's test:

  1. Learner
  2. Strategic
  3. Responsibility
  4. Empathy
  5. Connectedness

I'm not at all surprised to see that my ability to learn still tops the list. I feel like that "Restorative" strength has deepened and grown into "Empathy". Given how strongly I feel about the interconnectedness of all things, I'm also unsurprised to see that Connectedness remains one of my top strengths.

However it is the addition of Strategic and Responsibility that really make me think. In the past few years I've become more involved in community building, helping to put on events that see hundreds of participants and sometimes spanning multiple days. I think this kind of volunteering has really grown my ability to think strategically. I think I've always been mindful of being responsible for my own work and actions, even if during some times in my life I've tried to pretend otherwise. Now it has evolved into a real strength.

I really look forward to what comes out of the session with the facilitator next week!


Contemplating the Dirty Cup

Wednesday's appointment with the EMDR therapist was honestly grueling. I left feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically drained. The lowering of intensity wasn't as profound, but then it was such an inter-connected, multi-year mess of stuff that to even reduce it minimally is progress. That I was unable to neatly separate out the events to work on individually, something I'll continue to work on with PB, underscored something my cognitive/mindfulness based therapist has been saying for some time. The trauma I experienced in my late teens served to reactivate earlier, unaddressed trauma from childhood. The events become intrinsically linked to my mind and body regardless of the differences of time, place and people.

The session also brought up muscle spasms, particularly in my legs. I vocalized something important in reacting to the pain and strangeness of them. When I have muscle spasms I do not feel like my body is my own. The statement came up a couple of times and in the second visit it hit me hard. We looked at it, the age I felt and it was in that 4/5 age range. It is painful to accept that I felt like I did not control my body at so young an age.

The last four weeks of intensive EMDR have revealed another uncomfortable truth. On a lot of levels I believe the abuse was my fault. That I possess some intrinsic flaw that makes me an easy target for abusers. To a part of my mind it seems like the most reasonable explanation as to why I experienced abuse from so many different people I trusted across so many years. "Clearly I am flawed.", says a part of me.

Last night I was having a hard time getting to sleep with anxiety creeping in. Bits of bad memories popping into that liminal time where I'm just starting to drift into sleep. I hoped to sleep in to make up for it but that energy is still around this morning and I awoke rather early. Something that has been kicking around for the past two days is the bit of Rumi I've been chewing on since early September.

Take sips of this pure wine being poured.
Don't mind that you've been given a dirty cup.

I've written about this bit a little already and have let it just be a part of my everyday life. It keeps unfolding for me the longer I keep it close. It brings up for me again and again how much time I spend wrapped up in the stains on the dirty cup and not able to fully engage with the pure wine of life.

All the thrashing around trying to cling to the notion of My Happy Childhood is just another way of obsessing about the stained cup. PB gently pointed out to me that recalling the brief hours here and there where I enjoyed my childhood does not make a happy one. All I'm doing is staring at that cup and trying to say, "Look here, this spot isn't dirty, it is clean and lovely. Yes, that's the cup I want!"

Many weeks ago GM asked me why I practice Zen. I feel unheard when my community treats veganism as anything less than the deep reflection of my vows and practice. Retreats leave me feeling like I was pulled by my heels through glass. Sitting down to do zazen has nearly continually woken up my Inner Critic for over a year now. At times, for no apparent reason beyond a mere nanosecond of silence, I find I am completely triggered emotionally and physically. Why do I do it?

At the time she asked I had no answer but I've kept practicing hoping one will be revealed to me. The sad answer is that those triggers and pain happen because the trauma was real. Feeling unheard about being vegan awakes the years my voice, my thoughts were not valued by my family. I've spent years trying to make these things not true, to persist with the idea that if I just don't acknowledge them or talk about them, they will go away. The truth is that no amount of cherishing the few hours of baking with my Gram or picking berries with my Mom makes up for the the rest of it.

Zen and yoga point us to the truth. What is the essential self? What is true? I practice because it reveals the truth. The truth points us to what is real. Some truths mean we live on the edges of what the whole of society considers "normal". Most importantly, as radical as acceptance sounds for some truths, not accepting the truth is suffering.

The truth is that my childhood was profoundly unhappy. It is the "dirty cup".

Equally true is that the sun is shining brightly into the lovely, generous home I share with my wonderful, future wife. Our cats are alternately basking in sun beams and playing. I have a very good cup of tea, the prospect of a delicious breakfast, and the hectic fun of preparing for a party ahead of me today. This is the pure wine of this present moment.

In this moment the wine is pure, precious, and briefly I am able to rest in knowing that the stained cup is irrelevant.


The End of a Chapter

Today feels like my first "Official" day of being unemployed. Something about not making the 8AM status call. I also noted that for some reason it doesn't feel like I'm on vacation. Maybe it was because CK was busy getting ready for work herself?

In my usual style I've filled this first week out of work with projects and appointments. I am having lunch with people 3 days this week, taking my Mom to the doctor late tomorrow afternoon (amazed that she has a 5PM appointment), Portland Ignite on Wednesday night, a cohort meeting & zazen with my Zen community on Thursday. Tuesday is my official "good-bye" lunch with my team - some folks were on vacation last week and I was really too swamped to do it with trying to wrap things up.

Saturday I felt kind of extra burnt out from staying up late with a friend from our Sangha who is going to be relocating to New York indefinitely. We went and did another walk through at the venue for Open Source Bridge in June followed by lunch with a couple of the other organizers. We ended up napping in the late afternoon which felt very disorienting. In the evening we finally watched Amongst White Clouds, which was just stunning.

Sunday I think I'd finally rested enough to suddenly be hit with the reality of my unemployment. The anxiety I'd managed to push off with the huge task list finally manifest. Big waves of uncertainty and groundlessness. My Inner Critic, Lovey, wailing, "What have you done!"

What really struck me is just how much of my sense of self has been wrapped up in the job I held, in teaching yoga. Letting go of my regular class at Dishman was bad enough, but at least I still had my job to give the impression of stability, of knowing. I think I was really quite unaware of just how much I measured my self worth, my idea of who I am, by those titles and those paychecks.

Today starts a new chapter where I practice with letting go of more of the idea of "Self" as some construct of all the memories I have, titles I've held, places I've been. Another reminder that I am not my job, not my paycheck, not comprised of the entries on my resume. All of that stuff is mind chatter, part of the noise that separates us from the Essential Self, the No-Self Self.

And it is poetry challenge time in the Zen Community of Oregon. What is now becoming an annual tradition of writing 30 poems in 30 days. To start off, prime the pump as it were, a rather smallish poem:


Scent rising up from the kitchen.
Grain steaming. Roots roasting.
Cats sleeping peacefully.

The simple gifts of home.


This Body

I was a skinny person who became obese. I was underweight at birth, throughout my early childhood, and was pretty thin until the last year of college when the combination of traumatic breakdown, plentiful rich food, a foundation of disordered eating habits, and injury combined to really add weight onto my frame. I left college at least two sizes larger than I started.

Then another injury while my brain was still fragmented from trauma, locked into silence. I broke my left ankle playing volleyball after work. Within a year I'd added a couple more sizes. Throughout my 20s that's how it went, a size creeping on nearly every year until by the time I was 30 I had gone from a size 5/7 when I started college to a size 24/26.

I never was comfortable with my thin body, especially as a teen. This is the place where body issues, PTSD, and sexual orientation meet head-on. In my thin body as a teenager I was encouraged that girls wear sexy things. I was directed away from my "tomboy" style as much as possible, especially for dressier occasions. It didn't feel right on so many levels.

Dressing up, showing off my thin body like girls were expected to brought attention that made me uncomfortable. Even at my largest I was never entirely comfortable in the various dresses, skirts, high heels and corsets. It was always a costume, I was always reserved, a bit stiff, and very self-conscious. When the attention of men lead to intimacy with men I felt incredibly awkward most of the time, sometimes I would feel entirely disconnected. It has been painful, but illuminating to figure out in my 30s that part of the problem all along is that my sexual orientation is strongly directed towards women, learning to use the words "Lesbian", "gay", and "queer" more openly.

Losing the weight has felt like this slide right back into adolescence at times especially being combined with all the sexual confusion. Yep, just like being 15 all over again, but with mortgage payments. Here I am back in a body that gets attention, especially from men. If anything I'm more hyper aware of my discomfort around my attractiveness because I'm no longer disassociated from the traumatic episodes. But I'm also not in exactly the same body and driven by the images of bodies we are surrounded with, so I'm quick to judge the way the extra skin moves very harshly and am sometimes so distracted by it I am not fully present to anything but feeling ashamed of my body.

I'm still trying to pick my way through it all. When I first lost all the weight I was entirely without all the girly clothes that had been my costume when I was obese. My back condition had already made it so I'd given away all my high heels. I swung back to being a "tomboy" with a vengeance. I even got into a fight with my Mom over it when I'd bought a really nice outfit for her wedding that was based around some green trousers.

I still have the skirt I bought in protest, I was wearing it last weekend. As uncomfortable as I felt with my body in the black dress I bought, there's part of me that enjoyed wearing it a little bit. It is the same part of me that occasionally enjoys the way a skirt moves around my legs in a breeze. I am finding some element of compromise between the "tomboy" and the girl who never got to pick being the "princess" on her own terms.


The Distraction of Approval

I'd like to write about the charming fox sailing away in a golden walnut boat that arrived in the mail for me today, bringing me absolute delight. I kept trying to write about this and move into the comforting pleasure about writing about silly, happy, lovely things.

Instead I've been counting the days in my head since AM and I filed for divorce. I think today is 30 days since filing. We each received a slightly baffling piece of mail saying how a General Judgement was entered last week. I did some research and looking through the certified copies of everything. That's one of the pieces of paperwork that was in the filing. Once it is entered by a judge and 30 days had passed the divorce would be final. So I think it may well be today. Feels a little strange.

I think if we'd not done it now, to have just let things between us continue to drift, I think eventually it would have eroded our friendship hugely, perhaps irrevocably. Not rejection so much as a mutal willingness to look unflinchingly at what we've both avoided for years. My therapist pointed out to me last week that since I've been seeing her (going on 6 years) there has been this undercurrent of distance and a sense of my compromising on my authentic self for the sake of loving a friend so much. And now we both get to step off in very different directions, very different people.

Here I am, dropping another privilege of normalcy - this time all the things that going along with the shield, anonymity of "hetero-normal". I tried to hard to fit in as a kid, really throughout most of my 20s too. Moving who I was towards positive reinforcement, they ways in which I could be sure I'd be liked.

I feel exposed and notice reminders daily of how I don't fit in with society. How in some cases many people, if not several other countries, believe what I'm doing is abnormal and wrong, sinful and shameful. At the very best finding me extreme in my choices. It is kind of terrifying, much of the time really. Despite all of that, in the past 6 years I've come to know with certainty that to move closer to the Truth, to rest in the Essential Self, is to turn away from all the things I once distracted and comforted myself with.

The Distraction of Approval

Given sufficient uncertainty
The familiarity of bending,
Towards the false idol of praise
Felt as normal as breath,
More so.

At some point the stories
Lacked humor, especially to me.
The smile, merely pasted in place.
The laughter always sounded
Canned, a track stuck in a loop.


History Revisited

I've been sorting out stuff I've written the past day or so. Digging in and moving stuff around. In part it is to be mindful and protective of those that I write about. I also wanted to create a space that really was just where I talked about living in Portland and places I frequent or travels I make. It has meant I've reopened and reread everything I've written since the end of June. In fact, I'm only part-way through September.

It was a tough summer. There has been so much shifting and changing the past year, just to revisit the past 5 months or so is to see big bumps navigated. Really, the past few years for me have felt like everything has changed entirely. With my practice I've become a different person than the one I thought I was. Strangely enough, I mostly feel very young again.

Hogen said something once, when talking of the vows we take, about looking at what was true when we were children that is still true today. When he asked us to consider this I'd found it unsettling, upsetting even. It was a request that threw me into the pain of my childhood as well as the stark reality of how little I remember. In practice I have started to touch that, to see myself turn towards things I remember feeling were important as a child.

Looking at the past months, reflecting upon what I wrote most days, I see where the hope keeping things together started to unravel. Seeing where I started to shift away from what I thought would always be and try to dive into the truth instead. Revisiting where the steady reassurance and heterosexual privilege of marriage started to unravel.

As painful and unsettling as this has all been, I feel like I'm moving towards the right path for me. I never thought it would move me in this direction, away from what I convinced myself was safe. Regardless, I feel like I'm moving towards what is the truth and there is genuine comfort in it.

Besides, I've come to dive into the shifting uncertainty that is our daily existence. Which is to say that I recognize that I was merely clinging to the illusion of safety. Like the boat on the ocean, with no shore to be seen in all directions. The boat is the illusion of safety, the small mind that clings to what it knows rather than sink into the limitless, boundless Dharma.


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.