Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


The Topic I Avoid

A little over a week ago I finally screwed up my courage to discuss a topic I've been avoiding. It was easy to avoid for several weeks while my teacher was traveling, but HB was back in town, I was going to be at the Dharma Center just before zazen teaching yoga on the day when sanzen is available. Months ago I had mentioned the feeling to him and he said I could not work on that for a while, to focus on understanding the anger and other emotions.

For the last several weeks I've felt shame very acutely. I am embarrassed by the passion I feel. On some level I've thought the intensity of my body's response to CK might settle down, but it has only grown as we go more deeply, feel more comfortable with each other. I feel like I'm being inappropriate, wanting too much, unable to control my body, and as though I'm 14 again.

When I've talked to GM about it we've discussed how it very clearly relates to a childhood of being told my emotional responses were out-of-control. A pattern that continued during my first marriage. That I also have a traumatic experience related to being caught naked with a female friend as a child only compounds the problem. Since I'd never been in a very deep, open relationship with a woman before most of this seethed below the surface.

GM said I needed to spot the shame, watch it come up and know that the shame itself is what is inappropriate. Know that when inappropriate feelings like the shame arise it is the voice of my Inner Critic speaking. Remind myself of where I am at, that CK loves me and, far from finding me inappropriate, delights in my passion for her.

Yet still the shame comes. I watch it, name it as wrong, say to it I know where it comes from. And there we sit in impasse, my shame and I. So off to sazen with the impasse.

HB first said that reflecting on where it all comes from is irrelevant, truly, since the events already took place and nothing can be changed about that. He said to use the Precepts as a touchstone, run through them all to be certain I am observing them. If I find I am in accordance with them then I clearly do not have to experience shame for being who I am.

I realized this is another way of exactly what my therapist wants me to do, only deeper. Not only do I bring myself to the present moment but I have my ethical guideposts to affirm that I am not making a poor choice. I thought about this a second and asked HB, "Then what?"

I went on to tell him that I have reached a point in my life that I feel I am living more honestly, true to my essential self, than ever before, ever. It feels exposed most of the time, fragile, I'm more accustomed to maintaining a persona. It is the truth, even when it feels hard.

He said then I need to work on drawing the shame in. Not to hate my past. It isn't that I have to love the trauma, but I should include the child I was in my love. I want to do this, it is why I have tried to mourn that child in ceremony. Yet when I try to process, touch these places that hurt so much, I feel myself recoil. The fear, the shame, the humiliation... all of these feel sticky, like tar, and I feel myself resist going into them.

"My pain." This is the answer I give when I see HB in sanzen and he performs the ritual of asking, "What is your practice."

Sometimes the practice is my physical pain, the fear and tightness around living with that. Other times it is the deeper, darker emotional pain.



I happened to spot an old picture of myself from October 1999. When people ask me how overweight I was this is one of the images I think of. Nine years ago I loved this photograph me, I thought I looked lovely in it and used it for some of my online profiles. Now it is like seeing a ghost.


There was a time where I was entirely comfortable being that person. I weighed over 290 pounds. I could be loud, brash, imperious and over-the-top, knowing about sexuality. This was the person I became in response to a life filled with distractions; food, sex, video games, television & other media, trashy novels... really anything that kept me from thinking about why I was trying so hard to entertain myself at all costs.

Nine years later and I weigh less than half that and look much more like the person who graduated from Beaverton High School in 1987. Seeing 1999 Sherri, thinking of who I was then, is almost this sad experience. This larger-than-life personae I invested everything into. This facade who needed a substantial dose of anti-anxiety medication to keep her on an even remotely even keel. Who was avoiding the misery in her life, a long history of it.

I'm not sure what started to change first, video games I think. When I split up with my ex-husband, AP, he took all the computers so the LAN games were a thing of the past. I quickly grew bored with the Playstation games I had, which has always been the case with every console game I've owned.

When I started changing my approach to food it began to affect other things. I was vegetarian by 2002, not really intending to go that way but ending up there after meat began to taste very bad to me. It was my cholesterol I was trying to change, not my weight, so I'd started trying vegetarian dishes hoping it would be healthier and found them so good I just opted for them. In the end my cholesterol would increase (all the dairy), but I would fairly easily loose 100 pounds.

At that point, January 2003, I began to investigate hatha yoga. After only one year I wanted to teach and would spend another year intensifying my practice toward this goal. Three years ago this month I would teach my first class. Now I am intensely studying again, working towards certification through Yoga Alliance. Two asana practices a week in addition to the two beginning classes I now teach and six hours of theory, anatomy & physiology, technique, assists, modifications, and ethics.

In 2005 AM and I both began to investigate Buddhism. While trying out meditation one evening at the Ch'an temple I discovered that sitting caused intense pain in my legs, hips and back. The herniated disc at the base of my spine irritating all the nerves, tendons and muscles into constant spasm. I would seek out a cushion and would in turn discover the Jizos for Peace project in the summer of 2005. In considering my beginning to teach beginning yoga I was drawn to the Zen Community of Oregon.

Last night, during sanzen, I asked HB if I could receive Jukai, to take refuge, next autumn. To all my anxiety and nervous energy around asking that's been building for months now he answered, "Sure, I don't see why not."

Now months to finish tasks. Writing about the precepts, all sixteen of them. Sewing the Rakusu, a representation of the Buddha's robe. Attending sesshin, which worries me greatly since getting through half that amount of sitting last winter at the women's retreat I was having muscle spasms during the last meditation practice. I am sure a way will be found is what I try to remind that anxious voice.

Seeing that ghost me increased my resolve to set myself toward this next goal. I've known for over two years I have wanted to do this, I've just been afraid I'd never really fit in. That if I wasn't playing the role of "Good Zen Buddhist" I wouldn't be able to join the club. Again and again I've been shown I am a part, that even someone who finds their way out on the edges, in the narrow margins is just another person seeking to settle and wake up.



Before going to bed last night I looked carefully at all I'd written about myself, read the truth in it all, and I took another deep breath and wrote to the three members of my sangha who have found me, so far, on Facebook. I've known this was coming, I anticipated it weeks ago and that drove me to talk to HB and RP.

What I've come to see this as is my being authentic all of the time. In the past I kept separate circles. For a little while I tried overlapping them, work and social, but mostly that happened because the place I happened to be working kept hiring out of the same group of poly/queer geeks who all happened to be friends and/or involved with one another. Aside from that anomaly I grew to be more and more compartmentalized in how I interacted with people.

CK summed it up really well over lunch at Habibi today when I mentioned it to her. She noted that it sounded really hard to do. I had to immediately agree. It is difficult trying to compartmentalize myself and I am reminded of the ways in which I chose to put myself into compartments because I believed that's what I needed to do to have someone like me, not leave me.

It takes to much energy to remember all of that and it is not very compassionate to myself nor entirely honest, or at least authentic. When I read about the essential self in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras I was deeply drawn in. That when we still all the thoughts rampaging around in our minds we get to rest in our true nature, who we really are.

I find myself now wanting to always dwell in that place of authenticity. Honoring and loving who I am honestly and transparently regardless of the community I am part of at a given moment. The same person who works most days as a systems analyst is the same person that teaches yoga two days a week, sits with her Dharma community at least one day a week, and studies yoga three additional days a week at this time. I am the same person to my most intimate partners as I am to my friends, co-workers, students, fellow yogis/yoginis, and sangha.

This is the honest way to approach my life now, in keeping with my observation of the Buddhist precepts as well as the yamas and niyamas of Yoga. It is at once the easiest way and a most difficult path. Before I could hide parts of me that one group might find questionable, or I thought they would find questionable. Always shifting to make sure I fit it well, regardless if I really felt the fit inside. Now I'm fully present with the beauty and discomfort of not fitting in.

In truth I've never really fit it. I've always been forced to be something I'm not either by my family, lovers or myself. Playing up some bits, like the over-the-top sexy girly girl, while playing down other essential parts, the nerd who loves more than anything to learn about the world I'm in.

Now that I've just started being who I am all of the time I'm finding myself in circles where it is not only acceptable, but celebrated that I'm different. I've spent the vast majority of my life only revealing bits and pieces of myself at a time. To be surrounded by people & groups where I am safe to reveal my whole self and am still be supported is unsettling at times merely because it is new.

I find it a little sad that truly unconditional love and acceptance is an uneasy feeling for me. At least I'm feeling unsettled over something that is healthy for me. I am grateful for that and the hope that I will spend the rest of my life learning to be comfortable knowing support and love.



Really, we've all needed a good weekend. A restful time of connection. That it included delicious intimate moments only made it seem even more a salve to the raw emotions exposed during the past few weeks. A sense of a sighing out by the whole psyche, releasing stale, bound up energy that had collected in the dark corners.

Fun to ride around the past day with CK. Just being able to enjoy hoping on the bicycle to over there, in to downtown for dinner, to yoga, to Laughing Planet on Mississippi, and back to the house. My legs feel it, the riding and yoga today on top of the hours in the car yesterday. I like to be able to have this option of just moving myself around the city and not be in the car. That it has become something I share with CK, her passion about bicycling is something of her that I enjoyed immediately, is really special.

After lunch and a ride back to her flat we slid into intimacy again, so delightful and easy. Both last night and this afternoon I felt myself shaking. More than just passion, or even pent-up desire, but relief, gratitude, love, and a sense of being held close emotionally. The container of our relationship expanding again, growing to enfold new experiences and needs recognized.

I rode back to the house in the rain (with no gear, I hadn't checked the weather forecast), but it was still warm outside and the drops weren't coming down fast. I'm making it to the house 5 minutes faster these days and I kind of enjoyed it. When I got to the house I put on some dry clothes and went down to the basement and hung out with AM.

It was great to find out that he and KW had a wonderful night together too, their one year anniversary of dating. Things have been pretty rough for the two of them, since March really. She has had a lot going on and it has really taken her energy away from really maintaining, much less building their relationship. They also were able to enjoy a really wonderful night of connection and intimacy. I have to admit it was nice to come home to really good news like this given how disconnected they've been.

AM and I've just hung out this evening. Having something of a vegan "junk food" dinner and watching episodes of Later... with Jools Holland. I've got more cleaned up and put away in the shala room. Yes, in part I've done this by moving everything into the living room, but it gets the majority of it closer to being out of the house.

Maybe it is the Zen practice, but there are times with things that I just feel overwhelmed. Papers seem really tough, maybe that's just because I've been finding some many old papers these past few weeks, and of those things that have stirred up painful memories. I find stuff I wrote, teenage poetry and the like, and I'm not sure what to do with it. Part of me really wants to keep it, but part of me just wants to be rid of it all. I think I'm going to get some shelves for the shala and my room, with baskets to hold these papers. At least if they're away maybe I'll feel better about having them around.

Last night, before going to bed I'd sent MT my article for Ink on the Cat. She hasn't written back, although I don't expect that people are always going to be into their email on weekends, and I find myself wishing she would! Somehow, for all the poetry I've shown people over the years I feel anxious about this bit of prose. It is very personal and the prose is more revealing, exact than the concise words of a poem. I'm also talking about how I've felt excluded, so it feels revealing to share it.


Long Car Ride, Evening Bike Rides

I woke up earlier than I wanted to. Since CK wasn't going out to the coast with AM & I we were going to leave a little later and I'd hoped to sleep in, especially after having tossed at turned a bit at 4AM. Despite all of that I was up at just past 7AM. I lingered in bed but couldn't get back to sleep and eventually took my laptop downstairs and sat on the rug in the sun talking to AM.
He took his breakfast outside to the deck and I sat inside with mine, reading aloud the article I'd written to send for Ink on the Cat. I have used this method for a very long time with writing of mine, even sometimes in technical writing I'll stop and read bits out loud to myself to make sure the words flow together well.
CK came online and we chatted. I'd just sent her the final version and she liked it very much. I am nervous about sharing myself in this way. I used to share my poetry in college, but rarely read it aloud to anyone, anywhere. Writing prose about my thoughts and feelings feels in some ways even more revealing than poetry. Plus I just haven't written a lot of poems lately. Occasional hakiu drop in here and there, but few poems.

Then it was quick into the shower and on the road. Too many hours in the car today although AM and I did meet some very sweet, helpful people which made it worth it. AM & I headed out to Astoria today to meet some folks and in trying to see a bit of road I'd not before we ended up stuck behind the chaos of the Hood to Coast run! It took us over an hour to go 12 miles.

This was since we didn't have nearly the time to spend with the people we were visiting. We then headed back home catching still more of the Hood to Coast traffic around Seaside. Once we were back on Hwy. 26 we made quick time back to Portland. I tried to read a little of The Science of Breath in preparation for the teacher training starting September 5th.
I was so worn out from being in the car, my legs just ached. It was nice to spend the day hanging out with AM, talking and just enjoying each other's company, but I was sick of being in the car when we got home at 6:45PM. I let CK know I was home and got my stuff together. I hopped on the bike and rode over in the warmth of the evening.


I'm finally getting to my post for the 4th on the fifth since just now the house is settling down. Turned out to be a very full, busy, good day.

I woke up at 8AM feeling groggy from going to bed at nearly midnight and having taken some melatonin to be sure I rested better than I had Wednesday night. My back hurt, I felt slow and a little nauseated. AM and I got up and went to New Seasons to get some shopping for the day in ahead of crowds. We wanted to get things done early too so we would have food to take out to the monastery for the Fourth of July, pan-Buddhist picnic.

AM checked in with me if I still wanted to go all the way out to the picnic; I had to admit I didn't look like I felt like I was up to it. But I pressed on ahead with the cookies I wanted to make and AM worked on making some potato salad. We realized that it would work best if he stayed home -- AM wanted to clean the house and get some things done that wouldn't otherwise get done if all three of us went to the picnic. CK and I ended up heading out to Clatskanie together, enjoying the day of food and sharing.

CK's mother phoned while we were out at Great Vow, leaving a worried sounding voice message. CK had sent her a letter on Wednesday telling her mom about our relationship. On the drive home CK and I talked a lot about choosing a relationship path that is so widely different from the cultural norm. Not only does it require us to be very creative and painstakingly honest, but it becomes a challenge to everyone we meet and share this information with.

I've been moving forward to tell members of my Zen community about my relationships and the state of things. On Thursday my therapist noted that the responses I've gotten must be very validating. I hadn't recognized it as such at that point, which isn't out of the normal for me. Now, after a couple of days I'm starting to feel that. The idea that I'm really going to be able to be truly authentic and the world won't blow up in my face. It is so hard to relax into idea, the instinct to brace for impact, to make myself small, is so ingrained.

CK ended up talking with her mom for a while, sitting out in the car so she'd have quiet. KW and D came over. We got together veggie brats, tofu & tempeh burgers, AM had made more potato salad, I sliced up some watermelon. All the while I worried that the conversation was going poorly, worried that CK was having to suddenly defend something that is a source of happiness and nurturing in her life. After nearly an hour I couldn't stand it and tried to peer inconspicuously out the dining room window into the car. I felt huge relief when I finally was able to confirm a genuine smile on CK's face.

Fireworks of a personal nature. Lighting something, throwing it up into the air and hoping the world greats it with appreciation. There's a chance that you'll throw something up and it will go all wrong; either a dud or sparks flying dangerously close to important things. There's also a chance that everyone will have a glimpse of the true possibility in the world.