Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.

16Oct/170

Willingness Gratitude

I've had another tough day, so much so that I've really had to start writing to figure out my gratitude for today. For a moment I thought it might be the fact that tomorrow is another day and I can put this day to rest. However, as I wrote a little bit, it occurs to me that I'm grateful for my willingness to unlearn old patterns of behavior that now, at age 48, really hold me back from flourishing personally, professionally, and in my relationships with the people I love.

Sometimes I really feel like a badly programmed robot.

Having been an isolated, only child and my Mother's predilection for moving nearly every year of school, I often am left feeling that I'm lacking in communication skills. Beyond the isolation of being an only child, my Mother used "grounding" as a frequent form of punishment, limiting me to my bedroom except to go to school and the bathroom. I believe I often would even get a plate fixed in the kitchen and eat by myself in my bedroom. I never thought of sneaking out as a teen, by then I was too afraid of her to even consider trying it.

People who know me primarily as a yoga teacher might be surprised to know that I don't feel like I'm great at communicating. In my years in technology my communications skills were always credited as a contributing reason for promotions, raises, and bonuses. In the realm of more public communication, those connections that feel a little less personal and intimate, I'd say my skills are better than average.

My teacher likes to use the phrase, "Professional Extrovert", which is pretty apt. I can be fairly easy with a group of people in front of me, but one-on-one interactions often feel so much harder and I'll find myself thinking, "How do real humans do this connection shit?!". In the worst case scenarios I freeze up and fall back into old patterns of behavior that don't really help in the present day, and often create more problems.

Knowing it, being aware of it, and being any good at stopping it are all every different parts of the work to do to change behavior. I'm still on the first two and trying to figure out how to get good at stopping it instead of stopping it through painful communication failures. How do I reprogram the routines that convince me that quiet retreat and productivity are the answer, because they always did improve things for my abusive Mother?

Today it feels like there are no answers, however, I am willing to keep digging into the mess of it all, to do the rewiring of old patterns.

 

15Oct/170

Practice Gratitude

Woke up congested and headachy after a night of strange dreams. Skipped all the plans I'd had lined up for the day and tried to get stuff done around the house. I also wanted to be around to offer any support to my wife, who was deeply down today.

Just over 12 years ago I became a yoga teacher. In doing so, it felt very important to me to really step up my practice. I wanted to do more than just the postures and breath work, I wanted to really start practicing with meditation as well as the Yamas and Niyamas, the guidelines for ethical living the are part of the whole practice of yoga.

As I went through my training to become an Integrated Movement Therapist I started to think about how I could help myself address areas in my life I feel I struggle with. Big things, like shame. Smaller things too, like getting better at keeping the dishes done and walking the dogs regularly. How could I "yoga" these areas and would drawing them into my sphere of practice help me?

A common saying in Zen:

Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.

It doesn't matter if something astounding happens, the practice is in the details of everyday living. Doing practice well and getting a cookie isn't the goal, the willingness to show up is the real heart of practice.

For me understanding that willingness has helped me to let go of some idea of perfection in practice. Stop looking for that perfect moment of clarity in meditation and just make peace with calming observing the agitation of my mind. Accepting there is no perfect asana, just what the body feels in that moment as being strong or soothed, or just a sense of well-being in movement. Practice has taught me that I can experience discomfort and still be just fine.

Yoga has been, and will continue to be, a powerful teacher. Given how much it has taught me already, I'm hopeful that trying to apply my practice to the practicalities of being a householder will be of benefit to me. I am so grateful for my practice.

14Oct/170

Dogs Gratitude

I suspect I'll end up writing about companion animals a lot, they bring a lot of comfort and love to my life. Today has been tough, I'm hurting for my wife over a family issue that has left her feeling "superfluous", which is a pretty terrible way to feel. Given that it is around an important family event, feeling left out is especially painful. I'd given anything to make it better for her.

This comes less then 24-hours after my wife got home from a stressful business trip too. We had been looking forward to watching the finals game for the National Womens Soccer League together. While we did get to watch it together and our team won, the whole day has been overshadowed by the pain of connections breaking down.

Before the game our younger dog was beginning to act a little wild. Rather than have a rambunctious dog to contend with while trying to watch the game, I decided to take the dogs out for a walk. It was sunny, crisp and beautiful out and the dogs and I got a good walk in, up to our neighborhood park.

The dogs are such comfort and companionship to both of us. When my wife is traveling, they provide me a lot of reassurance as well. We hadn't intended to end up with two dogs, the youngest was an impulse decision to take on a puppy who's owner had become neglectful. It was pretty rough going for all of us for a while, but it has been getting easier and the dogs have really bonded a lot over the past year.

Somedays I'm not wild about trying to get a walk in, but today it was really helpful. Like many things in life, I'm trying to interpret the habit of thinking, "I have to walk the dogs.", making it instead, "I get to walk the dogs." I get to watch their curiosity as well as their determination. I love the way they want us to feel good, our older dog hasn't wanted to leave my wife's side all day, aside from that walk. Today's walk, just breathing and moving with the dogs, helped me manage my own anxiety and refocus my energy on offering support where I could.

13Oct/170

Safe Vehicle Gratitude

Today we had an autumn storm in Portland. As I was heading home after teaching I first encountered heavy rain and lightening. Then very heavy rain, thunder, and lightening. Then the hail began. Water was standing and running down the interstate.

As I was making my way steadily through it to get home, I had some extra time to reflect upon how grateful I am for the van I drive. Purchased with the sales money after selling my old house, the van was picked for a camping option. Mere months after it became ours I spent two weeks camping in it while at residential yoga teacher training.

When we had a foot of snow this past winter, the van is what got me out to teach and kept us stocked up. It lets me move a large amount of yoga props, enough for 10 people for a fully Restorative Yoga session, all at once. This summer we camped overnight in it with the dogs before seeing the eclipse.

Last week I was camping in it again while assisting at the same residential yoga teacher training. I look forward to further adventures in the van and I'm so grateful for the safe, steady ride it provides us.

12Oct/170

Self-Care Gratitude

Last night I realized that I'd been optimistic about the number of things I'd want to do the first week back from retreat. This morning, before teaching, I contacted a friend I'd been planning to see this afternoon and asked to reschedule. This gave me more downtime at home after teaching my morning classes. Time to catch up on some household tasks, walk the dogs, and feel a little more rested.

Over the past few years I've got better about telling people I can't make it rather than try and push myself through. The years where I could just keep pushing myself are long-gone, thankfully, and I have to make time to rest. I've become someone who naps when I'm tired, tries hard to get at least 7 hours of sleep, if not 8.

A topic my new therapist explored with me was self-care. She's worked with a lot of people who are in caring professions who respond with a blank look when asked about self-care practices. I was glad to be able to honestly tell her that, while I'm not always great about doing it, I do have practices. I also try and practice what I teach, so I journal, meditate, do yoga movement, and have a gratitude practice.

Learning self-care for me was a crash course, necessitated by health crises. I'm grateful for the skills I've learned and continue to learn about caring for myself. It has taken me a while to see that caring for myself is really helping care for the people I love in the long-run; I can't be of help to anyone if I'm too burnt out.

11Oct/170

Rain Gratitude

Today I had my first session with my new mental health provider, an art therapist. I was anxious, which left me dropping things and forgetting things, ultimately leaving me running late. I was grateful we didn't dive right into art today, although I did get to play with some Sculpy clay. She had me pick out my favorite color and gave me a package to play with, she'd recalled that EMDR had been effective for me and that playing with clay would provide bilateral stimulation. I even got to take my clay home with me, which for some reason really pleased me and felt special.

Therapy is important, I've given myself a break from looking for a new therapist after my EMDR person moved. My training program had me in on-going therapy and mentoring sessions pretty much every week, so it seemed just fine to take some time off. Now that I'm done, it is time to start back up again.

I'm feeling much more stable, less anxious overall and depression not leaving me feeling as low. This makes it a good time to begin a new relationship, I'm not in crises mode and am managing my Complex PTSD well. Not only will it give me additional resources when my own work with people stirs up my own trauma history, but I will have a resource in place when my missing memories at age 14 decide to surface. I also want support as I work though the shame that drives both my anxiety and my depression, getting in the way of authentic connection with the people I love.

While it makes for a busy morning, I think having these sessions before teaching two yoga classes will work for me. Teaching grounds me, especially for the times when therapy leaves me feeling stirred up.

Today though, it just meant I was tired and having some lunch only left me feeling more tired. The dogs and I were due to go for a walk, but it began pouring rain, then the thunder began. Rather than a walk I ended up with the dogs and the cats on the bed, napping between reassuring the younger dog that the thunder didn't indicate danger.

I love the sound of the rain falling, especially when I'm warm and cozy inside. Today it felt like especially needed self-care, snuggling the dogs and the cats, snoozing while the sound of rain filled the room. I was so grateful to be dry and warm, able to take this time to just rest after an anxious morning. I am grateful too for the rain falling, not only for the soothing sound of it falling against our home, but for the nourishment it is bringing to the still dry forests, to our yard and neighborhood.

The summer was hot and dry, as we walk on the forest path near our home there are still dry cracks in the ground and the paths are baked hard. As the rains of autumn have returned to Portland, all around plants are bursting into new growth. Flowers are awash in color as last blooms appear with the rain. I'm grateful for the return of cloudy days and rain falling.

13Aug/170

Grateful Rain

I keep putting off getting back to writing thinking I need some massive "catch up" post, butI don't really. It is just a reason and not a terribly good one. Poetry is bringing me back, something I connected with as a writer at a young age, poetry and the practice of writing.

It rained in Portland after weeks without any along with long days of hot weather. I heard it last night as I was drifting off to sleep and was overjoyed to bursting to see it this morning when I took the dogs out. Despite feeling heavy with sorry, anger, and horror at the deaths in Charlottesville yesterday due to another white, male American terrorist, I felt such a welling up of gratitude at seeing the rain breathing in the smell of ground that comes with fresh rain.

Soft raindrops falling.
Welcome lull from Summer's heat.
The garden drinks deep.

29Nov/160

November Blues

Realizing I haven't posted since my birthday. I had a bit of a slump around my birthday, just spent some downtime, teaching classes and resting on many levels.

I've since been regrouping on all the tasks to complete after finishing my Advanced training in Integrated Movement Therapy, seeing clients, having meetings with my mentor, writing. Then it was October, which arrived uncharacteristically wet. We were overwhelmed with garden produce, unable to get to a lot of it processed.

A guest in October left leaving us feeling exhausted and anxious. About the time it felt like my energy was picking up, well the election happened. The next day each of my three yoga classes had students crying in them, which was a lot of energy to contain and hold gently, tenderly. I was exhausted utterly at the end of that day, the next morning I awoke with a fever and sore throat. That quickly turned into a hacking cough. Missed classes, came back to teaching too soon, relapsed and ended up missing out on the first real rest and treat I'd planned for myself at a yoga & art retreat out at the Oregon Coast.

I'll be wrapping up the last of my to-do items before applying to my internship, I'm not too far off my original goals for my program. I'm grateful to have been able to keep focused on this goal while at the same time working on completing my business plan. This week I'm submitting my application for a small seed grant for starting my business, which I'll be using to pay for internship costs. Things are coming together nicely even with needing some downtime around my birthday.

I'm trying to keep focused on all the I've been getting done, because once again this year November has rolled in with rain, dark, and some serious blues.

Trying to be gentle with myself. November and December bring together the anniversaries of 3 deaths: My Dad (step-father) died in December 2000, the a little over 11 months later my biological father died in November 2011. Next month also marks the first year since my Mother died last December. The year my Mother did her best to blow up our lives, that all started in November, continuing on through into the New Year. When I keep in perspective that these last two months of the year have just held a lot of grief.

Which means this year won't be the year the blues don't stroll on into my life in November. Another year of practicing appreciating what I am getting done and reminding myself that these blues aren't here forever and in a few weeks the light will slowly begin to return.

27Aug/160

Here and Now

All told I've opted for a really quiet birthday this year. We're having a leisurely morning then going on a hike & letterbox hunt at a park not too far from our house. We'll picnic and then come home to garden. It is going to be a pretty wonderful day spent with some of my favorite beings.

I'm celebrating my first birthday since my Mother died this past winter. It has felt at times pretty rough, although given that my last birthday-related communication from her was deliberately hurtful, it is also something of a relief. More steps into this strange, new world where my Mother no longer can hurt me. Still, it has made this birthday seem a little less celebratory in some ways.

In other ways it feels like an enormous milestone. Over the past 16 years I've completely changed my life to live more healthfully and more ethically. I don't have as much of a comparison to my Father's family, since they've always been estranged, but on my Mother's side the later half of the 40s, if not the early half, came with one or more prescriptions for managing heart disease and/or Type II Diabetes. Hypertension, high cholesterol, and dangerously high blood glucose levels all ran in my family. Women tended to die of strokes or some type of heart failure. Obesity was also something that just began to happen after high school. It was the normal behavior for pretty much all the women in my family, always on an endless cycle of dieting, binging, stress-eating, etc.

To be 47 years old, not obese and not on a single medication for heart disease or diabetes is an enormous accomplishment.

Yes, I take daily medications. I take things that help me live with the chronic pain from my back due to degenerative disc disease and I take things to help me manage the anxiety and depression that arise from my C-PTSD. Those and things to further support my overall health, like a daily multivitamin! That's it though, and that is something that my Mother would make out as if I'd performed some kind of miracle instead of giving me the credit for working really very hard indeed to change my life, to steer myself toward health.

In a way I don't think I'd ever thought I'd be here now. Bigger than the still daily shock of recalling that I stopped working in tech nearly 3 years ago. I really doubted my health for so many years, internalizing my Mother's never-ending medical crises until I started to believe that I was next, I'd get cancer and die. I'd have a heart attack. I'd get congestive heart failure too.

Yet here I am.

I'm still figuring out how to engage around doing work with other people, which still feels challenging to get back into but I'm slowly learning the boundaries of my ability to work on projects again. I'm at a point now that I don't think I really could go back into the stress of the kind of tech work I did for nearly 2 decades, even very occasional meetings tends to increase my anxiety. Not that I really want to go back to tech in any way, sometimes I just miss the money and it briefly crosses my mind. That's when I recall the tone of my doctor's voice when she describes my health a few years ago as being in "acute crises" and "on the verge of hospitalization".

I'm learning how to be a business owner, luckily with the help of a program for "dislocated workers" that provides me with free training and support from a business advisor. I'm close to completing my business plan and then can submit it for a small seed grant from the program. I came from such a blue collar family that being a business owner, trying to get my brain around how business works, feels like such an unexpected experience.

So much about my life now is unexpected, not at all what I used to be planning for. 47 sees me watching for sales and trying to do our grocery shopping strategically, cooking more inexpensive meals at home. I am reminded of the frugality, the barest of minimum my Mother and I lived with for long stretches at a time. It isn't always easy and I do miss my tech salary. That said, my life now is so full of richness, wonder, delight, and love. There are so many things I continue to discover are possible when I don't work 50-60 hours a week, including connecting deeply with CK over gardening as well as having time to really appreciate all the things, including beautiful flowers, she brings to my life.

I'm so grateful to be here now, in this life, with this health, and with the support of the loving beings that now surround me. I'm teaching 9-12 Yoga classes a week now and continuing to work towards completing my certification in Integrated Movement Therapy. I'm stretching my confidence slowly in regards to my art, but continue to explore the ideas that come to me as both a way of creating beauty and to let myself use my art as a way to express the journey I've been on as I heal.

Having come all this way through all this welter
Under my own power,
I've earned this worn-down, hard, incredible sight called Here and Now.

I've taken liberty a bit with some lines above from a poem by Northwest poet, David Wagoner, "Getting There". It's a poem that has continued to open and unfold for me since discovering it when I was 15 or so. It feels appropriate to put it here again, it has been in my mind the past several days as this birthday approached.

Getting There
by David Wagoner

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.

8Mar/160

Calm Abiding

This past Saturday would have been my Mother's 73rd birthday. It made the week feel a little fragmented, but I was upfront with people about it. With CK's encouragement I made it off to the Collage Guild meet-up and worked on a few pieces, including this one that veered off the month's theme project quite a bit and is still in process.

In the evening I went over and saw a friend I've not seen in many years. She's moved many times, in pursuit of her studies in medicine, and because I have a hard time getting out. She had a clothing swap Saturday evening and I arrived with a backup plan to ditch my clothes and leave, but ended up staying 2 hours, enjoying the company, and scored some great new-to-me clothing.

Perhaps it is the returning light and the cherry blossoms, but I feel as though I weathered the "bump" of that birthday milestone without too much difficulty. Yes, some extra encouragement was asked for and given.

It is becoming easier to think of her as really dead. That's been part of the pain caused by how she planned her death, and my exclusion from it, just this surreal sense of not believing she's really gone and I'll never see her again. It is getting easier to hold onto this reality.

Two boxes of her personal property were sent to me by way my Mother's old pastor. I was teaching and asked him to leave them on the porch since I wouldn't be away long, also saving CK from the need to interact with him. I found myself somewhat baffled as to why I was sent many of the things the people going through her belongings chose to send me.

In the meantime, I'm waiting for my right shoulder to heal so I can start digging up the soggy earth of our yard. The plan is to move several rose bushes, at our house and some from a friend's house, from shady locations to the front edge of our front yard. I have a goal of roses, dahlias, and lots of differing spring bulbs forming a natural border between the road and our yard. For the moment I need the rain to let up a little, buy a lawn destruction tool, and get my shoulder improved so I can use it. There's also a plan for a blueberry bed for the 3 plants we currently have in big nursery pots.

All that and I'm four weeks into a training program for new business entrepreneurs. I was accepted to a pilot program that provides training and other resources to people who are starting a new business after being unable to return back to their old job. Leaving my  old company ill and unable to sleep, and told by my doctor to not go back, ever, qualifies me for a lot of support.

I'm writing a business plan, working on a marking plan, defining my services and customer personae. It is a whole new world to me, I feel like my to-do list for Samatha Yoga grows every week I'm taking this workshop! It is pretty exciting to be exploring actual business planning protocols to my ideas around teaching yoga.

Those weeks stretching long into the cold, darkness of winter, after I found out my Mother had died, just seem to dull the light inside of me. I don't feel fully restored, still yet healing and grieving in bigger ways too, but I feel more of a sense of equilibrium instead of the flat apathy the news brought.

Just recently the dogs seem to have gone beyond just mild friendship, which is to say that Dora not trying to angrily bite Bertie's face off. Yes, she still bites his lips, only now she does it while wagging her tail with excitement and joy while she does it. We've also seen snuggling happening.