Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.



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.


Mind States

I am mindful that I have been craving chocolate cake pretty much all day long. I have come to know that I crave cake (particularly), cookies and other sweet, baked goods when I am feeling distracted by anxiety and/or feeling angry with myself. It was intensified by a chocolate ice cream cake being served at a potluck at work today. Watching people enjoy it I was mindful that I was alright with the bowl of fresh berries I had, they were very tasty, but that I should have brought a cookie for myself.

There's a mailing list maintained at Great Vow you can get added to and each week a Mindfulness Task will be sent to you. It is part of an experiment in a Year of Mindfulness that Chozen is writing about next. We're on week 7 and today I got this in an email from Kyoku:

This week our task concerns recognizing and working with mind states. Part 1 of our task is to check our mind states a few times during the day and identify our mood or predominant feeling tone. When we recognize a negative mood, part 2 of our task is to use creativity and practice tools to see if we can change negative moods (e.g., stressed, sad, angry, discouraged) to neutral or positive mind states (e.g., calm, creative, playful, generous).

What are some tools we can use to effect change? Some favorites that we have practiced with in other weeks include stop and breathe, Metta (loving kindness) practice, smile, take refuge in sangha – the company or counsel of excellent friends, exercise or do physical work, silly walking and of course meditation and investigation. How well do these work, especially in the moment? What works best for you in different moods and circumstances? We each need to be creative in working with our unique character and circumstances.

Remembering that mind states are continually changing and that each has value we are cultivating emotional intelligence. To use a mind state to its full advantage we must make effort first to be aware of mood, next to recognize the feeling tone and then gradually develop an understanding of how the mood arises and what works to transform it. This is freedom.

Just in time for me feeling cranky and angry with myself.

Last night I sat doing some zazen before lying down to sleep. I felt anxious, sad, and could get a sense of the swirling anger of my inner critic. I was stinging with having this anger pointed out to me. Being reminded how ridiculous and unfounded it is for me to be angry at myself or try to blame myself. It is so perversely comfortable to remain in the wash of anxiety than to let go of the belief that somehow I just could have worked harder, done a better job.

Back to basics of Metta practice, just focusing on myself. Breathing in compassion, breathing out loving-kindness. Still, present and seeking the source of the anger.

At least around the weight one thing presented itself in the silence. There is a part of my anger at my family for fostering disordered behavior towards food and body image. Mixed in that is more grief, more sadness for the child me who never had any chance to have a reasonable, healthy relationship with food. I feel set up by the adults in my childhood, set up to have become an obese adult - just like they all were. I feel sad, hurt by the reality that food, such a basic was just one more way in which my family was unsafe, unsupportive.

Chozen has said it to me again and again now. Metta is the only protection that is needed. It is the best tool I have at my disposal. I'm so good about sending Loving-Kindness outwards, but I just to have to keep it focused on me, that I am deserving of as much of it as there is.


Fatigue and Food

I had in mind to write about something else today, but I find myself as fatigued at the end of the day as I was when it started. I was up a little past 5AM, I believe Zonker was involved, I went down to the bathroom and came back to bed to finish a little more sleep. My whole right side ached, shoulder to foot.

I turned off my alarm and decided to work from home. The Outback was due back from the mechanic and it would be helpful to have me around when it was finished. I felt hugely fatigued even having gone to bed a little earlier on Tuesday. I also needed some quiet to work on the database I'm building. I drifted in and out of fitful sleep, uncomfortable, it was hard to drag myself back to fully awake a little while later.

Meetings all went far more quickly than usual and I was able to start working on the databases. It has been a long time since I've worked on databases and usually always worked with someone else. I do some research, make progress, stop, do more research, inch forward. That's how it goes. It is tiring and by 4:45PM my eyes and head ached from it.

I got my things together and rode over to Prananda. With the fires in the area the air quality is a bit poor and it has felt more difficult to breath. Sometimes the ride over is very energizing, tonight it was just the way I go to asana practice. I felt fatigued during the practice and by the end my body seemed very heavy.

Made my way slowly up the long climb on Denver. I was thinking how hard these climbs are, but when I finally turned on Ainsworth and could enjoy the flat for a while I was enjoying myself again. Simplistic analogy for the constant changes of life. When it is a climb, when we're having to really work and the breath strains we're often not so enamored of the moment. When there's a nice coast downhill or a flat surface to just enjoy the movement on, then it is easy to enjoy the moment, even wish for it to last longer.

I finally got to CK's flat and was out of breath to the point of coughing, which is how my asthma shows up. I sat on the sofa for several minutes just drinking water and getting my breath back. After a little bit I got up to neti and that helped with feeling like it was hard to breathe, somewhat. The ride here from Prananda is pretty taxing, especially since I'd already felt fatigued starting out. I'm thrilled to be able to do it, but it is pushing a little.

CK made us squash (zucchini and sunburst) sauteed with soy tempeh served along side a grain mix from Trader Joe's. I'd pointed her to this mix of Israeli cous cous, red quinoa, orzo, and split peas and was glad she enjoyed it as much as I do. It was a simple, hearty and very delicious meal. For dessert we had a nectarine and pluot sliced up with some walnuts. The rich, earthy note of the occasional walnut pairing so nicely against the tart-sweet flesh of the fruits. The whole meal is a good reminder of just how simple food can be yet be so completely satisfying. It doesn't need additives or fancy preparation/presentation.

Sometimes I believe this is one of the core things that has gone wrong with food culture in my country. The appreciation of simple food is either lost or considered elitist. Food must be fast, plentiful, and make you feel good about yourself (hence the surge in popularity in "functional foods" containing omega-3 fatty acids, extra fiber, green tea, etc.). If it isn't cheap, it must be fancy to the point of being excessive. And it should taste the same across the entire country.

It shouldn't be this way at all. The fruit we had tonight was succulent and bursting with intense, delightful flavors because it is the height of the season for it. It is whole, complete and perfect. It doesn't need any packaging or additives because nothing truly can enhance it. If I need more omega 3, or 6, fatty acids I'll have more flax or hemp oil. If I happen to need more fiber I have brown rice and more of those delicious fruits and fresh vegetables because that's what is naturally chock full of them.

There are times I worry about our society because the very building blocks of it, the food we consume, isn't truly recognizable as food anymore. Enormous companies spend millions of dollars telling people to eat this way, that it is convenient, economical, and completely normal. I'm left wondering how can we nurture our world when we have let ourselves become unable to nurture ourselves?