Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Unexpected News

CK was feeling gradually worse at the Dharma Center this evening. The cough has been coming back, which is worrisome. I do feel some relief knowing she's had a chest x-ray that showed no problems. She wasn't feeling well enough to sit, fighting the coughing, and was going to bicycle home. I decided to drive us both home.

Good thing. Being home early meant I was home to get a phone call from my Mother. My cousin in the hospital, in Seattle. She had two strokes in the left, frontal area of her brain. Mom was talking fast, but I believe she said they were ischemic strokes. The first one Friday, the second probably Saturday. Her husband fought with her a couple of days before getting her to agree to let him take her to urgent care (normal behavior for her).

She also has diabetes they found out at the hospital. She has some paralysis and speech impairment. She doesn't want to see anyone yet. Her husband is distraught. So is my Mom, she is really close to MJ.

I felt the hard agate of the mala on my wrist. "Do Metta." I swear I could hear Chozen & Hogen say to me. So I did, just sitting, feeling my breath, feeling the earth in the beads on my wrist and offering loving-kindness to relieve the fear everyone is feeling right now.

I'm glad we ended up at home tonight regardless of the reason.

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My Dad’s Inhaler

In the May 2009 Bronchitis Saga I've had to break down and use an albuterol inhaler again.

This feels really bad, like some kind of defeat. I haven't needed to use albuterol for my asthma in years. Since changing to a vegetarian, then vegan diet it hasn't bothered me nearly as much. I went from having to use it for emergencies about every other month, and daily if I had bronchitis (usually twice a year), to not having used it since 2002.

Until this week. I've been so out of breath and coughing really hard. The one I still had kicking around was really old (2001) so my doctor prescribed a new one for me. We both agreed that I should have one regardless of the bronchitis in case I did have an emergency.

Yesterday, feeling incredibly short of breath, I finally broke down and had the prescription filled. The little excursion to the pharmacy left me utterly exhausted & shaky for the rest of the day. I also was coughing a lot yesterday and stayed home from the Dharma Center again, which feels unsettling having been away two weeks.

When I got back home and opened up the package I realized why the brand-name, Proventil, sounded familiar. After dumping out the contents of the box my hands held my Dad's inhaler. This felt pretty creepy.

My Dad died December 11, 2009. I was there. Well, actually I was outside when it happened, fixing the wooden reindeer in his yard that had fallen forward on its nose, something that would have bugged him. He died while I was outside taking care of his Christmas decorations.

The death certificate would say that the cirrhosis (alcoholic) beat the COPD (smoker) as the cause of death. I don't keep bottles of Seagram's around the house, not sure if I would. But it felt unsettling seeing same inhaler he used, the ones I'd see around his house, by the side of of is bed. Especially since I was using it.

So much of my life is driven to not become my family. Sometimes our greatest lessons in life come from watching teachers who show us what not to do. My family members represented all of the six realms of existence - distracted by desires (human), anger (hell), craving (hungry ghosts), at the mercy of instinctive response (animal), envy (jealous titans), and pride & indifference (gods). Having spent the past decade plus separating myself from years of unhealthy training it feels like something of a failure to be using the same inhaler my Dad used.

Yeah, totally unreasonable. There's a big part of me that knows that and I'm trying really hard not to let that part beat me up about the fact that I'm still kind of creeped out by using the same inhaler as my Dad before he died. It isn't a failure, it is just bronchitis.

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A Vegan Way

It was in 2006, after being a vegetarian for a little over 5 years, I really decided to just switch to a vegan diet. Primarily I was making a final attempt to get my high cholesterol down. I also had started to seriously look at the way dairy cows are treated. It was bothering me.

When I started teaching yoga in October 2005 I also began to incorporate the other "limbs" into my practice. I started attending zazen, somewhat irregularly at first, with the Zen Community of Oregon. This helped me look closely at the cultivation of concentration, meditation, and wisdom. It was while I was taking a class on Life Vows from Hogen that I vowed to uphold the Yamas, the "Rules of Life" in yoga practice.

The first of the Yamas is ahimsa, non-harming. I'd read some things about the Buddhist Precepts at ZCO and found that the first Grave Precept is to not kill, but to affirm life. I also had spent a lot of time reflecting upon Thich Nhat Hahn's book Anger which begins with a discussion of diet. He felt that it was important that we not consume, nourish these bodies which practice, with the panicked, dying, suffering energy of an animal slaughtered for food.

In the spring of 2006 those things came together for me after listening to Howard Lyman speak at the NW Veg VegFest. After spending a day listening to people talk about dairy I finally committed myself to doing what had been considering doing for months, I stopped eating all dairy products the next day. That was the last step, I became a vegan.

Because I live in Portland this was a fairly easy transition. I just became used to assuming that most places I went to, most gatherings I attended, would not have food I would eat. I would make dishes and bring them to share to be certain I would have something as well as show how tasty vegan food was. Most of the time it didn't matter, sometimes it hurt to feel the way this choice put me even further outside of the mainstream.

My focus all along has been to improve my health. To avoid as many as the diseases that plagued the women in my family - diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attacks, angina, and obesity. Once dairy was taken out of my diet I began to lose weight again, finally dropping the last 40 pounds to have my weight fall into the "healthy" range for my height.

The weight loss alone caused my doctor to shake his head and smile, but when my cholesterol started to drop dramatically he told me not to change anything I was doing. By 2008 my cholesterol had dropped 100 points and I was still losing a few pounds. I went in for a chemical stress test to get a clear picture of how my heart was doing and was told that people 10 years younger than me should have a heart working as well. This spring my doctor called me "skinny".

I feel as though my commitment to changing my diet to improve my health has created space for me to appreciate the choice of being a vegan even more. Over the past several years I've moved more and more to trying to buy organic products, local ones where possible. I have never lost the lessons of the Outdoor School program, of the interconnectedness of everything on the planet and how the choices I make do matter. A vegan diet is an environmentally responsible one that makes a commitment to improving the health of the planet.

When I was at the Loving-Kindness sesshin this past April I had a lot of opportunity to think about this. Because the sesshin really awakened some emotions long buried during my childhood the feeling that I was not included was rather intense at times, especially on nights where during formal tea everyone else would be served a beautiful, fancy cookie while I was served the same store-bought ones I'd brought out to the monastery. One night there were steamed carrots, but only a very small portion without butter set aside for me and it brought up sad feelings.

Later that night, in the dark, cool zendo I would have time to breath through and comfort the child inside of me who felt left out, hurt. In my mind I talked with her about the importance of not having the fancy cookie, that the cookies I'd brought from the store were ones I liked and that I still got a cookie with everyone else. By the time I was served the same cookie I had most of the week that child inside of me and I were both OK with.

What had hit me through keenly feeling the separateness of my vegan diet was that I have been slowly moving my life towards peace. That is what the path of yoga and zen is for me. It is the cultivation of tranquility and calm-abiding. For me there is absolutely no question that the literal foundation must be nourished by food that supports this path. Since we are constantly in change, our cellular structure constantly going through the death/birth cycle, then the base components for that structure must nourish peace. This is how my practice is built, it begins with what I put into my body.



So the cold that arrived last Tuesday manifested into a hard, dry cough by Friday. Monday I phoned my doctor's office to see about some more samples of the new allergy medication. I mentioned the cough, shortly there after I actually coughed and my doctor's nurse said, "So, we'll see you at 11:30, OK."

Not really a question and 11:30 found me waiting at my doctor's office. His nurse frowned when she heard me cough. He frowned when he heard it.

I was complaining about the lousiness of my health this spring. A sinus infection and now mild bronchitis. My doctor was quick to point out that I was not nearly as bad sounding as I had been in the past and that I'd not had bronchitis in nearly 4 years.

I was born with asthma and upper respiratory allergies. Not seasonal allergies, I have things that trigger me all year round. Growing up this constantly left me short of breath and prone to illness. Through my 20s I regularly got bronchitis in addition to really suffering from allergies. Sometimes 3 times a year. I would spend autumn through spring battling bronchitis and other types of upper respiratory infections. The only time I've been hospitalized as an adult was for a viral pulmonary infection I got one August, right after the first full WOMAD festival. I've even manage to crack a couple of ribs coughing.

This all changed when I stopped eating meat and has only continued to improve. My respiratory allergies and tendency toward bronchitis has gotten so much better that at times it has felt like I don't have asthma anymore. It has seemed miraculous to me, my doctor, and my mother. So much so that a couple of years ago my doctor made a point to conduct a breathing test on me when I felt great.

I was feeling so optimistic about this test but it triggered a mild asthma attack. I didn't need any medication for it, just space to breathe. My doctor smiled, noted that I was amazingly improved, but I still have asthma.

The past few days have been an unwelcome reminder of it. I feel so tired and short of breath that it is hard to do much of anything. I even took a nap in the middle of the day today. I hardly ever take naps! Deep, yoga breathing causes me to start coughing. The coughing makes my whole body ache. On top of that I feel anxious that I'm not getting enough done.

I'm sure my teachers would point out that when sick, just be sick. I find this tedious and difficult, to just be sick and I've been fighting it for a week now.

Tonight CK went to some developer groups. I usually teach, but I'd phoned Dishman earlier and they canceled tonight's class - extending the last spring series out a week to make up for it. After she left I mindfully took a long, hot bath with bubbles and I read from the novel she got me for my birthday, 'Lavina'. Afterwards I had some dinner.

I don't feel cured by just relaxing tonight, which some part of me is mildly annoyed at, but it did feel good to just relax into the quiet of the evening. I'm really hoping I feel better tomorrow.

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