Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


As a Result of Poety

I really thought I'd written about haiku, learning the form. It is a cherished memory and activity from the year I was nine. Generally that year was one traumatic event after another, but I also was taught the form of haiku that year. It is a form of poetry I've returned to over and over in my life, although I really moved away from in during my twenties. When I started practicing yoga and zen I noticed that haiku just started to appear in my mind.

And that brings me to this past Friday. My love of haiku has borne fruit, as it were. I am being given a pair of tickets to see the production of 'Snow Falling on Cedars' at Portland Center Stage as a prize for a winter haiku I wrote! They sponsored a concert on Twitter for the best winter-themed haiku, or "snowku" and I submitted this:

Bare branches rattle.
Evergreens shiver and sway.
Winter's breath blows cold.

On Friday they posted a message that I'd won. What a delightful surprise to see appear on my computer screen while working! CK & I'll be going on the 30th and are very much looking forward to it.

I'm trying to take this into my practice too. Ango is approaching and I'm given the gift of a chance to remember the focus Hogen gave me during my first Ango: Appreciate my accomplishments.

I discount my writing a lot while at the same time am anxiously attached to it. I minimize my poetry. I even diminish the accomplishment of having my writing appear in ZCO's publication, Ink on the Cat.

"After all, they're your Sangha, they have to act like they like your writing." says my Inner Critic.

This little surprise of winning these tickets is pretty hard for even my Inner Critic to diminish. I mean someone in the "real world" liked something I wrote. Gosh.

Hah! Take that, Inner Critic!

In Kilauea Iki Crater on the Big Island in August 2009


Dirty Cups

CK bought me two beautiful editions of Rumi's poetry for my birthday. On the flight home from Hawaii I came across the following piece, gorgeously illustrated in The Illuminated Rumi


Step off
proudly into sunlight,
not looking back.

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

I read that as CK dozed next to me on the long flight over what appear to be endless water and clouds, then darkness. It really made me sit up and blink. The last line particularly resonated with me.

Don't mind that you've been given a dirty cup.

I tend to see my life, especially the fragile, bruised beginning, as a "dirty cup". This life where my Inner Critic relentlessly condemns my goals, my present actions, my trauma-triggered responses - the whole of me. To that critical voice my life is a dirty cup, unworthy of pure wine being poured by the Beloved.

Greater than the Inner Critic who immediately deems me as unworthy, is that on many levels I mind. I mind ferociously that I experienced abuse, repeatedly. I mind a world where every step I move towards truth alienates and invites insult from much of the society I live in. I mind the very idea of suppressed memories surfacing unannounced and involuntarily pulling me backwards into misery. I mind tremendously that CK was hurt. I mind that my job frustrates me and leaves me feeling unable to accomplish anything.

Alright, so I mind a lot of things. All those things that stack together in an ugly heap, the dirty cups of my life. I mind them. Some of them I downright resent the hell out of. Some I want to pick up and hurl into the wall I mind them so much.

Which would then leave me without a cup for the pure wine.

Leaning into this suffering to feel compassion for myself is hard, excruciatingly difficult. When I do I almost immediately run into either drowning in grief or completely overwhelmed by fear. Sometimes I kind of ping-pong back and forth between the two. There was a whole lot of that back in April during the Loving-Kindness sesshin.

Yet in fighting these realities, in minding the "dirty cup", I'm staying stuck in the fear and grief. I can touch back to moments during the Grasses, Trees & Great Earth sesshin in August where grief came up and I was just able to be there with it. It wasn't that I didn't cry, but I didn't have the overwhelming fear about crying. I just cried some and the moment of grief passed. I even had a pretty awful memory bubble up and I was also able to stay still with it.

I was so stilled by the outright exhaustion that hit me at the start of the sesshin that I lacked the energy to fight. It even felt like my Inner Critic was quieter, minimized due to the soul-deep fatigue. Regardless of why, it was still a taste of just being present to the grief and able to witness & accept the memories.

The knack of doing this is something I need to cultivate in my practice. Waiting until I am utterly exhausted by the tension isn't terribly sustainable. Besides, I am weary of being exhausted by fear.

I'm also taking Bansho's suggestion and considering a suitably non-threatening, perhaps slightly comical name for my Inner Critic.


Inner Critic Revealed

I'd like to introduce you to my Inner Critic. I talk about her a lot here and a new art project in my Zen community inspired me to catch her in the act.

I had this clever idea to use Photo Booth on my MacBook to "catch" my Inner Critic. Earlier this morning I'd thought about writing down some of the top things I hear from my Inner Critic on a note card and photographing them with me in the background looking angry, disgusted. When I finally got this done this afternoon I found myself really taken aback by the image.

Wow, is that some nasty shit. Inner Bully is more like it.

And yet that's the person I hear nearly constantly. Something about having this image really kind of creeps me out. The enormity of this voice, the judging and harshness of it. The ugliness fully revealed, not just alluded to.

Somehow seeing this visual representation helps me get a grip on why I've felt so self-doubting these past several weeks, why it is so hard to feel any sense of accomplishment when this is the constant negativity I'm bombarded with. No wonder my therapist will interrupt me occasionally during our sessions to remind me, "I don't like it when you talk about Sherri that way!"

Yeah, need to keep working with this voice.

I burned the note card in the fireplace and lit some incense just now. It felt like the right thing to do. A cleansing step.


My Inner Critic

The tasks around Jukai, particularly sewing my rakusu, writing about the Grave Precepts, and making my lineage chart, have riled up my Inner Critic hugely.

What occurred to me tonight, while lying on the bed with a hot bag of flax seeds on my face and doing Metta practice for myself because I feel lousy, was that I've been able to more clearly hear the words of my Inner Critic lately. I've experienced a lot of the sensations of shame, guilt, anxiety, unworthiness, etc. that my Inner Critic builds up in me, but not the words.

It isn't even that I'm arguing with my Inner Critic (that still riles up a lot of childhood anxiety about the consequences of "talking back"). I can just make this internal voice out more clearly, which is kind of different.

My Inner Critic seems at times to be made up of a bored Greek Chorus of 13-14 "cool" kids from middle school. Not the self-conscious & longing to fit in kind of kid, that was me, but the disdainful, judging, mean-spirited kind. Nothing but pure anxiety-inducing spite and sarcasm.

My rakusu? Sucks.
Lineage chart? More sucking.
My writing? Lame. You're such a hack.
My name?! Yeah, right!

You get the picture... Bullying, arrogant, jerks.

In fact, that "Yeah, right!" response to the name given to me was immediate upon hearing Chozen tell me that my name means Peaceful Person. That bored, young-adolescent voice snorted in derision, rolled their eyes and said, "Yeah, right."

I insisted to myself that I was not allowed to start laughing in the zendo, in the middle of Jukai, right after my teacher gave me my name. In retrospect they both probably would have encouraged that laughter to just take form. I was conscious of the same Inner Critic who denies me the right to say I'm "Peaceful" then denied me the option of laughing about it. For a moment there my Inner Critic taking on my Mother's voice about proper behavior.

I'm still juggling how to deal with this voice, or voices it feels like at times. The very fact there is a distinct voice instead of just pure, overwhelming surges of emotion feels like an interesting shift. When I started writing this all down I wondered if some of these sensations would make a little more sense, I'd be able to define the "voices", and maybe that's what's happening now. The combination of the writing practice and the furnace-like intensity of preparing for Jukai have started to reveal some clarity.



Today has been all waves, ups and downs.

It started with feeling tired and a headache. I jumped into communicating with someone in IT on a project that releases next month and before I knew it was past 8. I threw myself together and out the door to catch the bus.

Lunch with AM today and lots of catching up. I'm feeling sad for the relationship troubles he's just gone through, for both he and the person he was seeing. The rest of the day I spent much of trying to get something to work on a coding project only to end the day wanting to scream. Oh how my head pounded. The whine of the router in our new office area does not help.

There was a time when learning a new programming language or systems short cut was exciting, challenging and fun. More and more it isn't that way anymore, I just go straight into feeling dumb that I haven't figured it out yet. Don't know, maybe it is just some short-cut my inner critic has found to really get to me and fast.

Came home cranky and in a rush to change because I'd stayed a little too long at the office before catching the bus. I had no more than 15 minutes of "down" time before leaving again to go teach yoga. I was even just barely on time to start my class! Ugh!

And then teaching yoga does what it nearly always does. I settled down mentally and emotionally. I listened to my student's needs, touched the lineage of yoga and just taught. I felt cooled, centered, and my head felt better.

I put on some lentils to cook to make into a salad and finally faced calling my Mom. After all my stress over telling her I won't be going to the wedding she responded with an, "Oh. OK."

She said she understands how my family hurt me and why I might not want to see them yet. She also really felt like my desire not to have my relationship with CK potentially turn into "Family Drama" at a wedding was reasonable. We made plans to have a late lunch and some thrift store shopping on Sunday.

I made a great, late dinner and got the downside of the wave catching up with my friend JA-N. Her cancer pathology report was sent onto the Mayo Clinc and even they were only able to give a "best guess" as to where the cancer started. The diagnosis, endometrial cancer, suggests a chemotherapy treatment that is known to have the most side-effects. She's scared about it and I totally understand.

In between the surprising Up wave of talking to Mom and the Down wave of catching up on news from my friend there is the middle. I felt the happiness at hearing CK get home from a meeting and now watching Zonker snuggle up to her on the couch. I don't feel unsteadied by any of the news I've received today. I do feel rooted in compassion, especially towards those who are experiencing pain that leaves me feeling sad in response to their suffering.

Metta on the Up waves, on the Down waves, and in the space between the next wave starting.


Is weeping speech?

I've been thinking on the poem I Have Five Things to Say from Rumi, (translated by Coleman Barks, down at the bottom of the post). So many of Rumi's poems leave me feeling as though I've been struck in the heart and this one is no exception. I've only recently been reading some poems from Hafiz and find they too have such depth and such ability to touch the tender places.

I have a lot of internal struggle around crying and have been actively working with it since 2008. One thing I remind myself over and over is that Kwan Yin's response to the cries of the world is to weep. The vessel she is often depicted with contains her tears, which have become a healing elixir. I remember this when my Inner Critic is beating me up for crying, for looking silly because I'm crying, for causing me to worry that I'll be caught crying and punished...

Ugh! I spend a pretty ridiculous amount of time worrying about crying. "Just cry!" is pretty much what all my teachers say to me in one form or another. All of them. It is damn hard to relearn this stuff and some days I feel loads of Bad Student Guilt over seeming to need to hear the same message over and over again.

When I read the line in the poem, "Is weeping speech?" I thought of Kwan Yin, She Who Hears the Cries of the World, and her wordless response, suffused with compassion for all the suffering of the world. Her act to hear terrible suffering and respond with the open vulnerability of crying reminds me of the very positive quality to tears and how they are a way of speaking when words utterly fail us.


The wakened lover speaks directly to the beloved,
"You are the sky my spirit circles in,
the love inside love, the resurrection place.

Let this window be your ear.
I have lost consciousness many times
with longing for your listening silence,
and your life-quickening smile.

You give attention to the smallest matters,
my suspicious doubts, and to the greatest.

You know my coins are counterfeit,
but you accept them anyway,
my impudence and my pretending!

I have five things to say,
five fingers to give
into your grace.

First, when I was apart from you,
this world did not exist,
nor any other.

Second, whatever I was looking for
was always you.

Third, why did I ever learn to count to three?

Fourth, my cornfield is burning!

Fifth, this finger stands for Rabia,
and this is for someone else.
Is there a difference?

Are these words or tears?
Is weeping speech?
What shall I do, my love?"

So he speaks, and everyone around
begins to cry with him, laughing crazily,
moaning in the spreading union
of lover and beloved.

This is the true religion. All others
are thrown-away bandages beside it.

This is the sema of slavery and mastery
dancing together. This is not-being.

Neither words, nor any natural fact
can express this.

I know these dancers.
Day and night I sing their songs
in this phenomenal cage.

My soul, don't try to answer now!
Find a friend, and hide.

But what can stay hidden?
Love's secret is always lifting its head
out from under the covers,
"Here I am!"


Inner Critic Out of Control

Not sure when it happened, but my Inner Critic has gotten the upper hand again.

My therapist today commented in the midst of my ranting about how angry I am at myself, that only I would find some way to manage to avoid giving myself credit for something I've done by saying I was ashamed of having to do it in the first place. I've taken my weight loss and turned it into anger at myself for gaining weight in the first place, a way to beat myself up for something in the past rather than appreciate my accomplishment.

Yes, that sounds even more ridiculous typed up than it did a few hours ago. That's how powerful my inner critic's voice can be. I'm not even sure when it started up, but here I am. Am I that terrified of having people read my writing that this has come up

So back to the hard work of hearing the voice that offers gentle encouragement and reminding. Reconnect again to the part of me that remembers how to over loving-kindness to myself.



It was one of those realizations during zazen that felt like it kind of thumped into me. Why writing about, talking about the weight loss is so difficult.

I feel shame for having gained all that weight in the first place. For having abused my body so much.

Every day I'm reminded of it by the skin. I mention it sometimes, like wanting to wear something with long sleeves to cover my upper arms, the underside of which have a great deal of loose skin. People shrug and say how that happens to a lot of people, it is genetic.

Only really, this isn't like that. It is extra skin. One of my dearest friends, who has had a lap band surgery, calls them her "Bat Wings". More exercise and different body care products will not make the skin go away. There or any of the extra on my belly (upper and lower abdomen), breasts, and thighs particularly. There is quite possibly 10 extra pounds of skin. That's what happens when someone goes from 290+ to 140 +/- (I stay within a few pounds of that in either direction).

I mentioned it to Chozen and Hogen after sitting. I was reminded that instead of shame I need to honor my accomplishment by helping others. I joked with Hogen, asking if he kept a tally sheet under the sazen cushion for how many times I'm told this lesson. He laughed and said only for me. Chozen noted that I needed to go back to the piece I'm writing for her with this mindset.

And Loving-Kindness, of course.

I haven't done it yet. We were in Sacramento all weekend visiting CK's family. It was an inferno there compared to Portland, painfully bright. There was a lot of family dynamics and tension I was getting introduced to at the same time. It brought up some tough stuff in my past.

On top of that CK's step-dad, a professional photographer, took a series of photographs of me. Well over an hour of going through yoga poses again and again, turning to get different angles. It was exhausting on so many levels.

I shouldn't have looked at the images mid-way, but he was making a light adjustment for me to do standing asana, so I looked. He was complimenting my chaturunga, how great it looked to get it in series. He does yoga, so often he had a comment or suggested a couple of poses I hadn't done.

I couldn't stop looking at the way the loose skin on my upper abdomen hangs down. Gravity being what it is there's just this round line. It doesn't matter how strong or lean my core muscles are in my abdomen, nothing will make that skin hang smooth against my body again.

I continued on with the asana, working up a real sweat in the warm house in my yoga outfit with long sleeves and pants. CK expressed surprise several times, noting how I could do some poses she didn't even realize I was capable of. I wasn't able to move away from feeling shameful about my body for a while, it wasn't until I looked at other poses that I could work my way back to appreciating my alignment in the asana the way a teacher would. Moving towards looking at my body as just a students, not actually my own.

Back to the writing for Chozen. Now that I'm out of excuses and have zeroed in on at least one big reason I'm so uncomfortable with it. I suspect there's others but this appears to be a good one to start with.


Writing About the Weight Loss

I've gotten OK with writing about quite a lot of stuff. I've now even managed to write three things to be put into zine-type publications and have the work be personal, from my own experience. Writing about the weight loss is tough, weird, and it is one of the topics I think I get asked about the most.

Chozen was at the Dharma Center tonight and thanked me for writing a nice review of her book on Amazon. This prompted me to blurt out that I'd finished a draft of my assignment from her but I was still unhappy with it. I noted that CK had thought my voice seemed distant in it. She said usually reading my writing seems as though I'm there talking with her.

Off to the zendo and zazen I went with that little burst of anxious, "bad student" guilt, courtesy of my Inner Critic. It struck me in that first period why I find writing about the weight loss so difficult, why I try to distance myself from it. I feel ashamed for having abused my body with gaining that weight. Every day I see the loose skin as some kind of testimony to my guilt.

Second sitting period starts. I breath in... and Hogen's telling us to work on feeling satisfaction with ourselves, our breath, our bodies. Ugh! I feel like I've just been double-teamed by my teachers. Then I directed the madly spinning brain wheels to some Metta practice.

In chatting with both my teachers after sitting I was reminded of what I am told again and again. To take this history, the lessons I've learned from it, and use it to help others. Turn it all into potent medicine to heal the world. I sighed and laughed, feeling a bit sheepish (which is a variation on the bad-student anxiety, only with more kindness).

Chozen reminded me that she asked me for this writing because it means more for me to say that it is possible to change your life through mindful eating. She said that they might listen to hear about struggling with chocolate desires, but I truly speak the voice of someone who has successfully lost 150 pounds and kept it off. Proof that there is a way.

So I'll pick it up again over the next few days. Read it aloud, feel the words and where my discomfort rises up around them. Practice Metta and remind myself why I'm writing about this stuff (to help others, not so I won't feel guilty around Chozen... OK, maybe both).


Down Time

I feel at loose ends tonight. I could have went with CK to go stuff the bags that will be handed out as people show up for Open Source Bridge starting Wednesday morning, but I didn't feel like being around a bunch of people talking. I didn't feel anxious or anything, just not very social. I'd also rushed to go to the post office, drop off DVDs and picked up some veggies for dinner. Then a rush to make dinner so CK could eat and dash off.

Dinner's star was the beet greens. CK thought I was inspired by the tattoo of a bunch of beets sported by the woman who helps manage Scapegoat, maybe I was. I picked up a bunch of 4 small beets with gorgeous, lush greens and popped them into my bag along with kale, zucchini (soon won't need to do this) and other yummy produce. We've been eating out so much that it was really nice to have a very simple diner at home, even if it was rushed.

I had felt all fired up to get started on some art projects and have had some very clear thoughts as to construction, etc. I got upstairs and just felt unfocused. I ended up finishing Chozen's book, Mindful Eating, finally. Then I went downstairs to put away leftovers and do the dishes. After that I popped outside and tried to get the cages around the now very grown tomatoes. The effort of this and dinner have left beet

Mostly I've cleaned in my little office that lacks all things from an office (no desk, etc.). The space has been quite cluttered during the move and I'm feeling like it is contributing to my feeling unfocused when I'm in there. It isn't perfect and I need to make a plan to take a pile of clothes to the Useful Goods Exchange swap shop my friend runs in Southeast. It is a bit better, am shifting my sitting arrangement too.

I'm trying to remind myself, those voices inside that criticize and push me a long, that pretty much all of September through April has been change and upheaval. Yep, all for the good, but BIG. Things have just kind of piled up ad still seem to be piling around. I don't have to be constantly producing all the time - whether it is teaching yoga, making art, cooking (I turned down CK's idea that I make cookies tonight), writing, or anything else those inner voices deem as "Good Productive Work". Once in a while it is just fine for me to do nothing but finish a book, do the dishes and call it good.