Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.



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.


The lastest delusion

Feeling fat... yep, that's me these days. I have been feeling fat, frumpy and kind of uneven all over. Maybe it was getting on the scale at the gym the other day - in the evening - and finding it weighed me as 6 pounds heavier? Whatever source, it appears to be the latest delusion by my mind to undermine any sense of accomplishment for losing weight.

I gave away a few more bags of clothing that is too big last night. I felt a little strange, thinking to myself, "Oh no, what if I need those clothes again!"

Not that any of my clothes are too tight. None are too big now either. I'm down to clothes that actually fit for the most part and seem to have stabilized around a size 8/10 (small/medium). Regardless of the preponderance of evidence my mind has been stuck in the feeling fat mode.

In a sad irony about food cravings, the fatter I feel the more I crave cookies (really, baked goods in general). I am trying to watch this arise and crash around. I feel fat and lumpy, then I crave a sweet to make me feel better, which then gives fuel to feeling fat... And around and around we go! Thai food has been high on the craving list too - pad see ew particularly.

Instead I had a big salad for dinner and after we got back from the Dharma center I had a little sweet, sugary cereal. I spent the two sitting periods just working on Metta for myself some more. Trying to get back to answering the rising self-criticism and random anxiety with loving-kindness.



I grit my teeth, particularly in my sleep. With sufficient force that I need to have sealants done on the 12 cracks caused by the force of my clenching my teeth. I've done this since I was in my teens. Probably earlier, but in my teens they pointed to it as a cause of the terrible headaches I would have.

Uh yeah. No sign of anything in that one. Nor the insomnia I can remember not having.

Anyway, I've been having one of those headaches for days. My "BruxGuard" broke several weeks ago. It was going towards 2 decades old, so I can't really complain except for the need of having molds taken of my mouth and the cost of a new guard.

So, yes, I put it off until my head is just pounding. It isn't helped by the fact that my allergies are still pretty active and I've been sneezing a lot. It hurts from my shoulders up my entire head. Throbbing particularly bad in my left molars. Generally it has begun to feel like something has hit me across the face. Joy.

Today my new guard arrived and it is gigantic compared to my old one. I've had wisdom teeth come in on top, since the first guard was made, so it stretches around those teeth and right into the gums of my lower teeth (where no wisdom teeth ever appeared). Ugh.

I was directed to sit and wait until they could get a chair for me. So much for my In-and-Out plan at the dentist with no anxiety medication or someone to be there with me. Metta practice in the waiting room (much to the interest of the late teens waiting as well). Then into a chair with all the familiar, unsettling smells and noises. More Metta until the dentist came and while he was there.

There was much grinding and rather painful fitting this afternoon. Better when he finished with it but it still feel enormous in my mouth tonight. I'm to try it out for a few days to see if I can sleep with it, if not he grind it down a bit more. I hope so, I really need to give my head a break from the pressure at night.


May I Be at Ease

Had a nice mini-class, only two students, yesterday. The inconsistent scheduling at Dishman doesn't help consistent students. People get a 3+ week break and stuff gets filled in the way of their practice. Still, two returning students who are both a joy to talk with, so it was a nice class.

Muscle spasms when I was exerting through the right leg, so I took it easy the rest of the day. Even laying down for reading/napping after a light lunch. We did a little grocery shopping, I made split pea soup for us, we cleaned up, sat zazen, then played card games until bed.

Two full days with less rushing, more resting. I still feel a bit depleted today, but like I have recharged a lot with this weekend. CK is improving, slowly. Still coughing and today's information from the allergy clinic only confused things further.

Today's meetings left me feeling anxious about my technical skills and feeling behind on stuff. All that fun and then I went to my dentist's office to get impressions made of my teeth. My rather ancient bite guard finally broke and the rather constant pressure and jaw ache I've had since has convinced me I cannot wait until September's cleaning/check-up to have the impressions made.

CK drove me after I finally got over my awkwardness about asking her too. I think I feel most worried about driving because I feel how distracted I am going to the appointments. It wasn't too bad, I was able to keep most of the panicky feelings at bay with less medication that some visits have required. While they would hold the molds with alginate in my mouth (the worst part) I kept my hands in samadhi mudra, kept feeling for my breath and repeated the loving-kindness phrase "May I be at ease." in my head.

Then I came home and napped for a little while.

Working how to make our simple lentils for tacos in the pressure cooker. Draining a little and cooking longer causes them to stick and burn a bit. The result still tasted good but it will be better when I get a ratio of water and ingredients down that can right into the cooker from the beginning.

Aware of how much I'm craving sweets again today. Tried getting some chocolate cake from New Seasons, which we'd done before and were pleased with it, but this stuff had lumps of flour in it and was very dry. Fruit is nice, but not quite what I'm craving.... yeah, carb-tastic baked goods... My brain has this voice that keeps reminding me that we deserve a cookie after being good at the dentist! Thankfully I have discovered that the maple frosted mini shredded wheat cereal from TJs seems to satisfy the sweet cravings!


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.


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.


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).


New Tattoos and First Workshop

After the sadness and quiet of Friday we slept in late on Saturday before hitting a very full day. We popped by the annual Buddhist Festival in the Park and dropped of flyers for my class today as well as running over to the Dharma Center to pick up the post cards CK had printed of the various meditation times. Saw several members of ZCO there and we had planned to get back, but the day's errands just took over!

We decided we would take advantage of the Let Live fundraiser being held by Scapegoat Tattoo, a $30 tattoo with a vegan and/or animal rights theme. We lucked out and were the last ones to get our names on the list for my 9th and CK's first tattoos. It was a good thing we had several errands since we ended up being all bandaged up around 11:30PM. Afterwards we went off to Whiffies to get celebratory pies!

Today CK made some maple walnut cookies to share after my yoga class in the morning. Given that we hadn't had much time at all to publicize the event and there were so many conflicts this weekend (the biggie being Pride) I was thrilled that 3 students came and donated money towards the Heart of Wisdom down payment fund.

I learned a lot teaching this mini-workshop on Metta Yoga. I started by doing some simple stretches to open the body a little in preparation for meditation. I allowed several minutes to just settle into the breath and then introductions the three phrases of loving-kindness practice for five minutes each. After meditation we moved into an asana practice that included sun salutations, abdominals, and a warming of the legs in preparation for some heart openers. I offered Side Bow as a challenge option at the end before moving into some twists and forward bends, still opening the hips up. I allowed over 15 minutes for a long savasana and used a guided body scan that offered appreciation and loving-kindness to the body. At the very end I read the translation of the Metta Sutra from the San Francisco Zen Center that Chozen read to us one of the days during the Loving-Kindness Sesshin.

I would like to offer this workshop again in the fall, maybe September and perhaps for 3 hours. I don't want to cut down the meditation at the beginning or the body scan at the end, but the asana practice in the middle felt a bit rushed to me. I'd wanted to do a few more poses to go more deeply into the hips and legs, especially prepping for bow pose at the end. I also felt like I offered too few hands-on adjustments since I was moving quite quickly - only getting up to correct in bridge (four-footed-pose) since the precision is very important for the feet & knees.

I had a good chat with another member of ZCO after teaching and a meeting for the Founder's Dinner next Sunday. I expressed that I was feeling like I was to a point where I wasn't sure I wanted to keep teaching at the community center. More than anything I'm tired of asking students to come put their faces down on a floor that is often covered in glitter, dried mud, Skittles, and bits of popcorn. I also walk around on this floor barefoot - ick! The absolute privilege and joy of getting to teach at the Dharma Center highlights just how nice it feels to teach in an enviroment that supports practice.

I don't require a fancy location, but I look forward to a clean environment that supports the practice (Saucha!). To that end I expressed interest in working out teaching a couple of classes at Heart of Wisdom, when we have our own building, instead. I just felt that if I was splitting the earnings from teaching with a studio space, I'd rather split that money with my Zen center to help support it. It was wonderful to hear her agree that this seems like a good fit for Heart of Wisdom and my practice of teaching. I really look forward to working towards this goal in the future and helping support my sangha in this way.



I feel cranky today, off and on. Despite this I managed to get quite a lot done today at work writing test plans and I kind of enjoyed the very crowded bus ride home (had to climb over luggage to exit the bus) while listening to Joe Strummer and some vintage Clash. I got home in plenty of time to go to yoga but I just felt drained. On top of my my left hand had been aching for a few hours at work.

The hand... yes, well very early Tuesday morning Phoebe spooked Atari by making the coughing-up-a-hairball noise. Atari sprung up from the bed onto the headboard by using the palm of my open, vulnerable, sleeping left hand. Wouldn't you know it, we hadn't done his back claws because he was so agitated the other day. Ugh!

It sucked teaching yoga last night with my hand marked with two angry red, deep scratches (yes, there was blood). I actually didn't do a lot of weight bearing poses and did corrections when those were going on. Regardless, it sucked and my hand ached today.

I'd felt an undercurrent of worry all day about a friend. For the past several days I've been getting news that one of my dearest college friends has cancer. At the most recent doctor's visit, two kinds have been found. That's been weighing on me a lot. Cancer still causes me to flinch, having grown up with it part of my life, and JA-D is really very seriously ill.

I didn't feel exactly or completely angry, anxious or fearful tonight. I felt like doing nothing. I ended up laying down for a little bit then forcing myself outside to water the flowers and vegetables, which helped. Made myself a big pasta salad for dinner, bit strange with the leftover parpadelle (good pic of shape of pasta, but we get a sprouted wheat type that's vegan from TJs) from last night, but really tasty. I also did some laundry and shifted stuff in the basement so we can have visitors stay there later this month.

While I did these simple tasks around the house, including eating dinner, I did Metta practice for myself. It hit me while chopping broccoli up that I've once again forgotten how big the past several months it has been. It is something my attention has been directed to by a few people - that I don't give myself space or time to let things settle. It is the part of me that feels compelled to keep moving, not to stop, not to rest, just keep going forward. That if I stop, something bad will happen.

So tonight I stopped. I watched the apathy I felt coming up, seeing it as a way to avoid the grief and anxiety I am feeling right now. Trying to use the apathy as a way to somehow placate that anxious, pushing voice. Over-rule the prodding to keep moving with an overwhelming case of the Blahs. Not to mention the watching guilt arise around feeling worried and blue since I "should be happy" now that CK and I are getting established. Oh yeah, the big S word, should.

Rather than sink into that dull space I watered our plants, made myself a healthy dinner, didn't chastise myself for craving sweets or for anything else, and did Metta practice. I still feel sadness, but it has been a few months full of life shifts that have been painful at times even though they are for the positive. All the scary medical news about someone I care deeply really had unsettled me.

Just last night I sent the editors of the ZCO newsletter, Ink on the Cat, something I'd written about facing the suffering of others. I had summarized the whole of it by saying that we need to offer fearless compassion. Unflinching and open in the face of suffering. Last night's late news of ovarian cancer shook me and it took me all day to recognize it and open enough to cultivate compassion again.

Regardless of the teachings of the Five Remembrances, it doesn't mean that we will not feel sorrow and anxiety when a loss or illness appears in our life. Nor should we deny loving-kindness to ourselves, it is necessary to care for that hurt. The Remembrances are just a reminder that we all face old age, illness, death, and the loss of those we love. The only thing any of us has is the legacy of our actions. We need to prepare ourselves and cultivate compassion so we have it in great reserves for those times when it is dearly needed.

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Angry Tai Chi Man

First of all... I am feeling sad, cranky, and questioning myself.

Good thing dinner with CK was nice.

I had a good day back in the office after a couple of weeks - and that's after having been in only one day in three weeks before getting bronchitis. It was nice to reconnect with co-workers, but the day was filled with sad news and my throat hurt by then end of the day.

I'm hoping it is because I've been talking so much more.

Then home via Tri-Met. Kind of nice sitting on the bus. Instead of reading on the way home* I put my book away and did Metta practice for everyone instead. I wasn't able to take part in a Dharma-brother's "Zen Flash Mob" idea this past Sunday since I was teaching at the time, so it was nice to do this as my evening commute meditation.

A quick change and off to Dishman for my Tuesday class.

And another confrontation with "Angry Tai Chi Man".

I've been teaching a class at 5:45, which was moved to 6PM at the request of students, for about a year now. A month ago I opened the door to my classroom to discover a Tai Chi class underway.

Uhhh.... There went my precious pre-class minutes to get myself set up to teach!

I checked in with the site director who informed me that he'd scheduled the class to end at 5:50, a short 10 minutes before my class started. Pretty tight since students really like to have time to ask questions, gather belongings, etc. He suggested I chat with the other teacher about the close time commitments.

I gathered my courage (I hate confrontation) and let the Tai Chi teacher the next week know about the close scheduling. At that time one of her students, who was listening in despite my efforts to take the other teacher aside and explain things, suddenly jumped in and confronted me angrily, "So what are you saying? To get out?"

It left me feeling anxious and upset the rest of the evening. I had tried to explain to him that I wasn't trying to be disrespectful and that I was offering to start my class even later, just that there was a tight time commitment and it would be most helpful if the Tai Chi class ended on time.

I missed teaching last week and was grateful for it.

This week I waited until 5:55 and went in with my stuff. My mat, very unfortunately, landed on the floor with a thud having slipped from my hand as I went to unroll it (Natural latex, surprisingly heavy). I quietly walked along the edge of the room to hang up my jacket and open the closet where the props are stored.

The Tai Chi class ended and the same student as a few weeks prior rounded upon me immediately in anger with phrases like, How dare I enter their room, obviously projecting my anger at them? How little respect I showed.

He parted the room with, "How can you call yourself any kind of yoga teacher?"

The worst part?

I couldn't immediately curl up into a little ball around the wound, the hurt of this anger. No, two new students were waiting for me to teach them. Ugh.

After quickly introducing myself I slipped outside to apologize to the Tai Chi teacher for interrupting her class with the heavy "Thud" of my clumsily dropped mat. I confirmed with her, "You class ends at 5:50, right?"

"No, 5:55." she answered.

Uh. Problem!

"Oh, the program director told me 5:50!" I said back in surprise.

For weeks I have felt the chafe of irritation that this teacher would consistently end her class 5 minutes late! I felt the irritation turn instead for the activity director who made this ill-timed planing decision without informing either of the teachers involved! Then I took a deep breath.

I left a note at the front desk to tell any students who ask that my class will now start at 6:10, instead of 6PM. This gives ample transition times between the classes and hopefully will mean I may get to avoid another interaction with Angry Tai Chi Man. In addition to offering Metta for my students, the memory of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and all beings, I tried to offer Metta for the Tai Chi class, teacher, and especially Angry Tai Chi Man.

I forgot about myself. I have a habit, generally considered to be unhelpful, of forgetting myself.

Then I went home and broke one of our new dishes. Admittedly kind of cheap, but I still felt hugely bad about it, growing more and more upset with myself.

After all, I had picked out said cheap dinnerware and I had broken it by microwaving it.

The voice of my inner critic, which had already grown strong stewing over the words about my worthiness of being a yoga teacher, stomped in an angry tantrum all over my heart and I started crying. CK, who had been trying to read me a proposal request, was a little surprised at my upset over a dish. I admitted that the interaction with the Tai Chi student had really hurt and I hadn't really been able to acknowledge it because students were right there.

She just hugged me an said she was sorry I had to deal with a jerk.

I didn't feel awful to cry, not that if felt exactly good, but it felt OK. Not as crushing, overwhelming, or anxious feeling as crying usually feels. I just cried a little, with her comforting me, then got back to finishing up dinner.

We'll see how next week goes. Honestly, I'm hoping to miss Angry Tai Chi Man entirely!