Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.

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.

10Oct/171

Warmth Gratitude

I'm having a tough day. A student sat up in class this morning, was overcome with vertigo, and slumped to the floor. She was fine, and called me this afternoon to reassure me, but it still left me feeling a little shaken. I saw an IMT client this afternoon and am left wondering how people unlearn the habit of solitude and isolation, thinking about aging in general.

All this happening the day after I wrote publicly about my healing journey as someone who's experienced sexual trauma. I feel like I have a vulnerability "hang over" from practicing courage. I also remembered that instead of a nice, slow morning tomorrow I have my first session with my new therapist, doing art therapy, at 8am tomorrow before teaching two classes.

I feel like Past Me set Current Me up.

The reality; I'd be anxious and grumpy going to start sessions with a new therapist no matter when I did it.

During my studies in Integrated Movement Therapy I heard a lot about the benefits of a gratitude practice and I've read books, as well as research papers that validate how a gratitude practice can help our sense of well-being. I've been looking at various ways to  make this practice part of my daily routine, or even weekly to get consistent! I've decided to collect my "gratitudes" here, where it easier for me to refer back to them.

I returned home this past Friday after a week away, up high in the northern mountains of Washington State. I spent several days assisting at my teacher's yoga teacher training. I also took a day off to work on my own artwork, the biggest gift to myself in going. Taking this time off from teaching, from being paid money, felt hard; I still am working on feeling worthy of giving myself this kind of time and money.

To make the trip more affordable, yet still have a private accommodation, I camped in our van. Our van is cozy and one of the reasons we bought it was for camping. However, toward the end of the week the temperatures were dropping to freezing at night which meant I'd awake in the dark of early morning (yoga began promptly at 6am), the van only 40F. Having an electric blanket kept me warm while sleeping, but getting out of bed was hard!

This morning was chilly and cloudy, by the time I finished up with a client visit and got home there was steady drizzle. It took a huge amount of discipline to get out in it to take the dogs on their walk. A daily walk is not only good for the health of all the walkers, but helps reduce the wild, out-of-control behavior in the evening from our younger dog. Still, knowing all this, and even being used to this kind of weather, having grown up with the chill drizzle of autumn in the Pacific Northwest, I didn't want to go out today. By 5pm I was feeling mopey and grumpy, that was before I remembered the new therapy thing in the morning too!

The dogs were happy I took us out into the wet, of course. Walking didn't magically alleviate my feeling of tenderness, residual anxiety, and fatigue, but it felt a lot better than just stewing in those emotions. I was rewarded for my perseverance with the view of raindrops on the flowers of autumn.

Given today's on and off again chilliness, including the chill of anxiety at seeing a student experience a minor health crises, I'm feeling really grateful for warmth. Our warm home, especially as I sit listening to autumn rain coming down. I'm grateful to wake up in a house where heat blows through the rooms at the touch of a button, is programed to come up to warm the mornings. The warm companionship of one of our cats, snuggled up against my legs as I write. The warm feet of the youngest dog, stretched out so he can touch me while he naps to the other side of me. The warmth of cider today, given to me in a big cup I could cup my chilled fingers around. The way I've learned to appreciate the warmth shared in a hug.

 

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.

11Jan/160

72 Bows, 49 Days

Yesterday was the memorial for my Mother. She didn't want me invited, didn't even want me informed of her death on November 24, 2015. As it was, I was informed a week after she'd already died. Already been cremated. Already had her dog taken to another home. Already done, all of it.

I though about going. Really explored if defying her last wishes and showing up to bear witness to her life would in any way heal the depth of pain I have felt at the many ways she used isolation and cutting me off from contact with others as a form of punishment. I considered the cost of going to such a hostile environment, populated by people who supported my Mother, believed the things she'd say about me, and shared the profound homophobia she cultivated in her last year and a half of her life, and decided that all that stacked against a chance, a slim one at that, of any kind of healing or growth. One might hope that perhaps she knew how miserable her memorial would be for me to attend and asked me not attend out of compassion for me, however, that isn't the case. It was intended as punishment for my being a disrespectful daughter.

Instead, we stayed home and worked on chores, read, and I ended up going to bed early. At the time my Mother's memorial was due to start I decided was the perfect time for my daily Sadhana. I lit the candles, rang the bells, lit the incense. I took a deep breath and was struck with how to focus my intention to honor my Mother's memory.

71 full bows for every year she lived. A last bow for the year that wasn't finished. Then I sat with a photo I'd come across of her as a young girl with her sister. I was struck at how left out she looks, how unhappy in comparison to the glowing smile and gleaming curls of my Aunt. The toxic family behaviors seen in this photo. I suspect my Mother might be around the age I was when I first realized I couldn't trust anyone in my family to take care of me.

Today marks 49 days since her death. It wasn't her belief at all, but to me this time represents her journey across the Bardo. Since those bows and all day today I've focused my hope that she move onto a better life. A life where she is able to feel the love around her, where she is able to feel contentment, where she is able to play at the game of joy without a single stumble.

The Beginning of Grief

I made 72 bows
For her life.
Fast, at first,
On the flow
Of the breath.
Slower as the
Numbers added.
The last 12 requiring
Multiple breaths each.

Then sitting, breathing in.
Feeling the blood moving,
The muscles responding
To the sudden burst of
Breath and movement.

Willing myself to
Let her go,
Let her be
Found,
Content,
Seen,
Loved.

Then 49 days
Pass by and
I feel like I am
Paused, waiting
For the feeling
That she
Has finally left.

**Photo taken by myself of an art installation by Sarah Jane.

5Jan/160

Welcome 2016

So far the New Year has brought sleeping dogs, which is a big improvement since Bertie the Bulldog arrived in June unexpectedly.

First Nap of 2016 - January 1, 2016 - Portland, Oregon

Snow, at least for a few hours. Long enough for a two+ mile walk to, and around a nearby park.

Bertie's first experience with snow was pretty awesome. He particularly likes snowballs.

Soon after we got home from that walk the freezing rain started, leaving us with old Portland folks might call a Silver Thaw. It inspired this first poem of the New Year:

Ice envelops all.
Winter’s chill embrace lingers.
Swaying trees murmur.

Thankfully, by the time I needed to teach my first class of the year, I was able to safely drive.  My current schedule of classes around the Portland Metro area can be found on the Samatha Yoga site.

I will be heading back up to Plain, Washington, later in the month to attend a contemplative retreat lead by my teacher. It will be truly snowy; I'm looking forward to photographing the beautiful Grunewald Guild in the winter. Having already photographed summer and autumn, I'll have to think about a trip in the spring to complete a year of seasons!

Before I leave for the Guild, I'll hopefully pick up new glasses. My distance vision hasn't change that much, but my reading vision is showing my age even if I do still get carded once in a while. I've found frames, apparently made by an Italian designer who has Sir Elton John among their customers. This time the eye doctor, in discussing what they call my "photophobic eyes" (so nice to feel like I'm not making up my light sensitivity for the sake of melodrama), is suggesting a rose tint instead of yellow. That as well as a coating to filter out blue and UV. Should be much more soothing. I'm amused that I will indeed be wearing "rose colored glasses" when they're ready!

2016 will bring more teaching, new yoga classes and workshops in the works! I'll be working on my certification in Integrated Movement Therapy and my goal is to be done by the end of this year! I'm excited to continue to learn and grow into my path as a healer and teacher. I'm also hoping to attend the Northwest Yoga Conference in early March.

Some fun stuff too, as well as the intention for CK and I to do more fun adventures together. In May we'll be in Los Angeles to see The Cure at the Hollywood Bowl, which is pretty exciting. Discussing making it a road trip, camping in the van along our way south.

2015 ended with the news of my Mother's death. I'm not yet ready to write about it publicly. Not too surprisingly, she used even this to find a way to hurt and exclude me.

16Mar/130

Ticking Away the Moments

I look back at this blog and realize that two months have whooshed on by. One of those weeks was spent celebrating Mom's 70th birthday in on the Big Island of Hawai'i, which also felt like it went by far too quickly.

It was a bittersweet trip. Mom was delighted to be there, but the rigors of travel exhausted her. Her blood levels fell, in fact we spent the morning at the Kaiser Infusion Center having a transfusion of blood and platelets. The flight home was arduous, with her saying she was hallucinating and constantly fighting with me when I'd remind her that her bag needed to stay under the seat, that she needed to not hold her cane until the plane was on the ground, etc. I feel like we'll never take a big trip with her again. CK thinks maybe we might, but if we're able to bear the cost of first class tickets. Mom's always wanted to go to EPCOT and I'd really hoped she might be able to do some of these things.

Some weeks are better for Mom, but in general she seems afraid of the world and too content to just while away the hours listening to books on tape or watching shows on the Lifetime channel. To me these all seem to be the same story line of families facing challenge that they greet with Faith and are therefore led to a happy ending. Improbable and so narrow, I don't seem my life reflected in these stories at all, that I find them grating. I worry that this consumption of brain-candy stories to be worrisome. When I urge some engagement with her peers, attending some activities at a local senior center, she professes too great a fear of venturing into any group.

Looking back, I think Mom's always had some level of social anxiety and I think she's sabotaged a lot of connections. When you add to that her deteriorating eyesight and the legacy of the emotional and financial abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband's family, I can connect it all to this fear of joining any kind of group. That said, it is hard to watch her passive consumption of mindless entertainment, ticking away the moments that make up a dull day.

When I was younger she at least tried some new things, particularly arts and crafts. She developed some skill, and enjoyed tole-painting, sewing things, some quilting, and a little machine embroidery. All pursuits that the pain in her hands and the failing eyes have taken from her life. I cannot say the same for reading materials and shows, I always remember her with a stack of Harlequin Romance novels and a fondness for movies like An Officer and a Gentleman and Ice Castles.

She resents my prodding, it makes her feel bad about herself. She hurts, profoundly. Her health has never really been well in my lifetime. It is hard to greet pain and keep going, I know this from personal experience. It takes a lot of will to try and keep moving with, and through the pain. I especially know that when the pain increases the fatigue it brings make it even more difficult to stay engaged and moving, however, I know at those times that it vitally important to keep trying.

And yet, she suffers profoundly. Physically, emotionally, mentally, she suffers. Is it wrong for her to hope to ease into death and go to the heaven she imagines in her mind? Is that so wrong for her to want that? Is it just that Dylan Thomas made too deep and lasting an impression on my young mind that I recoil at the thought of pursing, of longing for an easy death?

The other night I shared with CK that I felt like she's just giving up and that it hurts. I felt like both my biological father and my step-dad both just turned toward pleasure, pleasure that was surely killing them, and refused to do the hard work to stay alive and present, part of my life. It hurts a lot to feel like my Mom's doing the same thing.

Watching sunset at Kealakekua Bay - Hawaii - March 2013

10Jan/130

Just “Wife”

I find myself making a point to use the word "wife" when referring to CK. It still can be scary.

I've written before about what I feel is the need to normalize these words as applying to marriages, regardless of the genders of those who have wed. I've found it can be a good type of social litmus test. A way to screen people and environments for how welcomed we'll feel.

Other times I've carefully avoided it. Sticking with non-gendered words like "spouse". Granted, then the immediate assumption is that I'm talking about my husband, but sometimes it doesn't feel safe until I've more input to go on. A moment of safety to offset fear that we'll be denied services because we're queer.

We've been interviewing new service providers. I corrected a person we were considering for helping with house cleaning every other week. Pointing out to this person that I hadn't said "partner", I'd said "wife" and that it is important. There was a pause and the person responded, "You're right, it is important. Your wife..."

Last Sunday I stood up in front of a group of complete strangers with CK at my side and introduced her as my wife, despite the sound of my heart pounding in my ears. We've found that we're very close to a Unitarian fellowship community in our new neighborhood, walking distance even. Newcomers were invited to stand up and introduce themselves to everyone.

We had that near-silent, small-gestured, nuanced-look kind of conversation ahead of this moment. Were we going to stand up? OK. Who was going to introduce us? Me.

So there we were standing. I'm sure none of the other couples, all heterosexual, had any kind of struggle about how to do the introduction beyond the awkwardness of standing up . Women introduced themselves and their husbands. A man introduced himself and his wife.

We were last. I took a deep breath, looked around, looked sidewise at CK, and introduced myself and my wife.

In those quick moments until it came to us I just decided I'd just do it. I'd step off proudly into sunlight, not looking back.*

I'd call CK my wife in front of all those strangers. I figured we were checking them out as a spiritual community and there was no time lime the present to decide if we'd be welcomed. I just didn't want to discover after my heart was more engaged that they really didn't include us, that they just accommodated, tolerated our presence.

Later a couple of different people commented to either or both of us that they were impressed with how brave and inspiring it was.

Here's the thing that kind of bugs me. It is really lovely that those people told us that they thought I'd done something courageous and that they were grateful for it.

What sticks with me is that it shouldn't have to be something worthy of notice. I shouldn't have that moment of fear every time I call CK my wife in a new, public setting. It should only be a joyful reminder of the commitment I've made to the woman I love, not feeling like I'm leaping off into potential danger every time.

Stairs to Sea - Waldport, Oregon - December 2012

I guess that's why I keep saying it.

Wife.

Not out of the hope that I'll get used to the dizzying feeling of the fear, but that it will become normal.

Not my Gay Wife. Just, Wife.

Not Gay Marriage. Just, Marriage.

 

*Here's the rest of bit of Rumi I'd referenced in this post. This small bit of poetry is rather a kind of koan that found me. One of my old Zen teachers said sometimes it happens that way with koans. I think I may be noodling with this one for many years to come.

Ask!
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 spend most of my time working on the "dirty cup" in this poem, but sometimes, like using the word "wife" is all about the practice of stepping off proudly into sunlight, not looking back.

5Sep/120

Bounty

We're still in that constant of accelerating change around here. Moving toward light, toward positive change, but still sometimes the whoosh of it all gets rather dizzying. Yes, of course, this is why I Practice in a kind of "still. whoosh. still. whoosh. still. whoosh" way. The winding path of a householder.

Soon to become holder of houses, which feels enormous at times. CK and I are co-purchasing, it feels good to have found a home together. Today's been a tough one; makes buying our current home seem like a lovely party where at the end I got a house.

Next week I'm speaking at a conference, this one actually directly related to the work I do in Business Intelligence. Kind of a big deal and I'm feeling under prepared, as always. Oh, and there's packing to do.

And there's packing to do. The house, the stuff. Trying to breathe through all of the anxiety that comes up for me around moving, even when for the better. It will hopefully be back from the conference and into a big whoosh of packing and moving. Then settling a little before Mom joins us, which has been a big part of the new house. That and reducing my commute considerably, which I've become resigned to but it does take a big toll on my body.

Here and there, between the whooshing, we spent a leisurely weekend celebrating my birthday quietly. I also canned 8 quarts of sauce! The garden has been very productive this year, which is a little bittersweet, but mostly I'm just enjoying the bounty!

Bounty of San Marco paste tomatoes! Portland, Oregon, August 2012

29Aug/120

FlusterCluck

Reviewing Reciepts at Open Source Bridge 2012

This has been a Hell of a year.

Stuff is still going on with Mom. We're still applying creative solutions and aid, but some things take time and can often run into new challenges and difficulties to try and greet with equanimity. Try being the operative word.

Conference season, still on-going, has provided extra stress along with the positives. I'm speaking next month at a conference held in Orlando, at a resort next door to Walt Disney World. CK is coming with me and taking a vacation.

Work has been tough for us both this year. For me just in the sheer amount of projects and day-to-day maintenance I'm working on combined with some stuff that leaves me feeling like my managers don't stick up for the good work we do. For CK the stress has been far more personal, unexpected, and has made for an especially challenging year.

This year has been a real "C" and "F" year. Yep, it has often been rather a cluster fuck. There's also been a lot of crying and fatigue.

Today was a tough day at work and I left feeling demoralized. I headed home to avoid being cranky around my friends. I tossed out a request on Twitter and Facebook, asking people to give me some definitions for my day brought to me by the letters "C" and "F".

Here's why I love the internet: within an hour I had several creative and hilarious answers. I'm sure by morning there will be more. Feel to add new ideas to the comments.

My Creative (Compassionate, Caring) Friends Suggested:

  • "Cookies and Fudge" @vmbrasseur
  • "Chickpeas and Falafel" @smartwatermelon
  • "Chaos! Flippityjibbit!" @noirinp
  • "Celebrity Fires: The reality show about famous arsonists" - Steven
  • "Cat farts, crazy filberts, candy coated fig flippers, fuzzy critters, crumb-covered feline" - @geekgirl33
  • "Curiously fantastic" - Crystal
  • "Canned frappuccinos" - @cayleehogg
  • "FlusterCluck" @GenshoWelsh
  • "Frosted cake! Like, you know, extended birthday goodness." @capnleela

Just a good lesson in reaching out to people when I feel like I need support. I'm so grateful for the many amazing people in my life and for the technology that keeps us connected.

And I am totally going to think of the word "FlusterCluck" the next time I'm really pissed off in a meeting. It can be my mantra to help stay present and open, which can be a real challenge at work some days.

Hopefully I will manage to not snort with laughter while in front of my team.

13Jul/120

Bang!

This is what $550 in Suburu bumper damage looks like

On the way home a month ago, in one of those terrible evening commutes, I was rear-ended.

The Bang! surprised me more than anything at first. I noticed the affect on my body within minutes, which increased for days, staying at a 6/7 level*  for a few more days, and leveling down to the 4/5 range.

I was lucky. Wretched traffic means the other driver was going no more than 20 miles per hour.

His 1998 Suburu Forester, white, hit my 1998 Suburu Outback, also white. Very evenly matched bumpers. He was a  little uphill and my insurance recommends that his insurance pay to have my bumper replaced.

It did not make my back any worse, permanently, but the past month has been a big old less in patience. My general pain level has been in the 4/5 range, which is the point at which the pain becomes fatiguing I've been reminded. A 3 and I'm pretty much golden, and have been enjoying being that way for over a year!

metta. metta. metta.

My physical therapist assessed things and indicated that I had no movement in my spine or ribs for a few weeks. I was also directly by my physician to stay off my shoulders for a few weeks (things a yogini hears!) and to not teach for at least a few weeks.

metta. metta. metta.

Things are starting to move again my physical therapist said tonight. I've taught a handful of slower classes with no weight bearing on the arms. Even being on hands-and-knees is quickly fatiguing and painful. My students don't seem to mind having somewhat more restorative classes and teaching is good for my brain.

Next week is OSCON and I've finally bought a small, rolling bag to move my laptop, hoodie, snacks & water around. Although I have a very light laptop, even carrying half the weight of it makes me ache. I'm trying to see it as a tool and not a defeat.

metta. metta. metta.

It is so frustrating to have a relapse, to be reminded just how delicate a balance my pain management is. Yep, a big opportunity for all kinds of practice.

metta. metta. metta.

I am also profoundly grateful for many things. My car is sturdy, well-maintained, and in need of only cosmetic repairs. My friends who continue to help me pick up and move things. My encouraging wife (always). My flexible job that accommodates a rush of appointments for bodywork to recover more rapidly. That I have three highly skilled bodywork professionals who care for me and who have found many additional appointments for me, they've also just billed insurance directly so I don't have to fund all these unplanned appointments.

*Levels of pain: Commonly used in the treatment of people with chronic pain. You are asked to rate your pain on a scale of 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst pain ever). It helps gauge things and quantify "pain".

When I was first diagnosed my pain was in the 8 range often, with severe spasms that would literally take my breath away and knock me down (10s). It leveled down to the 7/8 range, which was like living in a grey fog of "ouch". By the time it hit 5/6 I was grateful.

The past 18 months or so, with the assistance of a lot of body work and yoga, the pain hovers in the 3/4 range with some days in a 2/3 range. These is when I feel like I'm "normal" again. It is pretty easy to become attached to less pain!