Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Revisiting the Second Grave Precept

Be giving. Do not steal.

In the time since I first took the vow to not steal I've really come to reflect more on the giving side of this precept. Perhaps it is because I've really looked at the Seventh Grave Precept much more closely, where we're encouraged further more to give generously. With reflection I've considered more the ways in which I want to not give, to not share my time or energy. "Robbing" other people of those intangible things.

I've also thought about the times when I try to over-extend myself, wanting so much to please another person that I'm willing to deplete, "steal" the energy I need to stay healthy. For some of us it is far to easy to be giving to the point of self-harm (and there we go breaking the First Grave Precept). People like it when you give, but we have to be willing to extend that generosity to ourselves as well.

On the other side is recognizing that other people need to set boundaries like this. Taking advantage of someone who gives generously and then being frustrated when they say they cannot feels to me as though it would fall into being weighed by this precept. Working with it has made me more aware of how people share with me (in ways emotional, material, and otherwise) and how I am given the opportunity to respond in kind.

Because I've spent a lot of time reflecting on my veganism I've also come to see how this precept applies to my interaction with animals. Just as I should not take advantage of a person's good-nature and willingness to help out, I don't feel it is right to take advantage of animals, to be part of the industry that "steals" their calves, etc. It is more giving to to animals to nurture myself on a plant-based diet


Revisiting the First Grave Precept

Affirm life. Do not kill.

I wrote about the First Grave Precept in December 2007. It caused me to reflect upon my yoga practice, the Yama of ahimsa, and how I related to my husband at the time as well as students and co-workers.

In the nearly two years that have past my practice with honoring, affirming life has lead me to a divorce. It seems strange writing that, but in re-reading how the I saw the precept as being important for fostering honesty and supporting each other wholeheartedly, that's the truth of it. Staying married had not become a way for us to affirm who we are.

What has stayed constant, deepened, is my view of this precept as it relates to my decision to be a vegan. The first precept, to refrain from taking life and to affirm life whenever possible, is the foundation for how we work with all the other precepts. It directs how we interact in our life moment-by-moment, if we need any clarification we can always come back and ask ourselves questions directly related to this precept.

Is what I'm about to do going to harm another being, including myself, in any way? Is what I'm about to do something that will affirm the life of another being or myself?

Yes, I can look at honesty, intent to distract myself or others, generosity, anger, sexuality, gossip, self-aggrandizement, and speaking ill of other beings or the Three Treasures - in the end they all get held against the first precept. Am I harming or affirming life?

Following a vegan diet means that I am trying to nourish peace at a cellular level. After all, what I eat is what builds the very corporeal framework that lives this precept. Deciding that some suffering is acceptable to nourish myself with, turning a blind eye to the suffering of dairy cows so I can eat cheese isn't alright nor is pretending that there are "happy chickens" producing the eggs at the grocery store. I cannot pretend that suffering is somehow OK because the animal isn't actively being killed (at that moment) for the dairy or eggs. Yes, perhaps some chickens or cows suffer at a greater level than others, but I really don't think any of them can be considered happy; especially when they stop being "good producers".

I also choose not to split-hairs with non-vegan who insist on asking if I would change my mind if I owned and raised the chickens, etc. Even the arguing about the details detracts from the affirming, the honoring of life I am actively seeing. I am happy to explain why I choose to interpret the First Grave Precept as a reason for my veganism, I just don't seek to debate it.

I've come to see that I really don't need to sustain a healthy, peace-minded life by taking advantage of the fact that I can digest animal products. I'm easily capable of mindfully choosing a diet that translates to peace in every bite. From this place I know that I interact more compassionately to others. The peacefulness of my diet has helped me tremendously in learning to extend that same loving-kindness to myself. Even when I am frustrated I am more quickly capable of responding in a manner that seeks to actualize harmony because my life is fully nourished by the First Grave Precept.


The Grave Precepts

In preparation for Jukai on October 8 I am writing about the 10 Grave Precepts. These vows, along with 6 others, I will take in front of my community (Sangha) when I formally become a Zen Buddhist. I've known I want to do this since 2006, but it has taken me 3 years to actually take the steps to do this. I was particularly anxious about sesshin practice, but the two I've done this year have been as hard as I feared and better than I could have hoped.

In spring of 2008 I took these first vows. CK was there, as she was when I completed a women's retreat at the beginning of 2008. These moments had the feeling of great importance when they happened. It feels very deeply right and wonderful that she will be taking the first five precepts when I am taking Jukai. The first five vows we'll say together.

I did not post what I've already written about the first five of the Grave Precepts. I have just posted them now and will be revisiting them in current writing. These are not tasks we check off and move onto the next step towards Enlightenment, rather they are part of our continuous practice. Like zazen, like asana, like the breath.

The Ten Grave Precepts

The Three Treasures

  • Taking refuge in the Buddha.
  • Taking refuge in the Dharma.
  • Taking refuge in the Sangha.

The Three Prue Precepts

  • Do not create evil.
  • Practice good.
  • Actualize good for others.

Sympathy Deficit Disorder

I admit, I'm just trying to be clever with the title. Well, mostly.

Amidst all the "usual" emails in my inbox at work Thursday morning was news that a co-worker, had lost her dog. I happen to know that R, the director of one of my client teams, absolutely adored her dog. He was really her little furry "kid" and he meant the world to her. R even gave people pictures of Spike!

As a person with little furry "kids" in my life I really felt a lot of sympathy for R. I've had to make the decision to be a part of ending a pet's life due to the suffering that comes of extreme illness or old age. It is the hardest part of the joy of pet companionship. My heart went out to her when I read the news.

During a break between meetings I made a point to pick out a sympathy card to send to R while picking up some lunch. I sent a message out to my team that I had a card at my desk her, letting people know they could sign it before I mailed it off. Everyone in the office on Thursday signed the card and we talked about our own pets.

Except one person. K told me, with great discomfort and awkwardness, how she really didn't know about Spike at all. Then K went on to say how R had been a major part of a decision to downsize a team in Portland several years ago. K had been part of that team. Many of her team mates at the time had lost their jobs and K ended up transferring onto the team we are both now a part of. K said she's never been able to let go of those hard feelings and didn't feel right signing a sympathy card. I responded that it was quite alright, that K need not feel pressured to sign the card.

Really I felt funny about it myself. Inside I was surprised that someone would withhold sympathy from another suffering being. I appreciate how deeply the wounds are when a company eliminates a team, the last job I had ended when the parent company closed the Oregon office. Despite understanding that on a very personal level it feels so obvious to me that we should respond compassionately to the suffering of others.

In some ways I was reminded of my Mom and the way she holds grudges, holding onto her anger even after a person has died. I believe there are people my Mom would withhold her compassion and sympathy. My whole family could be begrudging emotionally and materially.

It was after this brief, terribly awkward interaction with a co-worker I normally find so compassionate and recalling the own miserliness of my own family I was reminded of the eighth precept, "Not to withhold spiritual or material aid, but to give it freely when needed."

I guess I see responding with sympathy and compassion, particularly towards someone grieving a loss, is a reflection of eighth precept. It is an area where all we have to do to give is to listen and acknowledge the suffering another person is experiencing. Nothing more is necessary than that, just the compassion of a sympathetic ear.


Kindness and the First Grave Precept

Of all of the Yamas and Precepts, the first of each is the one that changes, enriches, and fills my life.

The first Yama: ahimsa, "non-harming"
The first Grave Precept: "Do not kill. Affirm Life."

When I was studying the precepts in more depth my teachers shared with me John Daido Loori's writing on them. For each "do not" there is an positive "do". This enriched my view of ahimsa greatly so that it not only contained the idea of non-harming, but grew to include the goal of sustaining, enriching life as well.

I've come to see kindness as a partner of non-harming in practicing the first precept. One could easily withdraw from the world, limit contact in order to promote non-harming, but to affirm life draws you directly into the world. Simple kindness provides a way to enrich and nourish life.

In 2000 I realized I'd moved away from being a kind person. I can recall about myself as a child that I was kind and genuinely interested in each being around me. My family didn't exactly foster this and our society often disparages kind optimists as "Pollyannas". The feedback I got over the years was to hone my wit and protect my heart. In doing so I grew disconnected from people and from myself.

There was a moment where I suddenly saw my behavior towards a person as being impatient, arrogant and very unkind. That night I reflected upon it and felt ashamed of myself. I hadn't bothered to exert myself to remember I was interacting with another person, that I didn't need to bother.

And I was bothered by it. Greatly. So I started with kindness.

Every time I talked to someone I tried to give them attention. When I was in a check-out line at a market I made eye-contact and honestly responded to the automatic, "How are you today?" greeting. What's more I made sure to ask how the person helping me was doing today. I listened to their response. I made sure I wished them a good rest of their day too.

What amazed me was how little effort it took me. Even on a less than stellar days. Rather than be irritated or lie and say I was fine I would honestly tell someone I was having a lousy day. I tried to smile a lot.

Even more amazing was the response I began to see, how immediate and dramatic it was. People smiled back, all the time. They were gracious funny, sympathetic, caring and wonderful. I've even have learned new things from many people. When I tried this at restaurants and shops I would get awesome service that I then made a point to acknowledge, be truly grateful for.

There are so many ways in which the First Grave Precept has affected my life. Many of the major changes I have made are rooted in my vow to do no harm and to affirm life. Of all of the things this precept has taught me, the need to root ourselves in loving-kindness is one of nourishing.


A Kindness Reminder

I woke up feeling fatigued, anxious and cranky this morning. Just one of those days where I wished I could crawl back under the covers and hide until the world settles down. Instead the grown-up inside my head propelling me through each day reminded me that I was stiff and needed to move around, that I had piles of meetings today, and a long list of tasks.

Today was one of those days when that inner grown-up felt like a bully.

And then my laptop for work booted to just the picture on my desktop and began to emit a high-pitched squeal out of the speakers. Last week I'd discovered that the right single to the speakers wasn't working, not even with headphones. I've had other problems too, but nothing this dramatic. Then it wouldn't boot at all. Around 2PM I tried again out of pure exasperation and it came up.

The morning spent trying to use a Java client to access work files, and having it crash every hour or so, plus a pile of meetings, and a stream of bugs on something I just turned over for testing didn't help with my feeling that the day was just too much, too irritating, too demanding, too much stress.

What did help at the end of my day was a friend sending me a message asking about mindfulness and kindness. I finally responded to them that I now feel that kindness gets rather dismissed in our culture, even seen as a weakness. The nature of kindness, the heart of it lies within the first grave precept, which is also the first of the Yamas in yoga, Ahimsa, or non-harming.

The Zen teacher John Daido Loori writes this precept as such, "Affirm life. Do not kill."

The heart of kindness resides in the directive to affirm life. I was really grateful to my friend for providing me such a good shift in a day that was growing in that feeling of psychic irritation. Where my mind seems to chafe against the difficulties of life and expends energy on devising how to best avoid them (although all ideas seem to lead back to hiding under the covers...). My mind testing the waters of suffering instead of abiding calmly in the present, which really isn't too bad and has some rather glorious moments to it.



Each month I have a one-on-one phone call with my manager. We discuss what I'm working on, if there are other priorities I should attend to, what is getting in the way of my accomplishing my goals. We usually spend some time talking about ourselves. I often tell her about how my practice is going.

At the end of this year, as I was reflecting on 2008 and my practice with the precepts, how there is one peer at work who really challenges me. I find myself holding onto irritation with behavior of hers that I consider unprofessional. Not just the ways she interacts with me, but the way she treats others. I will have a call with her days after something happens and find myself curt with her, still irritated. Hanging onto the story about the irritation and anger for days.

As I work with the precept to not give rise to anger, rather to seek the source of it, I realized my co-worker offered a perfect opportunity to practice. I had thought about Bhagavan Das saying in the new and amazing production from 1 Giant Leap, What About Me?, that, "Worrying is praying for what you don't want."

In holding onto the anger and irritation it was just another way of praying for what I do not want in my life. I need to practice with working that those emotions, understand where they arise from and move forward from compassion instead. Why not start learning this at work, since I spend so many hours engaged in it.

I finished explaining all of this and some of the ways my teachers have provided insight on how to look deeply. My boss noted that on a very uncomfortable phone call with this person I had managed to interject something that sounded completely calm and supportive even though my manager said she knew I had to be infuriated by the behavior.

She then said that an objective for me around team building this year was to come up with a workshop for the whole team on how to work with irritation, change and uncertainty. Emotions my team has felt very much of this past year especially. KE told me she had this fear that I would become so in demand as a workshop presenter that I'd retire from my job very early. She said she really saw this, really saw me as providing workshops that integrate mindfulness and yoga for people in business, care givers, and trauma survivors.

When I told CK about it later, how I was so surprised and feel like I'm not up to coming up with a workshop for my team she smiled at me. She pointed out how wonderful this is, I now have my day-to-day job willing to pay me to come up with workshops for presentation to business! I hadn't thought of it that way at all, I'd been more focused on feeling entirely unprepared and lacking in skill for this kind of task -- listening to my inner critic!


Looking Back

The first sounds I heard as the year began where fireworks off in the distance. In the silence of the zendo at Great Vow Zen Monastery we knew it was 2008. When zazen ended we rung the bell, 4 times each for each woman attending the retreat adding up to 108. The morning, the first day of the new year, I had offered a vow to not hate it when I cry the next morning, in the company of my Dharma sisters.

The year has given me many opportunities to not hate my tears, not feel like the world is going to end when I cry. Given me many chances to evaluate who I am, greet myself with compassion and truth, and move forward on my way.

AM and CK were the first two people I saw after the retreat ended. I remember feeling my heart skip a beat when I saw them, feeling an important shift. Later I would dismiss it as my being overly-optimistic because I found CK attractive and I was excited that she'd come.

I'd known her just a few weeks at that point. We'd not spent a whole lot of time together in person yet and had exchanged a handful of emails. I did know that I felt a tight, high, nervous feeling in my heart when I was around her. I'd suggested to her that she come out and have lunch at the monastery since she'd be arriving back to Portland while I was in retreat.

I hadn't really expected her to come. I really wanted her to come, but I was trying to keep myself in check and not get my hopes up. The retreat had been very intense, so seeing her felt like this marvelous surprise.

I've been looking back at posts, I haven't looked at my hand-written journals yet. But I can see where the energy started to really shift. I felt it a little at a time, the feeling inside me that I wanted to protect my relationship with CK. The move towards keeping it safe, sheltered until AM and finally decided we really needed to move on from one another.

I am writing before going to the Dharma Center tonight, joining my Sangha and that of Dharma Rain for a potluck, sacred circle dances led by CB, Fusatsu and zazen through the new year. I am really looking forward to be with my community this year, sharing this celebration with them, they have become an important part of my life. I would like to do the Joy in Mindfulness retreat another time, but this year with teacher training it doesn't really make sense from a time or finance perspective.

As the year ends I'm writing while CK folds laundry. An African stew is cooking for us to take to the Dharma Center for the potluck. I made matcha cupcakes just a little earlier. We are settled into these little domesticities with appreciation.

AM is sitting with his Dharma Punx community and will come to the Portland Dharma Center later to join for Fusatsu and zazen. We have hung out the past couple of nights, just watching things like Top Gear and Dr. Who. Have also been joined by DW and many episodes of Battlestar Galactica. I still feel close to him, to them both really, but we all feel the shift in our lives.

The year has worked towards and ending and a beginning. I suppose all years are like that when you look at them, this just feels dramatic because it is my life and it is a rather big change. It feels like the right direction. Not that a relationship doesn't have compromises, but I said to someone this afternoon that in this new way I didn't feel like I compromise in what I needed to be fulfilled, to be my authentic self.

Over and over this year I've learned the practice of the precepts in each moment. There is no way of knowing if I'm making the right choices for 10 years from now. I can only make the best possible choice in accordance with the precepts in each moment. The moments of 2008, looked back at from New Year's Eve, have been joyful and painful, hard and easy, letting go and opening up; I feel in each of them I tried to be mindful of making the best possible choice in each moment.


No Guaranty

I have spent a good part of the day hacking my blog writing up into that which is about my path in life, this blog, and something that is more general about living in Portland, travels, and reviews (food, museums, movies, hikes, etc.). Just creating some space between the things. What I haven't done for a couple of days is actually write.

The past two days have been filled with the intimacy of sharing space and time together, helped by the historic amount of snow Portland has had this past week. CK and I spent Christmas Eve hanging out then baking for the better part of the day, into the evening. Our plan was to have cookies to take to JW's for a Boxing Day bonfire. Christmas was spent inside, just being close and talking.

We opted not to go to the party. The weather has warmed but we now have about a foot of icy slush covering the neighborhood streets. We'd be fine once we got out of the neighborhood, but the two blocks to do so might see us stuck. Instead she and I walked up to Whole Foods to get a couple of things for dinner and we rented a movie.

Most surprising about the past several days here at her flat is how things feel possible, sustainable was the word CK used. Even when it is difficult we both manage to stay present, to be in the moment and not escape, even mentally or emotionally. There is deep passion, unquestionably and it deepens as we grow into the relationship, but it isn't mindless.

This is sometimes still feels sudden and shocking, the transition. I was letting the truth that there's no way to guaranty that I'm making the right decision, that any of us are. There's no method at all to prove that 10 years from now that I'll look back on this and know I was correct. That's the reality of the constancy of change we live in. The only thing we have are the precepts.

Yesterday I was standing at the sink washing dishes and thinking about all of this - me, the history surfacing in my present, the love I feel for CK, the ability to recognize the difference in the way that I love AM, the speed at which things are changing. I felt the woosh of time zooming past me and just looked at how I try, imperfectly most times, to turn towards compassion, truth. Holding all the choices up against the precepts and seeing that I'm doing my best to turn my life towards them.

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Fear with Fear

This morning CK and I were walking to MAX to ride into downtown to our respective offices. We had fallen asleep the night before talking about the anxiety felt around all the changes going on. How close we are now and how there is fear that living together full time might compromise that. As we walked the topic resurfaced and CK noted that I wasn't participating.

In part I was just trying to listen, be present and open to her feelings. However, I was also very mindful of the fear I felt rising up inside of me. I was feeling unable to respond to her anxiety without the voice of my fear rising to the top. I didn't want to respond to fear with fear so I was silent.

Finally I just told CK what I was feeling. That I felt afraid of the changes hurting our relationship and was trying to keep silent until I could respond from love and compassion instead of that fear. As I spoke to her I was aware that I wasn't sure it was the best thing to say. I felt relieved at her positive response and that she appreciated knowing why I was silent.

I am sure at times my silence must feel like withdrawal and at times it is, when I pull myself around my pain and shut down to the world. At times, most times now I am just trying to run through all the routines I've developed to keep my anxiety in check, being mindful of the precepts, and trying to find words, hopefully skillful ones.

Since this mental activity is a new tool I'm trying to use for my PTSD I never gave any thought to it being worth sharing with someone what was going on inside my silence.