Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Countdown to Jukai

It is a week away and I don't feel excited or happy about the Jukai ceremony next week. It has felt like every task (sewing my rakusu, making my lineage chart, and writing about the precepts again) has done nothing but stir up my Inner Critic and/or trigger painful memories. For the most part I'm just feeling apathetic, tired and emotionally raw.

And I'm still waffling on asking my Mom to attend. Right now part of what I'm stuck on is pure logistics. Mom doesn't drive, is out in either Corbett or Gresham (long story, another post), our house is already going to be filled to the brim (yep, source of anxiety) as are our cars, and I'm not sure her husband or anyone would be willing to come into Portland on a Thursday evening. Add all of those headaches to having stirred up a lot of painful emotions around growing up and I still haven't talked with her about it at all.

My neck/head still ache, particularly the left side. IW worked on it yesterday at our therapy appointment, but there's this lingering heavy feeling to it all. I think some of it is allergies/sinus and some feels like all this icky, sticky energy. CK and I talked again last night about my seeing someone for acupuncture to get some of that stuck stuff moving. Massage and the physical/craniosacral therapies have helped, but stuff still feels stuck at times.

Tonight before sitting we had a meeting with our practice group and I shared that I felt lousy, cranky and didn't really want to be there. It was suggested that we talk about working with emotions in our practice and I felt like I had a total meltdown, including muscle spasms, stuttering, and crying of course. We ended up not staying for zazen and instead went to the gym to sit in the steam room, which helped relieve some of the muscle tension.

What really hit me was feeling angry that here I've worked so hard to reach this point, to receive Jukai, and I don't even appreciate it. I'm so worn out and exhausted by all the painful emotions it has brought up that I can't even enjoy the accomplishment. I feel that I've been robbed of feeling good about this, like so many other times in my life the abuse in my past has taken from me.

Before we left one of my Dharma sisters reminded me that I have a week to go, that maybe by next week I'll be able to appreciate the work I've done. I hope so.

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Mala Tool

Talked with GW today about the anxiety that comes up around sesshin, around practice in general. I occasionally get really wicked flashbacks during meditation. Oh how I wish they were just like some creepy movie playing in my head. Zen meditation is done with the eyes open, but unfocused and relaxed. I found this to be amazingly helpful instruction that I shouldn't close my eyes while meditating. That totally got rid of the "movie in the head problem".

I get auditory flashbacks. Yes, that means I hear what clearly that cannot possibly be there, that was decades in the past. I also get tactile, sensory flashbacks. Yes, that means I feel like I'm being touched.

Yes, they make me want to start screaming and run.

For the longest, longest time I never told any one about these. I'd stick with nightmares, those were bad enough and fit the PTSD stereotype of "a terrifying movie you can't wake up from". Meditating in Zen fashion, with my eyes These other types of flashback really left me feeling like I was going insane. It was only after years of therapy that I admitted it to my therapist. To my relief she only cringed and commented that those were bad ones.

Her recommendation to me seemed so obvious, get a mala. When it happens give myself something concrete, from the present moment, to hold onto. Let it help bring me back into the present when a flashback has hauled me backwards into the past.

I remembered the story of Mara attacking the Buddha as he meditated. Throwing all manner of visions to terrify, tempt, or otherwise distract the Buddha from his focus. In the end the Buddha touched the ground, saying that it would bear witness to his practice.

Flashbacks are nothing but pure, unadulterated Mara. It is so strong that it can totally pull me out of the present moment. The trick, says GW, is not to hang out there. Find the resources, the tools to pull yourself back into the present. Touch ground.

On the way to another appointment in NW Portland I picked out an agate wrist mala at New Renaissance Bookshop. It has several moss agate beads on it and reminds me of the ground. My new tool in working with the anxiety.


a kind of distancing

It was the way an old friend from high school described me recently. Something he never could pin down about me when we were friends back then. There was "a kind of distancing" in my personality he noted. An aspect that was always a little "off".

I've always felt kind of off from center, never entirely a part of any group, including my family. Moving as often as we did complicated matters further. I rarely had time to get used to a group, begin to make close friendships and I'd be changing schools again. I cannot recall clearly how many schools I went to before graduating high school. I can say that in the time I first started high school at age 14, until the time I graduated at age 17, I went to 4 different schools.

My disconnect with my family stemmed in part from the way my Mom was treated herself in the role of the "younger daughter/black sheep". Her mother and older sister always treated my Mom as though they expected and believed the worst of her in any given scenario. In addition to all the general negativity I got from being my mother's daughter and the youngest, I was generally considered to be freakishly smart by all of them.

NT was one of my closest high school friends. We shared our writing together. I'd thought of him this spring when I found an old writing project from those years. Finding the project set off a lot of sad, troubled memories, but it had caused me to think about him.

I've been turning over in my mind how someone close to me, really as close as I let anyone be to me, saw in my teens that I was distancing myself from people, from life. That they could see this coping mechanism I'd built. It shows how at that young age I'd already had some pretty well developed survival skills in play.

I was asked today if I find that validating. I suppose in a way I do. The problem I have with things that are validating like this is that they are also pretty creepy and disturbing. OK, so it is good to have this outside observer who could tell something wasn't alright despite my playing my part as "average teenager" as well as I possibly could. Then again it is just one more reminder, one more stone taken out of my wall of denial, that it was awful.

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A Gift of Sharing Pain

It has been a week since I saw my Mom, gauged the depth of fear in her eyes. I have been trying very hard not to freeze up myself in fear. I've also been trying not to fall deeply into any kind of blaming or anger as AM & I move towards our divorce. It has been especially difficult since I was already really feeling a lot of hurt and anger around that relationship so adding the worry about Mom has felt very hard. I've tried to create space for myself, letting go of even more of the things I think I need to do.

Going to sign the paperwork for the divorce really unsettled me a lot this past week. That it included a discussion around finance made it feel especially difficult. All the choices I made two and a half years ago, counting on things staying the same, don't make as much sense now. I keenly feel the weight of the debt I am in and it is painful.

After signing things the tension between AM and I was pretty great. We ended up having a painful discussion about the ways in which we've both been let down by the other. In the end it doesn't change anything, I'm still a lesbian who needs to not be married to a man any longer, but perhaps it was good for us both to let the light into the shadows between us.

I really want to see AM succeed and I don't think he would have done so with me. It is painful to think about and hard not to resent. I see him making efforts now that we're in the process of a divorce that I've wanted to see him make all along. As happy as I am that he's had any kind of catalyst in his life, it hurts that it couldn't have happened when I was there to appreciate it with him - as selfish as that sounds.

He's angry that my promise that he matter, he was different, was wrong. AM understands that at the time I made that promise, I meant it. That I continued to want it to be true, was unwilling to see that it wasn't earlier because I love him and don't want to hurt him at all. I wanted to not him more than I wanted to acknowledge that I felt hurt knowing that I was unsatisfied with him and unsatisfying to him.

That was Tuesday and after that painful conversation I had to pull myself together to go teach yoga. I was hugely relieved when only one student showed up, a student who's game for anything she can learn. It made it easier for me to only have to pull my attention to the present for one other person.

During that private class this student revealed to me that some of her neck and shoulder tension arises out of being abused as a child. I felt silenced by her sharing, touched that she felt comfortable sharing with me. After what felt like some long moments I revealed to her that for me the fear from abuse settled into my hips and lower back. We worked on gentle ways to get her shoulders to open and on some breath. I made sure to thank her for being willing to share with me and for letting me learn from her as well.

The power of yoga to settle one into the body in compassion and awareness is why I think it will be helpful to teach it to people recovering from trauma. This act of open sharing with my student, coming after such an emotionally raw day, helped me feel grounded and focused. It is a path of deeply knowing the body from the inside out and inviting compassion to flower for the body, the self.

A lot times I don't feel capable of teaching in this capacity. I'm afraid that in the middle of a workshop I'd start crying uncontrollably, overcome with grief and fear. I doubt my ability to teach and question if I am stepping beyond the boundaries of being a yoga teacher, assuming some kind of knowledge of psychotherapy when I clearly lack that training.

The act of sharing with my student on Tuesday showed me that I was safe. I was able to reveal my own PTSD and abuse to someone else and have it be met with acceptance and compassion. I was able to hear someone else and respond with love, gentleness. I am reminded that I know the asana and pranayama that help with PTSD on an intimate level. I do not offer counseling, I merely offer the space for emotions to arise, a container for the pain, and quiet space in which to observe that pain & cultivate compassion right where it hurts most.


Centered, but in Molasses

I saw GM today and talked, ranted and let out all the stuff I'd been working on these past couple of weeks. I went back and forth between me and how stuff happening with CK left me feeling. In learning what are OK responses, I worry that sometimes I'm over-reacting to things, being over-protective or reactive.

I finally wound round to talking about what had come up during zazen last week. I noted now it felt different, that I didn't literally feel the world shift. Sometimes when memories slip in or a flashback happens it feels as though I've lost my balance, physically, for real. That the flashbacks can be auditory or even recall a physical sensation adds to the disorientation they cause.

She said it almost sounded like my brain had made a conclusion about things, about what happened after my memories suddenly come to a stop, "the film runs out" is how I describe it. The way my brain my settled, knew, no longer questioned and hypothesized. She called it huge insight and pointed at how way that zazen is a place where my mind knows I am safe so it is free and quiet enough to have these kinds of realizations.

GW thought it very significant that I seem balanced when I've had my yoga schedule going on, work being very busy, the relationship building with CK and the relationship re-shaping with AM, add on top of this processing abuse from my childhood. She said she was relieved in a way that I feel tired, she said it would have been more worrisome if I wasn't tired.

GW said something interesting. She feels that I am doing so much with the yoga on top of my Zen practice. In many cases she would be counseling someone on making a poor choice, but I don't go out 5 nights a week drinking. I have 5 days a week that include deep yoga practice, 1-2 days a week of Zen practice with sangha. I devote this time, and I did note that I find myself exhausted at this third-way point of my yoga training, to things that support me.

I laughed when she said she felt like in spite of it all I was balanced, centered, and making progress still. I responded (ever quick to lessen a compliment) that I was doing so in molasses. Slow progress.

Maybe not as slow I as call it either. I told her about metta practice, about being able to consistently offer it to myself after having the insight moment during zazen. I still haven't talked with HB about this, about being able to stay with myself. It also occurred to me how today I was able to tell GM about the moment in zazen, to talk about the certainty of it. To talk to any degree, even indirectly about the sexual abuse during my early childhood without collapsing into choked silence, muscle spasms and fear is significantly changed from last summer.