Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.

29Oct/170

Learning from Others Gratitude

Today I've managed to finalize a draft of an article I've been working on, publish a post to my business site, do some social media prep for posts this week, create a card of classes in town this week, and prep a new blog post for my business site for later this week. No wonder I'm feeling tired out.

I began this flurry of computer-related productivity this morning, reading a post from a friend online. A response she received hinted at how to fix the communication between two social media applications, enabling easier cross-posting. I started digging into this, fixing something I've been meaning to figure out. The ensuing conversation on this post gave me some other great resources for using media via web pages.

I just love this kind of sharing of information. The ability to learn things from people, via random connections in online conversations, is one of the things I love about the Internet.

I love to learn stuff, on my own for certain, but particularly getting to learn from someone else is particularly great. I am filled with gratitude for the connection and for the knowledge. I love it when people share their passions with me, not only do I learn more about them, but I often learn about things I might never experience.

19Oct/170

Space to Grow: Gratitude

There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.
― Leonard Cohen

Today's been a little easier, very busy but I'm feeling better about the day overall. I've been thinking about something I was sharing in therapy about my relationship with my wife.

Most of the time, despite us both living with c-ptsd and her managing ADD as well, we connect well and work well together. We have real synergy at times when we're working together. When we're not, when we get off and end up at such opposites it is if we're magnets pushing each other away. She gets bigger. I get smaller and try to disappear.

I even joked, in reference to a tree in a storm I'd drawn, that "I make myself small enough to hide in that gap, down in the roots."

"So you disappear?", my therapist asked in response.

"Not exactly." I responded after some thought, "It is more that I try to find some place dark, warm, and safe until it is safe to come out."

Making myself small and scarce, only doing things that would please my Mother (like silently cleaning the house), helped me survive her rages. For so long, I have perfected making myself small enough to go down into the cracks until the storm blows over.

I want to think of those cracks now, not as places I go to hide, but places I am reminded of the light. Places where I grow from, until I grow out of this reaction to get small enough to disappear from view.

I'm grateful for all the times that pushing myself down into the cracks kept me safe. It was a useful skill.

I'm grateful for all the light that came in to me during those times since it helped me to find ways through the darkness.

 

16Oct/170

Willingness Gratitude

I've had another tough day, so much so that I've really had to start writing to figure out my gratitude for today. For a moment I thought it might be the fact that tomorrow is another day and I can put this day to rest. However, as I wrote a little bit, it occurs to me that I'm grateful for my willingness to unlearn old patterns of behavior that now, at age 48, really hold me back from flourishing personally, professionally, and in my relationships with the people I love.

Sometimes I really feel like a badly programmed robot.

Having been an isolated, only child and my Mother's predilection for moving nearly every year of school, I often am left feeling that I'm lacking in communication skills. Beyond the isolation of being an only child, my Mother used "grounding" as a frequent form of punishment, limiting me to my bedroom except to go to school and the bathroom. I believe I often would even get a plate fixed in the kitchen and eat by myself in my bedroom. I never thought of sneaking out as a teen, by then I was too afraid of her to even consider trying it.

People who know me primarily as a yoga teacher might be surprised to know that I don't feel like I'm great at communicating. In my years in technology my communications skills were always credited as a contributing reason for promotions, raises, and bonuses. In the realm of more public communication, those connections that feel a little less personal and intimate, I'd say my skills are better than average.

My teacher likes to use the phrase, "Professional Extrovert", which is pretty apt. I can be fairly easy with a group of people in front of me, but one-on-one interactions often feel so much harder and I'll find myself thinking, "How do real humans do this connection shit?!". In the worst case scenarios I freeze up and fall back into old patterns of behavior that don't really help in the present day, and often create more problems.

Knowing it, being aware of it, and being any good at stopping it are all every different parts of the work to do to change behavior. I'm still on the first two and trying to figure out how to get good at stopping it instead of stopping it through painful communication failures. How do I reprogram the routines that convince me that quiet retreat and productivity are the answer, because they always did improve things for my abusive Mother?

Today it feels like there are no answers, however, I am willing to keep digging into the mess of it all, to do the rewiring of old patterns.

 

5Aug/132

Worth the Effort

Today CK left on a business trip to Hong Kong. She'll be attending Wikimania. She'll be gone a week, home for 6 days, and gone for another week. September may see another week-long trip as well, although we're planning a week together in Toronto to celebrate our third anniversary and she'll be all mine!

Work was busy, but free from any meetings so I just focused on catching up. I was out early for acupuncture. It felt like not much during and immediately after the session, but about an hour later I was hit with a wave of anxious energy. Mom was in a funk too, understandably since it is the year anniversary since her last husband died. Regardless, it left me feeling unable to cope with dinner. I suggested we go out to get a bite to eat and I could pick up fresh basil to make a pasta dish for us tomorrow.

Mom wasn't too disappointed when I hurried her through the market to get only the basil and some sesame stick snacks she likes on her salads. I was briefly distracted long enough to grab some fresh figs, but I reminded her we wanted to get back home so I could take the dogs for their walk.

CK has been walking the dogs up to a nearby park. It is a good walk and we're relieved to have found a walk we enjoy. It takes about 40 minutes at a good walk. We go down to the park, up and around it, and back home.

Dickinson Park at Sunset

I'd promised CK that I'd make the effort to walk the dogs. For their sake and mine. I also promised to try to cut back on working 12-14 hour days, especially when she isn't here to frown at me and suggest that it is bed time. I'm trying. I only worked a couple of extra hours this evening.

Mom and I got home from dinner and the market. I put on light-colored clothing, walking shoes, put the dogs into their harnesses and we set out. I was in a rush-walk mode, certain make CK cough, because I didn't want to be walking home after dark.

We got the park and I nearly turned back before the big climb up the hill. The park really is just a big, grassy hill with a small play structure at the top, and a fantastic view. The dogs were antsy to complete the walk they know so up the hill we went despite the falling dusk.

I'm glad we did. We got to the top and got to meet a neighbor from the area. She told us that if we're coming to the park we'll eventually meet most of the neighbors since everyone brings their dogs there. She laughed and laughed at Dora, she'd grown up with dachshunds and the site of Dora really made her smile.

It turned out her 16-year old dog came from the same amazing shelter where we'd adopted Dora from. She'd had her for 11 years and they've been coming to the same park for that long. Her dog has cancer she told me, so she's trying to come to the park as often as possible since it is such a happy place for her dog.

I offered my sympathies, my wish that they all may be at ease during this difficult time. I wished her peace and offered my name. She told me hers in return; this might be the one time a human's name sticks when I usually just manage to remember the dog's name.

It made us late starting back. I could see CK's worried face. It was worth it though. The talk with the new neighbor was just the reason we went any way, just the reason the dogs convinced me to climb the hill (I nearly always need convincing).

I also got the pleasure of getting to watch bats swooping and diving around the park. In the evening, when we often are there, we watch swallows doing it, but being late meant the bats were coming out. I love bats and laughed with delight several times as one would flutter past.

We walked back home so briskly the dogs gave me wondering looks. Dora's sleeping on the sofa beside me. I've been working a little and listening to music.

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

17Jun/120

Father’s Day 2012

I don't talk about my Dad much here, or my biological father. In 11 months, from December 2000 to November 2001, I'd lost them both.

My Mom was married to my step-father for nearly 25 years, so he's really the person I think of when I say "Dad". He died in December 2000. I was outside, fixing his reindeer lawn ornament, when he actually died. I held his hand for several minutes when I came in before taking off his wedding ring and putting it on my own hand.

I wore it for a few years until I'd lost so much weight I was afraid I'd lose it. I still have it and a small handful of his other things. I continue to miss him, including his inability to express his emotions well.

When I was 24 my biological father got back in touch with me and we had a strained, uneasy relationship for about 6 years before he died in November 2001. I have his discharge papers, some slides and a handful of photographs. Mostly all from before I was even born.

Both of them died because they wouldn't give up the things that were killing them. Both of them were alcoholic smokers. Dad was a Seagram's drinker and he went from unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes to filtered Camels. My biological father was a vodka man and I can't recall what brand he smoked, but a cigarette was never far. I'm sure also had an addiction to the array of prescription pain medications he took.

My Dad felt a real sense of entitlement about his addiction, particularly to alcohol. He felt like he worked hard and he paid the majority of all the household bills, so he deserved that bedtime drink. As the size of that drink grew, the Seagram's nearly filling the glass and the 7-Up just floating over the top, he told us he just needed it to relax so he could get a good night's sleep before working hard the following day. He never tried to excuse the cigarettes this way, but in the end he was hiding them and sneaking around for a smoke as CPOD raced with cirrhosis to kill him. The coroner's statement said his liver "won" the race to the end.

My biological father had similar ways of excusing his drinking. His drinking was actually far worse than my Dad's, who was a bedtime and weekend drunk. My Father often nursed a vodka all day long, took his Oxycotin with it. Once I realized this, I stopped riding in a vehicle with him. He would wax poetic on being a vet. Vietnam was his entitlement to his addiction. A massive coronary in his sleep would take him out.

These men play into my life tremendously. If you ask me about becoming a vegan and choosing health for myself, my Dad and my Father are certainly behind it. They left me in this world feeling like I wasn't important enough.

Yeah, they loved me in their own flawed, dysfunctional ways. I know that. I also know that when it came down to choosing health and being a part of my life, they turned again and again to the things that were clearly killing them. Sure, quitting is hard, I get that, but if you don't even try what kind of message do you send to the people who love you, particularly your kid?

The lesson they taught me is that the best thing you give to your family is your life. You do the hard work to make sure you're here for them. Sure, sometimes we get caught unawares and no healthy choice we make can fix it. That said, if you're out there choosing something that's killing you and not even trying, well there's a good chance that when you're gone there will be someone feeling like they weren't worth the effort.

I never want to leave my wife, my kid, my friends, my mother, or anyone who loves me feeling like I didn't care enough to do the hard work for them. It is what we should do. We show up, we do the hard work so those people know that they're worth the effort of living for them.

3Apr/120

Thinking of CK in Early April

Eggplant from October 2011, NOT early April in Portland!

I miss her when she goes.

I cultivate small
Rituals of comfort--

Spicy food.
Fennel and eggplant.
British television.
Loud music by
Bands she just
Tolerates for
The love of me.

It gets easier,
This practice
Of absence.

But never easy.

I'm merely
Whiling away
These moments
Of longing for
Her safe return.

14Nov/100

The Family We Choose

In my 20s I was involved with someone, A, who had a daughter, DW, with a friend of his. It wasn't planned and he didn't really want to be a father. In fact, I only found out about her after he and I had been going out for a while. There came a time when her mother wasn't capable of providing a secure home for DW and A felt pressured to step in to obtain custody.

It was a rather quick, but unpleasant custody battle. In the middle of it all A and I got married. DW became my step-daughter when she was 4 and I was 25. DW hardly ever saw her biological mother again. Ultimately DW's mother committed suicide when DW was 14.

When I was 30, despite enormous misgivings around DW's well being, I decided that the relationship between her father and I was really unhealthy for me. I also felt that the unhealthy state of the marriage was not a good environment for DW. I was desperately depressed and my anxiety was so intense that I'd gone on medication for it.

DW was devastated by this change of events. We talked about it and she wanted reassurance that I wasn't divorcing her. She felt like it was her fault, as children often feel during a divorce. I let her know over and over again that the problems were between her father and I, that it wasn't her fault, and that I would do my best to remain a part of her life.

Things were really hard for a while, a few years in fact. DW spiraled into all kinds of unhealthy behavior. I kept trying to get through to her that while she was a minor my being her "Mom" was wholly contingent upon her father going along with it. That her choices were jeopardizing any help I could offer, particularly if she were injured in any way. I was heartbroken when I finally told her that she had to live with her father for a time until she could have honest communication with me. She was furious.

While she was living with her father DW ran away. She was 13.

I was utterly, completely devastated and as an adult who was not her biological nor adopted parent, and having divorced her father no longer even a step-parent, I had no legal recourse to demand to be involved in all that followed she was eventually picked up by the police. I was convinced that it was all my fault. I felt like the worst person in the world for having so grievously failed DW. More than anything else that I've been through in my life, these events are what finally drove me to seek therapy.

I would barely see or hear from DW for a few years. The incredibly strained relationship with her father meant that he quite often didn't think it was important to share information with me. When she was closer to leaving mandated treatment and group home I was asked to join a meeting with the DW and her father. She was incredibly angry when I said that I wasn't ready to just open my home to her unless she could agree to adhere to some ethical behaviors. When she left treatment at 16 she went back to live with her father and saw me infrequently.

DW made a dangerous choice in her life when she was 18. Once again it was terribly painful for me to watch her while she struggled. Even more painful to try and set my own boundaries knowing that DW felt let down by my response.

Now she's just about 5 months shy of her 21st birthday and has completely turned her life around. It admirable and a great joy to see her grow into the ethical, responsible, compassionate human I would glimpse often during her childhood. We've grown a lot closer this past year and it has meant so much to me to share her life. I feel very proud for her accomplishments, all the hard work she's done to be person she chooses to be now.

Now that DW's an adult I've shared more with her, opened up about things she felt I was withholding from her as a child. I admit to her honestly that I was withholding, but not because I didn't think she was old enough to know or didn't trust her. It is a relief to me that she is able to understand that I withheld things from her because I didn't want to color her young mind with my feelings toward her father. I wanted to treat DW and her father ethically, no matter how painful it was for me to have her feel like I wouldn't talk to her.

DW still calls me "Mom" and has told me that I'm the only one who really tried to be her mother. She just refers to her biological mother by her name, never "mom". Neither of us bother to explain our complicated relationship to people when they exclaim at the idea that I could have a nearly 21-year old daughter. If I'd had her when I was 20 it would be true. I didn't, but that doesn't really matter to either of us. We are the family we choose to be and that is no less compelling or important than biology.

We laugh a little when people remark upon our looking similar.

22Sep/100

If I Don’t See That I’m Strong Then I Won’t Be

The title of today's post comes from Maxi Jazz. Specifically from the amazing song 'My Culture' which is featured on the first 1 Giant Leap music disc. Seriously, check this stuff out.

This song randomly popped up on my iPod a few minutes ago and I was struck once again by those lyrics. They pretty much catch my full attention anytime I listen to 'My Culture'. We're not strong if we don't think we are. We lack confidence when we think we don't have any reason to have any.

That brings this post around to chatting this morning with my EMDR therapist, PB, about my anxiety around the job search, my current lack of job. Next month my severance package, my "lovely parting gifts" from my last job, will run out leaving me on unemployment. I'm feeling a lot of dread and downright panic about this.

CK says I should take my time, find a job I'm really going to like. Sure, most of me believes her, but there's a rather insistent part that doesn't trust it. I've never been able to count on anyone to have my back and this habit is very hard to unlearn. Under it all there's a part of me that doesn't trust anyone, particularly anyone who says they love me. After all, my experiences with people who've said they love me have been pretty negative.

That shines a bright light upon the part of me that is pretty sure that all of those negative experiences have happened because I'm fundamentally not worth that kind of love. I'm so deeply flawed and such a misfit that eventually people will become disenchanted and hurt me again. It is the same part of me that dearly wishes I could be possessed of an average IQ and settled down into a seriously mainstream, ordinary, invisible kind of life.

All this insistence despite the preponderance of the evidence to the contrary. The larger part of me trusts CK and her love for me. That greater self also knows with certainty that the further I've moved away from the "mainstream" the more in touch with my essential self I've become. I know that when I tried to play that game, reinventing myself to be what would make my boyfriend/husband/family/friends/etc. happy, I was seriously, deeply depressed and had a weight & cholesterol over 290. It was a fraud, all of it.

The reality: Vegan, Queer, Buddhist, Yogini, Liberal, Smart, Poetry-Reading Freak.

As they tease CK (in a friendly way) at her office, "Edge Case".

What's underneath this job stuff? Well aside from the not trusting anyone to make sacrifices while I'm not bringing home an income and really have my back, I'm pretty intimidated by the popularity contest that job seeking feels like. It takes me right back to all the unease and awkwardness I felt as a adolescent. I got my last job through the sheer nepotism of being hired by the team I was a support engineer to when I was laid off. No interviews, I was the only qualified candidate for a job requisition written to match my resume.

I'm afraid all my inherent freakiness somehow seeps off of my resume and all hiring managers take one look and say, "No way!" Surely this can be the only explanation for my marked lack of anything resembling an interview. Clearly my lack of confidence is well founded. Right?

PB told me to work on being aware of the physical sensations that arise around this fear, especially since I experience this more as a physical sensation rather than a voice in my head telling me horrible things. She also said to work at bringing awareness to those moments, even if there are mere seconds, when I remember that I'm a strong, capable, talented woman. And that being a freak isn't so bad. Neither is being smart.

If I don't see that I'm strong then I won't be.

20Sep/100

Vows

The entire time we've been working toward our ceremony CK and I have known that we wanted to include the first five Grave Precepts. Both of us have spent a lot of time with these vows. We've each written about them and have taken them in a public ceremony with our community (sangha), friends and family present. At those times we looked at how these vows informed our own personal practice.

Including these vows as part of our marriage ceremony would reaffirm the most basic of the vows of our Buddhist practice together. Ultimately we sat down with several translations of these vows to write ones that we felt truly reflected the practice we share together in marriage. Of the many wordings we looked at, we were strongly influenced by the vows we both have taken within our Zen community, the writing on the precepts by the late John Daido Loori Roshi, and the interpretation of the precepts by Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Naht Hahn.

During the ceremony we each recited the following vows to one another:

  • In the practice of our marriage, I vow to affirm, cherish and protect the lives of all sentient beings.
  • In the practice of our marriage, I vow to be generous with my time, energy and material resources and to take only what is freely given.
  • In the practice of our marriage, I vow to be aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct and to cultivate my responsibility to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families and society.
  • In the practice of our marriage, I vow to manifest truth, to cultivate loving speech and deep listening. I will refrain from using words of discord and will make every attempt to resolve conflict, great and small.
  • In the practice of our marriage, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.

We each then wrote our own vows we were taking in our marriage. After reciting our own writing of the first five Grave Precepts we then gave our own vows. Here are mine to CK:

I will always remember seeing you on the first day of 2008. It was merely the third time I had seen you in person, but in the bright light of early afternoon I suddenly knew with certainty that my life was about to change in a significant way.

So it did, and here we are today in front of friends and relations. All of us gathered to honor the power of publicly taking vows to love, honor and cherish one another. It has been a mad dash to get to this dazzling finish, complete with unexpected news, arguments, wild passion, laughter, and tears. I’m told this is perfectly ordinary even though it feels to me rather extraordinary.

In addition to the precepts, which I have vowed to make a fundamental part of the practice of my marriage with you, I offer these vows from my heart:

  • I vow to nurture unbridled joy in equal measure with gravitas.
  • I vow to great each day with loving-kindness.
  • I vow to nourish my health so that we may explore many more years together.
  • I vow to create art, write, sing and cultivate playfulness together with you.
  • I vow to admit when I am wrong.
  • I vow to offer you cheer, humor, deep listening, and wise counsel. Whenever needed.
  • I vow to challenge myself and you so we continue to grow fully into who we can be.
  • I vow to read you poetry.

For my birthday last year you gave me a collection of Rumi’s poetry translated by Coleman Barks; an edition I did not have. It had been an amazing day spent celebrating my birthday and you fell asleep early. I stayed awake longer to read poems and enjoy my cake. One poem in particular really caught me; I knew I wanted to say some of the words from it to you at our wedding. Although I feel rather presumptuous playing with Rumi’s words, I do so as an act of love and from a deep honoring of the original poem, “The Self We Share”. These words especially speak to me of you and of this moment when written in this way:

The Prayer of Each

You are the source of my life.
You separate essence from mud.
You honor my soul.
You bring rivers from the mountain springs.
You brighten my eyes.
The wine you offer takes me out of myself into the self we share.

Doing that is religion.

I am a prayer.
You're the amen.

CK's vows to me:

My dearest Sherri: You are one of the most generous, compassionate and courageous spirits I have ever met. From the beginning, you opened your heart wide to me and while cautious at first, I have learned to take great refuge in your presence.

In addition the precepts we have already shared, I offer a few of my own vows:

Because our life together will not always be easy, I vow to meet challenges in our relationship with a sense of compassion and adventure.

Because our family is but one piece in a very large puzzle. I vow to live a life of service to you, to our marriage and to our community.

Because while love is not scarce, many resources are, I vow to make sure you always have the things you need most such as food, water, shelter and art supplies. I vow to utilize our resources wisely.

Because I want to spend the most amount of time possible with you and grow old together, I vow to care for my body and mind.

Because play is just as important as work, I vow to cultivate playfulness, laughter and lightness in our relationship.

Because what I was hiding, deep inside, you brought out into the light, and even thought it is terrifying at times, I vow to stand bravely in the light of your love.

My dearest Sherri, You are the first person who made me truly feel loved. I look forward to sharing a life of practice with you and I am truly honored that you are making this commitment with me here today, in front of our friends and family.

When we exchanged our stunning, one-of-a-kind wedding rings, handmade by local artist Barbara Covey, we each said the following words to one another:

May our marriage be nurturing, intimate and supportive throughout the years. May our marriage be a refuge to us as we cultivate kindness and compassion toward all sentient beings. I give you this ring as a symbol of my vows and commitment to you with body, speech and mind. In this life, in every situation, in wealth or poverty, in health or sickness, in happiness or difficulty.