Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Vegan Practice

This past Sunday CK and I met with two members of our sangha that are part of the Harmony Committee. It was exceedingly painful to open up to them about how I'm feeling excluded. Despite reassurances to the contrary, just trying to address it leaves me feeling as though I'm breaking the vow to not speak ill of the sangha. It was sobering and upsetting to acknowledge that the lack of respect I feel as a vegan is something that has kept me from feeling safe and included for the entire time I've been practicing with my community.

Monday evening one of my teachers phoned me at home. I found it a little ironic that he rang just as I got up from sitting zazen. He had wanted to touch base with me, having heard that I was experiencing a lot of unease lately.

We talked a little about my feelings of being excluded as a vegan in the community. He said to me that he felt it was important that our community feel very inclusive. He'd also commented about seeing the ethical choice I make being a vegan and that as a teacher he feels pleased to see a student exceed him in this area.

I believe it was the first time one of my teachers actually discussed my veganism with me. Acknowledging that it is an ethical choice that is the foundation of my practice. It was good to have it really seen as that important. Some part of it did feel painful, my wishing it could have been acknowledged this way, without my having to express how much suffering this has been causing me.

What has struck me the past few days are these thoughts:

Being vegan is not an allergy, but it feels like it is treated as such. This difference is accommodated but not celebrated as a deep expression of practice.

Our community is built upon a deep respect for people who's sobriety is an essential part of their practice. I feel like

I feel terribly guilty for not having spoken up sooner. Had I vocalized these feelings to my Zen community sooner than perhaps the environment would be more inviting to CK now.

Although I am hurting tremendously about my Mom, it does not lessen the importance of addressing this. I am not the only vegan who's felt excluded at times and it has been quite painful to me to see how this has impacted CK.

Although I appreciate that people in my community, including one of my teachers, seeing my veganism as being further along the path of compassion for all living beings, I don't just want to feel complimented. I feel that some change in our community is important. Just compliments have left me feeling like I have been - left out.

I also appreciate the suggestions that I show people through cooking how easy making vegan food is. However, just making cupcakes hasn't solved the problem. I've been doing this for years and although people appreciate my cupcakes, it hasn't cultivated mindfulness around this being my practice. Those same people might very well bring a non-vegan dish to a practice group that has asked that vegan dishes be brought.

I also acknowledge that people in my community may not understand that the lack of options around vegan food is seen as alienating and disrespectful to me. At the same time I have to recognize that for now that alienation feels rather painful.

Through all the busyness and discomfort I am trying to find my way along the thin thread of practice.


The Opposite of My Mother

Mom was having a bad day yesterday. She tried phoning the house at 10:30 to say I shouldn't come out, but I'd been gone all morning and was already headed out the Gresham. She didn't answer the door right away and I could hear her dog whining a little at the door. When she finally did I could tell immediately she wasn't alright. Her blood sugar was a little low and she was very nauseated, immediately lying down on the sofa with the crackers she was trying to eat.

I'd picked up a gluten, soy & sugar free muffin from Sweetpea for her as part of my morning errands and put it on a plate for her. As she started to try and eat that I took out her trash and put her outgoing mail in the drop. I went up to the office for her apartment complex and had them make a key for me. I also had them put my contact information down for emergencies since Mom's husband is sometimes up on Larch Mountain and could miss a call quite easily.

When I got back to the apartment she'd managed to eat the whole muffin and felt a little better for it. Mom hasn't been very forthcoming with details, so I tried to get a few from her about her health. Aside from just wanting to have a more complete picture of what is going on with her health, CK and I are hoping that an early October date for our wedding will be soon enough for her to be there.

Mom ended up saying something about it not mattering. She is so happy for CK & I and she loves CK. She doesn't mind it if she has to miss our wedding. Mom ended this exchange with the comment that if she had to feel the way she was feeling at that moment for many months she'd rather just die now.

And it hurt. It really hurt. She totally missed the point that maybe we were trying to have a wedding when she was well enough to be there for my sake, for our sake. That we wanted her to be there. I left pretty soon after this exchange to let her get some rest.

Later in the day she phoned me and we talked for a while. I said I wanted her to make sure I could speak with her doctors. Ultimately what I found out was that after being informed about the cancer Mom has cut off most of her contact with the doctors. She was referred to an oncologist, but felt like she was being pressured to sign up for tests, chemotherapy and all the things she doesn't want to go through. She hasn't done much of anything since, falling back into a typical behavior for her - throwing up her hands and refusing to deal with the situation.

I ended up talking her through some things. EB had advised me that Mom is entitled to ask for a hospice team and CK noted that Mom should be referred to a palliative care specialist. She's been given a very serious diagnosis and she shouldn't feel that she has to choose "treatment". I told her on Thursday we could look at some things at Kaiser. She also agreed to try acupuncture if I would help her find someone.

Once again I found myself stepping into the role of the "grown up" in dealing with my Mother. I've been the adult in our relationship most of my life. Even now we are each falling into the roles we know best.

I feel pretty beat up today. It hurts seeing her suffer, the familiarity of it has never lessened the pain of it. The inevitability of eventual death for everyone doesn't in anyway soften the blow. Her behaving exactly as I expect her to, exactly as she's always done doesn't make it any less painful. There's a part of me that just wants to scream at her and ask why she cannot be the grown up at least once in my life.

But she can't be the adult. If she couldn't at the rare times she was healthy, to expect her to do it when she is dying isn't very reasonable. As painful as it is for me to have to once again take care of things, especially the arrangements for her approaching decline & death, it feels wrong to mimic her. I really would rather throw up my hands, claim despair and not deal with all of this, but I have always done best in life when I choose to behave the opposite of my Mother.


Decorating the House

We decorated the house a little bit tonight. CK hung stockings for each of us and the four cats up on the mantle. We strung the dizzying LED lights on the small, living Norfolk pine we purchased at Home Depot (about 3 feet, w/pot) and hung a few ornaments (origami cranes and a few owls made out of mosses & bark). I put out a couple of snowmen and filled a strange, green glass bowl (from my childhood, I kept it when my Mom got rid of it when downsizing) with the bright, polka-dot patterned crackers I picked up at Finnegan's last week. The candy canes have been put into an old A&W glass, also from my childhood. There is a poinsettia on either side of the fireplace, above the built ins (so far I'm keeping them looking fairly nice).

It really looks beautiful. I can't wait to get the quilted wall hanging we purchased in Hawaii up. The colors are all so bright in here now and the whole space leaves me feeling happy. All the changes we've made to have it feel like our home have really been so cheering and lovely. I look forward to working on things in the house with her.

I wrapped a few things before she came home from work. She immediately started to worry she hasn't enough presents for me. I then immediately started to worry that I've over-indulged. Maybe I have a little, but this year feels so special that it has been hard to resist things I see. I've barely bought anything for anyone else. Even today I found myself nearly ordering something for her (I might yet still, but maybe will save for later).

We have wood to make a fire, we're thinking certainly Christmas Eve. A nice dinner, I'm considering making lasagna, some drinks and a fire sound pretty heavenly. I have this incredible shopping-madness to buy a festive tablecloth. I am just so looking forward to this holiday time with her, the simplicity and relative quietness of it seem so precious and wonderful.

...and then I went to bed, settled down next to CK to read some of the novel I started and we were startled by the crash the tree made coming off of the shelf it sits on, in front of our living room window. The kittens have left it alone until now. The dangling ornaments were just too much.

We took all the ornaments off, put as much dirt back into the pot as possible and CK vacuumed up the rest. Hopefully the lights will be insufficient temptation to climbing into the tree again. They appear to have eaten an origami crane.



Last night I felt pretty darn good post acupuncture. This morning I woke up feeling less pain than I expected - I'm quite often sore the morning after a yoga class. I'm not pain-free, but there's definitely been some kind of change. I was feeling pretty hopeful as I went downstairs.

Then something about a mis-communication between CK and I really hit me wrong. I found myself feeling emotionally overwhelmed and unable to really control it. We got it sorted out but I was still just feeling wrecked - emotional, weepy and nauseated. I finally went back upstairs and lay down on the bed.

JS mentioned that acupuncture doesn't stop when I leave. This makes sense because the work that I have done in massage therapy or the craniosacral therapy IW does continues well past the actual appointment. CK came upstairs, rubbed my back a little, reminded me that she wasn't angry at my crying, and that like the muscle spasms I'd had during the acupuncture treatment, that perhaps the weepy, overwhelmed feelings were a kind of emotional "spasm".

I had 5 meetings lined up, mostly back-to-back until 1:30 this afternoon. I went ahead and worked from home. The flood of emotion had left me feeling really depleted and my head was ached. Having an emotional outburst, particularly tears, feels really unsafe for me, particularly if there are other people around. It felt reassuring to stay home since in the event I was overcome with the urge to weep again I wouldn't have an audience.

I felt grateful that the shaky emotional space persisted but didn't turn into crying again. I got through all the meetings and tried to focus the rest of the afternoon. Around 5pm I felt hugely fatigued and lay down. It felt like the same kind of exhausted state I experienced during sesshin in August. I wasn't sure I was truly sleeping, but I felt like I was drifting in and out of dreamless sleep and focused attention. When I felt that attention, felt present, I did metta practice for myself and the rest of the time I just let myself drift into something sleep-like. About an hour of this and I felt more wakeful and not terribly groggy.

For a long time my therapist has told me that she doesn't think I rest enough. I am constantly in motion, constantly working on projects, teaching, and judging myself for not getting enough done. She even has suggested I don't rush to replace my teaching nights in the new year, that I just take some time to really rest. I am not sure I really know how to rest.

It occurs to me that I don't know how to really let go and rest because for the vast majority of my life if I really rested, things would fall apart. Granted that things fall apart all the time in life, but in my experience they would fall apart because the people I depend upon to pick up the slack, to be responsible, would fail to do what they promised. Decades of this taught me that I must always be alert and ready to step in to fix things right away or end up being stuck with the mess anyway.

This is part of the anxiety I feel relaxing into my relationship with CK, why having a responsible partner is on some levels traumatizing. I have no skill for letting go and resting, for trusting that the other person really will pick up the slack and take care of the things that need attention. It may take me quite some time to really be able to trust that I can depend upon it.


Unexpected Remorse

My relationship with my Mom has changed a lot. I didn't want to cut her off entirely, but at times when I'm processing some of the events from my childhood it makes it hard to be around her. Her health has been poor pretty much my whole life and drives so much of her constant state of anxiety & irritation that I make a conscious decision not to confront her about the past. For the same reason I try to nurture the connection between us, knowing how painful for her it would be if I stopped communicating.

To me it has felt the more compassionate choice for both of us to find a way to be present to her while taking care of my boundaries and needs. When angry, frustrated and hurt I try to do Loving-Kindness practice for myself and not feel too guilty for not seeing or talking to her. Hogen suggested that I ignore her behavior when it is hurtful, not compassionate and really make a point to give attention to her when I recognize behavior I know is healthy.

I have worked to accept that I cannot change my Mom or expect her to learn or change. I do have control over the way I learn from my past and how I choose to react to it. I am the one who is in the present moment and I can respond to that. That is how I face that my Mom has consistently minimized, re-framed, and passed off all responsibility for the actions she chose during my childhood.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday my Mom actually admitted that while she thought sometimes she was making a good decision for me, she knew she wasn't. She also said she knew at times she wasn't doing the right thing. Mom particularly noted that she feels remorse for forcing me to respect my aunt and my grandmother, punishing me when I questioned that respect.

For all the present-moment-wasting times I've played out conversations in my head with her she never once admits responsibility. It is so entirely unexpected. I was honestly stunned and just tried to stay open, neutral and present to her when she was talking. Oh, that and safely navigate the car in ugly, suburban traffic.

CK asked me if I acknowledged her for telling me all this, for taking responsibility. We both went back to Hogen's advice. I said I don't think I did, I was too surprised by it. I'm trying to come up with a way to make sure I do bring some mindful appreciation to her action.

I'm still rather stunned by this. I've played out conversations in my head with my Mom so many times. Conversations with people is one of the things my brain does a great deal of the time when I'm avoiding the present moment.

These imaginary conversations have often been painful, sometimes angry, but never has she taken responsibility. I never practiced my response for that in my head.



I live in one of the best examples of my lack of skill in recognizing when I have accomplished something. It is coming up on 3 years in my home, purchased in a hurry when my 10 year old rental was sold. I get glimpses of ownership, literally of my accomplishment. It is not insignificant that I alone qualified for the loans to buy a 3 bedroom, 1926 Craftsman style home in my North Portland neighborhood.

Yet most of the time I still feel like I'm an irresponsible child about finances. Any minutes now the authorities will discover I'm just faking and escort me off the premises. I feel like I never live up to all the goals and expectations a "grown up" should have around money.

CK and I sat down and talked budget and debt tonight. I've been feeling really anxious about this conversation, fearing that she'd discover I wasn't a "real adult" and call things off. I've also been feeling a lot of hurt, some bubbling up in the form of anger, about how finances have been handled in the relationships my entire life. I feel sabotaged by the people who should have been there to help and support me.

She's so calm about money, it is just another process to her and it isn't tied up in a lot of triggering memories. I'm a bit jealous at her skill around finances and business. I hear my Inner Critic compare my own skill and find me lacking.

I finally pulled open my spreadsheet with all the debt statistics on it. Amounts owed, to who, at what interest rate, etc. CK very calmly got out her calculator and figured how I could pay it all off in just over 3 years without her help. Then she pointed out how she planned to spend what I find to be a serious amount of her own earnings helping pay the debt down after building up our mutual savings significantly in the coming year.

I teared up. I really can't remember anyone wanting to do this for me. I put myself through college and in high school didn't participate in a lot of things because I couldn't afford the fees and my parents weren't willing/couldn't afford to pay them. It wasn't really until I was in my 30s that my Mom started being more giving with money to me. Then I moved onto relationships with two men who were equally destabilizing financially, one in a more outright emotionally damaging way than the other.

I've felt kind of aimless and tired for a few weeks now. I'm having a hard time focusing on work, overall. It's made it feel extra urgent to get little things done around the house. Not only grounding in the mundane tasks of home, but being buoyed up by feeling like I'm getting some tasks done!

I'm accepting that some of this may be months worth of low-grade infection slowly gobbling up my energy reserves. I also feel like I'm reacting to the support I am feeling in my relationship with CK. To be in a relationship with another person willing to be entirely wholehearted. Sadly, I find it entirely unknown territory to have another person say they're going to help and feel like they really will follow through. I don't know how to relax and let go, enjoy the stability that working together in a relationship can bring.


Craving Distraction

This afternoon I dropped CK off at Great Vow for the Beginner's Mind retreat. The others held in spring and summer fell on weekends that weren't at all possible for her to go (one of which we were in Hawaii) and she must go this weekend if she is to take the first five precepts on Thursday. She has really wanted to take these first vows when I will be taking my 16 vows. Despite it still not being a great weekend, what with her family coming next week for the ceremony, she's there and I am home craving distraction.

That makes this "Fun with the 5th Precept" weekend. How many ways can I watch the desire for distraction arise and how many times will I catch myself in the midst of distraction.

I already ate too much for dinner, have checked my email a handful of times, watched Ken Burns on the Colbert Report, tried to watch episodes of Last Chance to See (damn you, BBC and your non-working players), and even have cued up a movie I've enjoyed in the past (Cold Comfort Farm) on Hulu. I've heaved huge sighs, talked to the cats and am curled up in bed, wearing the sweatshirt she had on earlier today.

I feel apathetic about cooking for the vegan Fakin' Fest tomorrow, uninspired to work on the house for the impending family arrival (regardless of how anxious I am about their coming) and unmotivated to write (tonight's blog bright you to by Vriya & Tapas). Oh yes, and silly, I feel very silly because I know she's at Great Vow, retreats are a core element of Zen practice, she's just fine, and I wholeheartedly support her practice. I am still aching a little, chafed from last night's raw emotions, and I'd just like to curl up with her.

I also feel guilty for telling my Mom I could only come out for a few hours and only help with lightweight stuff tomorrow. She's going to be staying in an apartment in Gresham part of each week so she can get around to appointments and see people without having to rely upon someone driving her from Corbett. I think this is a good idea and said I'd come out tomorrow to help her with some things.

As per usual when stuff from my childhood percolates up, I haven't wanted to see her right now. Honestly, tonight, I don't even feel much like seeing people tomorrow afternoon and evening at the events I've been urged to attend. I was honest with Mom that I didn't have a huge amount of time and that my back & hips have been hurting, so I don't want to be lifting too much. I did say, honestly, I'd come out though and help, meaning it.

She called back after a few minutes and said I shouldn't come. I felt hugely relieved and guilty all at once. She made a comment about it not being very nice that CK chose to be at the monastery the weekend before her family visits, leaving me alone to work on the house. I responded that CK had to go this weekend, it wasn't a choice she liked to make, but her taking her vows on Thursday is very important to her. I explained it calmly and honestly despite feeling very angry at her for comment in the first place.

It was right after this phone call I ate too much of the dinner I'd picked up. The combination of anger and guilt, on top of feeling lonely for CK's company, dropped me right down into feeling irritated and craving distraction. Dinner was delicious, I really enjoyed it, but I wasn't mindful of my stomach as I ate it all. I was caught up in the slurry of uncomfortable emotions and the desire to just enjoy the tasty food.

There I was, uncomfortably full and mindful of some disappointment that I really was too full to eat any cookie from the bakery. I did't try to push past that and have a bite of cookie anyway, craving the sweetness of it. I didn't get angry and I don't feel guilty for eating too large a serving, ways I would have reacted in the past. I just noticed that I was feeling too full and looked at why I had not heard my body's messages to me. What I find interesting is that the point at which I feel too full has changed a lot. Ten years ago I would have eaten the whole cookie.

Unlike the past I haven't let my Inner Critic beat me up... much. It isn't the end of the world if occasionally I eat too much. It is good to acknowledge the irritation that comes up from the way my Mom always jumps to a negative assumption and judgement. It is just fine to feel like I'm not ready to see her when I'm letting raw emotional memories settle down, even though doing so leaves me feeling like a bad daughter. It is perfectly alright that I miss CK, even when I'm happy she's practicing wholeheartedly.


Consistent Appreciation

After working so hard yesterday CK and I rewarded ourselves with a lazy, wandering day. Went downtown, got coffee and enjoyed it sitting in Pioneer Square. Then off to catch The Brothers Bloom, which was excellent, has wonderful music, and beautifully filmed. We then just ambled around downtown, making our meandering way to the Saturday Market.

We even indulged in a little bit of bargain shopping. CK found a great white dress shirt with French cuffs and a blue striped tie. She modeled them for me when we got home and she looks awesome! I found a t-shirt with a pattern on it that reminds me somewhat of collage and has beautiful butterflies and dragonflies on it.

I nearly didn't try it on -- one of those moments where I pick something up, look at it and decide it there is no way something so small could possibly fit me! CK insisted it would fit and encouraged me to at least try it on. It is meant to hug the body, but similarly to the way my yoga clothes do. I was glad she got me to try it! I found a black sweater hoodie printed with a fantastic butterfly motif - just that kind of day.

It has been so busy for so long that it was wonderful to just have a quiet day together. We talked a lot about the appreciation we have for each other. She asked me if I thought we were a good team and I said yes, without hesitation. I said what was more amazing was that I felt like there is consistency; that my "teammate" was consistently a good, supportive partner.

To end a beautiful day we came up and I made up a salad from the ideas she gave me. We got to sit out on the newly cleaned off deck in the cool breeze and enjoy dinner together. I found myself looking at her while she's unaware, something she catches me doing a lot, but at times I just like to watch her and be present to my joy & gratitude.


Late Nights of Geekery

Another late night tonight, haven't been home since 8:30 this morning and am currently on the top floor of the Hilton downtown in the Hacker Lounge for Open Source Bridge. CK brought the snacks from the car, which helped the low blood sugar cranky/coldness I was feeling earlier. Someone from San Francisco handed me a porter a few minutes ago and there's been a great sharing of and talking about tattoos.

Yesterday I gave my session on yoga and was totally delighted and blown away by the number of people who showed up, tried the poses I suggested, dove into the breath work and all laughed a lot. Several people told me how much better they felt afterward. Tonight someone in the lounge asked me if I'd posted up the notes from it on my website yet and another asked me where I teach!

CK and I were chatting last night on the way home and noted how my offering yoga in the midst of a developers conference, as "one of them", makes it seem more accessible, not as imposing as going into a studio filled with flexible, toned bodies in tight yoga clothes. To me it really just confirms for me once again how yoga really is for everyone.

Tonight 32 people showed up for CK's session on meditation for geeks, "Re-factor your brain". She did a great job, I felt very proud and so happy for her. I get such a kick getting to watch her talking about the things she has a passion for. I am feeling so fortunate to have someone in my life to share these things with. We have these areas were we overlap, like meditation and yoga, but there is never this feeling of competition, just a wonderful synergy that continues to fill me with gratitude.



After my positive experience last autumn making apple preserves and applesauce I'm excited to try out more home preserving this year. I'm really happy that CK is just as excited as I am.

Which is good since our fridge still had over 7 pounds of strawberries in it from the U-pick on Sunday. This evening she made ginger cookies from Vegan with a Vengeance and I washed & stemmed the berries. I was inspired today by an article I saw in the NY Times on preserves which linked me to some good sites.

So the 7+ pounds of berries are now in our freezer. I won't have time to experiment with doing low or no-sugar jam. The berries are so sweet that to add all the sugar called for in my Ball Blue Book of Preserving seems ridiculous. This way they can stay fresh until this weekend when I'll try my hand at some "small batch preserving".

My back aches from standing there cleaning the berries, but I'm excited to try this out. I really have been enjoying learning how to do more of these types of things at home. It feels good that our evenings are spent on making the house and yard better, cooking together, and growing together.