Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Planning Art

The house is coming along. Yes, there's still areas with boxes filling them, but CK reminds me that it is a Towers of Hanoi game. The boxes are shifting and changing. We managed to have people over for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and a few folks for New Year's Eve where I made Japanese food until I was asked to please stop and play a game.

I've been thinking about this year and wanting to get back to a couple of things. I'm considering a week in San Francisco for some training in restorative yoga this July. It conflicts with OSCON and just today a friend sent a couple of very interesting ideas for OSCON talks my way, one they asked me if I'd be interested in co-presenting on. It is very different and I'm honestly quite interested.

CK asked me a few days ago if I was to pursue things this year in considering how they impacted what I wanted to do 20 years from now. Yeah, a long view. However, I'm not sure in 20 years if I'll be at all concerned about my presence at technical events. That's when I'll want to be doing yoga, particularly in a therapeutic application. I've even checked and one of my dearest friends has already said I'd be joyfully welcomed in their guestroom in the Mission District.

We'll see. There's a real possibility that I could work on OSCON proposals and if they don't get picked up do more training as a yoga teacher.

Sometime soon I want to write about Mom and about my observations about how people fall through the cracks. I spent over 90 minutes today trying to get a prescription correctly refilled. It was maddening and I cannot imagine her being able to get it sorted out without help. That's about all I can say, the thoughts are too fragmented yet.

I did do something else today. I registered for an art workshop at a shop I've taken some other classes at. Seth Apter, a mixed-media artist, is doing a few workshops in town. I decided I should pick the Saturday one, what with 2-3 weeks of my time off already planned out for the year, but spent a few days dithering over the class.

The goal of the class is to take an entire deck of cards and alter them along a theme. That's a lot of cards from 10AM to 5PM!

I was struck with an idea, a theme I could plan for and carry through the workshop, which put that voice of the inner critic to rest. In that space I made my reservation for the class this afternoon. I know that even if things aren't perfect I'll learn a lot of techniques to apply to my artwork.

I'm going to use the 52 cards to visualize bits and pieces from some of my favorite Sufi poets. I already have a few pieces in mind, but please feel free to suggest your favorites in my comments. I'll be posting the whole set online when it is done.

I've spent so much time spinning on what I call "trying to clean the dirty cup", maybe this year is the year I explore the side of the Rumi that's about asking and about stepping off proudly into sunlight and not looking back. Or lacking sunlight, stepping off proudly into big puddles without a backward glance!

Between the Roots Below - 2012


Just “Wife”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stairs to Sea - Waldport, Oregon - December 2012

I guess that's why I keep saying it.


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

Not my Gay Wife. Just, Wife.

Not Gay Marriage. Just, Marriage.


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

Step off
proudly into sunlight,
not looking back.

Take sips of this pure wine being poured.
Don’t mind that you’ve been given a dirty cup.

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


Breath. Metta. Rumi.

The past several months has been an interesting journey. This time last year I was making the decision to leave my job of 7-and-a-half years and leap out into uncertainty. The leap was made far easier due in part to a generous severance package and in larger part because my wife was such a huge support.

When I began that journey a Dharma sister encouraged me to think of it as a sabbatical. She'd gone through a somewhat similar period of joblessness and it was how she approached that time. During her sabbatical she dove deeply into Zen practice, attending sesshin monthly.

Given such a powerful example I too used the time to dive deeply into practice, but in a profoundly different way. To the appearance of my community I've withdrawn from practice, at least from regularly showing up as part of a community of practitioners. I've also been doing a whole lot more therapy around the underlying events and present-day triggers of my PTSD -- which is a pretty profound practice to stick with.

The question I came back to again and again these past months is this: what is left when I strip away all the striving?

My profound drive to be A Good Student has really been revealed to me. What I've learned about this motivation requires a dedicated post, but it has been very interesting. What I know now is that this powerful urge is helpful, when used wisely, it is also not my practice and shouldn't drive my practice any longer.

I didn't last much longer than 2 months into my sabbatical when the reality of no longer having an active title attached to my name, and the potential monetary possibility such a title implies, hit me. I was unemployed. That's when the big whoosh of uncertainty hit me.

What if I couldn't find a job? This consumed me. All of the worry around it ending with being left alone, homeless. Real terror at being groundless in many ways.

I was just Sherri. Not Sherri, the Systems Analyst. And not Sherri, the yoga teacher (at least not actively being paid to teach, really I will never stop embodying a yoga teacher). Although I was still striving to be The Good Student.

What is practice now? What is left? Seeing my driving urge to be approved so clearly I stepped back from practice, rather than dive more deeply in.

What is practice? Is it the teacher? Is it zazen (maybe)? Is it sitting in silence for hours on end? Is it sitting and being stripped down to nothing but absolute desolation and terror? Is it the lessons? Is it a place? Is it the cushion or bench you sit on?

What if you can't find your incense and your Buddha statue is in a box? Mine were for weeks, still are to, as a vast home improvement project began in October. I did make sure I knew where my seiza bench was, but the rest? The important Stuff I associate with my practice? Well, that's in boxes.

What's left? What is left away from teachers, places, rituals, schedules, chants, lessons... What is my practice when I strip it all away, pack it up in boxes, and stop trying to attain something.

That was it. I'd chanted *it nearly weekly for over a year. cause, no cessation, no path; no knowledge and no attainment. With nothing to attain, a bodhisattva relies on prajna paramita, and thus the mind is without hindrance.

There I was alone with my striving and what was my practice? What was left when I sat with my desire to be considered The Good Student? What was practice when I haltingly, painfully stopped trying to attain?

It was then I fell back into Yoga, as I learned to do during a truly ghastly night in my life during my first sesshin. Before Zen, before anything, there is Yoga for me. Even when I do not have an active class I am still fully connected to the Lineage of Yoga.

Unlike previous times times in my life I didn't immerse myself in a demanding course of yoga study, spending most days each week in rigorous practice (and injuring myself). What I fell back into was is for me the absolute foundation of my yoga practice.

Breath is left. Breath is always here and now. Well, until Breath isn't and then we're really involved with something aside from The Present Moment.

On my leg is tattooed the first three of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. The tattoo takes up my lower right leg and culminates in a lotus on my right foot. It is the constant reminder of the path I walk.

Taken last year by my friend @spinnerin

The first sutra reminds us, "Now begins the practice of Yoga."

It is very specifically NOW. Now we practice. Now. Now. NOW!

Practice is always now. It is always here, always present. We carry the breath. Really, our breath carries us and we always have it as the guide of practice.

Now is the breath. It is always now, so we are always beginning the practice of Yoga.

The second sutra teaches that, "Yoga is the settling of the fluctuations of the mind."

Or, as I liked to poetically say to students, "Yoga is the settling of the mind into Silence."

When I follow the breath, feel it fully in my body, my mind settles. Yes, it is a constant practice because as soon as my mind settles, the thoughts still, and there is just breath... well, soon enough comes along another thought, worry, plan, song, regret, desire... And then Now begins my practice, again and again and again.

The third sutra: "With a settled mind we rest in the essential self."

I like that the third sutra reminds us that we rest. To me in points back to that words of the Heart Sutra, " path, no knowledge, and no attainment." We drop all of those things and rest. Still, present, breathing and resting.

So the breath, the foundation of Yoga is there. That is very certainly my practice.

What else? Metta is there. Only now it has become a looser, less rigid practice. I do still sit sometimes and mindfully do Metta practice for myself, for others, for all beings. But now I also find that opening my heart and mindfully sending loving energy that another being, or myself, be free of anxiety, fear, and shame. Wanting peacefulness, contentment and happiness in a open and loving way.

My Metta practice now flows in and out. It arises spontaneously as I wait in lines, am stuck in traffic, or find frustration arising. Out of Metta flows deep compassion, deeper connection, and more joy. Like my fixed ideas about how my zazen should look, I stopped trying to attain some idea of the "perfect Metta practice."

I find that the same small piece of Rumi's writing that I've written about several times here stays lodged in there. A few weeks ago one of my teachers even referred to it as a koan. It just persists, becomes part of my breath and hums along amidst it all. It informs me, when I let it.

It is such a short piece:

Step off
proudly into sunlight,
not looking back.

Take sips of this pure wine being poured.
Don’t mind that you’ve been given a dirty cup.

Yet how it informs my life, my practice, can be summed up in even fewer words.


Step off proudly.

Don't mind.

These are all hard lessons for me to learn, but vital: The ability to request what I need in life. The confidence to start new things and take pride in my accomplishments. Not seeing myself as stained by the trauma and abuse I survived.

When I stop trying to attain, stop trying to fit some ideal I have in my head, stop trying to define my practice by who I sit with, where, when and for how long... When there is no path, no knowledge and no attainment there is still practice.

It ebbs and flows for each of us. It changes, it grows, it shrinks, it transforms, and it is part of us. Practice is nothing outside, and is all inside.

I'm not saying I won't have teachers in my life, but I've been able to soften up around the urgency of having a teacher. I often tell my own students that DVDs and books are great, but a real and present teacher will spot subtle, but important points to work on. However, I would consider it equally valuable to know that a student is practicing without me. I guess what I've been able to let go of, like the idea that my identity is somehow tied to the job title I have or the income I make, is that I'm defined by the name of my teacher.

What is left behind is my practice. My breath. The flow of Metta. The reminders from Rumi.

These things, aligned with my commitment to the Yamas, Niyamas, and the Buddhist Precepts, are what remain and ultimately what inform and guide my practice.

*The "It" I refer to a couple of times is the Heart of Great Perfect Wisdom Sutra. As the Ino, or chant-leader, for my Zen community, I would chant this as part of service once a week at our Zen temple.


Cup Gazing

The latest and greatest installment in what continues to unfold for me with this bit from Rumi:

Take sips of this pure wine being poured.
Don't mind that you've been given a dirty cup.

Last week I realized that I had a Tuesday evening completely free. Since I would be busy with Ignite Portland on Thursday I decided to go to the zazen and discussion held on Tuesdays. The leader for last Tuesday had suggested that people bring quotes or short readings that inspired their practice. I brought the Rumi.

When I shared it I commented that what has started to really get through to me are the two words, "Don't mind". These are the important bit, as my teacher had commented to me. When I don't mind the cup is stained, that's when the stains clean themselves. Just recently it has finally felt like I'm in a place where I am starting to get the whole not minding thing.

Fresh off my sharing at the Dharma center this little gem of Rumi's came up during a conversation with PB. How I've been working with it, seeing the cup as my life and the traumatic moments as the dirt on the cup. She offered that perhaps I should consider buying a new cup.

I immediately, passionately said that wasn't the point. I can look at all the ways I tried to keep re-inventing myself during my teens, 20s and into my 30s as merely trying to "buy a new cup". It doesn't work, you cannot buy or acquire your way out of this one. You have to work with the cup you're given.

I said that it also felt that wanting to discard the cup because it was dirty wasn't compassionate. In honoring the cup, using it, it equally honors the person I was. In particular it acknowledges and holds the child I was in loving-kindness. To want to get rid of the cup is to want to get rid of that child and she doesn't deserve that. Besides, that isn't the point.

One of the younger priests in my Zen community once suggested upon hearing this Rumi that "There is no cup."

While that's very Zen and strolls right along that uncertain path called "No Self", it misses the point. The cup, the dirty cup is an intrinsic part. We must have a cup in order to partake in the pure wine that is life.

The point is not minding the dirt.

Not minding that I was hurt doesn't mean I condone it, rather it means I don't see myself as intrinsically flawed because of the "stain" of those events. Yes, those events affected me greatly, still affect me, but they are not an indicator that something is wrong with me. None of it was my fault.

Which brings me to a mug I purchased at SFMOMA in May. The colors and the simple ginkgo leaf pattern make me smile, it was also on clearance in the gift shop (bonus!), and I drink tea from it pretty regularly.

Tea can be a pretty strong dye and in short order my new favorite mug for tea had acquired stains that the dishwasher doesn't affect.

Do I mind? No. Does it affect the tea? Not in the least. Is the cup still completely pleasing to me, stains and all? Yeah, absolutely. It isn't exactly self-cleaning, but I don't mind. Silly as it may seem, given that the stains appear on the mug not out of some act of violence or deception, but still this mug is a good reminder.

This cup holds my tea and if it is a green tea I can even appreciate the stains on it when I'm drinking from it. They indicate nothing more than the ability of strong liquids to leave a mark. It is the outcome of this mug having a life. A perfectly good mug and I like it stains and all.

My life shows the effects of everything that has happened to me. Some of those things leave me feeling pretty sad and hurt. Taken as a whole, I have learned a lot about not minding my life. I even have begun to relax occasionally into even enjoying it, not minding the stains at all.


Wedding Poems

There's been so much going on, joyful (our wedding) and hard (Mom being in the hospital and missing our wedding) that sitting down to write has been a far lower priority. I'll be getting back to it more since there's been a lot I've wanted to write about, but for now my return to posting is to share the three poems we had read during our wedding ceremony.

Oh, and a great picture taken by a friend after the ceremony!


CK's mother read this poem:

I Want Both of Us

by Hafiz

I want both of us

To start talking about this great love

As if you, I, and the Sun were all married

And living in a tiny room,

Helping each other to cook,

Do the wash,

Weave and sew,

Care for our beautiful


We all leave each morning

To labor on the earth’s field.

No one does not lift a great pack.

I want both of us to start singing like two

Traveling minstrels

About this extraordinary existence

We share,

As if

You, I, and God were all married

And living in
a tiny


One of the Zen priests, a dear friend and inspiration to our practice, read this:

Entering the Shell
by Rumi

Love is alive, and someone borne
along by it is more alive than lions

roaring or men in their fierce courage.
Bandits ambush others on the road.

They get wealth, but they stay in one
place. Lovers keep moving, never

the same, not for a second! What
makes others grieve, they enjoy!

When they look angry, don’t believe
their faces. It’s spring lightning,

a joke before the rain. They chew
thorns thoughtfully along with pasture

grass. Gazelle and lioness, having
dinner. Love is invisible except

here, in us. Sometimes I praise love;
sometimes love praises me. Love,

a little shell somewhere on the ocean
floor, opens its mouth. You and I

and we, those imaginary beings, enter
that shell as a single sip of seawater.

Another friend from our Zen community read this:

The Plum Trees
by Mary Oliver

Such richness flowing
through the branches of summer and into

the body, carried inward on the five
rivers! Disorder and astonishment

rattle your thoughts and your heart
cries for rest but don't

succumb, there's nothing
so sensible as sensual inundation. Joy

is a taste before
it's anything else, and the body

can lounge for hours devouring
the important moments. Listen,

the only way
to tempt happiness into your mind is by taking it

into the body first, like small
wild plums.


Contemplating the Dirty Cup

Wednesday's appointment with the EMDR therapist was honestly grueling. I left feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically drained. The lowering of intensity wasn't as profound, but then it was such an inter-connected, multi-year mess of stuff that to even reduce it minimally is progress. That I was unable to neatly separate out the events to work on individually, something I'll continue to work on with PB, underscored something my cognitive/mindfulness based therapist has been saying for some time. The trauma I experienced in my late teens served to reactivate earlier, unaddressed trauma from childhood. The events become intrinsically linked to my mind and body regardless of the differences of time, place and people.

The session also brought up muscle spasms, particularly in my legs. I vocalized something important in reacting to the pain and strangeness of them. When I have muscle spasms I do not feel like my body is my own. The statement came up a couple of times and in the second visit it hit me hard. We looked at it, the age I felt and it was in that 4/5 age range. It is painful to accept that I felt like I did not control my body at so young an age.

The last four weeks of intensive EMDR have revealed another uncomfortable truth. On a lot of levels I believe the abuse was my fault. That I possess some intrinsic flaw that makes me an easy target for abusers. To a part of my mind it seems like the most reasonable explanation as to why I experienced abuse from so many different people I trusted across so many years. "Clearly I am flawed.", says a part of me.

Last night I was having a hard time getting to sleep with anxiety creeping in. Bits of bad memories popping into that liminal time where I'm just starting to drift into sleep. I hoped to sleep in to make up for it but that energy is still around this morning and I awoke rather early. Something that has been kicking around for the past two days is the bit of Rumi I've been chewing on since early September.

Take sips of this pure wine being poured.
Don't mind that you've been given a dirty cup.

I've written about this bit a little already and have let it just be a part of my everyday life. It keeps unfolding for me the longer I keep it close. It brings up for me again and again how much time I spend wrapped up in the stains on the dirty cup and not able to fully engage with the pure wine of life.

All the thrashing around trying to cling to the notion of My Happy Childhood is just another way of obsessing about the stained cup. PB gently pointed out to me that recalling the brief hours here and there where I enjoyed my childhood does not make a happy one. All I'm doing is staring at that cup and trying to say, "Look here, this spot isn't dirty, it is clean and lovely. Yes, that's the cup I want!"

Many weeks ago GM asked me why I practice Zen. I feel unheard when my community treats veganism as anything less than the deep reflection of my vows and practice. Retreats leave me feeling like I was pulled by my heels through glass. Sitting down to do zazen has nearly continually woken up my Inner Critic for over a year now. At times, for no apparent reason beyond a mere nanosecond of silence, I find I am completely triggered emotionally and physically. Why do I do it?

At the time she asked I had no answer but I've kept practicing hoping one will be revealed to me. The sad answer is that those triggers and pain happen because the trauma was real. Feeling unheard about being vegan awakes the years my voice, my thoughts were not valued by my family. I've spent years trying to make these things not true, to persist with the idea that if I just don't acknowledge them or talk about them, they will go away. The truth is that no amount of cherishing the few hours of baking with my Gram or picking berries with my Mom makes up for the the rest of it.

Zen and yoga point us to the truth. What is the essential self? What is true? I practice because it reveals the truth. The truth points us to what is real. Some truths mean we live on the edges of what the whole of society considers "normal". Most importantly, as radical as acceptance sounds for some truths, not accepting the truth is suffering.

The truth is that my childhood was profoundly unhappy. It is the "dirty cup".

Equally true is that the sun is shining brightly into the lovely, generous home I share with my wonderful, future wife. Our cats are alternately basking in sun beams and playing. I have a very good cup of tea, the prospect of a delicious breakfast, and the hectic fun of preparing for a party ahead of me today. This is the pure wine of this present moment.

In this moment the wine is pure, precious, and briefly I am able to rest in knowing that the stained cup is irrelevant.


Self-Cleaning Pottery

Several weeks ago I sent my teacher Hogen an artist trading card I'd made. It has the quote from Rumi on the back, that bit that has had me thinking and meditating around it since CK gave me the book for my birthday!


Step off
proudly into sunlight,
not looking back.

Take sips of this pure wine being poured.
Don't mind that you've been given a dirty cup.

It has been useful to consider myself as the cup and the various abusive moments in my life as the stains of the cup. The imagery has become a way to see that in being caught up in the stains I'm entirely not present to the pure wine being poured, not able to appreciate my life. When I am stuck in the pain, and the habitual reactions around it, it is like drinking the wine while complaining about the cup.

When I sent the trading card to Hogen I enclosed it inside of a beautiful card with koi painted on it. Faced with the blank interior of the inside of this card my mind rushed to put something, anything that might sound like I'm a decent student. In that speedy awkwardness I wrote down something about practice being a way of cleaning the stains of the cup.

Only it isn't. I'm totally wrong in thinking that. Believing that if I just practice hard enough I can somehow clean the stains. I can't make history go away, it is impossible. It is falling into the trap of hoping that Zen or Yoga are somehow a kind of self-improvement program that will make the past not matter.

I'm missing the point. The point is to not care about the stains, not to find some way to clean the up. This wondrous, present moment is the pure wine of life. The cup holds the wine, why in hell do I care if it has stains?

On Sunday I was hanging out after the retreat, a busy time when Great Vow gets even quieter as residents head into their day off or to attend events in Portland. I happened to catch Hogen as he prepared to head into town and mentioned what I'd realized about practice. That what I'd first written him was wrong because I still cared about the stains if I was hoping practice would clean them. I told him that the whole point is for me to not care about the stains anymore.

He smiled at me, nodded and commented that the real point is that when I no longer care about the stains then the cup will clean itself.

I had to laugh to myself as he walked off, considering the aspiration to become self-cleaning pottery.

All that and a haiku for late winter!

Late winter sunshine
Inspires flowers to burst forth.
"Spring comes!" they assert.


Dirty Cups

CK bought me two beautiful editions of Rumi's poetry for my birthday. On the flight home from Hawaii I came across the following piece, gorgeously illustrated in The Illuminated Rumi


Step off
proudly into sunlight,
not looking back.

Take sips of this pure wine being poured.
Don't mind that you've been given a dirty cup.

I read that as CK dozed next to me on the long flight over what appear to be endless water and clouds, then darkness. It really made me sit up and blink. The last line particularly resonated with me.

Don't mind that you've been given a dirty cup.

I tend to see my life, especially the fragile, bruised beginning, as a "dirty cup". This life where my Inner Critic relentlessly condemns my goals, my present actions, my trauma-triggered responses - the whole of me. To that critical voice my life is a dirty cup, unworthy of pure wine being poured by the Beloved.

Greater than the Inner Critic who immediately deems me as unworthy, is that on many levels I mind. I mind ferociously that I experienced abuse, repeatedly. I mind a world where every step I move towards truth alienates and invites insult from much of the society I live in. I mind the very idea of suppressed memories surfacing unannounced and involuntarily pulling me backwards into misery. I mind tremendously that CK was hurt. I mind that my job frustrates me and leaves me feeling unable to accomplish anything.

Alright, so I mind a lot of things. All those things that stack together in an ugly heap, the dirty cups of my life. I mind them. Some of them I downright resent the hell out of. Some I want to pick up and hurl into the wall I mind them so much.

Which would then leave me without a cup for the pure wine.

Leaning into this suffering to feel compassion for myself is hard, excruciatingly difficult. When I do I almost immediately run into either drowning in grief or completely overwhelmed by fear. Sometimes I kind of ping-pong back and forth between the two. There was a whole lot of that back in April during the Loving-Kindness sesshin.

Yet in fighting these realities, in minding the "dirty cup", I'm staying stuck in the fear and grief. I can touch back to moments during the Grasses, Trees & Great Earth sesshin in August where grief came up and I was just able to be there with it. It wasn't that I didn't cry, but I didn't have the overwhelming fear about crying. I just cried some and the moment of grief passed. I even had a pretty awful memory bubble up and I was also able to stay still with it.

I was so stilled by the outright exhaustion that hit me at the start of the sesshin that I lacked the energy to fight. It even felt like my Inner Critic was quieter, minimized due to the soul-deep fatigue. Regardless of why, it was still a taste of just being present to the grief and able to witness & accept the memories.

The knack of doing this is something I need to cultivate in my practice. Waiting until I am utterly exhausted by the tension isn't terribly sustainable. Besides, I am weary of being exhausted by fear.

I'm also taking Bansho's suggestion and considering a suitably non-threatening, perhaps slightly comical name for my Inner Critic.


Is weeping speech?

I've been thinking on the poem I Have Five Things to Say from Rumi, (translated by Coleman Barks, down at the bottom of the post). So many of Rumi's poems leave me feeling as though I've been struck in the heart and this one is no exception. I've only recently been reading some poems from Hafiz and find they too have such depth and such ability to touch the tender places.

I have a lot of internal struggle around crying and have been actively working with it since 2008. One thing I remind myself over and over is that Kwan Yin's response to the cries of the world is to weep. The vessel she is often depicted with contains her tears, which have become a healing elixir. I remember this when my Inner Critic is beating me up for crying, for looking silly because I'm crying, for causing me to worry that I'll be caught crying and punished...

Ugh! I spend a pretty ridiculous amount of time worrying about crying. "Just cry!" is pretty much what all my teachers say to me in one form or another. All of them. It is damn hard to relearn this stuff and some days I feel loads of Bad Student Guilt over seeming to need to hear the same message over and over again.

When I read the line in the poem, "Is weeping speech?" I thought of Kwan Yin, She Who Hears the Cries of the World, and her wordless response, suffused with compassion for all the suffering of the world. Her act to hear terrible suffering and respond with the open vulnerability of crying reminds me of the very positive quality to tears and how they are a way of speaking when words utterly fail us.


The wakened lover speaks directly to the beloved,
"You are the sky my spirit circles in,
the love inside love, the resurrection place.

Let this window be your ear.
I have lost consciousness many times
with longing for your listening silence,
and your life-quickening smile.

You give attention to the smallest matters,
my suspicious doubts, and to the greatest.

You know my coins are counterfeit,
but you accept them anyway,
my impudence and my pretending!

I have five things to say,
five fingers to give
into your grace.

First, when I was apart from you,
this world did not exist,
nor any other.

Second, whatever I was looking for
was always you.

Third, why did I ever learn to count to three?

Fourth, my cornfield is burning!

Fifth, this finger stands for Rabia,
and this is for someone else.
Is there a difference?

Are these words or tears?
Is weeping speech?
What shall I do, my love?"

So he speaks, and everyone around
begins to cry with him, laughing crazily,
moaning in the spreading union
of lover and beloved.

This is the true religion. All others
are thrown-away bandages beside it.

This is the sema of slavery and mastery
dancing together. This is not-being.

Neither words, nor any natural fact
can express this.

I know these dancers.
Day and night I sing their songs
in this phenomenal cage.

My soul, don't try to answer now!
Find a friend, and hide.

But what can stay hidden?
Love's secret is always lifting its head
out from under the covers,
"Here I am!"