Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.

22Apr/102

Joy and Creativity

It has been a long several weeks. CK and I have met with two members of our Sangha Harmony Committee about the feelings around our vegan practice not being recognized or included. For me these meetings have highlighted just how terribly uncomfortable group dynamics can be for me. I feel utterly at a loss around them at times. Having moved over and over again throughout my childhood, really up until the time I moved out in my early 20s, I really never learned the knack of groups. Whenever I started to fit in at all, we moved, as it was I didn't fit in well with a lot of peers to begin with.

The 17th I got to play host to a day of creativity for our Sangha. A spring community day celebrating Earth Day and the Earthstore Bodhisattva. It was small, intimate, joyful, silly, and simple. I put myself in charge of the food, carefully labeling things with known allergens for one of the participants and items that weren't vegan (only one thing that had dairy). Friends came with a box filled with vegan cupcakes, which was really touching. I had time to sit down, enjoy making a Jizo shrine, sharing lunch, and listening to stories.

Although I was tired at the end of the day I felt contented and connected by it. This was just the kind of sangha activity I needed! It was especially sweet when a Dharma sister, who has been part of the Harmony meetings, later emailed me to say that in the evening it had occurred to her the mindful attention I'd paid to her dietary needs. How having all the food labeled so she knew what to take was something that could be felt as an expression of being loved and cared for. It helped her to understand why this is so important to me.

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1Apr/100

Zen Vegan

I haven't written a lot about the struggles in my practice with my Zen community around my veganism. Instead of writing about it publicly I've just reminded and reminded people about the need for vegan food, brought my own treats, and have practiced tolerance & patience when I feel hurt. When people engage me with questions I openly talk about the way in which I feel my veganism is intrinsically linked with my practice.

No group, no community is ever perfect. Everyone is unique, struggling, and trying to make their way. It is inevitable that we step on each others toes once in a while, so to speak. In this way Maezumi Roshi likened sangha to a bag a rocks. It is by rubbing and grating against one another that we are polished.

I'm feeling rather over-rubbed and raw right now about my sangha. I've spent over 4 and a half years facing the discomfort of trying to feel like I belong to a community at all. One of my extra-honed skills from surviving trauma is my ability to find nourishment even in environments that aren't supportive or perhaps even toxic. I can adapt and find something that is beneficial almost all of the time. I have managed to do that when I've felt hurt by my community and in staying I've learned a lot that has helped me so far.

Around my veganism it has become increasingly tiring to stay, to smile and remind, to continuously make food because I can't assume something will be there, and to patiently listen to comments I find insensitive, at best . I accept that being vegan is separating myself, stepping away from commonly held beliefs and emotions surrounding the use of animals and refusing to take part. I don't feel that my veganism is an act of fear or anger, rather I see it as an act of deep compassion. Living peace, feeding peace for the sake of ALL living beings.

However, it is hard and draining to be out on the edge. I have found it increasingly hard in my Zen community because I feel that a spiritual community should strive toward inclusiveness. I often feel like my veganism might be accommodated (but not always, not reliably unless I remind), but I quite often do not feel included. I've written about this before, it was something I very strongly felt while attending a special function last summer and it hasn't felt like it has improved much.

I also have been watching how this lack of inclusion has been hurting CK and it has affected me a lot. The lack of support in our community, from our teachers, around being vegan is painful to her. Honestly, it affects me a lot as I hate seeing her hurt. It makes me look at my tendency to dig in and find some, small hospitable corner for myself, despite an uncomfortable environment, and question it hard. Am I clinging to the parts of my community that I do find insightful because I afraid of exposing myself to something new and have worked too long at what little comfort I have? Am I ignoring the pain I feel because I don't want to be judged as a bad student?

In the years I've been practicing I find that my sangha still must be reminded all the time if I am going to be attending something. If I forget to do this I will surely be left out of whatever special treat someone has brought. I've missed out on the special treats for teas, celebrations for teacher's accomplishments, and the fancy desserts served on Sundays at the monastery. I've also heard countless jokes about people being addicted to cheese, how veganism is just too hard, and the like. Even more painful are the times when people refer to our teachers, including Dogen, as a reason why it is just fine to consume animal products. I hear these types of comments from every level in my community, from priests to lay people alike, and they are really quite painful to me.

When I've missed out on a treat I've spent a lot of time reminding myself that I don't need a treat. That I'm trying to not gain back the 100+ pounds I once carried and a treat is just unnecessary calories. That only works a small portion of the time, if at all. Deep down, where it feels like the response of a small child, I hurt and feel unwelcome.

During retreat practice many of the most painful moments, times when I felt things went completely off the rails for me, have been triggered around not being included. Not having the same food at dinner, not being given very much of a specially set aside food, spending an entire week picking blackberries but the resulting pies contained animal products, and not getting a special treat with tea after a full day of meditation. I've learned, painfully, to bring treats I keep in the drawer by my bed. On some level they help, the 4-year-old who awakes with howls of fear and pain is somewhat comforted by the fact that there is a treat, but the pain of not being included weighs on me.

Despite my bringing my veganism up repeatedly to my teachers I don't feel a lot of engagement from them about it. I talk about how it is the very foundation for my practice, how I feel compassion in nurtured, but feels like something that is just shrugged off. My weight loss has been looked at as this remarkable accomplishment, but the fact that it is tied to my veganism doesn't feel to me as though it is regarded as important and is even brushed aside.

Tonight is a meeting with my practice cohort and I'm dreading it. Although one of the students who leads it now reminds people to bring a vegan dish, I am preparing myself to be calm when I see that someone has forgotten or brought an animal product anyway. Last month it was a bowl of cheese next to the salad. It honestly frustrated and pained me to see it there, like somehow the meal would be so incomplete if there wasn't some kind of animal product there. Most likely there won't be vegan cookies for tea unless I go to the market and buy some on the way there.

I was talking about my Zen practice a lot on Monday when I saw GM. I had burst out that some of my worst moments related to my PTSD, the most awful flashbacks and raw pain have shown up during meditation & retreat practice. How many of those moments have been triggered by not being included around food. I don't think I'd ever told her this before. She shook her head at me in amazement and asked me why I keep going.

The painful answer was that right now what is keeping me going is a sense of responsibility and bad-student guilt. I am coordinating a much-needed community day next month, preparing a yoga workshop for August, and I volunteered to create a practice cohort for sangha members who identify as queer. It is a group that we lack and are very much needing, but it is hard to feel enthusiastic when I feel unsupported in what I consider the very foundation of my practice.

29Jan/100

The Body That Practices

I finally brought my notes together into a rough draft of the workshop on Metta Yoga, "Union with Loving-Kindness". I've been thinking about this for so long and tonight a question from a Dharma Sister wondering if I'd set a date in a few weeks reminded me I needed to not loose focus. I'd brought up to Hogen that I was deeply committed to teaching this workshop, that I see it is so necessary to cultivate love and compassion for the body that practices.

Once I started writing down times and what practice went where I was surprised at how quickly I brought it together. A morning introducing Metta practice before moving into Asana to warm the body and open the hips before resting. Sharing lunch, including some time to just eat, perhaps even 10 minutes of silent eating before people talk. Then gather people back together for discussion about the body, how we view it, how we compare it, and how we stop that cycle in favor of cultivating gratitude and compassion for it. Deep focus on Pranayama after discussion before moving into another hour of Asana practice to open the heart and focus the mind. Time to practice Metta during meditation and then ending in full Savasana.

There it was, a full day of yoga built around Loving-Kindness practice, cultivating love for our body. A part of me feels like a big fake. I have a lot of days where I rush to put my clothes on, even more disappointed with my body after weight loss than I was when I weighed 290 pounds! I certainly have times when I feel entirely unqualified to teach anything and no one wants to hear about my experiences.

And then I'm brought back to center. I become present to my body, that which supports me even on days like today when I don't feel very good. I've become better at recognizing when I need to rely upon the loving support and encouragement from CK, my friends, my Dharma family, and even my Mom. These people are all my Sangha, the good company of people seeking the Way. Like falling backwards into the thousand arms of AvalokiteĊ›vara, I let myself feel the support of all of those hands of my Sangha and through that find belief in the truth they see in me in those moments I am unable to see it myself.

I am grateful for the belief of my Sangha and for my body which supports my practice, the Sagha of me.

21May/090

The Energy We Bring

I went to the Portland Dharma Center tonight. Two periods of zazen (sitting meditation) separated by kinhin (walking meditation) followed by a Dharma talk. Having been sick with bronchitis for the past two weeks it has felt like forever since I'd been there. I felt good just being there, which struck me as funny at some point this evening.

As a rule I've felt so uncomfortable in groups that I've covered it up with persona and distracted myself. Since I don't do that anymore I spend a lot of time acutely aware of my unease. To have a group I feel comfortable with, many of whom I've been seeing for a few years now, is unique.

Hogen afterwards commented on how bright I seemed, happy. I told him that I was happy to be there. That I missed everyone. It isn't that practicing at home doesn't feel good, yoga or zazen. It feels like my practice and I always am glad I do it, but the energy of practicing with other people cannot be replaced.

Smiling that present, bright smile Hogen called my attention to something I hadn't considered. He said that I was missed too. The particular energy that CK and I each bring to the sangha is noticed, missed when we are away.

It was very touching to me to hear this. In the same way I find it too easy to skip over myself when doing Metta practice I find that I don't consider that people might miss me. Regardless of the fact that I notice when sangha members are not at the Dharma center and I miss them! To interact with people happy to see me, glad to know I am well enough to be with them, and be focused on this by my teacher was a lovely gift.

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