Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Just Write

I found myself anxious about forgetting to post yesterday. I thought about what I "should have" posted. I considered how WordPress lets me set the date, I could technically write two posts today and make it look like it was written over two days.

Then I remembered that this is my blog and I’m returning to it instead of putting so much stuff on social media. When I’m going to the time to thread tweets, it goes here. The content is mine and easy to return to, unlike my tweets.

For so many years I thought of myself as a writer. I’d get down on myself whenever I’d lose steam with a daily writing practice. I went right back to shaming myself for not writing this morning!

Art has become my daily creative practice. My day feels incomplete without creativity through art. On the other hand, yesterday I totally forgot about my goal to write some here every day. I made art twice, forgot to write.

After too much dithering, about “Doing it wrong!”, I finally was able to allow myself to just skip yesterday. I want to write more here than social media platforms, that’s the goal. I do not need my brain to add more pressure, that’s not the point.


Plays & Poetry

CK and I went to see a production of Snow Falling on Cedars tonight at the Portland Center Stage courtesy of my haiku. I'd written about it earlier, when I'd found out about winning their contest on Twitter for the best winter themed haiku, but tonight we actually went. The production was really very good, very well staged and acted. We left with an intention to see more performances there.

CK said she is all for my continuing to win contests with writing. This may actually be the first time my writing has yielded something quite like this and it feels special. Since it is Ango, since I'm being mindful appreciating my life, I'm am careful to note the way part of me wants to pull away from really feeling the accomplishment, the desire to minimize, draw attention away from the accomplishment.

"It is just a little bit of haiku."

They were very good tickets. We enjoyed ourselves very much. I'm just going to leave it at that and appreciate the evening and how my writing provided it.


Once in a Lifetime

Seems kinda surreal still. 2010.

Where is my flying car! Where's the aliens? Where's my house in the clouds?

Well? How did I get here?

But wait for it....

This is my beautiful life.

This moment, with my headache, tired eyes and CK cursing loudly & creatively in her office downstairs. Every aching, cat fur covered, damp, rainy, cranky bit of this moment is the Pure Lotus Land.


I wrote a note to Hogen several weeks ago in which I talked about Practice being this means to clean up the metaphorical dirty cups of my life. But it has occurred to me in the recent downtime I've been experiencing that I'm just trying to find a way to tidy my life up. Once again, I'm trying to DO something, in this case Zen practice, hard enough to make the icky bits disappear.

The whole point of the Rumi poem is that the dirty cup does not, should not matter! The cup is just the thing that holds the wine. It is the wine, it is that essence that is important. I need to quit staring through all these pure, wondrous moments in order to focus on the smudges at the bottom of the cup!

As for the rest of my day?

I've resumed looking at myself in a mirror during zazen and pointedly doing loving-kindness practice for myself. This is something Hogen suggested in Sanzen ages ago, but it really kind of upset me when I first tried it so I set it aside. It feels like the right time to try this again. This afternoon my zazen helped my headache enough to not need ibuprofen. Tonight the Too-Big-Fridge was bought by a very grateful family. I can pay off the Home Depot account entirely and am relieved of the financial tightness around finishing my tattoo and going to Kaz's workshop this month.

I finished a new draft of the article for Chozen this evening.


Random Poetry

I am participating in a swap of poems with people. The goal is to take a book you are reading and take every tenth word from a page until you have 15 words. Then take those 15 words and somehow assemble them into a poem.

I'll be posting poems I receive in the mail as they show up. The first one I've received so far, from another Oregonian, is very cool!

The women's Dharma group I'm participating in is embarking on a deep study of Pema Chodron's book 'When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
' so I picked my words from the first page of the first chapter. My words, in order selected from book, are:

  1. to
  2. journey
  3. setting
  4. with
  5. will
  6. get
  7. the
  8. drawn
  9. if
  10. become
  11. it
  12. different
  13. we
  14. activities
  15. emptiness

The poem I assembled out of these words:


Setting the activities.
drawn to will.
Get with it.
Different journey.

We become emptiness.

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It was one of those realizations during zazen that felt like it kind of thumped into me. Why writing about, talking about the weight loss is so difficult.

I feel shame for having gained all that weight in the first place. For having abused my body so much.

Every day I'm reminded of it by the skin. I mention it sometimes, like wanting to wear something with long sleeves to cover my upper arms, the underside of which have a great deal of loose skin. People shrug and say how that happens to a lot of people, it is genetic.

Only really, this isn't like that. It is extra skin. One of my dearest friends, who has had a lap band surgery, calls them her "Bat Wings". More exercise and different body care products will not make the skin go away. There or any of the extra on my belly (upper and lower abdomen), breasts, and thighs particularly. There is quite possibly 10 extra pounds of skin. That's what happens when someone goes from 290+ to 140 +/- (I stay within a few pounds of that in either direction).

I mentioned it to Chozen and Hogen after sitting. I was reminded that instead of shame I need to honor my accomplishment by helping others. I joked with Hogen, asking if he kept a tally sheet under the sazen cushion for how many times I'm told this lesson. He laughed and said only for me. Chozen noted that I needed to go back to the piece I'm writing for her with this mindset.

And Loving-Kindness, of course.

I haven't done it yet. We were in Sacramento all weekend visiting CK's family. It was an inferno there compared to Portland, painfully bright. There was a lot of family dynamics and tension I was getting introduced to at the same time. It brought up some tough stuff in my past.

On top of that CK's step-dad, a professional photographer, took a series of photographs of me. Well over an hour of going through yoga poses again and again, turning to get different angles. It was exhausting on so many levels.

I shouldn't have looked at the images mid-way, but he was making a light adjustment for me to do standing asana, so I looked. He was complimenting my chaturunga, how great it looked to get it in series. He does yoga, so often he had a comment or suggested a couple of poses I hadn't done.

I couldn't stop looking at the way the loose skin on my upper abdomen hangs down. Gravity being what it is there's just this round line. It doesn't matter how strong or lean my core muscles are in my abdomen, nothing will make that skin hang smooth against my body again.

I continued on with the asana, working up a real sweat in the warm house in my yoga outfit with long sleeves and pants. CK expressed surprise several times, noting how I could do some poses she didn't even realize I was capable of. I wasn't able to move away from feeling shameful about my body for a while, it wasn't until I looked at other poses that I could work my way back to appreciating my alignment in the asana the way a teacher would. Moving towards looking at my body as just a students, not actually my own.

Back to the writing for Chozen. Now that I'm out of excuses and have zeroed in on at least one big reason I'm so uncomfortable with it. I suspect there's others but this appears to be a good one to start with.


Writing About the Weight Loss

I've gotten OK with writing about quite a lot of stuff. I've now even managed to write three things to be put into zine-type publications and have the work be personal, from my own experience. Writing about the weight loss is tough, weird, and it is one of the topics I think I get asked about the most.

Chozen was at the Dharma Center tonight and thanked me for writing a nice review of her book on Amazon. This prompted me to blurt out that I'd finished a draft of my assignment from her but I was still unhappy with it. I noted that CK had thought my voice seemed distant in it. She said usually reading my writing seems as though I'm there talking with her.

Off to the zendo and zazen I went with that little burst of anxious, "bad student" guilt, courtesy of my Inner Critic. It struck me in that first period why I find writing about the weight loss so difficult, why I try to distance myself from it. I feel ashamed for having abused my body with gaining that weight. Every day I see the loose skin as some kind of testimony to my guilt.

Second sitting period starts. I breath in... and Hogen's telling us to work on feeling satisfaction with ourselves, our breath, our bodies. Ugh! I feel like I've just been double-teamed by my teachers. Then I directed the madly spinning brain wheels to some Metta practice.

In chatting with both my teachers after sitting I was reminded of what I am told again and again. To take this history, the lessons I've learned from it, and use it to help others. Turn it all into potent medicine to heal the world. I sighed and laughed, feeling a bit sheepish (which is a variation on the bad-student anxiety, only with more kindness).

Chozen reminded me that she asked me for this writing because it means more for me to say that it is possible to change your life through mindful eating. She said that they might listen to hear about struggling with chocolate desires, but I truly speak the voice of someone who has successfully lost 150 pounds and kept it off. Proof that there is a way.

So I'll pick it up again over the next few days. Read it aloud, feel the words and where my discomfort rises up around them. Practice Metta and remind myself why I'm writing about this stuff (to help others, not so I won't feel guilty around Chozen... OK, maybe both).


Tuesdays, Allergies, and Drama

Yep, tired out, sneezy and congested. Ugh. Today is an all out assault on my allergies featuring several things only accessible with a little note from the doctor. I was a little relieved that after 15 minutes of zazen no one had appeared for yoga tonight. I was able to go home, have some leftover soup and write up stuff for PDX Pipeline.

Cat drama - Atari may have diabetes. We're having trouble getting a urine sample to check him again after the latest round of antibiotics and a change to a high protein/no grain food. Surprise to non-cat owners -- cats can hold it a really, really, worryingly long time. Despite the fact that he had sprayed at or peed on something in the house for several days in a row once we wanted him to just go in the empty litter box... nope. The sick-cat-blues have been extra tough lately, especially for CK who's been dealing with it all on her own for years now.

Add to the sick cat and the allergies another round of guests who don't quite follow the plans we think they are going to follow. Yeah, makes things feel extra unsettled and I think we're both still worn out from the last guest. At least we've made a lot of progress in the basement! Need to build us from cheap-ass bookshelves (bricks & boards, anyone?) and it will do for a while. Even have been getting our altar set up -- nice to light some incense for the Buddha when he wasn't just chilling on the sofa.

Granted, it is all what CK terms as "Very Middle Class Drama", but we certainly do feel it. Yeah, lots of opportunity for practice and all that. Sometimes drama, no matter how trivial it may seem in the overall scheme of things, just sucks.

I'm feeling waves of excitement and nervousness about teaching on Sunday, my first workshop. Same kind of up and down around the mini-class at Open Source Bridge next week. I also sent CK and E a draft of what I'm working on for Chozen. In true form with my writing I hated it as soon as it went to someone else's inbox.


A Flurry of Words & Code

We hid from the storm, which seemed to diminish right after we decided to stay home, and I have been writing most of the night. CK has been building my website. Occasionally she looks up and says, "Your going to like this!" in a gleeful voice.

I have been writing a lot of content for the site tonight. Finishing up a bio plus a bit that talks about my teaching style and influences. I also sorted out using the space at the Portland Dharma Center to teach a yoga workshop as a fundraiser for the Heart of Wisdom Zen Temple fund to purchase our own building. I asked Hogen permission last week and he said I could do it. Rinsan asked me to sort out with Dharma Rain if I could get into the building ahead of our usual 3pm Sunday time.

That got worked today and I suddenly was in need of text to put on a flyer! CK is going to put a black & white one together for me using the text I used. I believe it will also show up on the new website! We also have ordered fantastic business cards for me too.

Suddenly, in a flurry of words, code and intention Samatha Yoga is coming to life!

I also finished a draft of an article about how I have used yoga & Zen to help manage my chronic pain. E is friends with folks who do a zine about chronic pain called, When Language Runs Dry and has sent me the call for submission twice now. I sent a copy of the draft to her to see what she thinks.

All this writing must mean I really will write the piece for Chozen's blog. I think I needed all this other writing to build up momentum to let me zoom on past my Inner Critic's voice and write my story.


Graduation Depression

Everyone keeps asking me how happy I am now that my second round of yoga teacher training is completed.

I haven't made it to happy yet. I'm beginning to wonder if this is the next entry onto the list of accomplishments I don't truly feel happy for finishing. I feel unfocused, anxious and sad.

Some of this sounds like it is normal. I touched base with a couple of my fellow trainees this week and they echoed my less than happy feelings. I have heard from others how they felt down after finishing something like this. Tonight after the Dharma talk Nan called it "Graduation Depression" and gave me a hug.

I want to feel energized about the piece I'm writing around responding to the suffering of others. I had a moment last week where I just wrote flat out and felt good about it. My thoughts really came together around the idea that what we can offer to others, what we always have available to offer. Instead I sent a copy to CK and immediately hated what I wrote.

"Ahh, I hear the voice of the Inner Critic." said Chozen with a smile when I mentioned this to her tonight.

Chozen wants me to feel energized about writing for her blog on Psychology Today. I told her I had an outline done and she was happy to hear that I'd made some progress. I felt like a bad student. I also told her I hadn't written in days, felt unfocused, depressed, and not at all wanting to attend her sesshin starting the 20th on Loving-Kindness.

Being Chozen, she heard all of this and smiled at me. She insisted she is not nagging, merely reminding me with kindness to help me focus. She asks people to reminder her in this way when she is writing as it is useful to her. She is looking forward to my writing about responding to suffering and said that my reaching a point of hating it is not necessarily bad. She said that she gets that way too sometimes and then later, when the writing is read again she discovers that there's some good stuff.

AM is moving the bulk of his furniture this weekend. We had some tense words yesterday and I still feel the energy of them. These two endings, strung together, seem very heavy. As the teacher training progressed to a celebratory, loving end my marriaged progressed towards as loving a divorce as possible.

Saturday I am going hiking with CK and whoever else shows up at 10AM by the Zoo MAX stop. We're going to have a picnic after the short hike, if it rains we'll do it in the shelters at Hoyt Arboretum. On Sunday she and I are going to Easter dinner. Ham will be served so we're making a hearty, vegan soup to take with us.

I feel guilty for not being excited about CK moving into the house with me when I am back from sesshin. I know inside there's a part of me that is so happy, so grateful, so excited and yet I feel very disconnected from that part.


Although They Are Only Breath

Today began my experiment with greater "word exposure" for myself. This morning PDX Pipeline posted a short piece I wrote about watching the series finale of Battlestar Galactica at the Bagdad Theater. Which is pretty cool and a lot of fun, plus good writing practice!

Seeing it published on the site reminds me a bit of when a piece I wrote for my Sangha journal came out. Looking down at a picture of myself next to my words. Today it is seeing something I wrote, with my name and little bio line there, on a very public site with a growing amount of traffic. Then there's this sharing poetry thing I've been doing, the Sangha Poetry Challenge. I think more people have read my poetry than ever before in my life, which is kinds strange and nice at the same time.

While chatting with the person who runs PDX Pipeline this morning before heading into the office we sorted out trying to arrange for me to do a phone interview of the guys behind a musical act I'm a big fan of as well a go to one of their shows next month and take some photos. I was just hoping for the show & photos bit, the interview thing... Wow! Don't want to write a lot of details about this one since it is still getting sorted out, but it is enough for me to be excited and nervous about.

Although I checked out another new yoga studio tonight, had a really nice class that even helped my neck feel a little better -- I'm not going to write about it. I'm just going to leave it at reflecting upon the interesting emotions, inner dialog that arises around writing, sharing my writing. Which brings me to my poetry offering for today:

My Words

“But, why?”
I ask myself
And wonder.

Why is it I even
Want people to
Read my words.
Why do I think
My words are
Worthy of the
Eyes of others
Taking them in,
Holding them.
Letting my words

My critic reminds
Me that I am
No great hand
With words,
Daring me to
Compare my
Crude lines
With those of
Other, greater

A defiant child’s
Voice, I barely
Recognize as mine,
Repeats with small
Words she’s heard.
My words may
Transcend darkness
To bring illumination.

My words are
Potent medicine.

**The title of this post is taken from a bit of Sappho someone from Dharma Rain Zen Center reminded me of when she saw today's poem for the Sangha Challenge.

Although they are only breath
these words of mine
will live forever