Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Cupcake Double Happiness Thursday

In which I make two batches of vegan cupcakes on conference calls and delegating work.

That's how my Thursday went. Oh, and I made 60+ petals out of marzipan to decorate the green tea cupcakes with 5-petal blossoms.

It was a mad dash most of the day. I went in late to be at a retirement party. 3 more people encouraged to take retirement now after the four from my team last year. Lots of smiles, well-wishes, cupcakes appreciated, and lovely cantaloupe & pear sorbet!

It feels unsettled at my office, especially so since we're moving up two floors soon and my desk is surrounded by boxes. I hate moving so much. CK and I just got the living and dining rooms empty of boxes. Being around them at work just makes me want to cry sometimes. Despite this I packed up all my work related books this week and have begun packing the small items (shells, toys, altar stuff...).

It was nice to go to zazen tonight at the Dharma center after such a hectic day. I felt really settled in my sitting tonight and wished there had been a second sitting period. I was happy to give up the second sit since we got to hear the current shusso (head of zendo), who is stepping down after a year's service, discuss the koan he's studied. It was a lively and bright interaction, at more than one point the whole sangha shared laughter together!

The cupcakes, which had been denied to CK earlier in the day, were handed out to our teachers and the old and new shussos first. I have misplaced my mini-cupcake pan and had made full-sized ones, which meant there were not enough for everyone. I felt a little bad about this when someone asked after they'd been put out if there were more cupcakes.

Other than that it was fun to share something special with my sangha. I focused on the appreciation of everyone who got to have a cupcake and have tried not to let it be an opportunity for my inner critic shaming me for not being "perfect".


Accomodate or Include?

Still processing the Founder's Dinner. On one hand it was wildly successful and I am so grateful. Then there's the other hand...

Yes, the chef was donating his time and ideas. Yes, we'd already asked him to prepare a vegetarian dinner. Yes, vegan meals had to be asked for towards the end of planning.

But like so many events the accommodation for a vegan was just leave dairy/eggs out of the vegetarian dishes, a couple of which had no option (I'm sure the fritters were lovely and we didn't even try the chard from the garden). Dessert? Yes, a plate with a few of the strawberries in syrup that garnished the beautiful shortcakes served to everyone else. Shortcakes that our teacher used to guide everyone in a mindful eating practice.

Why is it that dessert always seems to be the bit that really sticks out? My first weekend at Great Vow, for a Beginner's Mind retreat, I had no dessert options when it was time for tea. By the time I came for the women's retreat that Sandy Boucher and Martha Boesing teach in the winter there was a scramble to serve me dried dates at tea. During Loving-Kindness I brought a package of store-bought cookies so there would always be something. Admittedly there was more than one tea where I struggled with the hurt child's voice inside who couldn't help but notice just now nice the cookies served to everyone else were.

I've been practicing with this voice, this hurt child who is me, for a few years now. She made a deafening howl at times during the Loving-Kindness sesshin. As far as being vegan goes, I have reasoned conversations with that child about how being vegan is so critically important to our practice of Peace, the practice that heals us. That our need to be literally nourished by a diet of peace is the very foundation of our Practice.

The Founder's Dinner became another chance to practice with that voice unfortunately. I was already nervous at being all dressed up and helping as a Table Host (which meant talking to people, answering questions and asking for money). Instead of relaxing into the evening I practiced with that child's disappointment and my concern for CK, who was having a rough time with the same issue.

I guess the word "accommodate" jumps right out. It doesn't mean include. It does imply making something suitable or giving consideration to someone's needs, which is important but it isn't the same as including someone in a group. In the overall scheme of things it often a huge accomplishment to get a group, society to accommodate someone. Hell, I don't need the State of Oregon or the whole of the United States to include me or make me welcome in everything, but I'd be elated if they would merely accommodate my right to marry the person I love.

But my spiritual home? This is the community I want to include me, not merely accommodate me. This is the essence of the article I wrote for our Sangha newsletter, Wisdom's Heart Includes All. As vegans we are an extreme, although there is a precedent of a Zen teacher advocating a vegan diet (Thich Nhat Hanh), but I feel we are an important part of our Sangha. Inclusion means we gather in those extremes as well as the nice, comfortable, filled-out center.

What does this mean? I am not entirely sure yet. I know I am filled with gladness and gratitude that JQ, the tenzo at Great Vow, is using more vegan recipes, is excited by the cookbooks we sent, and I love talking to her about cooking. I am delighted to share recipes and ideas with my Sangha. I'd love to host some cooking classes! I want to hear about any special events in advance so either CK or I have the time to make something special to bring. Maybe, just maybe, the next time we have a fancy dinner planning for vegan members will be considered at the beginning, I hope that at least one dish will be entirely vegan for the whole group, and we'll actually get a real dessert.

I do know with all my heart I want to be a part of the founding of the Heart of Wisdom Zen Temple, but at times it is painful, challenging practice to feel "accommodated".

CK's open letter she wrote in response to her feelings at the Founder's Dinner is also online.


New Tattoos and First Workshop

After the sadness and quiet of Friday we slept in late on Saturday before hitting a very full day. We popped by the annual Buddhist Festival in the Park and dropped of flyers for my class today as well as running over to the Dharma Center to pick up the post cards CK had printed of the various meditation times. Saw several members of ZCO there and we had planned to get back, but the day's errands just took over!

We decided we would take advantage of the Let Live fundraiser being held by Scapegoat Tattoo, a $30 tattoo with a vegan and/or animal rights theme. We lucked out and were the last ones to get our names on the list for my 9th and CK's first tattoos. It was a good thing we had several errands since we ended up being all bandaged up around 11:30PM. Afterwards we went off to Whiffies to get celebratory pies!

Today CK made some maple walnut cookies to share after my yoga class in the morning. Given that we hadn't had much time at all to publicize the event and there were so many conflicts this weekend (the biggie being Pride) I was thrilled that 3 students came and donated money towards the Heart of Wisdom down payment fund.

I learned a lot teaching this mini-workshop on Metta Yoga. I started by doing some simple stretches to open the body a little in preparation for meditation. I allowed several minutes to just settle into the breath and then introductions the three phrases of loving-kindness practice for five minutes each. After meditation we moved into an asana practice that included sun salutations, abdominals, and a warming of the legs in preparation for some heart openers. I offered Side Bow as a challenge option at the end before moving into some twists and forward bends, still opening the hips up. I allowed over 15 minutes for a long savasana and used a guided body scan that offered appreciation and loving-kindness to the body. At the very end I read the translation of the Metta Sutra from the San Francisco Zen Center that Chozen read to us one of the days during the Loving-Kindness Sesshin.

I would like to offer this workshop again in the fall, maybe September and perhaps for 3 hours. I don't want to cut down the meditation at the beginning or the body scan at the end, but the asana practice in the middle felt a bit rushed to me. I'd wanted to do a few more poses to go more deeply into the hips and legs, especially prepping for bow pose at the end. I also felt like I offered too few hands-on adjustments since I was moving quite quickly - only getting up to correct in bridge (four-footed-pose) since the precision is very important for the feet & knees.

I had a good chat with another member of ZCO after teaching and a meeting for the Founder's Dinner next Sunday. I expressed that I was feeling like I was to a point where I wasn't sure I wanted to keep teaching at the community center. More than anything I'm tired of asking students to come put their faces down on a floor that is often covered in glitter, dried mud, Skittles, and bits of popcorn. I also walk around on this floor barefoot - ick! The absolute privilege and joy of getting to teach at the Dharma Center highlights just how nice it feels to teach in an enviroment that supports practice.

I don't require a fancy location, but I look forward to a clean environment that supports the practice (Saucha!). To that end I expressed interest in working out teaching a couple of classes at Heart of Wisdom, when we have our own building, instead. I just felt that if I was splitting the earnings from teaching with a studio space, I'd rather split that money with my Zen center to help support it. It was wonderful to hear her agree that this seems like a good fit for Heart of Wisdom and my practice of teaching. I really look forward to working towards this goal in the future and helping support my sangha in this way.


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.


CK and I slept in and it was lovely, confirming for me that getting to sleep in is a true pleasure. Lie last Sunday we decided to indulge in brunch at Sweetpea Baking Company. This decision led to the delightful serendipity of joining several friends who were there as well.

It was wonderful to watch CK present her work on the new design of the ZCO website at the annual meeting this afternoon. I was so proud of her and so happy to see her get to take in all the applause and positive feedback from our Sangha. I know she believes me when I tell her she's doing great, but I also know that it is very powerful for a room full of people to express appreciation for her is incredibly beneficial. I felt very proud of her, happy for her accomplishment, energy, and integrity.

I shared with HB what JW had written about me, the words of commendation she spoke about me at our teacher training graduation. He commented on the responsibly it suggested. Not that he questioned my ability to meet it, just acknowledging it. He also picked up on her noting that I need to recognize the sacredness within myself, that it is as great as the sacredness of the sutras I feel so immersed in.

Talking about it, starting to put words to it and then sit silent in zazen for a few minutes left me feeling closer to the tears I was surprised didn't arise last night. I think the energy to finish is still ebbing and I may hit a point where the emotion settles down.

Later on CK & I shared a marvelous, delicious evening with friends up here from San Francisco. It was wonderful spending the time with them, chatting about life. I enjoyed that we did not so much "catch up" as just progress from the present and talk about what came to mind. We did get to get more detail, which I really enjoyed, about their trip to India last year, but mostly we just shared in one anothers company. It felt like a wonderful way to end the weekend.


I am still learning how
To have the compliment
And my view of self align.
The words of praise still
Feel heavy with responsibility
And I continue to question
My ability to carry them.
Yet to deflect them,
Minimize the words to
Fit into my comfortable view
Is to also make small the
Heartfelt words given to me.
It doesn't yet feel like
Those words are really mine,
Even though they were
Certainly given to me.
I am merely trying to
Allow myself to exist
In the same space as
These words of praise,
To try not to move
Away from honor,
To recognize my
Own accomplishment.


Wisdom’s Heart Includes All

The following article appeared in my Sangha newsletter, Ink on the Cat. Since a few people have asked me about it, I wanted to post it here too.

Wisdom's Heart Includes All

Inclusive (adjective)

Including the specified extremes or limits as well as the area between them: the numbers one to ten, inclusive.

I believe that at wisdom's heart, the absolute center of wisdom, is love. Love is the foundation of the Brahma-Viharas. It helps us to grow into wisdom like trees reaching towards the sun. From this place of love we learn to be at peace with ourselves and open to the world. This opening allows us to accept unfamiliar people, ideas, and beliefs. We develop a greater capacity to see the limits and the extremes, as well as the area between, and enfold all in our boundless heart.

Our sangha is committed to finding a building for a downtown center. I hold the aspiration that our sangha grows to include the community in which we practice, and look forward to our home becoming a safe, inclusive place for all people to experience the container of zazen and the support of an open-hearted community.

ZCO has grown to welcome a small, rural community to the beauty of Zen practice and the melody of marimbas. Our practice of inviting teachers, writers, artists, and musicians from many traditions enriches the ground of our Dharma knowledge. Members in pilgrimage together deepened their practice by visiting ancient sites and, in including non-travelers back home through beautiful emails.

This spring we grew to include two Burmese families in our sangha. We have found that despite differences of culture, language or even faith (the families are Christian), we are a community because we share our humanity and the desire to be happy. Our practice with this family has taught me about the ways in which we communicate as humans first and, when we do that based in the love at wisdom's heart, language is immaterial. I've also had the joy of learning that Legos require no directions, only a surface where they can be safely strewn and playfully assembled.

The feeling of being included is not something I knew growing up. As a young child I knew that all living beings are deeply connected, but I felt alienated by my family. Because of this I have withheld myself, my essential being, in ways small and large. Any ease I had within groups was tied to a persona so elaborate that I no longer knew it was just a facade.

During the past seven years I have given up that persona as I worked to change my life in order to adopt a healthier way of living. Besides practicing hatha yoga and Zen, I've become a vegan, lost 150 pounds, lowered my cholesterol 100 points, started teaching yoga, and took the first five precepts. I've rediscovered the silence that was my childhood safe haven, while my teachers have encouraged me to find my voice hiding in that quiet. I'm slowly learning to trust that even when I reveal true differences about myself I am still welcomed in my sangha.

All I've learned in the three years I've been practicing with ZCO, combined with happy excitement at the thought of finding a literal home for our community, gives me great hope that we will grow to include others who may feel alienated from society, family, and self, that more people enter, feel the silence and wisdom that illuminates the heart of our temple, and sit down to rest in the essential self.



CK commented the other day I was prolific, maybe I've already mentioned this. I wasn't sure at first if this was OK, if my wordy-ness was a bother. There's a bit of a laugh in it since so often I feel like I am at a loss for words. I have tried to make writing be part of my practice in order to help me sort out words from the cacophony of competing voices or find the way out in moments of fear.

Next month some members of my Sangha have proposed a challenge -- 30 poems in 30 days. Seems like both another outlet for writing practice as well as a way to reconnect with writing poetry. In the past few years the occasional haiku has been about it. Since it was the first type of poetry I learned about it feels like I've gone back to my roots somehow.

I don't have any of those first haiku poems I wrote. I wonder now what they were like -- full of all the earnestness, curiosity and silliness of my nine year-old self. 31 years later and I'm still fascinated by the rhythm of haiku, the way the handful of words shift around until they settle down.

On that note, one came to me last night when CK asked if I'd posted something to test a blog she's started for the Sangha Poem Challenge. I didn't have anything new to post there and couldn't think of anything at that moment, I didn't have any words handy.

And then words arrived.

Finding Words

Sometimes the words come
Slowly - like finding agates
Scattered on the shore.