Author: susantara

Beginner’s Mind

Beginner’s Mind

This poem and these images emerged from where my two great refuges, nature photography and mindfulness meditation, intersect.

 

Beginner’s Mind

 

I do not know your name,

Have not come face-to-face with you before

Or perhaps have not seen you quite like this.

And to be clear, you cannot stay

Because you are harming my dear jade.

But before taking action, let me take

A close look and marvel

At the details of your form.

Before moving you gently outdoors,

May I shift out of self-interest long enough

To see the world from your perspective

And dwell in both the mystery of your being

And this wondrous, connected moment

In which your reputation does not precede you

And I know you, too, as dear.

 


© 2021 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Water Lily Wisdom

Water Lily Wisdom

It was just a regular paddle up the river to my usual turnaround spot and back. Occasionally, I’d pause to be still on the calm water and take in the symphony of the birds without the steady rhythm of paddling in the foreground. Before paddling back across the river to return home, I stopped to appreciate and make pictures with the water lilies.

I’d recently acquired a new lens that offered a fresh sense of both perspective and exploration. Before I knew it, I’d disembarked from my kayak in shallow water and was contorting my body into a sequence of “water lily photography yoga” asanas, to achieve the most pleasing angles.

Time doesn’t seem to exist when I’m with the water lilies. I fall into a water lily time warp. That’s what happens when we’re fully present and connected to what we love, or when love reveals itself through something or someone we’re fully present to and connected with.

When the nose of my kayak slid into the shore in front of my house, my sense of time returned immediately. I saw “10:30” flash in my mind. Could it really be that late? I had to teach a class at noon and had envisioned returning with three hours to spare. But when I looked at the time, it was 10:24. Somehow, I had lingered on the river for 3 1/2 hours!

However, when I’m with the water lilies, it is time well spent. They draw me close and whisper deep into my heart. If I were to choose a symbol for my life, it would be a water lily. No doubt about it.  

Out of the Mud

I’ve contemplated water lilies from many different angles over the 13 years I’ve lived on this quiet stretch of the Hudson River. This week, I became fixated on how a beautiful, white flower grows from the dirty mud beneath the water – and how we, too, grow from the mud of this human life we’re living.

There’s a tendency to perceive our challenges and suffering as interfering with our lives. However, the challenges and messiness are as essential to a human life as the mud is to a water lily. They are part of life and provide us with essential nutrients for growth.

The mud of suffering belongs. It’s the foundation from which we awaken and bloom.

But sometimes we stay stuck in the mud. Instead of surrendering to the awakening process and growing towards the light, we remain in the comfort of the stories we tell about other people, ourselves, and life. When I think about the times I’ve felt stuck, it’s incredible how much suffering was generated by dysfunctional use of my mind. My own mind was holding me back!

And it’s even more incredible to realize that all along, it was within my power to step out of the muddy narratives and into the present moment. To set myself free from the addictive stories, as if awakening from a dream of tremendous limitation.

Towards the Light

Awareness is the first step of liberation. We can’t transform what we don’t even notice in the first place. When we make a practice of noticing with kindness and compassion the stories we tell about life, real transformation is possible. From the inside out. 

I’m writing about this because it’s something I’ve experienced. I’m fascinated with how bored I’ve become with stories all of a sudden. Narratives that go something like: This is/isn’t how [my] life is supposed to be. Or how other people are supposed to be. Or my body. Stories that illustrate and explain why this person is a monster. Complaining stories.

These stories often carry some kind of judgment that generates a sense of superiority, inferiority, or separation…which reveals the author’s true identity:

Hello, Ego. I see you. I see what you’re doing. Thanks for trying to help. I’ve got this.

It feels like the stories have simply outlived their usefulness. Living in stories about others/myself/life pales in comparison to engaging freely with life. The stories and narratives are like a filter or veil that gets in the way of real presence and connection. 

And I’ve learned that I greatly prefer presence and connection. They are breaths of fresh air.

The more I practice presence, the greater the momentum becomes to choose presence instead of the trance of stories. Awakening from dream/trance becomes more natural. I catch myself when I’m beginning to tell a story about a person, a situation, or myself. An alarm goes off in my head: “Story!” Then I can put my attention on what’s here and now: perhaps birdsong, flowing river, clouds drifting through the sky, or the breeze in the trees.

The idea of inhabiting a story brings to mind an image of a water lily bud living in a river, before reaching above the surface. A river of thought. But when we become aware of the water all around us, we don’t become so identified with how we perceive things. We can see there’s a layer or filter that distorts our perception to some degree, that we’re caught up in. We become aware that there’s more above the surface of the water and continue growing towards the light, where intuition and deeper insights can reach us. Where blooming happens naturally.

Truth is, our mind doesn’t have to work so hard. There’s an easier way to navigate this life. We need not inhabit such density. There is light available.

With practice, we can develop the capacity to notice what is happening – what we’re immersed in – and, like a water lily bud in the river, choose to keep growing upwards towards the light. We can choose the kind of relationship we have with our mind so it can be used for growth instead of holding us down. It is possible to overcome the addiction to thinking and being at the mercy of compelling thoughts that keep us stuck in unhealthy situations and disempowering beliefs.

Like water lilies, we are invited to transcend the mud, grow through the water towards the light, and bloom in the fresh air above the water. To experience the sunlight directly instead of through the filter of stories, narratives, beliefs that distract us from presence.

We can choose to accept the exquisite invitation and become more than a closed bud in a dense environment. We can bloom and be part of the pollinating world: inspiration to other buds, evidence that blooming is possible. That flowering is our nature, and there is a blueprint embedded within us. 

We Are Not Alone

And like a water lily, we are not alone. Above the surface of the water, it might look like a water lily is a separate entity. But it’s connected with all the lily pads and other water lilies around it, part of the same plant, connected by stems and deep rhizomes. When I move my paddle gingerly through lily pads, it becomes very clear that everything is connected. The lily pads floating on the water gather sunlight and help the water lilies to grow and bloom.

Last year, I looked closely at the veiny design embossed on lily pads and was astonished to discover that it looked just like a water lily. That’s how interconnected they are.

We need only get a glimpse beneath the surface to realize we are not alone. We are connected with all the life around us, part of the same cycle or ecosystem. We have help and are in this life together. Our situation is not unique. Our suffering is simply the mud from which we rise and bloom, and it serves a purpose. It’s not something to be ashamed of or to regret. It’s essential to our being, and transcending it is essential to our becoming.

Time to Rest

The first time I visited my “water lily friends” this summer was one afternoon right after the solstice. I stayed up too late the previous night and got a late start in the morning, which meant missing the sunrise. I waited until I was done teaching to go on the river.

But there were only a few water lilies still visible above water at that time, and they’d already begun to close up for the day. That afternoon, I was tired after not getting enough sleep, and the water lilies reminded me of the importance of rest. 

My water lily friends begin to wake up a couple hours after sunrise then close up and retreat underwater by mid-afternoon. The next morning, they rise back above the water and open up again. Each flower does this for about four days straight. It keeps retreating and coming back again, until returning to the mud to decompose. I appreciate and am inspired by their dance of rising and opening, closing and retreating, and how resting and retreating resources their blooming.

Needless to say, I’m grateful for water lily time of year and what these beautiful flowers reflect to me about this human life. If I’m ever running late, you know where to find me: amongst the water lilies, where time does not exist.


© 2021 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Photographing Flowers

Photographing Flowers

Yesterday was my mom’s seventh angelversary: the seventh anniversary of her passing from this world into the great unknown. 

And all is well.

Better than well, actually. Because the aliveness and vitality of this time of year now overshadow the 2014-2015 memories of dying and grieving. 

The month of May, once again, is more about life than death, partly because of my flower friends: the whole parade that begins with daffodils and in the past couple weeks has included lilacs, lilies of the valley, and irises. Every spring, they show up and reliably and unknowingly support me and gladden my heart. 

At the end of my mom’s life, flowers, friends, and family are what mattered most. That year, I made it my mission to surround her with flowers and news of what was happening in the flower world. When she was strong enough, we walked around the house looking at her flower beds, and I hoped she’d be able to see some of her flowers bloom. The flower parade was how I measured time that year. 

When she wasn’t strong enough to go outdoors, and her universe narrowed down to the sofa and coffee table in the living room, I showed her my photographs of flowers. I also kept vases of freshly cut lilacs around her.

The rest of my flower memories of my mom were much happier ones. All my life, she had flower gardens. She wasn’t much of a nature girl in other respects, but she loved tending to her flowers. Memories of my mom and an abiding connection with her come strongly through flowers. 

Lilies of the valley: Tiny fairy bells with an intoxicating fragrance that transports me instantly to my childhood. My swing set was right next to a flower garden that featured lilies of the valley. The memories are so strong that they could convince me the delicate blooms lasted all summer. But that’s just how big an impression the fragrance made and how closely I must have studied them after my mom pointed them out to me.

I also remember the joy of picking some for my mom, who loved the fragrance. What joy to be a young child noticing a flower and seeing it as an opportunity to make someone happy. Picking it. Feeling the anticipation of gifting it. Seeing happiness brighten the recipient’s eyes and spread into a smile. Do you remember?

Yesterday morning, my mom’s actual angelversary, I woke up knowing exactly what I wanted to photograph.

The morning she died, after leaving the hospice house, I drove straight to the labyrinth – my sacred refuge – and was greeted by irises. They were there for me that morning, uplifting me, and they are here for me every May 27th.

I didn’t pay much attention to flowers while my mom was alive (until the last few years of her life). That was her thing. For my dad, it was birds. Those are the languages in which they speak to me even now. The first messenger was irises. From day one, irises were there to connect me to the goodness and beauty in the world when I needed it most.

And so I immersed myself in photographing irises on my mom’s angelversary and reflected on how her love of flowers had become integrated in me and how it has awakened me in many ways and deepened our connection. 

In Beauty: The Invisible Embrace (2005), John O’Donohue wrote:

The dead are not distant or absent. They are alongside us. When we lose someone to death, we lose their physical image and presence, they slip out of visible form into invisible presence…Though they cannot reappear, they continue to be near us and part of the healing of grief is the refinement of our hearts whereby we come to sense their loving nearness. 

It feels to me that when we engage or connect with something our dearly departed one loved, we draw them near. 

After photographing the irises, I walked the labyrinth and declared inwardly something my heart had known all along: All of my flower pictures are dedicated to my mom (except for water lilies, which are my thing.) When I photograph flowers, there is no separation between myself and my mother’s essence – which has become part of me. It’s almost as if I can see through her eyes.

Which is why all is well seven years later. And I make lots of photos with flowers.


© 2021 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Spaces in Your Togetherness

Spaces in Your Togetherness

It’s been a while since I’ve gone on a good, long hike through the woods solo. Last weekend, I took my camera and hiking boots into the forest for an artist date with myself that turned into a six-hour retreat.

Had I been with my husband or anyone else, the hike probably would have taken half the time. For starters, we wouldn’t have spent an hour having a love-fest with a willow tree. I appreciated being able to stop and spend as much time as I wanted connecting with whatever drew my attention.

I have a meditation bell app set to sound once every 20 minutes throughout the day. When the bell sounds, I practice stopping, breathing, and being. It’s basically pausing to sip presence while taking three deep breaths, scanning my body for tension that could be released on the exhalation, and becoming aware of my environment. I love this life-enriching practice. However, I tend not to do it when I’m with another person, although it could be a lovely practice to do together.

There was always something to notice, to connect with when I stopped: subjects that otherwise would have remained unnoticed. I emerged from the forest with 300 images (many captured after taking mindful pauses) and a sense of empowered fulfillment. It was wonderfully restorative to spend that time in nature alone.

Need for Quiet Space

Yesterday in my Mindfulness with Children class for parents, the topic was mindfulness of emotions and feelings, which is one of my favorite topics of all. (As an Enneagram 4, you could say it’s an area of expertise.) I talked about the importance of tracing emotions to sensations in the body and how sensations linked with unpleasant emotions are signals to attend to some kind of need. I listed several examples, including the need for alone time and quiet space. 

Then I seized the opportunity to speak up for the introverts of the world. Because parents and teachers and partners and friends and colleagues of introverts might not understand how important alone time is when you’re wired as we are. Or they might find it odd that one of the first things you want to do after emerging safely from a lengthy pandemic is not to attend a large or small gathering but to go on retreat.

Growing up, I liked to spend time alone in my room. This concerned my mom, who was the only extrovert in the family. There would be the knock on the door and the attempt to pull me “out of my shell”. Housemates would do the same when I was in my twenties. What those who lived with me didn’t understand was that I had a need for ample alone time. My room was my peaceful place. It’s where I recharged my batteries.

The same must have been true for my two younger siblings. Out of the three Meyer kids, I was the only one who wasn’t voted “Most Shy” in high school.

Time to Recharge

My basic definition of introverts and extroverts is that introverts recharge their batteries alone, whereas extroverts get energized when they are with others. This is why introverts might need to know how long a social engagement will last, how many people will be there, and who will be there. We need to pace our energy because it will get depleted if we are subjected to too much social stimulation. We’ll shut down.

When I was teaching kindergarten, after dropping my students off at lunch or a special class, I’d return to my classroom, turn off the lights, lock the door, and recharge my batteries in the peace and quiet. If sounds from neighboring classrooms drifted into earshot, I’d put on some kind of white noise to drown them out.

I needed these retreats during the day to get through the rest of the day. As much as I wished I had an aide assigned to my classroom to help with behavior management, I appreciated having the room to myself when the children were gone. I didn’t go to the teachers’ lounge for lunch, and colleagues probably thought I was anti-social, which is how introverts are often seen by others. However, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to get to know my colleagues but that I needed to recharge my batteries alone and integrate the day thus far. I needed it like oxygen.

I had a small tent set up in a quiet corner of my classroom, next to my desk. When a child needed some space, they could retreat to the tent for a little while. Because I was sensitive to the needs of introverts…because I’ve always been one.

Introverted Partners

My husband lives in an RV in the back yard. He’s an introvert, too, and has a YouTube channel, A Jack out of the Box (the “box” being a house). Everywhere we’ve lived, he’s built some kind of shelter outdoors – usually a tipi or a wigwam – to have his own space. It’s how we manage living in a small, 200-year-old house. We’re both artists and like our own space and probably wouldn’t still be together if we weren’t able to have it.

As Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet about marriage: Let there be spaces in your togetherness. At times, there’s been too much space, but it’s a balancing act. We try to take walks together as many days as we can. But some days we walk alone. Maybe because I want to be inspired or get clear about what to talk about in my next mindfulness meditation class. It’s not personal. 

Finding A Healthy Balance

How much introversion is too much? When does it become unhealthy? That was an inquiry that came up in yesterday’s class, and it’s a good one.

This is where our emotional guidance system comes into play. If we can learn to be mindful of the emotions and accompanying body sensations that arise in us, they can key us in to what we need to be balanced and healthy. That means being able to stay with unpleasant sensations, to see what message they carry. Stay instead of push them away.

For example, if I find myself feeling envious of someone else’s large network of friends, it might mean I need to engage more. Or if I feel lonely, it might signal too much space in my marriage. Being mindful of emotions or even the presence of body sensations linked with emotions (because sometimes emotions are sneaky) provides an opportunity to rearrange our priorities.

There is so much wisdom in our body and conveyed through our emotions. Sometimes a good walk alone in the woods provides the space to hear more clearly what they have to say. And sometimes someone wanting to be alone isn’t personal or an indicator of how important you are to them. It’s just how they charge their batteries.


© 2021 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Maybe

Maybe

My eyes blinked open a little earlier than usual to pink light streaming through my bedroom window. Barely out of a dream, I jumped out of bed, grabbed my camera, and dashed across the road to the riverside. The sunrise sky changes from one moment to the next, and I had to wait for a few cars to pass before crossing the road. The opening lines of this poem started drifting through the air as I wondered if the sunrise colors would wait for me to cross the road.

After capturing some images, the dramatic, early sunrise colors faded, and I lingered on the riverside as the rest of the poem developed. (Fortunately, there is a small notepad and pen in my camera bag for such occasions.) Before the sun appeared above the tree line, I returned home with both a picture and a poem. 

Maybe

Maybe it’s not the sunrise sky.
Maybe it’s the way the budding trees
Are silhouetted by the angle of backlight
Or the sound of a woodpecker across the river
Providing percussive accompaniment
For the songbird symphony.

Maybe it’s not the great blue heron.
Maybe it’s the cluster of forget-me-nots
Growing out of the rocky wall
As you paddle by.

Maybe it’s not reaching a certain
Destination or state of mind.
Maybe it’s the sound of your paddle
Dipping into calm, reflective water
Or each footstep touching the ground.

Maybe it’s not the white swan
But how it inspired you
To pay closer attention
And to have enough hope
To take the next step.

Maybe it wasn’t getting the shot.
Maybe it was being there
And experiencing what was there
Instead of being disappointed
By what wasn’t.

Maybe waiting for the sun
To emerge from or duck behind a cloud
Is an invitation to notice
Something small and lovely
That would have remained unnoticed.

Maybe it’s not something tiny
But taking in the whole landscape
That includes you sitting or standing here,
Part of it all, breathing.

Maybe it’s not a sight but a sound
Or an opportunity to adjust
The focus, the angle, the depth
Of your field of awareness.

Maybe what you were looking for
Was just one of infinite possibilities
And your expectations not being met
Is a gateway to something greater.

Maybe it’s not about happy-ever-after.
Maybe it’s feeling alive and engaging
With the magic of the moment,
Which is the only moment we have.

Maybe it’s not the place you go to
But the person you’re with,
Or maybe it’s the other way around.

Maybe it’s not a particular thing.
Maybe it’s the emotion it calls up
And how it can wisen you.

Maybe what you set off in search of
Isn’t what you will find.
Maybe its purpose was to set you
On the path in the first place.


© 2021 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

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