“You are the bows from which your children As living arrows are sent forth The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite And he bends you with his might
That his arrows may go swift and far.”
-Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
If she were still in physical form, my mom would have turned 85 today. Throughout the day, I’ve been reflecting on how I can continue her essence and influence in this world through the qualities we shared and the inner work I do that helps to complete or extend what she was able to do and be in her lifetime.
My mom was exceptionally sweet and caring, often putting others first. She was the one everyone went to – the listening ear who always was there for you and had your back. Just like her mother (my grandmother).
But I get the sense that other people’s issues ultimately were too much for her. She absorbed a lot of other people’s pain and suppressed her true feelings. She didn’t express them, to please and keep the peace.
I come from a lineage of exceptionally sweet and caring women who would bend over backwards for you. And I’ve inherited that trait. There have been times in my life when I fought against my wiring and rebelled against my mom. I didn’t want to be like her.
But in some ways, I was. Most of the inner work I’ve done so far in this lifetime has been around developing healthier boundaries. At times, my empathy has been weaponized by others and has caused (me) a lot of suffering. Like my mom, I often kept my feelings to myself, to avoid hurting others or making waves.
My mom was the one everyone turned to – the go-between when people couldn’t talk to each other directly. Since she passed away, it seems I’ve taken over that role, although I don’t want it. I’ve often thought that if this is the position my mother was in and the way she felt, no wonder she got sick.
Several years ago, a relative had a session with a psychic medium who emphasized that my mom is watching out for me and doesn’t want me to follow in her footsteps. She wants me to express what I’m feeling and not hold things inside so much, like she did.
Years after my mother and grandmother died, I’ve come to the realization that all the work I do to communicate more honestly and develop a stronger backbone benefits them, as well. It’s as if they’re standing behind me, rooting me on: “Maybe she’ll be the one to do what we weren’t able to do” and heal the dysfunctional patterns. I feel I’m carrying them with me (like carrying an unborn baby, except kind of in reverse, if that makes any sense) in all the healing work I do, and I find courage to speak my truth instead of holding it in for our sake, not mine alone. Our inner work generates ripples of healing that touch both future and past generations.
I can’t pick up the phone and call them like I used to be able to, but I can express love and relate to them in new ways. This has been one of the great revelations of grieving.
People are often surprised to learn my mom and I didn’t have an easy relationship. When she was alive, I experienced her as sweetly controlling and was busy pushing back against her and trying to be different than her. I didn’t make it particularly easy for her. We were caught in a dynamic. It’s amazing how a relationship can evolve even after one party dies. I feel so close to her now and have tremendous compassion and respect for her.
This morning when I thought about it being my mom’s birthday and how I’d celebrate, a voice in my heart told me to look at today’s card. I have a thick stack of inspirational cards, and at the beginning of every month, I count out enough cards for each day of the month. I don’t look at the cards ahead of time. So after hearing the voice speaking through the telephone of my heart, I went to my card display and moved yesterday’s card to the back of the stack, to reveal today’s card.
It was a cartoon with a speech bubble that read, “I am always here for you,” captioned with the words, “Listen to your inner guide.” I had some music playing in another room, and when I entered that room, the lyrics being sung were, “…words my mother said to me.”
We still celebrate my mom’s birthday – though this year we’re postponing it a couple of days, to include my almost seven-year-old granddaughter. She loves to celebrate my mom’s birthday – not just because of the cake but also to hear the stories. She seems genuinely curious about her great-grandmother and seems to feel connected to her. We’re always telling her how much my mom would have loved her, and it’s so true. It’s uncanny how alike they are! I can’t believe they never knew each other. They would have been like two peas in a pod!
My granddaughter is the kid in school who asks other children if they’re okay and comforts them. She notices and appreciates something about everyone she meets and is highly empathic. She explained to me that one of the “bullies” in school is bullied by his father. One day, his father came to school, and she heard him speak disrespectfully about his son. So she understands why the boy bullies classmates and has compassion for that. We’ve had many conversations about having healthy boundaries with people who don’t treat you right. My deep wish is for her to develop wise (rather than foolish) compassion, sooner than I did.
So all the work I do to have healthy boundaries and not intercept other people’s drama will benefit her as well. Someday when I have passed on, I will stand behind her and root for her arrow to go as far as possible. I can’t imagine wanting anything else.
When my daughter was in labor about to push out my granddaughter, I held up one of her legs. On the final push, I felt my mother behind me, as if she were hugging me from behind, and it seemed to give my daughter a blast of energy to push her out.
I sense very clearly that our ancestors are with us like that, helping us and cheering us on – and that we can call on them whenever we need them. And reciprocally dedicate the merits of our deep, inner work to them. For love continues to evolve and remains a two-way street.
There are so many ways you can support your favorite small businesses, and many of them don’t cost anything at all!
The following list is the product of my greatest wishes and frustrations – and a little research, commiserating, and brainstorming, too. As a solopreneur, I’m so busy creating content, programs, and products that I don’t have much time for social media and working with the ever-changing algorithms. (In fact, I stopped posting to my photography Facebook page altogether because the algorithm killed it.) There are all kinds of large and small headaches behind the scenes of your favorite small businesses, which in some cases is simply one person trying to make a living doing what they do best that adds positive value to the world while trying to get enough sleep to be able to continue doing it.
I hope you will find this list useful in helping you to support favorite small business owners and shopping small and local, in general. (I’ve taken the liberty to include some specific wish-list items and links of my own).
Ways to Support Your Favorite Small Businesses
Write a Positive Review/Testimonial
For any products or services purchased or classes you’ve taken
You need not write a book: A few heartfelt sentences will suffice.
Post online and tag them.
Email them directly with a testimonial they can use on their website, social media, etc.
Indicate how to display your name (full name, name and initial, first name only, geographical area).
Bonus: Give permission to include a small picture of you (boosts credibility of the testimonial).
Subscribe, Follow, and Engage with Their Posts on Social Media
Comment, like, and share posts to amplify their online presence. (The algorithms can be brutal for solopreneurs who don’t have time to post much, and “organic reach” tends not to go very far.)
A positive comment (words of encouragement, a nice hello, emoji, reply to product) goes a long way and tells the algorithm to keep showing you their posts.
Share/repost their posts and tag a friend.
Share both current and older blog posts on social media.
Last night, I recalled a phone call I received from my granddaughter a few evenings ago. She called to tell me she enjoys meditating outdoors. I asked her how she does it, and she said she “sits on the ground and listens to all the sounds of the world”.
Which made my heart so happy that my eyes leaked. That phone call gave me hope.
Then I started thinking of TheWizard of Oz and how Dorothy had the power to return home all along. How many times did she click her heels together to get back home? Three times – the same number of breaths I take when my mindfulness bell rings throughout the day. And then the poem started flowing.
The Power to Return Home
The world offers endless distractions,
Even right here in the palm of your hand.
When life feels chaotic and uncertain,
You must reclaim your attention
As if your life depends on it
Because it does.
To kindle hope, it is imperative To know the way back home to your center
So you may be resourced and restored By your own goodness and the kind voices
Trying to reach you through the clamor And forgetfulness of your busy life.
You don’t have to make time Or wait for particular conditions.
You just have to remember
That you have the power
In any and every moment
To befriend your breath.
Ride it inward. Breathe out All of the preoccupations
And thoughts that cover presence.
Feel your feet on the ground.
See the clouds in the sky.
Listen to the sounds of the world.
It doesn’t matter what others do.
Don’t exchange your sovereignty For collective madness. In this fear
Pandemic, boost your immunity
By taking refuge as often as possible
In a few conscious breaths.
A few evenings ago, there was a spectacular sunset on the river. From our east-facing side of the river, we tend to experience glorious sunrises and occasionally stunning sunsets, as well.
That evening was one such occasion. Puffy, white clouds reflected clearly by the calm water lured me into my kayak.
I almost didn’t bring my camera. Leaving the house, I assured myself the phone camera would suffice. I wanted to travel lightly and focus on paddling, not photography.
But in a moment of stopping and waiting for traffic to pass before crossing the road, I experienced an intuitive nudge to go back inside and get my camera. And it’s a good thing I followed that voice because 45 minutes later, I floated on a river of awe.
Once again, I realized what a difference a “sacred pause” can make in receiving intuition, inspiration, and wisdom that goes unnoticed when we’re immersed in a cloud of thought.
When I paddled to the other side of the river, the puffy clouds that lured me onto the river were not visible. Unless they left their houses, people living on the east side of the river wouldn’t have known they were there! From that side of the river, I could see a large cloud over our house. (Actually, it was over the hill behind our house.) The clouds to the west were illuminated differently than the clouds to the east. This particular cloud was backlit and outlined with the most beautiful light. The idiom, “Every cloud has a silver lining” came to mind.
From inside our house in the river valley at the bottom of a hill, we wouldn’t have any awareness of it. Similarly, we usually only get a very faint indication of breathtaking sunsets happening at the top of the hill that are visible from the west-facing side of the river.
While floating in my kayak, I thought about how our view of the world is largely determined by where we “live” – literally and figuratively. Which way we face and what portion of the sky we’re exposed to. Residents of one side of the river might have a very different perception of the landscape and the cycle of day and night than those on the other side or up on a hill in either direction. Some might look forward to sunsets instead of sunrises and full moonrises or experience longer periods of sunlight than we do in the valley.
And it’s not just the sky canvas. Property on one side of the river might be more prone to flooding than on the other side, or perhaps certain properties on either side. Flood insurance might cost more, and not having flood insurance might make one more anxious during weather events. There are so many, differing factors at play that we might not consider because they’re not our own, personal issues.
We might be totally unaware of what is clearly visible on the other side of the river, and vice versa. The only way to have a wider perspective is to travel to someone else’s yard – perhaps on the other side of the river or up on a hill – and see from their point of view. Then you might understand what it looks like from where they are and how their ideas developed.
I loved living on one side of the river and seeing the sunrise and working up the hill on the other side of the river and catching the sunset…although that usually meant I was working later than I should have been!
Seeing the clouds on the river that evening also brought to mind an experience I had last year when a person of interest enrolled in one of my photography courses. Realizing people in general were more sensitive and angry in the wake of all we’ve been through, I was concerned this person’s presence could be distracting or even triggering for some.
The situation the universe pitched my way was an invitation to grow and ended up being deeply transformative for me. Whereas I had time to prepare, the other participants didn’t. I wanted to be able to manage skillfully whatever dynamics might arise and relate to all participants as human beings, not roles.
During our first session, after talking about some technical stuff, I turned to more inner aspects of photography, which is where the juice is for me. I talked about how nature photography can serve to connect us both with nature and with other people. I explained that I know most of our river neighbors on both sides of the river between the two locks. We river neighbors don’t necessarily share the same views of the world. However, our shared love of the river unites us. We talk affectionately about bald eagles, herons, egrets, loons, swans – and commiserate about the bridge noise. Sometimes a neighbor will even notify me when they see something interesting on the river that could be a photo op.
I feel a deep sense of connection with all of our river neighbors because of this shared experience of living on the river. And the connection even goes beyond the Hudson River. When I talk about living on the Hudson, there’s an instant connection with anyone who’s ever lived on a river.
I love that my river neighbors help me to become aware of what I didn’t see because I was focused on something else. I love seeing what the sky or fog (for example) look like from their perspective when they share pictures. And sensing their appreciation for the river helps me to see their goodness – their inner light – even if we hold different views. Our views are just a small part of who we are as human beings, and it’s important to remember that. Our views and opinions, no matter how strongly held, are not our essence.
The point I was making in the photography course is that the participants were drawn to learning about nature photography because of some kind of caring, longing, or appreciation. We had something in common beneath the surface that brought us together. And months after the course was done, I learned what drew the person of interest to my course and that we had something else in common, on a heart level. No matter how differently my river neighbors or participants in my classes might relate to current events, I’ve learned to look deeper, for our common humanity. Usually, there’s some kind of caring or wounding if you dive down deeper.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow asserted:
If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each [person’s] life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.
It doesn’t mean you do anything different on the outside. You don’t need to move to the other side of the river, so to speak. It’s an inner shift that allows you to perceive someone as a whole person, not an ideology, viewpoint, or role. You won’t lose yourself by adopting a greater perspective unless the ideology or viewpoint forms your identity. If you identify with it, it might feel threatening to see the goodness and integrity of someone on “the other side” of an issue. But we are so much more than our beliefs and conditioning. Who we are at our core has nothing at all to do with that.
The problem isn’t that we hold different views. It’s when an ideology of any sort becomes our identity. Because at that point, we stop perceiving ourselves and others as the complex human beings that we are. Instead, we relate as one ideology to another, which is diminishing and potentially dangerous.
Opening your heart to the goodness of someone who seems different from you also doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to the effects of the personality. As I’m sure we’ve all learned from experience, some personalities can be very destructive and damaging. They’ll drain your energy if you let them.
Focusing on the goodness and losing sight of the harsh realities of certain personalities can make us vulnerable to being mistreated by them…unless we also see and value and want to protect our own goodness and integrity. My recovery from an abusive situation focused not on demonizing the other person but on acknowledging my own worth, looking deeply into why I became so invested in caring about them, and practicing better self-care. Whenever they come to mind now, I wish them well and carry on. Or as the Jimmy Buffet song goes: Breathe in, breathe out, move on.
Listening to the Voice
An experience I had yesterday morning seems somehow related to all of this.
There’s a deck of inspirational cards displayed in our kitchen. There are hundreds of cards in the collection, and every month, I count out enough for each day of that month. So every day, there’s a different card displayed.
Before going to bed the other night, I looked at that day’s card. A Rumi quote was printed on it:
There is a voice that doesn’t use words.Listen.
When I woke up in the morning, I opened up the Insight Timer app to do a guided meditation. Every day, a new quote appears when you open up that app, and what quote do you think came up that morning? That same Rumi quote! So I paid attention and took it to heart.
A little later that morning while editing photos, I found myself singing Olivia Newton-John’s song, Have You Never Been Mellow. I hadn’t heard that song in – well, I can’t even remember the last time! My association with the song was from my childhood, when it was released on vinyl. My dad was a fan and had the album. I loved listening to my parents’ records when I was in elementary school. That album was one I played and danced around to.
So there I was editing photos and singing the refrain, over and over. And then I felt a presence behind me, wrapping around me. It felt like my dad.
The Rumi quote came to mind, and I stopped editing photos and became present to the energy. Then I heard my dad’s voice inside me, offering loving advice. He wanted me to set myself free from the way I was thinking about money – his way. And he gave me permission to do so. Then he said: You’ve been walking around with my voice in your head for too long. Let it go. I couldn’t see the whole picture when I had a body that got in the way. You focus on what really matters. Let go of the rest. It’s your life, not anybody else’s.
I was in tears because it was very powerful to hear this message coming from my father’s energy. I’m in the process of decluttering my parents’ belongings from my storage unit. But I was torn between having a yard sale and donating the stuff. I imagined my dad would have tried to sell it first rather than give it away. Obviously, my parents had no use for it anymore. However, I felt I should honor the value they placed on their possessions. And that was holding me back. So the message was deeply meaningful and liberating.
What really stood out was the part about having a body that gets in the way of seeing the whole picture. It’s like not being able to see the whole sky from where we are in the river valley. We can only see a portion of it, and it might look very different from what our neighbors across the river or anywhere else in the world can see. We might have hills or mountains obstructing our view. Or the limitations of our physical senses. Or the beliefs we’ve had conditioned into us or otherwise adopted as truth.
The late Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh, offers six mantras of true love. The sixth one is: “Darling, you are only partly right.” This could be uttered in response to praise, criticism, or viewpoints from your inner voice or from someone else. It also can be applied when we glorify or devalue someone else or otherwise create an idea of them based on where they stand in relation to what we hold dear.
Instead of relating to someone as an idea we have about them, is it possible to allow ourselves to relate to them as actual human beings inhabiting this river of life and experiencing emotions, delusions, pressures, and suffering, just as we do? Maybe a different flavor, but the same basic experience. The experience of clouds passing through the sky of awareness and obscuring the light of our true nature.
Another Rumi quote comes to mind:
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
That is the challenge and the invitation I’m weaving from all of these experiences. Can we wish for all beings to be well, happy, and free from suffering – even those on the “other side”? It doesn’t mean enabling or turning a blind eye to injustice and suffering. It means first tending to and developing our own hearts. Then bringing a wise and loving heart into our relationships with others.
With actual people, not ideas of them.
I never would have imagined pictures of clouds would have led to all of these words, but there you go.
It was a busy summer developing a lot of content, delivering a lot of programs, and burning the midnight oil, night after night. To get a full night’s sleep, I bought some light-blocking curtains for my bedroom windows and slept in, morning after morning.
It also was a hot summer and a menopausal summer, and sometimes sleeping in caused me to miss the fleeting window of cool, morning air most suitable for outdoor exercise. I didn’t feel good about missing sunrises and exercise opportunities. It felt like I was in a rut.
As soon as I got through a particularly busy stretch of presenting up to seven programs a week, I went to Marblehead to visit my friend, Michaela.
When I’m on the coast, my schedule is built around sunrises, sunsets, and tides. To plan for photography and exercise, I consult the local tide chart, The Photographer’s Ephemeris app, and my weather app, in that order. Walking on the beaches in Marblehead is more tide-dependent than some other beaches. At high tide, my favorite Marblehead beach is completely under water.
It’s wonderful when low tide is synchronized with the sunrise, although it’s not always the case. Regardless of the tide status, I get up religiously at the crack of dawn to witness the sun appear over the ocean. In the summer, that means getting to the beach by 5:00 or 5:30 (or even earlier).
In Marblehead, one thing you can bet on is that you won’t be alone outdoors, even that early in the morning. It’s a thickly settled community, and a multitude of people of all ages are out bright and early jogging or walking, often with their dogs. I refer to them as the “dawn patrol”.
There are many more people outdoors exercising in Marblehead than I encounter back home, and it’s truly inspiring. It’s a way of life.
My second morning there, I intended to experience rather than photograph the sunrise. The tide was too high to get a decent walk on the beach, and the day promised to be hot. So instead of waiting for the tide to recede after savoring the sunrise, I headed to the causeway behind the beach. Back Beach is at the other end of the causeway. From there, the Boston skyline is visible in the distance. In the past when atmospheric conditions were right, I’ve enjoyed photographing it with my long telephoto lens. This morning, however, I relished the idea of traveling lightly.
I started walking on the causeway, wondering what the image-of-the-day would be. Every day, it’s something different, and I believe the image I’m most drawn to is a messenger that reveals something I am ready or need to know. Often it’s something I’ve passed by many times before without noticing, and then, all of a sudden, it jumps out and commands my attention.
I hadn’t walked far on the causeway before an inner voice I’ve learned to follow urged me to turn around, go back to my car, and get the big lens. I’m really glad I did because as I walked toward my car, my attention was drawn to an image in the distance that looked like a woman walking on the beach wearing some kind of black and red, flowing garment. My curiosity was piqued.
As I got closer, I saw the woman was dancing with red silks on the beach. Everyone else was walking or jogging, and she was dancing her way down the beach with red silks flowing in the ocean breeze. She was a vision of joy and beauty. I love to photograph women “interbeing” with nature and couldn’t resist taking a few pictures of her from a distance, with my long lens. She filled my heart with joy. I wanted to tell her she was the most beautiful sight on the beach (and wondered if she had any idea she was), but I didn’t want to interrupt her as she danced.
So I watched her for a while, feeling greatly inspired. Then I walked along the causeway, as intended. While walking, autumn leaves appeared on the movie screen of my mind, twirling and dancing gracefully to the ground. They were in contrast to leaves that darted down, reaching the ground as quickly as possible.
Yes! I want to be a leaf that dances the whole way down! I want to embody and radiate joyful, inspiring energy, like her. But there I was walking on the concrete with many others who seemed focused on getting from point A to point B as efficiently as possible, to check off the exercise box for the day. There also were some pairs engaged in lively conversation as they walked, which made me wish for a friend to walk with back home. But those who were alone seemed pretty focused on moving along in that driven, New England way.
Back Beach is a small, sheltered area with lots of tall rock formations and no parking area. When I arrived there, I didn’t see anyone else around. And I felt like dancing.
So I allowed my body to move however it wanted to, in concert with the waves breaking on the shore. I felt too vulnerable to dance out in the open, front and center, like the woman with the red silks. But it was a start. And it felt amazing. Liberating. Connecting.
Afterward, I sat on the rocks for a little while, savoring the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of the seashore (as my camera silently recorded video). Then I made my way back to the main beach. But this time, I skipped the causeway and walked on the rocks instead. I couldn’t go as fast, but it allowed me to stay close to the water, which was more fulfilling.
The dancing woman helped me to realize that when the tide is high, there are other alternatives to walking or jogging on the causeway with everyone else. You can dance your way down the beach even if the tide is not low enough to walk on a smooth, sandy beach. There’s still enough space to dance. When you dance through life, you don’t have to cover so much ground or go so far. What matters is the quality of being you bring to each step.
When I got back to the main beach, I didn’t see the dancing woman anywhere. I wished I could express my gratitude and share the pictures with her and was determined to find a way to do so.
The next morning, I again got up at the crack of dawn and headed to a new spot Michaela had introduced me to during our evening walk, to witness and photograph the sunrise. The tide was still too high to really walk on the beach, and I considered postponing my walk. But then I noticed the dawn patrol out and about getting their steps in and decided to return to the beach I was at the previous morning.
I pulled into the parking lot and immediately saw red silks at the edge of the water. It looked like she was just getting ready to dance. So I ran up to her and showed her a picture I took of her the previous morning and asked if I could send it to her. We ended up talking for about 10 minutes, and I told her how much she inspired me the previous morning and that I danced on the beach totally because of her. I told her she awakened joy in me, which I then radiated to others throughout the day.
She told me a little about herself (holistic nurse, drawn to meditation and yoga, originally from Estonia). She spoke of wanting to start a ripple of joy, and dancing on the beach was part of that. Her eyes were shining, her energy was radiant, and she seemed to be about my age. A kindred spirit for sure. We exchanged contact info and decided to keep in touch.
While she danced that morning, I took some more pictures of her as part of the ocean landscape, and sent them to her after I got back home. She said they put tears in her eyes.
Being in Marblehead was inspiring in many ways. It was great to spend time with Michaela, for whom I usually cat-sit. (Mr. Butters is the coolest cat ever!) Seeing so many people of all ages exercising outdoors renewed my commitment to prioritize exercise. And witnessing the ocean sunrises inspired me to question why I’m so gung-ho on getting up early when I’m on the coast but not when I’m back at home on the river. Seeing the woman dancing on the beach reminded me that we get to choose how we move through life and inspired me to do so with more joy and creativity.
So I made some changes when I got home. Every single morning since returning from Marblehead, I’ve gotten up to experience the sunrise. And not only that, but I have started a year-long project of photographing every possible sunrise (except when I’m not home or cloud cover is too thick to see the sun), from the exact same perspective. I envision showing how no two river sunrises are alike, and how the position of the sunrise in the sky shifts across the river and back throughout the course of a year.
Every morning while waiting to take the sunrise picture, I set an intention for the day and practice being present as fully as possible. It’s an incredible way to start the day. And then I think of the Marblehead dawn patrol, put on my sneakers, and head outdoors.
I often recall my kindred spirit dancing on the beach, and the image of her inspires me every time, all over again. So far, I’ve done yoga on the riverside and walked the labyrinth barefoot. I also want to dance on the riverside and have a number of spots in mind. And it occurred to me this morning that although it is deeply enriching to imagine kissing the earth with every footstep when I walk the labyrinth, I might try skipping or dancing the labyrinth or playing an instrument as I walk. Or bringing instruments to the riverside and making music with the river.
Because we get to choose how we move through this world. There are a lot of variables that are out of our control, but that is something we can choose.
I love to think of others who dance or make music or art with streams and rivers and oceans and that some of them are doing it at the same time or in the same spirit as me, and we are co-creating with the more-than-human world and starting ripples of joy together.
When I walk on a trail along the river (or any other trail, for that matter), I remind myself not to experience myself walking through the landscape but to feel connected with it, with every step. I want to notice and connect with what’s around me instead of being like an arrow or dart zooming through the air, focused on a destination or checkbox.
When I think of my new acquaintance dancing on the beach, her joyful energy reaches me through space and time and puts more of a spring in my step and a smile on my face and in my heart. I’m so grateful I ended up on the beach when she was there, to be so inspired. And I believe it was no accident. That inner voice never leads me astray.