Author: susantara

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.

Pausing for Presence

Pausing for Presence

This morning, I was about to share an image online. I’d been holding onto the picture for a while, in no hurry to share it. It was just a simple picture of something I appreciated as the sun rose one morning. No particular words had come to mind yet, only a sense that whatever words I patched together would be simple and few, as recommended by Mary Oliver in her poem, “Praying”.

The website wasn’t loading. While waiting for it to do its thing, as the spinning ball of eternity spun, I became aware…of the songbirds singing. They brought me back into Presence: a here-and-now state of awareness beyond thinking that is such a sweet, expansive homecoming. 

The Internet was down. Again. However, the computer connectivity issue seemed so small – barely a ripple on the surface – in this spacious field of awareness. Because I was connected with and immersed in something so much bigger, like the ocean that holds all the waves.

I decided to turn off the modem. While I was standing there waiting for a couple of minutes to pass before turning it back on, I noticed that the origami fish mobile hanging from the ceiling above the modem was very dusty.

Noticing its condition was an opportunity to give it some love. I went to the kitchen to fetch a cloth and a step stool and took a few minutes to clean off the dust. 

Becoming aware of how things are in the present moment is an opportunity to shine the light of love someplace that needs it: perhaps your body or whatever story is running through your mind. You might allow an area that’s holding tension to release or remember that you don’t have to believe the thoughts and stories. Or you might reach down and pick up from the floor the paper clip you’ve walked past how many times?

While waiting for the modem to reboot and for my laptop to restart, I felt my feet planted firmly on the floor and noticed my body breathing. I felt peaceful and noticed the sensations of peace in my body. That’s all it takes, and it can happen in any moment. All you need to do is remember that Presence is an option.

One beautiful lesson I’ve learned from my mindfulness meditation practice is that times of waiting are exquisite invitations to return to Presence. After taking that sacred pause – which might only be three deep breaths – you can return to whatever it was you were dealing with, with more awareness and serenity. In the space of a pause, you might even see it in a different way. 

And that is exactly the point of the picture I was about to share online, of a dried out hydrangea I found on the ground during a walk. Pausing for presence allowed me to see it in a different light. Pausing for presence again as the sun rose over the river the next morning brought the hydrangea to mind. Then I composed an image that felt simple yet satisfying.

Like Presence.


© 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.

Staying Close to Home

Staying Close to Home

Staying. It’s a word that sums up what I’ve been practicing for the past year, both on and off the meditation cushion.

On the cushion: staying present to what is right here, including the challenging emotions that arise. Investigating a little deeper instead of resisting, fleeing, or fantasizing about being somewhere else. 

Off the cushion, in daily life: staying close to home and exploring what’s right here. Taking a closer look. Sure, there were places I wanted to travel to. However, with everything going on, it felt more right to stay close to home.

I thought of it as an experiment. In lieu of traveling, I explored the natural areas around me: the river, local parks and hiking trails, and the town I live in.

What I’ve found by experimenting with staying is that it leads to great freedom and appreciation. What liberation is greater than the capacity to be content right where you are, with things as they are, right now, no matter what is going on? When you can access that, any goal, destination, or striving is just icing on the cake. You don’t rely on such things to provide a sense of fulfillment that is absent in the present moment. Happiness is here and now. And you can carry it with you into whatever you pursue and wherever you go.

Returning

I grew up in Saratoga Springs, a small city in Upstate New York that has received numerous national accolades. Slogans like “Saratoga: The Summer Place to Be” made it feel like the center of the universe! I went away for college and after graduating spent the next 12 years moving around. Naturally, as my worldview expanded, I considered how my hometown fit into it. During those years away, I adopted a stereotyped image of Saratoga Springs and swore I’d never move back. However, that changed when I was raising two young children. 

I returned to the area 21 years ago, which allowed my children to grow up with extended family nearby. They were close to their grandparents and great-grandmother. I sought out kindred spirits and experienced Saratoga in a new way. And I stayed.

As I’ve discovered when my meditation practice has lapsed throughout the years, sometimes the value of getting away from something is eventually realizing what it contributes to your life. Then you can return in a more intentional way, with gratitude and a sense of this is part of who I am. Returning to Saratoga Springs as an adult gave me the freedom to perceive and interact with it in different ways.

For the past 12+ years, I’ve lived on the Hudson River less than ten miles from Saratoga Springs. When I was growing up, my family didn’t engage in nature-based activities or venture out this way. It’s hard to believe I lived so close to the river all those years and never experienced it. Living on the river, I appreciate being able to visit Saratoga Springs on my terms, with plenty of breathing room from the summer tourism.

The summer of 2020, however, was different than any other summer.

A Path Back Home

Aside from working at the library and filling up my water jugs at the State Seal Spring, I tended to avoid Saratoga Springs during the summer, when it was overrun with tourists, and it was notoriously difficult to find parking. However, during the summer of 2020, both the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and the racetrack were closed to the public, so there were far fewer tourists in town. Even with more locals flocking to the parks, it was quieter than usual.

It was an invitation to explore.

The uncertainty and groundlessness of the time drew me to sources of stability, which I found in nature: birdsong, flowers coming up on schedule as they do every year, the sound of spring peepers across the river, the nighttime sky, and so much more. Nature provided a variety of anchors that awakened me from the trance of thought and brought me back to the present moment many times a day.

The geographical landmarks from my childhood called to me in ways they hadn’t before. I made frequent visits to the Saratoga Spa State Park to investigate and appreciate more deeply the natural resources that had served as the backdrop of my childhood. During 2020, I spent a lot of time on the Vale of Springs trail, which I started to regard as “the path back home”. There was something deeply comforting about returning to what had been present in the background all my life and had drawn people to the area for centuries. It gave me a sense of stability in a time that felt so unstable.

At first, I was drawn to the Geyser Island Spouter, a mineral spring that over time created a large, stage-like tufa (mineral deposit). I sat meditating at the edge of the creek on the back side of the Island Spouter, and it felt wonderful there. I loved the sound of the water and the energy in the air. Locals often speak of lithium being in the air in that area. I don’t know why the energy there felt so good, but I kept returning.

One day, I showed up and saw several people on the tufa. A park docent was standing by, and I asked if there was a special event going on because I’d never seen people on the tufa. He said it wasn’t an event, and it was okay to go on it. That was the first time I photographed the spouter up close, and the lighting was incredible. 

I went back a number of times, until eventually there was a sign saying the tufa was off-limits, to protect our natural resources. So instead of going on the tufa, I explored the sides of it from the creek: the different colors and textures. I examined and photographed practically every accessible inch of that tufa.

I was intrigued by how the mineral water transforms whatever it comes in contact with – whether rock, leaves, or people. In this spirit, I explored the other mineral springs in the park. I was introduced to the Tallulah Spring during a photography session with Hannah, a kindred spirit around my daughter’s age. I’d never noticed Tallulah before because she’s a little more tucked in. While wandering through the woods trying to find Hannah and Tallulah, I heard the sound of bagpipes in the distance, which felt otherworldly. Tallulah has since become my favorite spring.

I had been unsure about the direction I wanted to take with my “people” photography, and after photographing Hannah around the mineral springs that day, I became passionate about photographing women in harmony and spiritual connection with nature. That’s how my Women of Light photography began, with Hannah at Tallulah after hearing the sound of bagpipes in the woods.

The Saratoga Spa State Park became one of my primary refuges of 2020. I ended up taking hundreds of photographs of the mineral springs and the Vale of Springs trail. I decided to make the mineral springs the subject of my upcoming photography exhibit at the Saratoga Springs Train Station in June and July and named the exhibit A Path Back Home.

2020 put me on a path back home both literally and metaphorically…to the natural treasures of my hometown and to my truest, most awake self.

The 53 Project

Through the practice of staying and simplifying, 2020 was a year that changed the trajectory of my life. It was a year of being nurtured by nature and having the breathing room to discover a true sense of life purpose – and shift into LIVING it. Out of presence and stillness, I discovered what was most important and was drawn to the situations and people that resonated most.

I was nurtured by: walking the labyrinth in the park down the road, kayaking on the river in front of my house, exploring local parks and nature trails with my granddaughter, taking walks with my husband, photographing women in harmony with nature, and connecting with networks of kindred spirits.

I also fell more deeply in love with flowers, ferns, water lilies, herons, the way trees on the riverside appeared to be circulating light, sparkles of sunlight on the river, willows and birches, misty sunrises, the freezing river, and the swan on the river.

I wanted needed to honor all this artistically.

At the end of 2020, I intended to create a video of my favorite images from the year. At one point, I selected the images for it. However, my plate was very full, and before I knew it, February was nearly over. Perhaps that ship had sailed.

However, a few days before my March 1st birthday, an idea seized me: Why not create a visual meditation of the images that awakened my heart the year I was 53, from March 2020 through February 2021? So that’s what I did. I created two versions: one with images and background music and another that includes me reading poetry I wrote during that time period

Staying and allowing has been an amazing practice. The two greatest resources that helped me through the turbulence of 2020 were my meditation practice and spending time in nature close to home: two different ways of staying. Both were invitations to return again to what is right here and become more intimate with it. To discover and deepen the pathway back home to what is most abiding and nourishing. To stay instead of run away into distractions, for everything that arises within us and around us is a portal for awakening.

I invite you to watch the video here:

Note: The words in this version express my truth while navigating all the unfamiliar situations and challenges of 2020. If the words do not resonate with you, you might prefer the wordless version.


© 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.

Poem: All Souls Are Beautiful

Poem: All Souls Are Beautiful

All Souls Are Beautiful

All souls are beautiful

And some personalities
Are capable of causing great harm
And should be called out
And prevented from doing so.

This is where life gets messy.

For whatever reason
Some get traumatized.
Some get defensive.
Some become a safe haven.
Some become a minefield.

But all souls are beautiful.

It takes courage to call out
Privilege and abuse, to stand up
For the most vulnerable
Among us and within us
And say in both words and actions:
I’m with you, and I care
About your suffering.

Some see privilege.
Some are unable to.
Sometimes we see it.
Sometimes we don’t.

At times we might feel it
When we brush up against it
And get a fleeting glimpse
Of what others face
On a daily basis, even though

All souls are beautiful.

Sometimes I sit down and breathe.
Sometimes I speak my truth.
Mostly I listen and learn.
Sometimes it doesn’t feel like enough.
Sometimes it feels like too much.

Some will empathize.
Some will scorn.
It doesn’t matter:
We must not let
Ego or appearances,
Intellect or differences
Distract us from seeing

That all souls are beautiful.


© 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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