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Author: susantara

Through a Wider Lens

Through a Wider Lens

What an enriching and joyful process it’s been going through pictures spanning my dad’s whole life and reading the cards and online condolences through which people described him based on the context within which they knew him best. Over the past two weeks, this process has helped me to see him in a much greater context above and beyond the particular relationship I had with him—which also differed from the relationship either of my siblings had with him.

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Every relationship is unique, and every life is composed of different relationships and chapters through which we express ourselves in different ways, much like a multifaceted crystal that is held to the light and turned to see the different angles from which the light shines through it. And yet, there are some qualities that remain more or less consistent at the core.

With my dad, some core descriptions that came up repeatedly included:

  • Kind
  • True gentleman
  • Smiling face
  • Incredibly sweet
  • Gentle
  • Helpful
  • Great athlete
  • Warm and friendly
  • Funny

I remember being at his USAirways retirement celebration about 15 years ago, which provided me with my first glimpse of who he was in a broader context, beyond just “my dad.” When it was his turn to speak, he was quite a storyteller. And funny! I’d never experienced that side of him before! Those were some of the traits that endeared him to so many.

He also could be stubborn, and that’s a side I saw a lot.  As he was in the hospital on what would be his deathbed, I commented to my son about how stubborn he was being as we left ICU one day. His “stubbornness” seemed to frustrate me more than anyone else and usually had something to do with him not being receptive to my ideas and how I was trying to help him. Holding tightly to previously established preferences and opinions. But my son suggested that he was dignified, rather than stubborn. My dad was determined to do things his way. A true Taurus!

He loved his hot dogs and ice cream and refused to follow a diabetic diet. He refused to have a fistula put in his arm in preparation for the increasingly likely event of kidney failure and a regimen of dialysis to keep him alive. He wanted nothing to do with a life without hot dogs or a life centered around time-consuming dialysis treatments and not being able to go to the YMCA to exercise and socialize. This summer, whenever he told me he had a hot dog for dinner or that friends brought him one or two when they visited him, my heart smiled because I understood my dad was an old dog who wasn’t about to learn new tricks and that he was choosing quality of life over longevity. His quality of life took a great blow when my mom died, and wherever he could find moments of happiness and comfort…was good, in my opinion.

One day back in February 2013, he was exercising at the YMCA and went into cardiac arrest. When I was on my way to the hospital with my mom, all we knew was that they used the defibrillator to get his heart started again, but it was very shaky. We didn’t know if we would arrive at the hospital to find him alive or dead. When we arrived, he was in the care of one of my best childhood friends, and we were able to talk to him. He was about to be transported to another hospital, and again, we didn’t know if he would survive the ambulance ride. But when we arrived at Albany Medical Center, he was alive and in good hands. He ended up surviving quadruple bypass surgery. Our family is so grateful for the YMCA staff, who gave us an extra 3 ½ years with him. For some reason, it wasn’t his time then.

In his novel, Illusions, Richard Bach wrote:

“Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t.”

Always one to look for meaning, I often contemplated why my dad didn’t die that day. What was he still here on earth to learn, experience, or do?

At the time of my dad’s cardiac episode, we had no idea that my mom had pancreatic cancer. She was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer by the end of the year and passed away within six months of being diagnosed. But in between my dad’s cardiac episode and my mom’s death, they were able to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary together at Disney World.

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Losing his wife of 50 years – his best friend and soulmate – was so hard on my dad, and I’m sure that was obvious to everyone who knew him. His life would never be the same. Yet, I believe she needed to leave when she did so he could experience some things and grow in ways he wouldn’t have been able to grow otherwise. For example, he had a more direct relationship with my siblings and me when our extroverted mom wasn’t in the picture doing most of the communicating. And I think that was really important for him and for us. We had nearly 2 ½ years to do that. During that time, he was able to meet his first great-grandchild (my granddaughter) and see his grandson (my son) graduate from high school.

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Two weeks before my dad finally went to the doctor for foot pain that kept getting worse this summer, a friend contacted me late at night to tell me that he walked past a particular music venue and saw my dad sitting in there alone. I reminded him that’s where my parents used to go to listen to music and added that my mom is probably there with him in spirit. My friend replied that my dad looked really sad, and I said it’s because he doesn’t realize she’s there with him. Understanding how difficult and painful it was for my dad to walk, I was surprised he went through the trouble of finding parking in downtown Saratoga Springs during the busy, summer tourist season and walking to the venue. He must have had a strong purpose or longing to go there.

A few days before he went to the doctor, my husband dreamed my parents were dancing together. It was one of those dreams that felt more real than real, if you know what I mean. My mom was in full, vivid color, looking so happy and vibrant as she danced. Although she was dancing with my dad, he was in black and white and didn’t seem to realize she was there dancing with him. Surprised to see my mom, Jack exclaimed, “You’re not supposed to be here!” And my mom replied, “Well, I am! And I always have been.”

*   *   *   *

Things aren’t always what they seem. Sometimes what seems to be a cruel twist of fate is merciful. We just can’t see the whole picture from where we stand.

A diabetic with significant cardiac history, my dad had a rough summer that included six-hour bypass surgery to correct a circulation issue in his leg. That was followed by a recovery period, and in the midst of recovering, he ended up back in the hospital for a sore on his foot that resulted in his little toe being amputated and another recovery period. After being discharged from the hospital, he spent a couple of weeks at a rehab center and in less than a week after being discharged from the rehab center came down with the pneumonia that claimed his life. 

During the last few weeks of his life, I worried about how my siblings (one local, one not) and I would care for our dad when he got out of rehab and was being his stubborn or willful or dignified self. Like when my dad and I came back inside after our first wheelchair excursion outside of the rehab center on a beautiful day, I dashed into the restroom for about 15 seconds, only to find him wheeling himself down the hallway toward the main entrance when I reemerged. A custodian witnessed it and had a look of combined shock and amusement on her face. I felt like the parent of a toddler, who must be ever-vigilant. It was a strange feeling to have in relation to my dad.

I became anxious about how he would fare living on his own in his split-level house with stairs all over the place. On the way home from rehab, I reminded him that there was a walker on each level of the house that he was supposed to use, and he exclaimed that he wasn’t going to use any walkers and then took off like a racehorse when we arrived home. Again, I felt like an anxious parent trying to get him to follow doctor’s orders that he claimed he never remembered hearing. How could I help him when he wouldn’t do what he was supposed to do?

I wondered how long this would go on, how long he would need a caregiver at the house, and whether he would need to go into a long-term care facility at some point. But throughout this time, I kept hearing my mom’s voice in my head assuring me: Don’t worry. This isn’t going to take long. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but two days before he died, when he was back in the hospital being treated for pneumonia and congestive heart failure, I found a dead cardinal in my driveway. I’d never seen a dead cardinal before, and my dad loved cardinals. When I saw the cardinal, I had a sinking feeling that he was not going to make it this time. And although my mortal heart was breaking, my intuition assured me that it’s okay because it’s his time.

My dad would not have wanted to live a life in which his freedom was restricted. In the end, it seems his swift death was merciful. He didn’t have to languish in a nursing home or undergo dialysis. He didn’t have to observe another wedding anniversary without his beloved wife and passed on in time to spend their October 19th anniversary together in spirit.

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As much as I will miss my dad, I realize that losing our parents is part of the natural course of human life. In recent years, some of my friends have had to face the tragedy of losing a child, and a couple of my kindergarten students suffered the sudden loss of a parent. I have not lost a child, and I am not a child who has lost a parent. What I am experiencing is within the natural cycle of life. It is to be expected.

My parents loved each other so much, and although he kept going the best he could, my dad’s life would never be the same again after losing my mom. With a love like that, it’s not unusual for the surviving spouse to follow close behind. So I really feel it was my dad’s time to go. In the end, pneumonia wasn’t a thief that came along and stole him from us before his time. It was a swift, merciful ride to the other side that saved him from declining health, a restricted lifestyle, and continued mourning. That he was able to avoid that kind of pain and suffering brings me peace.

© 2016 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York. 

Sitting by the Fire

Sitting by the Fire

It is with sadness that I write about my dad’s passing eight days ago. He succumbed to pneumonia Legionnaire’s Disease (we learned later) after being in ICU for five days. He died less than two-and-a-half years after my mom died of pancreatic cancer, which isn’t unusual for couples who love each other greatly. As difficult as it is to lose my dad, for many reasons (that I will share in a separate post), I feel it was his time, and that certainty brings me peace.

We had his calling hours and memorial service yesterday at his church – the culmination of a week of tremendous activity. There were many meetings and lots of work involved in creating a video slideshow for the church events and working around numerous, unprecedented technical glitches that arose. I went through boxes of my parents’ photos to assemble photo collages to display in large frames on easels. Wrote a eulogy. Found a new, loving home for his cat. Visited with my two adult children and nine-month-old granddaughter, who traveled from out-of-town.

In other words, I attended to the usual tasks that fall on the closest relatives immediately after someone dies. But I also did something not so common in our culture: On Tuesday, I drove to Bennington, Vermont to be present for my dad’s cremation, as I did when my mom passed away. And that might sound morbid, but it wasn’t. It was transcendent.

I was not with my dad when he passed away. I couldn’t make it to the hospital in time but was able to say goodbye to him over the phone. I told him that I love him and thanked him for being such a great dad. I encouraged him to let go and assured him that everything is going to be fine. We are going to be fine, and so is he, for he is about to go on a wondrous journey. I told him I’m so happy for him because he will soon be with my mom, his beloved wife of 50 years. His last words to me were: I love you, too.

I couldn’t be there when he died, but I was able to show up for his cremation, which felt like another part of the process to witness with love, light, and presence.

When my mom died, I pushed her cardboard coffin into the crematory retort and then retreated to my car to meditate for a while before walking around Bennington for a few hours until her cremains were ready to be picked up. But with my dad, it was different. The funeral director invited me to come and go as I pleased. He left the crematory door unlocked and placed a chair next to the retort for me, along with two bottles of water.

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I sat next to the crematory retort for an hour and a half meditating on my relationship with my dad. I remembered good times and reflected on all the ways in which he expressed his love. The small but meaningful gestures, such as vacuuming my car, filling my gas tank, and taking us out for dinner. And larger gestures, such as when he helped me out financially when I needed an implant for my front tooth and when I was getting divorced. How he and my mom made it possible for me to attend the private college I felt so drawn to, without having to take on much student debt. The family vacations that usually involved amusement parks, such as Disney World. How he always had my back and conducted himself in such a kind and dignified manner, which made me proud to call him my dad.

I also visualized any sadness, grudges, regrets, and human weaknesses and impurities burning away until only love and light remained. Until only spirit remained, released from any human shortcomings – his or my own. That included any negative feelings or resentments I harbored because, at the personality level, my dad and I were so different, and I challenged and disappointed him in many ways. He was a traditionalist with a worldview that was much more conservative and black-and-white than my own, and through the years I came to accept that rather than try to change him or get him to understand my worldview and choices. For instance, when I got married, I wouldn’t let my dad give me away because I did not consider myself an object to be transferred from one man to another. I’m sure that all the explaining in the world couldn’t help him understand that because, with my dad, you didn’t question tradition. You just followed it. So I let all that burn away until only love and forgiveness (for him and for myself) remained.

I sat there and told him everything I wasn’t able to express when he was alive. Sometimes we don’t recognize the different ways in which people express love in the best way they know how. We might not realize that the questions and comments that seem so judgmental on the surface arise from a spirit of deep love and concern. Our communications pass through our human filters and so often get misinterpreted. And we build walls to protect our fragile egos. And we build histories, stories, and communication patterns that are often so hard to rise above. And we don’t say what is in our heart because the patterns are so entrenched. That’s what I got in touch with in the crematory and allowed to burn away. I bathed all that in love, and it transformed into nothing but love.

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I recalled the scared look in my dad’s eyes during the last few days of his life because he sensed something was different this time. How he absolutely refused to engage in a conversation I initiated about hospice care, and it felt like just another example of him rejecting what I had to offer based on my knowledge, experience, values, and sincere caring. How I couldn’t be there when he died because I needed some distance from a situation that arose, in order to maintain my strength and sanity. How I felt I could support him better from a distance that last day of his life, not knowing it would be his last day. I let all that burn away until only love, forgiveness, and an appreciative sense of humor remained.

I essentially composed his eulogy (which I will share in a separate post) while sitting in the crematory. The tears I cried were mostly tears of appreciation and gratitude for all the ways in which he expressed his love and continued to love and care for me, despite our differences. I appreciated what a steadfast provider he was for our family and for having such a stable, secure childhood. I appreciated the ways in which his traditional worldview was challenged to the core by some curveballs life threw his way and how he responded with love every single time. I appreciated how much he and my mom loved each other.

As my dad’s body burned in the crematory retort next to me, I reflected on all the ways in which he expressed love for us, acknowledged our relationship and humanness, and honored the spirit that unites us. The spirit of love and kindness. It was a powerful process, though not one that many in our culture choose to experience or even realize is possible. By the time I left the crematorium, I felt so light and filled with love and light and appreciation for my father. I felt his light shining so brightly.

Lyrics from India Arie’s song, “I Am Light” came to mind:

I am not the pieces of the brokenness inside…I am light.

I am not the mistakes that I have made or any of the things that caused me pain…I am light.

I am not the color of my eyes, I am not the skin on the outside…My soul inside is all light.

While waiting to hear that my dad’s cremains were ready to be picked up, I drove around and decided to take a walk before dark. I ended up in Old Bennington and couldn’t resist parking near an old church with an adjacent cemetery. It seemed like a perfect place to walk with my camera.

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Not knowing anything about the history or looking for anything in particular, my intuition led me through the cemetery, and I came upon poet Robert Frost’s grave.

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How perfect, I thought, for that day I took the road less traveled, and it made all the difference.

There are many cultures in which funeral rituals, including cremation, are not performed by professionals out of sight of grieving family and friends. The image of open cremations on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi, India comes to mind. Families gathered around the funeral pyre watching the body burn, coming to terms with mortality and relationships. What do we gain by keeping the care of our dead at arm’s length? What do we lose?

Being present for my dad’s cremation was such a positive, healing experience for me. I wish it were more commonplace in our culture…even as I see my dad in my mind, bristling and shaking his head, wondering how on earth I could think that way. Knowing he’ll never be able to understand me but loving me just the same.

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© 2016 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this blog post, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York. 

Getting Unstuck: The Magical Morning Power Hour

Getting Unstuck: The Magical Morning Power Hour

This year, I’m using a unique and engaging day planner. It’s colorful and spirited, and what I love most about it is that there’s room at the beginning of each month to set intentions and goals and to list the kinds of practical resources and support you’ll need to make them happen. At the end of the month, there are pages to reflect on:

  • What dreams and goals came true?
  • What sucked? What do you need to rant about to feel better?
  • What lessons did you learn?
  • Who/what are you grateful for?

I look forward to filling out the reflection pages at the end of each month because I know that, no matter what transpired over the course of the month, it’s an opportunity to: get a better understanding of where my energy went, forgive myself, and start fresh with setting intentions for the upcoming month.

At the beginning of the year, I used a companion workbook to brainstorm goals and create a list of “100 Things to Do in 2016“, which I use to set monthly goals in my planner. As the year progressed, new goals replaced some of the goals that were originally on my list, so I’ve been keeping it fresh and staying fairly focused and on track.

Until – BOOM! – August hit.

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August and September left me feeling derailed. Off track. Distracted. Frazzled. My dad needed sudden, major surgery and hospitalization followed by a second surgery, hospitalization, and rehab, which required me to significantly alter my schedule and redirect where I put my energy. In the middle of all that, I got my son off to film school (which made me an official empty nester) and prepared for having my first vendor booth at a festival in September, which was a heck of a lot of work the first time around! It’s also senior portrait season, so I’ve been focusing on drumming up some portrait work. And I began the process of applying for an artist grant to publish my first book and both started a part-time job and returned to subbing at a private school to stay afloat while building my photography business…after feeling I haven’t made much progress in that department over the past two months despite my best intentions.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not someone who glorifies being busy. It’s just that, for whatever reasons, I’ve had a little extra on my plate lately. The bottom line is that sleep, exercise, meal prep, meditation, and writing – the activities that keep me sane and balanced – fell largely by the wayside, and I got thrown out of whack from trying to fit in so much. I became overtired and felt I had gotten quite off course and wasn’t making satisfactory progress toward my goals.

Then I realized that I am not alone. (Are we ever?) In September, “getting unstuck” (stopping a downward cycle, getting out of a funk, etc.) was a common theme amongst virtually every blogger and spiritual teacher I follow. Some of their advice included:

  • Acknowledge where you are
  • Don’t blame yourself
  • Cultivate gratitude for what you DO have and for being motivated to have/do more
  • Declutter your house, schedule, and mind to make space for what you want to attract
  • Take a step out of your comfort zone, and do something you’ve wanted to do, however small
  • Make a small commitment to refocus every day
  • Cut yourself off from negativity by replacing negative thoughts and stories with more positive, productive ones

With the exception of decluttering (which is a work in progress), I’ve done all of the above, and to gear up for a strong final quarter of 2016, I also gave my workbook and planner a fabulous makeover by covering them with my own painted papers.

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In addition, I’ve been experimenting with a practice that works wonders for me: Starting the day with what I call a MAGICAL MORNING POWER HOUR!

Actually, it was my new moon intention last month, but throughout the course of the month, I became sidetracked by events both within and beyond my control, so I’m recommitting to my Magical Morning Power Hour once again during this new lunar cycle because it makes such a positive difference in the quality of my day – so much that I realize the importance of putting a NO TRESPASSING sign around that time, so to speak. It is sacred time not to be intruded upon by anyone or anything else. It’s my way of staying focused, true to myself, and on track.

My Magical Morning Power Hour is something I look forward to each morning, and it inspires me to get to sleep early enough so I won’t end up sleeping through it. It is time for me. And despite what we have been socialized to believe by a culture that glorifies being busy, taking time for yourself is neither selfish nor lazy because when your energy is in a good place, you’re able to be more fully and effectively present to others. As an introvert, I consider it an absolute necessity for healthy functioning. But introvert or not, when you take time to tune in and nourish yourself, you set a positive ripple of energy into motion.

Some people discipline themselves to do a certain practice every day, but you don’t have to. Having a consistent, daily practice is like photographing the sunrise from the same location every morning. You get to know a place intimately and experience it differently than if you keep moving around. You notice the nuances that can only be perceived when you know a place (which could be a physical location or your own, inner space) so well. But there’s also value in letting intuition guide you toward what you need on a particular day. You can check in with your energy, and consider whether you feel drawn to movement or stillness. Or perhaps you could commit to a regular practice (one small thing) and supplement it with what feels right on a given day.

Although I like the sound of Magical Morning Power HOUR, you need not set aside a full hour! Some mornings, looking at my vision board before getting out of bed and drinking warm lemon water from a very special teacup is all I have time for and is enough to reinforce my intention to nourish and honor my deeper self, set a positive and mindful tone for the day, and refocus my energy. Other mornings, I am able to stretch it out to more than an hour. Many mornings, I’m motivated to do more activities than I realistically can fit in, and I have to reign myself back in and remember it’s not necessary to do so much. It’s like being tempted to fill your plate too many times at a buffet of delicious, nutritious food. More is not necessarily better! Better to savor and taste fully what you are eating rather than rush to consume more. Quality over quantity. What I can fit into the allotted time is enough. It’s really about mindfulness and intention and not just jumping into the day on autopilot.

To give you some ideas, here are some of the activities I include during my Magical Morning Power Hour:

  • Body scan meditation while still lying in bed
  • Sip warm lemon water with cayenne
  • Tea meditation
  • Chakra tune-up (I use Jonathan Goldman’s Chakra Tuner app)
  • Mindfulness meditation (Insight Timer app is a great resource)
  • White light visualization
  • Yoga (I love Yoga with Adriene on YouTube)  
  • Walk in nature with mindfulness of beauty and possibly a camera
  • Watch the sun rise
  • Look at my vision board 
  • Read out loud the affirmations I wrote to accompany my vision board
  • Walk a labyrinth
  • Pull an oracle card (I use Universal Cards and Angel Tarot Cards)
  • Breath practice
  • “Filling the holes” practice (given to me by my spiritual director)
  • Tapping/EFT (Brad Yates on YouTube)
  • Take my kayak on the river
  • Hand and/or foot massage
  • Listen to inspired, meditative music or spiritual content while preparing food
  • Watch an inspiring video
  • Read a poem (I love Mary Oliver) or few pages from an inspirational book
  • Spend a few moments with the current month’s edition of Sister Joan Chittister’s The Monastic Way pamphlet
  • Balance rocks

If you feel you’ve gotten off track or have fallen into a downward spiral, no worries: You CAN push the reset button! It’s never too late! It might be worthwhile to reflect on how you got sidetracked, but don’t indulge in negative self-talk or blame yourself for not doing better. That, my friend, is counterproductive – a waste of time and energy better spent putting your best foot forward in the direction you want to go. The beginning of a new month, season, or lunar cycle is a wonderful time to clear the slate and set fresh intentions. But really, ANY day is a day you can return home to yourself and accept the invitation to follow the pull from your core and live the life that feels like yours to live – beginning with how you set the tone for your day.

For me, life still feels a little too full for comfort, but as I work on decluttering, my Magical Morning Power Hour is not up for reconsideration. It is a keeper! It helps me to have greater clarity about everything else – what is truly important and what I can let go of. And on mornings when I wake up feeling anxious about (well, name a category!), it is where I source my strength, serenity, and sense of security. Like starting the day with a nourishing breakfast, it is how I power my body, mind, and spirit with high quality fuel at the beginning of each day.

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© 2016 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this blog post, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York. 

The Glorious Possibilities of Emptiness

The Glorious Possibilities of Emptiness

Earlier this week, the vascular surgeon said it would be a wild ride, and has it ever been! I spent a couple days this week crying and rebelling against my current realities and have the puffy eyes to prove it. This week has been exhausting. Illuminating. Clarifying. And so much else. But today is a new day, and I have quite a story to share. One I hope you will find inspiring.

My dad underwent emergency bypass surgery two days ago to fix a severe blockage in his leg so he wouldn’t lose his foot. It was no simple procedure, given all his medical issues. I stayed with him in pre-op, and when it was time to leave, I looked in his eyes and saw how frightened he was – of losing his leg or worse. I assured him that he was in good hands and had the easy part because he’d be out the whole time, and as far as he’s concerned, I’d see him in about two minutes, post op. I held his hand, told him I love him, gave him a kiss, and left the hospital with his wedding ring in my possession and my mother’s voice in my head telling me that I am a good daughter and that everything will be alright.

Hearing her voice brought tears to my eyes. Remote mothering, but mothering, nonetheless. Two family members have had “very real” and vivid dreams of her in the past two weeks convincing them that she is still around and watching over us.

Before my dad went to the doctor because his foot pain had become unbearable, my husband, Jack, dreamed that my mom and dad were dancing together, but my dad didn’t seem to realize she was there. He was in black and white and seemed very down, whereas she was in full, vivid color with a big smile on her face, dancing all around. Aware that she had died, Jack exclaimed, “But you’re not supposed to be here!” With a big smile, she replied, “Well, I am! And I always have been!”

That was the first time he had ever dreamed of her or experienced a dream that felt “so real”. The same was true for my daughter, who dreamed my mom came back one more time and told her that she’s been watching over her and is aware that she has a daughter and really wished she could meet her but wasn’t able to.

I haven’t had such a “dream” in a while but have been hearing my mom’s voice in my head quite often. It is the most loving, compassionate voice. Maybe it’s actually my own voice growing stronger, but it sounds like her, and I’m grateful to hear it.

But back to my dad…

He was in the operating room for six hours. And what a journey those six hours were! Understanding that the surgery would be quite complicated, I left the hospital in a bit of a daze. While he was on the operating table, I felt like an orphan. I felt so lonely and drove around longing for a warm hug and a few kind words. I parked my car, and when I got out, there was a single white feather on the ground right next to the car door. I associate white feathers with deceased loved ones, so I immediately thought of my mom and felt her love.

I cried a lot over the next six hours. And reflected. Heightened, ultra-real moments, such as when you’re waiting for a loved one to come out of surgery, carry a special power to cut through illusions, break spells, and offer the gift of clarity. I was able to see more clearly what was most important, what was missing, and what needed to change in my life.

I realized that for a long time, in some ways I had only been seeing what I wanted to see, not what was really going on. It was like when I accompanied my parents to my mom’s oncologist appointments, and when we left the doctor’s office, they agreed cheerfully that the news the doctor gave them was hopeful – though I heard something entirely different. And when my dad managed to convince himself the day before his surgery that the vascular surgeon didn’t really intend to give him a bypass the next day even though she stated it clearly and gave him instructions to prepare for it. It’s like when someone tells you they love you, and you want to believe the words rather than the actions, which indicate otherwise.

Hindsight may be 20/20, but when clarity emerges – even if it brings somber revelations – it is always a blessing because at least you know what you have to work with and can move forward, blinders finally removed. Even after my dad’s surgery was successful, I continued to cry for virtually the entire next day because what I realized in those hours of clarity was hard to bear. And I hadn’t gotten enough sleep, which never helps matters. All I could feel was the pain of the great void of loss that felt like it was growing and threatening to consume me. I missed my mom terribly and wished my arms were long enough to pull her back from wherever she is. Even if she really is closer than we realize, it wasn’t close enough.

Where did everybody go?

My mom and grandmother are gone. My son will leave for college in two weeks. My daughter and granddaughter have moved to Georgia. That’s a lot of empty space that used to be filled with activity and face-to-face interaction with loved ones! 

So yesterday was Crying Day – I Miss My Mom Day – from start to finish. But when I went kayaking in the morning, there were white feathers scattered all over the river for as far as I paddled!

This morning, I opened my eyes and was called to the dock by the colors of the sunrise. I sat on the dock listening to the cicadas, crickets, and birds and feeling the cool, morning air on my skin as a single dragonfly zipped around, and the sunrise colors developed. After a day of crying and lashing out against all the empty spaces in my life, I was able to wake up in the morning and “be here now.” Be at peace with what is rather than vehemently oppose it. And that’s how I realize I will need to proceed: One mindful moment at a time. Focus on what I already have, rather than on what is missing.

Sunset 8-9-16-1

There have been too many goodbyes lately, and sometimes it feels overwhelming. But that’s life. People will come and go, often before we are ready to release them. And the spaces they leave behind can feel like vast, haunted caverns of sadness and loneliness. But in what feels like empty space, the Universe has created an opening that holds glorious, unlimited possibilities.

Yes, there are some gaping spaces in my life – and perhaps in yours, as well. But there is also so much love and nourishment in our world if only we can look through the lens of the present moment and its wealth of possibilities rather than try to prolong the past. And embrace our wholeness! When we feel ourselves craving more or wanting something or someone out of our reach, we can take a deep breath and remember that we already have everything we need. Focus on that. The miracle of gratitude.

My dad made it through his surgery. The sun rose again this morning, and the sunrise was quite beautiful. The water lilies floating on the river are irresistible, and the large clusters of Queen Anne’s lace give off a sweet, subtle fragrance. I am married to a man who is the personification of peace and love and who has transformed himself in ways I never imagined possible. My son is about to embark on the next, exciting chapter of his journey, and I can connect with my daughter and granddaughter via video calls. I have wonderful, healthy friends who have stepped forward and filled some of the empty spaces with empathy, caring, and wisdom. Their nourishing presence has helped me to make it through this week.

So I offer this advice for you and for me: Accept the love and blessings that show up in your life. Focus on that. When someone hugs you, for instance, be present. Feel the loving, caring energy that is wrapping itself around you. Melt into it, and connect with that instead of ruminating on who or what is missing or what is causing you sadness. A mindful hug or conversation can transform your mood, your day, and even your life.

And because I’ve done it myself and have witnessed others doing it, I ask us both to consider: How are you pushing away the love that wants to flow to you and then calling yourself lonely? Who is right there dancing with you even though you aren’t even aware of it? How does love want to enter your life? How can you open yourself to it?

After my mom died and I had quit my job teaching kindergarten, my wise son realized I was feeling down and remarked that he thinks I need to find “something precious to care for.” After more goodbyes and empty spaces, I suspect that precious thing might be me. Because for so long, I have been busy caring for others: My children. My family. My young students. A troubled friend.

As I sat on the dock this morning witnessing the sunrise, I realized that in the gaping emptiness, my book is waiting for me – the one I am going to publish once I finish writing it.  A precious thing to care for. A glorious possibility!

A new day. A new opportunity to integrate the lessons of yesterday into cultivating greater wisdom, kindness, and love and bringing our best selves into being. May we forgive ourselves and others for how we have fallen short. In other words, for being human. Each of us is a brilliant work in progress, and the possibilities are endless.

© 2016 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this blog post, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York. 

What If We Can’t Go Astray?

What If We Can’t Go Astray?

On these hot summer days, there is only a small window in the morning when the air is cool, and it’s not too hot and humid for outdoor activities. Therefore, I have to plan my “magical morning power hours” carefully, prioritizing exercise and other outdoor activities because if I don’t do them first thing in the morning, they probably won’t get done at all once the heat of the day sets in. When I wake up late (as I did this morning), the window is much narrower than when I wake up earlier – let’s say 5:00am, which is my goal. There are so many benefits to waking up early. It feels amazing to experience the morning air, the sunrise, and to feel aligned with the fresh energy of a new day. But today I had to really prioritize morning self-care activities.

I started by walking the labyrinth. I left the house this morning with the Omega Institute 2016 catalog on the kitchen table opened to the Energy Psychology page. As I walked the labyrinth listening to the late summer sounds of crickets and cicadas, I wondered: Is it too late to do what I love? Do I have to choose one thing to love and do? I’m still drawn to the same interests I was drawn to when I was in college 30 years ago. When choosing a grad school, I was aware of some very intriguing schools and programs. But I played it safe, stayed close to home, and pursued a Masters in Social Work, which I found incredibly dry and ultimately didn’t finish. My real interest was in transpersonal psychology. But I sought the quickest, safest route to a private counseling practice. At the time, a four-year doctoral program seemed too long, and graduate programs in expressive arts therapy or transpersonal psychology without a more conventional base (such as an M.S.W.) felt too risky. Ultimately, I found that not going with my passion resulted in rapid burnout – which is why, when I came across the following quote in the Omega catalog, it went right on my vision board:

“Your wildest dreams are not frivolous. In a changing economic climate, true passion is your greatest job security.”

Back then, everything I was truly drawn to seemed too progressive and pioneering. Alternative. Risky. I took the boring, safe, generalist route, which in the end proved to be neither safe nor wise. I did that in my 20s, and I did it again at 40 when I pursued a career in public education because it felt like the safest path since it paid more than teaching in a private school and offered an attractive retirement benefit…if you stayed in the game long enough. Which I didn’t. Because it was not the right path for me. And I knew that was the case from the start but let practicality convince me otherwise.

I didn’t have the confidence to take the risk and study or pursue something that didn’t seem like a safe bet, and that is one of the greatest regrets and lessons I have learned during this lifetime, for sometimes playing it safe is the most dangerous thing we can do. Had I stepped out of my comfort zone and gone to a new place to specialize in something I really had passion for, I wonder what alternative path my life would have taken. I imagine it would have involved less poverty because I would have activated something within me that is incongruent with poverty mentality. I didn’t take the path less traveled – the path I suspect would have made all the difference.

Is it too late now? Too late to follow my bliss in earnest without compromising too much due to my current life situation? Did I miss my calling? Did placing greater importance on relationships earlier in life compromise the focus and depth with which I followed my vocational calling? The answer to the last question: Absolutely.

But maybe the path of relationship was part of my calling and every bit as important. Maybe it was planted in me with a reason and purpose. Perhaps relationship has been my primary learning laboratory, and establishing right relationship with relationships is part of my work. To reconcile someone else’s life situation and energy with my own calling and integrity, without compromising what lights me up..

Work. Relationships. Does it matter how you do your inner work as long as you do it? I have learned through experience (including two marriages) that the shiny illusion of The Other eventually fades, and I have learned by following through with my calling to be a teacher that shiny illusions around vocation can fade, as well. Relationships and vocation feel like the same basic work. Both point us inward, where the real work and awakening await. Ultimately, it is not about anyone else or any specific pursuit. And it’s certainly not about the shininess. It’s about cultivating inner qualities like peace and authenticity, which are available in every moment regardless of life circumstances.

Whether it’s bhakti yoga (path of love) or karma yoga (path of work), the question is the same: What flavor of shit sandwich do you prefer? Because it’s not all lovey-dovey awesomeness. After the initial attraction wears off, there’s work to do. How deep down the rabbit hole do you care/dare to go? The work is the same, whether it’s vocation or relationship – just a slightly different flavor. The work is the same whether it’s this person or that person – just a different flavor. The work is the same whether you are here or there. Whether you are involved in this vocation or that. All roads lead inward, where the outer details don’t make that much of a difference. Not as much as we tend to believe anyway.

Maybe I have lived long enough in this lifetime, and there are more parameters in place now. Maybe we have a certain window during which infinite options exist, and as we make choices and proceed along our life journey, some options fall away, and our available options narrow. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. Because we can do the work whether we are here or there. Location, vocation, relationship: Ultimately, it’s all the same.

Maybe we can do our soul work better or more efficiently by not resisting where we are right now by convincing ourselves that we need to be somewhere else or do something else in order to be fulfilled. Maybe in the lifetime of the soul, what we accomplish in this human life isn’t make-it-or-break-it because we have eternity to expand and evolve.

Maybe it’s not as complicated as we try to make it. Maybe it’s really more about becoming less by shedding the unnecessary layers we’ve accumulated by living in this world, rather than trying to accumulate more – so we can embrace our original Wholeness (enhanced by new experience and awareness) and respond to each moment with greater intuition, love, authenticity, groundedness, etc.

And on the other hand (which is really the same hand), if you really want to manifest something, then go for it! There might be something we need to experience from the process of manifestation, and I believe the universe needs us to express our unique nature and talents every bit as much as we need to express them. But no particular outcome is the be-all-and-end-all. No pursuit, place, person, or anything outside of yourself ever is. But we can play – and see what we can do!  We might just amaze ourselves!

What if we can’t go astray after all because everything we need is inside us, and it’s not about the scenery or the details but about cultivating, growing, and expanding the Self, which also expands the Universe? What if the path is like the labyrinths I walk, with one path that leads to the center, rather than a maze in which we can get lost – and each of us will arrive eventually? Even as we make certain choices – and sometimes in spite of our choices – we continue to walk toward the center?

LOH Labyrinth-1

Vocation, location, relationship: It’s all kindling for your soul fire. This work or that, this place or that, this partner or that: It doesn’t matter so much to our greater Self. But we owe it to our human self to choose wisely because at the level of personality, some options might be more distracting or draining, whereas others might be more compatible with our own energy and our vision of how we want to experience and express ourselves. Ideally, we make choices that allow us to use more of our precious time and energy in service of expanding and expressing our greater Self than in putting out one fire after another of unnecessary drama.

What if there is a soul map, and before incarnating we mapped out where we wanted to go? And what if I’m nowhere near where I wanted to be?

Well, what would happen if I had a geographical destination in mind that I wanted to get to – like the Bahamas or the Grand Canyon? And what if I got lost along the way, ran out of gas, broke down, missed my flight, etc. and ran out of time and had to return home before arriving at my intended destination? Then what?

Well, I’d hope I could at least make the most out of where I did go. Hopefully I experienced and appreciated the sights along the way, learned more about my world and myself in the process, and reflected on my experiences, including what I might have done differently and what I could try next time (based on a greater understanding of what might get in the way) to get closer to where I ultimately want to be. Live, learn, and make the most of it!

But I am still alive and hear the voice of intuition in my head more clearly than ever. I am open to inspiration and create quiet spaces for inspiration and creativity. I have stared down fear and taken courageous action. Raised two children. I have reclaimed some of my own power that I’d given away to others. I am learning more about who I am and how to navigate through life despite whatever setbacks or obstacles I have encountered, especially those that are inside me. I am still traveling through space and time in this body. There is still hope.

What if I didn’t fit in aerobic exercise this morning before the heat of the day set in?  What if, after walking the labyrinth, I composed these words instead?

I have to believe it’s all good. That we keep moving toward the center in spite of everything.

SC Labyrinth-1

This morning, I woke up to a supportive text from someone who loves and cares deeply about me and realizes it might be a difficult day. I’d awakened early this morning feeling worried about how the day might go but managed to get back to sleep for a couple more hours, and receiving that text, literally within two minutes of waking up for good, made a difference. It was comforting to begin the day knowing that I am not alone and that someone truly cares.

In order to get back to sleep a couple hours earlier, I focused on releasing my thoughts and replacing them with thoughts that brought relief, and I scanned my body to become aware of and release any tension. I told myself it’s okay if I don’t fall asleep and had a Plan B (yoga nidra meditation) if I didn’t. And then I fell asleep and awakened to that wonderful text.

Through half a century of living in this world and being dedicated to personal and spiritual growth, I have developed an well-stocked toolbox to help me regain my sparkle when I’m feeling down. The toolbox is filled with resources that empower me to embrace my wholeness and shine my inner light. I’m sure you have such tools at your disposal, too. Each of us has our own toolbox, though the contents will vary from person to person according to personal preference and what gets the job done. Personally, gratitude is one of my power tools that yields consistently effective and amazing results, and I have many specialized, go-to tools in the mindfulness compartment of my toolbox, as well.

And thank goodness for that because July has been an emotionally tumultuous month here on the Hudson! For example, I took my son (my youngest) to college orientation for incoming freshmen, and it hit me that he really will be going away in less than a month and that I will have an empty nest for real. Not just practice, like when he’s seven minutes away at his dad’s house, but for real. I’ve also been witnessing the decline of a close friend’s mental health and feeling there’s nothing I can do to help. My dad’s physical health is suffering, and another friend is dealing with an alarmingly heavy load that life has served up. 

It’s worthwhile to open our toolbox and do maintenance and improvement on a regular basis because the greatest gift we can give one another is our whole, loving self. It is that wholeness I strive to cultivate so I can give those around me the gift of my best self rather than a smaller version of myself that depends on them providing me with the relief that ultimately comes from me taking personal responsibility and doing the inner work only I can do

But there are times when our energy and resilience are low – perhaps from exhaustion or overwhelm (which can happen when we’re not using our daily maintenance tools) – and encountering a great loss or challenge leaves us feeling needy, vulnerable, and incomplete. We might not even have the strength to open our toolbox and might forget we have a toolbox in the first place.

That’s when a kind and caring communication from someone who truly loves us can make a difference and give us that burst of strength and positivity that makes a difference. So surrounding ourselves with people who are naturally kind, loving, and supportive is a great tool to have in our collection. And it’s important to maintain our toolbox by discarding what doesn’t work for us. Life is too short to waste time sifting through our toolbox to locate useful tools in a pile that includes tools that are broken or never worked for us in the first place, even if others swear by them.

The other night, I felt very sad and lonely. It was an uncomfortable feeling that I realized I probably should sit with even though I wanted to flee from it. I sensed that if I ran from it, it would lodge in my body, whereas if I sat with a witnessing presence, it might dissolve or transform. But the idea of sitting and “being with” the uncomfortable sensations felt daunting. I wanted a distraction to whisk me away from the acute discomfort I was experiencing.

It was a clear indicator that life was offering me a tremendous opportunity for healing and growth…disguised as pain.

And then the image of a water lily came to mind.

White Water Lily-1

I’ve been drawn to water lilies even more than usual lately and have spent hours photographing them on the river. There’s something about their energy and form that speaks to me. So when a water lily appeared in my mind during a moment of acute anguish (aggravated by being overtired), it inspired me with a simple movement that helped me to inhabit my fullness again and expand beyond feeling tattered and diminished. I call it “water lily pose,” and I made my first-ever guided meditation video to share with you. It’s simple and brief, and it’s the newest addition to my spiritual toolbox that can be useful when you are feeling disempowered in the face of personal or world events and long to return to your whole, sparkling self. Water lily medicine.

© 2016 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this blog post, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York. 

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