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Author: susantara

Two Questions

Two Questions

For a while, I’ve felt inspired to write about the topic I’ve been immersed in all year. You could call it  mindful self-compassion.  Or self-love. Or tender loving self-care. I still haven’t settled on a term that feels just right, but I think you get the gist.

Since my mom passed away 3 1/2 years ago, I’ve noticed a loving, motherly voice growing stronger in me. It arises in my heart and reminds me to be kind and true to myself. I’ve been on an intentional journey of self-love for the past 11 months and in that time have learned to be my own best friend and to treat myself the way I would want my children to treat themselves: with kindness and compassion. Whereas I used to have a really strong Inner Critic, in recent years, that gentle, loving, nurturing voice has overshadowed it. It’s not just because my mom passed away. It’s because I’ve set an intention to feel better about myself. Because the old way wasn’t working. Something had to give.

And the great news is that IT DID! I took all the love, kindness and nurturing I’d given to others for so long and turned it on myself, and it has made such a positive difference! I’m eager to share my journey of self-compassion because I realize so many people struggle with it and know from my own experience that it doesn’t have to be that way.

That’s why I was really caught off-guard a couple weeks ago when my Inner Critic paid me a visit. 

One night, I was working on a project that took longer than anticipated and had some late night momentum going. After completing each step in the process, I asked myself if I should go to bed and continue in the morning or push through and get more done. Each time, I chose to keep going, though I knew better. By the time I finished, it was 12:30AM, and I was tired

The next thing I knew, it was 1:15, and I was still awake in bed. 1:30…2:00.

Finally, I realized a familiar tape was playing over and over in my mind. My Inner Critic had slipped in and made herself at home, or as Eckhart Tolle would put it, my pain-body was becoming active after a period of dormancy. It seemed like she had been waiting patiently in the shadows for me to leave the door open unintentionally so she could slip in and feed on my suffering. In a nutshell, here’s what she said:

You have no value and nothing worthwhile to offer.

Your life has been a series of mistakes.

You are unlikeable.

Nobody is interested in anything you have to offer.

You are invisible and forgettable. Nobody notices or remembers you.

It’s not that I totally believed these cruel messages, but I was overtired and didn’t have the energy to defend myself against them. The voice caught me by surprise in the middle of the night, and I just wanted it to stop! But I was too tired to open up my toolbox and be resourceful. Where was that kind and loving voice that didn’t allow the Inner Critic to get through the door? Asleep, apparently.

The next morning, I was still exhausted, vulnerable, and at the mercy of my unwelcome visitor. When the bill for having my son’s car towed from another part of the state came to more than three times what I expected (because I miscalculated the mileage), it was too much. The critical voice became even louder.

I’d already been feeling disheartened because my calendar sales have been down this year. In addition to investing quite a bit of money to produce a beautiful calendar, I paid for a Constant Contact subscription to improve communication with my mailing list subscribers – which seems to have reduced my mailing list by 75% because my heartfelt emails now end up in promotions/spam/junk folders. In addition, creating Facebook promotional ads was exasperating!

This probably sounds really boring, but it’s the stuff I wake up fretting about in the middle of the night. I felt like I’d been doing everything I should be doing, and it just wasn’t working. That disempowered attitude, combined with inadequate rest, set the table for a visit from my Inner Critic.

Contrast that to the prior weekend: I woke up Sunday morning determined to take good care of myself but didn’t get any exercise before I had to go to work. I drove to work wondering why I didn’t make time for self-care. Was I on a mission of self-sabotage? I wondered. But I was well rested and assured myself that although I can’t do anything about how I spent my time that morning, I’d do my best going forward because it feels bad when I let myself down, and I don’t want to feel bad. In other words, when the Inner Critic knocked, I met her at the door, told her I wasn’t interested in what she had to offer, and sent her away.

I didn’t invite her in and let her drain my energy and convince me of my unworthiness. Didn’t go there at all because I realized it’s counterproductive and had the energy to choose a better response. During my half-hour lunch break, I put on my sneakers and got fresh air and a vigorous walk. And it felt amazing because there were so many other things I could have done with that time, and I chose the best thing of all. 

Recalling the previous weekend’s experience was enough to remind me that I could disengage my attention from the rude visitor and ask: What is the best thing I can do right now? Then I dried my tears and somehow mustered up the energy to deliver my greeting cards, calendars, and a few framed photos to a totally awesome shop that expressed interest in them. Because I remembered how good it felt to do the best thing I could do, and I wanted to feel that way again. 

The following night, I went to bed earlier but woke up again in the middle of the night to that awful voice. This time, I was a little more rested and challenged my Inner Critic by asking: Is that really true?

Um, no. Unequivocally NO.

There was nothing left to say. With that answer, I escorted my uninvited guest to the door. Soon I was snuggled under a blanket of peace and fell asleep.

What is the best thing I can do right now? 

Is that really true?

These questions can cut through all the woe-is-me, I’m-a-loser nonsense and bring your focus back to the present moment, which is where your power lies. As I see it, the only reason to revisit the past is to learn from it (with an attitude of curiosity, not self-judgment) or to reframe it and create a new, more empowering story. 

The visit from my Inner Critic was an occasion to set aside the shoulds. Instead of pressuring myself to write a blog post, for example, I took walks and baths because those activities ultimately were more important and nourishing and helped me find my way back to my center. When I’m not adequately rested, I don’t have the strength to defend myself effectively from the Inner Critic. At such times, the best I can do is to assure myself that I will be stronger after I’ve had some good sleep. I realized, once again, the importance of getting plenty of rest because I don’t like feeling so defenseless! I want to feel good!

Once I had a couple nights of good sleep, I felt like my empowered, self-compassionate self again. I woke up and, standing at the river’s edge, photographed the sunrise. I greeted the rising sun as if it were a great teacher I was excited and grateful to meet. Each morning, we receive the gift of a new day, a fresh slate, and that is no small thing.

I stood at the riverside and promised to allow it to be its own, unique day and not superimpose any of yesterday‘s patterns on it. Allow it to unfold as it is, and with gratitude, give to this new day the best possible, rested and resourceful, version of myself.

© 2017 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.

Four Bags and a Canon in D

Four Bags and a Canon in D

Yesterday would have been my mom’s 80th birthday. Well, I suppose it still was. She just wasn’t around to celebrate with us – in the physical sense, anyway. Instead of going to my parents’ house (which was sold earlier this year) for a birthday celebration in the evening as we would have in a parallel universe, I lit up her miniature Victorian Christmas tree in my living room, sorted through a bag of her clothes, and shared some memories with others who loved her. And not just family. Facebook is pretty great for things like that.

Something kind of magical happened on my drive home from work last night. My mom LOVED Pachelbel’s Canon in D. She always made sure it was played during family weddings. We played one of her CDs with many different versions of it in her room at the hospice house the night she was dying, and it created such a peaceful, sacred atmosphere. I can’t recall ever hearing it on the radio, but when I turned on my car radio during my evening drive home, it was playing – which brought me to happy tears because it was her birthday, and I felt her presence in that music.

Music, dreams, and license plates are the biggest ways I feel my parents’ presence, as if they are popping in to say hi. Over the weekend, I turned on my car radio, and “Frosty the Snowman” was playing as I sat at a traffic light in town. I don’t tend to linger on Christmas music stations, but my mom loved everything Christmas, including Frosty (which I remember her playing on piano), and before I had a chance to change the station, I noticed the license plate on the car in front of me read: FROSTY. I kid you not. 

Even though it’s a silly children’s song, it was a compelling synchronicity. It wasn’t until a couple days later that I thought about the lyrics: 

Frosty the snowman
Had to hurry on his way
But he waved goodbye saying, 
“Don’t you cry
I’ll be back again some day.”

And then I cried tears of yes because those simple words touched a nerve. When pancreatic cancer struck, my mom did have to hurry on her way, and I know she wouldn’t want us to grieve and cry because she was such a jolly, happy soul who spread joy and kindness everywhere she went. 

Was there a message in that song and something more to it than pure coincidence, or do I think too much? Prior to considering the lyrics, I just couldn’t stop thinking about the synchronicity – kept coming back to it – because, even though I originally attributed it to coincidence, it wouldn’t let me go. It seemed like there was something more to it. Something personal. It was a nagging feeling I had. At any rate, hearing a few seconds of the song made me think of my mom, and that brought a smile to my heart. And that’s good enough. But in my heart, I think there was more to it than that.

A couple weeks ago, I finally took four huge bags of my mom’s clothing out of my storage unit, and they have been taking up space in my studio (a.k.a. the enclosed porch) ever since. I’ve had to navigate around them countless times a day. Last night, I finally dragged one of the bags into the living room to prepare the clothes for donation.

They still carried the scent of my mom’s fresh, clean laundering. As I looked at and smelled each article of clothing I took out of the bag (while the Pachelbel Canon played in the background), I really felt her presence. I examined each article of clothing carefully and considered whether I would want to keep it. Virtually every item was from her favorite store, Talbots, and she had really nice clothes, but nothing I’d wear (aside from one Christmas sweater and two jackets I set aside). So I took my time buttoning every button, checking every pocket, and feeling my mom’s energy in each blazer and blouse I held in my hands. Some of the clothes brought to mind certain photographs or memories, which I paused to remember: her working in her garden, celebrating Christmas, going to work, dressing up for parties and social events, vacationing with my dad. I wanted to make sure every piece of her clothing was in good shape before delivering it to the next stop on its journey. Because my mom’s clothing meant a lot to her.

This afternoon, I delivered the clothes to a bustling consignment/thrift shop that donates all proceeds to the local hospital where my mom used to volunteer, playing guitar and singing for the patients she visited on her rounds. She’d always wanted to be a nurse and started nursing school when my children were very young but enjoyed the career she was in and wanted to spend more time with her grandchildren, so she didn’t finish the program. After she retired from her career with the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, she took up guitar, and it quickly became her passion. Her volunteer work at the hospital was a fusion of her lifelong desire to work in a health care setting and her lifelong passion for music. Donating her clothes to a place where they would benefit the hospital felt right and filled me with the joy of giving. 

My rented storage unit is filled with my parents’ belongings that I didn’t want to dispose of in a mad dash when we sold the house earlier this year. It allows me to take the time to go through their things mindfully and let them go in a way that feels right, one bag or box at a time. This is the week to give my mom’s wardrobe a proper sendoff. And that is how I spent her 80th birthday. By the end of the week, all her clothes will be gone and hopefully will make a lot of people happy – just like she did. 

© 2017 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.

Little by Little

Little by Little

There have been a number of times this fall when I’ve begun to write something that felt sharable. However, throughout the month of October, I devoted my free time to traveling around Upstate New York and Vermont to photograph fall foliage and didn’t end up publishing anything. There were several experiences I wanted to write about, such as soaking up an amazing, positive vibe at Sandy’s Books and Bakery in a little town called Rochester, Vermont (en route to a waterfall I wanted to photograph) and having deep conversations with strangers that bordered on magical. Meeting my new tribe of delightful, kindred spirits with whom I will participate in group retreats on a regular basis over the next three years for the purpose of personal and spiritual growth. Personal revelations and challenges. Observing the first anniversary of my dad’s passing. Traveling twice to Watkins Glen to achieve my big photography goal of the year: photographing waterfalls on the gorge trail when the fall colors were at peak. The thrill of anticipating that just around the next bend, I would be standing in the scene I’d seen so many stunning pictures of through the years – and how exhilarating it felt to arrive at that spot. 

 

But the moment that really stands out for me and that I feel inspired to write about now is a much “smaller” moment, when I pulled in my driveway one breezy morning after walking the labyrinth down the road and noticed what appeared to be a butterfly circling gracefully around the backyard until it finally landed in the grass. As it soared through the air, I thought I could make out two wings but then noticed it wasn’t a butterfly after all. It was a leaf! The tallest tree in the backyard was releasing some leaves, and I found it really inspiring. I sat in my car for a while watching the tree let go of its leaves and noticed it did so in spurts, despite the constant breeze. It wasn’t a continuous process, and it didn’t release only a few leaves at a time. It seemed there were moments of letting go of a flurry of leaves all at once, followed by a resting period. A few minutes later, another flurry, and then more rest before it would be ready to let go of more. 

Even though it didn’t let go of its leaves at all once, it’s the season of letting go, and the cycle had been set in motion. The leaves the tree put out in the spring to capture and photosynthesize sunlight were no longer useful to the tree because it was time to simplify and prepare to rest for the winter. To turn inward. The tree was focused now on letting go and soon would release all its leaves, resulting in a colorful carpet of leaves covering the backyard. 

I love to observe nature and discover what it can tell me about myself and about human nature. On my way home from the labyrinth that morning, I drove by the storage facility in which I’m storing many of my parents’ belongings. I’d intended to have a yard sale during the warmer months this year, but it didn’t happen because I had other priorities. This is my year of deep decluttering in all areas of life, and after decluttering the house completely during the first quarter of the year and doing lots of digital decluttering, clutter clearing my car, etc., it felt like I took a break, much like the tree in my backyard. But when I drove by the storage unit that morning, I reminded myself that I needed to resume my decluttering pilgrimage, beginning with my mom’s clothes. Perhaps taking that one step would get me back into the swing of letting go of stuff that has outlived its usefulness in my life and was only taking up valuable space.

I’ve been renting the storage unit for nearly a year now, and it has given me the gift of time to deal with my parents’ belongings that weren’t sold, donated, or disposed of when we sold their house back in January. I can’t put a price tag on that gift of time, especially since my home has no usable storage space for sentimental items. I stayed away all summer while attending to other matters, and it was hard to return when my son went back to college. When I raised the big, metal door for the first time in a while and was greeted by a roomful of things that are no longer needed by loved ones, I experienced deep sadness. However, I sat with the sadness and was present to it, and eventually it shifted into a sense of comfort as I sat on my parents’ living room sofa and smelled familiar fragrances that I hope will never fade away. And that’s probably why I don’t mind paying for the storage unit. Grief has no timetable, and I have no usable storage space in my home, so it’s not something I’m going to fret about.

My mom hasn’t needed her clothes in 3 1/2 years, and we’ve all had a chance to go through them to take what we want. When she was alive, she’d regularly donate clothing she no longer wanted to a local community organization. Her clothes were a big part of her identity. She loved having nice clothes to wear to social events. My mom was a very kind and classy lady who liked to look her best and always was dressed with a big, warm smile. And that’s why the huge bags of her clothing are still in my storage unit. Getting rid of them feels like letting go of a significant part of my mom – even though I realize she is not her clothes, and she would not want them in bags in a storage unit. She would want them to be worn by women who would appreciate them. 

Last night, I had a dream in which I was with my mom and wanted to talk with her about something that has been problematic in settling the estate. But in the dream, it seemed she was still alive, and it didn’t make sense to talk about her being dead when she was still alive, so I asked her if our “future selves” could have a conversation. Then I told her that she had passed away 3 1/2 years ago and that Dad passed away a year ago – and then I couldn’t say anything more than, “And I miss you so much!” because I was crying so hard that I was aware that my dreaming body also was crying. We gave each other a big hug before the dream ended.

I woke up from that dream ready to write this blog post and donate my mom’s clothes this week.

With the tall tree in my backyard as my mirror, I acknowledged that I’m spending this entire year (and beyond) doing what the tree was doing that breezy, October morning: letting go of what no longer serves me to make room for new possibilities when the time is right. Decluttering my life has been the most amazing process of enLIGHTENment. Probably the deepest letting go I’ve experienced this year relates to the habitual thoughts in my head – much of which was inspired by getting rid of physical things but some of which wasn’t. Thoughts and relationships are what I was busy clutter-clearing when I wasn’t going to the storage unit. Buddhists call it establishing “right relationship” to them, and it is very liberating! Decluttering your life is a profound act of mindful self-compassion or what I like to call tender, loving self-care. Self-love is not selfish. It benefits everyone. When you honor your most authentic self, you’re putting good energy into the world. And when you do it well, letting go is done with love, grace, and gratitude.

So, yeah… I have my work cut out for me inside that storage unit. But it will get done, one flurry of letting go at a time, and with grace, like that leaf I mistook for a butterfly sailing so exquisitely around the backyard on its journey to the ground.

© 2017 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.

 

A Radical Idea

A Radical Idea

I was all set to put the finishing touches on a different blog post this morning when – BAM! – another idea came into my head, so I rolled with it. Or it rolled me (which is more what it felt like)! So here goes…

Going through my photos last night, I rediscovered pictures from my stay at Omega Institute a few years ago, including the inspirational designs (above) I came across on the path to the meditation chapel. 

You don’t need to ‘better’ yourself…You are perfect already.” -Gangaji

How does it feel to read these words? Do they challenge everything you’ve been taught to believe about yourself? Can you dare to believe them? 

Dear one, can you afford not to?

The words remind me of a few lines from a poem I “happened” to open up to this morning in one of my favorite books, The Gift: Poems by Hafiz the Great Sufi Master (translations by Daniel Ladinsky):

Your life within God’s arms,
Your dance within God’s 
Arms
Is already
Perfect.

(Please don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. If “God” doesn’t work for you, feel free to substitute a word that does. There are so many choices.)

Just imagine if THIS were your truth instead of feeling you’re not good enough right now as you are or beating yourself up – which is not productive and is a surefire way to block access to your true strength and power. Some people are afraid that if they believe they are already “perfect” (If perfect is too much of a stretch, perhaps magnificent will do?), they won’t be motivated to improve themselves and will be crippled by inertia. But that’s not at all how I see it.

The other night, I thought about my almost-two-year-old granddaughter and wished her life weren’t so challenging. Then I reminded myself what my spiritual director has told me countless times: I don’t know what anyone else’s soul has come here to learn or experience. Maybe everything is exactly as it should be for her to learn and grow the way her soul wants to in this lifetime. Perhaps the experiences she’s having are exactly what she needs, and I can trust her path while loving her unconditionally and supporting her to the best of my ability (which includes having healthy boundaries, which is something I’m working on…).

Then I thought of others I know who came into this world with a brilliant mind and so many talents. So much potential, so many gifts. And mental health challenges that might include anything from run-of-the-mill personality quirks to serious illness and/or addiction. Perhaps the contrast is exactly what we need in order to grow and learn on a spiritual level. Perhaps reconciling it is our path. Perhaps it’s not about trying to do better or accomplish more or live up to some “great potential” or standard you feel you’re constantly falling short of. Perhaps it’s more about the qualities that can be developed as a result of your gifts intersecting with your challenges. Humility might be part of your path. Or loving yourself for who you are rather than who you think you should be. Dropping all the shoulds and embracing the magnificence that you already are, that is intact and undefiled by anything you have experienced or done in the world. 
 
I have brought two babies into this world and have witnessed firsthand the magnificence/perfection that is our unconditioned state. It is always there, waiting for us to return to it (even if it involves doing some bushwhacking). To rediscover it. To let it find us. To embrace it. To say YES, this is what I am, regardless of what anyone has convinced me otherwise.
 
Imagine the weight we put down when we dare to believe we are a unique, perfectly flawed expression of the Life Force that connects us all, warts, scars, and all. It frees us to improve on the perfection that we already are and experience more of our boundless nature.
 
THAT is what comes to mind when I look at the inspirational designs I photographed at Omega. It’s about believing in someone who faces challenges I can’t even imagine living with and keeps falling down and getting back up again with greater humility. Believing in myself when I wobble off-center and feel like a hopeless misfit. Believing we are inherently good at the core and can choose to access our innate goodness and power rather than cut ourselves off by believing we’re flawed, deficient, broken, and hopeless. Of course we are flawed, along with everyone else, and that’s part of our perfection as human beings! We are as we were created to be, so let’s make the best of it and see what we can do and be when we release ourselves from the bondage of negative self-thought!
 
© 2017 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.
Amidst the Morning Mist

Amidst the Morning Mist

This will not be a wordy post. I don’t have anything deep or philosophical to share today. I just want to share a simple, seasonal pleasure that I find so lovely and peaceful.

This time of year, mornings tend to be quite dramatic on the river, often featuring mist. The calm river becomes a dark, sprawling stage on which the steam fog performs a spirited ballet. I sit on my dock for a front row view and take in the graceful movement. It reminds me of the countless New York City Ballet performances I’ve seen at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center throughout my life. It’s that graceful and unified. The musical accompaniment features the sprawling, seasonal ritardando of the last few crickets and a variety of birdsong solos. 

It’s as if I can make out individual mist dancers and watch as they break away from the mass and twirl on their own or in small circles with other misty dancers, as part of a unified choreography and rhythm. One dance with different parts. Another dancer breaks away for a vigorous pirouette, like a tiny whirlwind, before rejoining the rest. When sunbeams shine through spaces between the leaves of taller trees, they look like spotlights shining on certain groups of mist dancers twirling in circles. 

Sometimes other music arises in my mind when I observe the dancing mist, such as the romantic waltzes of Johann Strauss. But I suspect that if I were to become even more still and free my listening from any filters or memories, I’d hear the misty river’s authentic music, as has happened a few times in the past.

At some point, I can’t resist anymore. I get into my kayak and glide across the dark, reflective stage decorated with clusters of lily pads and aquatic grasses, as the dancers continue to move, lift, and twirl all around me. It is sheer delight and is always best when I am facing the sun with the mist in the foreground.

One morning, already enraptured by the mist dancing all around me, I paddled under the bridge and noticed a great blue heron standing like a statue amidst all the activity, a striking counterpoint of stillness. Fortunately, I had the foresight to bring my camera that morning. 

And then there was another recent morning when I was all alone on the misty river except for a solitary goose that was moving gently in the direction of the sun. I don’t often see a lone goose on the river, as geese tend to stick together. As I “read” this image with my heart, a number of metaphors came through.

That morning, a poem arose in me:

Here
I am grateful
For the full catastrophe
Of life,
Grateful for blessings
I’m not even aware of
And only can sense
The existence of
Deep inside
Where patterns seem
To be shifting
Like a kaleidoscope
Being turned
By a heart
Tuned by poetry,
Stillness and gratitude
To be in harmony
With a greater Self
Rather than the usual
Dissonant
Distractions.

Misty, autumn mornings on the river are a special gift. Engaging with the cool morning air, the sunrise colors, the stillness of the water, and the dancing mist is such a peaceful way to begin the day in harmony with my environment and my greater Self. I feel so blessed to live here and so grateful for this time of year.

© 2017 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.

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