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Author: susantara

The Year’s Most Beautiful Lessons

The Year’s Most Beautiful Lessons

At this time of year, when the sun sets early and the warmth of the wood stove and lighting in my home are so cozy and inviting, I turn my attention to a delicious December ritual of reviewing the entire year and setting intentions for the New Year. 2018 was my third consecutive year of being really intentional about goals and doing monthly reviews to reflect on successes, challenges, what I’m grateful for, and what I’ve learned. 

For the past three years, I’ve used Leonie Dawson’s My Shining Year Life Goals Workbook to set and review intentions. I’ve always kept my workbook really close, carrying it in a tote bag that accompanied me everywhere. However, at the end of April I went on a seven-day, silent vipassana meditation retreat that changed everything and completely reset my mind. Most of my goals no longer resonated. They didn’t feel deeply inspired and lacked momentum and oomph.

For a while, it felt like I didn’t really have any goals or desires, other than to maintain a daily meditation practice. Through that practice, new and deeper aspirations arose in time and inspired action. It was a time of presence, trusting, patience, and not-pushing that basically reset my life!

A year ago, I never would have imagined I’d be running a preschool program. But one step at a time, I followed what felt right, and here I am back in teacher mode part-time, loving it and feeling enriched by the presence of young children and a wonderfully supportive work environment.

I also never would have imagined that I’d complete Reiki Master training this year. That was another path that gained momentum as I put one foot in front of the other, following what resonated and lit me up. These were probably the two biggest surprises of the year.

It was a year of deep shifts, soul lessons, and transformation. I learned how to send healing energy of Universal Love to people instead of getting pulled into their dramas or trying to save them. I shifted from grief to appreciation and integration, and from wanting to be loved and taken care of to tapping into a higher source of love and support from which I can nurture others and myself. I’ve shifted from being concerned about what others think of me to focusing on how I can be of service. And from thinking about what I could or should do, to discerning what feels deeply right.

Those closest to me say they’ve never seen me so happy. I feel peaceful and satisfied, even as I work on new goals. 

How did these shifts come about? One lesson and revelation at a time.

Here is a month-by-month glimpse of some of the year’s most beautiful lessons I’ve lived and learned. I’m so grateful for all my teachers, guides, and resources that helped me to grow so much this year, including the Hidden Treasure program at Light on the Hill retreat center, the Abraham-Hicks teachings available for free on YouTube, Tara Brach and Jack KornfieldInsight Meditation Society, my Reiki teachers, and the healing energy of nature.

*Note: I use the terms true self, true nature, higher self, and inner being interchangeably.

January

♥ I am not an orphan. I am a matriarch.

When you spend more time attuned to positive energy, you lose interest in what doesn’t resonate with that. You set your joy thermostat higher.

♥ We don’t have to become more to improve ourselves. We just have to get back in alignment with our true nature. 

February

♥ Perhaps those who hurt me most were planted in my path to help me separate from my false self and align with my true self. Perhaps it was necessary for me to hit an all-time vibrational low in order to apply so much effort in the direction of positive growth and bounce back this much. The past few years have brought me into greater alignment with my true self, by going out of alignment for a while so I could experience the contrast and realize how important it is to be in alignment and let go of what doesn’t serve that harmony.

♥ My parents may not have understood me, but they loved me, and that’s what matters.

March

♥ Choosing your thoughts first thing in the morning is much like deciding what you want to wear. You could even set out a go-to positive thought the night before.

♥ It’s empowering to stop blaming and accept the invitation to take responsibility for your own patterns. If you can be honest with yourself about your patterns, you have the choice to work on clearing them (or not). If you don’t clear them, you’ll continue to attract more of the same.

April

♥ The patterns of fantasy, dwelling on the past, and focusing on what’s missing have caused me much unnecessary suffering! My higher self isn’t interested in the past and isn’t served by focusing on what’s missing. I connect with it by putting attention on what lights me up and inspires me.

♥ I intensify feeling bad about myself by fanning the flames with fantasy and thought.

♥ So much of my mental activity is not useful or necessary. It just fills the spaces.

♥ I learned the distinction between the compulsive need to achieve something versus a deep inspiration to pursue something. I need to rest in this spacious awareness and wait for deeper inspiration to arise without rushing it.

May 

♥ Surrender to the lull because it’s an important season. Trust it, and don’t force anything. Just notice what arises and feels important. Lull times are opportunities to practice patience and equanimity.

♥ On grief: When I was able to name it, allow it, and observe it, it subsided quickly. The waves are sharp, but they don’t last unless you feed them with emotion.

♥ At the end of the retreat, the retreat guides told us we were really deep in stillness and probably didn’t realize how deep, and we were also very sensitive. It’s that way with grief, too. You might not realize how vulnerable and sensitive you are.

♥ It’s easier to ride the waves when you’re not upset at the “inconsiderate” boaters who caused them. You accept that there will be waves and ride them with equanimity.

♥ As I become more conscious of my thoughts, I can choose which ones to give attention to and which ones to release.

♥ A regular meditation practice helps to separate truth from delusion.

♥ Don’t give myself away! It’s important to have people pay for a service so they will be more fully invested in it and get more out of it.

♥ Absence of inspiration or even financial prosperity is no excuse to believe erroneous thoughts. It is an invitation to practice a higher vibration. It doesn’t have to be specific and focused on a certain outcome and simply can be appreciation, love, and trust. When I catch myself thinking about needing to generate more income, I can notice I’m thinking and remember to focus on a deeper, perhaps more general aspiration instead of a worrisome sense of lack.

June

♥ Inspiration arrives when you are present to the here and now, not absorbed in the past or thinking forward to the future. It is an energy of the present moment and spaciousness. There is so much wisdom, insight, and energy available if we can stay in the present and not get pulled back into the past or projected into the future. 

♥ There are moments when I feel grateful for all the choices I’ve made that have brought me to where I am, doing exactly what I’m doing. Moments when I’m not in pursuit because I realize I’ve already arrived (in my own way, not anyone else’s). Moments that are free from any concerns of measuring up. It seems that feeling this way is great practice for a fulfilling life.

♥ Spacious awareness is very different from analytical and logical thinking. It takes you completely out of the well-worn neural grooves of habit and thought. There is so much more wisdom and healing energy available beyond the thinking mind.

♥ When I noticed myself being drawn to a “seductive little thought”, putting space around it brought the realization that there are so many other choices in this moment. When I noticed my mind gravitating toward the seductive thought, it was like it was a toddler getting too close to the fire and a loving adult gently picking her up and bringing her back to safety. Whenever my little mind starts wandering towards seductive and unhealthy beliefs, Big Mind can gently but firmly lead it away. Seductive thoughts, challenging conditions, and temptations are the most powerful invitations to presence. They ultimately offer the realization that you don’t need the condition you are craving in order to be satisfied, fulfilled, content, happy, and peaceful.

♥ The way I feel towards my body is a tremendous opportunity for awakening and practicing loving-kindness and acceptance. Mindfulness replaces self-consciousness with spaciousness that gives rise to tenderness and compassion. Our challenging qualities and emotions are actually our greatest teachers once we stop being at war with them (and with ourselves).

♥ Compulsive beliefs are like weeds, and you have to continuously weed your garden of what is not desired or healthy so you can cultivate what you desire.

♥ Exploring and sorting through inherited stuff has been an incredible experience of discovering where the personalities and relationships fit into a larger context of both family and broader society/history. Holding a person‘s birth and death certificates in my hands at the same time is a powerful reflection on the brevity of life and how we are all links in a chain. Also, noticing what’s left behind from all these ancestral lives puts my own life story into perspective and inspires me to reflect on what is most important.

♥ Don’t be unkind to yourself to be kind to others. Be sure to include yourself in your circle of kindness.

July

♥ Even though they are no longer physically present, my parents and grandparents are still very much alive and able to give me their loving presence stripped of all personality quirks. They are with me now more than ever. It doesn’t matter whether I am calling their spirits to me or am calling upon memories of them and their finest qualities. Either way, their love is real and enduring.

♥ Spiritual expansion is such a delicious experience, whether it’s feeling your heart expand to love a brand new baby when you thought it was already full, expanding beyond the well-worn groove of thought during meditation and identifying with the larger screen of consciousness, or expanding beyond habitual behaviors, activities, responses, etc. to try something new that feels more aligned with your true self.

♥ Unkind thoughts about myself and others are opportunities and cues for loving-kindness.

♥ Times of waiting – in line, at a traffic light, waiting for a website to load, waiting for someone to move out of the scene I want to photograph, etc. – are opportunities for mindful presence and cues for dropping out of thought and into my body or heart. The result is that I don’t live in my head as much as I used to and have more control over that. Presence takes me out of my thoughts. The more I can get out of my head and into the present moment, the better!

♥ The biggest impediment to me being of service to the world is my own self-consciousness and self-doubt.

♥ Certain thoughts fall into the category of “The Forbidden Forest”. I can’t go there for a moment, can’t even stick a toe in that forest. It’s a line you just don’t cross. There’s no need to analyze or reflect. It’s forbidden because I’ve learned from experience not to go there, not to invite in that energy because it doesn’t serve me in any way and can be quite destructive. When one of those thoughts arises, I can acknowledge and choose not to indulge. Basically say, “I see you, and no, thank you.” It takes discipline and willpower, but it’s worth it.

♥ Instead of saying, “I have a problem with this,” reframe it as, “I have an opportunity for healing.” Bless it. It’s an opportunity to rewrite your programming, insert a new line of code into the existing script, or remove a bit of faulty code. You can allow the old, negative thoughts or behaviors to serve as a trigger for something new. Maybe for an affirmation or a more positive thought or response. You might not notice the problematic code until you upgrade your intentions. But it can be removed. You don’t have to blame anyone else or blame yourself. Recognizing it allows you to fix it.

♥ I can send love, light, and Reiki rather than worry about people I can’t help or situations I can’t do anything about.

August

♥ I am the one who needs to accept me.

♥ Instead of feeling bad about myself, affirm: May this, too, serve my awakening.

♥ No matter what you’ve done in the past or how you feel about it, you can choose love, and that transforms everything. You can choose to forgive yourself and have compassion for yourself. Don’t waste a moment depriving yourself of that love.

♥ To forgive does not mean to condone. To accept does not mean to enable someone else or to disempower yourself. Forgiveness and acceptance are qualities of the heart. They are not a checklist of behaviors. The same is true of love. It’s not unloving to hurt someone when your heart is tuned to love. Their reaction is not your responsibility. It’s not your responsibility to make things right for everyone, but to live with a loving heart. Sometimes the most loving response brings pain to another, though you neither intend nor want to hurt them. The pain is not your fault. You did not cause it. It is their opportunity to grow, to dispel delusion, to gain wisdom, to love more. That’s what you can wish for them. You can’t take away someone’s pain. You can’t source their inner peace. Rather than spin your wheels trying to do that, aspire to be a better version of yourself. Put effort into cultivating your own inner peace so you can be an example of how to break free from suffering and live with love. Doing that can empower others by giving them hope.

♥ It’s not about trying to get rid of the ego, but balancing it so it can work in harmony with spirit.

♥ Sometimes the missing piece is hidden in plain sight, but we don’t recognize it because we don’t see it from the right angle. You can just turn something a little bit and see it from a completely different angle, and that changes everything. Clarity dawns, and then you’re different. New possibilities emerge as if out of nowhere.

♥ The most important thing is to be in alignment with who I am and what I want. Caring what people think about me and doing what they want me to do because I want them to feel good doesn’t benefit anyone if it takes me out of alignment with my inner being. 

September

♥ When you get still and quiet, a deeper wisdom emerges that cuts out so much busywork that was neither necessary nor useful. When you take time to tap into deeper wisdom, life has greater ease to it.

♥ New ideas flow to me constantly and create new possibilities. Insight and inspiration flow to me in abundance and enrich my life. If it’s hard to feel good about financial prosperity, focus on that.

October

♥ It was never my job to excavate another person’s heart. That’s messy business, and it takes too much energy and attention away from what’s most important: being in harmony with my inner being.

♥ May the enjoyment of doing something I love, rather than perfectionism, guide my work.

♥ Insight, inspiration, and intuition create new possibilities that didn’t exist previously. Trust that they will come when the time is right and that I will be led to the best paths by following intuition, by making time for stillness, and listening and acting on what arises.

♥ There is light in me that needs to shine. It can’t wait until I think I’m more ready or perfect. Let it shine now!

♥ You can be inspired by others, or you can learn from them how you don’t want to be. But don’t compare yourself to anyone!

♥ There’s a difference between wholeness and expansion. You can feel whole and complete and still seek expansion. Expansion brings you to new levels of awareness and possibilities. Expansion isn’t just about goals. It’s about what happens to you on the inside as you live from day-to-day.

♥ The dark times can be useful for growing your soul even when it feels like you’re doing the opposite. It might compel you to ask questions and look at things in ways you’ve never considered them before. It might push you to your breaking point, which is the point at which everything you thought to be true about your life breaks down and new truth emerges like a shoot from a seed whose shell has broken open. And you’re never the same again. You’ve grown.

♥ Having so many challenging personalities in my life must be part of my path and serve my growth. Playing the victim inhibits expansion. I’ve done that. I’ve cloistered myself out of shame. But that was then, and it’s a whole new ballgame now. I can look at the conditions of my life and the people in it as material for alignment and expansion. They help me to cultivate unconditional love and boundaries. It all serves my awakening and further growth.

♥ If someone seems harmful or hurtful or has really bad energy, I can see them through the eyes of unconditional love from a distance. It doesn’t mean trying to save them or change them in any way. It means seeing their infinite radiance even if they don’t let it show. We have to remember to see ourselves through that lens, as well.

November

♥ There are unresolved stories that live in our body. We can release energy blocks and get the energy flowing by giving attention to those stories and images and bringing unconditional love to those areas – and watching them transform.

♥ I have a new relationship with money now because it’s not tangled up in my relationship with my dad and what he could or couldn’t give me that I really wanted. As I heal my relationship with my dad, I heal my relationship with money.

♥ Unconditional love is different from enabling. It’s about seeing someone’s perfection and loving them completely without wanting to change them or their circumstances because I acknowledge that I do not understand the reasons behind them. My mantra: I see your divinity. I love you unconditionally. I trust your path and honor your free will.

♥ The goal isn’t to get people to listen to me, buy what I’m selling, or look at the world the way I do. Let them be who they are. I just need to focus on moving towards satisfaction. Don’t look outside of myself and blame other people for what I feel insecure about. Stay focused on what inspires me and feels good.

December

♥ My creativity offers opportunities to transcend the need to be approved and accepted by others or to compare myself to others. Create for the joy of it rather than being concerned about any kind of reaction, response, or result. Just create – and share what I create with the world. Maybe even teach it. But don’t keep it to myself.

♥ Competition and comparison are the kiss of death for creatives.

♥ Don’t put attention on what makes me feel bad. Instead, focus on what I feel really good about. If it’s something that needs my attention, find a way to reframe something negative into something positive.


© 2018 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, Reiki practitioner, 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.

From Grief to Gratitude and Beyond

From Grief to Gratitude and Beyond

A number of my friends and acquaintances lost close loved ones this year and are experiencing their first holiday season without them. Today I write from the depths of my heart and the canyon of my own experience to assure you that the pain of loss will not always feel so acute and raw. Time is your friend. This, too, shall pass. And when it does, it doesn’t mean you love them any less. It means you have found new ways to hold the relationship and to integrate what you loved most about them into your life. In other words, there is a light at the end of the dark tunnel of grief that leaves all the love intact and even helps it to grow.

It feels like a miracle when I acknowledge the contrast between how I feel now and how I felt during The Grieving Years (2014-2017) that followed my mom’s death and included my dad’s, as well. This past summer, it felt like the grieving chapter finally and mercifully had run its course. 

The transformation really hit me the other night when I drove home from work past a house with battery-powered candles glowing in each window like my parents had during the holiday season. It reminded me of their home and how joyful and welcoming it felt. In the past, that would have triggered a round of sad tears and missing my parents. But instead of feeling sad and mourning what’s missing now or dreading another holiday season without them, it’s like I walked through their front door and into their warm home and felt nourished and comforted all over again.

Even if it’s just a fleeting thought or feeling, I love that memories of my parents can lift me up and make me feel more connected to them rather than bring me down. I’m grateful that such thoughts can elicit tears of joy and appreciation instead of sadness. That was not the case when grief was fresh.

Everyone’s journey through grief is different. However, it calls each of us to grow and expand in some way. We say that our loved one will always live on in our heart. And we can get in touch with that place in us where what we loved most about them resides and give it new life, through us. We can keep their beautiful qualities alive in the world by watering those seeds they planted in us.

My journey through grief included: feeling the chasm of separation and loss, acknowledging my parents’ best qualities and appreciating them like never before (as if seeing them for the first time), letting go of the resistance and allowing some of those qualities to develop in myself, doing a little weeding, and integrating my parents’ most appreciated qualities into my life in a way that feels right and balanced.

It also involved hearing their voices in my heart and learning how to use that heart connection as a new kind of telephone that allows direct communication whenever I need or want it. The bottom line is that I now realize the distance between us is non-existent. They are part of me. I’ve never felt closer to them, and our relationship has never been better. Seriously.

Grief Work

In the past four years, I’ve let go of a lot of baggage around my parents that I couldn’t release while they were alive. A lot of resistance I carried my whole adult life. Notions about how I couldn’t share qualities with them. The programming went something like this: If Mom or Dad is X, then I am not-X. There were lots of qualities I split myself off from because of this programming that developed early in life as a coping mechanism but resulted in spending most of my adult life shooting myself in the foot!

This is deep stuff that grief helped me to unearth. It’s kind of amazing to finally drop your lifelong resistance to someone or something and reclaim the parts of yourself that you split yourself off from for good reasons back then that don’t serve you now.

When people are alive and we interact with their personality patterns, we might put up walls that don’t allow us to see the person’s essence. We hold ourselves in a pattern of resistance.­ When they pass away, we don’t interact with their personality anymore and can experience their deeper essence. Our relationship doesn’t end when the person dies. It continues. But what’s happened for me is that I have a relationship with my parents’ essence now, rather than just their personality that I used to bump up against. To relate to someone’s essence is very healing.

I have integrated my parents’ finest energy and qualities into myself and have never felt closer to them or more whole. It’s not that I love them any less. It’s that I’ve allowed myself to open to them more. I don’t resist them like I did when they were in physical form.

Beyond Grief

Last night at bedtime, I used up the very last drops of the peppermint foot lotion my mom gave me for Christmas five years ago. Instead of feeling sad about having one less thing from her, I decided to buy some more lotion to carry on how she cared for me. I bought one for me and one for my daughter. When I bought the lotion, I felt grateful for my mom’s kindness, care, and generosity. I felt her love in my gesture of self-care and caring for my daughter.  

I don’t need grief to sustain my relationship with my parents. They never left me. They are closer than ever.

I don’t need grief to sustain a relationship with anyone else that was formed around shared grief. In other words, I don’t have to hold on to grief and suffering as an identity. Nobody who’s ever loved me would want me to hang out there for long. They would be so happy to see me put down that weight and experience more joy and gratitude than ever before.

You don’t miss a person the same way when you’ve reduced the distance between you and them to zero. When you have integrated their most cherished qualities into your very self. When you’re no longer resisting and trying to maintain a separate identity from them. When you know they’re only a thought away, and you can feel their presence in your heart. When you hear their voice in your heart whenever you need it.

My mom loved Christmas and went all-out. This is the first year I can listen to Christmas songs playing in stores or on the car radio without feeling sad. Instead, I feel gratitude for all those wonderful memories of my parents and for not pushing them away anymore. The big, black, iron teardrop in my heart has transformed into the light of unconditional love.

Instead of melancholy, I feel hope and excitement about making new holiday memories with my family, especially my almost three-year-old granddaughter. Those memories will look very different from my memories of Christmases past when my parents and grandparents were alive. Christmas is different now. And so am I. 


© 2018 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, Reiki practitioner, 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.

Angels in My Heart

Angels in My Heart

I’m sure you’ve experienced it: The 3 A.M. wake-up. All shields are down. You are like a turtle without a shell, vulnerable to the thoughts and feelings that seem so urgent in the darkest hours when everyone else is asleep. Thoughts that keep running in circles inside your head like a cat, high on catnip, chasing its tail. You want to go back to sleep, but the thoughts won’t stop. 

I woke up recently in the middle of the night gripped by fear. To be honest, fear is a visitor that has not shown up much recently, and I’ve appreciated its absence. But there it was again, strong as ever.

In my daily meditation, I practice noticing and naming emotions that arise. So when I woke up overcome by fear, I noted, “Ah, fear. This is what fear feels like.” It’s like when you pick up the phone and recognize the voice of a familiar acquaintance at the other end.

This fear was financial in nature and whisked me into poverty consciousness before I even knew what hit me. It fell into the “Forbidden Forest” category of thoughts that don’t lead anywhere productive. Although I work diligently to retrain my brain away from those kinds of thoughts, it caught me off-guard in the middle of the night when my defenses were asleep.

The way I saw it, I had four options:

  1. Think
  2. Meditate
  3. Focus on where the fear is manifesting in my body
  4. Ask for help.

I’m a big fan of developing inner resources. However, I was really tired at the time. So I chose the fourth option.

Calling All Angels

Recently, I’ve sensed an angelic presence in my life and believe there is a great deal of help available to us. We just have to remember to ask for it. At the risk of sounding totally woo-woo, I believe there are legions of unemployed angels just waiting to be asked. They love us and want to help but cannot interfere with our free will and therefore need to be asked. Even so, they won’t work against our highest good, which we might not be aware of in a given situation. 

So I asked the angels for help. I disengaged from fear and became still. From that stillness, a warm light arose and engulfed the darkness of my fear. It carried the realization that insight and intuition flow to me in abundance and are great sources of prosperity in my life. The flow of this kind of wisdom provides the answers I need. I just need to trust in it, open to it, and not block it with fear!

That thought was like a soft blanket of peace. It was as if an angel jumped right into my heart and shined a spotlight on what I needed to know and where I needed to put my attention.

I learned that if it’s hard to feel good about money, focus instead on a form of prosperity that is easier to buy into. The closest approximation that brings you a feeling of hope and abundance. 

Inside the Tank

Something similar happened during my most recent float therapy session. There are no distractions in the silent darkness of the float tank. It’s just you and your mind. Usually, my float sessions consist of 90 minutes of very deep relaxation and meditation. Thoughts tend to lose their hold when I float because there’s nothing to reinforce them. When I’m that relaxed and undistracted, they dissolve like soap bubbles that pop within seconds of becoming.

However, a compelling thought managed to take root this time. It was about how my mom must have felt when she knew she was dying of pancreatic cancer. How hard it must have been for her to let go of absolutely everything that was important to her in this world. And everyone she loved. I also really missed her as I floated in the darkness.

This time, it wasn’t fear. It was the pain of separation that seized me. Feeling apart from. It was a very uncomfortable feeling. However, I stayed with it, knowing it wouldn’t last. I felt both the pain of separation from my mom and the emotional pain she presumably experienced during the weeks and days before she transitioned out of this world. 

Then I experienced an inner sensation of light and warmth, just like when I was gripped by fear during the night. Two memories emerged from that light.

One was a synchronicity that took place after a Reiki training, when I wanted to know which archangel(s) I have a strong connection with. I sensed green light and the presence of Raphael but wondered if I was just making it up. The next day while working at the library, a patron approached me because he had an appointment with a co-worker. He announced in a strong, clear voice, “I am Raphael.” As if that weren’t enough, on my break I got takeout from the natural foods café, and the bill was $4.44. The cashier exclaimed, “That’s a good number! It means angels are with you!”

The second memory was from the earliest weeks following my mom’s death. Lying in my bed at night, I felt myself enveloped by an indescribable sensation of love and golden light that pushed happiness into me. It started at my feet and worked its way up to my head until I was embraced by it completely and immersed in it from head to toe. It seemed to be associated with my mom. Perhaps it was a non-physical hug or a glimpse of what it feels like on the other side? I sensed she is with us and able to tune in to our thoughts. But that wasn’t all. Another family member who is much more skeptical than I experienced the same thing in their bed.

Those two memories engulfed and dispelled the sense of separation that seized me in the float tank. They were much greater than the pain of separation. In the silent darkness of the float tank, I felt deeply connected to and part of the universal life energy that my mom is also part of. For the remainder of the session, I floated in peace and joy. 

Valuable Insights

The morning after fear paid me a nighttime visit, I got up and meditated first thing. During meditation, I understood that help is available when I need it. Answers about the future are not available now because it’s not their time yet. We cannot foresee what choices, possibilities, information, understanding, and assistance will be available to us in the future.

Instead of getting stuck in fear, we can trust that the best path will be revealed to us with every step we take, if we tune in to our inner guidance system. We can trust that we will learn, grow, and expand more between now and then and make choices that have not shown up yet on our radar. We don’t have all the necessary information at this time to pass judgment on how the future will be. In our journey toward the future, we will receive more useful guidance from a state of inner peace and trust than fear or anxiety. Fear blocks the good stuff.

Then I got zapped with an inspiration. Something I couldn’t believe hadn’t occurred to me before. All of a sudden, I envisioned my home in a completely different way that included space for something my heart yearns to do more of. This opened up a new world of possibility and was specific evidence of the insight I had moments earlier. 

Basically, my fear dissolved when I understood that insight and inspiration create new possibilities that haven’t come into view yet. I realized my job is to trust that I will be led to the best paths by following intuition, making time for stillness, and acting on the wisdom that arises. One step at a time.

Such a better alternative to thinking too much, trying so hard, and doing too much work that doesn’t produce desired results. It doesn’t have to be such a hard and fearful journey when there is so much help and light available!


© 2018 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, Reiki practitioner, 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.

Leaf Man Inspired Nature Portraits

Leaf Man Inspired Nature Portraits

Well, whaddaya know? I’m teaching again. Thought I’d never do it. Even vowed I’d never do it again. But over the summer, one of my oldest and dearest friends planted a seed in my mind. He insisted, “Susan, you might not think so, but you are a TEACHER.” It’s not what I wanted to hear. I argued that I’m excited about the more holistic direction I’m taking with clutter coaching, Reiki, feng shui, and mindfulness mentoring. I’m done with teaching. Then he suggested that I at least consider working with young children as a menu item. I listened to what he had to say. After we hung up, there was a funny feeling inside me that made me think he might be right, even though I convinced myself otherwise for quite some time.

A few weeks later, that seed was watered by an intriguing job post another friend sent along that made me light up when I read it. I went straight to the computer and composed a cover letter that essentially wrote itself, and sent it off the next day.

To make a long story short, I got the job and am running a preschool program at our local library! I’m glad my two friends acted on their intuition because it seems to be a perfect fit. It’s a part-time position that allows me to do what I loved most about teaching: Helping children to love learning and books and to feel good about themselves. Incorporating lots of literature-based art and nature projects that build kindergarten readiness skills across the curriculum.

The elements I disliked about public school education don’t apply to this job. I’m not the only adult in the room and have LOTS of assistance because the parents/grandparents/caregivers stay for the program! And there’s no formal assessment. As a kindergarten teacher, it broke my heart to see my students’ self-esteem suffer because they weren’t ready for the “new” kindergarten expectations. I jumped on the library position because it would allow me to: 1) prepare children for kindergarten in developmentally appropriate ways, and 2) model skills and activities to the adults in their lives, who can do so much at home to support their child’s learning. 

I love that I can be a positive influence in the lives of young children and families again, in a much more supported way than when I was a public school kindergarten teacher. It’s wonderful to stick a toe back into the world of early childhood education, in a way that allows me to focus on my other interests, as well. 

The moral? If your intuition nudges you to deliver a message to someone, DO IT! Don’t think it’s silly and shrug it off. The Universe might need you to help plant a seed that will make a positive difference in their life. It might be exactly what they need to hear to help a new path unfold. 

In celebration of my return to working with “the littles” and my favorite season, here’s an activity inspired by the children’s picture book, Leaf Man, in which all the illustrations are made from autumn leaves. It’s also inspired by my favorite early childhood educator/blogger, Sally Haughey of Fairy Dust Teaching. A picture on one of Sally’s blog posts caught my eye, and I developed it into a literature-based art and science activity I did with my preschoolers this week. It would work with older children, too. (I even had fun with it on my own, as you might be able to tell from these pictures!) 

How to Make Leaf-Man Inspired Nature Portraits

Materials:
  • A few wooden frames (without glass; I used 8×10, 11×14, and 5×7)
  • Pieces of cardboard, fabric, or paper in natural skin tones
  • Assortments of natural objects, such as:
    • A variety of autumn leaves
    • Pinecones of different shapes
    • Acorn tops and acorns (it’s nice to include some very tiny acorns still stuck inside their top, too)
    • Short pieces of sticks (only an inch or two long)
    • Feathers
    • Shells
    • Small stones
    • Pieces of hazelnut shells
    • Maple seed wings (“helicopters”)
    • Indian corn kernels
    • Naturally dyed wool
 
Procedure:

Arrange each category of natural objects into its own container, and place them so they are within reach of the children as they work.

Each child gets a frame with some kind of backing paper or fabric canvas underneath it. Simply allow them to create pictures of people, animals, trees, etc. using the natural materials in different arrangements.

This is an opportunity to use directional words (i.e. above, below, next to) and talk about body parts, colors, size, numbers of parts, etc. It’s also an invitation to observe and identify natural objects and to discuss the changes trees go through.

Allow them freedom of creativity!

They might even want to take a little break and observe how maple wings, feathers, and different kinds of leaves twirl, tumble, and otherwise make their way to the ground. 

Here are some Nature Portraits my three- and four-year-old students made:


© 2018 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.

Top Ten Relaxation Tools

Top Ten Relaxation Tools

Is it me, or have you also noticed that people seem a little more stressed than usual lately? Whether it’s in response to world and national news, personal issues, transition, loss, etc., I’ve been picking up on a lot of tension in the air in recent months. It feels like a good time to share my favorite relaxation resources.

I’m no stranger to anxiety. Throughout my life, I’ve come to realize the importance of managing my stress level. It’s really not so much about what’s going on around you as it is your response to it. That being said, there are situations I’ve learned I need to avoid. For instance, fast-paced, busy, high-stress jobs are not for me. I’m not able to be my best self in that kind of environment or when I’m working too much.

Some stressors are within our power to control. We can walk away from them or change the way we look at them. However, others are stickier, and that’s what we need our self-care toolbox for. Here are some relaxation tools I swear by.

Meditation Apps

My two favorite meditation apps are Insight Timer and Calm. To describe each app would be a blog post of its own, so I won’t attempt to do that. (You can click on the links to learn more.) Instead, I’ll touch upon what I’ve found most helpful.

I mostly use Insight Timer, which is a free app. It offers more than 12,000 guided meditations in many different categories and also has a timer for unguided practice. If you want to relieve anxiety, reduce stress, sleep better, manage emotions, etc. you can find plenty of guided meditations for these concerns and more! I primarily use the timer – which can be customized with different bell and ambient sounds. However, if you don’t have an established meditation practice, I recommend trying some guided meditations for relaxation.

Calm is a paid app ($60/year), but some institutions (such as Cornell University) offer free memberships to their employees/students. If you are entitled to a free membership, lucky you! It’s definitely worth checking out! But there’s also a scaled-down, free version that has some worthwhile features.

For example, I love the Breathe Bubble that guides you to breathe slowly and deeply for relaxation. Ever since I was a child, I’ve experienced anxiety in doctors’ offices, and the Breathe Bubble helps me to calm down in that situation and whenever I’m feeling upset or frazzled. I also enjoy the Sleep Stories from time to time, especially one about lavender fields in Provence that I listen to while diffusing lavender at bedtime. The sleep stories are relaxing and are like having a bedtime story read to you. Sometimes I’m in the mood for that, and I rarely make it to the end of the story before falling asleep. Actually, I don’t know if I’ve ever made it to the end!

Yoga Nidra

Yoga nidra, or “yogic sleep”, is a form of guided meditation that promotes conscious, deep relaxation and restores your mind, body, and spirit. You do it while lying comfortably on your back. You never need to worry about doing it “wrong” because there’s no way to do it wrong, even if you fall asleep. It can be done from 10 minutes to an hour or longer, depending on the version you choose.

Yoga nidra helps me to fall back asleep if I wake up in the middle of the night or too early in the morning with a busy mind. It really knocks me out! Even if I make it to the end of the meditation before falling asleep, I’m in such a relaxed state by then that sleep will come soon. When I practice yoga nidra, it feels like I sleep much more deeply. 

There are several stages of yoga nidra meditation, including:

  • Moving awareness from the physical body inward
  • Sankalpa: A carefully chosen, positive intention or affirmation stated in the present tense
  • Rotating consciousness through the entire body (body scan)
  • Awareness of the breath, to promote relaxation and concentration
  • Experiencing opposites (i.e. cold/hot, heavy/light)
  • Visualization 
  • Revisiting your sankalpa/intention during deep relaxation
  • Bringing your mind back gradually from psychic sleep to waking state (unless you wish to fall asleep)

A few years ago, I downloaded Julie Rader’s 45-minute version of yoga nidra from iTunes and got a lot of mileage from it. It’s a good one! However, once when I was traveling and didn’t have it easily accessible, I searched for “yoga nidra” on Insight Timer and discovered a 29-minute version (“Yoga Nidra for Sleep & Rest” from The Stillpoint) that is my current go-to yoga nidra meditation. It works like a charm!

Yoga nidra doesn’t have to be done at bedtime. It can be done any time of day to promote deep relaxation. Here is a brief article to learn more.

Weighted Blanket

I love love love my weighted blanket! What’s a weighted blanket, you ask? It’s a blanket that’s filled with pockets of non-toxic poly or glass pellets to weigh it down and feels like a big, full-body hug. You know how infants are soothed by being swaddled? It’s like that. In many people, deep pressure touch causes the brain to release neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which have a calming effect. Weighted blankets can be useful for those who experience anxiety, stress, and insomnia, as well as sensory integration disorder, Asperger’s, ADHD, and Rett Syndrome.

Anyone who has tried my blanket has been instantly soothed. My daughter used it just the other day and said it felt like the blanket was hugging her! The sensation is like covering yourself with a blanket of calm. I also use it to enhance relaxation when working with Reiki clients.

I ordered my weighted blanket from Magic Weighted Blanket. Weighted blankets aren’t inexpensive but are therapeutically invaluable, in my opinion. Websites that sell weighted blankets can help you to figure out how much weight is best for you. 

Eye Pillow

Similar to the idea of a weighted blanket is a yoga eye pillow. This is a pillow that’s just large enough to fit over your eyes and usually is filled with flax seeds and perhaps a calming herb like lavender. The eye pillow puts light pressure on your eyeballs and lowers heart rate via the oculocardiac reflex and also stimulates the vegas nerve. These responses can result in deep relaxation and a sense of grounding. 

The combination of yoga nidra (or relaxing music), lavender essential oil, my weighted blanket, and my eye pillow is the ultimate relaxation! 

Eye pillows are also lovely during Reiki treatments. It’s really nice to have one with a cover or zipper that allows you to remove the filling for laundering.

Calming Fragrances

I enjoy using essential oils for relaxation. My favorite ways to use them include: diffusing, putting a few drops in a bath along with 2 cups of Epsom salt, putting a drop on my yoga mat, and even just sniffing the opened bottle.

Lavender is my go-to essential oil for sleep and relaxation. I love sandalwood, too, either by itself or blended with orange essential oil. They are my favorites! But what works for one person might not work for another, and there are sooooo many possibilities!

Tara Healing Incense, a traditional Tibetan medicine for relieving stress, tension, and depression, is my favorite incense. I’ve used it for many years. Handmade by Tibetan refugees living in Dharamsala, India, it’s an earthy, smokey, NOT perfumy fragrance composed of 30 pure and natural herbs. It’s available in most stores that sell incense and meditation supplies. 

White Noise App

I’m someone who needs white noise in the background to fall asleep, especially with all the traffic that goes by our house and over the bridge. In the summer, a fan will do nicely, and I also have a white noise machine. However, the White Noise app (from TM Soft) has oh, so many wonderful choices. The sounds are so soothing and create a peaceful atmosphere during the day, not just at night.

My favorite sleep sounds are brown noise (much gentler than white noise) and stream water flowing. Other relaxing choices include: theta waves, zen spa music, waterfalls, ocean, peaceful lake, camping in the rain, campfire, and probably hundreds more. I also like to use this app to facilitate a peaceful environment and to drown out sounds from activities going on in another room so I can focus.

Float Therapy

In contrast to a weighted blanket, a float tank provides a sensation of weightlessness and supreme relaxation that you really can’t experience any other way. You’re like a cork floating and don’t have to do anything at all to stay afloat and therefore can completely relax your entire body. Sometimes referred to as a sensory deprivation tank, it’s a chamber that usually measures around 8′ x 4′ and is filled with about 10″ of water that is so heavily concentrated with Epsom salts that you float effortlessly. I’ve written previously about float tanks, so I won’t reinvent the wheel here! You can click the links to read my articles on Flotation Restoration, Part One and Part Two. 

Restorative Yoga

There are many different forms of yoga. Restorative yoga is a particularly meditative form that adopts a very slow pace and deep breathing that triggers the parasympathetic nervous system. Restorative poses are held for a long time to allow your body and mind to relax deeply. You might even hold a pose for 10 minutes, breathing slowly and deeply. It’s very different from the more active, athletic forms of yoga!

I appreciate the restorative yoga video collection on Gaia when I have a subscription. There are also plenty of videos on YouTube to choose from. Restorative yoga sequences often require a number of props (blankets, bolsters, blocks) that allow you to really release into a pose. However, there are also some poses that only require blankets, such as Legs Up the Wall, for which instructions are given in this article. Of course, yoga studios also offer restorative classes.

It might go without saying, but if you do restorative yoga on your own, a peaceful atmosphere free from interruptions and distractions is essential. You need to be able to relax completely. Make sure you gather whatever props you’ll need ahead of time so they’ll be within reach.

This page on Yoga Journal offers a nice introduction to restorative yoga, with some useful links.

Imagination Vacation

I am enamored with filmmaker, Louie Schwartzberg’s work. He is a pioneer in the field of visual healing. He films nature in extraordinary ways, speeding up processes that are too slow to observe (such as time-lapse flowers) and slowing down what’s too fast for us to see (such as the movement of hummingbirds and dragonflies). His films “bring a sense of natural wonder, healing serenity, restoration and well-being” to your environment. I have all three of his DVDs, and there are also lots of downloads featuring diverse landscapes and life forms all around the world. His “moving art” facilitates relaxation and awe and transports you to the beautiful places he’s filmed. He even has some DVDs you can watch on Netflix. Once, I watched Louie’s videos of time-lapse flowers on my phone during an uncomfortable medical procedure, and the doctor agreed that it really worked for me. 

I also enjoy videos of ocean waves. I own a few on DVD, but there are also lots of free videos on YouTube. Ocean waves videos create such a relaxing environment. Sometimes I’ll burn an ocean-scented candle to make it even more of a sensory-immersive experience. I’ve even reclined on the floor in front of the screen with my feet in a basin of water or sand and a fan blowing for an even more complete experience! But even just sitting and doing nothing other than watching a nature video of ocean waves, fish swimming around underwater, etc. without any props can slow your breathing and heart rate. I call it taking an imagination vacation, and whenever I remember to do it, I’m glad that I did and promise myself I’ll do it more often.

When I taught kindergarten, I’d put these kinds of videos on the SMART Board for quiet interludes during the day, to promote calm. There’s nothing like nature to bring you back into harmony and balance!

Crystal Connection

A few summers ago, I was at a Mindfulness in Education conference. Meditation teacher, Jack Kornfield, led us through a guided meditation in which we received a special gift from a spiritual being. In the meditation, H.H. the Dalai Lama give me a heart-shaped rose quartz heart, and right after the session was done, I went to the retreat center shop and bought one. It has been quite literally a relaxation touchstone for me ever since.

When I hold the crystal heart in my hand, it takes on my body heat and becomes quite warm. For some reason, I find that very soothing! It’s so pleasurable to touch the warm crystal to my face. I’ll sometimes even sleep with it in my hand or under my pillow. It gives off calming energy. 

If I notice tension in my body, I often will place that or another crystal on the area that feels imbalanced. For me, that’s usually just below my rib cage. I also use crystals in my Reiki practice, placing them on certain areas of the body as I feel guided.

Use your intuition to select a crystal that feels right for you. If you have more than one, use your intuition to select which one to use at any given time. There are lots of websites that sell crystals, but I recommend going to a brick-and-mortar shop if you can get to one, so you can feel which crystals you’re most drawn to.

Energy Muse has some useful information about selecting and working with crystals, to get you started. Check out their blog for some handy guides, articles, and videos if you’d like to learn more.

Those are ten of my top twelve choices in my relaxation toolbox. I hope you or someone you know will find them useful! My two other favorites are mindfulness meditation and Reiki. I write frequently about mindfulness in one form or another and intend to write more about mindfulness meditation and Reiki in the future. In the meantime, if you would like personal instruction/coaching in mindfulness or a Reiki healing session, please contact me. I do both!


© 2018 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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