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Author: susantara

Zooming In and Zooming Out

Zooming In and Zooming Out

A few mornings ago, feeling emotional after waking from another “visitation” dream of my deceased mother, I went outside to see how much frost needed to be removed from my car before I could leave for work. There was a layer of frost, but clinging to the frost were thousands of snowflakes – an unexpected visual delight I hadn’t seen all winter! There was very little time left before I needed to leave, but I took out my photography gear and spent about five minutes reveling in the beauty of the patterns of the snowflakes magnified through my macro lens. It was a world that so easily could go unnoticed. Either you get up too late, after it already has melted away, or you start defrosting or scraping without seeing such tiny details – for instance, stacks of delicate snowflakes as captured in this image:

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Every snowflake in a sprawling blanket of snow, and every drop of water in the ocean, is precious.

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The catch is that you have to train your eyes to see such miniscule wonders. Or perhaps your eyes are opened by grace in a given moment because it was time for you to see. There is a sermon inside every snowflake if you look at it the right way and are receptive to its fascinating secret.

Each year, a tree produces hundreds or thousands of leaves. If you look closely, you will notice that every leaf is imprinted with the pattern of a tree.

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And consider our bodies. Inside our bodies, there are multitudes of cells being generated, living, and dying, just like humans on planet Earth. At a cellular level, dramas unfold through reproductive processes that take place silently and secretly – processes of which we are not conscious. Every single breath is a spectacular event – perhaps like a roller coaster ride or a story of transformation from the perspective of oxygen molecules – but we are largely unaware of the rhythm and process of it as we go about the business of living our lives.

There is so much taking place, so much to be revealed to us if only we look more carefully or employ tools that help us to zoom in and see beyond what we can perceive with the naked eye. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, zooming out provides us with insight about how everything fits together into something larger than itself.

Becoming aware of the universe that exists inside each human body makes me wonder: If we were to zoom way out, are we like infinitesimal cells inside a larger being that we are too small to perceive? And could that entity be but a single cell in something even larger?

These thoughts have been building over the past several days and are blowing my mind this morning! A few days ago, I came across a video (which is absolutely worth three and a half minutes of your time) based on a gargantuan, panoramic photo released by NASA of the Andromeda galaxy. The video portrays impressively our place in the vastness of the cosmos. For me, the timing was perfect.

Prior to seeing the video, I had been revisiting a vision I had a while back of a vast wall covered completely with a sprawling, painted canvas. But the masterpiece painted on the canvas extends far – perhaps infinitely – beyond the boundaries of the wall. Somewhere on the vast wall is a postage stamp sized frame, and if you look inside the frame you can perceive familiar forms – perhaps sky, trees, houses, and figures of people and animals. We humans are the size of pin heads in relation to this postage stamp sized frame, and we take it all in, make what sense we can, and to some degree think we understand the meaning of what we see inside the tiny frame. This miniscule masterpiece (that is a small part of a larger canvas, that in turn is but a small portion of a possibly infinite canvas) represents our perception of our human lives. But what we can perceive – the part that falls within the postage stamp sized area – isn’t as it appears if you zoom out. Doing so, you see that the individual forms inside the frame extend far beyond the frame and are parts of much larger shapes and patterns.

It’s like taking the sensation of standing at the edge of the ocean or on a mountaintop and magnifying it a thousandfold.

We debate and argue about the meaning of the forms we perceive within the confines of the postage stamp sized frame – which is all our conditioned minds can see. We blame and/or venerate others, exalt ourselves for our perceived successes, and/or rebuke ourselves for our perceived shortcomings and failures – thinking or even fearing that we know The Truth.

But how could we possibly know?

From a wider perspective, perhaps events that seem confusing or tragic on a personal level serve a larger, higher purpose in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps they offer us the gifts of awakening and evolving. Perhaps the biochemistry we inherit or the personal losses that throw us off balance and feel so jolting are actually spiritual blessings. Perhaps we need to extend our perception through time and space to understand this and to realize how inherently connected we are to other forms, beyond the extremely limited frame of human perception. Perhaps doing so will help us cultivate serenity, love ourselves more fully, and in turn live more authentically.

How would it change your life to believe – truly believe – that you are not broken or deficient in some way? That who you are at your core is the light of the universe, imprinted with the pattern of the galaxies? That you can access this higher power at any time by focusing on your inner light?

Zoom in, zoom out, shine on.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Last Christmas Present

The Last Christmas Present

During the summer, my dad gave me some money that my mom “would have wanted me to have” after she died. I knew immediately what to do with some of it: It would be my last Christmas present from my mom. So around Thanksgiving, I bought the wide angle lens I’d been wanting for a long time but couldn’t afford on my teacher’s salary, wrapped it, and placed it in a gift bag my mom gave me last Christmas. I wasn’t around on Christmas and didn’t put up a tree or any other decorations because I just didn’t feel up to it. A few days after Christmas, I was still waiting for the right time to open it.

When this morning’s colorful sunrise interrupted a long string of gray days, I knew the time was right. I opened the present with the excitement of a child and then ran outside to use it right away and send a big thank-you into the beautiful sky.

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The idea of buying a lens “from my mom” came from a dream I had of my grandmother after she died less than four years prior. My grandmother came to me in a dream and seemed excited because she wanted to give me one last gift. I recently had been given some money from the sale of her house and woke up from the dream knowing what to do with it: I used it to buy my first “real” camera. It was probably the most important purchase I ever made because nature photography – and sharing it online – has completely transformed my life and given me a renewed sense of purpose.

And speaking of dreams…

On Christmas morning, I dreamed – twice – that my mom was picking up the phone to call me. After waking up from the dream fragment the second time, I decided to meditate. When I did, I heard my mom’s voice telling me to call a certain relative. I resolved to make the call a little later, only to hear my mom’s voice once again, saying, “NOW.” So I did. The person seemed very depressed, and I am so glad that I called when I did and passed along the story of how I ended up calling sooner rather than later. We talked about how my mom seems to communicate with us through one another.

So it seems I received two Christmas gifts from her this year. One was planned, and the other was a surprise to be shared.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The First Thanksgiving

The First Thanksgiving

This first Thanksgiving without my mom is a holiday I’m experiencing from the sidelines. Even though I’ve been cooking all day, there is no formal, sit-down meal to share with family, for we are scattered in different directions. (I think the cooking is mostly therapeutic.) My dad’s neighbors have adopted him, my daughter is in Georgia, my son is spending the day with his dad in their new home, one of my siblings is in New York City, and the other is celebrating with her in-laws. I had considered volunteering at a soup kitchen and made some phone calls to explore possibilities but didn’t follow through. The bottom line is that I just want to lay low this Thanksgiving. It is quiet here in this little empty nest on the river.

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Yesterday, we had our first snowfall of the season. This morning, I woke up to a snow-covered world and went out in search of beauty for the first time in a while. I took a walk in my special sanctuary close to home, where I spent many frigid mornings last winter in silent solitude. It occurred to me that the last time I walked there in the snow was when my mom was sick. This is the first snowfall since she died, and I’m filled with gratitude for how the snow-kissed beauty of this special place saved me almost daily last winter. In this place, I found tranquility, inspiration, beauty, and joy. I was elevated above the challenges and filled with energy to attend to everything that called for attention. I’m grateful for the snow-covered trees that were here for me last year and transformed my grief into gratitude today.

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While walking, I contemplated gratitude. In addition to family, food, good health, and shelter, the following blessings rose to the forefront of my mind:

  • Reconnecting with old friends. Many friends from high school and even earlier resurfaced in my life upon hearing of my mom’s illness and death. Connecting with long-lost friends is like collecting lost pieces of myself. Some people who were little more than acquaintances in high school have showed up most faithfully and literally have offered me a shoulder on which to cry. As much as I’ve tried to forget the teen years ever took place, there is an undeniable bond that is forged through growing up in the same town and sharing a common history.
  • New friendships formed by shared grief and understanding. Knowing that others in my circle are experiencing the same loss gives me strength and comfort. I know I’m not alone. And the most wonderful gifts are the stories we share with each other – of dreams, peculiar occurrences, and awareness of our loved one’s presence. Many times, I have experienced a tingling, hair-raising sensation from head to toe when listening to friends’ stories. I long to hear them and share mine freely. We speak the same language, describe the same sensations, and transmit hope and joy to each other. The friends with whom I was close when our children were babies always have held a special place in my heart, and clearly it is the same with the friends I have made in the wake of our parents’ deaths.
  • The helpers who stepped forward out of the blue. Often, they weren’t the people closest to me but natural helpers who find their way to those in need – for example, one of my dad’s neighbors who shows up frequently on his doorstep with home-cooked meals and even an apple pie (with a heart-embellished crust) on Thanksgiving morning. These dear souls fill me with hope for this world and inspire me to be more helpful and giving.
  • Having a closer relationship with my other family members. My mom was the only extrovert in my family of origin. She was like a puppy that greeted us gleefully at the door. She did most of the talking and often talked for us by being the default family messenger. A large percentage of our communications took place through her. Now that she is gone, we have to step out of our introverted comfort zones and communicate with one another. I’m building a much closer, direct relationship with my dad, and my sister and I turn to each other when we miss our mom and when we feel upset about matters we would have brought to her. I think it would have been unfortunate for my dad to have died without experiencing a more direct relationship with his children. It used to be that we would talk with Mom on the phone, Dad would come on and say hello, and then Mom would fill him in on all the news afterward. But now he doesn’t get the news from her; he gets it from us. He is able to receive presence and love directly from us now. This is perhaps the greatest gift my mom could have given him – and us – by leaving us.

All of the above are blessings received as a result of losing my mom. It’s easy to sink into sorrow when thinking about what her death has taken from us. But I know that on Thanksgiving – and every other day – my mother would want us to celebrate the ways in which our lives are richer as a result of her life – and even her death.

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Shifting Sands of Grief

The Shifting Sands of Grief

This blog has been uncharacteristically quiet in recent weeks because I have been taking inventory regarding where to go from here. My intention all along was to pair nature photography with contemplative reflections. Why was I drawn to a certain image in the first place? What feelings and insights arise?

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And then my mom became ill and died, and I find myself grappling with Big Questions and the many manifestations of grief. My writing has become more personal than I ever intended to share. Am I writing an autobiography of grief? Is it useful to share such personal feelings and experiences?

Much of the time, I honestly feel as if I am losing my mind – which I realize is one of the primary manifestations of grief. When I was in my twenties, I volunteered for an organization in Syracuse called Hope for Bereaved, which published a book called Hope for Bereaved: Understanding, Coping and Growing Through Grief that consists of short articles that address all kinds of losses. The title of the very first article is “I Wasn’t Going Crazy…I Was Grieving.” How reassuring!

It’s not only the loss of the deceased loved one that makes this season of grief so challenging. It’s the way relationships shift, like aftershocks from an earthquake. It feels as if the very foundation on which I stand has been removed from underneath me. Life feels unstable, unsupported. Even my sense of self feels like shifting sands. I have been floating in teardrops, releasing inhibitions, and dwelling in questionsBig Questions, like:

  • Why am I here in the first place?
  • Where does my responsibility to others begin and end?
  • Is my ultimate responsibility to myself, to live fearlessly and follow my soul wherever it leads?
  • How do I balance my own happiness and peace of mind with caring for others?
  • Is there some kind of divine blueprint for my life, and if so, how am I doing so far? How can I tell?
  • Or perhaps when all is said and done, is all the content from this lifetime just information to process and understand rather than to judge? (Will we review our life with an omniscience that allows us to see things as they really were, rather than through the limited, skewed lens of our own ego?)

Sometimes these questions threaten to overwhelm me, for I don’t have the answers and can be very hard on myself. Sometimes I wear myself out by giving in to the temptation to seek external stimulation by filling my mind with the voices and opinions of others, when true peace and fulfillment is an inside job cultivated more effectively by sitting alone and still and filling with light from the inside out. Only then can I beam light to others. But I can’t do that when my own battery is depleted.

It is more important than ever at this dark time of year to kindle the inner light and to be gentle with myself – especially now that my mom’s nurturing presence is absent from my life. Yesterday, it occurred to me that there’s nobody to buy me gloves and socks anymore. Sure, I can buy them for myself. However, that was something my mom always did – and that I often took for granted. She came through with sweet, small, comforting gestures that nobody else thought of. There’s a certain kind of love and care that is missing now and that needs to be cultivated in other ways. And there’s also the question of how to navigate new and unfamiliar relationship patterns. Who picks up the pieces? Who (and to what extent) cares for the most fragile family members? I try my best but cannot fill my mom’s shoes, and my attempts often feel awkward and clumsy.

It reminds me of what it was like to become a mother. Having a child changes your life monumentally, and I remember wondering: When will life return to normal? The reality was that it never would return to what it was before. You become accustomed to a new “normal.” And I think that’s what I’m dealing with now, in the wake of my mother’s death.

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I find that when I feel overwhelmed by questions about how to manage relationships, the best I can do is to avoid taking the tempting detour into the thinking mind. Instead, take a deep breath and slow down. Return to the moment and practice self-care faithfully. Get enough sleep, to begin with. Meditate. Exercise. Eat right. Speak the truth. Say no when saying yes would overload my circuits. Channel the energy so it doesn’t get stuck inside me. Listen to and follow the internal compass known as intuition.

These responses might not provide the answers to the questions that arise. They might not be exciting. However, they restore me to a more centered, balanced state from which I can discern the next step. And that’s probably the best I can do. One step at a time, may I be led by the best and highest within me and honor the Self that unites us all.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Sanctuary Between Paradoxes

The Sanctuary Between Paradoxes

It’s been two weeks since my last published post, which must be an all-time record! I’ve actually written quite a bit in the interim but felt most of it was too personal and perhaps wouldn’t resonate meaningfully with others. Basically, I’ve been grappling with the Life is Short; Do What You Love philosophy that has fueled me all year long. It feels like an energy that came on strong after being activated by a brush with death and needs to be worked with so it can be integrated gracefully and for the greater good.

I’ve wished I could put life on hold and retreat to a mountaintop for a few months to figure out how to proceed in the wake of my mother’s passing, when it feels as if the rug has been pulled out from underneath me, and there’s nobody looking out for me in a maternal way. The bottom line is that life is short, and I don’t want to die with my magnum opus still locked inside me. That seems to be one of my greatest fears.

On the flip side of Life is Short; Do What You Love is the paradoxical realization that no external outcome is necessary to complete or “fix” me. There is no job, relationship, project, etc. through which to seek fulfillment because true fulfillment is ultimately an inside job. I’ve learned this from experience. It doesn’t mean that any of those efforts are without value but that they are the icing on the cake of personal and spiritual fulfillment. At my core, I already am whole and complete. (And so are you.) I’ve never felt that so strongly. It’s a matter of returning to that core and being receptive to the guidance that arises.

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Resolution of the paradox creeps in silently as an invitation to enter the inner sanctuary and surrender to the mystery. I have been longing to meditate every day, knowing that when I sit on the cushion in front of my altar, behind my desk, or wherever, I will fill with light, rise above the waves of ordinary life, and engage with the present moment from a place of wholeness rather than deprivation or lack. What great pleasure to feel the warmth of the wood stove, inhale the earthy fragrance of incense, and accept the invitation from spirit to sit alone in a quiet, candlelit room and journey to the center of my being!

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Inevitably, I returned to the realization that while trying to integrate Life is Short; Do What You Love in a way that doesn’t upset the entire apple cart, the key is to love what you do. Love – or at least accept – what is. The full catastrophe of human life. Cultivate inner fulfillment by connecting with the present moment, regardless of external factors. When my pain-body (a term coined by Eckhart Tolle) is activated or I find myself in frantic pursuit mode (for example, burning the midnight oil with intense creativity that inevitably leads to exhaustion) and look outside of myself and the present moment for salvation, I feel like a sun that has forgotten her true identity and strength and wanders around at night trying to steal light from the moon (that, of course, only reflects the sun’s light).

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But the soul is patient. It is beyond time, not threatened by it. When you’re in flight from what is, you make your hell worse because you do the exact opposite of accepting and embracing the present moment, which is a portal to infinite possibilities and personal power. It’s like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, thinking she was so far from home and then learning that the whole time she had the power to return in an instant. You can return – again and again and again – and connect with the light.

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Even in my darkest hours of exhaustion and grief, I have discovered that I am able to experience how much larger I am than my feelings – that I can take one conscious, spacious breath and breathe over the top of them. I can put my hand on wherever I feel the tension in my body (usually the solar plexus area), breathe, and be present to it – and become aware of a much larger part of myself at the core of it all. I am grateful for experiences that provide me with the realization of how much more IMMENSE I am than anything I can feel! Who I AM can hold and support all of that. With awareness, there is no need to indulge in suffering and/or distraction for a moment longer. No need to give in to inertia or to be held hostage by emotions. How liberating is that?

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What’s different for me this time around is that there’s no judgment or shame. It’s all feedback. I can see areas in which I’m resisting the present moment and shutting out blessings. It gives me material to work with. As my spiritual teacher advised during a group retreat two weekends ago, I can acknowledge that, while I might not have done this or that thing right or well, I am a being of light. I’ve recalled this advice numerous times, and it’s quite powerful and empowering. You don’t get sucked into spiritual or emotional quicksand.

Reawakening to the inner light after wandering in darkness (whether in the form of exhaustion, waves of emotion, or any other kind of forgetting) is the most wonderful homecoming. It’s as if you prepared a nourishing, homemade meal then left the house for a short time. When you open the door and enter your home (i.e. the indwelling light) after being away, the comforting aroma welcomes you instantly. Had you stayed home the whole time, you would have grown accustomed to it and perhaps not have been able to smell and appreciate it at all. It’s as if you have to leave and return in order to experience how lovely and nourishing it really is. Strengthening that return reflex is what mindful awareness is all about. There is such joy in returning to the present moment, which is the only moment we truly have –  the bridge between paradoxes.

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The photographs in this blog (except for those attributed to other owners) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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