Author: susantara

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.

All the Places I Find Her

All the Places I Find Her

Although I connect daily with the light that shines through each and every one of the five-year-old angels assigned to my heart this year, some weeks are more trying than others. After a brutally long week of what felt like mothering the world, I wish I could pick up the phone and call my own mom and get a little mothering, myself. I’ve been missing her a lot lately.

Every morning on my way to work, I ask for blessings on my mom’s soul, send out prayers for loved ones and myself, and then express gratitude for everything I can think of. Yesterday morning, I was in a dejected mood but did this practice anyway. Immediately after I said, “Amen,” I received a blessing. It felt like a spiritual wind embracing me (yes, while I was driving), and I was filled with an inner knowing that everything (is and) will be all right. It felt like a response to my prayers.

Is that how my mother speaks with me now? (Or some other benevolent force?)

Fall, my favorite season, has arrived in all its colorful grandeur. However, there’s something about this particular fall that makes my mom’s absence feel more real. Perhaps it’s because summer always was her busiest time of year and the season in which we saw her the least. She was more present during fall. But on top of that, I realize from my earlier work with bereaved populations that we are heading into a challenging time of year – a two-month span that includes my parents’ anniversary, both of my children’s birthdays, Thanksgiving, my mom’s birthday, and Christmas. My mom’s absence will be felt big-time, by all of us.

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In the past few weeks, I’ve caught traces of my mom’s essence several times. It’s a far cry from picking up the phone and talking with her – and even from the supra real dreams in which she has appeared. And yet, sometimes brushing up against her imprints makes me feel closer to her than ever, as if she truly does live on inside of me. As if there are no boundaries between us. Sometimes it even feels as if the qualities that were expressed through her actively seek expression through me (and others, I’m sure) now that she’s moved beyond this world.

A couple weeks ago, I found her a few minutes after dropping off my son at a friend’s house for the evening. Alone in the dark car, I turned on the radio and heard a song I’d only heard once before – when my dad and one of my mom’s best friends from 50 years ago sang it around her deathbed two days before she passed away (after we’d belted out a few John Denver songs). The song is, “Eddie, My Love,” and my dad told us she would sing it to him all the time when he was taking his time getting out of the house. I’d never heard it before but remembered enough of the lyrics to recognize it – and gasp – when it came on the radio in the car. Certain that was the song they sang around her bed, I pulled to the side of the road, took out my phone, and recorded it so I could play it when I returned home. (Interestingly, right when I took out my phone to record the song, I received a text from my sister asking for one of my mom’s best-loved recipes. What timing!) It turns out that yes, it was the song, and when I played it for my daughter, she explained to me wide-eyed that the very same song popped into her head completely out of the blue earlier that day, and at the time she wondered how she would feel if she ever heard it on the radio – for she, too, only had heard it once before, at my mom’s bedside. And that is the truly amazing thing about sharing such experiences. Had I kept it to myself, I would not have received the information my daughter had to offer that took the experience to a more intriguing and powerful level.

Needless to say, I let my dad know about the song coming to both my daughter and me the same day, and it made him happy.

That same evening, while sitting at the kitchen table, I happened to notice that the bag of ecologically grown apples I’d bought that afternoon came from the small town in Vermont where my mom grew up. I’ve never before seen or heard any reference to that town other than in my mom’s obituary and in her stories about her childhood!

Last weekend, I was surprised to find one of her memorial prayer cards on my bed. It was the only thing on my bed.

And then there’s a certain kind of longing that is entirely new to me.

Recently, I was preparing for a meeting about which I felt quite anxious. As the day of the meeting approached, I found myself wanting to channel my mother’s energy for the first time in my life. It continues to astound me that it took a terminal diagnosis before I was able to perceive and appreciate fully the gifts she gave to the world through the kind, gracious, and hospitable manner in which she lived her life. In an effort to differentiate myself from her and become my own person with a strong backbone and the ability to say no, I had rejected and discarded some of her most salient qualities, considering them weaknesses (for nobody experiences a parent’s shadow side as clearly as his or her children). But that week, I was nearly desperate to retrieve them, for I was neither whole nor balanced without them. If only I could channel my mother’s energy, I knew I could relate to the other parties with loving-kindness and handle the situation with grace and poise. As an extra measure, I wore one of her bracelets that day – a delicate chain with gold hearts and pearls – as a visual reminder to stay calm and rooted in kindness. It worked, and I left the meeting feeling relieved. (Thanks, Mom!)

As I floated in my kayak one afternoon this week, the following words drifted through my mind as I thought of my mother:

As Jesus taught us to pray

And our mothers taught us to love,

Let us forgive our parents’ mortality

And embrace our divine heritage

Which is unconditional love and light.

When I write my way through grief, there’s a natural tendency to want to tie it up neatly by the end. But the human reality of my mom’s death is not neat. Pardon my language, but it sucks not to have my mom physically in my life. I derive strength from knowing I am not alone in this journey and that losing a parent is part of the natural course of human life. But I also find strength in the recognition that my mom’s legacy lives on through me. Integrating the qualities that I used to push away is a journey towards wholeness and a blessing. To discover my mom’s essence inside the very breath I breathe is a joy to which the only response is gratitude. Gratitude like mighty rays of sunlight that evaporate the tears of the clouds that temporarily cover the luminous sky.

It cuts through the sadness.

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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 Astonishing Light

The Astonishing Light

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I am a devotee

Of sunrise, sunset,

Sunlit flowers and leaves,

And love. But why?

Friend, I want to show you

The astonishing light that

Shines in this world

Of shadows

So you will know

You are never alone

And always

In the presence

Of grace.

I want you to look

In my eyes

And see the reflection

Of your inner light

And fall in love

With your

Exalted self. I want

To awaken you

To illuminated moments

When sunbeams penetrate

 Shadow and form

And extend a ramp

To paradise.

—Susan Meyer

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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.

Schoolhouse Rocks

Schoolhouse Rocks

It was an awesome day in kindergarten. I couldn’t hold out any longer. Today was the day to introduce the youngest generation to stone balance art. I didn’t plan to do it. But all of a sudden, the moment felt right, and I seized it. I use humor a lot in my teaching and have a running joke with my students that when they don’t follow our rules and make it difficult for me to do my job, I sometimes start dreaming about becoming a princess or a rock star. This morning, I decided to explain what I mean by “rock star.”

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During our Morning Meeting, I turned on the SMART Board, opened my Flickr album of Stone Balance Art, and showed them some of my balances. They started oohing and ahhing and wondered how I was able to balance the rocks so precariously. They were amazed to learn that stones they assumed must have fallen immediately remained balanced for a couple days. Then we sat in a circle on the carpet, and I took out my basket of beach rocks.

I explained that the rock basket is our newest indoor play center and that they can either arrange, stack, or (if they want a real challenge) balance rocks. Then I demonstrated each, beginning with arranging rocks in a spiral pattern – for arranging is about lining up stones to make shapes, patterns, or pictures. I also showed them how to stack the rocks by laying them flat, one on top of the other like a tower. Finally, I modeled how to concentrate on balancing stones on their ends and then ever so carefully placing more stones on top.

A couple basic ground rules to begin with were:

  1. No throwing rocks.
  2. Be careful not to knock down anyone’s rocks.

I also explained that rocks will fall, and that’s okay. Just start over again, and it will be even better the second time. When the rocks fall, it means you were trying something difficult and learning what does and doesn’t work. No big deal. I explained that eventually all of the balances I photographed fell down but that pictures make them last forever – and that if they create a balance they are proud of, I will photograph it and put it on our class website.

What I didn’t tell them is that every time you try to balance rocks and they topple before you’re done, you have a golden opportunity to transform failure into resilience. Every time you choose to keep trying, you strengthen your resilience response, and that is one of the most crucial life skills you could develop in any classroom. Failure is permanent only when you stop trying as a result. Learning to fail without giving up is essential practice for life.

When it was playtime at the end of the day, a number of students went straight for the rocks. They got right to work and within minutes approached me with great excitement and asked me to come see what they had made.

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I was every bit as excited as they were. After taking a few pictures, I invited them over to my computer to look at what other stone balance artists have created. We explored the portfolio on Michael Grab’s Gravity Glue website, and they were blown away. They seemed so interested and excited, asked questions, and commented on what they liked most about the pictures. There are so many talented members of the international stone balancing community, and I intend to expose my students to a variety of artists and styles, to inspire their creativity.

They returned to their work and called me over a few more times to see and photograph their stone art.

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Genuinely thrilled, I complimented their work. They seemed so proud. They were beaming. They worked cooperatively, and everyone was careful not to knock over anyone’s stones.

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At dismissal time, as I walked the children to their buses, one boy who had called me over several times to see his stone art looked up at me and announced, “I’m going to miss you.” I told him that I will miss him, too, but we will see each other in the morning. But I understood what he really was trying to say: Thank you for noticing and valuing me. He felt good about himself. Every year during our Open House night, I tell parents that although my job is to teach the Common Core curriculum, my overarching objective is to help their children feel good about themselves and love coming to school. For that little boy, balancing stones served that purpose today.

For some it is art. For others, music or sports. The list goes on. As an early childhood educator, it’s the best feeling in the world to see a child light up with pride and passion. Ideally, my role is to provide the materials and a dose of inspiration and then stand back and and allow their natural curiosity and creativity to lead the way and amaze me. The best days in my classroom are the days when I’m able to create the space and time to be truly amazed.

© 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.

This, Too, Shall Pass

This, Too, Shall Pass

Have you ever had one of those days when you swear you must be wearing a “Kick Me!” sign, and pretty much everything feels like it’s not working? I already know the answer: We all do from time to time. But if we have enough mindfulness and wisdom and our mind is not too afflicted, we realize even on our darkest days that this, too, shall pass. Tomorrow is a new day, and a good night’s sleep can do wonders.

It is now tomorrow, but I will begin with yesterday, when my mom’s absence felt more real than ever. More than anything, I wished I could call her and hear her voice. I have a voicemail from a month and a half before she died saved on my phone for such occasions. It begins with a cheery, “Hi, honey!” and ends with a reassuring, “See you later!” Oh, how I wish. She would have known just what to say – as mothers do – and the reality that I will not hear her voice for the rest of my life weighs heavily when it hits. It is a grief shared with every other family member and with virtually everyone who has lost a mother.

A friend from high school sent me a metal, inscribed stone (pictured below) during the final week of my mom’s life. (The other side reads, “COURAGE”.) It has brought me solace on numerous occasions, including yesterday.

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Normally, I am comforted by the impression that my mom continues to shine her light in my life.

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I sense that she is only a thought away – closer than ever. But at the same time, I don’t want to pull her back to this world by being emotionally needy, if that is possible. I want her spirit to be free and unfettered.

Normally, when it hits me that she’s gone – viscerally in the gut – and I feel sad, the sadness is answered immediately by the thought, “Be grateful for the time we had together.” And then the sadness fades as quickly as it arose, like magic. But yesterday was different, and I missed her terribly. She was my best friend, the first person I would pick up the phone and call to share joys, frustrations, and sorrows. I needed some mothering.

The last time I visited my dad, I found on the refrigerator a quote in my mom’s own handwriting that says it all: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” The quote is from Maya Angelou, who died the day after my mom died. (!)

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In my mom’s absence (or perhaps through a new kind of relationship and communication with her?), I’ve noticed the seed of motherly self-love taking root and growing inside me. This seemed to begin soon after I learned she was terminally ill, and it’s a priceless gift, not to be confused with selfishness. The Inner Critic has been remarkably silent, and the Inner Mother has taken over and become my default responder – which makes a world of difference!

So…it has been a crazy week. I was hoping for a more stable, drama-free school year, but after only two weeks back, an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu already has crept in. In the spirit of self-mothering, I woke up yesterday morning with the realization that I am putting too much pressure on myself and that the only sane response is to simplify as much as possible. There are times when all kinds of assistance shows up to help us along. Other times, it withdraws (perhaps due to a lack of clarity or commitment?). I write about times when I feel supported and in the flow, to remember that they happen. I write about times when support seems to wane, to get through and find my footing. It feels like a waning phase at this time – although it can shift in a heartbeat.

This weekend, I planned to embark on a new, three-year, spiritual venture, but the universe threw so many curve balls that I had to cancel (hopefully just postpone) my plans. It feels like there is no space at this time for a new commitment. So, again, the only sane response is to simplify. Therefore, my new weekend plan is to begin Project Sanctuary, which I did not get to over summer vacation. This involves purging mercilessly all the stuff that has outlived its usefulness in order to create space for new possibilities…because LIFE IS TOO SHORT NOT TO! As the leaves begin to change color and fall to the ground, I intend to clear away the clutter and transform our home into a sanctuary. (At the moment, it is anything but.) Get the chi flowing. Come to think of it, what season is more perfect than fall for releasing what no longer serves a purpose? I understand that in between releasing the old and budding the new, there might be a season that feels stagnant. But if that’s the case, it must be honored, for winter is part of the natural cycle and offers unique gifts and opportunities – for example, the cultivation of patience.

Speaking of patience…

As soon as I finished typing the last sentence above, thinking that was the end of this post, I got a message from my friend and fellow photographer, Peter, who was heading out with hopes of photographing the aurora borealis and invited me to come along. We drove to a boat launch on the Great Sacandaga Lake and were disappointed to see that there was substantial cloud cover. He consulted the weather radar, and it looked like the clouds would blow over soon – so we waited. Eventually, I began to balance rocks. The waves lapping against the shore reminded me of the ocean as the moon floated higher in the sky (which actually makes nighttime photography more challenging). I recalled how my mom would laugh when I told her Peter and I went out for a nighttime photography shoot. I never understood what she found so hilarious, but I knew that if I could tell her about waiting for the northern lights along the Sacandaga, it would tickle her funny bone all over again. I felt her laughter in the moonlight, and that made me smile. After about an hour and a half of waiting, we decided that the clouds probably were only over the lake and not about to dissipate, so we left. Although we didn’t glimpse the colorful, shimmering ribbons of the aurora borealis, my mood had shifted, and that alone was worth the trip.

Not ready to give up after we made our way to clearer sky, we took a lengthy detour in search of a north facing field or body of water that would permit a view of the northern lights. The detour didn’t yield the results we hoped for, and by the time I got back home, it was hours later than I’d intended to be awake. But at least we could say we gave it our best shot – for I’ve never seen the aurora borealis and have a very strong urge to witness it in this lifetime!

At 6:14 this morning – with less than four hours of sleep – I heard a ping! sound (like when I receive a message on my phone) that prompted me to open my eyes and look out the bedroom window to the sky over the river. The sunrise was colorful, textured, and dazzling, and I jumped out of bed to photograph it, knowing the colors would only be at peak for a few minutes before fading. Then I went back to sleep.

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After such a challenging day and a night of waiting for the right conditions and searching for something that was not to be found, that ping! was a hopeful sign that the universe continues to assist and support me – for I can’t explain where it came from. (There were no other people or devices in the house.) I just heard it inside my head and opened my eyes at precisely the right time to catch the extraordinary colors and light, not of the aurora borealis, but of a new day dawning.

Yesterday’s gone. Today, I shall simplify.

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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