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Author: susantara

A Very Special Recording

A Very Special Recording

I just came across the most awesome idea and simply must share!

Since learning of my mom’s cancer diagnosis right before Christmas, I have been very busy with “mom” projects. One involved scanning lots of pictures from old photo albums, including one that belonged to my grandmother that contained lots of photos of my mom as a baby, a child, and a young woman prior to meeting my dad. Scanning proved to be a fairly time-consuming process, and I had a deadline I was trying to meet (the end of the holiday break), so I sped up the process by taking photographs of pictures, using a tripod. So far, I have digital images of nearly 200 old photos of my mom organized in an iPhoto album.

I was talking with a friend in the midst of scanning and photographing images, and he mentioned the idea of making a screen recording with my mom using QuickTime (a Mac application). A screen recording captures images that are shown on a computer screen while simultaneously recording live voices using the computer’s internal microphone. The end product is a movie file containing both images and sound. It is very simple to do, and the possibilities are endless!

For example, my friend described to me how he and his parents explored significant places via the website, Instant Google Street View at http://www.instantstreetview.com/ and recorded the screen images along with their live conversation about those places. The website allows you to navigate and view certain locations as if you’re taking a walk down the street. (My kindergarten students love to take a virtual walk around town on this website and see all the familiar places.) This technology makes it possible, for example, to record yourself exploring and talking about childhood neighborhoods, places you traveled to, etc. I love the idea.

The night before school resumed and my mom began chemo, I brought my laptop to my parents’ house, and we sat around it and made a screen recording of the photos of my mom in my iPhoto album and our voices discussing each picture. It was wonderful. I learned so much about my mom’s life and my parents’ life together as we looked at the photos onscreen. Some incredible stories came out of this 50-minute conversation, and everything is captured in a video that can be copied for family members. I am so grateful to my friend, Sam, for giving me this idea. 

 

  
As I mentioned above, it is very easy to do this on a Mac. Here’s how:

  1. Open the QuickTime Player application.
  2. Under the File menu, select “New Screen Recording.”
  3. Click on the down-pointed triangle to the right of the red dot, and select “Built-in Input: Internal Microphone.
  4. Click on the triangle again, and select “Medium” Quality, which results in a good quality recording and a smaller (yet still very large) file size.
  5. Click on the red dot to begin recording.
  6. Create your recording by talking about what you’re viewing on the screen. 
  7. When you are finished, click on “Stop Recording” at the very top of the screen.

That’s all there is to it. Movie files I create in this way are, by default, saved to my “Movies” folder.
To playback the movie, open the file, and click on the sideways triangle “play” icon.

As I mentioned above, the file size will be large. The 50-minute recording I made with my parents was 2.03 gigabytes. However, you can reduce the file size enormously by using the free app, “MPEG Streamclip” (Mac or Windows version) at http://www.squared5.com/ and following these instructions:

  1. Open the app, and drag your movie file onto the workspace (five dots in a square icon). 
  2. Under the File menu, select “Export to MPEG4.” 
  3. Set compression at H.264
  4. Try 20% quality (which can be boosted if need be).
  5. For Sound, select MPEG-4 AAC.
  6. To the far right of Sound, select 128 kbps.
     
     

The above image shows the settings I used, and the resulting file was 140 MB. Then select “Make MP4.”

If you’d like to make a DVD, you can drag the original (larger) movie file into an app such as iMovie (and then finish in iDVD).

I am so grateful for the technology that makes it possible to create keepsake recordings like this so easily. When I tried it with my parents, it was such a positive experience that I just wanted to tell everyone about it! It’s something you can do by yourself, too, if the people around you aren’t tech savvy and you’d like to make recordings about your own life.

Within the next couple weeks, I’d like to make the same kind of recordings with my dad, with photos from his life and of his ancestors, and maybe take a virtual tour of his hometown or even of the town in England where we visited relatives. He’s always enjoyed taking us on car rides through his old stomping grounds, and this is a great way to have a more permanent record of the places, people, and stories that are woven together into the fabric of his life. I’d also like to make a screen recording of my parents’ favorite places in Hawaii. I can’t wait!

© 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 (www.susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Christmas Spirit

Christmas Spirit

This Christmas was very different from Christmases past. My husband was 2,100 miles away for ten days, and there were three weather events during that time. His flights got all messed up on his way home due to weather, and he ended up spending a sleepless night in Chicago’s O’Hare airport. His flight took off without a hitch in the morning but then was unable to land due to weather and got rerouted to Connecticut. He had to take a bus back to Albany. He finally arrived home in the early evening and by morning had come down with the flu, which had him bedridden and moaning in agony for three days straight, including Christmas.

Amidst all that, my report cards were due before leaving for the holiday break. And my mom was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer, which makes all the other grumps and groans seem so trivial.

Needless to say, I didn’t have the time or energy to get into the Christmas spirit. There was too much going on. We didn’t send out Christmas cards or put up a tree or even any lights. We didn’t take a single Christmas decoration out of the box. I had intended to run errands and do a little shopping to finish the gifts I was making but never got around to it. Instead, I spent the few days before Christmas in quiet retreat at home. Although I didn’t have much Christmas spirit, I abided deep in spirit.

While wrapping presents on Christmas Eve afternoon, it suddenly occurred to me that there was something I’d been meaning to do for a very long time. Despite feeling very far behind in getting ready for Christmas with family the next day, I knew that going to a Christmas Eve church service with my parents took precedence over all else. I used to enjoy the Christmas Eve service when I was a child and had been wanting to go with my parents for many years but never did for whatever reason.

The other stuff clamoring to be done was ultimately not all that important. Nothing having to do with stuff is ultimately important, especially if it gets in the way of spending precious time with loved ones…now…because we can.

So I went to church, and my sister came along, too. It had been about 30 years since either of us had been to church with our parents, and they were surprised, to say the least. During that service, I received the most wonderful gift of Christmas. At the end when we were all holding our lit candles and singing “Silent Night,” my parents whispered something to each other then looked at my sister and me and smiled the most beautiful smiles. It was a moment of savoring that we are all here together in this perfect moment. It was beautiful. 

My parents commented afterward that it was just like old times when we were kids except that they didn’t have to force us to go to church. I stayed up much later than I’d intended talking with them and am so glad I did. 

Christmas was quite an emotional day for my family, although my mom’s spirit is strong, and we probably had the most meaningful Christmas together ever. I recorded video of her playing “Winter Wonderland” on piano. That is the one song she has memorized all these years – for as long as I can remember. She apologized for being a little rusty but explained it was because she really hadn’t played piano at all since she took up guitar a couple years ago. Needless to say, making video recordings of her playing guitar is high up on my to-do list. 

A posed shot of my parents followed immediately by a candid


At one point, my dad said, “Be grateful for every day because it might be your last.” Isn’t it the truth? The only moment we are guaranteed is this moment. Of all of us, he is most acutely aware of this after suffering cardiac arrest back in February. That he survived is a gift. I remember that evening as we drove to the hospital not knowing if we would arrive to find him dead or alive. That I could talk briefly with him before he was transported to another hospital was a gift. I was grateful to at least have that. But we were given so much more. Time together is the greatest gift of all, especially when you realize how precious and limited it is. 


Health crises like this put everything else into perspective and reorder one’s priorities. You realize immediately what is important and what is not – and where your attention needs to be. I am grateful for all of the teachers and experiences that have prepared me to face my mom’s illness and the family dynamics related to it with greater consciousness, love, and selflessness than I might have otherwise. Furthermore – and although it may sound absurd to speak of blessings with regard to a cancer diagnosis – one thing for which I am grateful is the gift of time for love and healing. How often do we bump along the road of life thinking we have all the time in the world – and can put things off until later? And then something awakens us and gives us the opportunity to let go of everything that gets in the way of living and loving to the fullest right now. I think of September 11th, 2001 and wonder how many people had an epiphany right before jumping to their death. That we can awaken with any time at all to set things right is a tremendous spiritual blessing. Let’s be grateful for each day and live as fully as possible one day at a time, focusing like a laser on what is most important: Love.



Healing prayers for my mom and our family are most appreciated.

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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 (www.susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Bringing Light to the Dark Places

Bringing Light to the Dark Places

“Where there is darkness, let me bring light.”  -Saint Francis of Assisi

I am writing in the pre-dawn darkness of the Winter Solstice, surrounded by the light of several star lanterns and the flicker of light shining through the window of the wood stove.

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This is the shortest, darkest day of the year, and this year is darker than usual. It is drizzling outside, and the cloud blanket is thick. Looking eastward during early sunrise, I notice a very faint band of pink stretched across the gray-blue sky above the horizon that probably wouldn’t register as sunrise unless you were looking for it. Despite the cloud cover, the sun is still there, ascending as it does every morning even though it is more difficult to see this particular morning.

This has been a challenging week for a number of reasons, and midway through it, when I felt like I was at the end of my rope, it occurred to me that this is literally the darkest week of the year.

Every ray of sunshine is precious at this time of year. Sunrises this week have held extra significance. When we ordered Chinese takeout Thursday evening, my fortune cookie message read, “You will always see light after darkness.” How perfect.

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Sunrise during Solstice week

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Today is finally Winter Solstice, the turning point at which the light begins to grow in the Northern Hemisphere and the days become longer again. It is the point at which we cease traveling further into darkness – for we have reached the darkest point – and turn around and take a first step closer to the light. This week, I have been contemplating how to bring light into the dark places, particularly given that three people close to me are navigating the greatest challenges of their lives. I look to the sun at the beginning of each day to draw strength and light and to give thanks for all of the sources of light and inspiration in my life. But I am also listening to the voices arising from the darkness and silence of this time of year – the voices that have been ignored and need to be heard, for they show me where healing is needed and assure me that, in the end, all of our challenges are gifts. The question is: What will we do with these dark gifts we are given? How will we shine light on our challenges and through the alchemy of love turn them into blessings, wisdom, art?

Last week, I came across a video that was like the light of a hundred suns during this dark season. It is a TEDx talk given by Anita Moorjani, a woman who was dying from end-stage lymphoma nearly eight years ago. Her organs were shutting down, and doctors told her family that she had only a few more hours left to live. In the video, she describes what happened to her that day and what she learned. She is still alive today and was cancer-free within five weeks of the day on which she was supposed to die. But that’s not the part that spoke to me the most. The most amazing part is what she learned that day and how it has changed her life.

Email followers: Click HERE to watch video. Note: She begins by describing in detail her deteriorated physical condition until 2:40, when she begins talking about her near-death experience.

Anita Moorjani’s message resonates deeply with me. I was moved to tears by her metaphor of an enormous, dark warehouse in which we flash our tiny beam of light and see only what our light falls on, and what we are looking for. Our understanding and perception of life are extremely limited. There is so much more beyond what our little flashlight reveals to us. We have no idea how powerful our mind is in terms of both limiting us and liberating us from the prison we (with some help from those close to us and society) have created for ourselves based on what we believe to be true about the universe – which is based on our very limited experience of it.

I have been feeling this so strongly lately. There is more. So much more. I want to align my intention with spirit and experiment with the laws of the universe. Many spiritual teachers whom I respect talk about this, and I know in my heart that what they are describing is true. I have had enough experiences myself that cannot be attributed to mere coincidence to know that there is so much more than ordinary consciousness leads us to believe. I have received so many “signs” – uncanny, unexplainable events – that I envision a small group of angels shaking their heads in somewhat amused exasperation, wondering why I still don’t get it enough to risk stepping out of my comfort zone and dreaming outside of the box. (Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I haven’t done it before. I have experience with facing my fears, taking one step at a time in faith, and eventually experiencing the thrill and fulfillment of attaining my goal. But it’s time to fashion new goals.)

Why is it so difficult to live according to those higher laws? What is holding me back? I see the image of a wall. A wall of fear. A wall built from my own limited understanding of the world. I know in every cell of my being that infinite possibilities exist on the other side of this wall. Why, then, do I confine myself to this small prison, thinking it’s the best I can do? It makes no sense.

I want to break through the barrier of fear and allow love to pilot my life. I want to live a fearless, authentic life. I want to like I’ve never wanted to before!

And this is where the self-love that Anita Moorjani spoke of enters in. Not the narcissistic kind that bolsters the ego, but the kind of love that supports the fullest expression of the higher Self, which is interconnected with all life. Loving oneself enough to follow our innermost joy and experience the fullness of a fearless life – to find out what is on the other side of fear. Loving oneself enough to step outside of our personal prisons. This message is really taking root in my heart, and I’ve been reflecting on what self-love means to me. It might mean something different to you, but here are some ideas I have come up with:

Self-love is spending as much time as possible in an environment(s) that values and accepts the gifts you have to offer.

Self-love is surrounding yourself with people who make you laugh and feel good.

Self-love is limiting as much as possible the time you spend with people who bring you down or judge you based on criteria that is completely meaningless to you. 

Self-love is making time for activities and relationships that bring you joy.

Self-love is asking for help when you need it.

Self-love is getting enough rest, exercise, and good nutrition.

Self-love is caring enough not to consume the thing that is unhealthy for you.

Self-love is forgiving your weaknesses BUT not employing forgiveness as a means to excuse or continue to indulge them.

Self-love is being impeccably honest with yourself and taking responsibility (without blaming or beating yourself up) for your life and happiness.

Self-love is knowing where to let go with love and allow others to take responsibility for their own life and happiness.

At the core, I believe we are all made of love and light, and our mission is to manifest these qualities in this world of shadows and help our planet evolve.

In a Facebook post, Dr. Wayne Dyer wrote,

“A half-lived life, as Herman Melville describes it, is one in which we do not get to that inner place of peace and joy. Perhaps the most devastating scenario imaginable is to face death knowing that because of some imagined fear, you have always chosen a half-lived life in which you avoided doing the things your heart beckoned you to do. I urge you to change the scenario now. Start living your life with the courage to follow your heart.” 

I hold these words in front of my little beam of light as I form an intention on this Solstice day and feel the truth of Anita Moorjani’s words: “In the end, you will always find that your challenges are a gift.”

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It is now 12:11 p.m., the moment of solstice, as I hit the “publish” button. Happy Solstice!

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The photographs in this blog 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 (www.susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Little Perspective

A Little Perspective

Can you imagine a holiday season without any television commercials about gifts to consider giving your loved ones – or what Christmas (or life in general) supposedly looks like?

Welcome to my life.

It’s been about 13 years since I’ve had television reception, by choice. And honestly, I don’t miss it at all. At this time of year, I especially don’t miss the commercials that try to convince us that we’re somehow lacking or would be happier or more loved if only we (or a loved one) had this or looked like that. I, for one, am not buying it.

My husband and I don’t even really give Christmas gifts to each other because neither of us is interested in stuff. I’m more interested in getting rid of stuff. And I truly think that not watching television contributes greatly to this mindset. Almost all the time, I am blissfully unaware of all the products and services I don’t have. When I go to someone’s house and the TV is on, I am blown away by how matter-of-fact the commercials are: “Of course you have this. Everybody does! But here are all the reasons why you need to upgrade to this.” And there is also a very clear standard of how you are expected to look. Well, I didn’t get that memo, either! I am so glad not to be bombarded by these messages on a regular basis – because I might start to believe them! They are quite powerful.

Bottom line is, my husband and I are pallid consumers. We have had experience living on very little and as a result know how little we actually need to live. Money was especially tight when I was working on my master’s degree and completing my student teaching at the same time that my ex-husband’s consulting firm went under, leaving him unable to pay child support. But we made it through. And we learned how to live creatively. Now I am in a better situation and am truly grateful for a steady paycheck and health insurance. However, knowing how to live on so little was a valuable life lesson, a gift.

I once read about someone who lost everything in a natural disaster and said that you never really understand how much “nothing” is until that’s what you’ve got. In 1998, I witnessed this right before my very eyes after a tornado ripped through the central Florida town in which I lived. The tornado actually skimmed our subdivision, sending my children’s Little Tikes outdoor equipment (a slide and a sit-inside car) flying through the air. We found them a couple lots away the next day.

People around us were not so fortunate. Right outside the walls of our small subdivision, it looked as though a bomb had exploded. Cars were lodged inside what was left of apartment buildings. Some houses and buildings were totally leveled. At least one queen-size mattress had come to rest right against the wall of our gated subdivision. So many people around us – within 1/16th of a mile in more than one direction – had mere seconds around midnight to prepare for a disaster that would literally uproot their lives. Clothing and rooftops were in trees, trees were inside houses, and personal items were strewn about for miles. In the light of a new day, people who had lost everything walked around smiling because they survived. They returned to the rubble in hopes of retrieving some family photos because that was what they valued the most, for the photos were truly irreplaceable. But in most cases, in the end all they were left with was memories and gratitude. Whenever I went into a gas station, post office, grocery store, etc., I would hear people expressing how grateful they were simply to have survived. It was surreal.

Our family lives more comfortably now than we did back in the lean years, but we still cannot afford to buy a home. However, having “owned” a brand new home in Florida, I realize that home ownership is not essential to happiness – so I’m not buying that myth, either. We rent a small, old house that we sometimes refer to as our “camp.” It has just one teeny tiny bathroom and three unbelievably small closets, and all the rooms are very small. Sometimes I look around and feel sorry that we don’t live in a “nicer” home, but that is usually just a passing thought because a little voice swiftly breaks up the pity party by reminding me that we have always had enough and that compared to so many people on this planet, ours is a life of luxury. We have hot, running water and more food than our smallish refrigerator can hold. We have a wood stove and oil to keep us warm through the winter. We have an amazing view of the sunrise over the river every morning. And of course, we have each other. We truly are blessed.

I read an interview Maria Shriver did with poet Mary Oliver in which Mary Oliver, discussing her calling to be a poet, explained:

“When I was very young and decided I wanted to try to write as well as I could, I made a great list of all the things I would never have…would not have, because I thought poets never made any money. A house, a good car, I couldn’t go out and buy fancy clothes or go to good restaurants. I had the necessities.”

When asked if she ever had second thoughts about her choice of occupation, she replied:

“I’ve always wanted to write poems and nothing else. There were times over the years when life was not easy, but if you’re working a few hours a day and you’ve got a good book to read, and you can go outside to the beach and dig for clams, you’re okay.”

Mary Oliver followed her heart with regard to her vocation, as my husband has done with his music. He never compromised his true passion because he always valued expressing himself musically over having possessions. (His creative spirit and kind heart were what attracted me to him in the first place.) And whether or not you ultimately receive your big break as an artist, you are truly rich and richly blessed when you follow your deepest calling, regardless of the balance on your bank statement. (If, on the other hand, you place a higher value on possessions and comfort, perhaps the artist life is too great a risk to pursue full-time.)

During my weaker, more clouded moments when I sink into feelings of not measuring up to others in terms of our home or financial situation, I have a few books in the bookcase to put everything back into perspective:

…and a brand new acquisition:

Really, any books by Peter Menzel would do the trick, but I only own the two listed above. All of these books put our “first world” lifestyles into perspective by offering images (or – in the case of If the World Were a Village – data) of people around the world in their home environments. Many of the images are of people who have what we might refer to as “nothing.” No toilets, running water, beds, walls, appliances, etc. It is impossible to feel sorry for yourself when you look at images of people who have so much less – but whose spirit is intact and shines through their eyes and smiles. And this is something I always want to remember. It provides a profound reality check to our first-world, consumerist standards.

Perhaps what I am trying to describe is best summarized by the following video – an ad for Water is Life – in which “first world” gripes are read by Haitian adults and children.

At a time of year when advertisers pull out all the stops to persuade us to want more and spend more, perhaps we can pause to reflect on what is truly important. This time of year can be so difficult when we focus on what we don’t have or are unable to give – whether it’s a different family situation or a material thing. Give what you are able to give, joyfully and without apology, for we and our loved ones probably already have enough stuff to begin with. In the interest of sharing the gift of perspective during the holiday season, may we remind one another to honor and give thanks for what we already have and not allow ourselves to be stressed out or discouraged by what is ultimately small and relative in the grand scheme of things.

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The photographs in this blog 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, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this blog’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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An Authentic Life

An Authentic Life

I just came across an article about the five most common regrets of the dying, written by a former palliative care nurse. The article really puts life into perspective. Click HERE to read it.

Doing hospice work back in my twenties was perhaps the most important educational experience I’ve ever had. Dying persons – even those with whom I only had one visit – have been among my greatest teachers, and the article explains why. The obvious theme of the article is the value of living an authentic life and realizing that, despite circumstances, we can choose either to be true to our authentic self or to do what others pressure us to do. It is our choice.

I think I have learned the most from human beings who recently entered this world and from those who were about to depart – because at the beginning and end of a human lifetime, people tend to be most authentic. Babies are pure, unconditioned energy that reminds us of who we were before the world convinced us to be otherwise. Young children live in the moment with an innocence that is truly inspiring. They imagine, play, sing, dance, and create. Children are pure potentiality. Each one of them can be an artist or engineer, and perhaps the greatest joy I experience as a kindergarten teacher is witnessing when a child seems to be in his or her element and pointing out special skills, talents, and activities that bring the child deep satisfaction and joy. In other words, I love to notice what lights them up. Witnessing that spark is a responsibility we have to one another. (I watched a video in which children’s picture book artist, Eric Carle, spoke of how his kindergarten teacher made a point of telling his parents about his artistic talent and encouraged them to support him in that direction.) Children love stories. And they notice things that older children and adults have learned to look past. Children have helped to awaken me to the wonder and astonishing beauty of the natural world, and I am so grateful for the presence of children in my life. I’ve heard it said that it’s useful to remember what brought us great joy as a child, and to be sure to keep that alive in our life.

Dying persons are “real,” too. They need to make peace with the reality of future being stripped away from them and learn to live in the moment. This requires loosening the noose of ego and moving through predictable stages in order to come to terms with the end of life as we know it. There is a limited amount of time for putting everything in order and for reflecting on and reconciling that which got swept under the rug for whatever reason during their healthier, more active years. At this time, people see The Big Picture.

In between childhood and preparing to die, we identify more with the world and often get caught up in various pursuits and activities that consume a great deal of our time, our days, our lives. So it’s beneficial to retreat regularly from the hustle and bustle and spend some quiet, solitary moments listening to ourselves and noticing what arises in stillness. Spending time with children and old people is also good medicine, for they can reawaken us to what is ultimately most important.

We owe it to ourselves and to everyone around us to “keep it real.” What better gift can we give the world than our authentic selves? Earlier in life, I had trouble determining who or what my “authentic self” was in the first place. I often confused it with worldly pursuits, such as a certain career or goal. No, no, no! Our authentic self goes far beyond any condition or detail we might try to pin on it. It is unconditioned and fluid and goes beyond concepts and words. But you know when you have expressed it because you feel truly alive, energized, and peaceful. At least that has been my experience.

For me, the telltale sign of not living authentically is when I feel disconnected from the people and life energy around me. This happens a lot now in the teaching profession as public school educators across the United States are required to deliver new curricula (tied tightly to third-party student assessments and teacher evaluations) that we often are learning as we go along. Scripted curriculum is not authentic teaching. Even when school districts give teachers permission to “adapt” curriculum, it is very difficult to do that the first time you teach it because you don’t understand it well enough. It often takes a great deal of time and reflection to understand something well enough to adapt it. But I’ve noticed that when I put down the manual and allow my authentic self to drive instruction, magic happens. I feel more connected to my students, and they seem to be more engaged. And when I hear from parents that their children love going to school, I know that authentic instruction is taking place despite it all. Something real within me has connected with something real within them, and that connection is pulling us through. My yearly teacher evaluation score means nothing compared to the wonder and love of learning that I hope to instill in my students – for the connection between teacher, student, and curriculum is what ultimately matters most to me.

My “daily reflection” following my parent-teacher conferences last week is that, despite my concerns about the developmental appropriateness of the Common Core curriculum, to a large degree…

I don’t mean only teachers and students in a classroom. This is true of any mentor relationship,  apprenticeship, or adult-child relationship. I think we often learn the most from who our teachers are. How they hold their instrument often speaks louder than the notes they play.

Earlier in life, playing piano was my whole world. I didn’t pursue it professionally, though, because of stage fright and not being able to handle competition. I gave it up because it ended up being about how others would perceive me rather than the music I could offer to the world. But sometimes I’ll sit down and play, and it’s the best feeling. I recently had a dream in which I was sitting at the piano with my eyes closed playing what was in my heart, and it was the most natural thing in the world. The music was so beautiful. I loved that dream and woke up wanting to play more. In the dream, I was not playing to impress others but to express the authentic music springing from within. That is what I am talking about. Teaching, musical performance – it’s all the same when it comes to authenticity. We must do our work in this world for the right reasons and be really honest with ourselves about whether the sacrifices we make in pursuit of our goals are worthwhile in the long run – or whether we are pursuing an illusory ideal. Are we overlooking what is ultimately most important? For when we are on our deathbeds letting go of worldly concerns and reconciling bigger questions and fears, we will realize how ultimately small and self-sabotaging our little fears and anxieties were – and will regret allowing them to sidetrack us from what was truly important.

For those of us living in the workaday world and feeling overwhelmed, I want to share some advice one of the wise women in my life offered recently. She insisted that no job deserves 100%; perhaps 60% is enough. Save 100% for spirit. Don’t let the demands of the world encroach on your spiritual health and deplete your energy. Know where to put your boundaries, and save yourself by honoring them. We need to remember that we are so much more than any job we do and not allow our lives to be consumed by what we are paid to do – or by whether we will be rated as “effective” or “highly effective.” Perhaps “effective” is good enough, especially when the criteria bypass completely your authentic reasons for being there. Achieving a healthy balance between “work” and “life” is critical if we are to end our lives unburdened by regret. If you have your heart set on a pay raise or promotion, it’s useful to consider whether the sacrifices are ultimately worth the consequences in terms of time and energy available for the people and activities that are most meaningful to you.

I believe there is always a way to express our authentic selves. We might need to reframe the work we do in our daily life or erect boundaries around our life outside of “work” to allow energy to flow from our authentic wellsprings. Or it could be as simple as smiling at someone or following through on an impulse to perform an act of kindness. And, as I wrote above, it is also our duty to help others recognize their own authenticity when we see the telltale light in their eyes.

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this blog’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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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