Author: susantara

On Retreat: A Most Incredible Journey

On Retreat: A Most Incredible Journey

I just returned from a three-day/three-night, solitary Healing Retreat at Light on the Hill Retreat Center. (To read about a previous retreat experience I had at Light on the Hill, click HERE.)

Spiritual retreat is a powerful, transformational process. Removed from the usual distractions and energies, the process deepens each day. Going on retreat was my most urgent summer priority. After all the intensity of the past school year, including my mother’s illness and death, I am a different person. The old ways no longer work. As often happens following a brush with death, life took on a greater urgency, and I felt a desperate need to integrate my new awareness and find my true North – for life is short, and I have wanderlust. I felt like someone ready to embark on a new journey on a boat that is tied to shore and slamming repeatedly against the rocks. Surely, the ropes served a purpose in the past, but now they need to be untied so I can sail to new harbors.

Day One

I arrived at Light on the Hill late in the afternoon and until the next morning was on my own to ease into the energy and solitude of the Meadow Cottage and surrounding environment. I eagerly anticipated the July “supermoon” that soon would illuminate the sky. I hadn’t planned to be on retreat during the full moon; it just worked out that way. As it turned out, in addition to my guide, Alice, my retreat experience was facilitated quite dramatically by the moon and the weather.

Once settled in, I considered my intention to find my true North and sat down with a book of Hafiz poems. Trusting that I would open to exactly the page I needed to read, I nonetheless was surprised to open to a poem about a “golden compass,” excerpted below:

I am a Golden Compass – 
Watch me whirl.

To the east and to the west
To the north and to the south,
In all directions I will true your course
Toward laughter and unity.

Watch me whirl into nothingness
Your fears and darkness – 
Just keep tossing them onto my golden plate.

My only duty that now remains
To this world

Is from every direction
To forever serve you wine and
Hope

Source: The Small Table of Time and Spacefrom The Subject Tonight is Love: 60 Wild and Sweet Poems of Hafiz (versions by Daniel Ladinsky), Pumpkin House, 1996, p. 38-39)

I took a walk as the sun sank in the forest.

As the moonrise drew nearer, I headed to one of the two Chartres-style labyrinths on the property. As I walked the labyrinth, I noticed an orange glow in the window of the cupola of the adjacent Stillpoint Sanctuary chapel.

Ten minutes later, I spotted the full, orange supermoon floating above the treetops.

 

I continued to walk the eleven-circuit labyrinth as the moon lifted higher in the sky, savoring each step and knowing I would remember this experience for a long time. By the time I arrived at the center, it was quite dark. There was a pile of stones and some offerings people had left, and I knelt on the ground and balanced the moonlit stones. I barely could see them and balanced them by feeling their weight in my hands. There was one large and bulky rock that I probably wouldn’t have been able to balance so easily if I had relied more on my eyes. Fireflies glowed all around as I walked the path back out of the labyrinth. I heard something rustle in the adjacent woods and felt a little frightened but maintained my slow, deliberate pace. Then an owl hooted the same rhythmic pattern over and over. I kept walking, delighted by the fireflies and moonlight and a little nervous about what lurked close by that I couldn’t see.

The environment and your emotional responses are all feedback and data when you’re on retreat. Everything seems to mirror and guide your inner process.

I returned to the cottage and fell asleep, serenaded by what sounded like hundreds of frogs croaking and making plucked rubber band sounds as the moon began its journey across the meadow, illuminating my dreams.

Day Two

In the morning, I met with my guide for an hour and a half and received some practices to work with until meeting with her the following morning.

I followed a path through the woods back to the cottage and wasn’t a happy camper because I didn’t have proper footwear, clothing, or bug repellent for the woods. I was worried about ticks (hello again, fear) and ended up taking a longer route to avoid tall brush. I wandered from the trail briefly when I was probably at the closest point to the cottage and was hot, tired, thirsty, and grumpy. I felt lost but knew I’d eventually find my way and get back “home,” just not as quickly as I would have liked to since I opted for the longer, “safer” route. When I came out at last on the road, I heard these words in my mind:

When you are done being pissed at the world,
We are here (and always have been)
To help you find your way.

After regrouping at the cottage, I returned to the labyrinth and found the stones still balanced at the center.

 

I walked the labyrinth and balanced more stones – nothing special, but it reminded me of how drawn I am to balancing stones!

After walking the labyrinth, I retreated to Stillpoint Sanctuary, a chapel for prayer and meditation.

The view of the cupola above where I was seated looked like an octagonal mandala.

I had no energy at all in the afternoon, which is normal for the first full day on retreat. Every muscle in my body felt heavy and hard to move. I took a nap, listened to the rustling of wind in the leaves, did some practices, and savored the dinner that Alice’s husband, Larry, delivered in a basket. Then more practices. And some crying – until I realized:

I don’t have to fix anything.
I don’t have to fix anyone.
I don’t have to fix myself.
All is well.

It occurred to me that life isn’t so draining when you get rid of the “shoulds.” Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves and complicate life unnecessarily?

I waited for the moonrise with two darting dragonflies and a meadow of fireflies. I could hear firecrackers in the distance and the chirping of a single cricket. The sky was very dark by the time the moon floated above the the treetops and began its journey across the meadow. What a lovely night!

Day Three

This is the day when you go really deep on retreat. I woke in the morning from a dream in which I was absolutely livid. I met with my guide for another healing session. After two sunny days, the sky was overcast with rain in the forecast, and the first thing she told me was that the weather one encounters on retreat is exactly what is needed to help the process along. We did some guided imagery and addressed my fear, and I received more practices and materials to work with. I experienced healing around my existential crisis that manifested in lingering questions and regrets about my mom’s final days on earth. I understood that other people and forces larger than myself were involved and that I was not in control of the process, despite my ego wanting to be.

I realized that my true North was obvious and that my next step was to reestablish a daily meditation, yoga, and exercise discipline. These practices were abandoned when life became intense, and I realized that I need them more than ever to help me navigate through life from one harbor to the next. They are my rudder. I felt certain that guidance will come if I ask for it, practice daily, and keep my senses open.

With my guide’s help, I realized that I am in a time of transition, sometimes called “the valley of not knowing.” This is a place that by and large is not valued by society, although it is essential for growth and requires patience. It is like a cocoon – the state of dissolution (disillusion?) in between a caterpillar and a butterfly. This is what it feels like to me:

To consume without knowing what I hunger for,
Not content to be a creature of craving.

There is a big difference between what feeds the soul and the mindless clinging and craving of the ego.

It began raining as soon as my healing session was over and rained all day for the most part. I took advantage of a brief interlude without rain and attempted to walk the labyrinth. No sooner had I reached the center, and the downpour resumed, so I returned to the cottage. The weather drew me more deeply inward. As I worked with the practices and materials given to me, I realized that even in the unlikely event that nothing further transpired on my retreat, it already was successful in that I:

  • Discovered my true North
  • Understood that this transitional “valley” has value and is essential for growth
  • Experienced a sense of certainty and an inner shift from which I gave myself permission from deep within (not just in my head) to let go of that which no longer sustains me

I felt profoundly peaceful.

When the rain seemed to die down late in the afternoon, I turned on my phone (which I had been instructed to turn off for the duration of the retreat) to check the hourly weather forecast and determine whether another trip to the labyrinth was feasible. However, an alarm sounded, and a message appeared: “A tornado warning is in effect for your area. Seek shelter immediately!”

So much for my peaceful state of mind!

I had experienced a devastating tornado while living in Florida back when my children were very young. It was the most terrifying experience of my life. When you are huddled in the laundry room with your young family not knowing whether or not the tornado already has gone by, you realize that Mother Nature is in control and that anytime you believed you were, you were mistaken!

I jumped into action, assessed my environment, and determined the best place to seek shelter. The clouds were dark and threatening. Surrounded by couch cushions, I kept my phone on to receive further updates. I remembered that when I had finished packing the car to leave for retreat, my husband – who loves to tease me about my fear of tornadoes – asked if I had packed my helmet. Haha – no, I didn’t. My heart was pounding, and I felt a familiar sensation of fear in my body. Ideally, I would “go into” the fear and investigate it, but my mind was like a chattering monkey. I was not meditating or being mindful while taking shelter and waiting for the storm to pass. (It turns out there was a small tornado in the neighboring town that was headed in my direction but changed its course.) Once again, forces larger than myself were in control. I couldn’t change the weather around me, only the atmosphere within me. And that’s a pretty big deal, actually.

Once the sky appeared safe and the tornado warning had expired, it occurred to me that my ability to perceive beauty in the world was all fine and good – and has uplifted me through some very challenging times. However, I need to cultivate mindfulness and meditative awareness that equips me to work with the stubborn weed of fear so I am not immobilized or derailed by it. I need to practice daily so that when storms come I am ready. That was a very powerful lesson. It also made me think of the book of Mary Oliver poetry that I have misplaced and cannot find anywhere. Perhaps at this time I do not need to read about the beauty of this earth, for that comes so easily to me and reinforces everything I already perceive. Perhaps instead I need to learn to work with my fear, like those lines from the Hafiz poem:

Watch me whirl into nothingness
Your fears and darkness – 
Just keep tossing them onto my golden plate.

What a precious opportunity for transformation.

I also realized that taking shelter was very much like being in a cocoon, not knowing what was next. And what was next? The birds chirped merrily, the stream bubbled along, the mist rose gracefully, the lovely fragrance of milkweed drifted through the air, and the sun shone from behind the trees making the wet leaves and needles sparkle with light. Such wondrous peace. My world was wrapped in a mist blanket of peace and love.

And then this:

 

Jaw-dropping beauty, lovelier than anything I could have imagined. Naturally, I had to go exploring.

Here is a view of the pyramid at the top of Inner Light Lodge, where my husband and I were married.

And here is a spectacular view from the back of Inner Light Lodge, of the surrounding hills and the mist rising all around.

 
 

I returned to a dark cottage, lit a gas lantern, and resumed my practices. After completing one guided visualization, something in me seemed to have shifted. I realized (really realized, not just “knew”) that I am the daughter of Life. The birds, trees, and everything that is alive are my brothers and sisters – including my human parents. I cannot be orphaned, nor abandoned, for I am the daughter of Life and carry within me a divine inheritance. I have all that I need.

At that moment, I was able to let go of my mom. I wouldn’t need to ask her to visit me or prove to me that she exists beyond death. Although I had told her I was letting her go as she was dying – and really meant it at the time – it was different now. I was releasing her to be wherever she needed to be. She did not need to hover around earth to take care of me. I am a daughter of Life, and she is a fellow traveler. I needed to break the ropes and let her fly, light and untethered.

That night, the nearly full moon floated into the sky and shone through the skylight above my bed. I fell asleep listening to the frogs and the bubbling stream. And I had the Most Incredible Dream Ever. It was the most prolonged, joyful, and poignant dream of contact with my mom that I have had since she died. It was long and detailed, and I won’t go into it here, other than to say that she communicated very strongly through various objects. There was dialogue and gratitude and humor and so much love. By the end of the dream, I felt jubilant and exclaimed that life continues after death and that I have absolute proof of this now! The feeling continued when I woke up at 3:26 a.m. with tears of joy in my eyes as I wrote down the dream.

I got out of bed and climbed down the ladder, lit a candle and a stick of rose incense, and sat with the moon and this bliss. I began to sing a Sufi song that I hadn’t sung in a good 20 years. Sometimes I had to whisper the words because crying made singing impossible. I sang it four times, and by the fourth time, my voice was strong and sweet. I felt that I was singing for my mom. And then I sang her favorite hymn, “Amazing Grace,” four times, exactly the same way – belting it out strongly the fourth time. I felt she was harmonizing along with me.

I sat gazing at the meadow, which was filled with white, moonlit mist, thick and dreamy. It was like a dynamic stage. The moon had traveled about 3/4 of the way across the meadow, and I watched the clouds pass in front of it and noticed that some clouds couldn’t obscure the light at all. The stream bubbled louder near me and softer down below in the distance – soothing, gentle, white noise. Then an owl punctuated the stillness with the same haunting call I’d heard in the labyrinth. A single cricket chirped. The world was quiet but for these sounds. The eastern sky began to soften and glow, but not from moonlight. The birds were sleeping, but not for long. I was filled with gratitude and wrapped in love, beauty, and awe.

What a powerful lesson I had learned about letting go. When I was able to let go of my mom, she came to me in a dream. Let go, and then something profound will come to you because you have cleared space for the unexpected to enter in.

Eventually, I went to bed as the birds awakened with the distant call of one. Then another sang merrily and energetically. Before long, there was a dawn chorus of bird prayer-song heralding a new day. Before falling asleep, I set an intention to awaken in time to see the sunrise.

Day Four

Two hours later, I awoke to a lovely mist all around.

 
 

I headed down the road to the labyrinth

…and walked the labyrinth as the mist floated lightly through the air and lifted into a blue sky.

Even after the previous day’s stormy weather, a few stones remained balanced, and that made me smile. There’s something deeply gratifying about balance.

 

I met briefly with my guide and then continued working with more practices and materials before packing up and heading home, feeling very satisfied with my retreat experience. On the way down the hill, I realized that I don’t need to hold on to anything that has outlived its purpose in order to please anyone else, including my parents. I thought about my mom and felt certain that if I could speak with her after all she has been through (i.e. physical death), she would not advise me to cling fearfully to habits and situations from which my soul has withdrawn – but rather to withdraw my energy and go forth toward the places that engage and feed my soul. For life is short, and letting go in big and small ways throughout life is essential practice for our own inevitable death. And for living our life dynamically and magnificently.

Bless the dried up places, and let them go with gratitude for the gifts they have given us on our journey through life.

In any situation, what’s the worst that can happen? You can die. (Or maybe even worse, not live?) But guess what? Everybody is going to die eventually. And I believe that our life on earth is a precious opportunity for transformation. So break those ropes of fear, and live your life!

 

Or in the words of the 15th century mystic poet, Kabir:

Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive,
Jump into experience while you are alive!
Think…and think…while you are alive.
What you call “salvation” belongs to the time before death.

If you don’t break your ropes while you’re alive, do you think
ghosts will do it after?

The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic
just because the body is rotten – 
that is all fantasy.
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
you will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death.

If you make love with the divine now, in the next life
you will have the face of satisfied desire.

Source: The Kabir Book: Forty-four of the Ecstatic Poems of Kabir (versions by Robert Bly), Beacon Press, 1977, p. 24-25

© 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.

Overheard in a Field of Daylilies

Overheard in a Field of Daylilies

For the past several days, I have been searching for a book of poetry that seems to have vanished into thin air. I’ve looked everywhere and am now at the point of looking in kitchen cabinets and crawling around on the floor! It seems I’ve looked for it everywhere except for where it is. The book in question is Thirst by Mary Oliver. Our back yard is full of wildflowers, and I wanted to be inspired, for Mary Oliver and I perceive life through the same lens. However, since the book remains in hiding, I decided to write my own poem about the daylilies that currently dominate the landscape.
 

Overheard in a Field of Daylilies

Whispered the daylily:

Do not pity me for having
but one, brief day to bloom.
It is the blooming, not the longevity
that matters, and I have been
practicing all my life to feel
the darkness surrender
to color and light
and know this is the day,
and I am unstoppable
and ready to seize it,
 

 

To feel the sensation
of sepals and petals opening
together, little by little
then curling backward
into a perfect poem
of shape and color
and sending
from the secret center
a slender pistil
and six delicate filaments
donning gold-dusted slippers,
 
 
To announce without words:
Here I am, full and ripe
with pollen and nectar!
Come to me; let’s dance
the dance of life together
and make this day count.
 
 
Dear human, your rhythm
falls somewhere in between
that of trees and flowers.
Do not pity me
for my brief moment of glory.
Truthfully, can you say
you have bloomed
so unabashedly in all your
years?
 
-Susan Meyer

© 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.

Mom Moments

Mom Moments

If you know me or have followed my blog for any length of time, it’s probably clear that I’m quite open-minded when it comes to spirituality. However, there is a part of me that is surprisingly skeptical and discerning and searches for logical, rational explanations whenever something out of the ordinary happens – probably because I am so open and want to keep myself in check. So I’m not as easily convinced as I let on and tend to be more impressed when skeptics or non-believers have profound experiences than when I do. But I certainly have been having my share of “Mom moments” lately.

Here are a few examples:

I was driving home from grocery shopping one evening and felt a gentle nudge to turn on the car radio. The song that was playing was John Denver’s “Back Home Again.” Not only did John Denver hold a very special place in my mom’s heart, but I don’t recall hearing any of his songs on the radio in recent years. Hearing this song was out of the ordinary enough to really get my attention. And the refrain hit home: “Hey, it’s good to be back home again.” Not to mention, my mom grew up on a farm (as the lyrics continue).

I had another experience while driving. Every day – usually when I’m in the car – I say a little prayer in which I ask for blessings on my mom’s soul and guidance and support for myself and others. Then I express gratitude for various things. This particular day, right after I said, “Amen,” the car CD player turned on by itself! It clicked to a new CD and played the Crosby, Stills, and Nash song, “Teach Your Children”!

Here are some lyrics that really spoke to me:

And you of tender years
Can’t know the fears that your elders grew by
And so please help them with your youth
They seek the truth before they can die
Don’t you ever ask them why
If they told you, you would cry
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you

Now, that was really weird! But sometime after the fact, my inner skeptic wondered if it was possible that I forgot I’d turned on the CD player. However, the surprise I felt when the player clicked on led me to believe that was not the case. The moment I got out of my car, I saw a friend who also had lost a parent recently. I told him about the “moment” I’d just had, and without missing a beat, he said the same thing had happened to him six times in a row. The player turned on, and my friend turned it off – six times! After the sixth time, he acknowledged his parent’s presence, and the player didn’t turn on again.

And then there was the time I sat in the living room with a basket of Universal Cards on my lap. Each card has a word written on it, and there’s a companion book that suggests some possible associations for each word. I was really missing my mom that morning and asked for a message from her. I closed my eyes and picked a card, which was a card I’d been choosing a lot lately. No big deal. I put the basket of cards away and went about my business. About a half hour later, I returned to the living room and found one single Universal Card lying face-up on the floor in the middle of the room with the word “Healing” written on it. The entire “Healing” page in the book resonated with me. It began: “Healing influences and energies are around you… They can be called on to heal any aspect of your life.”

Hmmm…

There was the woodpecker pecking on the outside of the house right next to the window. I had only experienced that once before – when a woodpecker knocked on the door right after my mom received her cancer diagnosis. And there was the unexplained pounding on the window (heard by my husband, who was startled and looked for the source) when my husband was becoming impatient with me for taking so long to get out the door.

There was the sweet yet vulnerable cheep…cheep…cheep! of the baby birds in our yard who had just left the nest and were learning about flying and independence as the mama bird watched protectively over them from a distance.

The unexplained smells. The music that arrives fully formed and comforts me – and gives me goosebumps from head to toe when I sing it softly (without letting anyone else hear it because it feels too tender). Transcendent experiences that I wouldn’t even attempt to describe because the feeling element is lost so easily in translation. (Honestly, I don’t know if the emotional charge of any of these experiences can be transferred to another person.)

And then there are dreams.

Over the weekend – exactly one month after my mom passed away – she showed up in my dreams for the first time. It happened during a rare, late afternoon nap. I can’t recall what I had been dreaming, but all of a sudden, I was at the performing arts center where my mom spent her 34-year career, talking with a few people at the very back of the amphitheater.

I noticed a woman who looked like my mom (about 15 years ago) coming toward me down the hill on one of the walkways. She was wearing a navy blue and white striped top and navy blue slacks and looked very happy, pleasant, and totally in her element. Yet, she was in a hurry, as if she had important responsibilities to attend to. She scurried by me, en route to the seats or (most likely) backstage, and I turned my head, thinking that she looked like my mom. Then I realized she was my mom, and I gasped and woke up, heart pounding! It felt so real!

A few days later, in preparation for a meeting with a newspaper columnist who is writing an article about my mom, I came across a video from her retirement celebration, which I’d never watched. At the end of the the video, there were a few photos of her with her very favorite artists, and in two of them she was wearing the same outfit she had worn in my dream!

This morning, I dreamed of her for the second time. In the dream, it was about 10:30 at night when I received a phone call from one of my parents’ neighbors, who told me something we both felt my dad needed to be aware of. I wanted to call my dad right away, but my mom was still very sick, and I didn’t want to disturb her by calling the home phone. So I called my dad’s cell phone instead – and my mom answered. Then she was immediately in the room with me. I was in bed (where I actually was asleep and dreaming this dream), and she was standing at the side of the bed looking over me in a peach colored nightgown. I can’t remember exactly what she said to me, but she acknowledged that she was dying. With tears streaming down my face, I replied, “I wish we had more time together.” She bent over, and we hugged each other. I could feel her shoulder bones because she was so emaciated. But mostly, I felt the love.

I was at a used bookstore the other day and felt nudged to pick up a certain book and read the page I opened to. The words on the page were about the regrets you have after the death of a loved one being different than the ones you had previously. An example was regretting that you put your loved one through radiation treatments and all the related suffering. When I opened the book, I wasn’t aware of any lingering regrets, for I felt so much healing took place between my mom and me during the past year. But when I awoke from the dream, I knew better – and cried a river of tears – for it occurred to me that my mom and I never really said goodbye. We never grieved together over having to part so soon. I tried my best to help her let go and to assure her that it was going to be okay and that what she was experiencing was normal. I did all my crying when I was alone. She read my blog faithfully until she was too sick to sit down at the computer, and some of my writing from December through May was a means for me to communicate to her that I knew she was dying without forcing the issue. I happened to arrive at my parents’ house right after she finished reading one of my posts, and she came downstairs, gave me a hug, and told me that I have always been loved. In the week before she died, she beamed and exclaimed, “You’re great!” The last understandable words she spoke to me were, “I love you so much.”

We said goodbye between the lines but never came out and said it while she was still lucid. We had some conversations in which she indicated that she realized she was dying, but she didn’t seem to want to talk about it. There was a line I felt I couldn’t cross. I wasn’t able to tell her how much I’ll miss her and that I wish we had more time together – until she wasn’t able to communicate. Most of all, I didn’t want to burden her with my sorrow. I wanted her to let go and move on without worrying about anyone else. I didn’t want to hold her back.

But in dreams, we get a second chance. We get to say goodbye. And it was for real.

Looking through photos, I realized that the peach nightgown my mom wore in the dream was the same nightgown she had on when she died.

There have been other experiences that leave me with a sense of awe, peace, sweetness, love, and/or relief, and my “Mom moments” have much in common with what other family members and friends have experienced. But I think that’s more than enough for now.

© 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 Sunflower Curriculum

A Sunflower Curriculum

This is the last weekend of the school year, and as I attend to my remaining responsibilities, I paused to reflect on what went well this year – what worked. I am convinced that children learn the most from the teacher’s passion. When a teacher is truly excited about something, teaching is authentic, and the energy engages children and invites them to enter a space of wonder and joy. I love to abide with children in such a living, inspired space. It makes my time in the classroom feel worthwhile. So, as I reflect on the year, I looked for where I was able to breathe new life into the curriculum, fueled by what I love. This year, it was flowers – sunflowers, in particular.

I spent last summer observing and photographing sunflowers that popped up around our yard. I was fascinated by the pattern, blooming, and pollination of all the tiny flowers.

There were so many sunflowers in our yard, and we didn’t have to do a thing. The birds did it all for us! My husband is serious about feeding the birds throughout the winter and buys mass quantities of sunflower seeds. In the course of their daily business, the birds managed to scatter them all over the yard. Many of the seeds developed into large plants with impressive blooms (that delighted the bees immensely). In time, the seed heads drooped, and the birds feasted on the mature seeds. So by summer’s end, all the seeds that had grown into flowers had become mini bird feeders.

I was fascinated and excited by the whole process, and when the school year began, I wanted to share my love of sunflowers with my students. I cut a few seed heads from the stems and brought them in for our nature table.

I provided magnifying lenses for the children to use to examine the sunflower colors, patterns, textures, and anatomy. Eventually, one of the children asked if it was all right to remove some seeds. At first, I wanted them simply to observe them, but one morning – in response to their natural enthusiasm – I allowed small groups of children to work on removing the seeds after completing their morning work. It was a highly engaging fine-motor activity that maintained their interest for quite some time. It made my heart happy to see them engaged so contentedly with a gift from nature.

One small group had begun to sort the parts they had removed, and I encouraged them to continue. Next thing I knew, the other groups had followed their lead.

They were so proud of the work they did emptying and sorting!

Each day, they wanted more sunflower heads to de-seed, but I had run out, for the birds had picked out all the seeds from the remaining flowers in our yard. So a mom sent in a bunch of sunflowers from her family’s property, and the fun continued. She sent in quite a few, and when the novelty seemed to have worn off, I put aside the rest and moved on to other activities. The dried sunflowers remained in a sack in a corner of the classroom throughout the winter, largely forgotten.

In the spring, we learned about plants and flowers. I asked the children if they’d like to plant and care for seeds of their own (“YES!!!”) and asked them what kind of seeds they would like to plant. Well, every child wanted to plant sunflower seeds. And then I remembered the abandoned flowers in the corner. They planted, watered, and thinned the seeds, and took home their cups when the plants were a few inches tall.

I used the thinning process as an opportunity for the children to observe the root system. Each child determined which seedling seemed healthiest, and we pulled out the other one gently, to keep the roots intact. I displayed them on the nature table for the day with a magnifying glass and took a picture so I could refer to it on the SMART Board.

We created Sharpie and crayon-watercolor resist scientific illustrations of flowers. (I discovered this activity on my favorite teaching website, Fairy Dust Teaching.) The photo below is from a previous year when I gave the children the conventional spelling of the parts. This year, I let them sound-spell the labels.

In accordance with the ELA Common Core, we are required to have our students complete an informational writing sample, and this year, I had my students write about flowers. They used their scientific illustration as step one of the writing assignment. Step two was filling in a graphic organizer.

Step three was the final, written piece.

The bottom line is that we ended up getting a lot of mileage from the sunflowers I brought in for our nature table! Looking back, this is the area in which I felt the curriculum was most vibrant this year. These activities are keepers – and required no prep work on my part. Gifts from nature are the best!

And on that note, here’s a card the children made for Mother’s Day. I showed them some of my images of morning glories unrolling and opening movement by movement, and they wanted to give their moms some morning glory seeds that I had saved from last year’s crop.

And there you have it: My flower-powered curriculum!

© 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.

Transcendent Wildlife Moment

Transcendent Wildlife Moment

I had the most transcendent experience at the labyrinth this afternoon when I was blessed to witness something I have longed deeply to see – an image I have not been able to let go of since it was described to me a year ago by the gardener. There has been something magical about the conversations I’ve had with her, and I always walk away feeling blessed. Well, this particular afternoon, she told me she had seen a turtle emerge from the pond, move across the labyrinth to lay its eggs, then return back across the labyrinth to the pond.

I know. It doesn’t sound all that exciting. But for some reason, it planted a deep longing in me (and must have meant something to her, too). I love turtles – especially painted turtles – and I love labyrinths. I walked away wishing I could have witnessed it. I thought about it so much over the past year. I wondered if I’d be so fortunate to see the baby turtles cross the labyrinth later in the summer en route to the pond, and even calculated approximately when the babies were likely to emerge. No such luck. But I could not let go of the image of a wise, old turtle in the labyrinth. I visualized it through the winter. I visualized it through the spring. I wondered why this image fueled me with such deep longing. I realized the likelihood of me being there at the right time to see a turtle cross the labyrinth was very slim. I almost wished I had never heard about it because I couldn’t stop longing for it! Perhaps I’d need to camp out at the labyrinth all day when the temperature was right, and keep watch. Even just a few days ago, I wished I were more talented at sketching or painting so I could reproduce the image that had made such an impression on my heart and mind.

Unless someone were inside my head and able to read my thoughts and feelings, it’s probably impossible to understand how profound and meaningful this image was to me. I can’t explain it.

I never did camp out at the labyrinth. I just continued longing and wished I could have been blessed as the gardener had been with such perfect timing. I decided that experience was meant for her, and if it were meant for me, I would experience it, too.

So, this afternoon I went to the labyrinth with no expectations other than to clear my head after a busy day at work. I crossed the labyrinth to look at the flowers, as I always do prior to walking the path to the center and back. And then I noticed a painted turtle off to the side of the labyrinth!

Well, you can imagine my excitement. I took out my camera ever so carefully, hoping to photograph it. Simply achieving a decent, closeup shot of the turtle would be gratifying enough.

But after several minutes, the turtle turned around and maneuvered toward the labyrinth. My excitement turned to astonishment. When the turtle began to plod along the outer circuit of the labyrinth, I whispered softly and repeatedly, “Oh. My. God,” as tears dripped down my face.

This was even better than the gardener’s description of the turtle crossing the labyrinth, for this turtle was following the labyrinth path!

With nearly breathless reverence, I watched the turtle as it continued to navigate the outer circuit.

Then it turned and exited through the threshold!

Before it slid into the pond, I thanked the turtle for giving me this incredible blessing. Then I walked the labyrinth in the turtle’s footsteps, filled with awe and reverence. After that, I took an exercise walk on a nearby trail, and what I had just experienced hit me again. How profound that I was able to experience the sight for which I had longed so deeply! I cried reverent, grateful tears for quite some time as I walked along the trail. It simply was the greatest gift I could have received.

I had to write about it before falling asleep because such experiences need to be remembered and shared. To have such a deep longing fulfilled so unexpectedly is the most incredible feeling in the world. It’s grace. I don’t understand why the turtle in the labyrinth was such a powerful image and experience for me – only that it was. Before going to bed tonight, my son gave me a hug and, despite not fully understanding my excitement hours earlier, told me that he’s glad I got to see what I needed to. That sums it up perfectly.

© 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.

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