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Better Than Envy

My friend, Colleen’s 18-year-old son, Isaac, is an amazing wildlife and landscape photographer. Last summer, his shot of the solar eclipse made National Geographic’s “Daily Dozen.” I have to admit, I was a little jealous. 

Okay, more than a little. It wasn’t just the shot itself. It was the killer lens he used to capture it and the resources he has access to, including epic landscapes. And he was only 17 at the time.

Today I learned Isaac was named Young Photographer of the Year through the prestigious Windland Smith Rice Awards for nature and wildlife photography, and his winning shot, “Battle of the Bulls,” will be in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Holy cow!

There are moments when you realize how much you’ve grown and that the work you do on a daily basis really does make a difference. Learning of Isaac’s latest accomplishment was one such moment…because I didn’t feel jealous or envious as much as I felt truly happy for him. And that’s a big deal for an Enneagram “Four” like me because we tend to default into envy, comparing ourselves to others and feeling bad because we convince ourselves that we don’t measure up and lack any kind of personal significance and existential worth. 

In the past year, I’ve done a lot of inner work – more than I can remember ever doing in a year. Diving into Enneagram work has made a huge difference in my life. It’s a powerful combination along with daily mindfulness meditation practice. Finally, I can catch myself when I start to go into “Enneagram Four negative thoughts” and label them as such…and transform them or let them go.

Noticing and labeling are important. You can think of a thought as a bus with a sign lit up that shows where it’s headed: “The Dark Side of Enneagram Four”. Seeing that sign, I realize it’s not a bus I want to get on. It’s one of the usual routes I’ve taken all my adult life, but now I can see it for what it is and where it goes to and can let it pass. It stops in front of me, and I hear the sound of the door opening and the bus driver inviting me to get on…and then choose to continue sitting right where I am.

As the bus pulls away, I go back to noticing the sights and sounds around me, the sensation of breathing, the areas of tension in my body, and don’t give that bus a second thought. Eventually, another bus comes along with either another or the same destination sign lit up, and again I can make a conscious choice about whether or not to get on and go for a ride.

This is kind of amazing! It’s like the bumper sticker slogan: You don’t have to believe every thought you think. Freedom from thought. Yes, we do have a choice! Why don’t they teach us that in school?? What a difference it would make in our personal lives and in society.

So instead of wasting time and energy wishing I had that sweet glass and 12,000 Instagram followers, instead of getting on that thought-bus that travels down dismal streets like “I really screwed up my life” and “There must be something seriously wrong with me”…

I allowed Isaac’s success to inspire me and to help me clarify what is most important to me. Because that’s what you can do when you don’t get on the bus that takes you to places that suck the life out of you.

Truth is, I’ve been focusing on a lot of other things lately. Building infrastructure for photography and other endeavors. Decluttering across the board – emails, Pinterest boards, all kinds of stuff that has accumulated but no longer fits with who I have become and what I want to move toward. I’ve been doing portrait shoots, but because I’ve been so busy, I haven’t taken my camera out as much as usual to photograph nature, which is my true passion. I haven’t even left the area in the past year except to go on spiritual retreats at two retreat centers. 

Isaac’s photography reminded me that I have a photography bucket list. It reminded me that the Adirondacks and New England (for fall foliage) are close by. Even Maine isn’t too far away for photographing northern lights. His photography reminded me of the importance of having a work schedule that offers flexibility to travel for photography. And this is good because I nearly interviewed this week for a position that would have made that much more difficult – and doesn’t fit with who I am now, anyway!

Isaac’s photography reminded me that there are beautiful places near and far. Just as with meditation, healing, and spiritual growth, you start where you are right now. That’s what you work with. There’s no need to wait until conditions are better or different – until I can travel out of the area or until fall or until I’m awake for a really nice sunrise on the river. Right now, there is a garden full of morning glories just outside my door. Start there. Photograph them…because that’s what’s available to me right now.

Isaac’s photography reminded me that having my camera in hand makes me more aware of the beauty around me, and that is a big part of my spiritual practice. It re-inspired me to take out my camera every day because it adds so much meaning and joy to my life.

And so I did. I photographed the morning glories outside my door. I didn’t capture any National Geographic worthy images, but I fell in love all over again with the anatomy of morning glories, how they look dappled with raindrops, and the way their petals roll up when they’re ready to call it a day. Feeling appreciation, awe, fascination, wonder, and connection with nature feels so good and allows me to be my best self much more than wallowing in disempowering envy, self-pity, and shame. Neuroplasticity is for real! I am creating new mental habits!

So thank you, Isaac, for your passion for photography, and congratulations on yet another success! Thank you, too, for the inspiration and reminders about who I am and what’s most important. Isn’t it wild that by doing what we love, we can affect others in ways we’d never imagine?

Of course, that could go either way. Witnessing accomplishments like Isaac’s could lift a person up or bring a person down depending on that person’s own level of mindfulness and self-esteem. It’s useful to keep in mind that when you are in the spotlight (or even when you’re not) and receive unflattering comments or unsolicited advice, they often are more about the person commenting/advising than the quality of your work!

And of course, shooting in Wyoming with Isaac is one of the items on my photography bucket list!

© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

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