Oops! It appears that you have disabled your Javascript. In order for you to see this page as it is meant to appear, we ask that you please re-enable your Javascript!

Category: Death, Dying, & Birth

Transcending the Roles of a Lifetime

Transcending the Roles of a Lifetime

Oh, technology, you have failed me! Last night I spent more than two hours pouring my heart and soul into perhaps the most raw, honest, meaningful, therapeutic blog post I have ever composed – complete with tears and deep revelations. I was totally in the flow. After I had finished writing and attempted to add some pictures, Blogger froze, and I lost everything. It was the stillborn blog post, and there was nothing I could do to bring it back. More tears followed, for I knew I could never rewrite that post; it was way too powerful. It was so powerful that – once the tears stopped flowing and I regained my composure – I felt tremendous healing had taken place during the two-plus hours during which I labored with it. Apparently it was only meant for me in its original form. Although I had lost the writing, I had gained the experience and wisdom. And then I set to work on rewriting it in its new form. I hope some of the original energy will be transmitted through these words.

Since my mother’s diagnosis of advanced Stage IV pancreatic cancer about six weeks ago, I have been reflecting on the mother-daughter connection, which is one of the most complicated and conflicted of all human relationships. I have considered the pervasiveness of mother-blaming in our society and the effects it has on mothers and daughters. It seems mothers are expected to embody the impossible archetype of Mother and are not easily forgiven for being human and fallible. Mothers are blamed for making mistakes despite our best efforts and loving hearts. We are blamed for our children’s troubles and unhappiness. Our words, glances, actions, and inaction can carry such weight and be easily misinterpreted and blown out of proportion, thus giving unintended messages a life of their own that leaves our children feeling fundamentally flawed.

But where there is pain, there is opportunity to heal, even if it takes decades.

My wedding day

Pancreatic cancer is a thief stealing my mother from me too soon. I feel very sad about the prospect of losing her, although when she is ready to let go, I will be a midwife for her and release her into the Light with my deepest blessing. Along with my husband, she is my best friend, the person I pick up the phone to call and share my news and feelings. But it wasn’t always like that. Although I can only speak from my own experience, it seems daughters tend to develop by differentiating ourselves from our mothers – defining ourselves against, or apart from our magnified perception of our mother’s shortcomings and flaws. In other words: “My mother is this; therefore I am not this.” We exile all these unacceptable parts we associate with our mothers to what Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung called the shadow. They become baggage that we drag around perhaps for the bulk of a lifetime until (if we are fortunate) we awaken and reconcile the exiled parts, making room for them in our psyche and welcoming them with open arms, no longer threatened by or having an aversion to them.

The healing began for me when I became a mother and realized that theory and practice are two entirely different matters. Although theory can inform our practice, a little practice tends to upset a lot of theory and squelch feelings of superiority.

Four generations of eldest daughters

I have sat in therapists’ offices with my own daughter and been the target of mother blaming. It was painful, surreal, and frustrating as hell. I left one therapist’s office wounded to the core and sobbed the whole way home in response to the therapist’s abrasive, misinformed treatment of me. I was coached to listen to my daughter’s painful feelings and presumed to be the cause of them (or so it seemed). But it was a one-way street. And this is ultimately abusive to mothers and daughters alike, turning mothers into monsters (like the witches and evil stepmothers in fairy tales) and daughters into victims (damsels in distress waiting to be rescued). I believe in the importance of hearing and acknowledging children’s feelings, and a listening presence characterized by deep empathy is as natural to me as breathing and has formed the foundation for my parenting and teaching. However, there is another piece that is equally important: A child needs to know that s/he is loved, despite any pain attributed to the mother’s fallibility or resulting from the collision of the child’s will with the mother’s boundaries. The mother is human. She will not always please her children. She will make mistakes. She is not the fairy godmother with the magic wand who grants their every wish. Forgive her, for you will make mistakes, as well, when it is your turn to raise children. You will not always be your children’s best friend and make them happy. Forgive her so you may forgive your future self and allow yourself to establish healthy limits with your children without feeling guilty for doing so. Above all, you are and always have been loved.

My mother as a child

I feel it is so important for children to know this. Your mother is human and doing the best she can. You are loved. As a teacher, I am constantly giving my students this message. When they complain about something their mother has done that has upset them, I listen to and reflect their feelings and then remind them that she did it because she loves them and is trying to keep them safe – which is almost always the case. I feel it is very important for children to hear this, especially if the father is unable to support, or actively sabotages, the integrity of the mother-child relationship for whatever reason.

Back to my mother’s illness…

When people ask me how I’m handling my mom’s illness, I often reply by wondering out loud why it took so long to awaken to her beauty. At times, I regret all the wasted years when I could have enjoyed and appreciated her and reciprocated her love so much more than I did. But time is ultimately irrelevant. Awakening is the only thing that matters. Whether we do it years, months, days, or moments before death separates us from our mother, in the end the only thing that matters is that we did awaken. To awaken while our mother is still physically present is such a blessing – although I believe it’s never too late.

So when the tears come – usually late at night when everyone else is asleep – they are a mixture of sorrow on the physical level and spiritual joy, for I am so grateful to have awakened. Perhaps the lyrics to my mother’s favorite hymn say it best:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

It feels as if I have transcended the roles that have circumscribed my relationship with my mother all these years and have stepped across the threshold and entered her world with new eyes, able to appreciate the scenery I find there. I truly enjoy her company and presence, watching her favorite television shows with her, getting to know her friends, talking openly about important matters, laughing, listening to her play guitar, and running errands for her.

Now that my blinders have been removed by her illness, I finally can see how amazing and beautiful my mom is. I am in awe of her and love her more each day. Her essence shines through so strongly, like a bright sun that makes the details that differentiate us seem so trivial, small, and faded. I wish I could keep her around for many years to come. But perhaps a brush with death and the realization of our mother’s mortality is what needs to happen in order for us to awaken, heal, and love more fully. Perhaps it is an initiation that awakens us to the truth of who our mother is as a human and spiritual being beyond the limiting roles we take on during our lifetime together.

My mom and me

I don’t know how much time my mother and I have left together, only that our time will come to an end, for death is inevitable for each of us. It is perched on my shoulder and reminds me that every moment is precious. This time is an incredible gift, despite all the pain, and I must take full advantage of it because I cannot get it back to do over. Something like this reorders one’s priorities. The advice I get from others who have traveled this path (as each of us will in time) is to spend as much time as I can with my mom now and not let other stuff get in the way. Make the time, and take the time. Be prepared by having my day-to-day affairs in order as much as possible so I can drop everything and be with her when I need to. And also remember to take care of myself.

This post is quite different from what I wrote last night. I am not attempting to interpret or invent psychological theory but to communicate how I am reconciling my own experience with my mother’s mortality in hopes that sharing may benefit others. I apologize for any overgeneralizations I might have made about the mother-daughter dynamic (as I’m sure there are other paths up this mountain) and also don’t mean to exclude males.

Grief has opened the floodgates of my heart, tears and poetry flowing. In closing, I offer a spiritual poem that wrote itself through me one night (and which is the only way I can account for the word fealty, which I have never used in my life but insisted on being written and not edited out):

MOTHER

The god and goddess
Become mortal
Hearts of glass shattering
Spilling a lifetime’s worth of tears.

When it comes to a close
We bow deeply
And thank one another
For playing these roles
With such fealty.

It happens to each in turn:
Girl becomes mother
Set up to be knocked down
No matter
Never meaning any harm
Nor deserving such blame.

She removes the mask,
Hands it down
And all is beauty and love.
Really, that is all there ever was
When you see through
The impossible mantle
Of Mother.

© 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.

Opportunities for Practice

Opportunities for Practice

This morning, my husband woke me with the following words: “I know you want to get some sleep, but you might want to look out the window. It’s one of those mornings.” And it certainly was. Within minutes, I was walking through a frosted world waiting for the sun to burst through the clouds and play with the ice crystals that formed from last night’s fog.

It took an hour and a half before the rising sun intersected with a patch of blue sky, but I was determined to be there and ready when it happened. I had plenty of time to walk around and consider the scenery and angles I wanted to photograph.

It was a cold morning, and at times I wished the clouds would hurry up and move out of the way. But then I’d take a deep breath and remind myself that this is a perfect opportunity to practice. To meditate.

After decades of practicing on and off, I have come to understand meditation quite simply as the act of bringing awareness back from the thinking mind to the spaciousness of the present moment. You catch yourself again and again, bring your mind back, and work on strengthening that response so it becomes more instinctive and immediate. Meditative awareness offers freedom from the tyranny of thought.

I couldn’t do anything to speed up the clouds, so I had some choices, as we all do:

  • Give up and go home
  • Be agitated and discontented with the present moment while waiting for it to change
  • Embrace the moment, and love what’s already here.

 

 

You can complain about life not meeting your expectations, about all the misery in the world, about the present moment not being as you want it to be. Or you can find something to love, here and now. You can have a peaceful, joyful heart despite it all.

I have had a lot of opportunity for practice lately. When the house is still at night or I’m alone without any distractions, my parents’ suffering often arises in my mind. I think about how very unfair it is that such good, kind people can receive such cruel blows from life. Pancreatic cancer sucks. My mom is worn out and in pain much of the time. She hasn’t been able to do the things she loves. I realize the importance of acknowledging, allowing, and releasing grief, and I know from experience that grief is hard, physical work.

But this will not stop me from searching for beauty. From spending more than two hours outdoors on a frosty morning waiting for the moment when the light finally shines through and transforms the world into a luminous wonderland. Kahlil Gibran’s words from The Prophet resonate: “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” In fact, the sorrow only fuels my desire to find and share joy and beauty.

Grief is energy that feels like a wave crashing through me. But I’m realizing that grief is not the same thing as sorrow. Grief is physical. Tears flow. Like shells and stones that wash up as waves crash against the shore, grief often gives rise to sadness and sorrow – which can be perpetuated by the egoic, thinking mind. Once the wave of grief energy passes, I can choose whether to focus on thoughts of deprivation or gratitude. I can feel sadness for my mom’s suffering and for everything her cancer is stealing from us. I can continue to think sad thoughts for as long as I want. But those thoughts will not change her situation. They will only keep me awake at night and leave me feeling tired the next day – and less present and able to do the things that will make a difference. So instead of feeding the sorrow, I’ve found that once the grief wave passes through, I can breathe into my heart center and transform grief into gratitude. Gratitude for having such loving parents who have helped me to become who I am today. Gratitude for having awakened to how amazing and beautiful my parents are while there is still time to repay their love and kindness and enjoy their company.

It’s all the same: Impatience for the sun to shine, grieving my mother’s illness, etc., etc., etc. It’s all an opportunity to practice returning to the spaciousness of the present moment and discovering the gifts waiting to be noticed and received.

While waiting for the sun to shine this morning, I found so much beauty when I decided to take a look around and expand my awareness beyond waiting and focusing on what was missing from the moment. The same can also be done when a loved one has a serious illness. Every moment is an opportunity to live and love more fully. Every moment offers a gift.

© 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 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.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

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.

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.

—————————

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.

Gifts from Dying Patients (and the Promise of Spring)

Gifts from Dying Patients (and the Promise of Spring)

This morning, I went to the river’s edge for the sunrise, and the dawn chorus was what I noticed most. The birds were all waking up for the day and singing their territorial songs of spring from their perches way up high. The ice that covered the river throughout January and February has thawed, and the river has assumed its reflective quality once again. Early in the morning, the water is very calm and mirror-like, which is a joy to photograph. 

And yet, it was only 18 degrees (F) this morning, and I spent most of the sunrise photographing delicate, glistening ice formations along the shoreline. 

Winter has not yet released the Northeast from its grip, but I put my faith in the birdsong, which heralds spring.

While sitting on the shore listening to the birds, I recalled a hospice patient I worked with back in my twenties. I don’t remember her name and only visited her once, when she was in the hospital. It was mid to late autumn, and this elderly woman expressed sorrow for not being able to live long enough to see the flowers come up in the spring one more time. I was young at the time, and her words made an impression on me. I had my whole life ahead of me and took the seasons for granted, not paying much attention to their gifts or to the flow of the year or time in general. She awakened me to the power and promise of spring and to the relationship one could have with the natural world. I bet she was a gardener.

For the past couple weeks, I have delighted in observing the daffodils that have sprouted outside my classroom door. They make me smile every time I see them and urge me not to be fooled by the wintry weather forecast: Spring is coming! Now I get it. I understand the words of the dying woman and the spiritual and emotional significance of spring.  

It is usually the case that when I remember one of my hospice friends, several more come to mind. Each one taught me an important lesson that was a blessing to have received so early in life. Today, I am starting more tomato seeds, and I realize that each of these people planted a seed in my spiritual garden. I agree with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who wrote, “The best teachers in the world are dying patients.” The authenticity of dying patients is an incredible spiritual gift – a teacher that sows hearty seeds. 

Here are a few others that have taken root:

V. was a 98-year-old man who was deaf, partially blind, and had numerous broken bones because his skeleton was so brittle. He taught me about the power of communicating without words, since he could no longer hear them. Though I visited mostly with his wife, the moments I spent with him were profound. I held his hand and visualized white light entering through the top of my head and flowing down through my arm, into my fingers, and into his hands and body. I did this silent visualization twice while holding his hand, and each time I imagined light flowing through me and into him, teardrops trickled from his eyes – and I knew that a deep connection was taking place. I never got to see him again because he died the night before my next scheduled visit. But I have carried that profound connection with me all these years.

Then there was M., my first patient – a spunky woman who loved origami and had always wanted to learn how to do it herself but never got around to it. She inspired me to learn origami because it was something to which I’d also felt drawn. So I learned, and I love it, and I have her to thank for it.

Finally, there was a female hospice patient whom I visited at home. She was probably in her late forties or early fifties and was suffering from ALA (“Lou Gehrig’s disease”). There were framed photographs all over the living room walls that showed her smiling with her husband and children when she was in better health, and the contrast between the pictures and the way she looked as I sat with her in her living room was striking and memorable. (I would love to have photographs displayed at the bedsides or in the rooms of all hospital patients so caregivers could see who they were prior to their illness.) This was a woman who had lived a short but vibrant, loving life and was so much more than her current condition suggested. I realized her fate could befall anyone. Her husband told us about all the special things he was doing for her in a devoted effort to fulfill all her wishes before she became further incapacitated and eventually died. He understood that his time with her was coming to a close and put everything else aside to be there for her. Such love and devotion! 

Although my grandmother wasn’t one of my patients, I remember the last visit I had with her at her home three months before she died. At that time, she would have been eligible for hospice services; she had decided to let the cancer run its course rather than subject herself to further treatments that compromised her quality of life. We sat together on her front steps, and she spoke quietly of the joy and comfort of watching the wind blow gently through the trees. And I thought – that’s it – she had arrived. Her attachments to worldly concerns were falling away, and she was able to dwell in the stillness of the trees that are so rooted in being. When I’m kayaking on the river or sitting in the back yard and a gentle wind shakes the leafy trees like soft tambourines, I think of her and how we sat in stillness watching and listening to the trees that afternoon.

If only we could understand how much of an impression we make on others when we share our authentic self, even in brief encounters, when we are suffering, or when we feel we have nothing of value left to give! By doing so, surely we have a far greater impact on our world than we ever would imagine. And perhaps we can allow the petty concerns of our daily lives to fall away long enough to realize how fortunate we are for the opportunity to experience the gifts of spring once again.

—————————
© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Page 4 of 41234

There's so much I want to share with you! Join my mailing list to receive the latest news and updates. And don't worry: I won't spam you or share your info with anyone!

You have Successfully Subscribed!