Category: Mindfulness

Staying Close to Home

Staying Close to Home

Staying. It’s a word that sums up what I’ve been practicing for the past year, both on and off the meditation cushion.

On the cushion: staying present to what is right here, including the challenging emotions that arise. Investigating a little deeper instead of resisting, fleeing, or fantasizing about being somewhere else. 

Off the cushion, in daily life: staying close to home and exploring what’s right here. Taking a closer look. Sure, there were places I wanted to travel to. However, with everything going on, it felt more right to stay close to home.

I thought of it as an experiment. In lieu of traveling, I explored the natural areas around me: the river, local parks and hiking trails, and the town I live in.

What I’ve found by experimenting with staying is that it leads to great freedom and appreciation. What liberation is greater than the capacity to be content right where you are, with things as they are, right now, no matter what is going on? When you can access that, any goal, destination, or striving is just icing on the cake. You don’t rely on such things to provide a sense of fulfillment that is absent in the present moment. Happiness is here and now. And you can carry it with you into whatever you pursue and wherever you go.

Returning

I grew up in Saratoga Springs, a small city in Upstate New York that has received numerous national accolades. Slogans like “Saratoga: The Summer Place to Be” made it feel like the center of the universe! I went away for college and after graduating spent the next 12 years moving around. Naturally, I compared where I came from to my expanding worldview. During those years away, I adopted a stereotyped image of Saratoga Springs and swore I’d never move back. However, that changed when I was raising two young children. 

I returned to the area 21 years ago, which allowed my children to grow up with extended family nearby. They were close to their grandparents and great-grandmother. I sought out kindred spirits and experienced Saratoga in a new way. And I stayed.

As I’ve discovered when my meditation practice has lapsed throughout the years, sometimes the value of getting away from something is eventually realizing what it contributes to your life. Then you can return in a more intentional way, with gratitude and a sense of this is part of who I am. Returning to Saratoga Springs as an adult gave me the freedom to perceive and interact with it in different ways.

For the past 12+ years, I’ve lived on the Hudson River less than ten miles from Saratoga Springs. When I was growing up, my family didn’t engage in nature-based activities or venture out this way. It’s hard to believe I lived so close to the river all those years and never experienced it. Living on the river, I appreciate being able to visit Saratoga Springs on my terms, with plenty of breathing room from the summer tourism.

The summer of 2020, however, was different than any other summer.

A Path Back Home

Aside from working at the library and filling up my water jugs at the State Seal Spring, I tended to avoid Saratoga Springs during the summer, when it was overrun with tourists, and it was notoriously difficult to find parking. However, during the summer of 2020, both the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and the racetrack were closed to the public, so there were far fewer tourists in town. Even with more locals flocking to the parks, it was quieter than usual.

It was an invitation to explore.

The uncertainty and groundlessness of the time drew me to sources of stability, which I found in nature: birdsong, flowers coming up on schedule as they do every year, the sound of spring peepers across the river, the nighttime sky, and so much more. Nature provided a variety of anchors that awakened me from the trance of thought and brought me back to the present moment many times a day.

The geographical landmarks from my childhood called to me in ways they hadn’t before. I made frequent visits to the Saratoga Spa State Park to investigate and appreciate more deeply the natural resources that had served as the backdrop of my childhood. During 2020, I spent a lot of time on the Vale of Springs trail, which I started to regard as “the path back home”. There was something deeply comforting about returning to what had been present in the background all my life and had drawn people to the area for centuries. It gave me a sense of stability in a time that felt so unstable.

At first, I was drawn to the Geyser Island Spouter, a mineral spring that over time created a large, stage-like tufa (mineral deposit). I sat meditating at the edge of the creek on the back side of the Island Spouter, and it felt wonderful there. I loved the sound of the water and the energy in the air. Locals often speak of lithium being in the air in that area. I don’t know why the energy there felt so good, but I kept returning.

One day, I showed up and saw several people on the tufa. A park docent was standing by, and I asked if there was a special event going on because I’d never seen people on the tufa. He said it wasn’t an event, and it was okay to go on it. That was the first time I photographed the spouter up close, and the lighting was incredible. 

I went back a number of times, until eventually there was a sign saying the tufa was off-limits, to protect our natural resources. So instead of going on the tufa, I explored the sides of it from the creek: the different colors and textures. I examined and photographed practically every accessible inch of that tufa.

I was intrigued by how the mineral water transforms whatever it comes in contact with – whether rock, leaves, or people. In this spirit, I explored the other mineral springs in the park. I was introduced to the Tallulah Spring during a photography session with Hannah, a kindred spirit around my daughter’s age. I’d never noticed Tallulah before because she’s a little more tucked in. While wandering through the woods trying to find Hannah and Tallulah, I heard the sound of bagpipes in the distance, which felt otherworldly. Tallulah has since become my favorite spring.

I had been unsure about the direction I wanted to take with my “people” photography, and after photographing Hannah around the mineral springs that day, I became passionate about photographing women in harmony and spiritual connection with nature. That’s how my Women of Light photography began, with Hannah at Tallulah after hearing the sound of bagpipes in the woods.

The Saratoga Spa State Park became one of my primary refuges of 2020. I ended up taking hundreds of photographs of the mineral springs and the Vale of Springs trail. I decided to make the mineral springs the subject of my upcoming photography exhibit at the Saratoga Springs Train Station in June and July and named the exhibit A Path Back Home.

2020 put me on a path back home both literally and metaphorically…to the natural treasures of my hometown and to my truest, most awake self.

The 53 Project

Through the practice of staying and simplifying, 2020 was a year that changed the trajectory of my life. It was a year of being nurtured by nature and having the breathing room to discover a true sense of life purpose – and shift into LIVING it. Out of presence and stillness, I discovered what was most important and was drawn to the situations and people that resonated most.

I was nurtured by: walking the labyrinth in the park down the road, kayaking on the river in front of my house, exploring local parks and nature trails with my granddaughter, taking walks with my husband, photographing women in harmony with nature, and connecting with networks of kindred spirits.

I also fell more deeply in love with flowers, ferns, water lilies, herons, the way trees on the riverside appeared to be circulating light, sparkles of sunlight on the river, willows and birches, misty sunrises, the freezing river, and the swan on the river.

I wanted needed to honor all this artistically.

At the end of 2020, I intended to create a video of my favorite images from the year. At one point, I selected the images for it. However, my plate was very full, and before I knew it, February was nearly over. Perhaps that ship had sailed.

However, a few days before my March 1st birthday, an idea seized me: Why not create a visual meditation of the images that awakened my heart the year I was 53, from March 2020 through February 2021? So that’s what I did. I created two versions: one with images and background music and another that includes me reading poetry I wrote during that time period

Staying and allowing has been an amazing practice. The two greatest resources that helped me through the turbulence of 2020 were my meditation practice and spending time in nature close to home: two different ways of staying. Both were invitations to return again to what is right here and become more intimate with it. To discover and deepen the pathway back home to what is most abiding and nourishing. To stay instead of run away into distractions, for everything that arises within us and around us is a portal for awakening.

I invite you to watch the video here:

Note: The words in this version express my truth while navigating all the unfamiliar situations and challenges of 2020. If the words do not resonate with you, you might prefer the wordless version.


© 2021 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Stop, Breathe, Smile, and Soften

Stop, Breathe, Smile, and Soften

Sometimes the value of a practice doesn’t become fully apparent until it slides, and you notice the difference it makes in your life. It becomes an invitation to return and recommit and should not be a reason to beat yourself up for letting it lapse. Just drop the story about it, and return to what’s important. No need to complicate things.

This inadvertently happened to me this week when my Mindfulness Bell app stopped working for some reason. This is a simple app that helps me to return to presence throughout the day. I configured it to sound a bell randomly once every hour between 8AM and 10PM. When the bell sounds, I stop what I’m doing and take three conscious breaths. Those breaths can be like a magical reset button. They awaken me from whatever trance I’m in and allow me to be more conscious of what I’m doing and to choose whether to keep doing it or switch gears.

It was a busy week, and after a couple days I noticed the bell hadn’t been sounding. Had I been away from my phone more than usual and therefore not heard it? Hmm…I don’t think so. (Most likely, since it’s an app that operates continuously in the background, my phone deactivated it after I didn’t engage with it for a certain amount of time.) But I was feeling less centered and more easily distracted. Those bells brought me back to presence 14 times a day and made a positive difference.
 
I actually took it as an opportunity to explore another app that has a mindfulness bell: the Plum Village app. Plum Village is the mindful community in France built by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. The app is a wonderful, free gift from the Plum Village community. There’s a lot more to it than the mindfulness bell, but the bell is what I was most interested in, to begin with.

This time, I configured it to sound every 20 minutes. That’s a lot of bells every day! But I’m loving it. I catch myself sooner when I start going off on tangents and down rabbit holes that ultimately are a waste of time, and simply bring my attention back to the present. Even just closing my eyes for the duration of these three, luxurious breaths helps when I’m spending a lot of time looking at screens. It pulls me out of that tunnel and brings me back to what feels more spacious and Real.

When you have a practice like that throughout the day, the bell (or whatever you use – perhaps red lights, phone notifications, etc.) can be an opportunity to take a few mindful breaths, return to a mantra, notice where there’s tension in your body and invite it to soften, or whatever is most important to you. It’s a cue to return to that. You might notice whether you’re thirsty and are in need of a drink of water. Or take a break to stand up and stretch.

Reconfiguring the mindfulness bell was an opportunity to revisit my intention. What did I want the bell to cue? So when the bell rings now, I:

  • STOP
  • BREATHE (in through the nose and out through the mouth, with long exhalations)
  • SMILE (softly with the eyes and mouth)
  • SOFTEN (just like floating: relaxing any tension in the body to be supported by the water).

The bell is like a friend who takes my hand and guides me back home. It’s a really beautiful practice that complements seated meditation practice.


© 2021 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Let’s Have Tea

Let’s Have Tea

Yesterday, my dear friend, Lisa, was on my mind a lot. Last year at this time, in a pre-Covid world, she came down with a nasty case of the flu. It attacked her heart and left her clinging to life by a thread. An old post from her husband came up on Facebook before I went to bed last night, and I realized it was exactly a year ago, to the day. Somehow I knew that without knowing it. 

Because it was a Really Big Deal. It was the first major shock of 2020 to be absorbed, and it’s a story I’ve told numerous times when giving talks on mindfulness of emotions.

It was the first time something like this had happened to someone I knew. When I told the story to my co-workers, the reaction was the same: You hear of this happening, but never to someone you know…until now. It was a revelation: The flu really can be that bad. Perhaps reconsider skipping the annual flu shot. 

Exactly a year ago, I went to bed crying and praying like I never had before. Lisa can’t leave us. She just can’t. I couldn’t imagine a world without her.

She’d been transferred from Saratoga Hospital to Albany Med, where my dad was transferred after his 2013 cardiac event. I knew she was in good hands there. But even Albany Med didn’t have the equipment to keep Lisa alive. She was transferred again, to Montefiore in New York City, and put on an ECMO circuit. I’d never heard of ECMO before.

It didn’t look good. The odds for survival were alarmingly low. It really looked like we were going to lose her, and this was devastating. 

Lisa always has been one of the Helpers in this word. We went to high school together but weren’t friends back then. When my family and I moved back to Saratoga Springs when the kids were little, I attended a La Leche League meeting Lisa led, in hopes of connecting with a network of kindred spirits. Not only was Lisa a La Leche League leader, but she also established a food co-op for a small group of friends. We’d show up every month when the truck was expected to arrive at her house and process the order while our children played together. My daughter and Lisa’s oldest daughter were the same age. When they got to middle school – the first time they attended the same school – they became (and remain) best friends.

When the girls were in middle school, Lisa became the head of the PTA. Her home was the most welcoming place. We’d sit at the table and have tea, and I always left feeling so cared for, as if my heart had been filled up. And she would be the first one to drop off a homemade meal when you were going through a crisis, like when my mom was dying. Her caring and generosity meant so much to me. I thought of Lisa as a Leader and a Giver. Drawing people together and creating community were among her superpowers. 

This is why I couldn’t imagine a world without her and prayed for her to pull through. Understandably, she had an enormous support network of friends and family, and a huge number of people were praying for her. And miraculously, she began to grow stronger and get better.

The surprising thing was that when she turned that corner, and the odds of her surviving began to improve, some uncomfortable feelings started coming up in me. Feelings that didn’t seem appropriate at all in the situation: envy and jealousy of the vast support network of friends and family who were pulling together for her. A Facebook group of more than 500 people was created to streamline communication, so her exhausted family wouldn’t have to reply to constant questions from all those who cared about her. Friends were driving to NYC to be there for her and her family.

A narrative began to play inside my head: This certainly wouldn’t be the case if something like that happened to me. 

In my opinion, envy and jealousy are the most counterproductive, misguided emotions of all. How could my friend fighting for her life bring up such shameful feelings? What kind of person was I to feel anything other than immense gratitude and relief for the progress she was making?

There are two arrows of suffering talked about in meditation circles. The first arrow is the unpleasant feeling itself. But then there’s the second arrow, which is our reaction to it: feeling bad about having the feeling and making it wrong. Even making ourselves wrong or bad for having it. The second arrow can be sneaky and hurt even worse than the first one.

There is a Buddhist story of the demon god Mara, who did everything in his power to prevent the would-be Buddha from attaining enlightenment. Failing at that dark mission, Mara continued to show up when the Buddha was teaching, determined to lure him into some kind of egoic craving or delusion. Whenever the Buddha’s vigilant attendant noticed Mara lurking about, he’d let the Buddha know. Instead of ordering that Mara be taken away or hiding from him, the Buddha would address him directly: “I see you, Mara. Come, let’s have tea.” So they would sit down together for a chat.

When practicing mindfulness of emotions, first we acknowledge what is present. There is real power in that. Noticing it and calling it what it is helps us to not be so fully identified with it. It gives us some space to explore what’s going on below the surface instead of being hijacked by it.

When feelings like envy and jealousy arise, the first instinct might be to deny them or push them away: These feelings don’t belong in this situation! They are dishonorable! That’s the sound of the second arrow piercing.

Instead, we can experiment with acknowledging them and allowing them to exist: This, too, belongs. There are no inherently bad feelings, only unpleasant ones.

So I said, “I see you, Envy and Jealousy” and became curious. I sat down with them – invited them to tea, so to speak. I listened to what they had to say and realized it was useful and important. They highlighted the lack of community in my life.

I’m an introvert who enjoys spending quiet time alone. It’s how I recharge my batteries and create. I hadn’t realized how much community mattered to me, how much I craved it, given how comfortable I felt being alone. And when I understood that was what was really going on – that these uncomfortable feelings pointed toward a deeper need – it motivated me to take action to create more community in my life. If I had just pushed them away, I wouldn’t have done that because I wouldn’t have become aware of the longing in the first place.

That was a year ago. Since then, Lisa has made a full recovery and was able to share her husband’s Facebook post from a year ago. Her ordeal awakened me to both the power of prayer and my inner yearning for a deeper sense of community. Less than a month later, I began teaching my first practicum course for mindfulness meditation teacher certification at a local library. We had our initial meeting in-person, and a week later, all in-person programming was cancelled. So I moved it online and have been providing mindfulness meditation programs for multiple libraries ever since.

Several participants have been with me from the beginning, and it’s a privilege to witness the joys and struggles of their meditation practice. A sense of community has developed, and I am truly grateful for the presence of these sisters and brothers in my life. We’ve been breathing together through a great deal of turbulence since last spring. I’ve become involved with other community networks, as well, and it’s such a joy to feel connected to so many beautiful humans I didn’t know a year ago and to radiate mutual caring. 

As if to underscore this, right on cue, in the process of writing this, I received an email from one of the women who attends my programs. In last night’s Zoom session, she was thrilled because she’d just scored a vaccine appointment for a family member. I mentioned my husband has been trying every day to get appointments for his parents, and it’s been incredibly stressful. So this morning, this dear soul reached out and offered to help and within minutes notified me that she’d made appointments for my in-laws, for tomorrow. She came through for us in a big way, and everyone is overjoyed and relieved!

Community is people who show up for one another, and this was a perfectly timed illustration of the presence of community that didn’t exist a year ago.  It feels amazing to shine in community with others. And to think I didn’t even realize how much I yearned for it until Lisa’s health crisis awakened me…and I chose to lean in and listen to what the uncomfortable feelings had to say instead of shooing them away. 

Isn’t it amazing how we plant seeds of transformation in one another without even realizing it – and what new possibilities unfold when we shower those seeds with presence?


© 2021 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Resting in RAIN and Sea

Resting in RAIN and Sea

4 AM.

I’m awake in bed feeling anxious. Only one day until the Inauguration. How will it turn out? What will happen in the meantime? What could go wrong? Who else will be pardoned before then?

4:15.

This is too early to wake up for the day. I remember I have choices. Instead of letting worried thoughts carry me off into that dark and scary place I’ve been to before and depriving me of sleep, I can get off that bus. I can do something different. There are alternatives to getting stuck in a trance of fear or even fighting it. Fight, flight, and freeze are not the only options available.

Normally, I might do a yoga nidra meditation, which features a body scan and is virtually guaranteed to knock me out or get me into a state of relaxation from which sleep would follow soon after. I can’t count the number of nights yoga nidra has provided me with two or three more hours of sleep than I would have gotten without it. Instead of feeling sleep-deprived, I wake up feeling well-rested.

This morning, however, a different meditation comes to mind. Since I’m practicing trusting intuition and stepping out of the way to allow wisdom to flow, I go with it. This time, I’ll listen to my own recording of a Tara Brach-inspired RAIN meditation.

RAIN is an acronym that stands for: Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Nurture. There are other variations from other teachers that use different key words. But RAIN really works for me, so RAIN it is.

Recognize and Allow are brief steps that bring you into connection and relationship with the emotional discomfort. You don’t push it away, deny it, or numb it. You greet and welcome it like a familiar friend – which begins to wake up the more evolved  “tend and befriend” part of the brain.

Hello, Anxiety. You belong. 

This is the invitation. Then on to Investigate, which is where the conversation begins.

Where are you, and what do you want me to know?

Explore the vulnerability. Really get to know it.

I find Anxiety in my heart and throat and rest one hand on each area. That kind of tender touch is like putting a warm blanket on the place that hurts. Tending to it as you would tend to a suffering child. It’s like swaddling a baby: a soothing, gentle pressure and caring presence. I’m already lying under my weighted blanket, which is soothing in itself, but this tender touch deepens the attention and provides gentle contact where it is most needed.

Often during the Investigate part of RAIN, after locating and tuning in to where the suffering is in my body, I’ll see an image in that area. If I stay with it, the image begins to change and shift into what I call an energy story that resolves in a healing image along with the realization that the physical energy imbalance in that part of my body has resolved, as well.

But this time, I connect with the vulnerability and ask Anxiety what it needs. It communicates a sense of people who are unwell, mean-spirited, untrustworthy, unhinged, and sinister being in control. I see flashes of situations that brought up similar feelings in the past. That kind of emotional energy is stored in the body – likely around an even earlier trauma, or core wound that I sense I’m getting closer to healing every time I do RAIN.

Understanding it a little better, I now call it Fear and realize it needs Love and a sense of safety. It wonders if this world is a safe place to be in (which feels very young). It needs to feel the presence of loving energy and to know that Love is stronger than the presence that seems so threatening in the dark hours of the night. That’s what the Nurture step is about, and this is my favorite part. It calls on imagination, and I love imagining. It’s a powerful tool.

I know exactly what to do. I call on my parents and grandparents, who also live inside me. There is a place in my heart area I know as Unconditional Love, and it’s like a crystal that’s similar to Aladdin’s lamp. Rub it, and they’ll all come out and surround me with their loving presence. There are other beings, too – beings of love, light, and wisdom.

When I call upon Unconditional Love, they all come forth. And then I allow myself to receive their loving energy and to listen to what they have to say. This time, I hear (and write down):

You were never alone or unsupported. Everything that was hard served a purpose. You are becoming so strong and can help others.

You have one another. Share your feelings, and dissolve the separation.

You are discovering your true power and untapped resources. All is well. Let them in. Share yourselves. You are surrounded by love.

There’s not enough togetherness in your life.

Remember how the sea held you. Take refuge in the sea.

Then these loving beings slip back into my heart, and I’m standing on my favorite beach where the land meets the vast ocean, feeling the cool, wet sand under my bare feet. I reach for my phone and turn on the sound of long, crashing ocean waves from the White Noise app.

The ocean is one of my greatest resources. It’s big enough to absorb any suffering I bring to it – and I’ve brought some mighty big suffering to it in the past. I can take everything that feels overwhelming, set it down, and let the ocean carry it away into the immensity that can hold and transform it all. And then I feel lighter, connected, supported. Not alone. Better able to focus on the here and now, without emotional baggage clouding my vision.

I really imagine being at the ocean, with all my senses. And then I wake up hours later to the sound of the waves, feeling rested, peaceful, and resourced. Ready to greet the day with my best, most present self.

Every time I do RAIN meditation, it’s different. Different images, different words, different ways of nurturing. Your experience will be different, too, calling upon your deepest wisdom and connecting with something greater than yourself. I find it to be a really beneficial meditation for these times we’re in.

But don’t just take my word for it. The value I attribute to RAIN is backed by science. As neuropsychologist and author of Neurodharma, Dr, Rick Hanson explains: 

We need to deal with real dangers, but much of the time we overestimate threats and don’t feel as safe as we actually are. This makes us feel bad, and it wears down physical and mental health over time. Plus when we feel at all anxious, attention understandably skitters around, scanning the world, body, and mind for what might go wrong.

Helping yourself to feel reasonably safe calms the stress response system and helps you stay focused rather than looking about for a tiger that might pounce.

If more people got in touch with their vulnerability and true power through practices like RAIN, I imagine there would be less bad behavior, blame, addiction, susceptibility to manipulation, and violence in the world. I really do. It’s powerful medicine.

If you’d like to try it – either when you’re in the grip of unsettling emotion or after the fact – here is my version of RAIN:
 

And if you’re interested, Tara Brach wrote a book about it, Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of RAIN, which I recommend highly.

I’m also trained to guide others through the RAIN process and to conduct 1:1 Meditation Out Loud sessions. Contact me if you’re interested in scheduling a remote session.

In these challenging and uncertain times, may we bring as much presence and compassion as we can to ourselves and the world around us and remember that we are not alone, even in the middle of the night or anytime during the course of the day when it might feel like it.


© 2021 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

What’s Going on Inside This Heart?

What’s Going on Inside This Heart?

Here we are in the uncharted waters of December 2020. It was dark when I woke up this morning at 6:45 and checked in with my heart. What’s going on in here? What’s the weather like inside this heart?

It feels a little weary, to be honest. Weary from one encounter after another over the past several months with people I assumed were “on the same page” and seeing the world through a similar lens, only to discover that’s not the case at all.

I remember back in March when we absorbed one shockwave after another as we moved into and adjusted to shutdown mode. It feels a little like that. But this time, it’s more about digesting realities about the stories we’re buying into that have solidified throughout the year, and how to be in relationship with one another when those stories differ radically. 

I keep reminding myself we’re in uncharted territory, and everyone is doing the best they can. I try to catch myself and shake off the seductive stories before they have a chance to settle in. Daily.

Earlier this year, things were moving so fast, and it seemed every week served up a different theme. At some point, themes didn’t seem to be so much of a thing. It just felt increasingly chaotic. But now I’m feeling another theme arising. In a nutshell, it feels like our country is divided into perceptions of government/authority being either protective or controlling. Maybe that’s a huge overgeneralization. But it was what I saw when I stepped into my heart yesterday and asked the question I ask many times a day: WTF?

The theme I’m digesting now centers on rebuilding, reconnecting, and caring about people who see things very differently. How to live in a world with so much difference of opinion and clinging to compelling narratives. (Are they fact or fiction? Or a mixture of both?) How to live in a world in which it seems so many people have been drinking the Kool-Aid, so to speak. People who would think the same of me. People I’ve known and respected for a long time. And still do.

Even though I catch myself repeatedly, to have that reaction in the first place… This is new to me. It’s an adjustment, a revelation. And it’s often uncomfortable. In this heart of mine, connection is more important than being right. So I listen and try not to offend. I try to understand what’s below the beliefs and find some kind of caring beneath it all.

Sometimes it can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re a “feeling” type. And if you’re not getting enough sleep.

The Power of Presence

When we get hijacked by emotions, awareness (a.k.a. mindfulness) gives us options. This happened to me when I was driving home yesterday. Realizing I was hooked in an addictive storyline that I called out as “romanticizing”, I surveyed my options and decided I could take a deep breath and blow it out, blow it along, release what doesn’t serve. Then it wouldn’t get stuck in me like fluffy seed fairies dispersed into the air looking for a place to land and take root.

The breath can be really powerful like that. It can blow those story seeds along, saying Not Here. With mindfulness, we can notice what’s going on and choose the seeds we allow to grow in our garden and what to do about the stubborn, subterranean root and rhizome systems that started a long time ago.

With mindfulness, every moment is an opportunity to choose what’s most important and what’s best (which can change). We can choose to get stuck in a limiting personal narrative or to step out of it. We can choose to drop down into something much deeper: a field of being I call Presence.

Dropping into presence actually saves a lot of time because you realize what is and isn’t ultimately important, and a lot of stuff you thought was important just falls away. Here, fresh ideas, insights, solutions, and perspectives are accessible. And lovingkindness.

I sense that all the division we’re experiencing in the world around us at this time and confusion about who or what to believe is ultimately calling us inward, to our our deeper wisdom, which is very, very different than sorting things out in our head through thinking and analyzing or being brainwashed by media. (If you haven’t watched The Social Dilemma, I urge you to.) 

Asking for Help

When we are caught up in the lower, addictive energies of a storyline, we also can ask for help. Especially when we’re tired and don’t have the energy to drop down deeper.

One evening this week, before falling asleep I asked for help. I had gotten triggered and was having trouble getting unhooked – like when those prickly hitchhiker seeds get caught on your clothes, and it’s really hard to get them off. Authentic movement (which is a new thing for me) has become my go-to for releasing and expressing emotional energy. But I was too tired to dance or meditate that evening. So I sent out an earnest S.O.S. to Unconditional Love (spirit guides, angels, ancestors, higher self, etc.). And I ended up having a very interesting dream.

I dreamed I was able to cross the border and visit Eckhart Tolle in his home in Vancouver. We were in his living room, which was modern and spacious. I was drawn to the patterned flooring, which I found lovely. I told him I was grateful to be in his Presence (“with a capital P”), meaning the pure presence coming through him.

I woke up feeling I’d received an energy upgrade in my sleep! I felt totally different.

Then I wrote down the words going through my head and put them on the image that came to mind. 

The image is of the octagonal apex of Inner Light Lodge at Light on the Hill retreat center. I spent the past few years doing a lot of inner growth work in that building with my Hidden Treasure tribe. As I worked on the image, I noticed the roofing of the protruding structure was very similar to the flooring in my dream – which took it to another level, literally!

So we can ask for help. Help that I’ve learned is always available if we can open ourselves to it.

Step out of the storyline, drop into presence, and see what’s there. Ask for help when you need it. This is my advice for these times, which I give myself daily.

What’s the weather like inside this heart? Feels more like peace now…because the energy was channeled into these words.

May we all find constructive ways to channel and release the energies coursing through us. And inspire one another to connect with our deeper wisdom and compassion, which is so much richer than any personal or collective narrative.


© 2020 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

The model pictured is Hannah Zlotnick, https://www.anandagaia.com/ .

What Do You See?

What Do You See?

This summer, the river that runs by my front door has been my refuge.

On the river, everything is so normal and predictable. It could be any summer. The sun and moon rise and set on schedule and travel the path they always do, undistracted by human drama. Birds sing. The water lilies open and close at the same time each day.

I speak insights and words of gratitude into my online journal through my phone (set to airplane kayak mode), and herons and eagles have an uncanny knack of appearing suddenly out of nowhere and flying overhead as if to underscore certain especially resonant and relevant inspirations. The other night, I was on the river doing this under the moonlight, and instead of a heron or eagle, it was a shooting star that appeared like an exclamation point at the end of a sentence that had brought me to tears of homecoming.

It’s downright magical and sacred on the river.

This stretch of the Hudson River is the church I attend almost daily. It’s been keeping me balanced and centered as 2020 continues to carve its unpredictable and uncharted course through human and personal history. It’s taught me how to stay and to deepen my connection with the life around me. When I teach meditation classes, I use the phrase “on and off the [meditation] cushion.” But out here, “on and off the river” carries the same meaning.

Riverside Litter

There is a small spot on the riverside nearby just large enough for a family or small group of friends to enjoy the river and launch kayaks. It’s been getting a lot of use this summer, which is great. However, people often leave behind their garbage. It’s been happening more noticeably this year than in the past.

One day, I paddled by this spot and was disgusted and saddened by the sight of trash piling up. It fit a basic theme of selfishness that was pissing me off. So of course that’s what I saw. A narrative arose in my head about people who feel entitled to leave behind their garbage in the name of personal freedom. I saw selfishness, irresponsibility, a lack of caring and concern for others and the earth.

I paddled away feeling irked. And separate from and somehow better than the people who left behind their trash. But it didn’t feel right. As I paddled on, I asked myself how far down the river I was going to carry these feelings and assumptions.

The great thing about having a regular meditation practice is that I can catch myself sooner when my mind goes over to the dark side. And once you realize what’s happening inside your head, it opens up a field of spaciousness in which the heart can speak.

I realized that just as people can do better with cleaning up after themselves, I can do better than judging them.

So I paddled along with a prayer in my heart:

May I and all beings be free from the suffering and ignorance that causes us to do harm. May I and all beings be free from the suffering and ignorance that leads us to exclude others from our heart.

That felt better because I was back in connection with my fellow humans.

Our human struggles and the demons we wrestle with are universal, even though they may look different on the surface. We get triggered, addicted, distracted, stuck. We fall short, miss the mark, make mistakes. It is the human condition.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that when we stop blaming others and making them wrong and instead take an honest look at ourselves and our reactions, we become empowered. Because the one and only person we can change is you-know-who. When we shift the way we look at something, new possibilities can come to light. We can find a better way to hold a situation so we can see expanded possibilities and take some kind of positive action. 

Opportunities for Caring

If we explore a little deeper, we’ll likely find that underneath our anger, indignation, and judgment is some kind of caring. The light of love, kindness, and compassion wants to shine forth, but the ego tends to obstruct it when things aren’t the way it thinks they should be.

The caring in me resonated with ideas such as putting a small sign at the spot on the river inviting people to enjoy it and to remember to carry out their trash. Maybe leaving a box of bags in case they didn’t think to bring their own. Or putting on some gloves and cleaning up the spot myself. We can see an opportunity to be of service and shine our light instead of another opportunity to disconnect our hearts. Instead of just photographing and griping, I can bring a bag and be part of a solution. I can share my images and ideas and be part of a productive dialogue.

The great news is that before I had a chance to do that, someone else had come along and cleaned it up! Another caring heart.

I’ve paddled by the littered spot on the river many times since and started reflecting on how it is connected with the other things we find unacceptable in our world, in our lives, and in ourselves. Might they, too, be opportunities to shine more light and love?

I’m thinking of issues participants (mostly female) in my mindfulness meditation courses bring up – that often resonate with me, too. I find it so beautiful when one person voices something they’re struggling with and others reassure them that they understand and that they’re not alone. Which is the truth. So often, we feel alone in our struggles, as if nobody would understand. Or maybe (God forbid!) they’d judge us. But we’re never alone. Our struggles really aren’t that special!

For example, instead of seeing weight gain as moving in the wrong direction or being unacceptable, could it be an opportunity to love your body more, not only when it meets your expectations but also when it doesn’t? With practice and intention, might feelings of disappointment or disgust cue you to take a breath and beam love to the parts – of your body, your life, your world, your past – you deem unacceptable?

I often do this during self-Reiki and chakra work. It’s a beautiful practice, and it really is a practice that you do again and again. As your capacity for mindful awareness increases, those familiar feelings of shame can cue love, compassion, acceptance, and even appreciation! And the kind of love that inspires you to give your body/life/world what it most deeply thirsts for instead of what is merely habitual. Without beating yourself up – because you realize punishment is neither a necessary nor effective path to well-being.

Might anxiety or white coat syndrome be an opportunity to bring more love and kindness to yourself, and to be less judgmental? To listen to what your body is saying when it gets your attention through a sympathetic fight-or-flight response, instead of trying to whip it into submission? Instead of creating more tension and dissatisfaction through resistance?

Litter.
Shame.
Blame and disconnection.
“I’m right, and you’re wrong.
Regrets and mistakes of all kinds.
Even fear.

What do you see in a heap of garbage on the side of the road? When you look in the mirror? When you take in community and world news? When you communicate with someone who doesn’t see the world as you do?

Can we learn to hold what we repel in a different, more spacious way so new, more empowering and caring possibilities can arise? Can we include them in our circle of lovingkindness so they can awaken our natural wisdom and compassion instead of keeping us rigid and stuck?

Yes, we can. Held the right way, the demons we wrestle become allies that help us to evolve. To love better.


© 2020 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

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