Category: Mindfulness

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.

Daily Miracles

Daily Miracles

“Give us our daily miracle. And forgive us if we are not always capable of recognizing it.” -Paulo Coelho, Manuscript Found in Accra

Do you realize how close you are to a miracle?

I truly believe that every day offers us a miracle, a magic moment that changes everything, awakens us, and offers new possibilities.

Paulo Coelho writes a lot about such moments, and in Manuscript Found in Accra, he defines a miracle as “…something that suddenly fills our hearts with Love.”

I search for miracles every day. They are easy to miss. But missing them doesn’t mean they never happened.

Perhaps the miracle was to be found in the impulse ignored to turn in a certain direction or to strike up a conversation with a certain person. Perhaps we were too tired, in too much of a hurry, or preoccupied with our own thoughts and dramas.

Do you remember the 3D stereogram images that were popular about 20 years ago? You stare at the two-dimensional, patterned image with the right focus and all of a sudden enter into a three-dimensional image that, until then, was impossible to perceive. That’s how it can be with magic moments. With a little practice, you might just find your heart steeped in gratitude most of the time. With gratitude, beauty (love) is more inclined to reveal itself, and you can find it just about anywhere.

On a rainy day, the miracle might be found in the rippled puddle that you normally would pass by without taking notice. That’s where I found it today, during the short walk to my car at the end of the work day.

Sometimes you will discover it if you turn around and look behind you, crouch down close to the ground, slow down, step off the trail, take in the details of a single thing, or listen wholeheartedly to the person next to you.

If you tune in to the miracle channel, you will find them everywhere and be transformed. At least that’s been my experience.

Yesterday morning was dark and dreary. By the time I arrived at work, there wasn’t so much as a hint of the sun, which has been rising a little later every morning. Witnessing the sunrise makes a substantial difference in the quality of my day. Filling with light first thing in the morning is a powerful way to start a day (although when the sun doesn’t shine, we can go within and make our own light). By the time I got home from work, however, the sun was shining, and I took a walk with my husband. As we walked, I stopped to photograph landscapes and trees I’d photographed numerous times before. I stopped yet again, knowing they are always a little different.

After snapping a few shots, I commented to my husband that I still hadn’t encountered the magic moment of the day. But I knew I would. And I did. I’m a sucker for sunlit leaves, and the auburn-toned oak leaves seemed to be on fire with grace around a birch tree. It was their moment to shine, and I got to witness it.

Sometimes I feel called by a tree or flower, and when I approach it, it gives me an offering. I feel its energy and my interconnection with it. I might look at it from different angles, until love bursts through.

Sometimes one leaf playing with sunlight at just the right angle can make all the difference in the world if it speaks to your soul. I waited for 15 minutes for the sun to emerge from behind the clouds in order to capture the image below, which had revealed itself briefly moments before the clouds covered the sun.

Over the weekend, I watched part of Eckhart Tolle’s June 2012 retreat at Omega Institute and was struck by something he said about when he lived in London after going through a profound shift in consciousness. After the shift, he felt so peaceful and perceived everything around him as so lovely, though he didn’t know why. A Zen monk told him that, “Zen is really about the cessation of the thinking mind,” and it occurred to Eckhart that since the shift, he hadn’t been thinking as much; there were “vast spaces of no thought, of just perception.” When Eckhart was finding the world so intensely beautiful, he was not thinking. He was liberated from the tyranny of thought.

That is something I can really relate to these days. When I go outside, I can’t help but be amazed and astonished at the beauty in the natural world. It is everywhere!

Even walking from my car to my classroom in the morning, I am dazzled by leaves and berries clinging to trees, reflections in puddles, birds in flight. Every little thing seems to be filled with incredible energy and beauty. It feels so peaceful and good. And during those moments, there is an absence of thought. Love enters in.

I live for those moments.

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The photographs in this blog and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears. 

 © Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Trail through the Autumn Woods

A Trail through the Autumn Woods

The fall foliage in my neck of the woods is at peak now, and over the weekend I took a long afternoon walk along a trail I hadn’t been on in about 12 years. It was an overcast day with occasional, light drizzle, and perhaps that’s why the only people I ran into during the course of more than two hours were a small group of college students, a man walking his dog, and another man jogging. Other than that, it was just the trees and me.

I didn’t intend to walk for long because it was just a stop en route to the grocery store, and I was wearing shoes that weren’t ideal for the terrain. However, after walking at a slow, reverent pace for a quarter mile, I returned to the car to change into my sneakers and retrieve my tripod.

After that, I retraced my steps and kept going all the way to the end of the trail. Mostly I walked with gratitude and awe. But every now and then, I caught my thoughts wandering and realized I was beginning to take the magnificent scenery for granted.

Then I thought about my friend, David, who died this past February. The last time I saw him was last October, on Columbus Day. I wondered if he knew last fall that it would be the last time he’d see autumn’s dazzling display. He must have known; I’m sure he did. Did he appreciate it more fully than ever before, to the point of ecstasy and tears? The drive from his house to ours was nearly an hour long. It was a beautiful fall day, and I imagined he must have enjoyed the colorful foliage the whole way. I remember how full of joy he was that day, marveling about the clouds as we walked out to his car to say goodbye for what would be the last time.

And then, as I walked along the trail, I heard a male voice in my head narrating:

If you knew for sure 
This would be the last autumn of your life,
Would you pay more attention?
Could you bear to take for granted the ground underfoot
Or any single sight sound smell along the way?

Well, can any of us know for sure that we will still be here a year from now? I certainly intend and hope to be, but you never know.

As I continued walking, all of the sights, sounds, and scents became more vivid and extraordinary. I stopped often to smile at and even thank out loud a tiny babbling brook, a leaf waving from a branch, a fallen leaf that caught my eye, and even bright red poison ivy wrapped around the base of a tree.

It was all so astonishingly beautiful. And I was so privileged to be there in the midst of it, in complete solitude, taking it in so fully.

I felt like Frederick, the field mouse in Leo Lionni’s picture book of the same name. While the other field mice were busy gathering provisions for winter, Frederick sat contemplatively and gathered sun rays, colors, and words. The other mice were irritated with him for his apparent laziness; however, when their food supply dwindled that winter, they were nourished and warmed by the poetry he gathered during the colorful autumn days.

I love that story. There is great value in taking time to pause and savor the fleeting majesty of the natural world.

As I kept walking, I began thinking that nothing could improve this moment. And nothing could be more important than drinking in All This.

I began thinking about other important things that I need to do during this life – things I would regret not having made time for when all is said and done. The first thing that came to mind was visiting Letchworth State Park (known as the Grand Canyon of the East) in western New York, which has been on my bucket list for more than 20 years. We had planned to go there over the summer, but our calendar filled up, and my husband suggested that we save the trip for fall. What a great idea! So we are going to take a couple days to do just that. There is no time like the present – for the present is the only moment we are guaranteed!

As I contemplate the passage of time, I realize that we must make time to do the things our soul nudges us to do. We must make time for what brings us true nourishment and joy.

After more than two hours of walking in the woods, I captured nearly 300 images, which I later narrowed down to 38 keepers (which is what I do for fun).

These trees looked just like a watercolor painting!

I never did make it to the grocery store. The journey through the woods ended up being the destination. And I can think of no better way to have spent the afternoon!

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The photographs in this blog and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears. 

 © Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Red Lights, Screens, and the Value of Waiting

Red Lights, Screens, and the Value of Waiting

As I mentioned in my last post, I upgraded to a smartphone this week. I’d considered doing this for quite some time but finally went ahead with it because I felt it would improve my communication with my busy teenagers considerably if I had better texting capabilities and could interact with greater mobility and ease. And this definitely is proving to be true. However, one thing I’ve really noticed during the past few days is that having a smartphone with me throughout the day kind of pulls my attention in that direction. The phone is a trap door into a world of possibilities – excessive possibilities – much as the painting, Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in His Picture Gallery in Brussels by David Teniers the Younger depicts. (You can click on the name of the painting to view it.) I noticed that little tug while waiting at a lengthy red light in town. And that little tug made me aware of the values and virtues of knowing how to wait.

Waiting – in line at a grocery store or at a traffic light or doctor’s office or any number of other places – is a wonderful opportunity to awaken from the trance of activity, to still the mind and tune in to our body, the rhythm of the breath, the environment. In his book, Peace is Every Step, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh suggests reframing the red traffic light “as a bell of mindfulness, reminding us to return to the present moment.” He continues: “The next time you see a red light, please smile at it and go back to your breathing. ‘Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile'” (p. 33).

When I was growing up, we didn’t have devices to occupy us during long car trips until Walkmans eventually came along. But even then, it was only audio and not the full audiovisual experience. We looked out the window at the scenery. We thought and imagined. We squabbled. We got bored. And I think boredom that comes from uncluttered moments and an uncluttered mind is a gift that our youngest generation is deprived of to some degree. I do hope that today’s children and teenagers will come to know the joy and freedom of unplugging and being present to the world around them, and to their own selves. Growing up in a world of screens – both stationary and handheld – I hope they will achieve a healthy balance between the virtual universe and the living, breathing universe. Connecting children with the wonder and mystery of the latter is important work. We need to help them find that balance.

With camera in hand, I find myself doing a great deal of waiting. I wait for clouds to cover the sun and provide better, more diffused lighting. I wait for people to move out of my viewfinder. I wait for a rainbow to appear when the sun bursts through rainclouds.

I wait for bright yellow goldfinches to return to wilted sunflowers so I can photograph one resting on the backside of a drooped seed head and eating the seeds.

The goldfinches are the same colors as the sunflowers that have popped up in abundance all over our yard this year. We didn’t plant a single sunflower; the birds did it for us. And now we have hundreds of sunflower bird feeders as a result. I have been wanting to get this particular shot for weeks but have yet to accomplish it. The trick is to wait quietly for quite some time so the skittish goldfinches don’t notice my presence and feel it’s safe to return to the sunflowers. And in the meantime as I sit, I listen to the crickets and grasshoppers, the grand symphony of late summer, the breeze rustling the leaves of the towering black locust trees lining our yard. When I tap into the environment like that, I feel connected with all the life around me and feel the life energy moving through me. I feel more fully alive.

I don’t want to fill up all the spaces by disappearing into a tunnel of information and chatter. Each moment offers a choice between authenticity and habit, presence and ego, expanding and contracting.

I will return to work in 16 days, and life will become much busier. There will be many professional responsibilities demanding my time and attention both within and outside of my contracted work day that go far beyond actual classroom instruction. But one thing I have really practiced this summer is being more fully present in the present moment. When you’re truly inhabiting the present moment, you realize that there is so much more than this little problem or situation demanding attention; you can access a spaciousness that channels fuller consciousness and wisdom. And that is why I am here now and not burdened by all the things I need to do at the beginning of the school year. I write in my planner when I want to set up my classroom, for instance, and then forget about it. It’ll get done. Put it on a list, and assign it to a certain day or week. No sense bringing anxiety related to what I need to do in the future into this moment. Because this moment is perfect as it is, if I am tuned to the right channel.

And even if I don’t end up getting a picture of a goldfinch on a sunflower, the time spent waiting was not wasted because it was a portal into All This.

And chances are that when the image I’m fixated on doesn’t manifest, I’ll find something else that I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t stopped and paused – something that seems to appear out of nowhere and simply fascinates me.

It’s truly wonderful when waiting facilitates awareness and being rather than habitual doing. Actually, it makes all the difference in the world!

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Art of Noticing

The Art of Noticing

“A shaft of gold light streams across my field of vision as I stare at the yellow pinewood floor this afternoon. Specks of dust are illuminated, whirling and sparkling, dancing. The chickadee’s song goes into my scalp and down the back of my spine like liquid notes turned into heat. The sun is warming one side of my face.

I am so at peace. There’s nothing more to need or want. Nowhere I’d rather be. The humming of my mind is at rest, like sediment that has settled to the bottom of a glass of water. It’s still, perfect. There’s a warm, deep, calm feeling permeating everywhere.

How could I have missed this pleasure for so many years?”

Citation: Dobisz, Jane (2008). One Hundred Days of Solitude: Losing Myself and Finding Grace on a Zen Retreat. Boston: Wisdom Publications.

Most summers, I go kayaking nearly every day and spend some of the time paddling hard and getting exercise and the rest of the time slowing down and noticing with intensity. At times, I look for something in particular, such as a great blue heron or bald eagle. I know what kind of tree the bald eagles favor and scan the branches and leaves ever so carefully. Other times, I just keep my senses alert and receptive, curious about what hidden treasures may be revealed.

Since my river time is greatly reduced this year, I’ve found a new sanctuary in a nearby park. I especially enjoy retreating to the labyrinth, which is surrounded by flowers of all shapes and colors. Every time I go there, I expect to notice something new – perhaps a new kind of flower blooming, a different kind of butterfly, or the sunlight passing through a flower at just the right angle.

The labyrinth is a magical place. After walking through the threshold, I focus my attention on my footsteps, making it a walking meditation. At the beginning, some thoughts enter my mind, and I try to let them pass like clouds in the sky above me. As I proceed along the winding path, I usually begin to notice sounds. Today it was birdsong and crickets. And I really connect with the flowers and flower energy, too. Whether I’m listening, seeing, or focusing on my footsteps, one thing I’m not doing is thinking. Thinking cannot occur when you’re listening, seeing, or noticing deeply. And that is why the labyrinth is such a magical place for me. I become absorbed in pure sensory awareness and am released from the tyranny of the chattering mind for a while. It is wonderful.

Blessings and beauty reveal themselves as I walk the labyrinth, and when I exit through the threshold, I’m never the same as I was when I entered. I feel more peaceful, serene, harmonious, aware.

Last weekend, it rained one morning, and once the rain stopped, I felt compelled to go to the park. When I got there, I was drawn to a patch of lilies and entered “the zone” in which my sense of sight was heightened. Eckhart Tolle would call it “entering the Now.” It is that place of no-thinking, just sensory awareness. I noticed a tiny green tree frog inside a yellow lily.

I immediately fell in love with this little frog who gazed at the center of the lily as if in awe. I imagined myself as only an inch long and realized what a fascinating sight the center of that flower must be!

Or the center of an echinacea flower, vibrantly colorful and otherworldly with countless tiny green spears and larger orange ones that gradate into red at the tips. How could bees and butterflies resist such a spectacular sight?

Walking on the peninsula trail between the river and the canal, I was struck by how beautiful leaves and berries looked with the sunlight shining through them.

Inside the labyrinth, I watched a giant swallowtail butterfly fluttering its wings at lightning speed as it touched down on one flower after another.

What I am describing is fascination. Fascination with the little things that tend to go unnoticed. And fascination with larger things that are often tarnished with opinion and mental commentary.

Today, I returned to the park and once again found a tree frog nestled inside a lily.

Here is a closer view:

That tiny frog looked so calm, almost as if s/he was meditating or praying. “Life is good,” thought the little green tree frog nestled protectively inside a glorious pastel universe!

Then I walked the labyrinth. There weren’t any new flowers calling to me, so I focused on my footsteps and on sounds. And then all of a sudden, I noticed the shadows cast by grass and small plants on the slate tiles of the labyrinth!

How exquisite! Each slate tile had become a piece of art as the sun and adjacent plants interacted with it! I have walked this labyrinth countless times. Why hadn’t I ever noticed this before?

Because there is always something new to notice.

This opens up a whole new creative world! And that’s what I love about not thinking: Possibilities emerge all of a sudden. It’s as if the guard at the gate is asleep, and creative ideas can slip right in.

Beauty truly is everywhere when the mental commentary subsides. And this is true outside of the labyrinth, as well.

Since my last post, the PCB dredging barges moved even closer, and one is currently anchored right in front of our house with four more right behind it. I have had months to come to terms with this, and since I can’t do anything about it, I figure I might as well be fascinated, just like I was with the tree frog in the lily and the butterfly on the echninacea.

The lights at night are actually quite beautiful reflected on the water, if you don’t think about why they’re there.

Fascination is a much more pleasurable manner of traveling through life than grumping and groaning or believing we know all there is to know about the world around us. Life takes on a whole new dimension when we allow people, places, things, living creatures, etc. to surprise us, in a good way!

“Attention is an alchemy
That turns dullness to beauty
And anxiety to ease.”
-Steve Taylor

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Under the July Full Moon

Sat on the dock last night without a camera because in this case words come closer to describing the sublime perfection of the moment…

Moonlit Symphony

Mint forest has been cut
back to make room
for lavender, the sweet
leaves plucked
for tomorrow’s use, and
Now the full moon
and not having anywhere to
Be in the morning
lure me to the dock, where
waves lap softly against
the shore, melodic tinkling
of liquid wind chimes,
middle voice.
Invisible breeze passes
through foliage turning trees
into soft rustling tambourine bass
as buzz of night-singing insects
become egg shakers gliding
along the top this gently
percussive evening.

The round moon swims slowly,
steadily through a sea
of illuminated clouds until it
rests, floating
in an ocean of dark blue,
luminous and full.

Reflections of moonlight
on the wavy surface below
shimmer like fireflies along with
thousands perhaps millions of real
fireflies flickering in the yard,
becoming stars in the sky:
So many kinds of light!

Glowing moon moves
perceptibly between the first
two of five parallel power lines;
since I first sat down, it has floated
twenty degrees along
its celestial arc, touches
the first finish line (like a number
on a clock) and continues on.
All is well in my world. All Is
Thank you thank You Thank You.

Heading back to the house,
make no mistake: That tree
is singing. I stop, feeling rooted
and still and Listen then
Ask: What am I?
The answer comes in tree-song;
I understand.

Listen, says the night,
to the moonlit symphony.
Come out and sit for a while
In deep blue, luminous
Perfection.

© Susan Meyer 2013

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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