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Category: Self-Care Practices

The Stories Inside Us

The Stories Inside Us

The holistic fair had been on my calendar for months. I made sure not to schedule anything else for the day and looked forward to attending the event.

Then the day came, and I just couldn’t motivate myself to go.

I wished I had some girlfriends to go with who shared my interest in all things mind-body-spirit. No doubt I do. But nobody came to mind. If I lived in Ithaca, I could send an email to my Hidden Treasure group and go as a group. It would be fun. That kind of companionship and sense of belonging to a community is what I long for.

I thought: Maybe I should push myself to go anyway. But when I checked in with myself, I kept hearing no – and argued with it. There was a gigantic should hanging in the air.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in recent years, it’s that in moments like this, the sooner I can get out of my head, the better. The dilemma would not be solved by thinking about it. Because there was emotional energy involved. Frustration, confusion, sadness. I was in an energy funk.

Feelings are signals that are part of our inner guidance system. The energy in my body had information to offer me. If I just thought about it, I’d cut myself off from a powerful source of wisdom and guidance. The emotional imbalance in my body was a signal to tune in and be present to what was happening right now in the moment without getting caught up in mental activities like stories I have about who or how I am or theories about why.

So I sat on my meditation cushion, made some inquiries, and paid attention.

An Alchemy of Presence

First I asked: What feelings am I experiencing now? (Sadness.)

Then I did a body scan to notice where I felt it the most. (In my heart area.) I placed my hands there and let them rest gently over my heart while I tuned in to the energy of that area.

What does the feeling look like? (I saw a hunk of clay.)

What color is it? (Pink.)

Then I saw golden hands kneading the clay that had the consistency of Silly Putty. The hands kept kneading and kneading and kneading. Whereas I was eager to find out what would become of the clay, the hands seemed very patient. They just kept kneading, and as they did, I allowed impatience and sadness to be with me. I didn’t push them away.

Then a female voice (that seemed to be attached to the hands) told me that I am putting too much pressure on myself. It’s okay not to feel like striving today. It’s okay not to have a clear vision yet of what I am in the process of creating. She asked me if I trust the hands that are kneading the clay. (Yes, I do.) Then I just stayed with the pleasant sensation of kneading. I was being asked to be patient and just allow it to be what it is right now.

The voice told me THERE IS NO RUSH. Don’t worry about what it is to become. It’s all in good hands.

At one point, a worried thought arose, and it was worked into the clay. It got absorbed and became part of the substance that was being kneaded. Anything could be added to the mix, and it would help to create this substance that eventually would be formed into something.

Everything belonged.

I remained present to the kneading, and eventually the hands stretched the clay until it was very thin and transparent, allowing the light to shine through. It became so thin that it turned into a bubble. Then there were lots of bubbles. The voice explained that there are so many possibilities.

One bubble caught my attention. It tumbled along the green grass, and when it came to rest, I sat inside it. There were lots of translucent colors on the surface of the bubble. I became curious: What color did I gravitate toward? (Blue.) I allowed the blue light to shine on me as I sat inside the bubble. The blue light charged me with a different kind of energy.

Then the blue light mixed with the pink of the clay and turned purple. The purple became butterflies. So many butterflies! The purple butterfly energy filled me. It fluttered inside my body and filled me with a sense of certainty. I would just know. It was a completely different energy.

Then I saw the face that was attached to the golden hands and the voice. The face was like the sun and blew purple butterfly kisses to me. The butterflies filled me, and then there was a golden bridge that connected me with this higher being. The butterflies inside me pulled me in the direction of the golden hands and face. It was my Higher Self beckoning me.

After about 20 minutes of witnessing the story that unfolded in my heart chakra, it felt complete. The energy of sadness and confusion had shifted into peace, acceptance, and contentment. I felt calm and whole. When I returned to meditating, I experienced the sensation of a waterfall of light flowing down into my head and through my body. My energy pathways felt clear.

The confused, conflicted energy in my body was a signal that wisdom or guidance was trying to come through. It was a message of patience and not feeling like I have to strive today. Instead of going to a crowded convention center, I walked in the sunshine and fresh air, and that felt like exactly what I needed.

Dear Anxiety

I’ve been no stranger to anxiety. It’s taken the form of worry, white coat hypertension in medical settings (traced back to early experiences), performance anxiety, and social anxiety. For a long time, my approach was to try to make the anxiety go away. I couldn’t accept it. It felt like a weakness or defect. If I was “spiritual” enough, I wouldn’t feel anxious. At least that’s what I told myself. 

But trying to make it go away didn’t work. I tried taking deep breaths to get rid of the anxiety. That tended not to work, either. I was still stuck in my head.

This power struggle with my body and my attempts to force it into submission cut me off from its tremendous wisdom. Recommitting to mindfulness meditation practice has helped me to cultivate a different relationship with my body characterized by greater acceptance and less rejection. Hallelujah!

Recently, I discovered “The Felt Sense Poem” (author unknown) written in the voice of the symptoms and conditions that arise from having a body (meaning that I would read it as Anxiety speaking to me). It describes eloquently a different kind of relationship we can have with our bodies, by listening, allowing, and being present rather than indulging in our storylines and beliefs. Here are some excerpts:

I am your friend, not your enemy. I have no desire to bring pain and suffering into your life.
I am simply tugging at your sleeve, too long immune to gentle nudges.
I desire for you to allow me to speak to you in a way that enlivens your higher instincts for self-care.
My charge is to energize you to listen to me with the sensitive ear and heart
of a mother attending to her precious baby.

Let me be one of the harbingers that lead you to the mysterious core of your being
where insight and wisdom are naturally available when called upon with a sincere heart.

Not your typical way of relating to physical or mental afflictions, huh? That’s what I’m talking about.

All the Incredible Stories

There are stories living in our body. Illuminating, healing stories. When I notice emotional energy in my body, I can’t wait to tune in to see what story will unfold. What it wants to tell me.

There was the time when a wild boar leaped out of my solar plexus chakra and ran into the woods. It was an energy that had been living in me for quite some time, and I felt so light and free when it left!

Another time, a mermaid swam around underwater and knew that the structures that seemed separate above the surface were connected underwater like the root systems of trees. When she came above the water embodying this understanding, her tears created healing rainbows.

There was the time when I felt anxious about a doctor’s appointment and saw water in the ocean pushing against a wall that kept me safe from all the water pressure. This story played out in my heart chakra. When I decided to allow the wall to dissolve, I discovered there was a magic umbrella I could hold onto that allowed me to hover over the water until it became calm. Then I enjoyed the sensation of floating on my back on the immense sea, feeling connected with it, part of it. I remembered how enjoyable it was for me to float on my back when I was young, before I became so self-conscious about my body. This was very different from the pressure of keeping that wall in place! I felt the difference and called on that imagery to relax my body when it tensed up before my appointment. The image carried the energy of safety. It was like a portal into calm.

There was the seriously EPIC story that played out in my sacral chakra. The story of the gleaming white Temple of Ascension in which trauma was transformed into transcendence through the presence of unconditional love and light from many angelic beings gathered around me. I can tap into the powerful, healing images and feelings of that story whenever I need to. It is immensely healing, especially when shame arises.

When I felt upset and experienced a desire to control and possess, there was the story in my heart chakra of a large monkey inside a cage. The monkey didn’t want to be in the cage and stomped his feet. Eventually, the monkey shrunk until it was small enough to slip between the bars and out of the cage. Then it regained its normal size and started to spin the cage like a top. It was a golden top spinning gold light. It spun faster, and it was all golden light. Eventually the monkey dissolved, and only the spinning, golden light remained. And my energy had shifted into peace and equanimity.

When I felt very introverted before a Hidden Treasure group retreat weekend began, there was a story in my throat chakra of a bird-like creature almost like a bat with its wings folded around itself, but the wings were blankets. When I rested my hands on my throat area, the shining sun warmed the little creature, and its blanket wings unfolded and became prayer flags. Then the little creature dissolved and became the wind. My energy had shifted from introversion to being ready to connect with my classmates.

And there was the time I felt negativity toward someone whose picture came up in my social media feed. This was another heart story, of a gigantic, black, iron teardrop. As I felt great sadness, the teardrop sweated. I kept my hands on my heart chakra and felt the warmth and noticed the image change. It started to become more greenish-blue and transparent. I noticed hands inside the teardrop, reaching outward. Then the greenish-blue became the ocean. The iron teardrop had dissolved and become the ocean. Then the hands put the sun into the sky. The sun was the head, and the hands were part of a gigantic, luminous body that contained the ocean and everything in it. There was nothing this luminous energy would exclude. This luminous, inclusive being was so much bigger than anything in this world and could embrace it all.

When this story ended, I felt Universal Love toward the person and no more negativity. If I find myself going back into that reaction, I can recall that luminous image at the end of the story and experience it again. It’s more effective than working with my thoughts and self-talk because that image carries healing energy that I can take refuge in.

Out of Our Head and Into the Present

Some of our thoughts are like balloons or bubbles that just float away or dissolve on their own or when they are observed. They’re not emotionally charged. Others carry an emotional charge that’s anchored in the body.

That’s where our energy stories reside. We can dissolve the energy blocks and get the energy flowing by tapping into those stories and images and bringing the energy of unconditional love to those areas. Like a mother attending to her precious baby. If you can become aware of where you feel the energy in your body, your witnessing presence can transmute uncomfortable sensations into healing wisdom.

This is different from going into our heads to try to dominate and fix the problem. Being present to energy sensations in the body is a more receptive response of connection, empathy, and care. For balance, we need both, along with an awareness of when to use them. 

When we go straight to the action step and employ our thinking minds to manage an emotional uprising, the suppressed feelings might get lodged in our bodies, leaving the wisdom untapped and undermining true resolution. This approach only addresses part of the issue. In my opening example, my thoughts revealed a longing for girlfriends I can do things with. But that was only part of the solution. The energy work offered another kind of wisdom. 

Instead of going straight to problem-solving, we can notice where the energy is in our body and be present to it. That might mean resting your hands on that spot with loving presence, simply being aware of the energy (and the act of noticing helps it to shift), or seeing if there are more visuals to work with, or even a story unfolding.

In the beginning, and especially when there is trauma involved, it’s good to have a guide for this kind of work. My spiritual director, Alice, has guided me through the process a number of times, and I’ve witnessed her guiding others during our Hidden Treasure meetings. I had a psychotherapist who used this approach, too. Eventually, I started remembering to take myself through the process when emotional stuff came up.

Experimenting with this approach has been really helpful. It gets me unstuck. It was always available, but I didn’t realize it because I was trapped in my head, convinced thinking was the answer. I’ve learned there are limitations to taking an intellectualized, rational approach and remaining in our stories, explanations, and theories about how we are and why. Especially when feelings are involved.

There is another way to work with emotions that arise, by paying attention to what is going on right now and the fresh content that is emerging. At such times, the sooner we can get out of our heads and into the present moment, the better!


© 2019 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, Reiki practitioner, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Loving Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It

Loving Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It

In the introduction to her book, Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach tells the story of a woman who was unconscious on her deathbed. Her daughter sat next to her for many hours saying kind and loving words to her. Early one morning, the woman suddenly opened her eyes, looked intently at her daughter, and whispered, “All my life I thought something was wrong with me.” Then she shook her head slightly as if to say, “What a waste,” closed her eyes, went back into a coma, and died later that day.

This story brought tears to my eyes. It resonated. Because I don’t want to get to the end of my life and realize it could have been so much more if only I hadn’t held back so much, believing I needed to improve myself before what I had to offer was worth sharing.

Self-Love is Real Love

This week, our culture celebrates love. Romantic love is but a drop in the bucket. There are so many other forms of love, and self-love is one of them. Let’s not forget to include ourselves in our circle of love! Because we still can, and it makes a great difference in our quality of life and the lives of those closest to us.

Nobody is perfect. We’re not supposed to be. We’re not supposed to be like anyone else, either, so forget about making any comparisons.

Can you love yourself exactly as you are and have tenderness for ALL parts of yourself, including everything you’ve done or not done? Doing that pulls you out of the trance of unworthiness and the limiting beliefs you have about yourself. Loving yourself like that transforms your life and allows you to love others better.

If you think it sounds silly, naive, or selfish, then you don’t understand what I’m saying. I’ll use the language of dreams to paint a clearer picture.

“We’re Taking Away the Supports”

A few months ago, I dreamed I was at a large retreat to kick off the mindfulness meditation teacher program I’m taking with Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield. My friend showed me her sleeping accommodations, which felt like the inside of an airplane with no room to move around, and so close to others! I didn’t know what my dorm looked like, but I couldn’t handle being in such close quarters!

Next, I was in a large auditorium not paying attention to the presentation because I craved chocolate. I’d seen a bowl of it earlier, but it had since been taken away.

Then I stood in a doorway at the back of another auditorium. Others stood next to me, and I felt a little “less than”, lacking in some way. Tara Brach came up behind me and whispered in my ear: We are taking away the supports. I didn’t know exactly what she meant but trusted her.

When we came out of that space, we saw that all around the circular auditorium we’d been in, the event organizers had set up cozy spaces for pairs to be together, kind of like tents without roofs. For each pair, there was a small fireplace, two cushions on the floor, and an elegant pitcher of water with two glasses. We were to go directly to our space-for-two. I felt anxious about being up close and personal with someone when I was tired from traveling and hadn’t had an opportunity to touch up my appearance. It was nighttime, and I wanted to retreat to my room and get some sleep.

Over the loudspeaker, a voice asked us to consider the most cherished possessions we hold on to. It wasn’t referring to physical objects, but the excuses we go to in our minds that hinder us from engaging or being more fully ourselves. The things we think we need in order to be okay. This blew my mind, and I started to cry. I wondered: Is this program too much for me? They were going to take us to the depths of our excuses so we could let go of them and be more present. Really present.

They referred to our excuses as possessions that are separate from us. Our deepest, most cherished supports. These would all be exposed, and we’d learn we don’t need them after all. Who would you be without your most cherished beliefs about what you can’t do or who you need to be around others to be accepted? These beliefs are possessions. They are not you. You do not need them to survive.

I woke up from the dream and considered: What do I feel self-conscious about that compels me to keep a certain distance from others? Why does it take so much energy to be around people? (And does it really, or is it more about having boundaries?) What underlies my food cravings? What uncomfortable feelings do they mitigate? What flaws do I feel I need to conceal to be more attractive to others? How do all these things keep me from being my True Self?

This dream showed me clearly what my self-limiting crutches are. It spelled out all the things I feel are wrong with me and unacceptable to others and how I try to hide them and soothe the discomfort. It revealed lots of opportunities for growth.

What Will I Say?

A few nights ago, I dreamed I was in the audience in another auditorium. It was an event for the hospice house in which my mother passed away. When the speaker finished talking, she came up to me and whispered that I was next. That’s when I remembered I’d agreed to be a speaker. But I hadn’t prepared anything to read! I’d forgotten about it entirely! I began to panic.

Then I remembered that I did a trust fall during our last Hidden Treasure weekend, and it reprogrammed me at a cellular level. I’m stronger than I think I am. Maybe I didn’t need notes and could just speak from my heart. Well, I was going to have to do that because I had no notes! I tried to come up with a general idea or a few points I could jot down, but nothing was coming to me.

There were lots of people mulling about. I wanted to use the bathroom and touch up my hair and makeup. All the bathroom stalls were in use, and I didn’t have a chance to look in the mirror because it was so crowded. But deep down I knew it would be better to have a quiet moment alone to get centered. Inspiration was more likely to arise from quietude than in a crowded bathroom or lobby.

When I walked out of the bathroom, the lights were turned down, and the we’re-waiting-for-you music was playing. As I made my way through the backstage area, my mom walked towards me looking for the piano so she could wheel it on stage. My heart lurched because I wasn’t there to play piano! I told her that, and she said the piano was for somebody else. She knew I was there to give a talk and not play piano. Whew!! I felt relieved because I wouldn’t have to play in front of the audience (which would have been much more stressful than giving a talk) and because my mom wasn’t pressuring me to perform to make her happy. She understood that’s not what I’m here for.

Then I stepped on stage, and all of a sudden, I knew what to say. I’d talk about how I found a new relationship with my mom after she died, and sharing my stories would offer hope to people who were bereaved. My talk would be a message of hope that would ease people’s suffering. And I didn’t know that until the moment before I started speaking, and after my mom relieved me of any pressure to play piano. Then I was able to let something arise from deep in my heart that could help others. It was the difference between performing and being real. Impressing vs. connecting.

I didn’t need to look a certain way to be worthy of being seen. I didn’t need to impress anyone. It wasn’t about my hair, makeup, or clothes. I didn’t need to feel guilty for letting my mother (and myself) down for not following through with piano earlier in life. Those beliefs only get in the way of being my True Self and set the stage for end-of-life regrets, like the woman in Tara’s story.

Both dreams revealed the importance of being present to others without worrying about how I look. The purpose of my life is not to impress or please anyone, even though that’s how I was conditioned. It’s about connecting with people heart-to-heart with the intention of easing their pain. 

In waking life, it’s time to cut through the limiting beliefs the dreams spelled out so clearly so I can live more fully, shine brighter, and love better. It begins with loving, forgiving, and accepting myself like my life depends on it. Because it does. And nobody else can do it for me. Or for you. It’s inner work we can only do ourselves. In the poet Rumi’s words:

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

How about you? What self-limiting beliefs and habits are holding you back? How can you love yourself into the radiant fullness of who you are and shine, shine, shine?


© 2019 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, Reiki practitioner, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Resting in Satisfaction

Resting in Satisfaction

Happy New Year!

Scrolling through my social media feed last night, I got the distinct impression that 2018 was a very difficult year for many in my network. I know the feeling (been there, done that!), although 2018 was quite the opposite for me. As I drove home from work last night, it occurred to me that 2018 might have been the best year of my life thus far. I took a mental inventory of every year of my adult life and affirmed that it was. My intention for the New Year is to keep that positive momentum going, which is quite different from all the years I was grateful for the fresh, new beginning the New Year offered.

If 2018 was a real dud (or worse) for you, then I wish you a much better 2019.

New Year, New Material

I woke up this morning from a dream that revealed a couple of opportunities for growth this year. I also experienced some feelings that surprised me last night and showed me there’s opportunity for growth there, too. Then there’s my very conscious intention to feel more physically fit and comfortable in my body. In other words, I have some material to work with – which is always the case. And that is actually quite exciting.

And Old Material, Too

Feeling self-conscious about my body is really, really old stuff that has kept me from engaging more with the world. It even kept me from agreeing to be my sister’s matron of honor when she got married. (Yeah, it was that bad.) And I’ve always done my best to avoid any dancing scenarios – although I did teach aerobics many years ago. But now I feel ready to do something about this ridiculousness.

I know when body shame became activated. It was when I was ten or eleven years old, and my mom sat me down and had a little talk with me about my weight. At the time, I was an early developer going through a “filling out” stage. Until that day, I hadn’t given much thought to how I looked. But that talk rocked my world and made me feel there was something really wrong with me. I became fixated on my appearance and felt I needed to look good in order to be loved.

I never told my mom how serious an effect that talk had on me and on our relationship. She never meant to hurt me. She worked as a flight attendant recruiter, and in that world physical appearance was of the utmost importance. And I was a sensitive kid.

I’ve done some inner child work in which I imagined my current self as a loving presence in the room during that talk and assured my fifth-grade self that she was beautiful and loveable just the way she was. That was part of the healing. Now I mostly work with feelings as they arise and constrict the present moment, and send love and compassion to both my mom and my younger self.

Back to the Gym

Last winter, I walked outdoors in all kinds of weather conditions, and it was great to experience the fresh air and nature connection. However, it didn’t do much for me physically and actually left me feeling more out of shape than I’d ever felt in my life. When we had a snowstorm in November, I decided I wasn’t going to spend a long winter exercising outdoors (though I do hope for a good season of snowshoeing) and reactivated my gym membership. I’ve been working out almost every day for the past six weeks or so, and it feels awesome.

Every day, I imagine how great it will feel when I finish my workout, and that feeling motivates me to get to the gym. Focusing on positive feelings is key.

I was inspired by a few friends who’d recently committed to fitness and experienced results that included losing weight, having more energy, and feeling better emotionally. Still, I held off on reactivating my gym membership because the thought of exercising indoors around other people with lots of television screens mounted from the ceiling was entirely demotivating.

But I found a way to make it work. I have a subscription to Gaia and spend my time on the cardio machines absorbed in enlightening, inspirational content. The rest of the world melts away when I’m in my little cardio-Gaia cocoon.

So that is going well and has momentum. I do it because it feels great, and I also anticipate how I will feel even better months from now – because that’s what happened with my meditation practice.

Last spring, I recommitted to a daily habit of meditation, and after more than seven months, my practice is solid. It’s not something I feel obligated to do. There’s no dogma attached to it. I do it because it makes such a positive difference in the way I feel, and I want to feel that way more. I expect to experience the same kind of positive effects with exercise. Already, it’s something I’m motivated to do because it feels so good, instead of being something I “have to” do. It’s a subtle yet important difference.

Mindful Meals

The other part of the physical fitness equation, of course, is food intake. I have a pretty healthy diet already but can improve in terms of quantity. There’s a powerful reference experience for this, too, that gives me hope.

The weeklong vipassana meditation retreat I went on last spring and have referenced frequently (because it was so transformative!) involved sitting meditation, walking meditation, dharma talks, and EATING MEDITATION every waking moment. More than 100 of us gathered in the dining hall three times a day for completely silent meals. No eye contact or words spoken. Just mindful eating. Contemplation of what was on our plate and the sensations of tasting, chewing, swallowing, craving, fullness, etc.

During those meals, my plate was like a mandala. A complete universe. I didn’t think about second helpings, and while chewing a forkful of food, it even felt too complicated to think about the next bite or to arrange the food on my plate while still chewing. Instead, I was mindful of the taste and physical sensations and didn’t pick up my fork until I was ready for the next bite.

I appreciated the sensation of comfortable fullness and noticed the pull between that lovely satisfaction and craving more. Resting in satisfaction and choosing to stay with that instead of longing for more is what I remember most about mindful meals at the retreat center. When the retreat was over, I set an intention to eat mindfully one meal a day. But I didn’t follow through on that. Life got in the way, and meals were often rushed. Stress-eating happened.

When I got home from the gym today, I had a homemade buddha bowl for lunch and became aware of thinking about what I’d have after finishing the bowl. Then I remembered my retreat experience and tried to be present to the sensation of enoughness. And it worked. I didn’t have the rice cake with peanut butter afterwards. Didn’t give it any attention. Instead, I lingered in satisfaction. It was a sprawling, spacious sensation, a sense of fullness. It felt really good. Just like a good workout or meditation session.

So mindful eating is a new frontier I want to focus my attention on. Not in a dogmatic way. No shoulds. Better to remember the delicious sensation of one-plate satisfaction from the vipassana retreat and my intention to bring that awareness into my daily life because it feels so good, in itself. Add another healthy habit to my life as a gesture of self-love and lovingkindness, rather than focus on dissatisfaction.

A Path of Kindfulness

We all have our areas for improvement, but what a difference it makes to set intentions based on self-compassion rather than on self-loathing. Focusing on how we want to feel rather than on a current, unsatisfactory condition that brings us down. Imagine it already so, as Adriene Mishler from Yoga with Adriene encouraged in her kickoff email for Dedicate, a 30-day yoga journey to start the New Year that I’m doing for the fourth year in a row. 2018 was my best year yet because I learned the value of focusing on the positive and not giving attention to negative, disempowering thought patterns.

We have a choice about where we put our attention. Choosing presence and satisfaction over craving is a lovely experiment. When you experience the loveliness of it, it can motivate you to do it more. To make it a habit for all the right reasons. 

In addition to being aware of satisfaction and craving through mindful eating, you also can be mindful of your thoughts and realize when self-consciousness about body image creeps in and let it just pass without clinging. Then your thoughts about your body become an opportunity for awakening and practicing lovingkindness, tenderness, and acceptance. Through kindfulness, you can appreciate and accept your body now, even as you envision feeling even better about it in the future.

Gratitude is another friend when you’re working with body shame. It is a blessing to have a body that is healthy and not in pain. So many people in this world would give anything to have a healthy, pain-free body. Being able to exercise is a blessing. So is having food to eat.

I absolutely did not intend to write today about the cliché New Year’s topics of diet and exercise. I didn’t intend to write at all. But as I sat in satisfaction after finishing the last, nourishing bite of my buddha bowl, it’s what arose. (I love the inspiration that comes from Presence, and writing was more satisfying than more food would have been.)


© 2019 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, Reiki practitioner, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Top Ten Relaxation Tools

Top Ten Relaxation Tools

Is it me, or have you also noticed that people seem a little more stressed than usual lately? Whether it’s in response to world and national news, personal issues, transition, loss, etc., I’ve been picking up on a lot of tension in the air in recent months. It feels like a good time to share my favorite relaxation resources.

I’m no stranger to anxiety. Throughout my life, I’ve come to realize the importance of managing my stress level. It’s really not so much about what’s going on around you as it is your response to it. That being said, there are situations I’ve learned I need to avoid. For instance, fast-paced, busy, high-stress jobs are not for me. I’m not able to be my best self in that kind of environment or when I’m working too much.

Some stressors are within our power to control. We can walk away from them or change the way we look at them. However, others are stickier, and that’s what we need our self-care toolbox for. Here are some relaxation tools I swear by.

Meditation Apps

My two favorite meditation apps are Insight Timer and Calm. To describe each app would be a blog post of its own, so I won’t attempt to do that. (You can click on the links to learn more.) Instead, I’ll touch upon what I’ve found most helpful.

I mostly use Insight Timer, which is a free app. It offers more than 12,000 guided meditations in many different categories and also has a timer for unguided practice. If you want to relieve anxiety, reduce stress, sleep better, manage emotions, etc. you can find plenty of guided meditations for these concerns and more! I primarily use the timer – which can be customized with different bell and ambient sounds. However, if you don’t have an established meditation practice, I recommend trying some guided meditations for relaxation.

Calm is a paid app ($60/year), but some institutions (such as Cornell University) offer free memberships to their employees/students. If you are entitled to a free membership, lucky you! It’s definitely worth checking out! But there’s also a scaled-down, free version that has some worthwhile features.

For example, I love the Breathe Bubble that guides you to breathe slowly and deeply for relaxation. Ever since I was a child, I’ve experienced anxiety in doctors’ offices, and the Breathe Bubble helps me to calm down in that situation and whenever I’m feeling upset or frazzled. I also enjoy the Sleep Stories from time to time, especially one about lavender fields in Provence that I listen to while diffusing lavender at bedtime. The sleep stories are relaxing and are like having a bedtime story read to you. Sometimes I’m in the mood for that, and I rarely make it to the end of the story before falling asleep. Actually, I don’t know if I’ve ever made it to the end!

Yoga Nidra

Yoga nidra, or “yogic sleep”, is a form of guided meditation that promotes conscious, deep relaxation and restores your mind, body, and spirit. You do it while lying comfortably on your back. You never need to worry about doing it “wrong” because there’s no way to do it wrong, even if you fall asleep. It can be done from 10 minutes to an hour or longer, depending on the version you choose.

Yoga nidra helps me to fall back asleep if I wake up in the middle of the night or too early in the morning with a busy mind. It really knocks me out! Even if I make it to the end of the meditation before falling asleep, I’m in such a relaxed state by then that sleep will come soon. When I practice yoga nidra, it feels like I sleep much more deeply. 

There are several stages of yoga nidra meditation, including:

  • Moving awareness from the physical body inward
  • Sankalpa: A carefully chosen, positive intention or affirmation stated in the present tense
  • Rotating consciousness through the entire body (body scan)
  • Awareness of the breath, to promote relaxation and concentration
  • Experiencing opposites (i.e. cold/hot, heavy/light)
  • Visualization 
  • Revisiting your sankalpa/intention during deep relaxation
  • Bringing your mind back gradually from psychic sleep to waking state (unless you wish to fall asleep)

A few years ago, I downloaded Julie Rader’s 45-minute version of yoga nidra from iTunes and got a lot of mileage from it. It’s a good one! However, once when I was traveling and didn’t have it easily accessible, I searched for “yoga nidra” on Insight Timer and discovered a 29-minute version (“Yoga Nidra for Sleep & Rest” from The Stillpoint) that is my current go-to yoga nidra meditation. It works like a charm!

Yoga nidra doesn’t have to be done at bedtime. It can be done any time of day to promote deep relaxation. Here is a brief article to learn more.

Weighted Blanket

I love love love my weighted blanket! What’s a weighted blanket, you ask? It’s a blanket that’s filled with pockets of non-toxic poly or glass pellets to weigh it down and feels like a big, full-body hug. You know how infants are soothed by being swaddled? It’s like that. In many people, deep pressure touch causes the brain to release neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which have a calming effect. Weighted blankets can be useful for those who experience anxiety, stress, and insomnia, as well as sensory integration disorder, Asperger’s, ADHD, and Rett Syndrome.

Anyone who has tried my blanket has been instantly soothed. My daughter used it just the other day and said it felt like the blanket was hugging her! The sensation is like covering yourself with a blanket of calm. I also use it to enhance relaxation when working with Reiki clients.

I ordered my weighted blanket from Magic Weighted Blanket. Weighted blankets aren’t inexpensive but are therapeutically invaluable, in my opinion. Websites that sell weighted blankets can help you to figure out how much weight is best for you. 

Eye Pillow

Similar to the idea of a weighted blanket is a yoga eye pillow. This is a pillow that’s just large enough to fit over your eyes and usually is filled with flax seeds and perhaps a calming herb like lavender. The eye pillow puts light pressure on your eyeballs and lowers heart rate via the oculocardiac reflex and also stimulates the vegas nerve. These responses can result in deep relaxation and a sense of grounding. 

The combination of yoga nidra (or relaxing music), lavender essential oil, my weighted blanket, and my eye pillow is the ultimate relaxation! 

Eye pillows are also lovely during Reiki treatments. It’s really nice to have one with a cover or zipper that allows you to remove the filling for laundering.

Calming Fragrances

I enjoy using essential oils for relaxation. My favorite ways to use them include: diffusing, putting a few drops in a bath along with 2 cups of Epsom salt, putting a drop on my yoga mat, and even just sniffing the opened bottle.

Lavender is my go-to essential oil for sleep and relaxation. I love sandalwood, too, either by itself or blended with orange essential oil. They are my favorites! But what works for one person might not work for another, and there are sooooo many possibilities!

Tara Healing Incense, a traditional Tibetan medicine for relieving stress, tension, and depression, is my favorite incense. I’ve used it for many years. Handmade by Tibetan refugees living in Dharamsala, India, it’s an earthy, smokey, NOT perfumy fragrance composed of 30 pure and natural herbs. It’s available in most stores that sell incense and meditation supplies. 

White Noise App

I’m someone who needs white noise in the background to fall asleep, especially with all the traffic that goes by our house and over the bridge. In the summer, a fan will do nicely, and I also have a white noise machine. However, the White Noise app (from TM Soft) has oh, so many wonderful choices. The sounds are so soothing and create a peaceful atmosphere during the day, not just at night.

My favorite sleep sounds are brown noise (much gentler than white noise) and stream water flowing. Other relaxing choices include: theta waves, zen spa music, waterfalls, ocean, peaceful lake, camping in the rain, campfire, and probably hundreds more. I also like to use this app to facilitate a peaceful environment and to drown out sounds from activities going on in another room so I can focus.

Float Therapy

In contrast to a weighted blanket, a float tank provides a sensation of weightlessness and supreme relaxation that you really can’t experience any other way. You’re like a cork floating and don’t have to do anything at all to stay afloat and therefore can completely relax your entire body. Sometimes referred to as a sensory deprivation tank, it’s a chamber that usually measures around 8′ x 4′ and is filled with about 10″ of water that is so heavily concentrated with Epsom salts that you float effortlessly. I’ve written previously about float tanks, so I won’t reinvent the wheel here! You can click the links to read my articles on Flotation Restoration, Part One and Part Two. 

Restorative Yoga

There are many different forms of yoga. Restorative yoga is a particularly meditative form that adopts a very slow pace and deep breathing that triggers the parasympathetic nervous system. Restorative poses are held for a long time to allow your body and mind to relax deeply. You might even hold a pose for 10 minutes, breathing slowly and deeply. It’s very different from the more active, athletic forms of yoga!

I appreciate the restorative yoga video collection on Gaia when I have a subscription. There are also plenty of videos on YouTube to choose from. Restorative yoga sequences often require a number of props (blankets, bolsters, blocks) that allow you to really release into a pose. However, there are also some poses that only require blankets, such as Legs Up the Wall, for which instructions are given in this article. Of course, yoga studios also offer restorative classes.

It might go without saying, but if you do restorative yoga on your own, a peaceful atmosphere free from interruptions and distractions is essential. You need to be able to relax completely. Make sure you gather whatever props you’ll need ahead of time so they’ll be within reach.

This page on Yoga Journal offers a nice introduction to restorative yoga, with some useful links.

Imagination Vacation

I am enamored with filmmaker, Louie Schwartzberg’s work. He is a pioneer in the field of visual healing. He films nature in extraordinary ways, speeding up processes that are too slow to observe (such as time-lapse flowers) and slowing down what’s too fast for us to see (such as the movement of hummingbirds and dragonflies). His films “bring a sense of natural wonder, healing serenity, restoration and well-being” to your environment. I have all three of his DVDs, and there are also lots of downloads featuring diverse landscapes and life forms all around the world. His “moving art” facilitates relaxation and awe and transports you to the beautiful places he’s filmed. He even has some DVDs you can watch on Netflix. Once, I watched Louie’s videos of time-lapse flowers on my phone during an uncomfortable medical procedure, and the doctor agreed that it really worked for me. 

I also enjoy videos of ocean waves. I own a few on DVD, but there are also lots of free videos on YouTube. Ocean waves videos create such a relaxing environment. Sometimes I’ll burn an ocean-scented candle to make it even more of a sensory-immersive experience. I’ve even reclined on the floor in front of the screen with my feet in a basin of water or sand and a fan blowing for an even more complete experience! But even just sitting and doing nothing other than watching a nature video of ocean waves, fish swimming around underwater, etc. without any props can slow your breathing and heart rate. I call it taking an imagination vacation, and whenever I remember to do it, I’m glad that I did and promise myself I’ll do it more often.

When I taught kindergarten, I’d put these kinds of videos on the SMART Board for quiet interludes during the day, to promote calm. There’s nothing like nature to bring you back into harmony and balance!

Crystal Connection

A few summers ago, I was at a Mindfulness in Education conference. Meditation teacher, Jack Kornfield, led us through a guided meditation in which we received a special gift from a spiritual being. In the meditation, H.H. the Dalai Lama give me a heart-shaped rose quartz heart, and right after the session was done, I went to the retreat center shop and bought one. It has been quite literally a relaxation touchstone for me ever since.

When I hold the crystal heart in my hand, it takes on my body heat and becomes quite warm. For some reason, I find that very soothing! It’s so pleasurable to touch the warm crystal to my face. I’ll sometimes even sleep with it in my hand or under my pillow. It gives off calming energy. 

If I notice tension in my body, I often will place that or another crystal on the area that feels imbalanced. For me, that’s usually just below my rib cage. I also use crystals in my Reiki practice, placing them on certain areas of the body as I feel guided.

Use your intuition to select a crystal that feels right for you. If you have more than one, use your intuition to select which one to use at any given time. There are lots of websites that sell crystals, but I recommend going to a brick-and-mortar shop if you can get to one, so you can feel which crystals you’re most drawn to.

Energy Muse has some useful information about selecting and working with crystals, to get you started. Check out their blog for some handy guides, articles, and videos if you’d like to learn more.

Those are ten of my top twelve choices in my relaxation toolbox. I hope you or someone you know will find them useful! My two other favorites are mindfulness meditation and Reiki. I write frequently about mindfulness in one form or another and intend to write more about mindfulness meditation and Reiki in the future. In the meantime, if you would like personal instruction/coaching in mindfulness or a Reiki healing session, please contact me. I do both!


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

The Morning Thought Game

The Morning Thought Game

I’ve been playing a little game with myself every morning. It’s a thought game, and the object is to select a thought to begin the day as you would select an outfit from your closet. A thought that is empowering, hopeful, positive – perhaps one of appreciation or gratitude. A thought that makes you feel good and starts the day with positive momentum.

If the thought you wake up thinking about isn’t like that – if it is disempowering, anxiety-provoking, or doesn’t make you feel good – you can play the game, too. Notice how the thought feels, and put the disempowering thought away, as you would put clothes back into your closet when they don’t feel quite right. Then select a different one.

Is the sun shining this morning? Do you hear birds singing? Does it feel like spring is in the air? Is your bed nice and comfortable? You could start right there.

You could even have a positive affirmation or inspirational quote near your bed that you see when you wake up in case you need a go-to good thought, like a favorite, comfortable outfit you can rely on to feel good in. I have a few affirmations surrounding my bed. There are two on the door, and on each side of the bed there is a candle with a positive affirmation wrapped around it. The messages placed around my bed are very intentional.

What kind of thought doesn’t work in this game? Any thought that is somehow constricting or binding or restricts your breathing, preventing you from getting a nice, deep, full breath. Any thought that doesn’t feel right, doesn’t make you feel like who you want to be, or makes you feel self-conscious. Any thought that doesn’t support your sense of who you are at your best and who you are becoming. Thoughts that are unflattering and don’t make you feel beautiful and worthy. Thoughts that might work for others but don’t feel right for you perhaps because they are not compatible with your energy or vibration (kind of like how different colors work better for different people).

Choosing your thoughts in the morning really is so much like deciding what you want to wear. You could even set a thought out the night before so you don’t have to think about it in the morning. It’s just there. You can plant a thought in your mind before you fall asleep – something you feel grateful for, perhaps. That’s why writing in my gratitude journal is the last thing I do before getting into bed at night. You could even leave a note to yourself next to your bed to remind you of a positive, empowering thought to think when you wake up.

Consider how you might arrange your bedroom so it’s a pleasurable experience to wake up in it. This includes the artwork on the walls, the color of the walls, having a totally clutter-free bedroom, nice pillows, and a comfortable mattress. The first thing you see when you wake up can set the tone for the day, so consider: If it were a metaphor, what might it represent? If it’s something with a negative association, can you move the object or change the way you see it so it has a more positive meaning?

If you keep your phone near your bed, perhaps because you use it as an alarm, you could put it in airplane mode so you’re not inundated by emails or social media notifications when you first wake up. Give yourself some time to check in with yourself first and generate friendly thoughts so your first thoughts of the day are on your terms!

I love my bed so much that my go-to thought is how grateful I am to have such a comfortable bed. If I find myself thinking a negative or otherwise disempowering thought when I wake up, I can start thinking about how comfortable I am in my bed and how appreciative I am to have it. It’s like taking an outfit out of the closet and realizing it’s not the one you really want, then putting it back and taking out one that feels like yessss!

Playing this game can become a morning habit. When you tune in to the gratitude or feel-good channel, it sets in motion a flow of gratitude and good feelings. And when you can get a wave of positive thoughts and feelings going in the morning, it’s a wonderful way to start the day that can give you some immunity against negativity. See how long you can ride that wave!

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

Tea Time Tune-up

Tea Time Tune-up

Do you have a favorite self-care ritual that uplifts your energy and improves the quality of your day? For me, that would be my tea meditation. I’ve written about it before, but it has such a positive effect and has evolved over time, so I’m writing about it again. I don’t do it every day. There are even times when I skip an entire week. But when I do it, everything about it feels great. 

I find that doing tea meditation works best in the morning because it sets a tone for the day and sets a stream of positive momentum in motion. If I wake up feeling down or off, doing tea meditation soon after getting out of bed uplifts my energy and gets it flowing in a more positive direction. It helps me get back in alignment with my true self, which is a mighty awesome feeling.

So, how to do tea meditation? The first step involves tuning in to intuition. Which teacup do you feel most drawn to? What shape or color? What flavor tea do you want to taste? And then the question that sets tea meditation apart from just enjoying a cup of tea: What energy or essence do you want to infuse the tea with? What do you really thirst for today?

Sometimes you might not be able to answer that question right away, and that’s okay. Just start making the tea. Boil the water, pour it into the teacup or mug that feels best, drop in a teabag, and sweeten it a bit if it feels right. The answer might come while you do these steps. But no worries if it doesn’t. There’s still time.

It’s easy to fall into habit and grab your usual teacup and tea blend without thinking about it, but this is an invitation to be more present and aware. Take a deep breath, tune in to yourself, and ask: What do I really want? What feels right? Those are great questions to practice, in general, and tea meditation is a small but worthwhile opportunity to exercise the muscles of intuition and presence. 

I have a special spot on my meditation altar for my tea meditation mug, as well as a teeny-tiny (only two inches in diameter) plate for placing the teabag when it’s done steeping. You don’t need a special altar for it. The intention is what matters, and you can bring that anywhere.

As the teabag steeps in the steaming water, take a few moments to get centered. I do this on my meditation cushion, but again, you can do it anywhere. You might begin by focusing on your breath or doing a brief meditation practice (brief because you don’t want the tea to get cold!). Then tune into your energy, and consider what quality you’d like to activate or expand. That is the kind of tea you will prepare! For example, you might choose: 

  • Gratitude Tea
  • Love Tea
  • Empowerment Tea
  • Prosperity Tea
  • Joy Tea
  • Willpower Tea
  • Peace Tea
  • Alignment Tea

The possibilities are endless. If you want, you could even write the name of the tea on the teabag label to strengthen the intention. Cinnamon Rose tea is lovely, but Cinnamon Rose Love Tea totally rocks! 🙂 

If you have a vision board, consider placing it in front of you. You can focus on some of your vision board images during your tea meditation, if it resonates.

Now, get comfortable, hold your teacup or mug in your hands, and feel the warmth. Then focus on the kind of energy you want to infuse your tea with. You could start with just the word: loveprosperity, etc. Imagine the word going into your tea. Better yet, conjure images and feelings that activate that quality, and put them in your tea. Feel the feelings as best you can. If you’re steeping Prosperity Tea, for example, what would prosperity look and feel like? Does it look like standing on a tropical beach? Does it feel like the excitement of getting on an airplane to go someplace you’ve always wanted to go? Have you experienced that feeling before? Bring up the memory, and feel the feeling again. Let it infuse every cell of your being! 

Spend at least five minutes focusing on the quality of energy you want to awaken and expand, and imagine it going into the tea. Give it your all – the sky’s the limit – and make it awesome! Then start sipping the tea. Imagine yourself drinking in deeply that energy/quality/essence. Feel it becoming part of you.

This morning, I couldn’t decide on a particular energy or quality for my tea, and then a little voice in my head exclaimed, “Then make Feel-Good Tea!” So I focused on the best feelings I could remember experiencing. Some examples are: 

  • Completing a work of art that turned out better than I ever imagined
  • Balancing a particularly challenging, crescent-moon shaped rock (that seemed impossible to balance, but I believed I could do it)
  • Being offered a full-time teaching job
  • Discovering what my parents left behind for us because they loved us so much
  • Watching the full moon rise over the sea
  • Feeling the energy of the sunrise on the seashore
  • Meeting my children for the first time and feeling empowered by the birth experiences
  • Being on retreat at Light on the Hill retreat center
  • Getting married
  • Decluttering a room in my house and feeling the amazing energy flow
  • Experiencing and photographing a glorious moment in nature
  • Feeling deeply connected while breastfeeding my babies and gazing into their peaceful/blissful face as they relax into sleep nourished by love
  • Gliding on the river in my kayak.

You also could project forward (which is where a vision board is useful), and imagine how great it will feel when you achieve or become what the images and words on your vision board represent. Imagine yourself there now, and focus on the feelings! Send them into your tea.

Tea meditation is such a lovely ritual, full of warmth and good feelings. When the weather is hot, you could do this meditation with a beverage that feels refreshing and nourishing, such as infused water.

If you try it, I would love to hear how it went for you and what kind of tea you made. Send me an email, comment below, or comment on my Facebook page!

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

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