Category: Self-Care Practices

Finding Refuge and Power in Times of Fear

Finding Refuge and Power in Times of Fear

This article offers examples of applying mindfulness of emotions in real-life situations, beginning with a personal situation and expanding to local and world-wide situations. It offers practical tools, practices, and inquiries to help you find your center in times of fear.

Roar

About two weeks ago, I roared at my husband in a way I’d never roared before. We had just gotten off the phone with a life insurance agent. He could tell I was upset, and I told him I’m digesting the new information and feeling really emotional – and need to take a walk and take care of my feelings.

That would have been a good time to put the conversation on pause, but the next word that came out of his mouth elicited the roar. I actually surprised myself. It wasn’t a high-pitched expression of anger or frustration. It was lower-pitched and came from my center. I felt like a mountain – a solid, grounded mountain – rather than as if I were losing my footing (and mind) in tumultuous waves of emotion. It wasn’t time to engage or problem-solve. It was time to get some space, to absorb the new information and relate to my feelings in a way that would allow me to reengage in a more productive way. 

We went to our separate corners for a time-out, and I took that walk and looked deeply into what was going on inside me. I reflected on why I reacted as I did to the phone conversation, through walking meditation and the RAIN practice I mention frequently in my mindfulness meditation classes. I felt grateful for those tools.

Refuge

The previous day, our area made international headlines again for the wrong reason. About ten miles away, a young girl went missing from a state park campground. She could have been anybody’s daughter, granddaughter, sister, or cousin.

People in my area were not okay. This was way too close to home. It didn’t feel safe to walk alone in nature. Parents were tightening the safety reins. There were lots of prayers and people showing up to help and support the family however they could. You could feel the tension in the air. 

I retreated to a nearby park, to walk the labyrinth and tend to my feelings following the failed life insurance conversation. 

There was a brand new harvest goddess overlooking the labyrinth, that a group of volunteers had created over the weekend. I got up close and gazed at her in awe. The local garden club tended beautiful flower gardens all around the labyrinth, to delight both people and pollinators. The garden club worked hard to care for the earth and create a place of beauty. Even the labyrinth itself was a product of great caring, kindness, and generosity. Within sight of the labyrinth was a wonderful fairy garden provocation and some incredible fairy houses to inspire creativity. A little free library. A new reading area in which chairs were fashioned from logs.

The whole park was created through many years of caring, kindness, generosity, and community. As I walked the labyrinth, I took in all of this goodness.

Words from (Mister) Fred Rogers came to mind: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

Evidence of helpers was all around me. The labyrinth was a place of refuge.

Being grounded in gratitude resourced me and put more space around the feelings. It allowed me to take a closer look at what was bothering me, without becoming identified with the feelings. I knew they were visitors that would come and go. 

RAIN begins with Recognizing what emotional visitor is present. Although the roar might have sounded angry, it wasn’t Anger that was present. It was Fear. So I walked with fear, Allowing it to be there. Then I Investigated its nature. I became curious about what Fear wanted me to know and asked questions, such as: Is what I’m believing really true? Am I sure? Are there any other possibilities? (How often do we confuse partial truths with the whole truth, and create a lot of problems for ourselves and others?) Then I gave the hurting part the Nurturing it needed: kind words, reassurance, and loving touch (hand on the heart).

I went back home feeling a lot better, able to re-engage with my husband.

Relief

Fortunately, the missing girl was found alive the following evening, and we breathed a huge, collective sigh of relief.

That evening, I talked with a close friend living out-of-state and told her about how the life insurance conversation went south. After we were done talking about that, she asked about the missing girl and what it’s been like around here.

That’s when I realized the common thread of the two incidents was fear. If the life insurance conversation had taken place at another time, I probably wouldn’t have felt so emotional. But I was already on-edge from the local event, which compounded any other fears that arose and awakened what Eckhart Tolle calls the pain-body, that feeds on conflict and emotionality.

Fear can be a highly contagious virus that gets in the way of clear-seeing and blocks us from our natural wisdom, intuition, and guidance. I did not want it to be in the driver’s seat.

Release

The next day, I felt drawn to return to a place I’d explored recently for the first time: the Adirondack Labyrinth. The labyrinth itself was awe-inspiring, and the energy there was very high-vibe. After walking the labyrinth the first time, I took a deep dive into the website and learned about how it came to be – and was truly inspired and even more in awe.

This time, my husband came with me. It was a perfect autumn day, and the late afternoon sun was low in the sky, illuminating the colorful, autumn foliage surrounding the labyrinth. We had the labyrinth to ourselves. I didn’t know if my husband would be interested in walking it, but I wanted to make it a meditation. Before walking, I sent my intention and a prayer for guidance and insight into the center.

It took a few minutes to clear my mind of thoughts such as wondering if anyone else would show up while I was walking the labyrinth and noticing how hot it was. When I noticed I was caught in a thought or story, I returned to each footstep with a simple mantra: Here.

Becoming more present, I felt guided to give my fears to Mother Earth with every footstep that touches the ground. I’ve been walking labyrinths for decades and can’t recall ever walking in this way. I’ve done plenty of “kissing the ground” with each footstep but not releasing fear deep down into the earth. Fear and lack.

It worked really well. My mind became clear and open, and I began to hear whispers from deep within:

Fear is a diminishing energy.

Don’t make decisions guided by fear.

Don’t take a single footstep forward in fear.

I realized that the actions I had been telling myself I needed to take after the life insurance conversation were completely fear-based. There is another way – a path that opens when I trust my deeper knowing and follow my inner guidance. Fear blocks that channel of wisdom and inspiration.

On the way back out of the labyrinth, I felt light and joyful. Feeling eager to move forward, I walked faster, even skipped and twirled. I felt like dancing! I knew what is not my path – whatever fear wanted me to. I also knew what felt like a full-bodied YES – do this instead.

The fruits of my meditation practice became clear: If I meditate every day, this awareness is possible every day. I could find my bearings in joy and trust my inner nature, and build immunity to the fear virus.

Release fear to Mother Earth – or sense it evaporating into the vast sky. Put it on a leaf, and give it to the river. There are many ways to release what doesn’t serve and make space for what seeks to be expressed through me.

I adopted some new mantras:

I choose actions aligned with my future, not my past.

I release and compost what doesn’t help me to evolve.

When we release fear and a sense of lack or not-enoughness (or whatever comes up for you), every footstep can bring us back home to HERE – which is true freedom. That is my intention: To be HERE and NOW, where the light of inspiration and insight can reach me without clouds of fear blocking it. HERE and NOW – or in other words, presence – is where our true power lies.

HERE is spacious and open and not complicated by past accomplishments and failures, or worries about the future. It is where there is freedom from the patterns, where we can be inspired anew. Every footstep and every breath is a portal back to the here-and-now when the mind has wandered off. Sometimes we need to focus our energies on certain tasks, projects, or whatever is going on. But we can bring the sense of presence into even that, and thereby enrich it, expand the possibilities, and not get too identified with what is not aligned with our true nature (which isn’t fear). We can shake off the dust of conditioning and fear and ego, and find freedom and freshness. 

Empower

Not long after the local news story resolved, a much more large-scale story of conflict and violence erupted in the Middle East. I get my news mostly from printed sources rather than television or video, and even just reading about the human suffering on both sides felt like too much. 

The other day, I took a walk with my nearly four-month-old grandson in the stroller. After he fell asleep, I began thinking of the suffering of parents, grandparents, babies, and children in the Middle East. Looking at my sleeping grandson’s peaceful face, their suffering again was too much to bear. They were just like me, just like him, just like us.

What to do about it? Feeling powerless to help ease suffering in the world only deepens our own suffering. What can we do instead of getting stuck in powerlessness, heartache, and fear?

On one end of the continuum, we can resist, deny, blame, and numb ourselves to “what is”. On the other end, we can indulge, sustain, and get hooked in the trance of intense feelings. But there is a middle way, of caring for and learning from our visiting emotions. As the late Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh taught, our suffering can be a mindfulness bell. We can look deeply into the nature and causes of our suffering, and find the path to freedom. Then whatever actions we take will be motivated by something much wiser and more clear-sighted than fear.

While pushing my sleeping grandson in his stroller, I created an action plan for resourcing in times of fear:

  • Take refuge in gratitude (for example, how fortunate I am to be with my grandson walking in this peaceful, safe neighborhood where everyone smiles and says hi).
  • Send lovingkindness to those who are suffering.
  • Breathe in gratitude, breathe out lovingkindness.
  • Do what we can to bring more kindness into the world. Do or say something that offers evidence to others that, despite whatever else is going on, there is a lot of goodness in the world. So many people who care and want to help.
  • Seek goodness, to counteract the brain’s negativity bias. Find examples of people doing the right thing. Pause to really take in the goodness – of other people, the natural world, or wherever you find it.
  • Meditate daily. Make time for stillness, to more clearly access our natural wisdom and compassion that gets blocked by our busy lives and too much thinking. Even a few mindful breaths counts!
  • Do what nourishes and brings us back to our center (for example, make a meal, take a walk, get a good night’s sleep, have a cup of tea, look at the sky). Give yourself permission to do what nourishes and resources you, even when others in the world are suffering. Failing to resource ourselves doesn’t ease their suffering – it only drains us, leaving us less able to show up as our best self for whatever life serves up.
  • Acknowledge that this is a world of contrast. What can we learn from the contrast and conflict in our world? What is life calling forth from us?

We might not be able to stop the violence, division, and hatred in the world. But there is much we can do to usher more kindness and compassion into the world. We must not allow our kindness, compassion, and caring to be closed down by fear or anger or whatever other intense emotional reaction is activated. We need all hands on deck at this time, being the best we can be. The world needs our goodness, is calling for it.

In his book, Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life, Dacher Keltner states that the research shows the number one place where we experience awe is in “moral beauty”. Witnessing people helping others or expressing kindness, courage, generosity, and strength inclines us to do more of the same. We can set in motion a ripple of moral beauty even by doing small things.

For instance, when I was filling up my water jugs at the spring the same day I was with my grandson, one of the other people there asked a young man if he had a spigot. He said yes and then added in a dejected tone, “…barely.” I pointed to the slow spigot and asked if it was his. It was. Then I offered to switch spigots with him. He had two very large containers, and I only had a few smaller ones left to fill. His eyes lit up, and he smiled and thanked me. When I was about to fill up my last jar, he offered to let me use the faster spigot. It seemed like he wanted to do something to repay the kindness. His energy seemed different, lighter. I imagined that maybe he was saddened by current events, and even a small act of kindness could restore his faith in humanity and the existence of goodness in the world.

More than anything else, I want to be part of a wave of positive energy.

We might not be able to resolve conflicts in the world – or even in our own community or family. But we can begin within and notice how we contribute to disharmony and conflict in the world by being easily irritated or quick to anger, etc. We can make a practice of noticing and questioning the stories behind unhelpful habits, thoughts, feelings, and reactions when they arise. Looking deeply, we can set ourselves free!

Mindfulness isn’t something we just practice when we sit in meditation. We can bring it off the meditation cushion and into our lives, to wherever suffering is present and to whatever gets in the way of us being present. In this sense, the obstacles become the path! They are bells of mindfulness.

How can I express kindness, generosity, caring, love?

How can I be helpful?

These are important questions because that’s what this world needs right now – more mindful people and awake hearts. There is always something you can do. Be open to opportunities as if you’re on a treasure hunt.

Do what you can, and trust that it matters. And maybe take a moment to imagine how many unknown others around the world are doing the same and also wanting to be part of a wave of goodness. Think of when “the wave” is set in motion in a sports stadium. It’s time to do the wave and to be the wave. And keep it going.


© 2023 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?

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.

Top Ten Relaxation Tools

Top Ten Relaxation Tools

We are not used to managing the kind of long-term stress and emotional overwhelm this year has served up. As far as I can tell, everyone is feeling it. Now, more than ever (and especially heading into the back-to-school/election season), we need resources to help us manage our stress levels. So I’d like to share my favorite relaxation resources with you.

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 largely a free app. It offers more than 55,000 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. There are also meditations for children in the For Parents section. 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. For instance, yoga nidra meditations (which I’ll discuss in a separation section) are invaluable for encouraging deep relaxation and sleep.

Calm is mostly a paid app ($70/year), but some institutions offer free memberships to their employees/students. If you are entitled to a free membership, lucky you! It’s definitely worth checking out! There’s a plethora of Sleep Stories (including one by my celebrity crush, Matthew McConaughey) and a Kids Meditation section. 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 – which includes visual, sound, and word prompts – helps me to calm down in that situation and whenever I’m feeling upset or frazzled. To access it (within app only), click on “More”, and select “Breathing Exercise”. I also enjoy the Sleep Stories from time to time. Most are premium features, but there are also some free ones. My favorite is 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!

Both Insight Timer and Calm have premium content you have to pay to access, but Insight Timer has a lot more free content, and I recommend it highly.

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 Yoga Nidra for Sleep & Rest from The Stillpoint that became my go-to yoga nidra meditation. Since then, I’ve also favorited Yoga Nidra – Maximum Body Scan by Steve Wolf and Yoga Nidra for Better Sleep by Robyn Gray. Yoga nidra works like a charm, and there are many to choose from!

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 said it felt like the blanket was hugging her.) The sensation is like covering yourself with a blanket of calm. It also reminds me of the sensation of being covered by sand on the beach – like pushing your feet into the sand and feeling them hugged.

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! It’s really nice to have an eye pillow 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. In the summer, a fan serves nicely. 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), Stream Water Flowing, and Gentle Breezy Pebble Beach Waves. 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 the article link. 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. Louie’s “moving art” facilitates relaxation and awe and transports you to the beautiful places he’s filmed. There are three seasons of Moving Art on Netflix that feature diverse landscapes and life forms all around the world. Once, I watched Louie’s videos of time-lapse flowers on my phone (Magic Flowers app) during an uncomfortable medical procedure, and the doctor agreed that it really worked for me. 

I also enjoy videos of ocean waves. There are also lots of free videos on YouTube, including some that are long enough to play all night long. 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 smooth rocks and 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. So this is something teachers may find useful in the classroom. There’s nothing like nature to bring you back into harmony and balance!

Crystal Connection

One summer, I attended a Mindfulness in Education conference at Omega Institute. 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, nurturing 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 in the notch at the bottom of 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. My two other favorites are Mindfulness Meditation and Reiki. As a mindfulness meditation practitioner for more than 25 years and mindfulness meditation teacher, I appreciate how mindfulness meditation builds the muscle of returning out of thought and emotional reactivity and into presence. When you are present in the here and now, you can access more of your natural wisdom and compassion and choose how to respond to whatever arises in the moment instead of just being pulled along by the current of habit.

It used to be that I had various tools in my self-care toolbox but wouldn’t remember to use them. As you become more mindful both “on and off the cushion”, you can remember to use your resources (such as the ones mentioned above). Beginning the day with meditation sets a positive, empowered tone for the day, and ending the day with meditation helps you to release the day and sleep better. The more you practice, the more you can remember to return to presence throughout the day as you go about living your life.

If you would like personal instruction/coaching in mindfulness or a Reiki healing session (distance sessions only during COVID), please contact me. I do both! You also can visit my Calendar to sign up for my upcoming mindfulness meditation classes.

I hope this article will be useful to you and others as we continue managing the unique challenges of 2020. ❤️


© 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 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.

Let's Stay Together!

Join my mailing list to receive the latest articles, updates, and offerings. Don't worry: I won't spam you or share your info with anyone!

You have Successfully Subscribed!