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Category: Spiritual Journey

Finding Beauty at Omega

Finding Beauty at Omega

I just returned from a truly nourishing and inspiring Mindfulness in Education conference at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, thanks to a full scholarship funded by the 1440 Foundation. I will write about the conference itself in one or more separate posts. But for now, I want to share the beauty of the campus – for it, too, was inspiring.

Omega Institute for Holistic Studies is a non-profit educational retreat center located on 200 hilly acres in the Hudson Valley. Inspired by Sufi teacher, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, it was founded in 1977 and is devoted to “awakening the best in the human spirit” through workshops, conferences, retreats, and online learning. A stream runs through the center of campus, and there are around 100 buildings, including a main hall, dining hall, cafe, bookstore, sanctuary, wellness center, yoga and movement spaces, cabin-like accommodations, and the Ram Dass Library (shaped like a lotus blossom). The use of cell phones is strongly discouraged in public areas, and I only noticed one person talking on a phone during my three days there.

The Sanctuary was my favorite area – my anchor – to which I returned repeatedly. Here is the entrance.

There is a tiny waterfall about halfway up the the winding stairs that lead to the Sanctuary. The waterfall is surrounded by space that invites creativity. Here are two arrangements that greeted me.

They set my own creative gears in motion.

There also was a basket of colorful, glittery word rocks – an invitation to play!

And play, I did! Although the mosquitoes made it very challenging to balance rocks, I did the best I could.

Here is one very simple balance that remained intact a full day later, despite a morning of torrential downpours. It’s the one that didn’t topple even though the acorn fell from its little perch (perhaps to be closer to the oak leaf?), and the “evolve” rock shifted off center.

Spirit-infused art is all over the place, including some tucked away surprises and others that are impossible to miss. Outside the Sanctuary is a large bell with a mandala composed of moss and other natural objects at the bottom of the stand.

It reminded me of the natural materials (“provocations”) teachers in Reggio Emilia schools put out for their students’ inquiry and exploration.

There are many calming Buddha statues around campus, including this lovely stone planter at the entrance to the garden (with a twin on the other side of the path).

One that’s easier to miss is located amidst pine trees in a small meditation garden at the center of the dorm area where I stayed. I love the interplay of spirit, art, and nature.

Here’s another one that’s tucked away near the heart of campus.

Arrangements such as these remind me to take a deep breath and return to my center. They invite peace and calm.

I was delighted to discover the classical style labyrinth located directly at the center of campus.

Perhaps my favorite image of all was what I found at the center of the labyrinth. It is customary to walk a labyrinth with some sort of purpose in mind. A person often will carry a small object to leave at the center, symbolic of letting go or some kind of intention. I found this collection of offerings fascinating.

Here’s a closer view (that doesn’t show the red lighter resting behind the coffee cup):

Looking at the offerings brought home the realization that nobody is ever alone in his or her suffering. We’re all in this game of life together.

Inspired by the spirit- and nature-infused art at Omega, I returned home enthusiastic about creating calming, centering spaces around our house. By the end of summer, I intend to transform our cluttered little home into a sanctuary. It is my August project. The truth is: We already have all the elements for creating such spaces. It’s a matter of utilizing them – and remembering to notice them in the first place! There’s nothing further to obtain. We just need to notice and enter into the space.

My husband and I have noted that our yard seems to read our minds and give us what we desire. This morning, I went outside to look at the morning glories that are popping up around the yard and found this:

It looked to me like a perfect frame for a mandala – so I ran with that idea!

Pausing for an art break, I realized that most of the items on my to-do list ultimately weren’t that important in the first place. I was putting too much pressure on myself to get things done! That’s part of the beauty of the creative process for me. It pushes a reset button and helps me to simplify my life.

I love being in places that inspire creativity!

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited.
Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Blueprints and Dragonflies

Blueprints and Dragonflies

I’m a little more than halfway through the book, Testimony of Light by Helen Greaves, which was recommended to me recently as an excellent text in the “near-death” genre. It is an authenticated account from the 1960s of two nuns who communicated telepathically while they were alive and continued to do so after one of them passed on. It resonates with the other books I’ve read in the genre, and I have been working my way through it by reading small chunks and allowing the ideas to settle in my mind when I’m kayaking or sleeping.

Sometimes I’m out on the water immersed in thought or some kind of pursuit (which often involves an elusive heron). Then I catch myself and am amused by the attempts of my little mind to make sense of the Big Picture – for I sense that the truth of our existence is beyond human comprehension. Our sensory organs and conditioned minds can only handle so much Light.

Today I set out looking for herons but fell in love with a small turtle basking in the sun. Then I returned to my pursuit of herons but dropped that agenda after a short time when I realized the “heron paparazzi” state of mind prevented me from entering stillness. Sometimes it’s grace that brings us back into presence (for instance, coming upon a turtle basking in the sun), and sometimes it’s awareness of mental activity (much like realizing within a dream that we are dreaming).

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Then I rested in stillness, knowing there was nothing more important at that time than floating and filling with bliss. I wanted to stay there all day!

 

While floating, an idea from Testimony of Light entered my awareness regarding the existence of a Divine Blueprint for the work we set out to accomplish in our lifetime – and how it compares with the actual map of our human life when all is said and done. Every cell of my being seems to vibrate with a burning desire to attune to and follow my Divine Blueprint. I want to get down to business and do the work I intended to do. I’ve never felt it so strongly! Since returning from my recent retreat, the energy has been incredible! It’s blown open the door of my self-imposed prison and called, “Follow me!” And I am.

Still, I can’t help but wonder how far off course I’ve strayed by allowing myself to be driven by fear or a desire to please others. That method of traveling seems like taking a detour. Taking the long way home is not a failure. Nor is getting lost. There are times in life when we feel lost, especially when familiar markers are removed from the landscape of our journey. But what’s wonderful about realizing you’re lost is that you make an effort to dust off the map and find your way. Such times are opportunities to get back on course! Intuition is a useful navigational tool for realizing you’re lost and finding your way. It is my compass.

But perhaps in the grand scheme, the journey is more like a labyrinth with one winding path to the center. During times when we are driven by fear or other distractions, perhaps we just slow down and progress along the path in our own rhythm. Perhaps, despite periods of inertia, we’re never truly lost.

How interesting that when I entertained this thought, a dog came to the water’s edge and started barking at me. It reminded me of a story of a dog traveling to a particular town:

His journey was a very long one, taking two or three days as a rule, and yet he arrived before sunset of the same day. The dogs of that town were all surprised to see him so soon.

“Yes, it was a very long journey,” the dog said, “but I attribute my speed to the kindness and help of my fellow dogs. Since I left home, whenever I felt tired and tried to stop a moment to rest, four or five would run up and bark at me and want to bite me. So I had to run on without staying to rest in that place, or to search for food. And so it went on at every place I came to, until in the end I have arrived here at my destination.”

Citation: Khan, Hazrat Inayat (1991). Tales. New Lebanon, NY: Omega Publications.

As far as others are concerned, I can’t even begin to judge another human being’s path through life! It’s hard enough to discern and navigate my own!

There were so many dragonflies darting around on glistening, iridescent wings as I contemplated Divine Blueprints. So much life energy all around!

At one point, I experienced a moment of clarity from which a question – no, perhaps it was more like a prayer – bloomed like a lotus in my heart. And in that instant, a dragonfly landed on my arm for the first time all day. We remained completely still for quite some time regarding each other (or so it seemed), and I felt myself being drawn into dragonfly energy, as if it were the answer to my prayer, pollinating the lotus in my heart.

 

Then I felt it was time to paddle back home and engage with my to-do list. I focused on the sounds around me – a form of mindfulness meditation – and followed the sound back home.

But this wonderful energy remains, and I follow my intuition from one “yes” to another. It is an amazing feeling – this movement that has broken the spell of inertia.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

On Retreat: A Most Incredible Journey

On Retreat: A Most Incredible Journey

I just returned from a three-day/three-night, solitary Healing Retreat at Light on the Hill Retreat Center. (To read about a previous retreat experience I had at Light on the Hill, click HERE.)

Spiritual retreat is a powerful, transformational process. Removed from the usual distractions and energies, the process deepens each day. Going on retreat was my most urgent summer priority. After all the intensity of the past school year, including my mother’s illness and death, I am a different person. The old ways no longer work. As often happens following a brush with death, life took on a greater urgency, and I felt a desperate need to integrate my new awareness and find my true North – for life is short, and I have wanderlust. I felt like someone ready to embark on a new journey on a boat that is tied to shore and slamming repeatedly against the rocks. Surely, the ropes served a purpose in the past, but now they need to be untied so I can sail to new harbors.

Day One

I arrived at Light on the Hill late in the afternoon and until the next morning was on my own to ease into the energy and solitude of the Meadow Cottage and surrounding environment. I eagerly anticipated the July “supermoon” that soon would illuminate the sky. I hadn’t planned to be on retreat during the full moon; it just worked out that way. As it turned out, in addition to my guide, Alice, my retreat experience was facilitated quite dramatically by the moon and the weather.

Once settled in, I considered my intention to find my true North and sat down with a book of Hafiz poems. Trusting that I would open to exactly the page I needed to read, I nonetheless was surprised to open to a poem about a “golden compass,” excerpted below:

I am a Golden Compass – 
Watch me whirl.

To the east and to the west
To the north and to the south,
In all directions I will true your course
Toward laughter and unity.

Watch me whirl into nothingness
Your fears and darkness – 
Just keep tossing them onto my golden plate.

My only duty that now remains
To this world

Is from every direction
To forever serve you wine and
Hope

Source: The Small Table of Time and Spacefrom The Subject Tonight is Love: 60 Wild and Sweet Poems of Hafiz (versions by Daniel Ladinsky), Pumpkin House, 1996, p. 38-39)

I took a walk as the sun sank in the forest.

As the moonrise drew nearer, I headed to one of the two Chartres-style labyrinths on the property. As I walked the labyrinth, I noticed an orange glow in the window of the cupola of the adjacent Stillpoint Sanctuary chapel.

Ten minutes later, I spotted the full, orange supermoon floating above the treetops.

 

I continued to walk the eleven-circuit labyrinth as the moon lifted higher in the sky, savoring each step and knowing I would remember this experience for a long time. By the time I arrived at the center, it was quite dark. There was a pile of stones and some offerings people had left, and I knelt on the ground and balanced the moonlit stones. I barely could see them and balanced them by feeling their weight in my hands. There was one large and bulky rock that I probably wouldn’t have been able to balance so easily if I had relied more on my eyes. Fireflies glowed all around as I walked the path back out of the labyrinth. I heard something rustle in the adjacent woods and felt a little frightened but maintained my slow, deliberate pace. Then an owl hooted the same rhythmic pattern over and over. I kept walking, delighted by the fireflies and moonlight and a little nervous about what lurked close by that I couldn’t see.

The environment and your emotional responses are all feedback and data when you’re on retreat. Everything seems to mirror and guide your inner process.

I returned to the cottage and fell asleep, serenaded by what sounded like hundreds of frogs croaking and making plucked rubber band sounds as the moon began its journey across the meadow, illuminating my dreams.

Day Two

In the morning, I met with my guide for an hour and a half and received some practices to work with until meeting with her the following morning.

I followed a path through the woods back to the cottage and wasn’t a happy camper because I didn’t have proper footwear, clothing, or bug repellent for the woods. I was worried about ticks (hello again, fear) and ended up taking a longer route to avoid tall brush. I wandered from the trail briefly when I was probably at the closest point to the cottage and was hot, tired, thirsty, and grumpy. I felt lost but knew I’d eventually find my way and get back “home,” just not as quickly as I would have liked to since I opted for the longer, “safer” route. When I came out at last on the road, I heard these words in my mind:

When you are done being pissed at the world,
We are here (and always have been)
To help you find your way.

After regrouping at the cottage, I returned to the labyrinth and found the stones still balanced at the center.

 

I walked the labyrinth and balanced more stones – nothing special, but it reminded me of how drawn I am to balancing stones!

After walking the labyrinth, I retreated to Stillpoint Sanctuary, a chapel for prayer and meditation.

The view of the cupola above where I was seated looked like an octagonal mandala.

I had no energy at all in the afternoon, which is normal for the first full day on retreat. Every muscle in my body felt heavy and hard to move. I took a nap, listened to the rustling of wind in the leaves, did some practices, and savored the dinner that Alice’s husband, Larry, delivered in a basket. Then more practices. And some crying – until I realized:

I don’t have to fix anything.
I don’t have to fix anyone.
I don’t have to fix myself.
All is well.

It occurred to me that life isn’t so draining when you get rid of the “shoulds.” Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves and complicate life unnecessarily?

I waited for the moonrise with two darting dragonflies and a meadow of fireflies. I could hear firecrackers in the distance and the chirping of a single cricket. The sky was very dark by the time the moon floated above the the treetops and began its journey across the meadow. What a lovely night!

Day Three

This is the day when you go really deep on retreat. I woke in the morning from a dream in which I was absolutely livid. I met with my guide for another healing session. After two sunny days, the sky was overcast with rain in the forecast, and the first thing she told me was that the weather one encounters on retreat is exactly what is needed to help the process along. We did some guided imagery and addressed my fear, and I received more practices and materials to work with. I experienced healing around my existential crisis that manifested in lingering questions and regrets about my mom’s final days on earth. I understood that other people and forces larger than myself were involved and that I was not in control of the process, despite my ego wanting to be.

I realized that my true North was obvious and that my next step was to reestablish a daily meditation, yoga, and exercise discipline. These practices were abandoned when life became intense, and I realized that I need them more than ever to help me navigate through life from one harbor to the next. They are my rudder. I felt certain that guidance will come if I ask for it, practice daily, and keep my senses open.

With my guide’s help, I realized that I am in a time of transition, sometimes called “the valley of not knowing.” This is a place that by and large is not valued by society, although it is essential for growth and requires patience. It is like a cocoon – the state of dissolution (disillusion?) in between a caterpillar and a butterfly. This is what it feels like to me:

To consume without knowing what I hunger for,
Not content to be a creature of craving.

There is a big difference between what feeds the soul and the mindless clinging and craving of the ego.

It began raining as soon as my healing session was over and rained all day for the most part. I took advantage of a brief interlude without rain and attempted to walk the labyrinth. No sooner had I reached the center, and the downpour resumed, so I returned to the cottage. The weather drew me more deeply inward. As I worked with the practices and materials given to me, I realized that even in the unlikely event that nothing further transpired on my retreat, it already was successful in that I:

  • Discovered my true North
  • Understood that this transitional “valley” has value and is essential for growth
  • Experienced a sense of certainty and an inner shift from which I gave myself permission from deep within (not just in my head) to let go of that which no longer sustains me

I felt profoundly peaceful.

When the rain seemed to die down late in the afternoon, I turned on my phone (which I had been instructed to turn off for the duration of the retreat) to check the hourly weather forecast and determine whether another trip to the labyrinth was feasible. However, an alarm sounded, and a message appeared: “A tornado warning is in effect for your area. Seek shelter immediately!”

So much for my peaceful state of mind!

I had experienced a devastating tornado while living in Florida back when my children were very young. It was the most terrifying experience of my life. When you are huddled in the laundry room with your young family not knowing whether or not the tornado already has gone by, you realize that Mother Nature is in control and that anytime you believed you were, you were mistaken!

I jumped into action, assessed my environment, and determined the best place to seek shelter. The clouds were dark and threatening. Surrounded by couch cushions, I kept my phone on to receive further updates. I remembered that when I had finished packing the car to leave for retreat, my husband – who loves to tease me about my fear of tornadoes – asked if I had packed my helmet. Haha – no, I didn’t. My heart was pounding, and I felt a familiar sensation of fear in my body. Ideally, I would “go into” the fear and investigate it, but my mind was like a chattering monkey. I was not meditating or being mindful while taking shelter and waiting for the storm to pass. (It turns out there was a small tornado in the neighboring town that was headed in my direction but changed its course.) Once again, forces larger than myself were in control. I couldn’t change the weather around me, only the atmosphere within me. And that’s a pretty big deal, actually.

Once the sky appeared safe and the tornado warning had expired, it occurred to me that my ability to perceive beauty in the world was all fine and good – and has uplifted me through some very challenging times. However, I need to cultivate mindfulness and meditative awareness that equips me to work with the stubborn weed of fear so I am not immobilized or derailed by it. I need to practice daily so that when storms come I am ready. That was a very powerful lesson. It also made me think of the book of Mary Oliver poetry that I have misplaced and cannot find anywhere. Perhaps at this time I do not need to read about the beauty of this earth, for that comes so easily to me and reinforces everything I already perceive. Perhaps instead I need to learn to work with my fear, like those lines from the Hafiz poem:

Watch me whirl into nothingness
Your fears and darkness – 
Just keep tossing them onto my golden plate.

What a precious opportunity for transformation.

I also realized that taking shelter was very much like being in a cocoon, not knowing what was next. And what was next? The birds chirped merrily, the stream bubbled along, the mist rose gracefully, the lovely fragrance of milkweed drifted through the air, and the sun shone from behind the trees making the wet leaves and needles sparkle with light. Such wondrous peace. My world was wrapped in a mist blanket of peace and love.

And then this:

 

Jaw-dropping beauty, lovelier than anything I could have imagined. Naturally, I had to go exploring.

Here is a view of the pyramid at the top of Inner Light Lodge, where my husband and I were married.

And here is a spectacular view from the back of Inner Light Lodge, of the surrounding hills and the mist rising all around.

 
 

I returned to a dark cottage, lit a gas lantern, and resumed my practices. After completing one guided visualization, something in me seemed to have shifted. I realized (really realized, not just “knew”) that I am the daughter of Life. The birds, trees, and everything that is alive are my brothers and sisters – including my human parents. I cannot be orphaned, nor abandoned, for I am the daughter of Life and carry within me a divine inheritance. I have all that I need.

At that moment, I was able to let go of my mom. I wouldn’t need to ask her to visit me or prove to me that she exists beyond death. Although I had told her I was letting her go as she was dying – and really meant it at the time – it was different now. I was releasing her to be wherever she needed to be. She did not need to hover around earth to take care of me. I am a daughter of Life, and she is a fellow traveler. I needed to break the ropes and let her fly, light and untethered.

That night, the nearly full moon floated into the sky and shone through the skylight above my bed. I fell asleep listening to the frogs and the bubbling stream. And I had the Most Incredible Dream Ever. It was the most prolonged, joyful, and poignant dream of contact with my mom that I have had since she died. It was long and detailed, and I won’t go into it here, other than to say that she communicated very strongly through various objects. There was dialogue and gratitude and humor and so much love. By the end of the dream, I felt jubilant and exclaimed that life continues after death and that I have absolute proof of this now! The feeling continued when I woke up at 3:26 a.m. with tears of joy in my eyes as I wrote down the dream.

I got out of bed and climbed down the ladder, lit a candle and a stick of rose incense, and sat with the moon and this bliss. I began to sing a Sufi song that I hadn’t sung in a good 20 years. Sometimes I had to whisper the words because crying made singing impossible. I sang it four times, and by the fourth time, my voice was strong and sweet. I felt that I was singing for my mom. And then I sang her favorite hymn, “Amazing Grace,” four times, exactly the same way – belting it out strongly the fourth time. I felt she was harmonizing along with me.

I sat gazing at the meadow, which was filled with white, moonlit mist, thick and dreamy. It was like a dynamic stage. The moon had traveled about 3/4 of the way across the meadow, and I watched the clouds pass in front of it and noticed that some clouds couldn’t obscure the light at all. The stream bubbled louder near me and softer down below in the distance – soothing, gentle, white noise. Then an owl punctuated the stillness with the same haunting call I’d heard in the labyrinth. A single cricket chirped. The world was quiet but for these sounds. The eastern sky began to soften and glow, but not from moonlight. The birds were sleeping, but not for long. I was filled with gratitude and wrapped in love, beauty, and awe.

What a powerful lesson I had learned about letting go. When I was able to let go of my mom, she came to me in a dream. Let go, and then something profound will come to you because you have cleared space for the unexpected to enter in.

Eventually, I went to bed as the birds awakened with the distant call of one. Then another sang merrily and energetically. Before long, there was a dawn chorus of bird prayer-song heralding a new day. Before falling asleep, I set an intention to awaken in time to see the sunrise.

Day Four

Two hours later, I awoke to a lovely mist all around.

 
 

I headed down the road to the labyrinth

…and walked the labyrinth as the mist floated lightly through the air and lifted into a blue sky.

Even after the previous day’s stormy weather, a few stones remained balanced, and that made me smile. There’s something deeply gratifying about balance.

 

I met briefly with my guide and then continued working with more practices and materials before packing up and heading home, feeling very satisfied with my retreat experience. On the way down the hill, I realized that I don’t need to hold on to anything that has outlived its purpose in order to please anyone else, including my parents. I thought about my mom and felt certain that if I could speak with her after all she has been through (i.e. physical death), she would not advise me to cling fearfully to habits and situations from which my soul has withdrawn – but rather to withdraw my energy and go forth toward the places that engage and feed my soul. For life is short, and letting go in big and small ways throughout life is essential practice for our own inevitable death. And for living our life dynamically and magnificently.

Bless the dried up places, and let them go with gratitude for the gifts they have given us on our journey through life.

In any situation, what’s the worst that can happen? You can die. (Or maybe even worse, not live?) But guess what? Everybody is going to die eventually. And I believe that our life on earth is a precious opportunity for transformation. So break those ropes of fear, and live your life!

 

Or in the words of the 15th century mystic poet, Kabir:

Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive,
Jump into experience while you are alive!
Think…and think…while you are alive.
What you call “salvation” belongs to the time before death.

If you don’t break your ropes while you’re alive, do you think
ghosts will do it after?

The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic
just because the body is rotten – 
that is all fantasy.
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
you will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death.

If you make love with the divine now, in the next life
you will have the face of satisfied desire.

Source: The Kabir Book: Forty-four of the Ecstatic Poems of Kabir (versions by Robert Bly), Beacon Press, 1977, p. 24-25

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Overheard in a Field of Daylilies

Overheard in a Field of Daylilies

For the past several days, I have been searching for a book of poetry that seems to have vanished into thin air. I’ve looked everywhere and am now at the point of looking in kitchen cabinets and crawling around on the floor! It seems I’ve looked for it everywhere except for where it is. The book in question is Thirst by Mary Oliver. Our back yard is full of wildflowers, and I wanted to be inspired, for Mary Oliver and I perceive life through the same lens. However, since the book remains in hiding, I decided to write my own poem about the daylilies that currently dominate the landscape.
 

Overheard in a Field of Daylilies

Whispered the daylily:

Do not pity me for having
but one, brief day to bloom.
It is the blooming, not the longevity
that matters, and I have been
practicing all my life to feel
the darkness surrender
to color and light
and know this is the day,
and I am unstoppable
and ready to seize it,
 

 

To feel the sensation
of sepals and petals opening
together, little by little
then curling backward
into a perfect poem
of shape and color
and sending
from the secret center
a slender pistil
and six delicate filaments
donning gold-dusted slippers,
 
 
To announce without words:
Here I am, full and ripe
with pollen and nectar!
Come to me; let’s dance
the dance of life together
and make this day count.
 
 
Dear human, your rhythm
falls somewhere in between
that of trees and flowers.
Do not pity me
for my brief moment of glory.
Truthfully, can you say
you have bloomed
so unabashedly in all your
years?
 
-Susan Meyer

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Reawakening Gratitude

Reawakening Gratitude

It happens every now and then: The scale tips in the direction of overwhelm and exhaustion, and I forget what I know. Such is the human condition.

Recently, I had such a day. I felt overwhelmed by all that’s on my plate. Hemmed in by the choices I have made in life. I wondered if I ever might break free from it all and start anew. Surely, it’s never too late to try something new, right? I know you cannot buy happiness and that happiness is not to be found elsewhere. Not in Colorado or India or Australia or anywhere else. Although a sunny, blue canvas might be more motivating for some people, ultimately happiness is an attitude, a manner of journeying through life. It is within us and does not exist apart from us. Spiritually speaking, we are never without that which we believe we lack.

I know this.

But some days, I feel bad for what I don’t have, especially for not having the means to start over again and do what I want to do instead of what I feel obligated to do. Most of all, I wish I could disappear into the woods for six months, for the forest doesn’t ask anything of me. Or even a month. I wish desperately that I could have a few weeks with my parents at this sensitive, sacred juncture without the demands of work that seem to multiply from year to year and are especially intense at this time of year as we sprint to the finish line of yet another school year. But our household relies on my income, and going without a paycheck as I approach two months of unpaid summer vacation seems especially unwise.

I was feeling powerless and overwhelmed. Feeling that something’s got to give. Some of this crushing responsibility has got to be lifted. I saw no end in sight to the demands and monotony – for I had been shortchanging my sleep, which invariably impairs my vision.

So, despite everything I needed to attend to, I took a two-hour walk in the woods, where I fell under the spell of moss, lichen, and ferns and was comforted by the tender green resurgence of life in springtime and the rhythm of birdsong.

Being in the woods helped, but it wasn’t long before the effect wore off. Something similar happens when I float in my kayak on the river. It’s as if the heaviness of worldly concerns lifts from me like mist rises from the river in the morning. I am left weightless, without a care, attuned to the energy of nature that reconnects me with my center, which feels like the center of the universe. All is well. When I step back on shore, the gravity of the human drama returns gradually, although the experience on the river allows me to put the heaviness in perspective. Even when I’m not tuned to the bliss channel, I know it exists.

Then, last night I had a dream. In the dream, someone asked me if I had heard the news about the tragic events unfolding in Chechnya. I saw a news report on a large screen, and then I was transported to another place – a sunny, mountainous location in front of a large hotel. My husband and I were talking with a woman who was traveling in an RV and was going to stay in the nice hotel. We couldn’t afford the hotel and had to stay in our RV. Then we drove along, and I found myself in Chechnya. At first, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The neighborhoods looked like ordinary neighborhoods. Then I was in a group of people running on the sidewalks then stopping and being totally quiet, trying not to be noticed. A man leading a group of children a few blocks away came running and shouting in our direction, alerting everyone to the danger that chased them. People could be shot on the spot. Running, stopping, huddling, repeating – we walked breathlessly past police officers that we knew could not be trusted and tried to remain as unnoticed as possible. We knew that voicing any complaints or disagreement was especially dangerous. This was hell. In the dream, I realized how privileged I am in my waking life and that anyone in the dream setting would be so thankful for even the smallest kindness or comfort because there was none of that there. I awakened from the dream feeling tremendous gratitude.

What a reality check!

The bottom line is: If you are healthy and have food on your table, you already are much more fortunate than so many people in this world, who would give just about anything to have those things. 

While waiting in line at the grocery store, I thought about how blessed I am to be able to go to a store and buy food for my family. It truly is a privilege. The same is true with dishes. Rather than get irked about having to do the dishes, be grateful that you have dishes to do because it means you have food to eat. It feels a lot better to walk around filled with gratitude for the little things that we so often take for granted than to complain about what you don’t have or how things aren’t going the way you want them to go. To remember how blessed you are and that – while there may be things you feel are lacking in your life – so many people would give anything to be in your shoes.

My parents and I have been having some difficult conversations lately as we explore care options for my mom. My dad lamented that we waited too long for my mom’s recheck after a spot (that was biopsied and determined to be benign) was discovered on her pancreas a year ago. What if she could have begun treatment back then? Perhaps that would have made a difference. Or, I countered, perhaps she would have undergone aggressive chemo all summer and not been able to enjoy going to orchestra and ballet performances nearly every night. Perhaps she would not have had the energy to practice guitar and build her repertoire, or the confidence to perform at open mic nights. My mom lived so fully last summer, and we were all in awe of her. Her energy was astonishing and inspiring. Let us be grateful for what we have had the privilege to experience with her and not burden ourselves with regret – for we don’t know for certain what experiences the “road not taken” would have set before us. Nor do we know what grace is in store for us on the path we have chosen.

Similarly, let us have compassion for ourselves and not shame or pressure ourselves if the life we are living right now seems deficient in some way. Even if we feel we are here in this world to do more, why not release into the moment and feel good about having done our best each step of the way? Appreciating today does not preclude having ambition and preparing for tomorrow. Why not be more fully present to the work we are doing right now, every moment, rather than complicate and burden our lives by berating ourselves for making mistakes (which is inevitable) or falling short? Let us feel good about who we are and what we do instead of bad about what we feel we are supposed to be or accomplish. Although regret might be a station along the way that serves a purpose, let us not rest there for too long and risk missing the opportunities of today, believing they never visited us in the first place.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

I Am Love (and So Are You)

I Am Love (and So Are You)

I imagine you’ve heard the proverb, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” For the past week or so, my teacher has been Anita Moorjani’s book, Dying to Be Me (Hay House, 2012) – which I finally got around to reading! This is an inspirational memoir written by a woman who was dying of end-stage lymphoma, had a near-death experience (NDE), and returned to her body knowing for certain that her cancer would be healed completely. It is an amazing, profoundly inspiring account. As miraculous as the medical piece is, what impresses me most is the way her life changed as a result of what she experienced during her NDE.

I was intrigued by the author’s descriptions of how her NDE transformed the way she perceived and lived her life because so much of what she had to say described with surprising accuracy the way I have come to perceive and relate to the world. However, there is one major difference. Right before deciding to return to her body, she was guided to go back and live her life fearlessly. And she did. Eliminating fear transformed her life completely, and I realize this is precisely what has been holding me back. (You, too, perhaps?) The rest of this post is a reflection I wrote when I was midway through the book and inspired deeply by the author’s revelation that love is the nature of the entire universe and our true essence, as well. Since so much synchronicity occurred as I read and reflected on this book, it feels right to share my reflections. (There is something very powerful and magical about this book!) So here goes…

I spent decades believing it was of the utmost importance to figure out what kind of work I should do – meaning what kind of paid job I should devote my life to. I felt this was predestined, and if I did not figure it out correctly, then my life would be wasted; I would have failed, and I would be held accountable in the end. (I had a tendency to put a lot of pressure on myself.) I believed there was one thing I was meant to do, it was my Life’s Purpose, and it was so important to discern it and to have the discipline to see it through. But I’m realizing now that what’s most important isn’t what I do but what I am.

I am love, and so are you.

If I am love, it doesn’t matter what I do. What I do becomes an expression of who I am. I suspect that many situations can be transformed from the inside out if we stop focusing on outcomes and accomplishments and allow the love that we are to flow through us. It is a choice to cut off the flow, whether or not we are aware that we are doing so. We can align ourselves with any situation by surrendering to the flow and allowing our essence – love – to be expressed in the world. Not our ego desires, but our true essence. When love comes through, miracles happen.

And yet, there are times when it seems love seeks new expression. There may be another way in which our essence can manifest more fully through our work and actions in the world. Too much thinking can get in the way of allowing this to happen. Imprisoned by fear, our minds generate countless reasons to stay where we are and not risk change. I think of the great blue herons I observe on the riverbank. They know when to move on to a new spot – when conditions are no longer favorable and other spots offer greater possibilities.

Imagine a heron too afraid to move to a new spot along the river when the food supply at its current location is insufficient, or a predator or other threat encroaches its space, or it is time to migrate to a warmer climate. How absurd! The heron knows instinctively what it needs to survive and takes swift action. Not bogged down by the human mind’s compulsion to process the situation in detail, it moves with the flow of life, lifting into the air and following its instincts to a new spot.

“When we try to move with this flow rather than adhere dogmatically to the doctrines of others or the beliefs we once had that no longer serve us, we more accurately reflect who and what we truly are.” -Anita Moorjani (Dying to Be Me, p. 154)

I think of my true essence (or “infinite self” as Moorjani sometimes calls it) as a heron that discerns when conditions have shifted enough to inhibit its fullest expression. I have spent a lot of time observing herons and can tell when they begin to feel uneasy and are about to rise into the air and squawk en route to a new spot. I recognize that unease and restlessness in me and realize that what is different between the heron and me is a mind fettered by fear.

Moorjani explains:

“The mind is more about doing, and the soul is more about being… The intellect is just a tool for navigating through this life…while the soul only wants to express itself.” (Dying to Be Me, p. 146)

She continues:

“I have discovered that to determine whether my actions stem from ‘doing’ or ‘being,’ I only need to look at the emotion behind my everyday decisions. Is it fear, or is it passion? If everything I do each day is driven by passion and a zest for living, then I’m ‘being,’ but if my actions are a result of fear, then I’m in ‘doing’ mode.” (Dying to Be Me, p. 147)

I have spent countless hours on the river searching for definitive answers about what to do in matters large and small. Once, the river told me to write, so I did. The little voice within tells me to keep writing, so I am. I think the path of the infinite self unfolds when we find our center and do what we feel drawn to do from that centered awareness – when we are still enough to hear it speak. I am beginning to recognize the voice of my infinite self that arises when I am not immersed in thought and urges me to take a certain action. It’s like a little nudge. Make this phone call. Read this book. Message this person. Pause for a bit. Plan an exhibit. It has a different quality to it than my thinking mind – like the difference between intuition and thought – and when I follow it, I feel more alive. It feels right. It’s different than checking off items on a to-do list.

It seems to me that the path unfolds when we stop allowing fear to hold us back and do what we feel drawn to do each step of the way because we realize how precious our time is and that we help the world to evolve by allowing our essence to be expressed as magnificently and completely as possible. (A major theme of Moorjani’s message is to remember our “magnificence.”) I truly believe that when we follow and express our true essence – love – the universe responds and supports us. But first, we must stop clinging to the alligator we have mistaken for a safe and stable rock and surrender to the flow of the love that we are.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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