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Category: Spiritual Journey

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.

Images That Speak

Images That Speak

A few months before he died, my friend, David, gave me a two-year gift subscription to Joan Chittister’s monthly publication, The Monastic Way. Each month’s pamphlet features a different work of art and invites the reader to sit with the painting and read it with a “listening heart” while contemplating the following questions:

  • What does this painting say?
  • What does this painting say to me?
  • What do I want to say to God through this painting?
  • What difference does this painting make in my life?
  • What feeling or thought or word does it evoke? 

The Monastic Way employs art as a doorway to spiritual contemplation and is the perfect gift for me. It has inspired me to ask similar questions of images I find in dreams and nature. For instance, earlier this year I dreamed of sunlight shining through the frost-covered branches of a willow tree. It was the most beautiful, gripping image, and I wanted desperately to photograph it! Several weeks later, that image still calls to me. Realizing that it’s unlikely I will come across a frosted willow tree at this point in the season, today I did a Google search for sunlit, frosted willow trees and was transfixed by one image in particular. Once again, I’m grateful that someone took the time to capture and share an image that calls to me from within but eludes me when I search for it in the outer world. Because of this person’s generosity, I can sit with the image with a grateful heart and contemplate the particular significance it holds for me.

Other times, images aren’t so elusive, and I find them even when I am not looking for them – or when I am looking for something else. I never know when it will happen, but if I’m walking in nature – with or without my camera – something inevitably will stop me in my tracks and fill me with awe and gratitude. It could be anything, large or small. But when something calls to me like that, it always stops me in my tracks, quite literally. My husband has learned to deal with this little quirk of mine when we are out walking for exercise. Once I stopped for about 20 minutes to capture sunlight illuminating a leaf that was standing on its side on the roadside.

The oak leaf kept blowing gently in the wind but did not fall and lay flat like the other leaves around it. It stood alone and allowed the sunlight to shine through. Something about that resonated deeply in me.

And then there’s the tree that stands alone, silhouetted so magnificently by the setting sun. When we drove past it one evening (as we had done countless times before), my husband commented that he loves that tree. That’s all it took for me to fall in love with it, too, to the point of becoming fixated on mapping out angles, weather conditions, and times when it was most striking and photographable – for once I noticed it, the image spoke to me so strongly that I couldn’t stop thinking about it and needed to capture and share it.

What does this image say?

What feeling, thought, or word does it evoke? 

How does it awaken me?

On a recent, solo walk I came across the following image, which stopped me in my tracks:

Three milkweed pods. One is empty. It opened and released its seeds to the wind before winter took hold. The other two pods are still full of seeds. Whereas some of the long, white hairs attached to the seeds are still fairly silky, most are wet and matted and therefore cannot be released into the wind. And the matted ones are pressing on the silkier ones, keeping them stuck in the seed pod.

As I stopped and gazed at this sight, I thought of my mother, who continues to live with advanced pancreatic cancer. I thought of her life and how fully she has lived it. She loved her work – early on as a flight attendant and then as an executive assistant at a performing arts center for three decades. But despite how much she loved her work, she’d always dreamed of being a nurse. She even went to nursing school part-time when my children were little, as she continued to work full-time. Eventually, she withdrew from the nursing program because she felt it got in the way of her spending precious time with her grandchildren while they were young. Time she realized she could not get back.

However, after she retired a few years ago, she became a hospital volunteer. And then she had a new dream: To learn to play guitar so she could share the gift of music with the patients she visited. Well, she didn’t miss a beat! She found a teacher and became a serious, dedicated student. Her life began to revolve around guitar, and her teacher became one of her dearest friends. Not only did she play for her patients, but she also mustered the confidence and courage to do open mic performances! Her energy was youthful and abundant and ever so inspiring. She was on fire with new passion in her mid-70s.

Music had always been so important to my mother, and when my siblings and I were growing up, she made sure we had music lessons for whatever instruments we wished to play. It was very important to her that we could play an instrument, and of the three of us, I was the one who took it most seriously. Playing piano became a fundamental part of my identity, and I know this brought my mother great joy. However, when I began to lose interest and move on to other endeavors, I think it was quite a loss for her. All along, she had an inner musician longing to come out like those milkweed seeds still stuck inside the pod. She made a career of working with world-famous musicians and supported her children’s involvement with music. But finally, she learned to play guitar, and that made all the difference. And what’s even more inspiring and impressive is that she used her musical passion and talent in service of others.

My mom is like the empty milkweed pod that has opened and allowed her seed dreams to be released into the world. In the process, she has inspired many who have witnessed her. (In fact, I, too, want to learn to play guitar.) It is a beautiful thing when silky seed fairies hitch a ride on a gentle wind, for they were made to travel beyond the protective confines of their pods, to give birth to new possibilities and fulfill their potential.

The image of the milkweed pods inspires me to consider what seeds are still waiting to be released from within me so that, when all is said and done, I can say with sincerity and gratitude that I have lived a truly fulfilled life. Also, how might I support others in opening and releasing their gifts to the world? May each of us open and let go of any fears and doubts that prevent us from sending our seeds into the world so that when we come to the end of our lives, we are lovely, empty pods with seeds sown as far as the gracious winds of our lives will carry them.

Just like my mother.

© 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.

Bringing Light to the Dark Places

Bringing Light to the Dark Places

“Where there is darkness, let me bring light.”  -Saint Francis of Assisi

I am writing in the pre-dawn darkness of the Winter Solstice, surrounded by the light of several star lanterns and the flicker of light shining through the window of the wood stove.

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This is the shortest, darkest day of the year, and this year is darker than usual. It is drizzling outside, and the cloud blanket is thick. Looking eastward during early sunrise, I notice a very faint band of pink stretched across the gray-blue sky above the horizon that probably wouldn’t register as sunrise unless you were looking for it. Despite the cloud cover, the sun is still there, ascending as it does every morning even though it is more difficult to see this particular morning.

This has been a challenging week for a number of reasons, and midway through it, when I felt like I was at the end of my rope, it occurred to me that this is literally the darkest week of the year.

Every ray of sunshine is precious at this time of year. Sunrises this week have held extra significance. When we ordered Chinese takeout Thursday evening, my fortune cookie message read, “You will always see light after darkness.” How perfect.

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Sunrise during Solstice week

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Today is finally Winter Solstice, the turning point at which the light begins to grow in the Northern Hemisphere and the days become longer again. It is the point at which we cease traveling further into darkness – for we have reached the darkest point – and turn around and take a first step closer to the light. This week, I have been contemplating how to bring light into the dark places, particularly given that three people close to me are navigating the greatest challenges of their lives. I look to the sun at the beginning of each day to draw strength and light and to give thanks for all of the sources of light and inspiration in my life. But I am also listening to the voices arising from the darkness and silence of this time of year – the voices that have been ignored and need to be heard, for they show me where healing is needed and assure me that, in the end, all of our challenges are gifts. The question is: What will we do with these dark gifts we are given? How will we shine light on our challenges and through the alchemy of love turn them into blessings, wisdom, art?

Last week, I came across a video that was like the light of a hundred suns during this dark season. It is a TEDx talk given by Anita Moorjani, a woman who was dying from end-stage lymphoma nearly eight years ago. Her organs were shutting down, and doctors told her family that she had only a few more hours left to live. In the video, she describes what happened to her that day and what she learned. She is still alive today and was cancer-free within five weeks of the day on which she was supposed to die. But that’s not the part that spoke to me the most. The most amazing part is what she learned that day and how it has changed her life.

Email followers: Click HERE to watch video. Note: She begins by describing in detail her deteriorated physical condition until 2:40, when she begins talking about her near-death experience.

Anita Moorjani’s message resonates deeply with me. I was moved to tears by her metaphor of an enormous, dark warehouse in which we flash our tiny beam of light and see only what our light falls on, and what we are looking for. Our understanding and perception of life are extremely limited. There is so much more beyond what our little flashlight reveals to us. We have no idea how powerful our mind is in terms of both limiting us and liberating us from the prison we (with some help from those close to us and society) have created for ourselves based on what we believe to be true about the universe – which is based on our very limited experience of it.

I have been feeling this so strongly lately. There is more. So much more. I want to align my intention with spirit and experiment with the laws of the universe. Many spiritual teachers whom I respect talk about this, and I know in my heart that what they are describing is true. I have had enough experiences myself that cannot be attributed to mere coincidence to know that there is so much more than ordinary consciousness leads us to believe. I have received so many “signs” – uncanny, unexplainable events – that I envision a small group of angels shaking their heads in somewhat amused exasperation, wondering why I still don’t get it enough to risk stepping out of my comfort zone and dreaming outside of the box. (Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I haven’t done it before. I have experience with facing my fears, taking one step at a time in faith, and eventually experiencing the thrill and fulfillment of attaining my goal. But it’s time to fashion new goals.)

Why is it so difficult to live according to those higher laws? What is holding me back? I see the image of a wall. A wall of fear. A wall built from my own limited understanding of the world. I know in every cell of my being that infinite possibilities exist on the other side of this wall. Why, then, do I confine myself to this small prison, thinking it’s the best I can do? It makes no sense.

I want to break through the barrier of fear and allow love to pilot my life. I want to live a fearless, authentic life. I want to like I’ve never wanted to before!

And this is where the self-love that Anita Moorjani spoke of enters in. Not the narcissistic kind that bolsters the ego, but the kind of love that supports the fullest expression of the higher Self, which is interconnected with all life. Loving oneself enough to follow our innermost joy and experience the fullness of a fearless life – to find out what is on the other side of fear. Loving oneself enough to step outside of our personal prisons. This message is really taking root in my heart, and I’ve been reflecting on what self-love means to me. It might mean something different to you, but here are some ideas I have come up with:

Self-love is spending as much time as possible in an environment(s) that values and accepts the gifts you have to offer.

Self-love is surrounding yourself with people who make you laugh and feel good.

Self-love is limiting as much as possible the time you spend with people who bring you down or judge you based on criteria that is completely meaningless to you. 

Self-love is making time for activities and relationships that bring you joy.

Self-love is asking for help when you need it.

Self-love is getting enough rest, exercise, and good nutrition.

Self-love is caring enough not to consume the thing that is unhealthy for you.

Self-love is forgiving your weaknesses BUT not employing forgiveness as a means to excuse or continue to indulge them.

Self-love is being impeccably honest with yourself and taking responsibility (without blaming or beating yourself up) for your life and happiness.

Self-love is knowing where to let go with love and allow others to take responsibility for their own life and happiness.

At the core, I believe we are all made of love and light, and our mission is to manifest these qualities in this world of shadows and help our planet evolve.

In a Facebook post, Dr. Wayne Dyer wrote,

“A half-lived life, as Herman Melville describes it, is one in which we do not get to that inner place of peace and joy. Perhaps the most devastating scenario imaginable is to face death knowing that because of some imagined fear, you have always chosen a half-lived life in which you avoided doing the things your heart beckoned you to do. I urge you to change the scenario now. Start living your life with the courage to follow your heart.” 

I hold these words in front of my little beam of light as I form an intention on this Solstice day and feel the truth of Anita Moorjani’s words: “In the end, you will always find that your challenges are a gift.”

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It is now 12:11 p.m., the moment of solstice, as I hit the “publish” button. Happy Solstice!

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© 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.

An Authentic Life

An Authentic Life

I just came across an article about the five most common regrets of the dying, written by a former palliative care nurse. The article really puts life into perspective. Click HERE to read it.

Doing hospice work back in my twenties was perhaps the most important educational experience I’ve ever had. Dying persons – even those with whom I only had one visit – have been among my greatest teachers, and the article explains why. The obvious theme of the article is the value of living an authentic life and realizing that, despite circumstances, we can choose either to be true to our authentic self or to do what others pressure us to do. It is our choice.

I think I have learned the most from human beings who recently entered this world and from those who were about to depart – because at the beginning and end of a human lifetime, people tend to be most authentic. Babies are pure, unconditioned energy that reminds us of who we were before the world convinced us to be otherwise. Young children live in the moment with an innocence that is truly inspiring. They imagine, play, sing, dance, and create. Children are pure potentiality. Each one of them can be an artist or engineer, and perhaps the greatest joy I experience as a kindergarten teacher is witnessing when a child seems to be in his or her element and pointing out special skills, talents, and activities that bring the child deep satisfaction and joy. In other words, I love to notice what lights them up. Witnessing that spark is a responsibility we have to one another. (I watched a video in which children’s picture book artist, Eric Carle, spoke of how his kindergarten teacher made a point of telling his parents about his artistic talent and encouraged them to support him in that direction.) Children love stories. And they notice things that older children and adults have learned to look past. Children have helped to awaken me to the wonder and astonishing beauty of the natural world, and I am so grateful for the presence of children in my life. I’ve heard it said that it’s useful to remember what brought us great joy as a child, and to be sure to keep that alive in our life.

Dying persons are “real,” too. They need to make peace with the reality of future being stripped away from them and learn to live in the moment. This requires loosening the noose of ego and moving through predictable stages in order to come to terms with the end of life as we know it. There is a limited amount of time for putting everything in order and for reflecting on and reconciling that which got swept under the rug for whatever reason during their healthier, more active years. At this time, people see The Big Picture.

In between childhood and preparing to die, we identify more with the world and often get caught up in various pursuits and activities that consume a great deal of our time, our days, our lives. So it’s beneficial to retreat regularly from the hustle and bustle and spend some quiet, solitary moments listening to ourselves and noticing what arises in stillness. Spending time with children and old people is also good medicine, for they can reawaken us to what is ultimately most important.

We owe it to ourselves and to everyone around us to “keep it real.” What better gift can we give the world than our authentic selves? Earlier in life, I had trouble determining who or what my “authentic self” was in the first place. I often confused it with worldly pursuits, such as a certain career or goal. No, no, no! Our authentic self goes far beyond any condition or detail we might try to pin on it. It is unconditioned and fluid and goes beyond concepts and words. But you know when you have expressed it because you feel truly alive, energized, and peaceful. At least that has been my experience.

For me, the telltale sign of not living authentically is when I feel disconnected from the people and life energy around me. This happens a lot now in the teaching profession as public school educators across the United States are required to deliver new curricula (tied tightly to third-party student assessments and teacher evaluations) that we often are learning as we go along. Scripted curriculum is not authentic teaching. Even when school districts give teachers permission to “adapt” curriculum, it is very difficult to do that the first time you teach it because you don’t understand it well enough. It often takes a great deal of time and reflection to understand something well enough to adapt it. But I’ve noticed that when I put down the manual and allow my authentic self to drive instruction, magic happens. I feel more connected to my students, and they seem to be more engaged. And when I hear from parents that their children love going to school, I know that authentic instruction is taking place despite it all. Something real within me has connected with something real within them, and that connection is pulling us through. My yearly teacher evaluation score means nothing compared to the wonder and love of learning that I hope to instill in my students – for the connection between teacher, student, and curriculum is what ultimately matters most to me.

My “daily reflection” following my parent-teacher conferences last week is that, despite my concerns about the developmental appropriateness of the Common Core curriculum, to a large degree…

I don’t mean only teachers and students in a classroom. This is true of any mentor relationship,  apprenticeship, or adult-child relationship. I think we often learn the most from who our teachers are. How they hold their instrument often speaks louder than the notes they play.

Earlier in life, playing piano was my whole world. I didn’t pursue it professionally, though, because of stage fright and not being able to handle competition. I gave it up because it ended up being about how others would perceive me rather than the music I could offer to the world. But sometimes I’ll sit down and play, and it’s the best feeling. I recently had a dream in which I was sitting at the piano with my eyes closed playing what was in my heart, and it was the most natural thing in the world. The music was so beautiful. I loved that dream and woke up wanting to play more. In the dream, I was not playing to impress others but to express the authentic music springing from within. That is what I am talking about. Teaching, musical performance – it’s all the same when it comes to authenticity. We must do our work in this world for the right reasons and be really honest with ourselves about whether the sacrifices we make in pursuit of our goals are worthwhile in the long run – or whether we are pursuing an illusory ideal. Are we overlooking what is ultimately most important? For when we are on our deathbeds letting go of worldly concerns and reconciling bigger questions and fears, we will realize how ultimately small and self-sabotaging our little fears and anxieties were – and will regret allowing them to sidetrack us from what was truly important.

For those of us living in the workaday world and feeling overwhelmed, I want to share some advice one of the wise women in my life offered recently. She insisted that no job deserves 100%; perhaps 60% is enough. Save 100% for spirit. Don’t let the demands of the world encroach on your spiritual health and deplete your energy. Know where to put your boundaries, and save yourself by honoring them. We need to remember that we are so much more than any job we do and not allow our lives to be consumed by what we are paid to do – or by whether we will be rated as “effective” or “highly effective.” Perhaps “effective” is good enough, especially when the criteria bypass completely your authentic reasons for being there. Achieving a healthy balance between “work” and “life” is critical if we are to end our lives unburdened by regret. If you have your heart set on a pay raise or promotion, it’s useful to consider whether the sacrifices are ultimately worth the consequences in terms of time and energy available for the people and activities that are most meaningful to you.

I believe there is always a way to express our authentic selves. We might need to reframe the work we do in our daily life or erect boundaries around our life outside of “work” to allow energy to flow from our authentic wellsprings. Or it could be as simple as smiling at someone or following through on an impulse to perform an act of kindness. And, as I wrote above, it is also our duty to help others recognize their own authenticity when we see the telltale light in their eyes.

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

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