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Category: Spiritual Journey

Trees and Geese and Letting Go

Trees and Geese and Letting Go

“Anything you cannot relinquish when it has outlived its usefulness possesses you.” –Peace Pilgrim

Here on the riverside, the dominant sound is of honking geese flying south in formation.

The dominant visual is of bare trees with a carpet of crunchy leaves on the ground below.

Fall foliage is stunning. But now the landscape is composed of bare trees and evergreens punctuated by an occasional burst of color from a deciduous tree that has not yet let go of its leaves.

Inspired by all this, there are two questions on my mind. The bare trees invite me to consider: What has outlived its usefulness in my life? The migrating geese inspire me to ask: Where is my highest wisdom calling me?

Fall is a time of letting go, creating space for new growth. In between releasing and rebirth/renewal, we here in the Northeast move inward for a time of resting and dreaming. But first, we must let go.

At the most basic level, I feel an irresistible urge to get rid of possessions. We live in a small, old house with virtually no usable storage space, so everything we own is out in the open. I’m tired of looking at the clutter that merely collects dust and traps energy. If something gives me joy or is still useful, it will stay. But let the great purge begin! Perhaps my closet and library are good places to start.

But I am contemplating letting go on other levels as well, especially letting go of outdated, limiting beliefs and sabotaging thoughts. Actually, that is a huge part of it – perhaps the most important part of all – for sometimes thoughts can be like prison guards keeping us locked in a cage and preventing us from moving forward.

Our materialistic culture values accumulation, getting and achieving more and more, expecting that our investments of money and time will pay off and provide us with a comfortable, “successful” life. But there is an art to letting go – releasing what has outlived its usefulness just as trees release their leaves when the time is right and birds migrate with changing seasons. We build houses with rocks that are perhaps put to better use as stepping stones.

Has the highest part of us moved on, following the flow of the living universe to new horizons – or is the self-centered personality restless like a discontented child? That seems to be the critical discernment. There are some situations in which some training and discipline could help us to make the most of our present life situation and lead a more fulfilled and joyful life. There are other situations that have lost their value with no reasonable expectation of bouncing back, and we need to make our peace and move on with gratitude for the experience.

Trees release their leaves when the time is right and are bare for a while. Their energy is drawn inward, and they enter a period of rest. In time, the next generation of leaves will manifest and collect energy from the sun. The rhythm repeats itself every year, inviting us to trust that letting go will result in rebirth and renewal, and to honor the in between period of rest that is necessary for our growth and cannot be rushed. During this time, we do not draw our energy from the outside world. We go within. It is quiet enough during the cold months to hear the still voice within – our deepest wisdom. Even if it looks like nothing is happening on the outside, a hidden transformation is taking place.

I believe that the highest in us (that some call the soul) goes where life energy flows and understands that challenging circumstances are valuable for the clarity they provide – and gives thanks for them, without harboring any grudges or regrets. For example, it’s okay if something in which you invested a lot of time and/or money loses its value. If you have derived your identity or self-worth from it, you learn that you are so much more than this one thing; your existence does not depend upon it. Praise and bless it as a stepping stone. Let it go, and move on if that is what you feel deeply called to do. When the time is right, you will know. The soul doesn’t care how much money or time you spent to get to this place where you are now. It grabs your hand and says, “Come on! There’s more yet to see.” It follows the flow of life. It is like a migratory bird acutely aware of the subtle signs heralding a new season. It knows when to leave and in what direction to travel.

Basically, I believe that great changes occur when love pulls you toward something rather than when you are motivated to move away from something that has lost its value. Recently, a friend pointed out that what we move toward might be an ideal or quality rather than a particular outcome. Perhaps we begin to focus on inner peace, freedom, or joy, and as we attune to that vibration, the details begin to take shape. It is a process that requires honesty, courage, and patience.

As Joseph Campbell stated:

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.” 

I truly believe this to be true. Without making any drastic changes, simply take a step in joy, and notice what happens. In my experience, inner peace and joy draw synchronicity to us, and each step reveals new possibilities and small miracles.

Without even looking for them, I’ve recently come across some articles related to exciting discoveries about neuroplasticity – how the brain rewires itself constantly based on experience. The following links offer much hope regarding our ability to continue growing, improving, and reinventing ourselves as we age.

Why It’s Important to Follow Your Bliss After 50

Why We’re Hardwired for Midlife Reinvention

Midlife Crisis – or Power Surge?

The third link was especially powerful for me and brought to mind my participation in a women’s group at a local retreat center more than a decade ago. At the time, I was in my mid-30s and was the youngest one in the group, and I was contemplating what to do for work after staying home with my children for a number of years, thinking it was too late for me to pursue a new career. I listened to women in their 50s and 60s talk about reinventing themselves as the article describes, and it helped me put things into perspective. I think what cut through my illusions more than anything else was their laughter when I voiced that I felt it was too late in life for me to switch gears and go back to grad school. It was delighted, authentic laughter filled with such compassion and wisdom. I learned from these women that it is never too late to reinvent yourself.

Letting go, as nature models so boldly to us at this time of year, is the first step.

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

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

These Ithakas

These Ithakas

I’m sitting with my laptop with tears streaming down my face…because I get it. I understand C.P. Cavafy’s amazing poem, “Ithaka,” on a new level now. It’s been one of my favorite poems since I heard it during a Cornell University commencement address in Ithaca, New York in my twenties. I printed out the poem and displayed it on the refrigerator, or framed on a wall, for years back when I was trying to figure out what to do with my life.

You can read the full poem here: http://www.cavafy.com/poems/content.asp?cat=1&id=74 . Please do!

Yesterday, I was walking along the riverside and was drawn to the way the sunlight illuminated fallen leaves, making them look like glowing embers.

 

I picked up an oak leaf and had an idea. I held it to the sun and was delighted to the core by the photographic effect I achieved. It was a simple effect but a very satisfying one that began spontaneously when a sense of awe was ignited by a creative spark.

All of a sudden, I realized I was holding a tiny magic wand in my hand. And that’s when the delight giggled in!

I continued on my walk looking at the world around me through a lens of appreciation and joy. I was completely in my element, exhausted from a long week at work but invigorated by being immersed in what I love.

As I admired some fall foliage on the trail, a line from the “Ithaka” poem sailed into my mind: “not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.”* At this point in my life, I am not looking to anything or anyone to make me happy. I’ve been there, done that. I’ve been married twice and have raised two children who are now teenagers – one of whom has graduated from high school and is living on her own. I worked really hard to decide on a career direction once my youngest started school, and jumped through all the hoops (which were numerous and expensive) to earn the credentials needed for my chosen career path. After what felt like a mythic Quest, I landed a teaching job at my preferred grade level. And I was happy – immensely happy – for two or three years.

But the thing is, you really can’t look to a life situation to make you happy. Not a relationship. Not a job. Not material possessions. Not anything else. Because everything in this world changes, and happiness and fulfillment are ultimately an inside job – a way of relating to the world, a manner of traveling. Toward the end of the poem, Cavafy explained:

“Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.”

*Source: C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992.

Relationships and career may awaken something extraordinary in you and set you on your path, but they are not the destination. Rather than thinking, “I will be happy when…” (I get married, buy a house, have a baby, land my dream job, retire, etc.), it’s about tuning your mind to the channel of love and joy and engaging with that “rare excitement” that lights you up.

At this point in my life, I understand the last lines of the “Ithaka” poem in a new way:

“And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, 
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.”*

Yes, I think I finally understand what these Ithakas mean. Don’t build your house on the shifting sands of the world. Build it in your heart, and carry it with you always. Let it lead you to new harbors when the time is right.

In my experience, a worthwhile life is one spent doing what you love – that which fills you with joy and meaning. And that might change. Whatever my job or career is, I feel that my true work is to love, to inspire, to be inspired, to create, to listen, to have a grateful heart. Those things have become more important than any particular life situation. As I become older and hopefully wiser, I find myself gravitating toward these things. The details don’t matter so much. I just want to keep alive the creative spark – the “rare excitement” – and live an inspired life.

I am never happier than when I am engaged in the creative process, and I set my sails each day to follow the winds of creativity. If it’s not in one place – and a place can be either physical/geographical or mental/emotional – I will find it in another and spend my time there. In that place, I feel truly alive and know exactly what to do.

In that place, I realize that life is short and that if you wait for all the lights to turn green before starting out, you’ll never leave the house. It’s one thing to have a map and know where you want to go, but it’s another to actually get in the car or on the bike – or even in the moving van – and get started. For example, my husband and I joined an online international rock balancing community a while ago. Every day, we are inspired by photos posted by group members. A couple weeks ago, Jack decided to start posting his own pictures on the group’s page. Why wait? And then someone liked his work and invited him to join another artists group. That is how it happens. You show up and share your talents, and then people are drawn to your energy and perhaps inspired by your courage, and they help you along the way. We help one another.

That is how the magic seems to happen. If you’re looking to an “Ithaka” to make you financially rich, there’s more involved, but if you’re looking to be happy and to live a fulfilled life, you’ve got to follow that spark and spend more time doing what you love.

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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.

Happiness Here and Now

Happiness Here and Now

I bought my new At-a-Glance weekly/monthly planner yesterday. (As a teacher and parent, my year runs July to June rather than January to December.) 

It’s turquoise – my favorite color. And it felt so good to file the old one! As I transferred birthdays and such into the new planner, I noticed the notes I’d jotted down about all the “events” that arose during the past year. Although I’ve kept a running tally in my head of the major events, there were some that had slipped my mind. And – wow. It totally explains why I ended up feeling as I do: Questioning virtually every aspect of my life situation and wanting to reinvent myself. I guess the bottom line is that some years are like that – and my nature photography was the saving grace that pulled me through and helped me to find beauty and inspiration to rise above the waves rather than be sucked under. When a year like that comes along, you’ve got to cull whatever grace, blessings, and wisdom you can from it and keep going.

“There are no tough times, hard knocks, or challenges that aren’t laden with emeralds, rubies, and diamonds for those who see them through.”  -Mike Dooley


The past year helped me to get my priorities straight. I am ready for deep transformation and for living a more authentic, congruent life. Life is short, and I simply don’t have the energy for anything else.

I’ve been thinking about happiness a lot this week. And that’s usually not a great sign because if you’re thinking about being happy, you’re probably not doing it. Too much thinking can be a real handicap on the spiritual path. It can be an addiction, a distraction.

It seems I’ve come to a fork in the road. One way points to Authenticity and Adventure and the other to Fear (which runs perilously close to the dense forest of Hopelessness). 


I know which road I want to take. But I think I am programmed to take the other through nearly half a century of conditioning – most of it well intentioned. Realizing this is really frustrating – and at times, downright painful. Because the former route is the way of Life, and the latter is the way of Death. Is there anything more regrettable than an unlived life – remaining closed in a bud rather than blooming and sharing your gift with the world as fully as possibly? 


My hair is a perfect metaphor for the ambivalence I’m struggling with. Although most of my hair is dark auburn, the roots are mostly silver. And I’m okay with that. I’m tired of putting poison on my head, and the last time I did it, it didn’t feel like “me.” I’m considering letting my hair go natural rather than mask who I really am. The way I see it, silver strands of wisdom are growing out of my head, and I’ve earned every single one of them.

So yes, I am ready. Ready for deep, voluntary transformation. For rewiring my neural circuitry. Not just talking about it or learning how to do it, but really doing it.

I have been obsessing for the past year over a situation in my life that I would like to change. With everything that has occurred in the past year, it’s difficult to sort out whether the situation is really as bad as it seems or if managing all the major events during the past year has been so overwhelming that I simply couldn’t cope with it as resourcefully as I might have been able to other years. I want to avoid making the mistake of throwing out the baby with the bath water.

One of the problems is that I can’t think of a compelling alternative to the present situation. That is because I have accumulated enough life experience to know that happiness does not depend on situations or conditions external to ourselves (i.e. “If I get/achieve this, I’ll be happy.”) I have had the good fortune of manifesting various situations and relationships my heart desired and have learned that enduring happiness doesn’t come from those things/people. The interplay of all the external conditions in our lives is constantly shifting and changing like the image in a kaleidoscope. Although I haven’t had a great deal of material success so far in this lifetime, I realize from knowing and reading autobiographies about people who have everything money can buy, that material success is not the Holy Grail of happiness. Happiness is an inner quality, an attunement and sense of well being – and when it is activated in you, the situations in your life are irrelevant.

I truly believe that, unless there are biochemical issues at play, happiness is a choice. If you’re not happy with a current situation, you have the choice to change it or to change your attitude toward it. You can make excuses for why you cannot do either, but the bottom line is that your happiness is at stake.

The buck stops here. I can no longer blame people or situations for my unhappiness or depend on them for my happiness. I simply can’t accept that anymore. The change from discontent to happiness must come from within. Period.

So I wonder which is better: To stay where I am and hope the situation becomes more palatable to my soul or to remove myself from the situation and hopefully find something more nourishing? Some people need to have the next step lined up in order to make a change, whereas others are more comfortable taking a leap of faith. As much as I’d like to be in the latter category, might there be some value – a certain depth – in remaining? Or is it a cop-out? I guess that depends on personality and intention; it is not black and white.

Perhaps there is another alternative: To stop thinking so much about it and simply be present. Show up each moment as authentic, mindful presence. Even if the outward situation seems artificial or restrictive, perhaps bringing my authentic self to it can somehow transform it into something better? Or perhaps it is at least worth a try? The gift of presence.

I have a role model for this. Back in the fall, I wrote about Lorenzo, who directed traffic through a local construction project. He spent the entire day – for weeks – spreading joy and kindness to everyone who drove by. It was incredible. I always felt that somebody needed to write or make a film about him because what he does is that inspired. And it turns out his story is going to be included in a forthcoming book about happiness! The author – who I follow on Facebook – put out a call for stories of people whose happiness is infectious and who inspire others to be happy. I thought immediately of Lorenzo and filled out the form to nominate him. He was contacted right away, and after his phone interviews got in touch with me via Facebook to thank me for nominating him. What happened next was pretty awesome. I let my Facebook community know that his story will be included in the book, and people started writing about how happy he made them when he directed traffic in our town, and sharing stories of what he said and did that made a difference in their day. What he did for each of us was both radical and simple at the same time: He noticed us. And he was kind. When we were driving in our cars. What more impersonal situation is there than that? And yet he found a way to be so present that he connected with everyone who drove by and made us feel seen and noticed. He made us feel that we mattered. Even in our cars as we were in between wherever we came from and wherever we were headed to. It certainly took me by surprise the first time I drove by him! Standing on the road all day directing traffic, he was able to be a channel of joy and blessings. He transformed what otherwise could be a boring, hot, repetitive job into a true vocation in the most spiritual sense. He was a point in which the Light came through – a beacon for us all. We were drawn to his energy and light, which he kindled within us, as well. I’d love to know how many lives were positively affected by this one man simply showing up for life and letting his light shine. Surely, ripples were set in motion!

If Lorenzo was able to do this standing in traffic, so can we. Each and every one of us. No excuses!

Why not just be happy now, DESPITE IT ALL? Believing that I will be happy if this or that were to change robs me of personal power. It places my happiness in the hands of others or fate, rendering me powerless. Really, it’s just an excuse. A commonplace and ordinary excuse. I’d rather live an exceptional life, like Lorenzo. Sometimes the best way to begin is by helping others, being kind to others, being of service.

Another way of putting it: Would you rather be happy when your clothes fit better or be happy now? Again, what’s at stake is your happiness! Our world is in desperate need of people who exemplify happiness and can model it to others. We Westerners are so good at beating ourselves up. 

I’ve heard a story about a couple visiting a town and thinking about moving there. An old man was sitting in the middle of town, and the couple asked him what the people are like in the town. He asked, “What are they like where you live?” and they answered that they’re horrible – unfriendly and dishonest. He replied, “It’s the same here.” Then another couple visited the town, and they, too, were thinking about moving there. They approached the man with the same question, and again he asked what the people are like where they live. The couple said they’re wonderful – so helpful and kind. And the old man replied, “It’s the same here.”

The point is, happiness is an inside job. It doesn’t depend on external factors. You can move, change jobs, change relationships, or change any other life situation, thinking that doing so will make you happy. And maybe it will for a brief time. But enduring happiness is a quality that can only be cultivated in your own mind and heart, no matter what circumstances show up in your life.

Why not start there?

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

On Retreat

On Retreat

“We are here to find that dimension within ourselves that is deeper than thought.”  -Eckhart Tolle

It’s a school vacation week, and I spent a few days on a solitary, spiritual retreat in a cabin on a hill in Van Etten, New York at a retreat center aptly named Light on the Hill. I have been visiting Light on the Hill since 1990, which was around the time it began, and have done so much deep, transformative work there that I feel “all my changes are there.” My husband and I even got married there. It is a very special place, run by a very special couple, Alice and Larry. 

I met Alice when she was a religious studies professor at Ithaca College. I enrolled in her Introduction to World Religions course and was so drawn to her energy and teachings that I took a course with her every semester. As her student, I recall Alice talking about her dream to operate a retreat center and how perfect it was that the man she was soon to marry owned some land. As she eased into retiring from academia, she and Larry were busy behind the scenes building their shared dream. To see how it has grown and blossomed since those early days is truly astonishing and inspiring.

Alice and I have remained in contact all these years. She became my guide in the Sufi tradition, she and Larry officiated at both of my weddings, and she assisted me during the homebirth of my son. I could go on and on about the important role(s) Alice has played in my life, but the purpose of this post is to describe the retreat process as I have experienced it at Light on the Hill.

I feel called to Light on the Hill when I am at a crossroads or in the “valley of unknowing” and seek clarity and direction. I embarked on this week’s retreat with a specific intention in mind. During the course of a retreat, one is drawn more deeply in touch with the divine Self each day.

To prepare for the retreat, I intuitively withdrew from technology for a full day before leaving. The four-hour drive to Light on the Hill (which included an out-of-the-way stop at my favorite waterfall in Ithaca) provided further preparation and a rare opportunity to photograph Ithaca Falls without anyone else around.

From Ithaca, it’s about a half-hour drive along country roads. Light on the Hill is located a mile up a dirt road that climbs a hill, taking you away from the distractions of ordinary life. And then you go even deeper as you drive slowly along the narrow road to the cottage. 

By the time you arrive, you have a sense of being nestled deeply and protectively in the sacred space on the hill. Such peace.

I stayed in the Meadow Cottage, which is also where my husband and I spent our wedding night. Over the years, I have stayed in every cottage and hut on the land. Prior to this week, I had experienced Light on the Hill during every season except spring.

There is no electricity in the Meadow Cottage, but it is heated and very comfortable. There is a kitchen, bathroom, and living room downstairs and a sleeping loft upstairs. The sofa downstairs also converts to a bed. The refrigerator and heat run on propane. There is a gas stove in the kitchen, and you turn on a generator for a hot shower and to flush the toilet.

The windows and sliding glass door open to a picturesque view of the meadow and distant hills. The sounds of spring were all around.

Here is the view from the windows by the table:

In the past, I have gone on fully guided retreats as well as unguided retreats. This time, I chose a partially guided retreat, which means that Alice visited the cottage to sit with me once (rather than twice) each day. She is highly intuitive and brings practices that she discerns will facilitate spiritual attunement and growth. I received some guided meditations on CD and inspiring conversations and teachings on cassette tape (with battery-operated players), along with some handwritten instructions for practices and a few quotes to contemplate. 

I spent the next 24 hours (until meeting with Alice again and receiving new practices) engaging with the meditations and practices, doing some yoga/movement, and taking walks.


Walking, meditating, resting, moving, dreaming – it’s all part of the process. Slowed down and removed from the usual distractions, I find that I intuitively know what to do, what to eat, etc. It feels as if my soul is guiding me, and I am still enough to hear it. The soul connection is much stronger than in normal daily life, and it deepens each day on retreat. There is a momentum that builds and is difficult to describe in words.

As I was settling in to the practices, I heard (in my mind):

Quiet, quiet, quiet!
Put your mind on a diet!

…which made me laugh.

Each day, I walked the 11-circuit labyrinth (based on the Chartres cathedral model), letting the 34 turns of the labyrinth work their magic on me. A symbol of wholeness, a labyrinth is different from a maze in that there is one pathway from the entrance to the goal (in this case, the center), with no dead ends. If you keep walking, you are certain to arrive. My time in the labyrinth was especially powerful and transformative. I don’t know if this is true for others, but there is a certain point in the labyrinth where the insights seem to come and really take hold. There is a pile of smooth rocks near the entrance to the labyrinth, and I carried one with me each time and offered it when I arrived at the center.

Not long after meeting with Alice in the late afternoon, Larry arrives with dinner in a lovely basket. In addition to being a dedicated caretaker of the land and facilities, he is a fabulous cook. The meals are vegetarian, as meat and sugar are best avoided while on retreat because of the effects they have on one’s energy field. I always look forward to Larry’s nourishing meals. This one featured rice pasta with a delicious, puréed sauce.

After the sun sets, I light the mantle on the gas lanterns on the wall and continue doing my work next to the warm glow of the wood stove.

Eventually, it’s time for sleep. I find that I go to bed much earlier on retreat than I normally do, and I think the retreat rhythm is closer to my natural rhythm. You have to climb a ladder to the sleeping loft, and therefore you can’t bring much with you. I bring a notepad, pen, and a small headlamp. Note: It is not necessary to climb in order to sleep, as there is a pullout sofa bed in the living room. Also, the woods cottage has downstairs bedrooms.

Multitudes of stars shone brightly in the clear sky through the window and skylight over the bed. So peaceful and comforting. I was tempted to do some astrophotography but felt it was more important to get some rest.

Dream work is an important part of the retreat process. I record my dreams on the notepad and work with the content the next day.

Here is the view to which I awakened in the morning:

The first morning, I woke up to a snow-dusted world. I drank some hot water with freshly squeezed lemon juice and watched the snowflakes dance through the air. My first insight of the day came from the snowflakes:

Water is not content to stay still.
It constantly moves and changes form:
A snowflake. A tear. A river.
A snowflake does not expect 
To remain a snowflake forever
But enjoys dancing its way to the ground.
In its brief time as a snowflake, 
It gives its all to being a snowflake.
Then the sun melts it,
And it is time to move on.
Let’s melt and become a puddle
Then soak down and nourish the plants
And then?
And then?
And then?

Thus spoke the higher Self.

Throughout the course of the retreat, I did experience guidance and clarity with regard to my original intention and also had some time for some unanticipated, additional work that Alice’s inquiry and intuition felt was important. I have complete trust in her, which is important when working with a guide. It is a trust that has developed through the decades, and I feel so blessed to have her in my life. She is an amazing teacher and healer.

I appreciate that the journey back home takes quite a while. After being on retreat, the energies of the world feel very dense, and I prefer to ease myself back in. I stopped again at my favorite waterfalls in Ithaca, and experienced more people than usual smiling at me and approaching me – remarking about my starry shoes or that I’m “obviously” a professional photographer (::smile::). I think I was radiating a higher energy than usual. The quality of my energy after being on retreat also reminds me of the value of making time for daily meditation, prayer, and reflection. I see the image of a dusty attic with the sun shining in through the window. Meditating is like sweeping the dust from the floor and cleaning the window. Doing this daily makes a difference in your life and how you view the world around you. It creates a sense of spaciousness. Going on retreat – especially a guided retreat – is like doing deep spring cleaning!

I find it rather interesting that as I was writing this blog entry, a cardinal landed briefly on my windowsill – just long enough to get my attention before flying away. I have been trying to photograph a cardinal for weeks and haven’t been able to get close enough. It’s as if this one came to me. Post-retreat magic!

You can visit Light on the Hill’s website by clicking HERE.

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

New Moon Project

New Moon Project

This evening, I write under a moonless sky; the visibility of the moon is 0%. This is the time of the new moon –  a special time of the lunar cycle – and I will write a little about its significance in my life.

The new moon and the waxing phase of the moon are linked with renewal, beginnings, and the availability of fresh, new energy. The idea is that projects or undertakings begun at this time grow along with the moon. The new moon is considered a favorable time to start something, whereas the waning phase is the time for letting go and clearing unnecessary clutter from one’s life.

At this time of the lunar cycle, I like to focus on forming an intention by asking: What do I wish to cultivate in my life at this time? The answer to this question sets in motion my “new moon project” for the lunar cycle. This month, my focus is on getting up earlier in the morning so I can both exercise before going to work and observe the early stages of the sunrise. I intend to prioritize this behavior and put my full attention on cultivating this habit for the next 28 days.

With only 20 days until the beginning of a new year, new beginnings are on my mind more than usual this month. I’ve heard more than once that it takes at least 21 days to establish a new habit so it becomes more automatic and a more natural part of one’s life. Whereas I haven’t come across any hard data to support this time frame, I know from my own experience that real change usually takes time and that the early repetitions of a daily habit carry a certain momentum.

I don’t recall being especially successful with New Year’s resolutions, perhaps because a year is a fairly large chunk of time. A 28-day lunar cycle, with clear-cut beginning and ending points, feels much more manageable. And I love the idea of growing along with the moon. As I watch the moon grow in size, it keeps my intention in focus; the moon is like a visible companion on my journey that motivates and encourages me. If I need more time to work on a particular intention, I can recommit myself to it during the next new moon and reflect on the progress I have made.

The new moon is also a great time for astrophotography, which is a brand new fascination of mine. I love seeing the stars on a clear night reflected on the calm surface of the river and experiencing the peace and stillness.

If you care to join me in harnessing the energy of the waxing moon, may you find success in whatever endeavor you pursue!

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

Practicing Gratitude

Practicing Gratitude

This morning I got up in time to experience the sunrise, and while I was waiting to witness the first rays of this new day, I was inspired to share with you how a simple practice of gratitude has transformed my life. But first, the sunrise. Ahhh – such peace.

 

I have kept a journal on and off throughout my life, but several years ago it occurred to me that I tended to use it as a tool for venting my frustrations – and that if someone were to read it someday, s/he might get the impression that I was a very unhappy person, which was not the case. I didn’t want to leave behind that kind of legacy in print.

Somewhere I came across the idea of keeping a gratitude journal. The idea was to spend a few moments at the end of each day writing down five things for which I am grateful. It is simple to do and only takes a minute or two. However, this practice has had profound effects on my life over the past five or more years that I have been doing it.

I select a journal that strikes me as beautiful and feels good in my hands. I prefer journals with pages that can lay completely flat. The one shown below has a pocket in the back that is handy for holding ticket stubs, photos, notes, etc. I also use a pen that writes smoothly and feels good to hold. The experience of keeping a gratitude journal needs to be inviting. It may or may not involve a cup of herbal tea. (Usually it doesn’t, but I like the idea.)

 

Pausing to recall positive experiences and impressions is a lovely way to end the day. I fall asleep focused on happy thoughts rather than anxieties. This makes for better sleep.

I write down anything that struck my fancy or uplifted me during the day: Conversations with family members, the earthy smell of a homegrown tomato, the proud smile on a student’s face when he showed me how he learned to write the number five, comfortable clothes, eating a pomegranate, holding my husband’s hand while taking a walk, a smile from a stranger, the sound of my children’s laughter, heated car seats, the aroma of bread baking, having a washing machine – anything at all. When feeling down, it is comforting to open up my gratitude journals and remember all that has brought a smile to my heart. Some days (for example, when I am tuned to the “overwhelm” channel) it is more difficult to think of things for which I am grateful, and the list may consist simply of: good health, electricity, warm house, plenty of food, and a steady paycheck. But think about it: These basic things are tremendous blessings! Consider food: 47% of the world’s population doesn’t have food security! Sometimes it’s useful to acknowledge and appreciate these fundamental blessings that may go unnoticed on other days. Doing so is a surefire antidote to feeling sorry for oneself.

 

I find that when I set the intention to write in my gratitude journal each evening, my mind is busy looking for examples throughout the day. The result is that I notice more of the good stuff than I did prior to keeping a gratitude journal. Noticing is the first step. When you are able to notice, you can more fully savor the positive elements of your day. I literally find myself stopping frequently to smell the flowers or take in a beautiful sight. My mind is being trained to catch the fleeting moments and really experience them as they happen. The journey is one of joy.

 

After practicing gratitude for several years, I find that I am a happier, more peaceful person. Even in the midst of a difficult situation, I can glance out the window and appreciate a bird flying by or a leaf twirling gracefully to the ground. They are like little teachers reminding me that beauty is all around, even when I’m knee-deep in muck. Attuned to gratitude, it is easier to put challenges into perspective and not give them too much weight. Most of the troubles with which we burden our minds are so petty!

At this point, keeping a gratitude journal is no longer necessary in order to more fully savor and appreciate the goodness of life; the compass of my awareness points in that direction. However, I still try to maintain this daily practice. I also focus on gratitude as I drive to work each morning.

 

Some people develop a grateful heart as a result of some kind of wake-up call in their life – perhaps an illness, injury, or loss of some sort. For me, I think it was financial hardship. At some point when my children were young, I came across the book, Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel, which helped to put things in perspective for me. Although it was published in 1994 and is now somewhat dated, it remains on my bookshelf, and I pull it out (along with my gratitude journals) when I feel my life situation is somehow deficient. This book features portraits of families from 30 different nations outside their homes surrounded by all of their possessions. In some portraits, there is little more than a few pots or jugs. Some families live in war zones with mortar shell holes blasted through their walls. What an eye-opener. After spending a few minutes with this book, I realize how privileged I am. Peter Menzel has a number of books out, and all of them are wonderful.

I remember hearing my friend, Al, tell me about a trip he took to Calcutta and how he saw children who were impoverished beyond belief radiating great joy while experiencing simple pleasures. Al, himself, is one of the most content people I know, despite having very few material possessions aside from an extensive record collection that brings him great joy. Likewise, my friend, Trish, and my daughter’s friend, Dionna, remind me to be truly grateful for good health.

Our lives are full of blessings that are often taken for granted. Something magical happens when we become more aware of the big and little things for which we can be grateful. Speaking from my own experience, life becomes a more joyful journey. Gratitude gives a buoyant quality to life.

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

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