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Category: Spiritual Journey

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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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, 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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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.

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.

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