Journal

Apricity

Apricity

One of the benefits of mindfulness practice is that we can become aware of how we relate to whatever experiences or emotions arise and interact with them in a way that offers greater freedom and clear-seeing. This applies to the full spectrum of what we experience and feel as human beings.

When I teach mindfulness meditation, it seems like I emphasize applying the skills and tools to the more challenging stuff – unpleasant emotions – in the interest of easing suffering. In last week’s sessions, for example, I focused on mindfulness of shame and humility and how mindfulness offers immunity against what Eckhart Tolle calls the “mental viruses” of our times. Awareness is the first step of freedom.  

However, the unpleasant end of the spectrum is only part of the picture. We can strengthen our capacity to be with what is pleasant, too. To slow down and become still enough to really take in a pleasurable moment. Doing this helps our brain build new neural pathways and balance its hardwired, inherited negativity bias that scans for and overfocuses on danger – whether actual or perceived.

I recently learned of an obsolete, Old English word, apricity, defined as: the warmth of the sun in winter. It instantly became my new favorite word, right up there with neuroplasticity and inspiration.

I’m a great fan of apricity. In fact, I’m enjoying it even as I write this. My standing desk on wheels is positioned right in front of a sunny window, and the sunlight coming through the window is bathing me in warmth. It feels amazing!

Whenever there is sunlight (which hasn’t been often lately), I roll my desk to a sunny window and follow the sun from window to window throughout the day. This is one of my favorite winter delights, and how lovely to finally have a word for it! Why that wonderful word became obsolete is beyond me.

I have a health condition for which I’ve been instructed to apply a warm compress to my eyelids daily. When I let that treatment regimen lapse, I inevitably become aware of its value – when my eyelid becomes inflamed again. It’s just like when your meditation, yoga, exercise, etc. practice lapses, and the absence and contrast make you aware of its benefits. You realize that you feel better when it’s part of your life than when it’s not.

The warm compress treatment is simple enough but feels tedious. The most challenging part is making time for it. The other day, I heated the water and prepared the compress. When I was all set, I saw that my son was on the couch, where I had intended to lie down and do the treatment. So I went on the sunporch and noticed how wonderfully warm the sun felt coming in through the windows. Seemed like a perfect spot to plop down.

I had intended to make time to meditate before doing a live Zoom mindfulness session that day, but the warm compress therapy would cut into that time. And then it occurred to me that I could fit in meditation by incorporating it into the eye treatment and focusing on apricity and warmth in general. Warmth of the compress on my face and apricity on my skin as I lay on my meditation cushion – just like a cat, as my son pointed out.

The practice was simple: When the mind wanders off to thoughts of past or future, or even to thoughts about present conditions, acknowledge the wandering, and guide awareness back to the sensations of warmth. In other words, warmth was my meditation anchor, my home base.

It transformed a somewhat tedious health routine into a meditation practice that was a true joy.

Although the sun is shining brightly today, this rarely has been the case in recent weeks. As my recently completed yearlong river sunrise photography project confirmed, January and February are the months when we in the Northeast tend to see the least sunlight. But eventually the overcast days pass, and the sun comes back out – like today. After a long string of dreary weather days, we appreciate the sunshine and blue sky even more. 

And when the sun isn’t out? We can practice generating our own sunshine. Perhaps go on a treasure hunt, indoors or outdoors, for what gladdens the heart. Kindle gratefulness.

For example, earlier this week when the sky was overcast, I was delighted to rest my eyes on the orchids on my meditation altar and the 11 tiny buds (yes, I counted them) that will blossom in the spring. And my beloved jade plant and the numerous smaller jades I’ve been propagating. The sound of the water fountain in the corner of the room. The plants on the window shelves I created last year that always gladden my heart.

In the absence of apricity, I made a cup of fragrant, herbal tea. I held my mandala mug (my current favorite) in my hands and felt the warmth of the tea – even held the mug to my body to warm more of me. Again, the sensations of warmth were my meditation anchor. When I drank the sun-ripened tea, I consumed sunlight and joy.

So if you need one, consider this your permission slip to switch up your meditation practice and experiment and play with an anchor that generates warmth and joy!


© 2024 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

This Matters

This Matters

Last week, someone commented at the end of one of my Zoom mindfulness programs that whereas having a meditation practice seemed optional in the past, it has become essential. I agreed wholeheartedly and added that we need all hands on deck at this time, being our best, most resourced selves.

After the session ended, I had a little cry. 

There were multiple feelings present at the same time, but the dominant one was gratitude. I silently thanked all of the people and circumstances that helped me to become who I am on this endless journey of awakening. And I felt deep gratitude for being able to serve humanity as a meditation and spiritual teacher/practitioner in these chaotic times and feeling that I’m truly living my purpose. Since the first day of the Covid shutdown, I’ve felt that all my years of spiritual practice and self-development were preparation for these current times we’re living in. There were so many years of preparing and waiting – and doing now feels amazing and empowering, except that I have to acknowledge that the reason behind all of this doing is the magnitude of suffering in the world.

I listened recently to a podcast episode in which the suggestion was made to not be so grandiose in your idea of what your life‘s purpose is. It might be doing one thing, or something that helps even just one person. Hearing this made an impression on me because I’m often so focused on my Big Purpose that I find myself rushing through the mundane tasks of daily life and feeling tense. Especially when life gets busier, which it has been lately. Often, I’m so eager to jump into my work after getting out of bed that things like brushing my teeth and taking a shower – and yes, sometimes even meditating – just seem to be in the way. Because I’ve generated an overly ambitious to-do list, and there are only so many hours in the day.

However, even an activity like preparing a meal and chopping vegetables can be an expression of your life‘s purpose that benefits other human beings.

One afternoon while chopping some greens, I noticed myself wanting the task to be over so I could move on to the next thing I was eager to move on to. Then an idea popped into my head, and I gave it a try. It was a very simple experiment. I simply said to myself: This matters.

With those two words, my body relaxed, my mind came back to the present moment, and my whole being let out a sigh of relief. It felt so much better than rushing!

So I adopted it as an ongoing practice. Every time I catch myself rushing through a task, I remind myself: This matters. It changes everything.

Making food for myself and my family matters.

This footstep on the way to and from the mailbox matters.

Scrubbing this potato matters.

Washing this pot matters.

Emptying the dishwasher and putting dishes away matters.

(There are a lot of kitchen examples here!)

This breath matters.

With this practice, every task that feels mundane becomes a path back home, a mindfulness practice, a crack through which the light of gratefulness enters in. 

Self-nourishing activities matter, too:

Appreciating the fragrance of your body wash, shampoo, lotion, etc. 

Feeling the sensations of lathering or applying them on your skin.

Feeling the pleasant warmth of the shower water.

Being grateful for having warm, flowing water.

Next time you find yourself rushing, give it a try. Notice the difference between mind full and mindful. Acknowledging that whatever we’re doing right now matters is a portal out of the busy, future-focused mind and back into the here and now, where our true power resides. It’s like applying the brakes. We slow down and can enjoy the experience, the sensations, and the gift of this moment in this precious human life. And then we’re more centered and present in our next activity or interaction, which enhances everything we do and benefits everyone we come in contact with.

This matters:

This step

This scoop

This snip

This chop

This stroke

This breath.

It matters because it’s what is happening right now. Allowing it to matter is a game-changer! It is empowering.

So many feel grief-stricken, fearful, and angry in response to the situations of tremendous suffering in other parts of the world. Our hearts want to answer the call to do something to help ease suffering that can feel like too much to bear when we witness it on our screens. Whereas we may feel powerless, truly there is so much we can do, especially when we’re not so grandiose or specific about what matters.

For example, we can become aware of the seeds of war within us and not water them. We can give ourselves the care needed to be properly rested, more centered, and less grouchy and volatile so we can shine our light more fully in this world. We can make peace with someone with whom we have disharmony, even if it’s only in our own mind and heart and the way we see them. We can open our hearts to the suffering on all sides of heated conflicts.

All of this matters.

These are just a few examples, and it’s very deep work. It might feel so small and as if it doesn’t help to ease suffering in areas of the world embroiled in war and conflict. But that’s no excuse for throwing in the towel and getting stuck in a trance of powerlessness, futility, and despair. There are many situations closer to home that would benefit from our caring hearts and deepening wisdom. Perhaps even in our own home. There are also actions you can take politically if you’re inclined, but hopefully from a more centered state of being that draws upon greater wisdom and compassion, which meditation helps us to access. 

Sometimes it’s the little things we do or say – the presence we give – that remain with someone for years and water seeds of goodness, kindness, hope, and resilience within them. Every small action that brings more love, light, and consciousness into this world matters. So let’s be here where we are, doing what we can, trusting that it matters and is part of our life purpose…and that our small actions ripple farther than we can see. Please don’t discount them.


© 2023 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Welcoming Imperfection

Welcoming Imperfection

I’m fond of saying that October is my favorite color. Usually it is. But this year? Not so much. This year, the colors have been muted for the most part. And not a lot of sunshine, either. Or visible sunrises. I’m glad I embarked on my yearlong sunrise photography project last year instead of this year!

This morning, looking out the window at the same overcast landscape, it occurred to me that this season’s foliage fits the general theme I’ve experienced this year: things not turning out as planned. Surely, there are plenty of exceptions and wonderful surprises – but the things I most looked forward to this year followed this theme.

Being really sick the only time I’ve visited Arizona

Summer vacation plans that fell through – all of them!

My grandson spending the first days of his life in NICU and not knowing yet how much of an impact it will have on his functioning

Not finishing the book I’m writing – over the winter…or the summer

You get the idea.

The reason I’m noticing this theme is because instead of driving around leaf-peeping, I’ve been going through my journal, daily planner, and photography libraries to review each month and harvest its gifts and lessons. This is something I normally do at the end of each month, but this year it didn’t happen because each month seemed to move at warp speed, and there was a lot going on. 

Playing catch-up like this, one thing I’ve noticed is that when I reflect back several months, I have tremendous compassion for the slightly younger version of myself and what she was going through. When events are still fresh or even in-process, reflecting on them can lack the distance that offers this wider perspective. 

Recently, I presented a Gratefulness Gathering on the topic of “Welcoming Imperfection”. I mentioned that sometimes I’ll fast-forward to the end of this life to get perspective on what really matters – and so much that doesn’t. What would future me want most from present-day me as she looks back on her life, knowing how it all turned out? How would she look at the challenges I currently face and where I put my energy? How do I look at Susan from years past, during the duller, more muted times?

When my husband and I were hiking back up from the bottom of Kaaterskill Falls a few weeks ago, we encountered two men we’d talked with earlier. One was struggling and going at a much slower pace than the other, who was up ahead and at one point called back to his companion, “Regretting your life choices?” We found that line pretty funny and agreed we needed to remember it.

Because it rang true. I certainly have regretted some of my life choices! But something that has become very clear to me this year is that getting down on ourselves for choices we made that we wouldn’t make if we had the chance to do it all over again with the benefit of hindsight – is counterproductive. It drains our energy in this present moment, which is where our true power lies.

Our self-punishment doesn’t serve anyone. What if this, too, is “God’s will” – or “part of the path” (however you want to phrase it)? What if our human journey is like a labyrinth rather than a maze, with no wrong turn, and every step we take brings us closer to the center?

Looking back through my planner and journals helps me to remember what was going on that got in the way – of not finishing the book, for example. Things I might forget – the same way you forget how intense childbirth was (at least the way I chose to do it!).

One of the most empowering ways to reflect on our lives is to acknowledge that the choices we made were affected by so many factors, both within and beyond ourselves. And to have compassion for our younger selves, who were doing their best, given what they knew and what was going on at the time. If we can’t remember what was going on, perhaps we can give ourselves the benefit of the doubt that there were reasons why we didn’t do what, in retrospect, we think we should have done – or we didn’t live up to our potential.

What if we needed all of our experiences to learn and grow and awaken in ways that will make our future self at the end of this life grateful for the journey? 

Can we accept and find something to appreciate or even love about the years when the fall foliage isn’t so vibrant and brilliant – when the colors are muted? And the seasons of our own life when we didn’t shine so brightly? When what we looked forward to just didn’t pan out, for whatever reason (including factors beyond our control)?

Can we find something beautiful or worthwhile in what is/was, exactly as it is/was? Instead of feeling we need to Photoshop reality, so to speak. 

If we can bring compassion to ourselves, we’re more able to give real compassion, kindness, and caring to others. And isn’t that what this world needs right now?


© 2023 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Let's Stay Together!

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

You have Successfully Subscribed!