Journal

Photographing Flowers

Photographing Flowers

Yesterday was my mom’s seventh angelversary: the seventh anniversary of her passing from this world into the great unknown. 

And all is well.

Better than well, actually. Because the aliveness and vitality of this time of year now overshadow the 2014-2015 memories of dying and grieving. 

The month of May, once again, is more about life than death, partly because of my flower friends: the whole parade that begins with daffodils and in the past couple weeks has included lilacs, lilies of the valley, and irises. Every spring, they show up and reliably and unknowingly support me and gladden my heart. 

At the end of my mom’s life, flowers, friends, and family are what mattered most. That year, I made it my mission to surround her with flowers and news of what was happening in the flower world. When she was strong enough, we walked around the house looking at her flower beds, and I hoped she’d be able to see some of her flowers bloom. The flower parade was how I measured time that year. 

When she wasn’t strong enough to go outdoors, and her universe narrowed down to the sofa and coffee table in the living room, I showed her my photographs of flowers. I also kept vases of freshly cut lilacs around her.

The rest of my flower memories of my mom were much happier ones. All my life, she had flower gardens. She wasn’t much of a nature girl in other respects, but she loved tending to her flowers. Memories of my mom and an abiding connection with her come strongly through flowers. 

Lilies of the valley: Tiny fairy bells with an intoxicating fragrance that transports me instantly to my childhood. My swing set was right next to a flower garden that featured lilies of the valley. The memories are so strong that they could convince me the delicate blooms lasted all summer. But that’s just how big an impression the fragrance made and how closely I must have studied them after my mom pointed them out to me.

I also remember the joy of picking some for my mom, who loved the fragrance. What joy to be a young child noticing a flower and seeing it as an opportunity to make someone happy. Picking it. Feeling the anticipation of gifting it. Seeing happiness brighten the recipient’s eyes and spread into a smile. Do you remember?

Yesterday morning, my mom’s actual angelversary, I woke up knowing exactly what I wanted to photograph.

The morning she died, after leaving the hospice house, I drove straight to the labyrinth – my sacred refuge – and was greeted by irises. They were there for me that morning, uplifting me, and they are here for me every May 27th.

I didn’t pay much attention to flowers while my mom was alive (until the last few years of her life). That was her thing. For my dad, it was birds. Those are the languages in which they speak to me even now. The first messenger was irises. From day one, irises were there to connect me to the goodness and beauty in the world when I needed it most.

And so I immersed myself in photographing irises on my mom’s angelversary and reflected on how her love of flowers had become integrated in me and how it has awakened me in many ways and deepened our connection. 

In Beauty: The Invisible Embrace (2005), John O’Donohue wrote:

The dead are not distant or absent. They are alongside us. When we lose someone to death, we lose their physical image and presence, they slip out of visible form into invisible presence…Though they cannot reappear, they continue to be near us and part of the healing of grief is the refinement of our hearts whereby we come to sense their loving nearness. 

It feels to me that when we engage or connect with something our dearly departed one loved, we draw them near. 

After photographing the irises, I walked the labyrinth and declared inwardly something my heart had known all along: All of my flower pictures are dedicated to my mom (except for water lilies, which are my thing.) When I photograph flowers, there is no separation between myself and my mother’s essence – which has become part of me. It’s almost as if I can see through her eyes.

Which is why all is well seven years later. And I make lots of photos with flowers.


© 2021 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.

Spaces in Your Togetherness

Spaces in Your Togetherness

It’s been a while since I’ve gone on a good, long hike through the woods solo. Last weekend, I took my camera and hiking boots into the forest for an artist date with myself that turned into a six-hour retreat.

Had I been with my husband or anyone else, the hike probably would have taken half the time. For starters, we wouldn’t have spent an hour having a love-fest with a willow tree. I appreciated being able to stop and spend as much time as I wanted connecting with whatever drew my attention.

I have a meditation bell app set to sound once every 20 minutes throughout the day. When the bell sounds, I practice stopping, breathing, and being. It’s basically pausing to sip presence while taking three deep breaths, scanning my body for tension that could be released on the exhalation, and becoming aware of my environment. I love this life-enriching practice. However, I tend not to do it when I’m with another person, although it could be a lovely practice to do together.

There was always something to notice, to connect with when I stopped: subjects that otherwise would have remained unnoticed. I emerged from the forest with 300 images (many captured after taking mindful pauses) and a sense of empowered fulfillment. It was wonderfully restorative to spend that time in nature alone.

Need for Quiet Space

Yesterday in my Mindfulness with Children class for parents, the topic was mindfulness of emotions and feelings, which is one of my favorite topics of all. (As an Enneagram 4, you could say it’s an area of expertise.) I talked about the importance of tracing emotions to sensations in the body and how sensations linked with unpleasant emotions are signals to attend to some kind of need. I listed several examples, including the need for alone time and quiet space. 

Then I seized the opportunity to speak up for the introverts of the world. Because parents and teachers and partners and friends and colleagues of introverts might not understand how important alone time is when you’re wired as we are. Or they might find it odd that one of the first things you want to do after emerging safely from a lengthy pandemic is not to attend a large or small gathering but to go on retreat.

Growing up, I liked to spend time alone in my room. This concerned my mom, who was the only extrovert in the family. There would be the knock on the door and the attempt to pull me “out of my shell”. Housemates would do the same when I was in my twenties. What those who lived with me didn’t understand was that I had a need for ample alone time. My room was my peaceful place. It’s where I recharged my batteries.

The same must have been true for my two younger siblings. Out of the three Meyer kids, I was the only one who wasn’t voted “Most Shy” in high school.

Time to Recharge

My basic definition of introverts and extroverts is that introverts recharge their batteries alone, whereas extroverts get energized when they are with others. This is why introverts might need to know how long a social engagement will last, how many people will be there, and who will be there. We need to pace our energy because it will get depleted if we are subjected to too much social stimulation. We’ll shut down.

When I was teaching kindergarten, after dropping my students off at lunch or a special class, I’d return to my classroom, turn off the lights, lock the door, and recharge my batteries in the peace and quiet. If sounds from neighboring classrooms drifted into earshot, I’d put on some kind of white noise to drown them out.

I needed these retreats during the day to get through the rest of the day. As much as I wished I had an aide assigned to my classroom to help with behavior management, I appreciated having the room to myself when the children were gone. I didn’t go to the teachers’ lounge for lunch, and colleagues probably thought I was anti-social, which is how introverts are often seen by others. However, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to get to know my colleagues but that I needed to recharge my batteries alone and integrate the day thus far. I needed it like oxygen.

I had a small tent set up in a quiet corner of my classroom, next to my desk. When a child needed some space, they could retreat to the tent for a little while. Because I was sensitive to the needs of introverts…because I’ve always been one.

Introverted Partners

My husband lives in an RV in the back yard. He’s an introvert, too, and has a YouTube channel, A Jack out of the Box (the “box” being a house). Everywhere we’ve lived, he’s built some kind of shelter outdoors – usually a tipi or a wigwam – to have his own space. It’s how we manage living in a small, 200-year-old house. We’re both artists and like our own space and probably wouldn’t still be together if we weren’t able to have it.

As Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet about marriage: Let there be spaces in your togetherness. At times, there’s been too much space, but it’s a balancing act. We try to take walks together as many days as we can. But some days we walk alone. Maybe because I want to be inspired or get clear about what to talk about in my next mindfulness meditation class. It’s not personal. 

Finding A Healthy Balance

How much introversion is too much? When does it become unhealthy? That was an inquiry that came up in yesterday’s class, and it’s a good one.

This is where our emotional guidance system comes into play. If we can learn to be mindful of the emotions and accompanying body sensations that arise in us, they can key us in to what we need to be balanced and healthy. That means being able to stay with unpleasant sensations, to see what message they carry. Stay instead of push them away.

For example, if I find myself feeling envious of someone else’s large network of friends, it might mean I need to engage more. Or if I feel lonely, it might signal too much space in my marriage. Being mindful of emotions or even the presence of body sensations linked with emotions (because sometimes emotions are sneaky) provides an opportunity to rearrange our priorities.

There is so much wisdom in our body and conveyed through our emotions. Sometimes a good walk alone in the woods provides the space to hear more clearly what they have to say. And sometimes someone wanting to be alone isn’t personal or an indicator of how important you are to them. It’s just how they charge their batteries.


© 2021 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.

Maybe

Maybe

My eyes blinked open a little earlier than usual to pink light streaming through my bedroom window. Barely out of a dream, I jumped out of bed, grabbed my camera, and dashed across the road to the riverside. The sunrise sky changes from one moment to the next, and I had to wait for a few cars to pass before crossing the road. The opening lines of this poem started drifting through the air as I wondered if the sunrise colors would wait for me to cross the road.

After capturing some images, the dramatic, early sunrise colors faded, and I lingered on the riverside as the rest of the poem developed. (Fortunately, there is a small notepad and pen in my camera bag for such occasions.) Before the sun appeared above the tree line, I returned home with both a picture and a poem. 

Maybe

Maybe it’s not the sunrise sky.
Maybe it’s the way the budding trees
Are silhouetted by the angle of backlight
Or the sound of a woodpecker across the river
Providing percussive accompaniment
For the songbird symphony.

Maybe it’s not the great blue heron.
Maybe it’s the cluster of forget-me-nots
Growing out of the rocky wall
As you paddle by.

Maybe it’s not reaching a certain
Destination or state of mind.
Maybe it’s the sound of your paddle
Dipping into calm, reflective water
Or each footstep touching the ground.

Maybe it’s not the white swan
But how it inspired you
To pay closer attention
And to have enough hope
To take the next step.

Maybe it wasn’t getting the shot.
Maybe it was being there
And experiencing what was there
Instead of being disappointed
By what wasn’t.

Maybe waiting for the sun
To emerge from or duck behind a cloud
Is an invitation to notice
Something small and lovely
That would have remained unnoticed.

Maybe it’s not something tiny
But taking in the whole landscape
That includes you sitting or standing here,
Part of it all, breathing.

Maybe it’s not a sight but a sound
Or an opportunity to adjust
The focus, the angle, the depth
Of your field of awareness.

Maybe what you were looking for
Was just one of infinite possibilities
And your expectations not being met
Is a gateway to something greater.

Maybe it’s not about happy-ever-after.
Maybe it’s feeling alive and engaging
With the magic of the moment,
Which is the only moment we have.

Maybe it’s not the place you go to
But the person you’re with,
Or maybe it’s the other way around.

Maybe it’s not a particular thing.
Maybe it’s the emotion it calls up
And how it can wisen you.

Maybe what you set off in search of
Isn’t what you will find.
Maybe its purpose was to set you
On the path in the first place.


© 2021 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.

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