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Journal

Preparing for Mindfulness Bootcamp

Preparing for Mindfulness Bootcamp

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m preparing to do something I’ve never done before and am feeling a little anxious about. Something that will take me completely out of my comfort zone. 

Soon, I will go on my first seven-day, silent vipassana meditation retreat. It was on my bucket list of “someday” items. However, I wouldn’t have done it so soon if it weren’t a prerequisite for the mindfulness meditation teacher certification program I’m about to embark on. I’ve been on plenty of spiritual retreats in my lifetime: silent retreats, group retreats, and lots of individual retreats. But this one will be different.

For a full week, the day will begin at 5AM and end around 10PM. Until the tail end of the retreat, we will maintain “noble silence”. When I’m not eating meals mindfully in silence, I will alternate between periods of seated and walking meditation. There also will be a daily period of silent, mindful work of some sort and a dharma talk and/or meeting with a teacher. It will be a week of mindfulness bootcamp!

But there’s more…

For the whole week, I will have no access to my camera, phone, or even a journal. I will not be able to write down any ideas, record any insights, or look up any information. I cannot imagine going a week without writing!

Basically, I’ll be removed from all my usual crutches and comforts, with no place to run or hide. Just bare presence and witnessing every move my mind makes. All the mental gymnastics. And there will be nobody to vent to because everyone will be maintaining noble silence.

Spending 20-30 minutes a day in seated and/or walking meditation is one thing. Practicing every waking moment is another ballgame! Sam Harris described this kind of retreat as “extreme sports for the mind”.

I’ve spent the past couple weeks – since getting bumped from the waiting list to the confirmation list – anticipating and coming to terms with what the week will be like. Some people close to me have expressed disbelief about what I’m voluntarily choosing to put myself through. Some have commented that it sounds like I’m already there because I’ve been thinking about it so much. And they’re right, of course.

But no worries: It’s not some kind of cult. It’s totally legit, and the teachers come from a long Buddhist tradition. If you’ve ever heard the story of Siddhartha Gautama (the historical Buddha) meditating under the bodhi tree until he became enlightened, it’s more or less inspired by that. 

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t expect to attain supreme enlightenment during a seven-day retreat and actually am not expecting any particular outcome. I simply realize that some of my habitual thoughts and thought patterns – even ones I considered virtues – cause me to suffer deeply and needlessly, and I know I can do better. I want to do better.

I want to become more intimately acquainted with my mind and be more of a wise conductor and less its slave. I want to understand how my mind manufactures and sustains attitudes, beliefs, and realities that ultimately do not serve me or anyone else, and that don’t support my goals, my vision of who I am and who I can become, or my core values. I want to understand how I can value this and do that and my tendency to react to the behavior and words of others by creating stories, fantasies, and interpretations rather than allowing things simply to be as they are. I want to stop adding fuel to the fire and experience greater stillness and equanimity that will allow me to engage with the world with more inner peace and wisdom and less ego.

For a full week, I’ll have nowhere to hide and will have to face with awareness whatever arises in my mind. I might even get to experience my mind as a peaceful oasis for a while when the mental activity settles down. What an awesome opportunity, huh?

I see mindfulness as a tool that can cut through disempowering, dualistic mental patterns that send me running into all sorts of places for relief and comfort. My hope is that instead of talking myself out of taking action that would serve my goals or engaging in thoughts of unworthiness (one of my go-to fantasies), through greater mindfulness I will be able to acknowledge my mental patterns and not get derailed by them. Or at the very least, it will shorten my recovery time – the time it takes to realize I got carried away by thoughts and feelings and bring myself back. 

THESE are some reasons why I am going on the vipassana retreat. 

It does seem like the retreat has already started, weeks ahead of time. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve already been able to witness the places my mind goes in preparation for this retreat, and that is useful information to better understand how my mind works.

I’ve already noticed that when I’m mindful of my thoughts and simply witness and label them rather than indulge them, I don’t get hooked and feel calmer. I don’t get carried away by whatever thought-stream arises. So much of my mental activity is neither useful nor necessary. It just fills the spaces. There’s no time like the present for some thought decluttering! Spring cleaning for the mind that starts with taking a good look at what’s in there.

I’m confident that “mindfulness bootcamp” will be beneficial. And if I can gain more insight into my own mind and how to work with it rather than be at its mercy, then I can help others to better understand and work with theirs.

Soon, I will give up all my comforts for a week to experience greater freedom. I will deal with it and get through it, one breath and one step at a time. And when it’s over, I’ll let you know how it turned out!

© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Even While Waiting for Spring

Even While Waiting for Spring

“It’s another lovely winter day.”

“Don’t spend too much time in the hot sun!”

These are typical greetings I hear every day as we wait for Spring to arrive in all its glory and for Winter to release its stronghold. Spring certainly is taking its time this year.

Yesterday morning, I was mindful of what I needed most of all before heading to work: a nice, vigorous power-walk. I had hoped to get my walk in before the rain came, but it started raining a few minutes after I started walking. However, I had an umbrella with me and a warm enough coat, so I kept walking.

There’s a choice in moments like that to feel grumpy about having to walk in the cold rain. You might even choose to stop walking and go home. Get out of the cool, damp weather. Or you could feel empowered and unbothered by the weather and have a lovely walk despite the rain…as I did. Not that anyone who feels grumpy about the persistent “wintry weather” and ice-covered windshields would want to hear my Susie Sunshine story. But I felt good about giving myself the gift of what I needed most that morning and knew I’d feel better at work because of it and because I didn’t allow myself to make excuses and not exercise.

I also thought about how nice a hot shower would feel when I’m done walking. 

And felt grateful that I could take a shower.

I thought about the homeless population I see every day at the library. If anyone has a right to complain about how long it’s taking for Spring to arrive this year, it’s them. Surely, they’d appreciate being able to come inside from the cold weather and take a hot shower at will.

I felt truly grateful for having hot, running water and a bathroom with a shower. 

The night before, I watched the documentary, Minimalism, which is about decluttering our lives and living with less stuff because “less is more”. I recently completed the requirements for Clutter Clearing Coaching certification and also became a Certified Feng Shui Consultant, so the documentary was right up my alley and very inspiring. An interview with a couple who lives in a “tiny home” helped me to reframe my small (by today’s standards), one-bathroom home built nearly 200 years ago (when people didn’t have nearly as much stuff) as an exciting decluttering challenge. I thought I did a good job last year of getting rid of stuff, but after watching the movie and looking around my home, I realize I can do more.

The documentary reminded me that I have so much more than enough, even though every home I go into for clutter coaching and feng shui seems so much nicer and more spacious than mine.

Of course, it’s not about the amount of space or stuff you have but whether your space and your stuff reflects your values. Having all your possessions fit into a couple of carry-on bags might represent freedom, resourcefulness, and empowerment to one person and disempowerment and unworthiness to another. Someone who values caring for the environment might not be drawn to a large home that takes up a lot of space and requires more energy to heat, cool, and maintain it, whereas someone who values entertaining and hosting holiday celebrations would be unlikely to live in a small home with tiny rooms like mine.

I started thinking about gratitude and my relationship with abundance. I wondered: When is gratitude for what you have an “abundance block” vs. a virtue? 

The late Dr. Wayne Dyer wrote:

“Refuse to allow yourself to have low expectations about what you’re capable of creating. As Michelangelo suggested, the greater danger is not that your hopes are too high and you fail to reach them; it’s that they’re too low and you do.”

During my walk, I felt like I was balancing on a tightrope between gratitude (for what I have) and poverty mindset (being content with what I have because others have so much less). It’s that line I wanted to be more mindful of and understand better. Can I or should I be content with living in a small, one-bathroom home with hot, running water and no usable storage space? It seems foolish to underestimate the value of hot, running water when so many people in the world and even in my affluent hometown don’t have such ready access to it. Does feeling such gratitude for simple pleasures like that prevent me from having higher expectations about what I can create in my life – for instance, a home with more spacious rooms and usable space?

I guess I didn’t want to get stuck or limited by gratitude. But how silly is that? As I continued to walk, I felt an answer coming to me: To feel gratitude for the little things while also feeling a sense of true abundance and worth. 

It doesn’t matter how much stuff you have relative to anyone else. Comparing yourself to others is not the answer. Feeling abundant and prosperous is what matters. Feeling that you are enough and have enough, whatever your situation is. I think that is a useful mindset for discovering what you’re really capable of.

In other words, gratitude and appreciation are not abundance blocks. What matters is how abundant you feel. When you feel appreciative, but a feeling of “not enough-ness”, unworthiness, or lack creeps in, that is the culprit that needs attention. 

So the feeling I’m going for is appreciation for what I have without clinging to it or craving more. A sense of being and having enough and not comparing myself to others – feeling bad about having more than some or not nearly as much as others.

Gratitude is such a powerful mindset. When you are filled with gratitude for what you already have, it produces joy and the abundance mindset and energy boost for continuing to follow your bliss. It leads to more of the same and natural expansion (which may or may not have anything to do with material possessions).

On the other hand, feeling bad about the home you live in, the weather, etc. produces a sense of lack that drains your energy and makes it harder to follow your bliss because bliss becomes out of reach. Dr. Dyer suggested “being peaceful, radiating love, practicing forgiveness, being generous, respecting all life, and most important, visualizing yourself as capable of doing anything you can conceive of in your mind and heart.” Playing the victim of weather or circumstance is disempowering. Being grateful for what you have without any feelings of lack puts the wind back in your sails and empowers you to play with greater possibilities.

It’s like having gratitude for the weather, even when it still feels much more like Winter than Spring in mid-April. Taking a walk anyway and being outdoors noticing the birdsong and legions of daffodils that will bloom in time. Not today, but don’t let that diminish your feeling of enough-ness in this moment. Finding beauty in a cluster of crocuses that are still closed, but the raindrops look so beautiful on them, and the image is simply perfect just as it is right now, and you wouldn’t dare or even think to ruin the poetry of the moment with thoughts of how cold it is.

Feeling appreciative and joyful about that rather than grumpy because Spring hasn’t arrived yet in all its gloryHaving a spring in your step and going about your business with joy in your heart, rather than waiting for the arrival of Spring or “more than this” to feel good.

© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Just for the Joy of It

Just for the Joy of It

As I drove along I-88 to Light on the Hill retreat center last weekend, I felt a little nervous. It was the weekend our group would focus on the Inner Child, and that kind of work hasn’t been my favorite kind of spiritual work in the past. What would my inner children have to say to me? What kind of emotional state would I find them in?

I’d recently finished sorting through all the family photos my parents had accumulated during their lifetime: 23 boxes of them, to be precise. It was like going through a multigenerational life review. I saw pictures in which I stood apart from the rest of my family, as if I wanted nothing to do with them, and felt bad about how I acted during those adolescent and teen years. Even when I was older, I believed I was more enlightened than the rest of my family and sometimes wondered if I was switched at birth. If I didn’t have the “Meyer eyes,” I seriously would have considered that possibility! Where the heck did I come from, anyway? I didn’t see myself reflected in my family.

In the same boxes, I came across baby pictures of my parents and wondered why I had to push so hard against such sweet beings. I imagined how it might be if my four-year-old self could have played with their four-year-old selves and experience a kind of peer equality we couldn’t experience when we were mired (Meyered!) in the roles of Parent and Child.

Basically, my life is quite full and busy, and I didn’t want to put time into reparenting my inner children because it is a bit of a commitment. However, the weekend was profoundly beautiful, and I learned something really important.

In our first guided visualization, my 6-year-old self came out the door of my childhood home, and we had a conversation in the front yard that continued on the branches of the cedar tree I loved to hang out in. That tree was my secret place. It was like a room, dark and hidden from the rest of the world, and during the visualization, it all came back to me: the scent of the foliage, the texture and position of the branches, the way the light filtered in.

My inner 6-year-old was a happy girl and had lots to say. She was a little lonely, but happy. Most of all, she wanted me to lighten up, run around, and be imaginative. I asked her why she’s happy, and she said because she picked a flower and played “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” on her piano. She wanted me to play piano because it brought her such joy.

The next day, my 15-year-old self greeted me in another guided visualization. I was surprised at how pleasant and talkative she was but remembered that I saved my surly side for my parents! At 15, I had lots of rich piano opportunities in and outside of high school, including accompanying choral groups and vocalists and playing piano in jazz band. By then, piano had basically become my identity. However, I’d discovered boys and was putting more energy into being accessible and attractive to them than pursuing what I really loved, and my piano teacher could tell when I didn’t practice the assigned pieces between lessons. (But Bach inventions were so boring, complains the 15-year-old!)

At that age, my ego was all tangled up in piano, and there was more pressure and greater expectations around it, as well as competition and a stubborn root of perfectionism. Not to mention, my mom was living vicariously through my piano accomplishments, and I felt the pressure, so it was a facet of the complicated mother-daughter dynamic, as well. The delicate balance had tipped, and playing piano was more about outcomes, identity, and self-worth than being in the flow and immersed in joy.

When I got to college, the competition was too much for me, and I pursued new interests and identities. I gradually stopped playing piano. I’ve lived in some small spaces, including my current home, and what you make space for says a lot about what’s important to you. I’ve always made space for a full piano keyboard, even if it was played only rarely.

My 15-year-old self wanted to know why I stopped playing piano, why I threw out the baby with the bath water. She wanted me to play, and to do it on my own terms. Play from my heart, what I want to play, how I want to play it, not to please anyone but myself. Play the music that comes to me almost constantly, that I find myself humming and singing into the voice recorder app on my phone. Play without worrying about making mistakes or being seen and judged, without making it be about my identity or self-worth. Play for the joy of it, like I did when I was young because when I play in that spirit, it feels soooo good! It’s inherently gratifying.

On my way home from the retreat, I stopped in Ithaca at a state park I hadn’t been to in quite some time, to photograph waterfalls. As I walked back to my car, I understood the deeper message my inner children were offering me: When have I done something just for the joy of it, without trying to monetize it in some way or draw attention to it? To do something without concern for how anyone else would respond to it. Just do it for the pleasure of it, and leave it at that. Let it be a hobby. Basically, I realized the value of hobbies.

There’s a picture of me playing piano when I was eight years old. I was smiling, and it was all about joy. Playing piano hadn’t become a means of impressing anyone or proving my worth. I just loved playing. I found that picture and placed it on my music stand, to keep me in touch with that spirit.

I’m learning many new skills now and pursuing new certifications. My plate is quite full. However, devoting even five minutes a day to playing piano for sheer JOY could be the most important thing I’ve done in quite some time – a means for healing and integrating my inner child because playing for the sake of joy and delight is so different from having the music all tangled up in ego and ultimately abandoned! Cutting yourself off from something you truly love can really weigh on you. It can be like abandoning an actual part of yourself.

What brings joy can begin to feed the ego instead of the True Self if you’re not careful. When the ego gets too big, it can crucify joy and turn what you love into a false identity that serves ego instead of a vehicle that expresses the True Self. That’s what happened to me. But when you stop blaming others or putting conditions or too much weight on the activity you once loved, you begin the empowering retrieval process. 

There’s a room in my house that I’ve been working on for the past couple weeks. It used to be a bedroom but got converted into a storage room because the house lacks usable storage space and closets. It’s where I store my keyboard. I’ve somewhat facetiously referred to that room as the “graveyard of former passions” because it also houses my collection of children’s picture books from when I taught kindergarten. Those are the two things most visible in that room, and they have survived multiple rounds of clutter clearing. Everything else is hidden away on shelves behind a screen or in a dresser.

This week, I decided to come up with a new name for that room. Something along the lines of the “Inner Child Playground” or “Room for Joy”. I switched the images on the walls to display photography that fills me with delight, including pictures of daffodils and lilacs that I loved to pick when I was a child. I’ve made the keyboard more inviting and comfortable to sit at and have been playing every day since I got home from the retreat. It’s been so much fun that five minutes is rarely enough, and I’ve been giving it the time it deserves. 

It feels like I’ve retrieved an abandoned and very important part of myself. The baby (or should I say inner child) has been removed from the bath water, and the good news is that it didn’t drown but is still very much alive. It has been a very happy week holding that child and appreciating its essence during our daily playdates as the cloudy bath water gurgles down the drain. At last!

© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

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