Journal

Leaf Man Inspired Nature Portraits

Leaf Man Inspired Nature Portraits

Well, whaddaya know? I’m teaching again. Thought I’d never do it. Even vowed I’d never do it again. But over the summer, one of my oldest and dearest friends planted a seed in my mind. He insisted, “Susan, you might not think so, but you are a TEACHER.” It’s not what I wanted to hear. I argued that I’m excited about the more holistic direction I’m taking with clutter coaching, Reiki, feng shui, and mindfulness mentoring. I’m done with teaching. Then he suggested that I at least consider working with young children as a menu item. I listened to what he had to say. After we hung up, there was a funny feeling inside me that made me think he might be right, even though I convinced myself otherwise for quite some time.

A few weeks later, that seed was watered by an intriguing job post another friend sent along that made me light up when I read it. I went straight to the computer and composed a cover letter that essentially wrote itself, and sent it off the next day.

To make a long story short, I got the job and am running a preschool program at our local library! I’m glad my two friends acted on their intuition because it seems to be a perfect fit. It’s a part-time position that allows me to do what I loved most about teaching: Helping children to love learning and books and to feel good about themselves. Incorporating lots of literature-based art and nature projects that build kindergarten readiness skills across the curriculum.

The elements I disliked about public school education don’t apply to this job. I’m not the only adult in the room and have LOTS of assistance because the parents/grandparents/caregivers stay for the program! And there’s no formal assessment. As a kindergarten teacher, it broke my heart to see my students’ self-esteem suffer because they weren’t ready for the “new” kindergarten expectations. I jumped on the library position because it would allow me to: 1) prepare children for kindergarten in developmentally appropriate ways, and 2) model skills and activities to the adults in their lives, who can do so much at home to support their child’s learning. 

I love that I can be a positive influence in the lives of young children and families again, in a much more supported way than when I was a public school kindergarten teacher. It’s wonderful to stick a toe back into the world of early childhood education, in a way that allows me to focus on my other interests, as well. 

The moral? If your intuition nudges you to deliver a message to someone, DO IT! Don’t think it’s silly and shrug it off. The Universe might need you to help plant a seed that will make a positive difference in their life. It might be exactly what they need to hear to help a new path unfold. 

In celebration of my return to working with “the littles” and my favorite season, here’s an activity inspired by the children’s picture book, Leaf Man, in which all the illustrations are made from autumn leaves. It’s also inspired by my favorite early childhood educator/blogger, Sally Haughey of Fairy Dust Teaching. A picture on one of Sally’s blog posts caught my eye, and I developed it into a literature-based art and science activity I did with my preschoolers this week. It would work with older children, too. (I even had fun with it on my own, as you might be able to tell from these pictures!) 

How to Make Leaf-Man Inspired Nature Portraits

Materials:
  • A few wooden frames (without glass; I used 8×10, 11×14, and 5×7)
  • Pieces of cardboard, fabric, or paper in natural skin tones
  • Assortments of natural objects, such as:
    • A variety of autumn leaves
    • Pinecones of different shapes
    • Acorn tops and acorns (it’s nice to include some very tiny acorns still stuck inside their top, too)
    • Short pieces of sticks (only an inch or two long)
    • Feathers
    • Shells
    • Small stones
    • Pieces of hazelnut shells
    • Maple seed wings (“helicopters”)
    • Indian corn kernels
    • Naturally dyed wool
 
Procedure:

Arrange each category of natural objects into its own container, and place them so they are within reach of the children as they work.

Each child gets a frame with some kind of backing paper or fabric canvas underneath it. Simply allow them to create pictures of people, animals, trees, etc. using the natural materials in different arrangements.

This is an opportunity to use directional words (i.e. above, below, next to) and talk about body parts, colors, size, numbers of parts, etc. It’s also an invitation to observe and identify natural objects and to discuss the changes trees go through.

Allow them freedom of creativity!

They might even want to take a little break and observe how maple wings, feathers, and different kinds of leaves twirl, tumble, and otherwise make their way to the ground. 

Here are some Nature Portraits my three- and four-year-old students made:


© 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.

One Puzzle After Another

One Puzzle After Another

About a week before I left for British Columbia to visit relatives, I was making myself crazy. I was upset about something I could not control: How other people respond to me.

It felt like the issue was really coming to a head, and it didn’t feel good at all. I felt invisible. And resentful! When such emotions arise, my automatic response is to withdraw and withhold…because not sharing might hurt less than sharing and being ignored and feeling invisible. 

But I knew deep inside that withdrawing and withholding was not the answer. It was just a defense mechanism that doesn’t serve anyone or anything except for my infantile need for attention. I can do better than that. 

Instead of stewing and chasing my tail in circles, I became still. In stillness and silence, a deeper wisdom emerged.

That wisdom assured me that I am better off not concerning myself with the response part of the equation. My responsibility is to give what I have to offer, if it feels right to do so. Leave it at that. That’s all that matters. I can’t control anyone’s response. I can only do what feels right in my heart. And doing that is really important. It’s kind of like the whole point.

It was all just a matter of focusing on the wrong thing and misplacing my attention. I could shift my focus inward rather than outward in an attempt to get my needs met and my emotional holes filled. People are fickle and mortal. Ideally, we source our peace and fulfillment from within. Then we can relate to others from a sense of wholeness instead of neediness.

If I source what I most long for from within myself (and the Universal Energy that is within me and that I am part of), I wouldn’t feel resentful or hurt by the actions or inactions of others. Then I can love more and better because the quality of my love wouldn’t be conditional and dependent on others.

May I be less needy in relationship with others and therefore more loving.
By loving myself unconditionally, may I not put unrealistic demands on others.
May I realize that I am enough as I am and not look to others to prove it to me.

In a nutshell, I realized: I AM THE ONE WHO NEEDS TO ACCEPT ME. The truth is that it never involved anyone else. I had been looking outside for something I needed to cultivate within all along. I need to accept and care about myself enough to allow myself to be in harmony with my Inner Being and not distracted away from it.

Oh my! It might sound simple and obvious, but it was HUGE! It felt like nothing short of a turning point in my life. 

Logical, rational thinking is overrated when it’s not in service of the Higher Self. We tend to overthink and complicate things, when the answers on a spiritual level are surprisingly simple. Learning about my epiphany, one might think, “No shit!” and tell me it’s nothing I didn’t already know or hadn’t heard before.

And they’d be correct. But this time, it SUNK IN. I understood it in all my cells and on all levels, not just intellectually. It’s the feeling of placing an elusive puzzle piece or balancing a rock that seemed impossible to balance. Cracking the mystifying code.

Sometimes the missing piece is hidden in plain sight, but we don’t recognize it because we don’t see it from the right angle. The right words don’t make an impression until we are ready. Hearing them at the right time can be a major turning point in our consciousness and in our lives.

This makes me think of the community puzzle table for adults at the library where I work. Patrons work on it (some are quite serious about it), and when it is completed, that puzzle is removed, and another puzzle is placed on the table. Eventually that gets put together, and then another one is put out. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to complete the puzzle. There will be another puzzle when that one is finished, whenever that is.

In other words, there’s no rush, and you’re never finished. Of course, I’m not just referring to puzzles (wink, wink).

The puzzle that was out before I went on vacation was especially challenging. The only pieces of the 1000 piece puzzle that remained to be placed were about 200 pieces in slightly varied shades of green. Sometimes I’d try my hand at the puzzle, and it was so challenging that I wondered how it ever would get finished with so many pieces that were so similar.

When that’s the case, you start looking more closely at the shapes and subtle color variations. Really get to know the contours and subtleties, and then when you’re looking at other pieces, you might recognize the piece another piece fits with. Alternatively, you can allow intuition to guide you. You might be surprised by what happens when you stop thinking so much and allow intuition to be part of the process.

When I returned from British Columbia, a new puzzle was on the table. I couldn’t believe it! The secret of the former puzzle had been cracked. Even the most challenging puzzles are not impossible. With right effort and awareness, they, too, will be resolved. 

What are the patterns in your life that are crazy-making? The ones that disturb your inner peace and keep coming up again and again in different manifestations? Those patterns are your personal puzzles. They are part of your life so you may grow and expand. It’s all good, even when it doesn’t seem that way at all. 

I believe we have access to all the resources and support we need, to help us grow on a soul level. We’ve just become really good at blocking it! If we look at a situation from a more worldly or “practical” angle, it can be tempting to conclude there’s something wrong with us or with others, when that’s not the case and is entirely beside the point. By thinking too much, we block the inspiration and guidance that is available to us. We see the same pieces again and again until we finally figure out how to connect them – until we learn what we need to and grow! 

But our work isn’t done because there’s a fresh, new puzzle for us to work on. An endless supply of puzzles! As we work on a given puzzle, we might feel hopeful, focused, frustrated, and even overwhelmed. But when the last piece is placed, it feels incredible, just like it feels when I’m balancing rocks, and a challenging rock finally clicks into balance. It’s the feeling of expanding our awareness and understanding of what is possible, the feeling of empowerment. It makes all the challenges worth it. 

And then we roll up our sleeves and keep going.

© 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.

Back in Balance

Back in Balance

It’s been a while since I’ve balanced rocks by the sea, which is one of my favorite things to do. Right now, I’m visiting my relatives on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. It’s the first time I’ve made it to either coast this year. 

It’s been 2-1/2 years since I last visited my Canadian relatives, and it’s great to be back. I’m so glad I didn’t cancel my trip, which is what seemed inevitable last week due to personal stuff, over-scheduling, and Air Canada changing my travel itinerary in a big way. I called to request that they change my itinerary to something more reasonable than having a 12-hour, overnight layover in Chicago. However, the rep said I’d have to pay a $100 change fee in addition to any price difference. I made my flight reservations back in March, and this would nearly double what I paid originally.

When I considered canceling my trip, pictures of my Vancouver-area relatives on my vision board reminded me how important it is to connect with them. I went away for my group retreat weekend immediately before my scheduled trip, and a few dear women there encouraged me to call Air Canada again and speak with a different rep. They also pointed out that leaning into the drama is an Enneagram Four pattern that I might want to be aware of. Perhaps do something different. Get a little distance from it, and avoid letting other people’s issues stop me from doing what’s best for me!

I took their advice and called Air Canada, and everything was resolved easily without any extra charges. I thanked the rep profusely and felt so happy that I could visit my beloved relatives! My cousin generously offered to pick me up from Vancouver airport, which simplified travel plans greatly. 

We spent some time enjoying Granville Island and Stanley Park in Vancouver before taking the ferry to the Sunshine Coast. The timing was perfect for an incredible sunset on the Strait of Georgia.

There is a rocky beach about a 10-minute walk from my relatives’ house where I enjoyed balancing rocks during my previous stay. I never see anyone on that beach. It’s like my own, private playground, and it’s awesome.

I noticed a starfish on the beach and picked it up along with some rocks that caught my eye. My first balance of the year was a fun warmup that featured the starfish.

The next day, it rained lightly the whole time I was on the beach. But I was determined to balance a particular rock that was shaped a bit like the state of Texas. 

This balance wasn’t as cool as the previous day’s starfish balance. If you knew how long it took to accomplish it, you’d probably wonder if it was worth it or if I didn’t have something better to do with my time.

Well, it was totally worth it! In my heart, I KNEW it could be balanced and never allowed myself to believe it couldn’t. I just knew. I was patient, determined, and really tuned in to the energy and engaged my sense of feeling rather than my dominant sense of seeing. But the main thing is that I believed this rock could and would be balanced and didn’t give up.

Balancing rocks teaches me that if I believe in something and don’t allow doubts or distractions to creep in and stop me, I can do it. Not just rocks. Goals in general. That’s why balancing rocks is so gratifying!

And that’s great. But you know what can totally ruin it? Comparing our accomplishments to others.

I’m connected with a lot of stone balance artists, including the legendary Michael Grab and Peter Juhl, who literally wrote the book about rock balancing art. Whether it’s photography, music, teaching, yoga, rock balancing, finances, or anything else, comparing ourselves to others is a surefire way to put the brakes on any positive momentum you’ve generated toward manifesting your goals. It’s not enough to believe you can. You also have to avoid the temptation to compare your work to others if doing so leaves you feeling not good enough.

It’s great if others’ work can inspire you, but if it brings on feelings of inadequacy, you have to train yourself to stay focused on your own work. Keep your eyes on your own paper, kids! Don’t be concerned with what anyone else is doing or try to keep up with the Joneses. Give your full attention to your own work. Please.

The poet, Rumi, suggested: Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. THAT is the energy to engage with, rather than the energy of comparisons and self-doubt that divert your energy and lead you astray.

This morning it’s raining, so I’m writing rather than balancing. However, I hope to have more opportunities to balance rocks by the sea before I return home. Already, I have some new pictures to bring back with me. Photographing my rock balances helps me to remember how it felt to believe I could do it – and then actually do it! Practicing that feeling is as important as practicing your craft. And sharing reminds others that they can, too…which is also important!

© 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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