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Journal

Changes in Attitude

Changes in Attitude

When I started meditating back in my 20s, my intentions were very different than they are today. A little more spectacular, you could say. I hoped to see visions, experience altered states of consciousness, receive special knowledge…and relax. But after a whole lot of living, my reasons for meditating have become more subtle and practical. Mindfulness meditation enriches my daily life, big-time.

Here’s a small example:

It used to be that I’d get upset when a yacht or motorboat would speed by when I was kayaking on the river. The boats created turbulence both on the water and in my mind. I became angry and stayed angry at the selfish, insensitive boaters who only cared about themselves…and presumably were wealthy, too. Selfish, rich people who think they own the river. Grrrr.

That was the story I told myself. Eventually, I’d let it go…until the next boat went by too fast for my liking.

It didn’t bother my husband as much as it bothered me, and he came up with a name for me and a song to go along with it. Remember the song, “Mississippi Queen”? Well, I was the Hudson River B**ch. He’s a joker, and it was all in jest. An attempt to lighten me up. And it did make me laugh. 

But I still got angry with the fast boats.

Truth be told, I was afraid of the big waves they created. Once, I got a wave of Hudson River water in my face and didn’t want it to happen again. 

I spent the last month migrating my website to a new domain and purging my blog to half its original size. In the process, I read every single post and remembered all the challenges of the past few years – some I’d forgotten. I wrote a lot about waves as metaphors and learning to work with them so they wouldn’t keep knocking me off balance.

I’ve had a lot of practice with waves. No doubt you’ve had your share, too.

AND (as I’ve mentioned before) I went on a seven-day meditation retreat a few months ago that took me to a deeper level of mindfulness meditation practice and have meditated every day since. It’s mellowed me out and helped me to be more clear and intentional about my “To Be” list. Every time I sit down to meditate, I light a candle with the intention to release erroneous thought patterns and embrace deeper truth.

As a result, kayaking on the river has been quite different this summer. A yacht comes barreling down the river. Instead of cursing it or feeling agitated, I allow it to be exactly as it is. I know I will be able to navigate whatever turbulence it creates and realize the boat has a right to be on the river, too. If the boat slows down when it goes by me, great! (How wonderful the boater was so considerate! Thank you! Happy wave!) But I don’t need it to. Either way, I know I’ll be fine. If I really want to keep my distance from boats, I’ll stay on the eastern side of the river, which isn’t my preferred side, but wow, aren’t I fortunate to have a river in front of my house that I can kayak on anytime I want? And the waves are actually kind of fun to bounce around on.

If the word “wealthy” slips in with a negative connotation, ding! ding! ding! ABUNDANCE BLOCK! Take notice, and take a deep breath. Put some spaciousness around that thought. Feel grateful and prosperous for having such easy, daily access to the river, and remember that my dear cousin in British Columbia spends a lot of time on a 68-foot yacht and is one of my favorite people in the whole world. Maybe even direct some lovingkindness in the boat’s direction. Ahhhhh, that’s better! 

Same situation. Totally different reaction. A little awareness makes a big difference. Awareness + spaciousness + better go-to thoughts = GAME CHANGER.

Awareness opens the door to transformation.

It makes a difference to have equanimity towards the boaters who create turbulence on the water, the bugs buzzing around, and the people who aren’t looking out for me. All these things are part of life. If you want to go out on the river, chances are you will have to deal with turbulence. You’re grateful when the warm weather finally sets in, but then there are bugs. Unsatisfactoriness is part of life, but we can learn to better prepare ourselves for the unsatisfactory conditions and not let them disturb our peace of mind so much. We can cultivate equanimity and deep aspiration to free ourselves from suffering.

The First Noble Truth of Buddhism is that life is unsatisfactory, or imperfect. There will be difficult people, challenging circumstances, failures, and disappointments. The goal is not to eliminate these conditions from your life and “live the dream”. It’s to cultivate inner peace despite it all. True freedom. It is possible to experience inner peace even if you have noisy neighbors or lose your job or a close relationship. Even if your significant other isn’t exactly who you want them to be.

The point is to practice not letting any of these factors disturb your peace of mind. Not expecting them to change before you are truly happy. You can be happy anyway, right now. But first, you have to reclaim your power and stop making other people or circumstances responsible for your happiness.

We have the power to release ourselves from suffering. Holding resentment and anger in our heart is like choosing to ingest poison. It’s one thing to notice an unpleasant emotion arising and to accept it with mindfulness and lovingkindness. It’s another to hold onto it and feed it. It didn’t hurt the boaters when I felt angry and resentful. It only hurt me. When you can stop blaming and accept the invitation to take responsibility for your own patterns, it’s such a hopeful, empowering shift!

In the past, I would have been consumed with irritation towards the boaters and feared the turbulence. Inner peace is a much more pleasant alternative! Now I know I can handle the waves, and I know what kind of thought patterns I do and don’t want to cultivate. That’s a powerful combo.

It’s easier to ride the waves when you’re not upset with the inconsiderate boaters who caused them. You accept that there inevitably will be waves, and you ride them without aversion. And maybe even with some amusement or even joy.

You decide to stop making yourself miserable.

© 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.

Embraced by a Kind and Spacious Heart

Embraced by a Kind and Spacious Heart

It’s been quite a while since my last blog post. I’ve sat down a number of times to try to write one and have been doing loads of writing. I just haven’t felt like publishing anything.

It’s partly because I’ve been simplifying since returning from the seven-day vipassana meditation retreat in early May. The effects of the retreat continue, and it’s been like a total mind reset. But there have been a number of times when I’ve remained silent even when there was something I wanted to share, and that’s not about simplifying and being more deliberate. That’s about withholding and withdrawing…which tends not to be a good thing. Usually, it means a misguided thought has taken hold, and I’m shrinking and disconnecting rather than expanding and connecting.

I’d much rather expand and connect.

This particular thought has required me to utilize pretty much every tool in my toolbox. It goes something like this:

Nobody is interested in what I have to offer.

It’s one of my mind’s Top Ten Tunes, and I can get sucked into it if I’m unaware or tired.

Fortunately, because I’ve been practicing mindfulness meditation every single day for the past 90 days and began formal training with Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, I’m aware of it and realize it’s untrue. But it keeps coming back! It’s like weeding the garden. Weeds can grow quickly, and you have to be clear about what you do and don’t want to grow in your garden and stay on top of it.

If I’m looking for evidence that the erroneous belief is true, there’s plenty of it. My family wasn’t receptive to the ways in which I could assist loved ones who were dying. My former principal didn’t value my creative, holistic approach to early childhood education. I often feel invisible and unrecognized in groups. I don’t have many followers on social media. Oh, the list could go on! 

But it all depends on what you’re looking for because there’s also evidence to the contrary. My mom really wanted me around when she was dying because she felt safe with me. Parents from my old school district have practically begged me to start a preschool. I sometimes receive emails from friends and others who read my writing or see my photography and appreciate it. There are people who believe in me and say they wish I could see myself through their eyes.

Working with the problematic belief has been illuminating because it provides insight into how my mind operates. Some days (especially when my self-care slips), it gets me down, but some days I can laugh at it and find some humor in how persistent it is. A sense of humor is a great friend on the spiritual path.

Being with Thoughts and Children

A recent visit with my 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter, Ava, revealed parallels between working with our thoughts and guiding our children. When Ava displays undesirable behaviors, rather than either looking the other way or getting locked in some kind of power struggle, my natural response is to hold her with unconditional love and acceptance while applying a strategy like humor, distraction, empathy, etc. I might ask her if she is tired when she lashes out. Rather than either allow her troublesome behavior (or my troublesome thought) or take an axe to it, there is another option: to hold it in a kind and spacious heart and consider what’s behind it. What unmet need is behind our self-sabotaging actions, assumptions, cravings, etc.?

I’m discovering the key is to develop a friendliness and tenderness towards the fact that such a belief exists, while at the same time considering: Is it true? Is there evidence to the contrary? Am I giving more weight to the absence of positive response than to its presence? Awareness, tenderness, and curiosity can be powerful tools.

When I was in the library the other day, I walked past a toddler who dropped to the floor on the brink of a meltdown. His mother responded by saying, “Oh, honey!” with such presence and compassion that I had to do a double-take. She neither scolded nor placated the child. Instead, she acknowledged him and remained centered, skillful, and connected. Moments later, tantrum and power struggle averted, the child got up and walked along – just like a thought moves along when you meet it with skillful awareness.

I was in awe because it’s not something you see every day. It was absolutely inspiring – and apparently, I needed to witness it.

But it’s not the norm. Children are emotional barometers and often act up when their adult caregivers are already frazzled (kind of like how our pain-body becomes active when we are tired and off-balance). Or perhaps the adult has an agenda that gets hijacked by a tired and cranky child, and then responds harshly to the child. Or they are in a public place and concerned about how they appear (in control of the situation?) to others.

Here’s the part nobody explains to us when we’re little: The authority figure’s response to us is not an indicator of our inherent worth. Their response is coming from the personality level, on which they’ve been subjected to certain causes and conditions that made them a certain way. But none of that is based on truth about our True Nature. If we are not conscious of it, others’ reactions to us become internalized, and we believe untruths about ourselves that carve deep grooves in our neural pathways and become the Top Ten Tunes that are programmed to keep playing in our head.

As Ava’s grandmother who loves her dearly, I’d want her to know that any harsh words that are spoken to her are not truth, and she should not believe them. I’d want her to realize she is a beautiful, worthy being of light (while also being a human being that makes mistakes) and to not let the unkind voices bring her down. I wouldn’t want her to internalize them or act in accordance with them. I’d want her to live in harmony with her True Nature and to help her connect with that because it’s where her power is.

Wanting that for her, and realizing my grandmother wanted the same for me, makes it easier to give it to myself.

Thank You, Mister Rogers

A few weeks ago, my son insisted on seeing the Mister Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? with me. He knows film, and he knows me, and when he tells me I MUST see a certain film, I listen.

It’s a wonderful movie, by the way, and please do yourself a favor and see it if you haven’t already.

After seeing the movie, an image started arising in my mind during meditation when I noticed myself getting lured toward a seductive thought that makes me feel bad about myself. It’s inspired by animated segments in which Daniel Tiger represented Mister Rogers as a child and is the image of a young child wandering toward a curious something that has strong energy. Just before the child gets close enough to touch it, a loving adult gently picks her up and carries her to safety. I think of it as little mind (personality level) being rescued by Big Mind (Higher Self).

But the loving presence could represent everyone who’s ever loved and believed in me and wouldn’t want me to bring more suffering on myself. This loving presence guides me gently away from danger, just as I would do for Ava. She (it’s a feminine presence) doesn’t look the other way and let me wander into the Forbidden Forest of destructive thought. She doesn’t yell or berate me. It’s more like she ever so compassionately whispers, “Oh, honey!” and takes me gently by the hand so I won’t linger in a place that only generates suffering. It leaves me feeling worthy and loved, and I’m so grateful for the new grooves that are being created in my neural circuitry, both on and off the cushion.

I experienced the last few minutes of the Mister Rogers film as the most poignant of all. People who were closest to him listened to a recording of his voice instructing them to think for one minute of a person who loves/loved them unconditionally. It was powerful to see how their faces changed as they thought about this person. Toward the end, he reminded them that this person would never want them to feel bad and suffer. They only want what’s best for you. They wouldn’t want you to let anyone snuff out your light – the uniqueness that makes you special.

Those who love us unconditionally and those whom we love unconditionally are our greatest allies in helping us to generate lovingkindness towards ourselves when we question our worth, even if they’re no longer in this world. That includes Mister Rogers, who sang:

I hope that you’ll remember
Even when you’re feeling blue
That it’s you I like,
It’s you yourself,
It’s you.
It’s you I like.

How about internalizing that voice?

I walked out of that movie with wet eyes, feeling deeply inspired. Mostly, I knew I needed to continue writing blog posts. It doesn’t matter if it feels like nobody cares about what I have to say. First of all, that’s not true. 🙂 Second, even Mister Rogers struggled with thinking his voice didn’t matter. And third, his spirit needs to be kept alive in this world. Empathy and kindness. Deep listening and appreciating. He and I (and only 2% of the population) are Myers-Briggs type INFP, and that’s what we do and who we are. And even though we can be misunderstood and devalued, the world needs us to express these qualities, big-time. Every single one of us who can bring forth empathy and lovingkindness needs to step up and not give up.

As we walked to the car after the movie, I told my son that the movie motivated me to share my writing again. He smiled a wise grin and said he had a feeling that would be my takeaway. Thank you, Mister Rogers, for reminding me that every message of joy, hope, light, and love matters and is worth sharing. And thank you, Cianan, for realizing I needed the reminder.

© 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.

P.S. I’ve rebranded! River Bliss is now Susan Tara Meyer! I’m also making changes to the way messages are delivered to my mailing list, and your patience is greatly appreciated as I work out the kinks. 🙂  

Back into Presence

Back into Presence

It’s true: Everything is impermanent. Even seasons of inertia. Thank goodness.

A couple days ago, I finally had my first inspired idea after returning from the seven-day silent mindfulness meditation retreat. It happened without trying, and it felt like it came from a deep place. So now, instead of just framing photography for my upcoming exhibit, I’m painting the frames, too, for a color-coordinated, shabby chic look. It makes a big difference and feels so much more “me.” I’m psyched.

This morning, more inspiration came. I think it’s back. It seemed to come in response to getting carried away by a wave of emotion last night. One step back, two steps forward.

I’ve been doing well embodying mindfulness since the retreat. However, now my son is home from college and has transportation issues. We live in the country, and he can’t get a summer job without reliable transportation. All he has is a bike, which he’s determined to ride. However, the roads around here aren’t safe for bikers, especially when it gets dark, and to make a long story short, I ended up getting hooked by sadness last night. I felt bad about not being able to offer him more than I can, and then sadness morphed into regret for all the mistakes I’ve made in my life that resulted in him not having a car to drive this summer.

Every so often, I acknowledged this is regret and noticed where I felt it in my body. And then I got hooked again. Regret is my seductive teacher. It keeps returning until I’ve learned what it has to teach me and don’t need it anymore.

But everything is impermanent. Even challenging emotions. This morning, I woke up feeling better. During my walk, I recognized: Regret is disempowering. Come back to the present. 

Then I noticed the trees and the new leaves they’re putting out, still a tender, bright shade of chartreuse. I suspect trees don’t regret last year’s foliage or any previous year’s. That’s in the past. Now they are starting fresh with a new generation of leaves. New determination to grow. All that matters now is the leaves that are emerging this year that can capture sunlight and help the tree to grow.

Then it occurred to me that I might want to go home and get my camera because the trees were showing me something about my own nature. On the way back to my car, I noticed an oak tree that hadn’t let go of all of last year‘s leaves. They are brown, papery, and shriveled and such a contrast to the tender, bright, new leaves. I considered the tree holding on to what no longer serves it a rather unappealing quality – and a contemplative image I wanted to capture. So home I went, to get my camera.

When I returned with my camera and started photographing oak and maple trees, I felt completely back in my element. Waiting for the wind to quiet down is a great opportunity to embody presence, and this is what photography has been for me all along: an invitation to presence. Presence when the conditions are right and presence while waiting for the sun to go behind or emerge from a cloud or for the wind to calm down. Photography as a portal to presence. It’s a significant part of my spiritual practice.

I don’t need my camera to embody presence. But I do tend to pause and linger a little longer while waiting for conditions to be more favorable for capturing the image my heart desires that somehow speaks to me. And that right there is the way I want to live my life. It’s the answer to the koan I brought back from retreat about goals and contentment.

When conditions aren’t exactly the way I want them to be, I can focus on being present to and allowing what is. Then, when conditions are right, I can put all that much more presence into the photography. And if the conditions don’t present themselves, then I haven’t wasted my time because I’ve embodied presence and stillness and can walk along like that until the next inspiration arrives! In the meantime, I’m not tempted to put my energy into anything that distracts me from what feels right because I already feel so content and peaceful.

Without even trying, I returned home with this blog post. I didn’t have a goal to write today, but it arose from the stillness.

There’s a season for putting out bright, shiny new leaves – new possibilities for growth. There’s a season for full, deep green leaves collecting maximum sunlight for the growth part of the cycle. There’s a season for letting go of leaves because it’s not time for that anymore, and they’re not needed. And there’s a season for rest and reflection. Each of these seasons is impermanent and important, and wherever we are in the cycle, may we let it be as it is. May we trust in the seasons of our lives and not try to fill them with compulsive activity. In presence and stillness, growth comes without us needing to try so hard.

I bow to the Buddha on my meditation altar. I bow to the leaves in the trees through which Source energy reveals itself. I bow to all my teachers, including unpleasant emotions that carry me away and eventually dissolve back into stillness. I bow to it all.

© 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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