“You let time pass. That’s the cure. You survive the days. You float like a rabid ghost through the weeks. You cry and wallow and lament and scratch your way back up through the months. And then one day you find yourself alone on a bench in the sun and you close your eyes and lean your head back and you realize you’re okay.” -Cheryl Strayed
The second anniversary of my mom’s death (or “angelversary”) has come and gone, and although it was a month ago, I want to write about it, to offer a message of hope…because I have found that the difference one year makes borders on miraculous.
The first year was spent mostly recovering from the shock and coming to terms with her absence as the parade of birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions marched on. Year One was like one big, long noooooooo! I was acutely aware of the brevity of life and of everything that felt misaligned in mine. Her first angelversary – actually, the whole month of May 2015 – was brutal! It found me about as downhearted as I’ve ever been in my life, standing at the confluence where a year’s worth of grief, discontent, and confusion in different areas of life converged – for sometimes the tears from big losses give birth to tributaries of thought and action that lead to additional disillusionment, heartache, and letting go, thus complicating the process. The first year felt a little like my mom was away on vacation somewhere, but when the anniversary rolled around, it came with a sense of permanence. It had been a full year, and she wasn’t coming back.
Still spinning from the realization, “Life is short, so do what you love,” the second year was a big time-out for soul-searching and letting go of what no longer seemed to fit. Big things, like leaving my teaching career (which, despite how long it took to muster up the courage, I haven’t regretted for a moment). I decluttered my house and my life to make space for new possibilities and did everything I could to build a foundation for new beginnings. Mercifully, there weren’t any more “first” holidays to get through – although the first member of our family’s newest generation was born in January.
At the beginning of Year Three, my youngest child graduated from high school, and I anticipated that my mom’s absence would be felt at graduation. But it wasn’t so bad after all. I wore my necklace that contains some of her ashes and carried her with me in my heart – as I do every day. In Year Three, I feel ready to resume my life in earnest – albeit a different version than I was living a couple years ago. I have lightened my load, tried a lot of new things, and assumed some new roles. I still don’t know “what’s next” but am at peace with not knowing. I’ve always sensed there was some kind of divine hand involved in the events that transpired following the death of my mother and that important work was being done, no matter how bewildering it appeared on the surface. “Believe in the integrity and value of the jagged path,” advised Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild. Amen to that.
Although I still miss my mom every single day, thank God her second angelversary was nothing like the first. On the actual anniversary, I took it easy. I walked the labyrinth just as I did the day she died, and it felt quite the same. The weather was the same, and feelings of loss and sadness lingered in the humid air. When I stepped out of my car, a bunch of purple irises greeted me, just as they did the day she died. As I walked the labyrinth, two young girls noticed a butterfly right next to my car, which reminded me of when my daughter told me she noticed the first butterfly of the year the day my mom died.
I took a long walk and felt grateful for having such a wonderful mom in my life for as long as I did, for her voice that continues to echo inside my head and heart, for the dreams in which we are together again for a few awesome moments, and for the dear souls who have come into my life as a result of our shared grief. A couple days earlier, I’d found in my dad’s freezer the last remaining bags of strawberries my mom had picked. I visited my dad on the evening of my mom’s angelversary, and we enjoyed strawberry shortcake made with her hand-picked strawberries.
As the sun set, I took another walk and felt strong and peaceful. Strong because now I can handle the grief that threatened to shatter me last year. I can handle my mom being gone, although I really miss talking with her (though sometimes we have conversations in dreams). It occurred to me that a year ago, I wanted nothing more than to feel the way I feel now, and I am immensely grateful for that.
Cheryl Strayed wrote:
“It took me years to take my place among the ten thousand things again. To be the woman my mother raised… I would suffer. I would suffer. I would want things to be different than they were. The wanting was a wilderness and I had to find my own way out of the woods. It took me four years, seven months, and three days to do it. I didn’t know where I was going until I got there.”
I wondered how long it would take to find my way out of the woods. Would it take that long?
When it feels as if your grief will last forever, you have to realize it’s just an illusion, a trick of the light. Something is blocking you from seeing the greater picture and finding hope. Maybe it’s the belief that things should be different. Maybe they’re exactly as they need to be so you can awaken for your highest good. The image that comes to mind is a flower plant underneath an overcast sky in early spring, when winter refuses to relinquish its hold. After several gray days, it seems like the sun will never come out, and spring will never really arrive, and the flower wonders if it will just wither where it is, without having the opportunity to bloom. But the weather can change any moment. The clouds can shift enough for a beam of light to come through. The next day or even in a few hours, the clouds might give way to blue sky and warmer temperatures. You just have to know that it won’t be overcast and wintry forever and trust Divine Timing. Eventually, the clouds will break, the sun will come through, spring will overpower winter, and you will bloom. The wonderful secret is that growth was taking place all along, even when it felt like nothing was happening or that you were going backwards.
My blooming moment was when I realized that what felt like it was going to destroy me and break my heart to pieces no longer felt so big. What a wonderful feeling! Moments of shock and sadness may still arise, but they don’t endure. I’ve found my mom’s voice inside my heart and have learned to look forward to when she appears in my dreams or there’s some kind of wild serendipity or “sign”. I really miss picking up the phone and talking with her. I miss her loving and exuberant energy and the unique light she beamed into this world. But as much as I still miss her physical presence, I feel more deeply connected with her essence.
I’ve learned how to use my breath to breathe over the top of a wave of grief so as not to be overwhelmed by it. I’ve learned to be much more aware of my thoughts and to choose thoughts that are more positive and hopeful. And I’ve practiced leaning in to my feelings and learning what I can from them and watching them dissolve. I’ve learned to face my fears and release what no longer serves me, and to listen to the loving voice inside me that feels like my mom’s essence, or perhaps my Inner Mother, growing stronger. To know that whatever arises, this, too, shall pass. I’ve learned that on days when the wind picks up, and the waves are strong, it’s best to keep things as simple as possible, practice self-compassion and nourishment, and treat myself as my mom would want me to be treated. I’ve learned to cultivate the essence of what I lost, only to realize it was within me all along – and that what was taken from me is a part of me, so I can’t actually lose it in the first place.
Now, when grief-waves arise, they don’t tend to last more than a minute or two. They still crash into me, but they don’t come as often as they did last year, and my recovery time is much quicker. A year later, there is much more space between the waves, and more often than not, when I think of my mom, it is with more gratitude and appreciation than sadness. There is a new a voice in my head and feeling in my heart, and when they arise, I feel closer than ever to my mom’s essence .
Every now and then, it stuns me to realize that she died and that I will never see her again in this lifetime. It strikes me as the most inconceivable reality ever and sends a chill through me. So I have learned to lean in and sit with it, rather than resist or struggle against it. And then the feeling passes. It can’t feel that big for too long because you just can’t live like that! You learn to allow the bitter reality and to have a more accepting relationship with what is – even if only because arguing with reality only compromises your peace of mind and quality of life – and you finally get tired of suffering and decide there must be another way. And in the mercifully expanding spaces between the waves, peace enters in, and you learn the waves will pass. You learn how to let them pass right through you without holding on to them, losing your footing, or running away. You allow yourself to be touched by them, like a cool wave that crashes against your skin when you stand at the edge of the sea. And you learn that who you really are is so much bigger than any loss you can experience in this lifetime.
The point is that the loss gets easier to bear in time. It doesn’t mean that love has gone anywhere or diminished. It just means you’re able to pass through to the other side and grow. And that’s actually quite wondrous.
When someone leaves, holding on and carrying the weight of grief isn’t something we need to do in order to prove our love for them. There are so many other, less self-destructive ways to continue loving a person. But sometimes grief sets other dominoes in motion, and the waves get bigger until you become tired of suffering for real. And then an inner voice arises and asks: Do you really want to do this work? Do you really want to give up suffering? Do you want to transform your life into something higher? And if you answer yes, then you have to love yourself enough to break the habits that cause suffering, beginning with the thoughts you allow to take root in your mind. You realize you have a choice in the first place and choose thoughts that bring relief rather than suffering. Or at least, that’s the radical and empowering transformation my grief produced, and I am ever so grateful because it has set me free from so much more than grieving the loss of my mother. It applies to everything – which is some serious blooming.
If you are grieving, please know that no matter how much it hurts now, you are going to find your way to the other side of this grief. I don’t know how or when, but time is your friend. For me, it’s been a jagged path, but whatever it takes, thank God for it because what I feel now is night and day from what I felt then. The anguish that came with the reality that I would never see my mom again in this life has evolved into feeling more connected with her than ever. Finding her anywhere.
And sometimes jagged paths make the most interesting and inspiring stories. I’ve been living and writing mine for the past two years so far and feel certain that someday I’ll be able to place it within a context that will make more sense. But that time is not now. And that is okay.
© 2016 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this blog post, 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.
My youngest child graduated from high school today!
I had intended to bring some tissues to the ceremony, and when I arrived at the venue without any regretted the oversight. However, it ended up not being an issue – for, surprisingly, I didn’t shed a single tear. The graduation ceremony didn’t move me emotionally – maybe because it was nearly three hours long, which seemed about twice as long as it needed to be. And I’m not keen on formality to begin with.
It wasn’t the graduation ceremony that got me. It was watching the movie, Boyhood, with Cianan the night before that did it. We had watched the movie together about a year and a half ago, but watching it again felt like the perfect way to prepare for his graduation, especially since we have a history around film, and he is going to college in the fall to study film.
If you aren’t familiar with Boyhood, I’ll summarize it by saying that it was filmed over a period of 12 years, so throughout the course of the movie, all the characters really had aged that much. At the beginning, the main character was in kindergarten, and his mom had a talk with him about why he put stones into the classroom pencil sharpener. (Because he had an arrowhead collection and wanted to see if he could turn the rocks into arrowheads, of course!) The film ended with him – now an aspiring photographer – arriving at college and connecting with his new tribe of kindred spirits. The high school graduation party scene got me, as I knew it would – especially when his parents (who had split up before the movie even began) were having a harmonious, reflective moment in the kitchen. And the scene in which he was packing to leave for college, and his mom became emotional about that chapter of life coming to an end. And the damn “Hero” song that played as he drove himself to college. (That song triggers tears every time I hear it.) There’s something about the main character that resembles Cianan. He even has the eye and passion for photography that Cianan has for film – which intensified the realism.
Before starting the movie, Cianan pleaded, “Mom, please don’t cry too much.” I was fine during the first half, but toward the end, I fetched the box of tissues and tried my very best to cover my face and control my breathing so he wouldn’t realize how much I was crying. The movie was awesome – so real and honest. But even bigger magic came after the movie was over, and my tears had dried.
Cianan and I have had so many heart-to-heart talks through the years about film, philosophy, psychology, spirituality, music, and relationships. He is an old soul and a deep thinker. Our talks have been a source of great joy and satisfaction, and the one we had last night was perhaps the best yet. The events, relationships, and dialogue in the film were a springboard for Cianan opening up about how he perceives himself, what high school was like for him, how events from his childhood affected him, ways in which he wants to grow and change, and how he longs to connect with his tribe at college – with people who share his passion for filmmaking and truly “get” him. We talked openly and honestly about relationships, drugs, feelings, and the joy of finally finding your tribe. We talked for a long time, and it felt exquisite and holy. It felt like our own private graduation ceremony. After he left, I cried again because, for the first time, his graduation felt real. It wasn’t so long ago that his world revolved around his Thomas the Tank Engine trains and his beloved frog pond. This milestone came sooner than I could have imagined back then. And I have so loved our time together.
Although he’s always been deeply loved, Cianan has not had what I would consider a particularly carefree life. He’s experienced some challenges and family drama, despite my best intentions and efforts. When I was pregnant with him, his dad (who I was married to at the time) applied for a position with Disney World. Moving 1,200 miles away from our family and friends in upstate New York was the last thing I wanted to think of while preparing for the arrival of a baby, but when Cianan was two months old, we were on our way to Orlando to begin a new chapter that would end up lasting for two years. I wondered and sometimes worried about how the stress and upheaval of the move would affect Cianan. But he was the calmest baby! His aura was pure peace, and his gaze was deep and penetrating. When I nursed him to sleep at night, if my mind wandered to anything other than the present moment, he would become restless and squirm. He was like a tiny Zen master who kept bringing me back to the present moment, and I’ve always felt that, if there is such a thing as past or parallel lives, he must have been my spiritual teacher in another lifetime.
Cianan has had a passion for filmmaking since he was four or five years old. Around his sixth birthday, he was interviewed by the local newspaper because he’d helped compose the lyrics for one of the holiday songs his musician stepfather had been commissioned to write. When the reporter asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he replied, “A movie maker.” His passion for film has endured for 14 years now. I’m excited to see where it leads him and am grateful for how his art and writing have helped him to channel his emotional responses to life situations and events and cultivate a wisdom and compassion beyond his years. I expect that someday he will make a movie that caricatures the adults in his life and that doing so will be cathartic for him. When he’s experienced bumps in the road, we’ve often reframed them as material for his future movies and talked about how he might put a humorous spin on them.
I remember taking him to the movie theater when he was young and feeling it was a very important thing to do. It felt like more than just a fun and entertaining mother-son activity. He’d cue in to the music and know when a scary part was coming up so he could either close his eyes or bolt out of the theater (which he often did when his dad took him to movies, much to his dad’s frustration). I’ve often joked with him about how, when he makes his autobiographical film, there will be a montage of him bolting out of one movie theater after another.
Even when he was a preschooler, he responded to seeing a movie or reading a book by making a movie poster of it, which was often followed by a book (the further adventures of…). Early on, he’d dictate the text to me and create the illustrations. Then he’d script plays and eventually movies. He’d pace back and forth in the back yard with a tape recorder in hand, dictating his ideas for stories and movies and humming soundtracks. (I saved all the cassettes!)
When I was decluttering the house last month, the sweetest find was a letter from Cianan’s closest friend when they were in either first or second grade. It read, “Dear Cianan, I would like to be in the movie. What part will I play? Tell me about the movie.” That note was concrete evidence that the movie director was already ignited in Cianan at that young age. Although I remember that being the case, holding such an artifact in my hands reinforced how strong it was.
Recently, Cianan’s dad shared some old family movies with me. There was one in which kindergarten aged Cianan was directing and co-starring in a movie with his older sister in the living room. They were acting out The Letter People Come to Life, a story he’d previously dictated to me and illustrated in book form. (When he was in kindergarten, his teacher used balloon “Letter People” to teach letter sounds. So he created a story about the Letter People coming to life.) It was clear, even at six years old, that directing movies was his passion. When his sister did something that wasn’t in the script, he’d look directly into the camera and ever so seriously and authoritatively say, “Cut that part.”
He also loved to create a dinner movie theater at home, which included a menu that he wrote up. While I prepared the food, he’d make tickets and set up the chairs, covering them with silks to make them look fancy. He was so excited! By the time the food was ready, and it was finally time to watch the movie, we were often tired, and sometimes he didn’t have the turnout he’d hoped for. But the thrill seemed to be in the preparation.
It’s amazing to have given birth to someone who has such a clear purpose! I can’t do anything but encourage him because clearly, filmmaking is his path. He and I have had several conversations about the blessings, curses, and challenges of being a creative person and how you really have to be honest with yourself about what is most important to you. If you prioritize materialistic rewards, then take some time to consider whether a vocation in an artistic field is the best path for you. But if creativity itself is as vital to you as breathing, then you must find the courage to go for it.
As long as he maintains his passion and determination, is resilient, and can handle competition and criticism, I think he will do fine as an artist. Driving home from graduation, his dad and I talked with him about that. Earlier in life, I was a pianist, and he was an actor, but neither of us followed through because we felt intimidated by the competition and our fear of failure. We advised Cianan to learn all he can from his fellow film majors and not compare himself to them. The world needs creative people to express their unique voices and not allow fear and doubt to silence them.
As much as I will miss him when he begins college two months from now, he’s so ready to move on to this next step. He’s prepared me for the empty nest over the past two years, during which time he’s lived mostly with his dad after having lived primarily with me until then. During his senior year, he’s been involved with lots of film-related work, such as: interning with a local, independent filmmaker; founding and organizing a film festival for young filmmakers; being the theater manager for the local film forum; and working on his own screenplays and films in addition to assisting other young filmmakers with theirs. He was too busy with activities outside of school to act in school plays or get up at the crack of dawn to attend Vocal Ensemble, so both of those activities slid off his plate. High school seemed to get in the way of his next step, which he already was embracing.
Cianan is a young man with a mission. He hasn’t allowed other people, situations, or limitations to deter him, and I pray this will continue to be the case for him. Recently, when there was a question about whether he’d be able to afford going to college this year, his sheer determination made me feel that I would do everything in my power to support him however I can. I was ready to move mountains. You don’t argue with determination like that. You just have to bow to it and do what you can to support it. His English teacher told me that Cianan’s passion for making movies inspired him to return to writing short stories. That’s the kind of enthusiasm I’m talking about. It’s infectious. May it endure.
When I look back at what classmates wrote in my high school yearbooks, many of the comments referred to piano. One person wrote, “You have a great talent, and you’d be crazy not to let it take you as far as it can!” Well, I guess I was crazy, then – crazy enough to allow fear and self-doubt to snuff out my passion for music. Unlike Cianan, I didn’t have anyone in my life assuring me that rejection, failure, and mistakes are natural parts of the process, rather than conclusive evidence that you’re not good enough. Or that cultivating resilience and developing thick skin is every bit as important as artistic talent and sensitivity. Back then, books like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic and Pema Chodron’s Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better hadn’t been written yet.
I gave up too easily. Sometimes I still regret that and wonder how my life would have been different if I’d kept going with piano and considered failure a stepping stone, rather than a roadblock, to success, as Timothy Bradberry advises in an article for The Huffington Post. But regret is a waste of time and energy, and it’s more worthwhile to apply that wisdom to my current pursuits. Do what you love to the best of your ability, and enjoy the process. Have goals, but don’t get caught up in outcomes or comparisons. Each of us has a unique voice and perspective, and we contribute to the evolution and expansion of the universe by expressing our unique talent(s). And if your passion for one thing ends up fizzling out and igniting a new passion, then so be it. Follow that. Follow your calling, even if it compels you to head in a different direction than what you generated student loans for. Above all, don’t let fear, a relationship, drugs, or enslavement to any kind of addiction (which can include all of the above) snuff out your light and steal the gift that gives meaning and purpose to your life. May you believe in yourself and have the courage to follow your passion and talents as far as they can take you, dear son, so you can be amazed by what you are capable of.
Who knows: Maybe you will be the next Steven Spielberg or Kevin Bright. Or maybe you will simply enjoy doing what you love at whatever level you do it and will cultivate a happy heart and gratitude for your precious life and for not giving in to the temptation to trade your talents for something much smaller by playing it “safe” (which, I’ve learned from experience, is the riskiest thing you can do). After all, a peaceful, contented heart is a state of mind and way of life that many outwardly “successful” people would trade their BWMs and mansions for. That comes from being true to yourself, doing what you love, and loving what you do. And that is what I wish for you, my son: To go forward and shine your light in this world, no matter what. I have been amazed by it since the day you were born, and now it is time for you to know it, grow it, and share it.
© 2016 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this blog post, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness mentor 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.
Have you ever gone on a trip that left you feeling fundamentally different than you were before you embarked on it? A real life changer? Well, that’s what spending nearly two weeks with relatives on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia did for me—and I am excited to write about it!
I met my great-uncle Ralph and great-aunt June in person for the first time more than ten years ago when they visited the East coast. I recognized them instantly as kindred spirits and felt a deep connection with them. (They even founded a Waldorf school in North Vancouver!) Not long after their visit, they sent me the 2005 Sunshine Coast Tourist Guide, with lots of handwritten comments about places that were meaningful to them. I held onto that guide with intentions to visit their home in Sechelt (the heart of the Sunshine Coast off of Vancouver) someday. In recent months, my intuition told me it was time to make “someday” happen. Visiting them was one of the top items on my list of “100 Things to Do” this year.
My dad and I began talking about making a trip to Vancouver together. A health condition was making it more difficult for him to get around, and I felt it was important to make the trip sooner rather than later. We also had been talking about driving to Virginia to visit his sister, who had been ill for quite some time. At the end of January, she passed away unexpectedly. Unfortunately, we didn’t make that trip in time, and that made it seem even more important to follow through with the Vancouver trip. We renewed our passports and came up with specific dates for our trip. When it came time to make flight reservations, my dad had second thoughts and eventually told me he thought the trip would be too much for him. But he still wanted me to go, so we booked my flights, and I prepared to make the trip on my own.
In the days leading up to the trip, I felt I was making some real progress excavating and releasing limiting beliefs that had circumscribed my life for as long as I can remember. But I still felt stuck and unsure about how to proceed. Intuitively, I knew there was something for me in the Vancouver area. Something important. I could feel it, even though I didn’t yet know what it was, other than that it was the next step.
It turns out a great deal was waiting for me there. At least three journeys took place simultaneously: an exploration of the area’s unsurpassed natural beauty, connecting with my ancestral and family tribe, and a very deep spiritual journey.
I had wanted to travel to the Sunshine Coast off of Vancouver for a long time, and it was every bit as breathtaking as I anticipated. To get to Sechelt (SEE-shelt) from Vancouver, I took a 20-minute flight in a tiny float plane that could accommodate up to five passengers. The woman sitting next to me was excited to point out landmarks and tell me about the magnificent terrain on which she lived her whole life.
The coastal landscape, dotted with islands and lined with snowcapped mountains in the distance, provided sharp visual contrast to the temperate rainforest featuring moss-covered trees (including broadleaf maple, red cedar, hemlock, and Douglas fir), ferns and mosses, and so much lush vegetation.
During my stay, I went kayaking three times—my first experiences paddling in salty, ocean water and in kayaks equipped with a rudder (which is actually quite metaphoric). We paddled by herds of seals, at least one sea lion, great blue herons, and bald eagles.
On different outings, we toured the Coast from Roberts Creek to Egmont, stopping to appreciate the sights and scenery along the way. One afternoon, June and I took a long hike on the rainforest trail through Skookumchuck Provincial Park to view the rapids during ebb tide.
My soul mate of a cousin, Paul, whisked me away a couple of times to catch some glorious sunsets and moonrises.
We also explored the Sunshine Coast Botanical Garden (where June and Ralph have their own bench) and spent an afternoon motoring around Thormanby Island and Smuggler Cove on Paul’s future in-laws’ 68-foot yacht—a very special treat.
One pattern that stood out was the residents’ positive, grateful energy. I read that the Sunshine Coast boasts the highest per-capita number of artists, artisans, and crafters in Canada and is also home to a great many writers, nature lovers, and alternative healers. It was like moving from one paradise to another the whole time. And unbelievably, the inner journey was even more astonishing than the outer one.
It didn’t take long to figure out why I needed to make this trip. I needed to connect with my only Pacific Northwest relatives to learn where I came from ancestrally and where I fit in, in relation to my family tree. I discovered that I am part of an extended family of multipotentialites extraordinaire: artists, musicians, writers, and sharp minds. Through the years, I had heard anecdotes of my (mostly European) relatives’ talents, but seeing actual works of art, hearing recordings, and holding writing collections in my hands brought the stories to life and made them more tangible and real. Until recently, Ralph (an architect, writer, painter, and athlete) had been the keeper of the family tree, and when we sat down and looked at it, it seemed everyone he spoke of had at least one jaw-dropping creative talent in addition to whatever else s/he did. I felt like I had found my real tribe and realized that I am part of something larger that I didn’t grasp until now. I finally understood the source and value of my creative and artistic passions that didn’t seem to make sense in the nuclear family I was born into. Artistic expression and creativity are hardwired into my DNA!
I woke up every morning in a room decorated with framed prints of Ralph’s watercolor and acrylic paintings, listened to him read some of his poetry and prose in the evening after dinner, conversed with June about our shared values with regard to developmentally appropriate and inspired early childhood education, took in the extraordinary beauty and magical details of their gardens, and dined on organic fruits and vegetables (some from the garden) and delicious meals, including the most scrumptious coconut yogurt (Liberté Méditerranée) I’ve ever tasted. And so much more.
At 85 and 80, respectively, Ralph and June love kayaking every bit as much as I do (though they have been doing it MUCH longer). Although quintuple bypass surgery a few years ago put a damper on Ralph’s physical activity, I was inspired by how active, fit, and engaged they are at their age and how they took action to create what they wanted, whether it be a Waldorf school or an indoor tennis facility. I just wanted to absorb their positive energy and lifestyle!
It also was wonderful to finally meet two of my three Canadian cousins (technically, my dad’s cousins), who are my age. Paul and I bonded instantly and spoke a common spiritual language that allowed us to communicate on a deep level. I was grateful for opportunities to spend time with him, his fiancée, and her parents throughout my stay. Caroline flew in from Vancouver Island for a few hours, during which time we went kayaking around the Trail Islands in the Strait of Georgia, talking the entire time. I wish I could have stayed longer and visited her on Vancouver Island. Their younger sister, Sonia, who lives in Alberta, was too far away to connect in person, but I spoke with her on the phone. We also called relatives in England, including cousin Bryan (current keeper of the family tree) and Ralph’s (and my deceased grandfather’s) only living sibling, 93-year old Ron, an accomplished pianist and organist (amongst other things). It was such a delight to connect with each of them and bring to life some of the names on the family tree.
One night, it was rainy and cool, and June insisted on sending me to bed with a hot water bottle to keep me nice and toasty. As I appreciated both the heavenly warmth and the kindness of the gesture, it occurred to me that it was the first time I have felt mothered in a long time. I fell asleep with tears of gratitude still moist on my face.
The second morning of my vacation, I discovered the path that leads to the beach, only a five-minute walk from the house. I spent two or three hours at the rocky beach every morning for the rest of my stay. It was very rare to see another person on the beach, so it was my own private sanctuary, where the spiritual part of my journey unfolded.
I had two special places on the beach. The first was my stone balance workshop by the sea, between two logs. I searched the beach for interesting stones and lined them up on one of the logs for later use. Someone had placed a rock that looked like a cradle on the log, and I used it as the base for many of my stone balances. Balancing rocks by the sea is one of my very favorite meditative activities.
My second special place on the beach was under an arbutus tree (my new favorite tree) that grew out of a rock formation.
Surrounding the arbutus tree were several wild, pink nootka rosebushes in full bloom, which expressed an intoxicating fragrance into the air.
From my arbutus tree sanctuary, I’d often see great blue herons at the water’s edge and hear the gentle, soothing rhythm of waves lapping the shore. Here, I worked on my feng shui vision board, reflecting and envisioning what I wish to manifest in different areas of life. As the moon grew fuller, my vision board insights and clarity deepened. Being on the Sunshine Coast, so far from home with “my people,” helped me to see my life back East from a different perspective. Removed from my daily routine, I was stunned by ways in which I’ve compromised and sold myself short by playing it safe. I came to the realization that there is perhaps nothing riskier in life than playing it safe. But rather than feeling discouraged, I experienced clarity about what I do and don’t want in my life moving forward, including what kind of energy I want to surround myself with.
I had a profound experience walking the 11-circuit, Chartres-style labyrinth outside St. Hilda’s by the Sea (Anglican church) one warm, sunny afternoon. Again, there was nobody else around. When I arrived at the center, an inner voice asked: Are you ready to give up the path of suffering? Are you ready to walk the path of joy? Are you really ready to let go of suffering? I answered yes. Yes, I’m ready! (I understood suffering to mean the internal reactions that set in motion outer circumstances and events.) Then I looked up and saw a rainbow around the sun and experienced a deep sense of peace.
As I walked on the winding path back out of the labyrinth, I realized that as long as I act from love, all will be well. When I allow ego to take the wheel, it never seems to work out. Also, if I feel bad about myself for not accomplishing more or for the paths I chose and the choices I made, that’s ego. Good/bad, right/wrong, and better than are the vocabulary of ego, not Higher Self. Instead of making judgments and comparisons, Higher Self is love that seeks expansion. When you’re aligned with Higher Self, you intuitively know what to do and not do. It’s like a divine GPS that will save you time rather than take you the long, roundabout route. It doesn’t mean that when you don’t follow it, you’re wrong or somehow doomed. You’ll eventually get to your destination. It just might take longer. You might experience more drama and unanticipated traffic setbacks along the way. Somehow your divine GPS knows where the obstructions are and reroutes you to a clearer, more direct path. But if you choose to go a different way that ends up taking longer, it’s ultimately okay because the Higher Self exists beyond time. So there’s no need to regret what could be perceived as wasted time or poor choices. Better to tune into intuition and focus on the road ahead rather than get mired in regret.
These labyrinth insights bathed me in peace. When I exited the labyrinth, I retrieved my camera to take a photo of the rainbow. As I composed the photo, two seagulls flew through the frame. It was a moment.
I had an incredible experience on the beach my last morning on the Sunshine Coast, when the moon was full. After doing my vision board work, I decided to do a final rock balance before leaving the beach. When I first arrived that morning, I’d found a rock whose shape was in between a crescent and half-moon and intended to balance it later. So I brought it back to the rock cradle and decided to put a round stone underneath it for an extra challenge. The round stone was so wobbly on the cradle, and the weight of the moon-shaped rock was so unevenly distributed. But I set my mind to it and decided I wanted to do something that seemed impossible, to prove to myself that I could do it, and I never doubted my ability to balance the stones. As I worked with the stones, I recalled my cousin, Paul, telling me that he no longer fears challenges because he sees them as opportunities to discover what he is capable of. It took a while, but all of a sudden, I felt the stones shifting into alignment, and then they clicked into balance! The moment that happened, I cried tears of joy and fulfillment because I accomplished what seemed impossible— because I believed I could and didn’t give up. I immediately texted Paul to share my success, knowing he’d understand.
That balance inspired me to expand my ideas about what is possible. Dream big. Pursue bigger, bolder goals, and remember the excitement, satisfaction, joy, and gratitude I felt the moment those stones clicked into balance (and remained balanced!). I don’t want to get to the end of my life only to learn that the silver slippers could have brought me home at any time—that I had the power all along. I want to manifest during this lifetime and discover what I can do. And a big part of that is having an unwavering faith that I will succeed, acting on intuition, and having the patience to see it through.
I’m shifting out of a defeatist, poverty attitude, and it is the most miraculous shift of my life. I used to be like Charlie in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory receiving his birthday chocolate bar and savoring it for as long as he possibly could because he knew he wouldn’t get another candy bar until his next birthday. An impoverished gratitude. What I’m cultivating is a sense of exploration and adventure. I’ve been traveling more since my mom died two years ago and consider traveling a great metaphor. It’s about having gratitude for where you are now but not clinging to it because you expect to experience all kinds of new wonders, beauty, and joy by traveling to places you haven’t been before. Places that will delight, challenge, and expand you.
After a phenomenal and life-changing visit to the B.C. Sunshine Coast, I flew home that night on moonbeams to a place of fireflies, splendid autumn foliage, and really good spring water, where the intoxicating fragrance of the last, lingering lilacs greeted me the moment I got out of the car. I returned home with renewed energy for creating a shining life.
My great-aunt June told me that she went to my stone balance workshop by the sea after I left and felt my presence there. She said I left a piece of myself there, and that makes me happy. But ironically, even though part of me remains on the Sunshine Coast and surely will call me back there, I returned home feeling more whole and complete than ever—for on the Sunshine Coast, with my tribe, I found my missing pieces and know that my life will never be the same.
To view more of my photos from the Sunshine Coast, click on the image below:
© 2016 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this blog post, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness mentor 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.