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Journal

Better Than Envy

Better Than Envy

My friend, Colleen’s 18-year-old son, Isaac, is an amazing wildlife and landscape photographer. Last summer, his shot of the solar eclipse made National Geographic’s “Daily Dozen.” I have to admit, I was a little jealous. 

Okay, more than a little. It wasn’t just the shot itself. It was the killer lens he used to capture it and the resources he has access to, including epic landscapes. And he was only 17 at the time.

Today I learned Isaac was named Young Photographer of the Year through the prestigious Windland Smith Rice Awards for nature and wildlife photography, and his winning shot, “Battle of the Bulls,” will be in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Holy cow!

There are moments when you realize how much you’ve grown and that the work you do on a daily basis really does make a difference. Learning of Isaac’s latest accomplishment was one such moment…because I didn’t feel jealous or envious as much as I felt truly happy for him. And that’s a big deal for an Enneagram “Four” like me because we tend to default into envy, comparing ourselves to others and feeling bad because we convince ourselves that we don’t measure up and lack any kind of personal significance and existential worth. 

In the past year, I’ve done a lot of inner work – more than I can remember ever doing in a year. Diving into Enneagram work has made a huge difference in my life. It’s a powerful combination along with daily mindfulness meditation practice. Finally, I can catch myself when I start to go into “Enneagram Four negative thoughts” and label them as such…and transform them or let them go.

Noticing and labeling are important. You can think of a thought as a bus with a sign lit up that shows where it’s headed: “The Dark Side of Enneagram Four”. Seeing that sign, I realize it’s not a bus I want to get on. It’s one of the usual routes I’ve taken all my adult life, but now I can see it for what it is and where it goes to and can let it pass. It stops in front of me, and I hear the sound of the door opening and the bus driver inviting me to get on…and then choose to continue sitting right where I am.

As the bus pulls away, I go back to noticing the sights and sounds around me, the sensation of breathing, the areas of tension in my body, and don’t give that bus a second thought. Eventually, another bus comes along with either another or the same destination sign lit up, and again I can make a conscious choice about whether or not to get on and go for a ride.

This is kind of amazing! It’s like the bumper sticker slogan: You don’t have to believe every thought you think. Freedom from thought. Yes, we do have a choice! Why don’t they teach us that in school?? What a difference it would make in our personal lives and in society.

So instead of wasting time and energy wishing I had that sweet glass and 12,000 Instagram followers, instead of getting on that thought-bus that travels down dismal streets like “I really screwed up my life” and “There must be something seriously wrong with me”…

I allowed Isaac’s success to inspire me and to help me clarify what is most important to me. Because that’s what you can do when you don’t get on the bus that takes you to places that suck the life out of you.

Truth is, I’ve been focusing on a lot of other things lately. Building infrastructure for photography and other endeavors. Decluttering across the board – emails, Pinterest boards, all kinds of stuff that has accumulated but no longer fits with who I have become and what I want to move toward. I’ve been doing portrait shoots, but because I’ve been so busy, I haven’t taken my camera out as much as usual to photograph nature, which is my true passion. I haven’t even left the area in the past year except to go on spiritual retreats at two retreat centers. 

Isaac’s photography reminded me that I have a photography bucket list. It reminded me that the Adirondacks and New England (for fall foliage) are close by. Even Maine isn’t too far away for photographing northern lights. His photography reminded me of the importance of having a work schedule that offers flexibility to travel for photography. And this is good because I nearly interviewed this week for a position that would have made that much more difficult – and doesn’t fit with who I am now, anyway!

Isaac’s photography reminded me that there are beautiful places near and far. Just as with meditation, healing, and spiritual growth, you start where you are right now. That’s what you work with. There’s no need to wait until conditions are better or different – until I can travel out of the area or until fall or until I’m awake for a really nice sunrise on the river. Right now, there is a garden full of morning glories just outside my door. Start there. Photograph them…because that’s what’s available to me right now.

Isaac’s photography reminded me that having my camera in hand makes me more aware of the beauty around me, and that is a big part of my spiritual practice. It re-inspired me to take out my camera every day because it adds so much meaning and joy to my life.

And so I did. I photographed the morning glories outside my door. I didn’t capture any National Geographic worthy images, but I fell in love all over again with the anatomy of morning glories, how they look dappled with raindrops, and the way their petals roll up when they’re ready to call it a day. Feeling appreciation, awe, fascination, wonder, and connection with nature feels so good and allows me to be my best self much more than wallowing in disempowering envy, self-pity, and shame. Neuroplasticity is for real! I am creating new mental habits!

So thank you, Isaac, for your passion for photography, and congratulations on yet another success! Thank you, too, for the inspiration and reminders about who I am and what’s most important. Isn’t it wild that by doing what we love, we can affect others in ways we’d never imagine?

Of course, that could go either way. Witnessing accomplishments like Isaac’s could lift a person up or bring a person down depending on that person’s own level of mindfulness and self-esteem. It’s useful to keep in mind that when you are in the spotlight (or even when you’re not) and receive unflattering comments or unsolicited advice, they often are more about the person commenting/advising than the quality of your work!

And of course, shooting in Wyoming with Isaac is one of the items on my photography bucket list!

© 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.

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. 🙂  

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