Journal

True Freedom

True Freedom

More evenings than not, I have lengthy video calls with my granddaughter, who will turn six later this month. The other night, she told me she wishes everyone could “just be good to each other.” My daughter told me that was her “Santa wish”, and she also expressed it again last night at bedtime.

Out of the mouths of babes.

Sometimes I tell her there are adults who maybe should go back to kindergarten and learn how to get along with others and manage their feelings better. She thinks that’s funny…but also true.

Her wish reminded me of some words I penned in the middle of the night recently, before falling back to sleep. I wrote them and then put them aside. Hearing my granddaughter’s wish prompted me to revisit and share them.

True Freedom

Whoever you are, you are
First and foremost to me
A soul being expressed
As a human being
Who loves and hurts
And hopes and grieves
Just like me.

I, too, have held some beliefs
So tightly that a position 
Became my identity 
And lifestyle choices
Became a checklist
By which I judged
And set myself apart
From others.

From that, I learned 
It doesn’t feel good to be so rigid
In my beliefs, to push away
So many “unenlightened” others.
It causes suffering.

I, too, was for a time
On more than one occasion 
Seduced by charisma and appearance.
I, too, clung to an idealized image
Of someone because it helped me
To feel better about myself.

I have both looked down on 
And elevated others
To boost my self-esteem:
Pushed them away to affirm
I was unlike them
Or pulled them close and sought
Their approval and affection 
To affirm my worthiness.

But eventually I realized
It felt better to set myself free
From all that nonsense
Than to perceive someone
As either a minor god or a monster
And sometimes both.

There have been times
When I held onto illusion 
For far too long,
And therefore I cannot condemn
Anyone else for doing so.
My experience, though humbling,
Has grown my compassion.

May I not be content to make
Anyone into a concept such as
Narcissist, corrupt politician,
Or simply other
And fail to see them
As a multifaceted being,
Just like me.

May I not hold any label
As a destination
But rather as evidence
That there is more
To learn and understand.

And at the same time, may I 
Implement healthy boundaries:
See their light and take no shit.
May I feed the Good Wolf 
In myself and others.

Hurt people hurt people.
And I, too, have hurt people.

I have betrayed myself
By using someone else
As a self-worthiness project
And know how bad it feels 
To make self-betrayal into a habit
And a prison

To which we ourselves hold the key.

What great relief it has been
To stop projecting
My stuff onto others
And to set myself free.

It wasn’t easy, but it was
Worth it every time
To step out of the story,
Let the spell wear off
And relate to actual people
Rather than ideas or ideals

Even when someone
Really hurt me.

Choosing to see more clearly 
Even when it makes our ideas wrong
Or somehow less right
Doesn’t make us weak,
Is not failure.
To stop regarding
Our beliefs as Truth
Sets us free.

True freedom is unmasking 
In a much deeper way:
Being seen and valued
Exactly as we are
And accepting ourselves
As such.

True freedom is refusing
To allow our heart
To be held hostage by ego
And not taking our differences
So damn seriously
That we depend on
A bad or unenlightened Other
To validate by contrast
Our own goodness.


© 2022 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Paul

Paul

It’s been months since I’ve published a new journal entry. In the interim, I’ve been developing talks and meditations for my weekly mindfulness meditation classes and writing for my mailing list. However, this week, I’ve had the urge to share with a broader audience who and what is most predominant in my heart: my cousin Paul and the rest of my Canadian family.

In the spring of 2016, I traveled to the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia for the first time to visit relatives. After a long day of traveling, I was quite tired when I finally arrived at my great-aunt and -uncle’s home, but their son, Paul, was right there to meet me. He was so excited. It was the first time a cousin visited, and it was a big deal for him. A year younger than me, Paul was my dad’s first cousin and therefore my first cousin once removed. (My grandfather was the eldest of a dozen kids, and Paul’s dad was the youngest.) Looking at him was like seeing my grandfather again.

I instantly thought of Paul as a cousin soulmate. He whisked me away to experience sunsets and moonrises during my visit, and when it was time to leave, I didn’t want to. I felt like I had found my tribe.

Two years later, I visited again. Paul and his wife, Janet, picked me up from Vancouver airport, for which I was immensely grateful. (There’s a lot involved in traveling to the Sunshine Coast, especially with photography gear in tow.) We stopped at Granville Island, had lunch overlooking Vancouver harbor, and drove through Stanley Park before making our way to the ferry and his parents’ home in Sechelt. Paul also brought me back to the airport when I left, again stopping and staying overnight in Van.

In between meeting him that first time and saying goodbye at the airport the last time, we spent time together on his father-in-law’s yacht (which was a real treat for me) and smaller prawn boat. He was really in his element on the water. There were dinners together with more family. A trip to the farmers’ market. Cards and texts and phone calls.

I honestly can say that nobody else on this planet made me feel the way Paul did. I felt welcomed, protected, truly cared for, and understood. Spending time with him and family in British Columbia was transformative. It changed my life. I had dreams of somehow, someday getting a visa and spending more time close to my family tribe in British Columbia.

Paul talked often about going to Cape Cod together, where he had fond memories of visiting an uncle (also my dad’s uncle) who had been an artist and an overall fascinating person. He wanted to take me to Hornby Island. We came close to traveling to England together for a family reunion, but it was so last-minute that it didn’t come together. He wanted so much to experience an “American Thanksgiving” and promised he would make the next visit, for that purpose. But then of course Covid came along.

This year, I wished for the U.S.-Canadian border to reopen so the idea of visiting the Sunshine Coast could come back into the realm of possibility. However, there were complications and factors beyond border status that made it unfeasible. So I traveled there often in my heart, where there are no borders aside from the ones we, ourselves, maintain.

Last Friday evening, Paul passed away after suffering a massive heart attack two and a half weeks prior. His obituary is truly touching, complete with poems written by family members.

My heart is heavy with that old visitor, grief, that comes in waves. What I have learned from previous losses is that the heart is an ocean spacious enough to hold all the waves that move through it, even if it doesn’t feel that way. Although I’m accustomed to relating to Paul from a distance, his parents, daughters, sisters, and other family members are not, and my heart goes out to them. 

In moments of remembering, I practice breathing in memories of Paul and his beautiful qualities – really filling up with that energy – and breathing out compassion for everyone else grieving his absence. After a few breaths, I extend this out-breath wish (also called metta) to everyone grieving a loss. There are so very many, and we never grieve alone. 

This is a different kind of heart wave: the kind that unites us in our common humanity. The deepest losses I’ve experienced have taught me that the heart can become the telephone through which we can communicate even with those who have passed through the veil we call death. May we honor those we’ve lost by embodying what we loved about them, however we can, even if it’s simply recalling their goodness and by doing so, shining a little brighter and allowing their essence to continue rippling in the world. That is the prayer in my heart at the moment.


© 2021 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

The Stream of Lovingkindness

The Stream of Lovingkindness

Today I woke up feeling inspired to write about something that’s been on my mind big-time. It was the topic of my most recent meditation class. It’s the point I wanted to get across to my granddaughter when we talked on the Telephone of the Wind. It’s a heartfelt message I sent to a friend this week. It’s what I’ve contemplated a lot since the beginning of the shutdown when people were sick and dying without loved ones at their side. And it’s something many may benefit from hearing in this time of deep division – and today on the 20th anniversary of 9-11, as personal and collective grief gets stirred up.

It’s a message of lovingkindness, empathy, compassion, and common humanity: how to send it, receive it, and realize it.

Two Wings

There are two wings of mindfulness training. One is awareness, and the other is compassion. Both are essential, and they go hand-in-hand. They strengthen and enhance each other.

The compassion wing encompasses lovingkindness (metta in Pali), which was taught by the Buddha and is practiced to cultivate altruistic, unconditional love towards yourself and others. I could go on and on about the value of it, but not here. Although I will describe a simple practice later in this article, first I want you to understand there is a stream of lovingkindness that flows constantly and offers itself to you continuously. You can help yourself to it at any time, and it is my wish that you will…because it’s helped me during difficult times.

Here is a story I’ve told in my mindfulness meditation classes that illustrates the basic idea.

Motherhood Metta

I remember the days and weeks following the birth of my first child. It was like the doors of my heart were burst open. I saw people walking on the street or running errands in a whole new way: as someone’s precious, innocent, radiant child. Just like my daughter. My heart was so open and tender, and I realized we all started our lives in the same way: so radiant and pure.

I realized that things happened to these people who looked so hardened and angry. And my daughter would be in this far from perfect world with all these hurting people and would be hurt. She’d suffer. I couldn’t prevent it. As a new mom, I felt connected with all the mothers around the world who wanted to protect their children from suffering.

As my children grew and went through challenging times, and when parenting was really hard, I would feel this same connection with other moms – down the road and around the world – dealing with similar situations and maybe struggling with shame, as I was. And I wished I could ease their pain and loneliness. So I’d imagine sending love to them. And I’d imagine some of these other moms were doing the same and were sending love and compassion to me. And I allowed myself to receive it.

The really beautiful and amazing thing is that all the love I felt for my own children was practice for eventually being able to extend deep lovingkindness to myself. When I’ve felt less-than. When it’s been hard to overcome unhealthy habits and deep conditioning. When I failed again.

Lovingkindness also has been a great resource when I’ve been grieving and missing loved ones and feeling lonely. All of a sudden, we can remember we’re not alone, and so many others on the planet are experiencing the same kind of suffering. And somehow, that helps. It creates a small crack in the suffering that allows greater awareness to come through.

I love teaching about lovingkindness. People who come to my meditation classes tend to have lots of practice caring for others but forget to include themselves in their circle of kindness. The capacity is there. You just have to remember, or give yourself permission, to be an unconditionally loving presence to yourself, as well. To beam the light of your love inward.

Unconditional Love Bank

I invite you to bring to mind someone who has loved you unconditionally. Maybe a grandparent, mentor, or furry friend. Take a moment to feel what it is or was like to be in their kind, loving presence. See the look in their eyes, the way they express(ed) love.

Whether or not this being is still in physical form, they would want you to know that you are loved and worthy of love. If they could, they would wrap their heart around you whenever you are suffering or struggling and let you know you are never alone. They would have your back.

When I took my granddaughter to the Telephone of the Wind and modeled out loud how to stay connected with a loved one whose physical form has dissolved, I wanted her to know that I always always always will be there for her like that. My love for her is an eternal stream she can step into, even when I’m not physically present. And I would want so very very much for her to step into it and receive my love and be resourced by it.

It’s like money deposited into the bank of your heart that is there for you to draw on.

I remember after my dad died, when I went to the actual bank and opened my parents’ safe-deposit box in a private room and saw the contents of it for the first time. I felt like Harry Potter stepping into his vault at Gringotts Bank for the first time and seeing what his parents left for him. Sometimes I’d go to the bank and take the safe box into a private room just to feel that feeling of being so cared for. 

It’s like that. There is a love bank in which everyone who has loved you has made a deposit. You can tap into it at any time. It is there for you. And when you do that, the love generates interest. It never runs out.

This is what they (would) want for you:

And this, too:

It’s how you can allow their loving for you to continue on. How you can be and grow their legacy of love. 

The Stream of Lovingkindness

So there’s the bank of unconditional love where our loved ones have deposited love for us to access at any time. And there’s also a stream of lovingkindness being generated in this very moment – every moment – by thousands upon thousands of people around the world who are practicing lovingkindness meditation right now, sending heartfelt caring and compassion to anyone who needs it. Even though most of them are complete strangers to you, they nonetheless want you – yes, you – to receive their caring. They wish for your suffering to be eased. 

You are loved. Someone is radiating caring to you. You are not alone.

Perhaps some of them are suffering in the same way you are, and are intentionally sending lovingkindness to all who share this particular kind of suffering. It might be the suffering that comes from having a parent or child with severe mental illness, being in an abusive relationship, going through divorce, feeling fearful about finances, seeing a loved one suffer in some way, receiving an unwelcome diagnosis, or grieving the death or suicide of a loved one. 

Early in the Covid shutdown last year when people were being admitted to the hospital alone, without anyone being able to visit, I thought of and participated in this stream of lovingkindness a lot. I wished those who were suffering in isolation could know of this stream of love and caring and draw strength from it. And the exhausted frontline, essential workers, as well. 

No matter what you are experiencing, there are others at this very moment suffering in the same way. In your next breath, you can send caring wishes (to them, yourself, or others) and receive caring wishes generated by those who are practicing lovingkindness meditation at this moment.

As grim as things may seem in the world, on the news and social media, in your community, or in your home, there is so much love in this world. So very many caring hearts. The stream of lovingkindness never stops flowing, even when we’re not aware of it. It’s just like the ocean waves keep flowing to the shore even when we’re not at the beach to see it or to feel it on our toes.

Compassionate Breathing

At the end of many of my guided meditation sessions, we practice compassionate breathing, which is receiving and sending lovingkindness on the inhale and exhale. It’s inspired by teachers such as Pema Chodron and Kristin Neff. 

What is it you are most in need of at this moment? What would be most nourishing, nurturing, or resourcing for you? Breathe in that. Imagine or sense this energy entering with your next inhalation and circulating through your body, filling you. You might even direct it to a certain area – for example, your heart – or visualize it as white or golden light or sense it as warmth. Take a number of breaths like this, breathing in what you most need. Practice receiving it, allowing it to fill you. Exhale what doesn’t serve.

After a few cycles of this kind of breathing, bring to mind someone you wish to send lovingkindness to. Someone who is struggling or suffering in some way, or whomever your lovingkindness wants to flow to. It might be a certain person, a group of people, or even the whole planet.

Generate a caring wish for them. Here are some ideas:

  • May you be well.
  • May you be safe and protected.
  • May you be free from suffering.
  • May you live with ease.
  • May you be balanced and peaceful.
  • May you be kind to yourself and others.
  • May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering that lead you to generate suffering for others.

Whatever feels right to you: Go with that.

Then release this caring wish into the world on your next exhalation. Imagine the person/group/planet being filled with and surrounded by this caring wish you have for them. Again, if it’s helpful, it might be represented visually as light. You could visualize them being filled with and surrounded by white or golden light that embodies this caring.

So the practice is breathing in caring for yourself and breathing out a caring wish for others. Your very breath becomes the vehicle for receiving and generating lovingkindness.

Perhaps end the practice with:

[Breathing in] May we all have love and caring.

[Breathing out] May we all be free from suffering. 

Sharing and Connecting

There have been so many times when I’ve been floating on the river in my kayak feeling incredibly peaceful and wishing I could bottle the feeling so everyone could experience this great peace. This is another opportunity for practice.

In any moment, if you see or experience something beautiful, are filled with a deep sense of peace, etc., you can share it with all beings by exhaling: May all beings experience this [deep peace].

Similarly, when you feel weighed down by the suffering of the world – perhaps the deep division we continue to experience – you can send a caring wish to all: 

May this suffering serve awakening
– or –
May we be free from this suffering.

This may help us to feel less alone and overwhelmed and generate a sense of common humanity and compassion. It can be done on the meditation cushion or in the midst of daily life, as we breathe.

Please help yourself to this beautiful energy of love that is always flowing to you. This beautiful energy that is who we are at the core of our being.


© 2021 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

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