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Journal

What’s Most Important

What’s Most Important

“What does it mean, say the words, that the earth is so beautiful? And what shall I do about it? What is the gift that I should bring to the world? What is the life that I should live?”

-Mary Oliver, Long Life: Essays and Other Writings (2005)

This week, my favorite living writer died. So did a high school classmate.

Mary Oliver was 83. Matt Riker was 51. His life was snuffed out by the same illness that took my mom from us nearly five years ago. In November, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Later that month, he visited Dana-Farber and learned his illness was incurable.

According to an article in a local newspaper, several years ago, Matt was very unhappy with the way he was living his life. He decided to turn things around and devoted his life to helping others. The more he helped, the better he felt. On a similar note, two years ago when he was borderline diabetic, he took up running, lost a lot of weight, and got into really good shape.

The point being: When he realized he wasn’t living the life he wanted to live, he found the determination and courage to make changes and turn things around. He even went back to school and received his bachelor’s degree last year. By the time he was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer, he felt at peace with his life and continued to focus on helping others because that’s who he had become.

Matt’s story is a real wake-up call. His transformation is inspiring. When you don’t like the story you’re living, you can do something different and change it. 

The weekend before he passed away, there was a celebration in his honor. What a gift to have a celebration of life before someone passes away! It was an opportunity for everyone to say goodbye (even without saying it) and thank-you for happy memories and a life well lived.

I hadn’t seen Matt since high school. After he learned the nature of his illness, I reached out to him, and we shared a memory of being in a choral group together back in high school. I had to drive my son to Albany when the celebration was taking place and made it just in time. Matt looked in my eyes, said my name, gave me a hug, and a few moments later, two companions were on either side of him helping him make his way out of the building so he could rest.

After he left the celebration, a classmate who had gone running with Matt in the fall expressed disbelief. Such rapid physical decline is hard to wrap your head around. When I saw him at the celebration, he appeared as my mother did a week or two before she passed away. I did not expect him to make it to the end of the month. He only made it a week.

When an acquaintance your age or younger passes away, it wakes you up. It might inspire you to appreciate your life and your loved ones more. You might step back, take stock, and consider what’s most important and whether you are living your life in harmony with that.

I realized this week that I’ve gotten a little off-course and lost sight of what’s most important. I’ve been too busy and haven’t been spending as much time in nature as I need to. Haven’t had much time for those who mean the most to me. My heart yearns for more nature connection, more writing, more photography, and more quality time with loved ones. These activities feed my soul. They are my true Work.

What is the gift that I should bring to the world? What is the life that I should live? The answers to these inquiries are within each of us, in our heart center. Our heart is a compass that keeps us on course if we allow it to guide us. Its wisdom helps us to gauge how closely our life is aligned with our true Dharma. Then we can make some course adjustments if need be.

I believe that however long or short our lifetime is, it’s exactly as it should be. Even when death seems to come too soon or too suddenly, there are no accidents. If it’s your time, the universe will make sure you are in the right place. In other words, beyond the personal, senseless tragedy of loss, there is another level on which all is well. These dense bodies we live in only allow us to see a portion of the picture.

The thing is, we don’t know when our time will come. There are things I still want to accomplish, and I’ll bet the same is true for you. Things I don’t want to leave undone. When a friend of mine published her first book, she exclaimed, “I can die now!” That’s what I’m talking about: Don’t die with your song/book/etc. still within you.

Matt’s death awakened everyone his life touched. It inspired me to think about how I spend my time and why, and to take inventory of the Big Picture, just like he did several years ago.

Mary Oliver passed away four days after Matt, on Thursday.

Thursday morning, I HAD to sit on the riverbank (despite the cold weather) as the sun rose and listen to the music of the delicate plates of ice sailing down the river and colliding with piles of other shards. It’s one of my very favorite songs.

It’s no wonder I couldn’t resist the call to be in nature, astonished and filled with appreciation for the visual poetry surrounding me, though I wasn’t aware yet of the significance of the day. All I knew at the time was that it felt like the first real breath I had taken all week, and I could barely feel the cold because I was doing something that set my soul on fire.

When I heard the news that evening, it all made sense: Her soul was passing through. I wonder what she would have scribbled in her notebook about that morning’s frozen splendor on the Hudson. 

Spending time on the river’s edge that morning and learning about the two deaths only a few days apart served the same purpose: They awakened me from the trance of routine and reminded me of what’s most important and what I need to make time for. What I did make time for until a few months ago when I took on another part-time job. (And next month, I will add yet another thing to my plate when I start a two-year mindfulness meditation teacher certification program, which I have yearned to do for years.)

I realized I need to spend more time steeped in gratitude on the water’s edge or elsewhere in nature with my camera in hand and my senses wide open. More time listening to what drifts through the air and bubbles up from within, and taking dictation. More time developing the services I’m trained for and feel passionate about. The Universe has delivered some very clear and consistent messages about moving forward with that NOW, not later. If not now, when?

I had to admit to myself that I’m doing too much. My schedule is too full. Even though I enjoy and appreciate everything I’m doing, something’s gotta give within the continuum that spans from enjoyment to the deeper pull that sets my soul on fire.

Those whose deaths jolt us out of the trance of daily life remind us to make time during our “one wild and precious life” for what is most essential. To not look beyond our own heart to discern what that is.  

To get to Work.


© 2019 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, Reiki practitioner, 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.

Your Children Are Not Your Children

Your Children Are Not Your Children

Last weekend was different from most, even as Hidden Treasure weekends go. For starters, we did trust falls. 

So there I was, standing up on the edge of a massage table with my arms crossed in front of my chest. I repeated a surrender prayer one line at a time, then leaned back and released the full weight of my body to gravity. I experienced nervous anticipation, the moment of letting go, and the unsettling sensation of moving backward through the air supported by absolutely nothing, followed by the thump of landing straight on a cushion lowered gently to the ground by several of my classmates.

As my heart pounded so hard in my chest that I thought everyone in the room could hear it, I felt the grounding touch of three sets of loving hands doing energy work on my body to integrate the experience. The rest of my body was calm, and I realized my heart was excited, happy, leaping in my chest because I’d just burst through another fear barrier – the first of the weekend.

The next morning while meditating in my room, some words drifted into my mind:

Rest assured, mama: Your children are not your children. 

It felt like something was trying to come through, and these words were the first cars of the train. So I opened to the flow and an hour later had a new poem written in my notebook.

That was the easy part.

When I read the completed poem, my heart pounded in my chest, which is my signal to speak up and share something. To feel the fear, and do it, anyway. My Higher Self was encouraging me to share my writing with the group, rather than email it to them after our retreat weekend was over. I’ve learned (the hard way) not to dismiss that voice when it “speaks”.

It’s one thing to share my innermost self in writing. It’s another to speak it in front of an audience. I’ve been a teacher for several years and don’t have any problem speaking in front of a group, in general. But sharing my writing is different.

The last (and only?) time I recall reading one of my poems in front of an audience was during my dear friend, David’s, funeral in 2013. It was a poem I’d composed 24 years earlier and felt comfortable with. In contrast, the poem I felt compelled to share with the group over the weekend was brand new. I felt nervous.

But I read it anyway, heart thumping and voice trembling. Many people in the room were moved by it, thanked me for sharing, asked for a copy, and insisted they didn’t hear any shaking in my voice. 

After our weekend together, I added a new goal to my list for 2019: Participate in poetry readings. The thought of reading my writing in front of strangers feels intimidating – scarier than publishing it on my website and sending it to my mailing list. There are benefits and challenges to both kinds of sharing, but face-to-face sharing is something I need to do to expand beyond the “I can’t…” stories I have about myself.

Expanding beyond self-imposed limitations is such an amazing feeling! That’s why we put ourselves through experiences that push the edges and take us out of our comfort zone in the Hidden Treasure program. It’s all for the purpose of going beyond the limiting stories of the false self to experience our boundless true nature.

So, the poem

I think of it as a letter to my younger self when one of my children was going through a particularly challenging time. Back then, I was busy arguing with reality and really struggling to accept a situation I could not change. It just as easily could be written for my daughter who often feels bad about being a single mom, or any other parent whose vision of how parenting would be conflicts with reality. Although the poem is offered for mothers and fathers, grandparents, and anyone else who is closely involved in a child’s life, I left the first line as it came through because it feels more authentic that way. 

Rest Assured, Mama

Rest assured, mama:
Your children are not your children.
You don’t understand their reasons
For being here.
Perhaps this time and place,
These circumstances,
And your imperfections
Are exactly what they need
To grow their soul.

Don’t drain your energy
Searching for a magic wand
To make everything
And everyone “better”.
Instead:
See their Divinity,
Love them unconditionally,
Trust their path,
Accept their personality,
Give them sensible boundaries,
And honor their free will.

Do your best to support their journey,
But don’t be so sure
You know what it is
Or which roads are best for them
To take or to avoid.

Even as you shape and mold them
For this crazy world,
Allow them to transform you
Through the vehicle of this world
To question your assumptions
And see your blindspots.

May your dance together
Through time and space
Turn you around and spin
The nonsense of conditioning
Off the surface
And out of your cells
So you may discover
Your Deeper Self
And put it in charge of your life

So you can trust more
And realize they
Are here for your growth
As much as you are for theirs
And that you are enough
Just as you are
And so are they.


© 2019 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, Reiki practitioner, 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.

Resting in Satisfaction

Resting in Satisfaction

Happy New Year!

Scrolling through my social media feed last night, I got the distinct impression that 2018 was a very difficult year for many in my network. I know the feeling (been there, done that!), although 2018 was quite the opposite for me. As I drove home from work last night, it occurred to me that 2018 might have been the best year of my life thus far. I took a mental inventory of every year of my adult life and affirmed that it was. My intention for the New Year is to keep that positive momentum going, which is quite different from all the years I was grateful for the fresh, new beginning the New Year offered.

If 2018 was a real dud (or worse) for you, then I wish you a much better 2019.

New Year, New Material

I woke up this morning from a dream that revealed a couple of opportunities for growth this year. I also experienced some feelings that surprised me last night and showed me there’s opportunity for growth there, too. Then there’s my very conscious intention to feel more physically fit and comfortable in my body. In other words, I have some material to work with – which is always the case. And that is actually quite exciting.

And Old Material, Too

Feeling self-conscious about my body is really, really old stuff that has kept me from engaging more with the world. It even kept me from agreeing to be my sister’s matron of honor when she got married. (Yeah, it was that bad.) And I’ve always done my best to avoid any dancing scenarios – although I did teach aerobics many years ago. But now I feel ready to do something about this ridiculousness.

I know when body shame became activated. It was when I was ten or eleven years old, and my mom sat me down and had a little talk with me about my weight. At the time, I was an early developer going through a “filling out” stage. Until that day, I hadn’t given much thought to how I looked. But that talk rocked my world and made me feel there was something really wrong with me. I became fixated on my appearance and felt I needed to look good in order to be loved.

I never told my mom how serious an effect that talk had on me and on our relationship. She never meant to hurt me. She worked as a flight attendant recruiter, and in that world physical appearance was of the utmost importance. And I was a sensitive kid.

I’ve done some inner child work in which I imagined my current self as a loving presence in the room during that talk and assured my fifth-grade self that she was beautiful and loveable just the way she was. That was part of the healing. Now I mostly work with feelings as they arise and constrict the present moment, and send love and compassion to both my mom and my younger self.

Back to the Gym

Last winter, I walked outdoors in all kinds of weather conditions, and it was great to experience the fresh air and nature connection. However, it didn’t do much for me physically and actually left me feeling more out of shape than I’d ever felt in my life. When we had a snowstorm in November, I decided I wasn’t going to spend a long winter exercising outdoors (though I do hope for a good season of snowshoeing) and reactivated my gym membership. I’ve been working out almost every day for the past six weeks or so, and it feels awesome.

Every day, I imagine how great it will feel when I finish my workout, and that feeling motivates me to get to the gym. Focusing on positive feelings is key.

I was inspired by a few friends who’d recently committed to fitness and experienced results that included losing weight, having more energy, and feeling better emotionally. Still, I held off on reactivating my gym membership because the thought of exercising indoors around other people with lots of television screens mounted from the ceiling was entirely demotivating.

But I found a way to make it work. I have a subscription to Gaia and spend my time on the cardio machines absorbed in enlightening, inspirational content. The rest of the world melts away when I’m in my little cardio-Gaia cocoon.

So that is going well and has momentum. I do it because it feels great, and I also anticipate how I will feel even better months from now – because that’s what happened with my meditation practice.

Last spring, I recommitted to a daily habit of meditation, and after more than seven months, my practice is solid. It’s not something I feel obligated to do. There’s no dogma attached to it. I do it because it makes such a positive difference in the way I feel, and I want to feel that way more. I expect to experience the same kind of positive effects with exercise. Already, it’s something I’m motivated to do because it feels so good, instead of being something I “have to” do. It’s a subtle yet important difference.

Mindful Meals

The other part of the physical fitness equation, of course, is food intake. I have a pretty healthy diet already but can improve in terms of quantity. There’s a powerful reference experience for this, too, that gives me hope.

The weeklong vipassana meditation retreat I went on last spring and have referenced frequently (because it was so transformative!) involved sitting meditation, walking meditation, dharma talks, and EATING MEDITATION every waking moment. More than 100 of us gathered in the dining hall three times a day for completely silent meals. No eye contact or words spoken. Just mindful eating. Contemplation of what was on our plate and the sensations of tasting, chewing, swallowing, craving, fullness, etc.

During those meals, my plate was like a mandala. A complete universe. I didn’t think about second helpings, and while chewing a forkful of food, it even felt too complicated to think about the next bite or to arrange the food on my plate while still chewing. Instead, I was mindful of the taste and physical sensations and didn’t pick up my fork until I was ready for the next bite.

I appreciated the sensation of comfortable fullness and noticed the pull between that lovely satisfaction and craving more. Resting in satisfaction and choosing to stay with that instead of longing for more is what I remember most about mindful meals at the retreat center. When the retreat was over, I set an intention to eat mindfully one meal a day. But I didn’t follow through on that. Life got in the way, and meals were often rushed. Stress-eating happened.

When I got home from the gym today, I had a homemade buddha bowl for lunch and became aware of thinking about what I’d have after finishing the bowl. Then I remembered my retreat experience and tried to be present to the sensation of enoughness. And it worked. I didn’t have the rice cake with peanut butter afterwards. Didn’t give it any attention. Instead, I lingered in satisfaction. It was a sprawling, spacious sensation, a sense of fullness. It felt really good. Just like a good workout or meditation session.

So mindful eating is a new frontier I want to focus my attention on. Not in a dogmatic way. No shoulds. Better to remember the delicious sensation of one-plate satisfaction from the vipassana retreat and my intention to bring that awareness into my daily life because it feels so good, in itself. Add another healthy habit to my life as a gesture of self-love and lovingkindness, rather than focus on dissatisfaction.

A Path of Kindfulness

We all have our areas for improvement, but what a difference it makes to set intentions based on self-compassion rather than on self-loathing. Focusing on how we want to feel rather than on a current, unsatisfactory condition that brings us down. Imagine it already so, as Adriene Mishler from Yoga with Adriene encouraged in her kickoff email for Dedicate, a 30-day yoga journey to start the New Year that I’m doing for the fourth year in a row. 2018 was my best year yet because I learned the value of focusing on the positive and not giving attention to negative, disempowering thought patterns.

We have a choice about where we put our attention. Choosing presence and satisfaction over craving is a lovely experiment. When you experience the loveliness of it, it can motivate you to do it more. To make it a habit for all the right reasons. 

In addition to being aware of satisfaction and craving through mindful eating, you also can be mindful of your thoughts and realize when self-consciousness about body image creeps in and let it just pass without clinging. Then your thoughts about your body become an opportunity for awakening and practicing lovingkindness, tenderness, and acceptance. Through kindfulness, you can appreciate and accept your body now, even as you envision feeling even better about it in the future.

Gratitude is another friend when you’re working with body shame. It is a blessing to have a body that is healthy and not in pain. So many people in this world would give anything to have a healthy, pain-free body. Being able to exercise is a blessing. So is having food to eat.

I absolutely did not intend to write today about the cliché New Year’s topics of diet and exercise. I didn’t intend to write at all. But as I sat in satisfaction after finishing the last, nourishing bite of my buddha bowl, it’s what arose. (I love the inspiration that comes from Presence, and writing was more satisfying than more food would have been.)


© 2019 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, Reiki practitioner, 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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