When the Heart Breaks Open
There’s a spot on the Hudson River I paddle to almost every day. It’s my quiet place of solitude. It’s just large enough to pull my kayak onto and do some walking meditation, back and forth for 15 to 20 paces.
This is a new spot for me. Normally, I wouldn’t linger in this part of the river because it’s fairly narrow. If a motorboat comes zipping by, there’s no escaping the wake. However, this year there hasn’t been much boat traffic on our stretch of the river between locks 5 and 6 – presumably due to section closures in the canal lock system. Works for me! It’s been the best summer for kayaking in the 12 years we’ve lived on the mighty Hudson.
And that’s all good because this summer, I’m practicing staying. I’d love to visit the ocean or the waterfalls in Ithaca, but staying close to home is a worthwhile experiment. I don’t see it as deprivation or a loss of freedom but as a gateway to greater freedom. I’m learning to stay where I am and more fully appreciate what’s right here. This learning to stay practice deepens gratitude, presence, and creativity.
Needless to say, I’m getting to know this tiny, rocky sliver of a “beach” intimately.
This weekend, my attention was drawn to dragonfly exuviae (exoskeletons) attached to the rocky wall I walked alongside. The exuviae were well camouflaged and hidden in plain sight. But after I noticed the first, I noticed several more. I see them all the time on lily pads and blades of river grass, but I was able to examine the ones on the rocky wall more closely and became fascinated.
I noticed the opening out of which the dragonflies emerged and imagined the newborn dragonflies resting on their exuviae as they got used to their new dragonfly bodies and wings. Wings! Their winged bodies were trapped inside these shells.
Photography is and always has been a spiritual practice for me. The images I’m drawn to reflect and offer insights into the questions I carry. I often think of them as mirrors that reveal something about myself and the world around me.
The dragonfly exuviae carried some kind of insight or message – I could just feel it – although I couldn’t pinpoint it at the time. And anyway, that’s not what walking meditation is about. Be present now. Analyze later.
But I smiled whenever a dragonfly zipped by.
Later that day, when I looked at the images I captured, I sensed dragonfly exuviae offered metaphors for this season of molting and transformation and growing wings and not holding myself back by clinging to what is merely familiar. After all, I resigned from one of my part-time library jobs this week, to put more attention where I’m feeling called. Even though I loved that job, my co-workers, and many of the patrons.
But things have changed. Since March, I’ve been providing mindfulness meditation courses for library patrons, continuously. At the beginning of this year, I never would have imagined my library work could transform into that. It was a dream come true. But as the library moves toward reopening more fully, I realized that I’d rather continue delivering mindfulness programming as a contractor than wipe down public computers as an employee in the “new normal”.
Dragonflies molt many times during their lives, and each time is a new beginning, a new chapter. So I saw the exuviae as a reflection of this new chapter.
But then something happened last night that brought up challenging emotions. I took a walk along the river at the park this morning and was triggered by an interaction with a couple I passed on the trail. When I realized we wouldn’t be able to keep the recommended six feet of distance between us, I put on my mask and offered a cheery “Good morning!” as I passed them. They ignored me completely, and I felt sad about the lack of civility. Normally, I’d be able to let it go, but I was still carrying sadness from last night and therefore was more sensitive.
I truly believe that all feelings have positive intention. Instead of pushing unpleasant feelings away, we can acknowledge and allow them and welcome them as messengers and teachers. We can pause to feel our feelings and discover what kind of wisdom they offer.
A little voice in me told me to stop at a quiet, secluded spot up ahead and sit on the bench by the river to be present to the feelings. So I did.
What can I learn from you today?
What do you have to say?
I felt the energy of sadness and grief in my chest and rested my hands there tenderly. Then I noticed an image coming to mind with increasing clarity, like watching pictures develop from the old Polaroid instant cameras. The image took the shape and color of a heart. Then it broke open just like the dragonfly exuviae, and a winged, dragonfly-like being emerged from it. The dragonfly started flying around, light and unfettered by the gravity of the world. A shimmering teacher of transformation.
And a voice spoke: You are so much more than this. So much more than this challenge – which you will rise to, and which will pass. So much more than the feelings that arise. You are part of something much greater.
As I watched the dragonfly fly around in my mind’s eye, an answer came to me about some options I have. The energy in my chest subsided. I had a plan.
And then I understood more of the wisdom inherent in the image of the exuviae on the rock wall: When the world breaks my heart, maybe it’s okay because something new and more evolved is hatching from it and will show me the way, if I take the time to lean in and listen.
Take a look at your photo library or Instagram page. What images were you drawn to, and what feelings, associations, insights, etc. do they call forth? What is it you’re seeking as you go about living in this world? What is life putting in your path as a mirror or messenger so you may better understand yourself and your relationship to the world?
You can watch a time-lapse of a dragonfly breaking out of its exuviae HERE.
© 2020 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.