Today I feel discouraged
Or you could say:
Discouragement is present.
But what’s different now
Is that I realize it’s just a feeling,
An energy moving through me.
It’s a feeling – it’s not me
And I am not it.
It’s simply a visitor who
Has been here before
And will come and go again.
No need to identify with it
Or to believe the thoughts
That fuel it.
I simply can greet it
Without feeding it
Or letting it get too comfortable.
I see you. You, too, are welcome
In the vast ocean of this heart.
But please tell me, if you will
How you found your way in
Through the usual passage:
A not-so-great night’s sleep,
And Anxiety opened the door.
So tonight I will prioritize sleep
And remember that perhaps tomorrow
Or another day when I feel more rested
There will be the chance meeting,
The inspiring or hopeful conversation,
An insight that propels me out of bed
In the direction of yes!
But probably not today.
Today it is enough just to
Turn down the volume
Of the inner storytelling
And realize this mood will pass.
© 2023 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.
This morning, with temperatures barely out of the single digits, I felt called to the riverside. The river was beginning to freeze, and I was transfixed by the juxtaposition between parts that were frozen solid in place and parts that were still fluid and flowing.
More than a week ago, I shipped my camera off for repairs. My husband is letting me borrow his camera for the time being. It took a few days before I picked it up because, well, it’s not my camera. But I can’t resist photographing the river as it begins to freeze, so I headed outside with the less familiar camera.
I must have stood at the river’s edge for a good half-hour photographing, filming, and observing the freezing river. A few minutes into the first video, I noticed that a long chain of ice plates, stretched as far as I could see, had stopped flowing. Several minutes later, it began flowing again. A little closer to shore, there was buildup of the delicate ice plates and a sound that’s music to my ears, similar to a crackling fire as the moving ice plates came in contact with stationary masses.
I happened to be there at just the right time and filmed it all. It was amazing and extraordinary.
However, when I transferred the video to my computer, my expectations were quickly deflated. It turns out I had the camera on autofocus instead of manual focus, and the autofocus completely ruined the videos. Every few seconds, you could hear the sound of the camera refocusing, and the focus kept blurring and shifting around. Like autocorrect, autofocus doesn’t always get it right and sometimes gets it horribly wrong.
When I complained to my husband, he quipped, “Didn’t you talk about this in a photography class?”
Not what I wanted to hear in that moment. although he was right. In more than one class, I stressed the importance of taking a moment to pause and check your camera settings. Instead of jumping right in and allowing emotional excitement, or in this case cold weather, to distract you from drawing on your knowledge base.
Grrrrrrrrr. I did not pause to check the settings, and this was a basic one. It was another live-and-learn moment.
There are two things I’m quite certain I won’t do again, after learning the hard way in recent weeks:
- Make a nature video on that camera with autofocus on
- Begin a guided meditation on Zoom without first asking participants if they can hear me.
But I digress.
Jack’s comment, though irritating at first, helped me to see the humor, stop blaming the camera, and name what was present: frustration and disappointment.
It’s kind of magical when you name your feelings. It puts some space around them so you’re not completely identified with or overcome by them. Instead, you can be in relationship with them.
The space allows another voice to come through. A voice that says: I will try again throughout the day or tomorrow morning. At least I don’t have to drive far for this. It’s right in front of my house.
However, I noticed the uncomfortable, physical energy of disappointment was still present in my body.
That’s when I remembered what was going through my mind as I watched the freezing river flow. Right there in the moment, the sight brought to mind the importance of letting feelings flow. Let it flow, let it go were the exact words that came to mind.
I recalled how surprised I was when the long chain of ice plates came to a standstill. I hoped they would start moving again. When they did start moving several minutes later, I felt a sense of relief. I also recalled that it was more satisfying to witness the flowing parts of the river than the ones that were frozen solid and not moving.
Like emotions themselves, impressions you receive from nature can be data about your state of being. Like looking into a mirror. Outer nature reflects inner nature, as inner nature is drawn to certain details in outer nature.
I allowed my body to move as it wanted, to move the emotional energy along, like the ice parade flowing along the river. It seemed to help.
So no, I did not make a satisfying video this morning. They were all duds, thanks to autofocus being on. Maybe I’ll have another chance tomorrow morning. Maybe I won’t. (As the sun sets this evening, the river appears significantly more frozen than it was this morning, so I’m not feeling hopeful.) But nature revealed something useful to me this morning, for which I feel grateful.
I was there at the moment the flow stopped and when it started again. I witnessed it and found meaning in it. The video didn’t come out as anticipated, but I received something of value from simply being there and observing it.
Even if I hadn’t walked away with a reminder to let emotions flow rather than get stuck, simply being on the riverside taking in the remarkable sight and sound would have been enough. A moment of pausing and being present.
Another message I received from being outdoors this morning:
There is beauty in the world. Get away from your screens, and go outside. The beauty you seek is seeking you. Go find it.
And so I went back to the river’s edge and took a few more pictures with the unfamiliar camera. After first checking and adjusting the settings, of course.
Because: live and learn.
© 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.
Yesterday, my dear friend, Lisa, was on my mind a lot. Last year at this time, in a pre-Covid world, she came down with a nasty case of the flu. It attacked her heart and left her clinging to life by a thread. An old post from her husband came up on Facebook before I went to bed last night, and I realized it was exactly a year ago, to the day. Somehow I knew that without knowing it.
Because it was a Really Big Deal. It was the first major shock of 2020 to be absorbed, and it’s a story I’ve told numerous times when giving talks on mindfulness of emotions.
It was the first time something like this had happened to someone I knew. When I told the story to my co-workers, the reaction was the same: You hear of this happening, but never to someone you know…until now. It was a revelation: The flu really can be that bad. Perhaps reconsider skipping the annual flu shot.
Exactly a year ago, I went to bed crying and praying like I never had before. Lisa can’t leave us. She just can’t. I couldn’t imagine a world without her.
She’d been transferred from Saratoga Hospital to Albany Med, where my dad was transferred after his 2013 cardiac event. I knew she was in good hands there. But even Albany Med didn’t have the equipment to keep Lisa alive. She was transferred again, to Montefiore in New York City, and put on an ECMO circuit. I’d never heard of ECMO before.
It didn’t look good. The odds for survival were alarmingly low. It really looked like we were going to lose her, and this was devastating.
Lisa always has been one of the Helpers in this word. We went to high school together but weren’t friends back then. When my family and I moved back to Saratoga Springs when the kids were little, I attended a La Leche League meeting Lisa led, in hopes of connecting with a network of kindred spirits. Not only was Lisa a La Leche League leader, but she also established a food co-op for a small group of friends. We’d show up every month when the truck was expected to arrive at her house and process the order while our children played together. My daughter and Lisa’s oldest daughter were the same age. When they got to middle school – the first time they attended the same school – they became (and remain) best friends.
When the girls were in middle school, Lisa became the head of the PTA. Her home was the most welcoming place. We’d sit at the table and have tea, and I always left feeling so cared for, as if my heart had been filled up. And she would be the first one to drop off a homemade meal when you were going through a crisis, like when my mom was dying. Her caring and generosity meant so much to me. I thought of Lisa as a Leader and a Giver. Drawing people together and creating community were among her superpowers.
This is why I couldn’t imagine a world without her and prayed for her to pull through. Understandably, she had an enormous support network of friends and family, and a huge number of people were praying for her. And miraculously, she began to grow stronger and get better.
The surprising thing was that when she turned that corner, and the odds of her surviving began to improve, some uncomfortable feelings started coming up in me. Feelings that didn’t seem appropriate at all in the situation: envy and jealousy of the vast support network of friends and family who were pulling together for her. A Facebook group of more than 500 people was created to streamline communication, so her exhausted family wouldn’t have to reply to constant questions from all those who cared about her. Friends were driving to NYC to be there for her and her family.
A narrative began to play inside my head: This certainly wouldn’t be the case if something like that happened to me.
In my opinion, envy and jealousy are the most counterproductive, misguided emotions of all. How could my friend fighting for her life bring up such shameful feelings? What kind of person was I to feel anything other than immense gratitude and relief for the progress she was making?
There are two arrows of suffering talked about in meditation circles. The first arrow is the unpleasant feeling itself. But then there’s the second arrow, which is our reaction to it: feeling bad about having the feeling and making it wrong. Even making ourselves wrong or bad for having it. The second arrow can be sneaky and hurt even worse than the first one.
There is a Buddhist story of the demon god Mara, who did everything in his power to prevent the would-be Buddha from attaining enlightenment. Failing at that dark mission, Mara continued to show up when the Buddha was teaching, determined to lure him into some kind of egoic craving or delusion. Whenever the Buddha’s vigilant attendant noticed Mara lurking about, he’d let the Buddha know. Instead of ordering that Mara be taken away or hiding from him, the Buddha would address him directly: “I see you, Mara. Come, let’s have tea.” So they would sit down together for a chat.
When practicing mindfulness of emotions, first we acknowledge what is present. There is real power in that. Noticing it and calling it what it is helps us to not be so fully identified with it. It gives us some space to explore what’s going on below the surface instead of being hijacked by it.
When feelings like envy and jealousy arise, the first instinct might be to deny them or push them away: These feelings don’t belong in this situation! They are dishonorable! That’s the sound of the second arrow piercing.
Instead, we can experiment with acknowledging them and allowing them to exist: This, too, belongs. There are no inherently bad feelings, only unpleasant ones.
So I said, “I see you, Envy and Jealousy” and became curious. I sat down with them – invited them to tea, so to speak. I listened to what they had to say and realized it was useful and important. They highlighted the lack of community in my life.
I’m an introvert who enjoys spending quiet time alone. It’s how I recharge my batteries and create. I hadn’t realized how much community mattered to me, how much I craved it, given how comfortable I felt being alone. And when I understood that was what was really going on – that these uncomfortable feelings pointed toward a deeper need – it motivated me to take action to create more community in my life. If I had just pushed them away, I wouldn’t have done that because I wouldn’t have become aware of the longing in the first place.
That was a year ago. Since then, Lisa has made a full recovery and was able to share her husband’s Facebook post from a year ago. Her ordeal awakened me to both the power of prayer and my inner yearning for a deeper sense of community. Less than a month later, I began teaching my first practicum course for mindfulness meditation teacher certification at a local library. We had our initial meeting in-person, and a week later, all in-person programming was cancelled. So I moved it online and have been providing mindfulness meditation programs for multiple libraries ever since.
Several participants have been with me from the beginning, and it’s a privilege to witness the joys and struggles of their meditation practice. A sense of community has developed, and I am truly grateful for the presence of these sisters and brothers in my life. We’ve been breathing together through a great deal of turbulence since last spring. I’ve become involved with other community networks, as well, and it’s such a joy to feel connected to so many beautiful humans I didn’t know a year ago and to radiate mutual caring.
As if to underscore this, right on cue, in the process of writing this, I received an email from one of the women who attends my programs. In last night’s Zoom session, she was thrilled because she’d just scored a vaccine appointment for a family member. I mentioned my husband has been trying every day to get appointments for his parents, and it’s been incredibly stressful. So this morning, this dear soul reached out and offered to help and within minutes notified me that she’d made appointments for my in-laws, for tomorrow. She came through for us in a big way, and everyone is overjoyed and relieved!
Community is people who show up for one another, and this was a perfectly timed illustration of the presence of community that didn’t exist a year ago. It feels amazing to shine in community with others. And to think I didn’t even realize how much I yearned for it until Lisa’s health crisis awakened me…and I chose to lean in and listen to what the uncomfortable feelings had to say instead of shooing them away.
Isn’t it amazing how we plant seeds of transformation in one another without even realizing it – and what new possibilities unfold when we shower those seeds with presence?
© 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.
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.