This article offers examples of applying mindfulness of emotions in real-life situations, beginning with a personal situation and expanding to local and world-wide situations. It offers practical tools, practices, and inquiries to help you find your center in times of fear.
About two weeks ago, I roared at my husband in a way I’d never roared before. We had just gotten off the phone with a life insurance agent. He could tell I was upset, and I told him I’m digesting the new information and feeling really emotional – and need to take a walk and take care of my feelings.
That would have been a good time to put the conversation on pause, but the next word that came out of his mouth elicited the roar. I actually surprised myself. It wasn’t a high-pitched expression of anger or frustration. It was lower-pitched and came from my center. I felt like a mountain – a solid, grounded mountain – rather than as if I were losing my footing (and mind) in tumultuous waves of emotion. It wasn’t time to engage or problem-solve. It was time to get some space, to absorb the new information and relate to my feelings in a way that would allow me to reengage in a more productive way.
We went to our separate corners for a time-out, and I took that walk and looked deeply into what was going on inside me. I reflected on why I reacted as I did to the phone conversation, through walking meditation and the RAIN practice I mention frequently in my mindfulness meditation classes. I felt grateful for those tools.
The previous day, our area made international headlines again for the wrong reason. About ten miles away, a young girl went missing from a state park campground. She could have been anybody’s daughter, granddaughter, sister, or cousin.
People in my area were not okay. This was way too close to home. It didn’t feel safe to walk alone in nature. Parents were tightening the safety reins. There were lots of prayers and people showing up to help and support the family however they could. You could feel the tension in the air.
I retreated to a nearby park, to walk the labyrinth and tend to my feelings following the failed life insurance conversation.
There was a brand new harvest goddess overlooking the labyrinth, that a group of volunteers had created over the weekend. I got up close and gazed at her in awe. The local garden club tended beautiful flower gardens all around the labyrinth, to delight both people and pollinators. The garden club worked hard to care for the earth and create a place of beauty. Even the labyrinth itself was a product of great caring, kindness, and generosity. Within sight of the labyrinth was a wonderful fairy garden provocation and some incredible fairy houses to inspire creativity. A little free library. A new reading area in which chairs were fashioned from logs.
The whole park was created through many years of caring, kindness, generosity, and community. As I walked the labyrinth, I took in all of this goodness.
Words from (Mister) Fred Rogers came to mind: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
Evidence of helpers was all around me. The labyrinth was a place of refuge.
Being grounded in gratitude resourced me and put more space around the feelings. It allowed me to take a closer look at what was bothering me, without becoming identified with the feelings. I knew they were visitors that would come and go.
RAIN begins with Recognizing what emotional visitor is present. Although the roar might have sounded angry, it wasn’t Anger that was present. It was Fear. So I walked with fear, Allowing it to be there. Then I Investigated its nature. I became curious about what Fear wanted me to know and asked questions, such as: Is what I’m believing really true? Am I sure? Are there any other possibilities? (How often do we confuse partial truths with the whole truth, and create a lot of problems for ourselves and others?) Then I gave the hurting part the Nurturing it needed: kind words, reassurance, and loving touch (hand on the heart).
I went back home feeling a lot better, able to re-engage with my husband.
Fortunately, the missing girl was found alive the following evening, and we breathed a huge, collective sigh of relief.
That evening, I talked with a close friend living out-of-state and told her about how the life insurance conversation went south. After we were done talking about that, she asked about the missing girl and what it’s been like around here.
That’s when I realized the common thread of the two incidents was fear. If the life insurance conversation had taken place at another time, I probably wouldn’t have felt so emotional. But I was already on-edge from the local event, which compounded any other fears that arose and awakened what Eckhart Tolle calls the pain-body, that feeds on conflict and emotionality.
Fear can be a highly contagious virus that gets in the way of clear-seeing and blocks us from our natural wisdom, intuition, and guidance. I did not want it to be in the driver’s seat.
The next day, I felt drawn to return to a place I’d explored recently for the first time: the Adirondack Labyrinth. The labyrinth itself was awe-inspiring, and the energy there was very high-vibe. After walking the labyrinth the first time, I took a deep dive into the website and learned about how it came to be – and was truly inspired and even more in awe.
This time, my husband came with me. It was a perfect autumn day, and the late afternoon sun was low in the sky, illuminating the colorful, autumn foliage surrounding the labyrinth. We had the labyrinth to ourselves. I didn’t know if my husband would be interested in walking it, but I wanted to make it a meditation. Before walking, I sent my intention and a prayer for guidance and insight into the center.
It took a few minutes to clear my mind of thoughts such as wondering if anyone else would show up while I was walking the labyrinth and noticing how hot it was. When I noticed I was caught in a thought or story, I returned to each footstep with a simple mantra: Here.
Becoming more present, I felt guided to give my fears to Mother Earth with every footstep that touches the ground. I’ve been walking labyrinths for decades and can’t recall ever walking in this way. I’ve done plenty of “kissing the ground” with each footstep but not releasing fear deep down into the earth. Fear and lack.
It worked really well. My mind became clear and open, and I began to hear whispers from deep within:
Fear is a diminishing energy.
Don’t make decisions guided by fear.
Don’t take a single footstep forward in fear.
I realized that the actions I had been telling myself I needed to take after the life insurance conversation were completely fear-based. There is another way – a path that opens when I trust my deeper knowing and follow my inner guidance. Fear blocks that channel of wisdom and inspiration.
On the way back out of the labyrinth, I felt light and joyful. Feeling eager to move forward, I walked faster, even skipped and twirled. I felt like dancing! I knew what is not my path – whatever fear wanted me to. I also knew what felt like a full-bodied YES – do this instead.
The fruits of my meditation practice became clear: If I meditate every day, this awareness is possible every day. I could find my bearings in joy and trust my inner nature, and build immunity to the fear virus.
Release fear to Mother Earth – or sense it evaporating into the vast sky. Put it on a leaf, and give it to the river. There are many ways to release what doesn’t serve and make space for what seeks to be expressed through me.
I adopted some new mantras:
I choose actions aligned with my future, not my past.
I release and compost what doesn’t help me to evolve.
When we release fear and a sense of lack or not-enoughness (or whatever comes up for you), every footstep can bring us back home to HERE – which is true freedom. That is my intention: To be HERE and NOW, where the light of inspiration and insight can reach me without clouds of fear blocking it. HERE and NOW – or in other words, presence – is where our true power lies.
HERE is spacious and open and not complicated by past accomplishments and failures, or worries about the future. It is where there is freedom from the patterns, where we can be inspired anew. Every footstep and every breath is a portal back to the here-and-now when the mind has wandered off. Sometimes we need to focus our energies on certain tasks, projects, or whatever is going on. But we can bring the sense of presence into even that, and thereby enrich it, expand the possibilities, and not get too identified with what is not aligned with our true nature (which isn’t fear). We can shake off the dust of conditioning and fear and ego, and find freedom and freshness.
Not long after the local news story resolved, a much more large-scale story of conflict and violence erupted in the Middle East. I get my news mostly from printed sources rather than television or video, and even just reading about the human suffering on both sides felt like too much.
The other day, I took a walk with my nearly four-month-old grandson in the stroller. After he fell asleep, I began thinking of the suffering of parents, grandparents, babies, and children in the Middle East. Looking at my sleeping grandson’s peaceful face, their suffering again was too much to bear. They were just like me, just like him, just like us.
What to do about it? Feeling powerless to help ease suffering in the world only deepens our own suffering. What can we do instead of getting stuck in powerlessness, heartache, and fear?
On one end of the continuum, we can resist, deny, blame, and numb ourselves to “what is”. On the other end, we can indulge, sustain, and get hooked in the trance of intense feelings. But there is a middle way, of caring for and learning from our visiting emotions. As the late Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh taught, our suffering can be a mindfulness bell. We can look deeply into the nature and causes of our suffering, and find the path to freedom. Then whatever actions we take will be motivated by something much wiser and more clear-sighted than fear.
While pushing my sleeping grandson in his stroller, I created an action plan for resourcing in times of fear:
- Take refuge in gratitude (for example, how fortunate I am to be with my grandson walking in this peaceful, safe neighborhood where everyone smiles and says hi).
- Send lovingkindness to those who are suffering.
- Breathe in gratitude, breathe out lovingkindness.
- Do what we can to bring more kindness into the world. Do or say something that offers evidence to others that, despite whatever else is going on, there is a lot of goodness in the world. So many people who care and want to help.
- Seek goodness, to counteract the brain’s negativity bias. Find examples of people doing the right thing. Pause to really take in the goodness – of other people, the natural world, or wherever you find it.
- Meditate daily. Make time for stillness, to more clearly access our natural wisdom and compassion that gets blocked by our busy lives and too much thinking. Even a few mindful breaths counts!
- Do what nourishes and brings us back to our center (for example, make a meal, take a walk, get a good night’s sleep, have a cup of tea, look at the sky). Give yourself permission to do what nourishes and resources you, even when others in the world are suffering. Failing to resource ourselves doesn’t ease their suffering – it only drains us, leaving us less able to show up as our best self for whatever life serves up.
- Acknowledge that this is a world of contrast. What can we learn from the contrast and conflict in our world? What is life calling forth from us?
We might not be able to stop the violence, division, and hatred in the world. But there is much we can do to usher more kindness and compassion into the world. We must not allow our kindness, compassion, and caring to be closed down by fear or anger or whatever other intense emotional reaction is activated. We need all hands on deck at this time, being the best we can be. The world needs our goodness, is calling for it.
In his book, Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life, Dacher Keltner states that the research shows the number one place where we experience awe is in “moral beauty”. Witnessing people helping others or expressing kindness, courage, generosity, and strength inclines us to do more of the same. We can set in motion a ripple of moral beauty even by doing small things.
For instance, when I was filling up my water jugs at the spring the same day I was with my grandson, one of the other people there asked a young man if he had a spigot. He said yes and then added in a dejected tone, “…barely.” I pointed to the slow spigot and asked if it was his. It was. Then I offered to switch spigots with him. He had two very large containers, and I only had a few smaller ones left to fill. His eyes lit up, and he smiled and thanked me. When I was about to fill up my last jar, he offered to let me use the faster spigot. It seemed like he wanted to do something to repay the kindness. His energy seemed different, lighter. I imagined that maybe he was saddened by current events, and even a small act of kindness could restore his faith in humanity and the existence of goodness in the world.
More than anything else, I want to be part of a wave of positive energy.
We might not be able to resolve conflicts in the world – or even in our own community or family. But we can begin within and notice how we contribute to disharmony and conflict in the world by being easily irritated or quick to anger, etc. We can make a practice of noticing and questioning the stories behind unhelpful habits, thoughts, feelings, and reactions when they arise. Looking deeply, we can set ourselves free!
Mindfulness isn’t something we just practice when we sit in meditation. We can bring it off the meditation cushion and into our lives, to wherever suffering is present and to whatever gets in the way of us being present. In this sense, the obstacles become the path! They are bells of mindfulness.
How can I express kindness, generosity, caring, love?
How can I be helpful?
These are important questions because that’s what this world needs right now – more mindful people and awake hearts. There is always something you can do. Be open to opportunities as if you’re on a treasure hunt.
Do what you can, and trust that it matters. And maybe take a moment to imagine how many unknown others around the world are doing the same and also wanting to be part of a wave of goodness. Think of when “the wave” is set in motion in a sports stadium. It’s time to do the wave and to be the wave. And keep it going.
© 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.
It took a few days of catching up on sleep, unpacking, and tending to what needed immediate attention, but I finally landed back home after my first trip to the Outer Banks, North Carolina.
Every morning while walking on the beach, I nearly leapt out of my skin because I was so delighted to be there. And yet, I came very close to cancelling the trip—which, in hindsight, seems ludicrous.
In the days preceding the trip, I went kayaking, hoping “river therapy” would help me to discern and follow what really felt like yes instead of the loudest voices clamoring for attention. Lots of fear and heavy, emotional stuff was being dredged up, and it felt like I was inside a pressure cooker. I attributed much of it to eclipse energy and had to use nearly every tool in my toolbox to deal with it. To borrow a term from Eckhart Tolle, my emotional pain body had become activated and was having a feast!
I took mindful breathing breaks every 20 minutes throughout the day and practiced mindfulness meditation both on and off the cushion. Listened to sleep stories on the Calm app and did guided yoga nidra meditations to get to sleep and return to sleep every night. I did RAIN meditation, self-Reiki, and listened to lots of sound baths. Got outside and exercised.
Part of the problem was the energy at home. I wasn’t sure everyone would be okay if I went. If a volcano erupted while I was away, getting back home wouldn’t be easy. The nearest airport was two hours away, and there were no non-stop flights. And what if I got Covid during my travels? Then what? I didn’t want to be on a plane exposing others.
If you put everything together, the predominant emotional flavors were fear and powerlessness: energies I did not want in the driver’s seat. I longed to vacation with Kim and Jodi, two of my very dearest friends. We live in different states, and it would be the first time the three of us would be together since Jodi’s wedding at least 30 years ago. I wanted to say yes to that.
A Sign on the River
Less than 24 hours before my flight was scheduled to take off, I went on the river and asked for some kind of sign. I hoped the more-than-human world would reveal something relevant and insightful.
I watched two ducks fly away from a spot up ahead where a group of ducks were gathered. Keeping a respectful distance, I paddled by. Once I had passed the ducks, I felt compelled to turn around and take a picture. There was something peculiar about those ducks.
Again, I kept a respectful distance and snapped a picture. After I got past them, I looked at the image on my phone screen. The sun was very bright, and the image was small, but I enlarged it enough to notice one of the ducks was caught in netting. The others were gathered around, silent.
I felt tremendous empathy and started crying. Wondering if I or anyone else could do something to help, I posted the picture in a community group on social media. Someone expressed caring. Another person gave me a phone number for wildlife conservation.
Then someone pointed out that the ducks were plastic. Decoys. Which I couldn’t tell from the distance I kept from them or from the tiny picture on my phone screen. They must have floated down the river still partially in their original packaging and gotten caught on the branches of a fallen tree.
I was so caught up in the intense, raw emotions moving through me regarding family dynamics and my upcoming trip that I couldn’t see clearly. I was crying over something that wasn’t even real. A decoy.
Then I realized that was the answer I sought. The picture I took of the decoy ducks was my image of the day, which was like pulling an oracle card from the deck of the universe. A duck decoy is used to lure ducks into danger, to trick or confuse. So perhaps the guidance was not to put so much faith in my emotions for now. Don’t let them guide me.
I got sucked in emotionally by a lure! My suffering came from not being able to see clearly and believing in an illusion that wasn’t real. Being so emotionally raw made me more vulnerable and impressionable.
Change of Heart
Ten hours before my 6 AM flight would depart, I still was almost certain I wouldn’t go. I had talked with both of my friends, and they said they hoped to see me but would support whatever I decided. Kim already had stopped at the grocery store to stock up on frozen vegetarian meals for me.
When my son found me in the living room not getting ready for my trip, he gave me an eleventh hour pep talk. He assured me everything would be fine at home and painted a picture of me enjoying the company of dear friends. Watching the moon rise on the beach. Walking on the beach. And on and on. As he spoke, I imagined myself there and resumed the packing effort I had abandoned the previous day. I had to wake up at 2:30 AM to leave for the airport by 3:00, and he would drive me.
Before going to bed (a few hours before I had to get up), I felt confident everyone would be okay at home. I longed to be with my friends, at the ocean, when the moon was full. To say yes to the beautiful, generous invitation from Kim and her husband. Mary Oliver’s poem “The Journey” had come to mind more than once that day.
I dreaded the whole airport scene, the disruption of my sleep schedule, and all of the driving involved. I hoped people wouldn’t be rude to one another based on whether or not they were wearing a mask. The brain’s negativity bias kept my expectations for civility low.
However, everyone was really chill. And kind and friendly. There were zero issues at the airports or on any of my flights. Nobody displayed an attitude. Some people wore masks, and some didn’t. And it was okay. On one of my flights, someone noticed a tiny earbud on the floor next to the aisle, and people were determined to find the person who had dropped it. Once that person was found, she was so grateful and said she’d been looking everywhere for it. There were smiles and sighs of relief when the earbud was returned to its owner. My airport and flight experiences raised my faith in humanity a notch. I sat across the aisle from people who wanted to help and set in motion a wave of caring.
Neuropsychologist, Rick Hanson, explains our brain’s negativity bias is like velcro for the “bad” and threatening and like teflon for the “good”. It’s a brain mechanism that helped to keep our ancient ancestors safe from the very real threat of being eaten by predators. However, it doesn’t serve so well now. World news can leave us feeling the world is a very dangerous place, and we must always be on-guard. Sometimes dangerous situations and people do make their way into our orbit. However, it’s useful to remember and experience that there are many kind and helpful people in the world, despite the newsworthy anomalies. The vast majority of flights won’t be marred by argumentative people and outbursts, although the outbursts draw media attention.
Experiencing positive energy en route corrected some of my exaggerated narratives about “people these days”. But of course there was much, much more that made the trip worthwhile.
Waking up at 2:30 AM was worth it. (You just do it.) Spending time with Kim and her family and Jodi and her husband was worth it a hundred times over. Being at the ocean is always worth it. So was getting a change of scenery and a little distance from the drama back home. Great weather every day was the icing on the cake.
When Kim and her husband met me at the airport, she told me she knew all along I’d end up coming.
I stood on the beach that first evening and photographed the eclipse moon rising over the ocean at high tide. Then I walked about 30 steps back to the beach house and sat on the top floor with Kim, looking out at the moon rising and shining a path of light on the water. It was exactly as my son had described, and I felt so grateful to be there.
Every morning, my alarm was set for 5:40 so I could witness and photograph the sunrise. Then I took a long walk on the endless beach. (One morning, I walked more than 18,000 steps to a wild horse beach!) My favorite time to be on any beach is at sunrise. I’m much more of an early morning air beach-walker than a hot sun, mid-day beach-sitter. However, I did walk and sit on the beach with Kim and Jodi in the afternoon with a very happy heart.
The timing was perfect. A week prior, a huge storm blew through the Outer Banks and wreaked havoc (similar to the storm that kicked up at home, it now occurs to me). The storm passed, and it was safe to travel. We were there just before the official beginning of summer tourist season, when it was still relatively quiet and uncrowded.
My daily gratitudes included:
- Listening to the rhythm of the waves
- Breathing in the ocean air
- Spending time with Jodi and Kim
- Being able to work remotely
- Ocean sunrises and the cooler, morning air
- Being fascinated by the various forms of sea life that washed up on the beach
- Only having to walk about 20 steps from the door of my bedroom suite to the beach
- Ideal weather.
It was a deeply nourishing experience, on many levels. Stretching out of my comfort zone and traveling for the first time since Covid began felt liberating. Vacationing with girlfriends was a wonderful experience I hope to repeat. Beach therapy was greatly appreciated and restorative.
On Calm, there is a sleep story, The Beauty of the Outer Banks, written by Candace Rardon. I’ve listened to it—or rather, tried to listen to it—at least a few dozen times but always fall asleep at some point. Out of curiosity one morning after returning home, I skipped ahead to see how it ends.
“In such a place as this, where the natural world quietly undergoes such perpetual change, you can find the peace to weather the seasons of your own life. To surrender to the winds, to be shaped by the tides, and to let every invisible current carry you to new and undiscovered lands.”
This (plus being with friends) sums up what I experienced at the Outer Banks. I returned home feeling different than before I left. More adventurous and liberated from fear. Refreshed. Renewed. The decision to go on the trip fed my strong self. I’m grateful for the friends I spent time with there and for the friends who encouraged me to go and experience a place they knew I would love once the storms subsided.
I’m so glad I said yes to my heart’s expansive, innermost desire instead of the constricting, convincing fears that would keep me small. The travel was fine. People were pleasant. Our house is still standing, and the energy has improved. Once again, I learned not to put blind faith in worry, anxiety, and fear or to expect the worst from people. In this moment, all is well. I am fine.
And in this moment, too.
It’s okay if you lose the present moment—if you get caught up in the real or perceived fear and drama of the human world. Simply find it again. When you find it, you’ll be able to see more clearly and respond with greater wisdom to whatever storms arise.
If I ever try to convince myself that the process of traveling is too much of a hassle to justify going somewhere spectacular to be with people who mean a lot to my heart, please remind me not to believe those self-limiting thoughts. Sure, take some time to acknowledge and process whatever emotions are coming up. But don’t be derailed by the pain-body and its flying-monkey thoughts! Spending time with people and in places that resource our lives helps us to put better energy into the world. Anything we can do to channel more light and goodness into the world is absolutely worthwhile.
To see some of the nature videos I made while vacationing in the Outer Banks, check out my Vimeo channel.
Here are some of my photos from the trip:
All of these images are available for purchase, and some will be included in my Saratoga Arts photography exhibition, Seaside, running from June 28-July 28, 2022 at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library upstairs gallery.
© 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.
I’m awake in bed feeling anxious. Only one day until the Inauguration. How will it turn out? What will happen in the meantime? What could go wrong?
This is too early to wake up for the day. I remember I have choices. Instead of letting worried thoughts carry me off into that dark and scary place I’ve been to before and depriving me of sleep, I can get off that bus. I can do something different. There are alternatives to getting stuck in a trance of fear or even fighting it. Fight, flight, and freeze are not the only options available.
Normally, I might do a yoga nidra meditation, which features a body scan and is virtually guaranteed to knock me out or get me into a state of relaxation from which sleep would follow soon after. I can’t count the number of nights yoga nidra has provided me with two or three more hours of sleep than I would have gotten without it. Instead of feeling sleep-deprived, I wake up feeling well-rested.
This morning, however, a different meditation comes to mind. Since I’m practicing trusting intuition and stepping out of the way to allow wisdom to flow, I go with it. This time, I’ll listen to my own recording of a Tara Brach-inspired RAIN meditation.
RAIN is an acronym that stands for: Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Nurture. There are other variations from other teachers that use different key words. But RAIN really works for me, so RAIN it is.
Recognize and Allow are brief steps that bring you into connection and relationship with the emotional discomfort. You don’t push it away, deny it, or numb it. You greet and welcome it like a familiar friend – which begins to wake up the more evolved “tend and befriend” part of the brain.
Hello, Anxiety. You belong.
This is the invitation. Then on to Investigate, which is where the conversation begins.
Where are you, and what do you want me to know?
Explore the vulnerability. Really get to know it.
I find Anxiety in my heart and throat and rest one hand on each area. That kind of tender touch is like putting a warm blanket on the place that hurts. Tending to it as you would tend to a suffering child. It’s like swaddling a baby: a soothing, gentle pressure and caring presence. I’m already lying under my weighted blanket, which is soothing in itself, but this tender touch deepens the attention and provides gentle contact where it is most needed.
Often during the Investigate part of RAIN, after locating and tuning in to where the suffering is in my body, I’ll see an image in that area. If I stay with it, the image begins to change and shift into what I call an energy story that resolves in a healing image along with the realization that the physical energy imbalance in that part of my body has resolved, as well.
But this time, I connect with the vulnerability and ask Anxiety what it needs. It communicates a sense of people who are unwell, mean-spirited, untrustworthy, unhinged, and sinister being in control. I see flashes of situations that brought up similar feelings in the past. That kind of emotional energy is stored in the body – likely around an even earlier trauma, or core wound that I sense I’m getting closer to healing every time I do RAIN.
Understanding it a little better, I now call it Fear and realize it needs Love and a sense of safety. It wonders if this world is a safe place to be in (which feels very young). It needs to feel the presence of loving energy and to know that Love is stronger than the presence that seems so threatening in the dark hours of the night. That’s what the Nurture step is about, and this is my favorite part. It calls on imagination, and I love imagining. It’s a powerful tool.
I know exactly what to do. I call on my parents and grandparents, who also live inside me. There is a place in my heart area I know as Unconditional Love, and it’s like a crystal that’s similar to Aladdin’s lamp. Rub it, and they’ll all come out and surround me with their loving presence. There are other beings, too – beings of love, light, and wisdom.
When I call upon Unconditional Love, they all come forth. And then I allow myself to receive their loving energy and to listen to what they have to say. This time, I hear (and write down):
You were never alone or unsupported. Everything that was hard served a purpose. You are becoming so strong and can help others.
You have one another. Share your feelings, and dissolve the separation.
You are discovering your true power and untapped resources. All is well. Let them in. Share yourselves. You are surrounded by love.
There’s not enough togetherness in your life.
Remember how the sea held you. Take refuge in the sea.
Then these loving beings slip back into my heart, and I’m standing on my favorite beach where the land meets the vast ocean, feeling the cool, wet sand under my bare feet. I reach for my phone and turn on the sound of long, crashing ocean waves from the White Noise app.
The ocean is one of my greatest resources. It’s big enough to absorb any suffering I bring to it – and I’ve brought some mighty big suffering to it in the past. I can take everything that feels overwhelming, set it down, and let the ocean carry it away into the immensity that can hold and transform it all. And then I feel lighter, connected, supported. Not alone. Better able to focus on the here and now, without emotional baggage clouding my vision.
I really imagine being at the ocean, with all my senses. And then I wake up hours later to the sound of the waves, feeling rested, peaceful, and resourced. Ready to greet the day with my best, most present self.
Every time I do RAIN meditation, it’s different. Different images, different words, different ways of nurturing. Your experience will be different, too, calling upon your deepest wisdom and connecting with something greater than yourself. I find it to be a really beneficial meditation for these times we’re in.
But don’t just take my word for it. The value I attribute to RAIN is backed by science. As neuropsychologist and author of Neurodharma, Dr, Rick Hanson explains:
We need to deal with real dangers, but much of the time we overestimate threats and don’t feel as safe as we actually are. This makes us feel bad, and it wears down physical and mental health over time. Plus when we feel at all anxious, attention understandably skitters around, scanning the world, body, and mind for what might go wrong.
Helping yourself to feel reasonably safe calms the stress response system and helps you stay focused rather than looking about for a tiger that might pounce.
If more people got in touch with their vulnerability and true power through practices like RAIN, I imagine there would be less bad behavior, blame, addiction, susceptibility to manipulation, and violence in the world. I really do. It’s powerful medicine.
If you’d like to try it – either when you’re in the grip of unsettling emotion or after the fact – here is my version of RAIN:
And if you’re interested, Tara Brach wrote a book about it, Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of RAIN, which I recommend highly.
I’m also trained to guide others through the RAIN process and to conduct 1:1 Meditation Out Loud sessions. Contact me if you’re interested in scheduling a remote session.
In these challenging and uncertain times, may we bring as much presence and compassion as we can to ourselves and the world around us and remember that we are not alone, even in the middle of the night or anytime during the course of the day when it might feel like it.
© 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.
My daughter and three-year-old granddaughter, Ava, slept over last night. This morning before I left for work, Ava asked to see my jewelry box. She wanted to line up all my earrings and look at them, which is one of the rituals she does every time she comes over. As she does that, we sit together on the floor and talk. We have some of our best conversations while she explores my jewelry.
Today’s conversation was about the small statue I have on my dresser of Tara, the female buddha of compassion in Tibetan Buddhism. Ava thought it was a doll and wanted me to take it down so she could play with it. I told her it’s not a toy and explained in broad, three-year-old terms, the significance of Tara. I told her that when you are scared, sad, or lonely, you can call on Tara, and she will help you because she doesn’t want you to suffer. She’s like a mother who loves you and wants to help you. But you won’t see her because she is invisible.
“Is she like a fairy?”
“Yes, she is kind of like a fairy,” I agreed.
She liked that idea and exclaimed, “Tara! Help!”
After she put all my earrings back in their spaces, she noticed something that I explained had to do with the basement. She became curious about the basement and wanted to see it. I told her I don’t like to go in the basement, and she asked why. I replied matter-of-factly, “Because it’s kind of creepy down there. I just don’t like it.”
Ava’s favorite holiday is Halloween, and she likes spooky things. She beseeched me to carry her to the door so she could see the basement.
I love this child. Her sweet, little face can get me to do almost anything. So when I realized she wasn’t letting this go, I carried her to the basement door, which was partially obscured by several jackets hanging on hooks. Behind the jackets were two vacuum cleaners I had to move out of the way before unlatching the lock, turning on the light, and opening the creaky, old door.
In other words, there were some barriers in place to conceal the door and make it hard to open (kind of like at the end of the movie, Sixth Sense). As if the basement didn’t even exist. Even though it’s there below almost the entire house.
The light only illuminated a portion of the stairs. There was another light switch toward the bottom, but I didn’t want to walk down the steep, narrow stairs with Ava in my arms to turn it on.
She pointed to a large cobweb just inside the door and asked why it’s there.
“Because we almost never go in the basement.”
“Are there spiders in the basement?” she asked cautiously. Apparently, she’s not a fan of spiders, so I mentioned a couple of their finer attributes.
Then she wanted to know why I don’t want to go in the basement. What’s down there? Well, not much more than a water heater and a heating oil tank and sometimes some mice and mousetraps. I didn’t mention the mousetraps.
I grabbed my phone, turned on the flashlight, and shined the light down the stairs, revealing the 200-year-old stone wall and cement floor. Silently, we regarded the emptiness. Safe in my arms, she again asked why I’m afraid to go in the basement.
“Actually…I don’t know,” I said while still shining the flashlight around. “It’s dark. But when we turn on the light, there’s nothing down there that’s scary. It’s just a big, empty space. It’s not so bad.”
Welcome to my metaphor of the day.
It makes me think of all the avoiding we do because we convince ourselves something is scary and off-limits. But when we open that door and shine a light, it’s not so bad. It’s just a lot of darkness and stories we tell ourselves about it. Familiar stories that keep us afraid of the dark, like scary stories children are told to keep them away from danger. The original intent was to keep us safe, but the story doesn’t serve a useful purpose now that we’re all grown up. If only we have the courage or determination to open the door and turn on the light, we can see the scary places differently, from a more empowered and enlightened perspective.
The basement is the part of the house you don’t see. It’s the foundation that was laid before the rest of the house was built and remains underneath it all. In clutter coaching, feng shui, and dream work, the basement represents the subconscious: stuff that is hidden or repressed, issues you’ve been carrying around for a long time, often from childhood. Your deepest, darkest thoughts, feelings, and memories. It’s where you store things from the past and things you don’t want to deal with. Sometimes the idea of having to clean out the basement because of all the stuff stored there prevents people from moving to a new home and keeps them stuck where they are even when they’d like to move on.
For me, it was perfect timing. Yesterday afternoon, I had a conversation with my spiritual director about boundaries and how essential it is to communicate cleanly and clearly. Why is it so hard to have healthy, self-preserving boundaries and to be up front with people? To say no and not feel obligated to provide acceptable explanations. Why do I decide it’s easier just to keep quiet, appease, and maintain a safe distance … walking on eggshells? What’s this lifelong, people-pleasing pattern about?
Fear. Fear of people’s emotional volatility and fragility. Fear of rejection. Lots of fear. Where did the fear come from? What’s the worst that could happen? And so what?
Although I couldn’t put my finger on it during our conversation, I woke up from a dream this morning with crystal clarity about where it came from. It was childhood stuff. Something that felt scary and powerless when I was a child and set me up with a limiting pattern of relating to others. Like the blueprint beneath it all.
At last, I understood the core wound behind my boundary issues. It was like opening the door to the scary basement and facing it…and realizing it’s not so bad. Because I’m not a child anymore. I’m an adult with greater resources and options. As an adult, I can give my inner child what she didn’t get all those years ago and set myself free from the limiting beliefs and behavioral patterns put in place to make the best of a situation I had no control of. I can send love and light to everyone involved and fill those dark places with light. This is how we heal and grow into our wholeness.
And less than an hour later, there I was standing at the top of the stairs peering into the basement with a young girl in my arms, literally shining a light on it all. Feeling I reclaimed some of my power.
Thank you, Tara.
© 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, and mindfulness meditation 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.
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,
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”.
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.