Tag: Waiting

Mama Ducks

Mama Ducks

Last week, I spent a morning at the park with my six-year-old granddaughter who loves to explore nature. When we make a list of what we’ll do when we’re together, her first choice is always to take a walk at a park and go exploring. 

This time, she was especially interested in sampling the mineral springs and interacting with the ducks. But I also drew her attention to the stump of an old willow tree that had new life growing from it. I’ve been observing the “baby willow” for the past year. (Or maybe two years? Seems I always have to add an extra year due to the Covid time warp.)

When we got up close to the tree stump, we were surprised to find a female duck waddling inside of it. Then we realized she was there because she had a nest tucked away inside a nook!

I photographed the nest quickly and respectfully then moved along, to give her privacy. My granddaughter already was off and running in the direction of more ducks to quack with.

It didn’t seem like the willow stump treasures made much of an impression on her. But it wasn’t long before she made a new friend, who was sitting with his mom at the edge of the pond also observing the ducks. When they went off exploring together, the first thing she wanted to show him was the willow stump secrets.

The mama duck wasn’t there when they returned, so they went inside the trunk for a closer look as the boy’s mom and I tried to catch up to them. From my vantage point, they seemed to be steeped in a moment of awe and wonder.

Return Trip

It’s funny: I won’t run to the grocery store to fetch a missing ingredient, and I tend not to head into town to run just a single errand. This is one of the ways in which my life has changed since the pandemic began. I keep a running list of errands, groceries, etc. and try to check them off in as few trips as possible.

It’s an opportunity to practice patience, improvisation, and creativity. It’s a little game I play, and I play it because I find it worthwhile. Plus, it’s good for the planet to limit the amount of driving I do.

However, if I wake up inspired with a photography idea, it’s a whole different story. Off I go, whether or not any errands can be tacked on.

That’s exactly what happened after looking through the images I took at the park when I was with my granddaughter. The composition of one in particular felt a little off. It would have had greater depth, context, and meaning had I shifted my lens a little higher.

Before I knew it, I was back at the park with camera and three lenses in tow. After recomposing the image I went there for, I lingered for a while, experimenting with “seeing and being”. Zooming in and out. Being still and planted like a tree, taking in the landscape visually, emotionally, and artistically.

I returned to the willow stump and discovered a second nest of eggs inside another nook—with a mama duck sitting on them!

It was a beautiful, Sunday (May Day) morning, and the park was fairly busy. That meant I had to wait for people to move out of my camera frame when I couldn’t hide them behind trees. Such moments are great opportunities to practice mindfulness and patience. (When you have a mindfulness practice, moments of waiting take on new possibilities.) 

I watched many people stop to take a closer look at the huge willow stump and the baby willow growing from it, without ever noticing the camouflaged secrets nestled inside.

Observing & Reflecting

I also waited to make some wider landscape images and ended up waiting for quite some time for the wider space to clear. While waiting, I observed families with young children enjoying the park together and remembered when I was raising my children. Back then, I was almost never alone. I often had one in the backpack and the other in the stroller. My children and I were together 24/7. It felt like that’s how life would always be. I had a poem on the refrigerator reminding me that there would be time later for what I wasn’t able to do while immersed in the important work of mothering young children.

That time arrived eventually. I pursued interests and career paths, always learning and growing…and with a lot more time to myself. And so there I was a couple decades later, standing alone with my camera in the park on a picture-perfect May Day morning.

I couldn’t help but wonder how the young children running around chasing the ducks would grow up. What would their lives be like? What challenges would these families encounter?

There was one little girl and her dad who stayed within my frame for a long time because the little girl was so fascinated by the ducks. She chased them, and after they moved away from her, she ran around a tree instead. Then she explored every square foot of earth, or so it seemed from where I stood. The little girl had a lot of energy. Her dad allowed her to explore while hanging back yet remaining present. I enjoyed watching their body language and considered composing a picture in which his caring posture was part of the landscape, but it felt voyeuristic. The mom was ahead of them pushing an empty stroller with a slightly older, less energetic child at her side. It seemed the dad was on daughter duty, giving the mom a bit of a break.

I imagined that two days prior, my granddaughter and I had looked much like this father and daughter, only older. But the same basic idea.

As I observed the dad and daughter from across the stream, a male duck waddled into the willow stump, as if to check on the mama duck and make sure everything was okay. A few minutes later, he waddled back out and into the adjacent stream where a few colorful, male ducks cleverly drew people’s attention away from the willow stump. I presumed he was the daddy duck. 

Interestingly, when I looked at my images later, I zoomed way in and noticed the word “mate” right there in the nest. I hadn’t noticed it at the time, for I was too far away. It appeared to be part of a longer word that was folded, with “mate” being the only part visible. I became fascinated and intrigued by this image—which I thought of as Mother Nature’s oracle card for the day.

Caring Abounds

All week, I was drawn like a magnet to my images of these duck mamas-to-be. A number of situations arose that were out of my control, in my personal life and in the world, and I felt vulnerable. For example, I received a massive car repair bill and wondered if I was being taken advantage of. I listed some items for sale on Marketplace and encountered stealthy scammers whom fortunately I was a step ahead of. My bank had to send me a new debit card because my card somehow had been compromised. Stuff like that. Family stuff.

One of the messages I receive from the mama duck images is that caring is a quiet and often unnoticed, but ever-present and natural force in the world. It’s not loud and showy like those who seek personal gain through taking advantage of, controlling, manipulating, putting down, and objectifying others for whatever reason.

Be wise and discerning. And don’t give up hope, for caring abounds in this world, even now. It just doesn’t tend to draw attention to itself or make headlines, for that’s not what it seeks. Caring always finds a way.

I also saw the duck mamas-to-be doing their best to create a nest of safety and caring in a bustling, unpredictable environment.

Despite our deepest intentions, we can’t always keep our children safe. We can’t transfer our experience and wisdom to them. We can’t direct the course of their life or prevent them from suffering. That’s not our responsibility, it’s not the point, and we only suffer more when we try. But we always can care and be there for them. We can listen deeply without sharing our unsolicited advice, opinions, or concerns—or at least that’s what I’m practicing right now.

My experience of motherhood has not been anything like I imagined and envisioned it would be when I was pregnant with my first child. At times, it’s been pretty brutal, and I swear I signed up for the accelerated learning plan here on Schoolroom Earth! It’s certainly been a path of deep compassion, humility, and surrender. My children have been and continue to be my greatest teachers.

The space between our expectations/desires and reality is a breeding ground for suffering. Thank goodness for my meditation practice and time spent in nature, is all I can say! They help me to let go of the stories of what life is/isn’t or should/shouldn’t be and find balance and inner spaciousness, many times a day when challenges arise.

Generating Lovingkindness

So there I was alone at the park with my camera, waiting for the scene to be people-free, watching children chasing ducks and interacting with their families. Feeling my feet on the ground, feeling into my body, aware of my breathing, receiving impressions of the environment through my senses, and feeling connected with the life around me. Wondering what these young families will go through as the children grow up and what challenges they face now.

Realizing many other families have had or will have similar experiences—that my experience isn’t unique—has grown my compassion tremendously. There is so much I would have passed judgment on prior to experiencing what I have in this messy, human life.

I don’t normally spend time in nature with my camera in busy places. However, that Sunday morning visit to the park presented a whole new invitation beyond practicing mindfulness and patience in those moments of waiting. It was an opportunity to practice lovingkindness, as well.

Lovingkindness, or metta, is a practice of wishing others well and cultivating caring. All of the people and families who passed through my camera frame were opportunities to send more lovingkindness into the world. Humankind is struggling now, and I silently wished the passersby:

May you be well.

May you be kind to each other.

May you enjoy this beautiful day.

May you live with ease.

May you be free from suffering.

May you know that you are loved.

Generating lovingkindness made the waiting times much more enjoyable. By the time I left the park, I felt more connected to all the life around me. Not just the ducks. 


© 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.

Pausing for Presence

Pausing for Presence

This morning, I was about to share an image online. I’d been holding onto the picture for a while, in no hurry to share it. It was just a simple picture of something I appreciated as the sun rose one morning. No particular words had come to mind yet, only a sense that whatever words I patched together would be simple and few, as recommended by Mary Oliver in her poem, “Praying”.

The website wasn’t loading. While waiting for it to do its thing, as the spinning ball of eternity spun, I became aware…of the songbirds singing. They brought me back into Presence: a here-and-now state of awareness beyond thinking that is such a sweet, expansive homecoming. 

The Internet was down. Again. However, the computer connectivity issue seemed so small – barely a ripple on the surface – in this spacious field of awareness. Because I was connected with and immersed in something so much bigger, like the ocean that holds all the waves.

I decided to turn off the modem. While I was standing there waiting for a couple of minutes to pass before turning it back on, I noticed that the origami fish mobile hanging from the ceiling above the modem was very dusty.

Noticing its condition was an opportunity to give it some love. I went to the kitchen to fetch a cloth and a step stool and took a few minutes to clean off the dust. 

Becoming aware of how things are in the present moment is an opportunity to shine the light of love someplace that needs it: perhaps your body or whatever story is running through your mind. You might allow an area that’s holding tension to release or remember that you don’t have to believe the thoughts and stories. Or you might reach down and pick up from the floor the paper clip you’ve walked past how many times?

While waiting for the modem to reboot and for my laptop to restart, I felt my feet planted firmly on the floor and noticed my body breathing. I felt peaceful and noticed the sensations of peace in my body. That’s all it takes, and it can happen in any moment. All you need to do is remember that Presence is an option.

One beautiful lesson I’ve learned from my mindfulness meditation practice is that times of waiting are exquisite invitations to return to Presence. After taking that sacred pause – which might only be three deep breaths – you can return to whatever it was you were dealing with, with more awareness and serenity. In the space of a pause, you might even see it in a different way. 

And that is exactly the point of the picture I was about to share online, of a dried out hydrangea I found on the ground during a walk. Pausing for presence allowed me to see it in a different light. Pausing for presence again as the sun rose over the river the next morning brought the hydrangea to mind. Then I composed an image that felt simple yet satisfying.

Like 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.

Red Lights, Screens, and the Value of Waiting

Red Lights, Screens, and the Value of Waiting

As I mentioned in my last post, I upgraded to a smartphone this week. I’d considered doing this for quite some time but finally went ahead with it because I felt it would improve my communication with my busy teenagers considerably if I had better texting capabilities and could interact with greater mobility and ease. And this definitely is proving to be true. However, one thing I’ve really noticed during the past few days is that having a smartphone with me throughout the day kind of pulls my attention in that direction. The phone is a trap door into a world of possibilities – excessive possibilities – much as the painting, Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in His Picture Gallery in Brussels by David Teniers the Younger depicts. (You can click on the name of the painting to view it.) I noticed that little tug while waiting at a lengthy red light in town. And that little tug made me aware of the values and virtues of knowing how to wait.

Waiting – in line at a grocery store or at a traffic light or doctor’s office or any number of other places – is a wonderful opportunity to awaken from the trance of activity, to still the mind and tune in to our body, the rhythm of the breath, the environment. In his book, Peace is Every Step, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh suggests reframing the red traffic light “as a bell of mindfulness, reminding us to return to the present moment.” He continues: “The next time you see a red light, please smile at it and go back to your breathing. ‘Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile'” (p. 33).

When I was growing up, we didn’t have devices to occupy us during long car trips until Walkmans eventually came along. But even then, it was only audio and not the full audiovisual experience. We looked out the window at the scenery. We thought and imagined. We squabbled. We got bored. And I think boredom that comes from uncluttered moments and an uncluttered mind is a gift that our youngest generation is deprived of to some degree. I do hope that today’s children and teenagers will come to know the joy and freedom of unplugging and being present to the world around them, and to their own selves. Growing up in a world of screens – both stationary and handheld – I hope they will achieve a healthy balance between the virtual universe and the living, breathing universe. Connecting children with the wonder and mystery of the latter is important work. We need to help them find that balance.

With camera in hand, I find myself doing a great deal of waiting. I wait for clouds to cover the sun and provide better, more diffused lighting. I wait for people to move out of my viewfinder. I wait for a rainbow to appear when the sun bursts through rainclouds.

I wait for bright yellow goldfinches to return to wilted sunflowers so I can photograph one resting on the backside of a drooped seed head and eating the seeds.

The goldfinches are the same colors as the sunflowers that have popped up in abundance all over our yard this year. We didn’t plant a single sunflower; the birds did it for us. And now we have hundreds of sunflower bird feeders as a result. I have been wanting to get this particular shot for weeks but have yet to accomplish it. The trick is to wait quietly for quite some time so the skittish goldfinches don’t notice my presence and feel it’s safe to return to the sunflowers. And in the meantime as I sit, I listen to the crickets and grasshoppers, the grand symphony of late summer, the breeze rustling the leaves of the towering black locust trees lining our yard. When I tap into the environment like that, I feel connected with all the life around me and feel the life energy moving through me. I feel more fully alive.

I don’t want to fill up all the spaces by disappearing into a tunnel of information and chatter. Each moment offers a choice between authenticity and habit, presence and ego, expanding and contracting.

I will return to work in 16 days, and life will become much busier. There will be many professional responsibilities demanding my time and attention both within and outside of my contracted work day that go far beyond actual classroom instruction. But one thing I have really practiced this summer is being more fully present in the present moment. When you’re truly inhabiting the present moment, you realize that there is so much more than this little problem or situation demanding attention; you can access a spaciousness that channels fuller consciousness and wisdom. And that is why I am here now and not burdened by all the things I need to do at the beginning of the school year. I write in my planner when I want to set up my classroom, for instance, and then forget about it. It’ll get done. Put it on a list, and assign it to a certain day or week. No sense bringing anxiety related to what I need to do in the future into this moment. Because this moment is perfect as it is, if I am tuned to the right channel.

And even if I don’t end up getting a picture of a goldfinch on a sunflower, the time spent waiting was not wasted because it was a portal into All This.

And chances are that when the image I’m fixated on doesn’t manifest, I’ll find something else that I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t stopped and paused – something that seems to appear out of nowhere and simply fascinates me.

It’s truly wonderful when waiting facilitates awareness and being rather than habitual doing. Actually, it makes all the difference in the world!

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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