What a difference one week makes! After the balance of sunlight tipped in favor of the Northern Hemisphere last week, I wasn’t ready for winter to end – which might be a first. Winter is the season of going inward, reflecting, and preparing for a new season of growth, and I wasn’t ready for the daffodils to shoot up so soon because my winter work wasn’t done. Although I was as thrilled as ever to hear a chorus of spring peepers for the first time when I drove by the creek one evening, at the same time, it felt premature. I needed more time! I was not ready to emerge from underground and shoot up with the daffodils and grass because I remained unclear about where I wanted to focus my energy and how I wanted to grow!
Mercifully, a week later, the energy has shifted. Now my energy is concentrated on a single purpose, and the seeds sown within me are ready to grow in the world. Apparently, I was right to trust the process and to believe clarity would arise in time – just as the plant world awakens every spring following a season of necessary dormancy. It was bound to happen.
As plants began invisibly sending out their roots, I found myself returning to both my spiritual and my photography roots. The waterfalls of Ithaca, NY provided my original inspiration for picking up a camera (an old Canon point-and-shoot) nearly 30 years ago, and in recent weeks, my passion for waterfall photography was reignited in full force. This month, I visited two waterfalls I’d never been to before. One was on a road I lived on when my children were young. I must have driven by it on nearly a daily basis but never noticed it! It’s an example of the countless opportunities and blessings that are overlooked when we’re caught up in our daily routines and don’t think to turn our heads a little more to either side and notice what exists in the periphery.
As I processed my photos of that waterfall, I was drawn to the large rock in the middle of it (that resembles a turtle).
It reminded me of a quote from Sufi master, Hazrat Inayat Khan:
“Stand through life as firm as a rock in the sea, undisturbed and unmoved by its ever-rising waves.”
It’s not the sea, but it speaks to me of believing in yourself, standing your ground, and being centered, even when there are many different streams of activity flowing around you and so much stuff going on that it can become distracting and feel overwhelming.
On Easter, I visited another waterfall and spent more than two hours in complete solitude working and worshipping in what felt like a private sanctuary. I sang, cried, prayed, gave thanks, and took plenty of photographs as the negative ions worked their waterfall magic on me.
In addition to returning to my photography roots, I recently had the great pleasure of returning to my spiritual roots and photographing the interior of the church I attended as a child. I hadn’t been inside the church (which has been converted into a performance and event venue) since I was nine years old but had vivid memories and dreams of the entire interior. I’ve been wanting to photograph it for years. Once, a few summers ago, I tried to enter, but the doors were locked, nobody answered the doorbell, and I never tried again. My son recently organized a film festival for young, local filmmakers that serendipitously took place inside my old church, so I seized the opportunity to explore and photograph it while he was in a meeting.
I was so excited to finally go inside after 40 years and was in my glory photographing my memories, including the brass banister on the stairs when you walk through the interior set of doors, the old choir room, the stained glass windows – all as I remembered them – and locating the various rooms, including the unassuming door in a corner that led to the Sunday School rooms down in the basement.
The space that was most radically different was the nave and sanctuary upstairs because all the pews had been removed, along with the entire chancel, including the resplendent pipes of the pipe organ. But it still smelled exactly the same. It was blissful to be alone in the former worship space as the late afternoon sun streamed in through the stained glass windows.
I’d never attended an event at the church after it was converted to a performance venue, but I tried to go inside once, and because the door was locked, I assumed it was generally inaccessible.
However, when I left the church at the end of my son’s meeting and the following day at the conclusion of the film festival, the door remained unlocked. People were coming in for dance classes and other events. It was an active venue with doors that were not always locked.
The reality is that I tried to open the door once, and it was locked. And then I didn’t try again. Is that a great metaphor or what?
In recent months, I’ve been unearthing and releasing some deeply held beliefs and conditioning regarding money and entrepreneurship because it is time to make some changes rather than continue to repeat the same patterns that have not served me in the past. In the grand scheme of things, money is just another form of energy that shouldn’t be so weighty and intimidating. However, financial prosperity is something I have been passive about until now. It was a door I knocked on, but when nobody answered, I just moved on, believing it was locked and inaccessible, and I did not have permission to enter.
But now I have become curious. What if I were to find out at the end of my life that the door was unlocked the whole time, and I only assumed it was locked and lived my entire life as if that were the case – and never turned the doorknob? Or perhaps I tried just once and found it locked and assumed that was always the case, so why bother trying again? Well, there is a voice inside me now urging me to turn the doorknob and find out what’s inside the rooms I had considered off-limits. In other words, what is on the other side of fear?
That is the metaphor I take away from the church experience. Our circumstances aren’t what block us. Our assumptions about our circumstances and ourselves in relationship to them are what block us. What might we accomplish if we adjust our mindset and beliefs, become more adventurous, and empower ourselves to do something different this time – and actually turn the doorknob of the room we hadn’t felt worthy of entering in the past, instead of retreating to the familiar spaces?
It’s like failing to notice the waterfall on the street I once lived on because I never turned my head just a little more to one side. I can’t help but wonder: What are we missing out on by not doing something different? What kind of new shoots can we push up this year by challenging our assumptions and being a little more curious and adventurous? With nature as my mirror and guide, I believe it’s time to find out!
© 2016 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this blog post, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness mentor 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.
“We are here to find that dimension within ourselves that is deeper than thought.” -Eckhart Tolle
It’s a school vacation week, and I spent a few days on a solitary, spiritual retreat in a cabin on a hill in Van Etten, New York at a retreat center aptly named Light on the Hill. I have been visiting Light on the Hill since 1990, which was around the time it began, and have done so much deep, transformative work there that I feel “all my changes are there.” My husband and I even got married there. It is a very special place, run by a very special couple, Alice and Larry.
I met Alice when she was a religious studies professor at Ithaca College. I enrolled in her Introduction to World Religions course and was so drawn to her energy and teachings that I took a course with her every semester. As her student, I recall Alice talking about her dream to operate a retreat center and how perfect it was that the man she was soon to marry owned some land. As she eased into retiring from academia, she and Larry were busy behind the scenes building their shared dream. To see how it has grown and blossomed since those early days is truly astonishing and inspiring.
Alice and I have remained in contact all these years. She became my guide in the Sufi tradition, she and Larry officiated at both of my weddings, and she assisted me during the homebirth of my son. I could go on and on about the important role(s) Alice has played in my life, but the purpose of this post is to describe the retreat process as I have experienced it at Light on the Hill.
I feel called to Light on the Hill when I am at a crossroads or in the “valley of unknowing” and seek clarity and direction. I embarked on this week’s retreat with a specific intention in mind. During the course of a retreat, one is drawn more deeply in touch with the divine Self each day.
To prepare for the retreat, I intuitively withdrew from technology for a full day before leaving. The four-hour drive to Light on the Hill (which included an out-of-the-way stop at my favorite waterfall in Ithaca) provided further preparation and a rare opportunity to photograph Ithaca Falls without anyone else around.
From Ithaca, it’s about a half-hour drive along country roads. Light on the Hill is located a mile up a dirt road that climbs a hill, taking you away from the distractions of ordinary life. And then you go even deeper as you drive slowly along the narrow road to the cottage.
By the time you arrive, you have a sense of being nestled deeply and protectively in the sacred space on the hill. Such peace.
I stayed in the Meadow Cottage, which is also where my husband and I spent our wedding night. Over the years, I have stayed in every cottage and hut on the land. Prior to this week, I had experienced Light on the Hill during every season except spring.
There is no electricity in the Meadow Cottage, but it is heated and very comfortable. There is a kitchen, bathroom, and living room downstairs and a sleeping loft upstairs. The sofa downstairs also converts to a bed. The refrigerator and heat run on propane. There is a gas stove in the kitchen, and you turn on a generator for a hot shower and to flush the toilet.
The windows and sliding glass door open to a picturesque view of the meadow and distant hills. The sounds of spring were all around.
Here is the view from the windows by the table:
In the past, I have gone on fully guided retreats as well as unguided retreats. This time, I chose a partially guided retreat, which means that Alice visited the cottage to sit with me once (rather than twice) each day. She is highly intuitive and brings practices that she discerns will facilitate spiritual attunement and growth. I received some guided meditations on CD and inspiring conversations and teachings on cassette tape (with battery-operated players), along with some handwritten instructions for practices and a few quotes to contemplate.
I spent the next 24 hours (until meeting with Alice again and receiving new practices) engaging with the meditations and practices, doing some yoga/movement, and taking walks.
Walking, meditating, resting, moving, dreaming – it’s all part of the process. Slowed down and removed from the usual distractions, I find that I intuitively know what to do, what to eat, etc. It feels as if my soul is guiding me, and I am still enough to hear it. The soul connection is much stronger than in normal daily life, and it deepens each day on retreat. There is a momentum that builds and is difficult to describe in words.
As I was settling in to the practices, I heard (in my mind):
Quiet, quiet, quiet!
Put your mind on a diet!
…which made me laugh.
Each day, I walked the 11-circuit labyrinth (based on the Chartres cathedral model), letting the 34 turns of the labyrinth work their magic on me. A symbol of wholeness, a labyrinth is different from a maze in that there is one pathway from the entrance to the goal (in this case, the center), with no dead ends. If you keep walking, you are certain to arrive. My time in the labyrinth was especially powerful and transformative. I don’t know if this is true for others, but there is a certain point in the labyrinth where the insights seem to come and really take hold. There is a pile of smooth rocks near the entrance to the labyrinth, and I carried one with me each time and offered it when I arrived at the center.
Not long after meeting with Alice in the late afternoon, Larry arrives with dinner in a lovely basket. In addition to being a dedicated caretaker of the land and facilities, he is a fabulous cook. The meals are vegetarian, as meat and sugar are best avoided while on retreat because of the effects they have on one’s energy field. I always look forward to Larry’s nourishing meals. This one featured rice pasta with a delicious, puréed sauce.
After the sun sets, I light the mantle on the gas lanterns on the wall and continue doing my work next to the warm glow of the wood stove.
Eventually, it’s time for sleep. I find that I go to bed much earlier on retreat than I normally do, and I think the retreat rhythm is closer to my natural rhythm. You have to climb a ladder to the sleeping loft, and therefore you can’t bring much with you. I bring a notepad, pen, and a small headlamp. Note: It is not necessary to climb in order to sleep, as there is a pullout sofa bed in the living room. Also, the woods cottage has downstairs bedrooms.
Multitudes of stars shone brightly in the clear sky through the window and skylight over the bed. So peaceful and comforting. I was tempted to do some astrophotography but felt it was more important to get some rest.
Dream work is an important part of the retreat process. I record my dreams on the notepad and work with the content the next day.
Here is the view to which I awakened in the morning:
The first morning, I woke up to a snow-dusted world. I drank some hot water with freshly squeezed lemon juice and watched the snowflakes dance through the air. My first insight of the day came from the snowflakes:
Water is not content to stay still.
It constantly moves and changes form:
A snowflake. A tear. A river.
A snowflake does not expect
To remain a snowflake forever
But enjoys dancing its way to the ground.
In its brief time as a snowflake,
It gives its all to being a snowflake.
Then the sun melts it,
And it is time to move on.
Let’s melt and become a puddle
Then soak down and nourish the plants
Thus spoke the higher Self.
Throughout the course of the retreat, I did experience guidance and clarity with regard to my original intention and also had some time for some unanticipated, additional work that Alice’s inquiry and intuition felt was important. I have complete trust in her, which is important when working with a guide. It is a trust that has developed through the decades, and I feel so blessed to have her in my life. She is an amazing teacher and healer.
I appreciate that the journey back home takes quite a while. After being on retreat, the energies of the world feel very dense, and I prefer to ease myself back in. I stopped again at my favorite waterfalls in Ithaca, and experienced more people than usual smiling at me and approaching me – remarking about my starry shoes or that I’m “obviously” a professional photographer (::smile::). I think I was radiating a higher energy than usual. The quality of my energy after being on retreat also reminds me of the value of making time for daily meditation, prayer, and reflection. I see the image of a dusty attic with the sun shining in through the window. Meditating is like sweeping the dust from the floor and cleaning the window. Doing this daily makes a difference in your life and how you view the world around you. It creates a sense of spaciousness. Going on retreat – especially a guided retreat – is like doing deep spring cleaning!
I find it rather interesting that as I was writing this blog entry, a cardinal landed briefly on my windowsill – just long enough to get my attention before flying away. I have been trying to photograph a cardinal for weeks and haven’t been able to get close enough. It’s as if this one came to me. Post-retreat magic!
You can visit Light on the Hill’s website by clicking HERE.
© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all 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.