Contemplative Photography & Reflections

Category: Inner Space

Even While Waiting for Spring

Even While Waiting for Spring

“It’s another lovely winter day.”

“Don’t spend too much time in the hot sun!”

These are typical greetings I hear every day as we wait for Spring to arrive in all its glory and for Winter to release its stronghold. Spring is certainly taking its time this year.

Yesterday morning, I was mindful of what I needed most of all before heading to work: a nice, vigorous power-walk. I had hoped to get my walk in before the rain came, but it started raining a few minutes after I started walking. However, I had an umbrella with me and a warm enough coat, so I kept walking.

There’s a choice in moments like that to feel grumpy about having to walk in the cold rain. You might even choose to stop walking and go home. Get out of the cool, damp weather. Or you could feel empowered and unbothered by the weather and have a lovely walk despite the rain…as I did. Not that anyone who feels grumpy about the persistent “wintry weather” and ice-covered windshields would want to hear my Susie Sunshine story. But I felt good about giving myself the gift of what I needed most that morning and knew I’d feel better at work because of it and because I didn’t allow myself to make excuses and not exercise.

I also thought about how nice a hot shower would feel when I’m done walking. 

And felt grateful that I could take a shower.

I thought about the homeless population I see every day at the library. If anyone has a right to complain about how long it’s taking for Spring to arrive this year, it’s them. Surely, they’d appreciate being able to come inside from the cold weather and take a hot shower at will.

I felt truly grateful for having hot, running water and a bathroom with a shower. 

The night before, I watched the documentary, Minimalism, which is about decluttering our lives and living with less stuff because “less is more”. I recently completed the requirements for Clutter Clearing Coaching certification and also became a Certified Feng Shui Consultant, so the documentary was right up my alley and very inspiring. An interview with a couple who lives in a “tiny home” helped me to reframe my small (by today’s standards), one-bathroom home built nearly 200 years ago (when people didn’t have nearly as much stuff) as an exciting decluttering challenge. I thought I did a good job last year of getting rid of stuff, but after watching the movie and looking around my home, I realize I can do more.

The documentary reminded me that I have so much more than enough, even though every home I go into for clutter coaching and feng shui seems so much nicer and more spacious than mine.

Of course, it’s not about the amount of space or stuff you have but whether your space and your stuff reflects your values. Having all your possessions fit into a couple of carry-on bags might represent freedom, resourcefulness, and empowerment to one person and disempowerment and unworthiness to another. Someone who values caring for the environment might not be drawn to a large home that takes up a lot of space and requires more energy to heat, cool, and maintain it, whereas someone who values entertaining and hosting holiday celebrations would be unlikely to live in a small home with tiny rooms like mine.

I started thinking about gratitude and my relationship with abundance. I wondered: When is gratitude for what you have an “abundance block” vs. a virtue? 

The late Dr. Wayne Dyer wrote:

“Refuse to allow yourself to have low expectations about what you’re capable of creating. As Michelangelo suggested, the greater danger is not that your hopes are too high and you fail to reach them; it’s that they’re too low and you do.”

During my walk, I felt like I was balancing on a tightrope between gratitude (for what I have) and poverty mindset (being content with what I have because others have so much less). It’s that line I wanted to be more mindful of and understand better. Can I or should I be content with living in a small, one-bathroom home with hot, running water and no usable storage space? It seems foolish to underestimate the value of hot, running water when so many people in the world and even in my affluent hometown don’t have such ready access to it. Does feeling such gratitude for simple pleasures like that prevent me from having higher expectations about what I can create in my life – for instance, a home with more spacious rooms and usable space?

I guess I didn’t want to get stuck or limited by gratitude. But how silly is that? As I continued to walk, I felt an answer coming to me: To feel gratitude for the little things while also feeling a sense of true abundance and worth. 

It doesn’t matter how much stuff you have relative to anyone else. Comparing yourself to others is not the answer. Feeling abundant and prosperous is what matters. Feeling that you are enough and have enough, whatever your situation is. I think that is a useful mindset for discovering what you’re really capable of.

In other words, gratitude and appreciation are not abundance blocks. What matters is how abundant you feel. When you feel appreciative, but a feeling of “not enough-ness”, unworthiness, or lack creeps in, that is the culprit that needs attention. 

So the feeling I’m going for is appreciation for what I have without clinging to it or craving more. A sense of being and having enough and not comparing myself to others – feeling bad about having more than some or not nearly as much as others.

Gratitude is such a powerful mindset. When you are filled with gratitude for what you already have, it produces joy and the abundance mindset and energy boost for continuing to follow your bliss. It leads to more of the same and natural expansion (which may or may not have anything to do with material possessions).

On the other hand, feeling bad about the home you live in, the weather, etc. produces a sense of lack that drains your energy and makes it harder to follow your bliss because bliss becomes out of reach. Dr. Dyer suggested “being peaceful, radiating love, practicing forgiveness, being generous, respecting all life, and most important, visualizing yourself as capable of doing anything you can conceive of in your mind and heart.” Playing the victim of weather or circumstance is disempowering. Being grateful for what you have without any feelings of lack puts the wind back in your sails and empowers you to play with greater possibilities.

It’s like having gratitude for the weather, even when it still feels much more like Winter than Spring in mid-April. Taking a walk anyway and being outdoors noticing the birdsong and legions of daffodils that will bloom in time. Not today, but don’t let that diminish your feeling of enough-ness in this moment. Finding beauty in a cluster of crocuses that are still closed, but the raindrops look so beautiful on them, and the image is simply perfect just as it is right now, and you wouldn’t dare or even think to ruin the poetry of the moment with thoughts of how cold it is.

Feeling appreciative and joyful about that rather than grumpy because Spring hasn’t arrived yet in all its gloryHaving a spring in your step and going about your business with joy in your heart, rather than waiting for the arrival of Spring or “more than this” to feel good.

© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this blog post, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (River-Bliss.com) is a contemplative photographer, writer, educator, and artist who lives on the Hudson River. Her work combines her passion for photography and writing with her deep interest in the nature of mind and perception and her love of the natural world. 

Just for the Joy of It

Just for the Joy of It

As I drove along I-88 to Light on the Hill retreat center last weekend, I felt a little nervous. It was the weekend our group would focus on the Inner Child, and that kind of work hasn’t been my favorite kind of spiritual work in the past. What would my inner children have to say to me? What kind of emotional state would I find them in?

I’d recently finished sorting through all the family photos my parents had accumulated during their lifetime: 23 boxes of them, to be precise. It was like going through a multigenerational life review. I saw pictures in which I stood apart from the rest of my family, as if I wanted nothing to do with them, and felt bad about how I acted during those adolescent and teen years. Even when I was older, I believed I was more enlightened than the rest of my family and sometimes wondered if I was switched at birth. If I didn’t have the “Meyer eyes,” I seriously would have considered that possibility! Where the heck did I come from, anyway? I didn’t see myself reflected in my family.

In the same boxes, I came across baby pictures of my parents and wondered why I had to push so hard against such sweet beings. I imagined how it might be if my four-year-old self could have played with their four-year-old selves and experience a kind of peer equality we couldn’t experience when we were mired in the roles of Parent and Child.

Basically, my life is quite full and busy, and I didn’t want to put time into reparenting my inner children because it is a bit of a commitment. However, the weekend was profoundly beautiful, and I learned something really important.

In our first guided visualization, my 6-year-old self came out the door of my childhood home, and we had a conversation in the front yard that continued on the branches of the cedar tree I loved to hang out in. That tree was my secret place. It was like a room, dark and hidden from the rest of the world, and during the visualization, it all came back to me: the scent of the foliage, the texture and position of the branches, the way the light filtered in.

My inner 6-year-old was a happy girl and had lots to say. She was a little lonely, but happy. Most of all, she wanted me to lighten up, run around, and be imaginative. I asked her why she’s happy, and she said because she picked a flower and played “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” on her piano. She wanted me to play piano because it brought her such joy.

The next day, my 15-year-old self greeted me in another guided visualization. I was surprised at how pleasant and talkative she was but remembered that I saved my surly side for my parents! At 15, I had lots of rich piano opportunities in and outside of high school, including accompanying choral groups and vocalists and playing piano in jazz band. By then, piano had basically become my identity. However, I’d discovered boys and was putting more energy into being accessible and attractive to them than pursuing what I really loved, and my piano teacher could tell when I didn’t practice the assigned pieces between lessons. (But Bach inventions were so boring, complains the 15-year-old!)

At that age, my ego was all tangled up in piano, and there was more pressure and greater expectations around it, as well as competition and a stubborn root of perfectionism. Not to mention, my mom was living vicariously through my piano accomplishments, and I felt the pressure, so it was a facet of the complicated mother-daughter dynamic, as well. The delicate balance had tipped, and playing piano was more about outcomes, identity, and self-worth than being in the flow and immersed in joy.

When I got to college, the competition was too much for me, and I pursued new interests and identities. I gradually stopped playing piano. I’ve lived in some small spaces, including my current home, and what you make space for says a lot about what’s important to you. I’ve always made space for a full piano keyboard, even if it was played only rarely.

My 15-year-old self wanted to know why I stopped playing piano, why I threw out the baby with the bath water. She wanted me to play, and to do it on my own terms. Play from my heart, what I want to play, how I want to play it, not to please anyone but myself. Play the music that comes to me almost constantly, that I find myself humming and singing into the voice recorder app on my phone. Play without worrying about making mistakes or being seen and judged, without making it be about my identity or self-worth. Play for the joy of it, like I did when I was young because when I play in that spirit, it feels soooo good! It’s inherently gratifying.

On my way home from the retreat, I stopped in Ithaca at a state park I hadn’t been to in quite some time, to photograph waterfalls. As I walked back to my car, I understood the deeper message my inner children were offering me: When have I done something just for the joy of it, without trying to monetize it in some way or draw attention to it? To do something without concern for how anyone else would respond to it. Just do it for the pleasure of it, and leave it at that. Let it be a hobby. Basically, I realized the value of hobbies.

There’s a picture of me playing piano when I was eight years old. I was smiling, and it was all about joy. Playing piano hadn’t become a means of impressing anyone or proving my worth. I just loved playing. I found that picture and placed it on my music stand, to keep me in touch with that spirit.

I’m learning many new skills now and pursuing new certifications. My plate is quite full. However, devoting even five minutes a day to playing piano for sheer JOY could be the most important thing I’ve done in quite some time – a means for healing and integrating my inner child because playing for the sake of joy and delight is so different from having the music all tangled up in ego and ultimately abandoned! Cutting yourself off from something you truly love can really weigh on you. It can be like abandoning an actual part of yourself.

What brings joy can begin to feed the ego instead of the True Self if you’re not careful. When the ego gets too big, it can crucify joy and turn what you love into a false identity that serves ego instead of a vehicle that expresses the True Self. That’s what happened to me. But when you stop blaming others or putting conditions or too much weight on the activity you once loved, you begin the empowering retrieval process. 

There’s a room in my house that I’ve been working for the past couple weeks. It used to be a bedroom but got converted into a storage room because the house lacks usable storage space and closets. It’s where I store my keyboard. I’ve somewhat facetiously referred to that room as the “graveyard of former passions” because it also houses my collection of children’s picture books from when I taught kindergarten. Those are the two things most visible in that room, and they have survived multiple rounds of clutter clearing. Everything else is hidden away on shelves behind a screen or in a dresser.

This week, I decided to come up with a new name for that room. Something along the lines of the “Inner Child Playground” or “Room for Joy”. I switched the images on the walls to display photography that fills me with delight, including pictures of daffodils and lilacs that I loved to pick when I was a child. I’ve made the keyboard more inviting and comfortable to sit at and have been playing every day since I got home from the retreat. It’s been so much fun that five minutes is rarely enough, and I’ve been giving it the time it deserves. 

It feels like I’ve retrieved an abandoned and very important part of myself. The baby (or should I say inner child) has been removed from the bath water, and the good news is that it didn’t drown but is still very much alive. It has been a very happy week holding that child and appreciating its essence during our daily playdates as the cloudy bath water gurgles down the drain. At last!

© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this blog post, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (River-Bliss.com) is a contemplative photographer, writer, educator, and artist who lives on the Hudson River. Her work combines her passion for photography and writing with her deep interest in the nature of mind and perception and her love of the natural world. 

The Morning Thought Game

The Morning Thought Game

I’ve been playing a little game with myself every morning. It’s a thought game, and the object is to select a thought to begin the day as you would select an outfit from your closet. A thought that is empowering, hopeful, positive – perhaps one of appreciation or gratitude. A thought that makes you feel good and starts the day with positive momentum.

If the thought you wake up thinking about isn’t like that – if it is disempowering, anxiety-provoking, or doesn’t make you feel good – you can play the game, too. Notice how the thought feels, and put the disempowering thought away, as you would put clothes back into your closet when they don’t feel quite right. Then select a different one.

Is the sun shining this morning? Do you hear birds singing? Does it feel like spring is in the air? Is your bed nice and comfortable? You could start right there.

You could even have a positive affirmation or inspirational quote near your bed that you see when you wake up in case you need a go-to good thought, like a favorite, comfortable outfit you can rely on to feel good in. I have a few affirmations surrounding my bed. There are two on the door, and on each side of the bed there is a candle with a positive affirmation wrapped around it. The messages placed around my bed are very intentional.

What kind of thought doesn’t work in this game? Any thought that is somehow constricting or binding or restricts your breathing, preventing you from getting a nice, deep, full breath. Any thought that doesn’t feel right, doesn’t make you feel like who you want to be, or makes you feel self-conscious. Any thought that doesn’t support your sense of who you are at your best and who you are becoming. Thoughts that are unflattering and don’t make you feel beautiful and worthy. Thoughts that might work for others but don’t feel right for you perhaps because they are not compatible with your energy or vibration (kind of like how different colors work better for different people).

Choosing your thoughts in the morning really is so much like deciding what you want to wear. You could even set a thought out the night before so you don’t have to think about it in the morning. It’s just there. You can plant a thought in your mind before you fall asleep – something you feel grateful for, perhaps. That’s why writing in my gratitude journal is the last thing I do before getting into bed at night. You could even leave a note to yourself next to your bed to remind you of a positive, empowering thought to think when you wake up.

Consider how you might arrange your bedroom so it’s a pleasurable experience to wake up in it. This includes the artwork on the walls, the color of the walls, having a totally clutter-free bedroom, nice pillows, and a comfortable mattress. The first thing you see when you wake up can set the tone for the day, so consider: If it were a metaphor, what might it represent? If it’s something with a negative association, can you move the object or change the way you see it so it has a more positive meaning?

If you keep your phone near your bed, perhaps because you use it as an alarm, you could put it in airplane mode so you’re not inundated by emails or social media notifications when you first wake up. Give yourself some time to check in with yourself first and generate friendly thoughts so your first thoughts of the day are on your terms!

I love my bed so much that my go-to thought is how grateful I am to have such a comfortable bed. If I find myself thinking a negative or otherwise disempowering thought when I wake up, I can start thinking about how comfortable I am in my bed and how appreciative I am to have it. It’s like taking an outfit out of the closet and realizing it’s not the one you really want, then putting it back and taking out one that feels like yessss!

Playing this game can become a morning habit. When you tune in to the gratitude or feel-good channel, it sets in motion a flow of gratitude and good feelings. And when you can get a wave of positive thoughts and feelings going in the morning, it’s a wonderful way to start the day that can give you some immunity against negativity. See how long you can ride that wave!

© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this blog post, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (River-Bliss.com) is a contemplative photographer, writer, educator, and artist who lives on the Hudson River. Her work combines her passion for photography and writing with her deep interest in the nature of mind and perception and her love of the natural world. 

The Magic Mixer

The Magic Mixer

One evening, I was making oatmeal raisin cookies and took my grandmother’s electric hand mixer out of the cabinet. I often use other methods for whipping up a nice, fluffy batter, but sometimes I’m drawn to the mixer. As I used it to beat the cookie batter, my energy shifted. I began to feel what I assumed my grandmother felt when she made cookies for loved ones or whipped mashed potatoes for a holiday meal. The pleasant feeling grew stronger and felt like love and joyful anticipation of being with family. Her energy and love came through the hand mixer so strongly!

Then I felt her presence even stronger behind me, like a hug from behind. It filled me with happiness, and I cried happy tears! She’s been gone for seven years, and I miss her.

Some inherited objects are like conduits of energy, portals into a departed loved one’s heart. That’s why my grandmother’s electric hand mixer survived my epic decluttering event last year. When I held it in my hands to determine what to do with it, I felt her spirit and decided to keep it. I call it the “magic mixer” because, in a way, it brings her back.

There’s something special about a grandmother’s love. I’m sure I’ve written about it before. It tends to feel more purely unconditional than a parent’s love because grandparents tend not to worry so much about things parents lose sleep over. There’s a kind of wisdom and perspective that comes from launching your own children, from which you can view the inevitable challenges and understand that much of what parents worry about is small stuff. Much smaller than parents in the thick of parenting tend to believe. Grandparents can see the bigger picture and assure subsequent generations, “It’s going to be alright. You’ll see.”

What I’m trying to articulate is that, generally speaking, parents can get so caught up in the day-to-day business of raising children that it’s harder to see the forest for the trees. They have lots of balls up in the air and get tired, stressed out, and snappy. The parent-child dynamic tends to be stickier and more controlling than the grandparent one, and to be fair, I didn’t give my grandparents the “attitude” I reserved for my parents! The parental ego can get so tangled up in children’s successes and failures, and even without meaning to, parents can make you feel like you’re not good enough as you are. 

Not so with grandparents, or at least not in my experience. I attended an Elisabeth Kübler-Ross talk in Tampa back in the early ’90s, and she asked us to think of one person who gave us absolutely unconditional love. I was in my early 20s, and my grandmother came to mind. Kübler-Ross followed this question by suggesting it’s often a grandparent who’s present to us in such a steady, unwavering way.

That’s how my grandmother was. She was my rock. When I looked in her sparkling, blue eyes, I didn’t see the worry I saw on my parents’ faces. I saw my goodness reflected back to me. I’m sure I gave her plenty to worry about, especially with the divorce when my children were young. But she could still come out with reassuring words when my parents weren’t able to, and she could make light of their reactions. We had a special bond.

I’m reading a book called Walking To Listen by a young man named Andrew Forsthoefel, who walked 4,000 miles across the United States after graduating from college because he wanted to hear people’s stories and wisdom and understand what it means to be an adult. He was on a quest for guidance and found it, sometimes in the most unlikely people and places. The book falls within my favorite genre: people walking on a quest for personal transformation.

One sentence I read the other night really spoke to me. During his travels through Alabama, he was taken in by a pair of grandparents, and the woman told him about when her mom died. When she remarked to her priest that she felt like an orphan, he replied, “You are not an orphan. You are a matriarch.”

Truly, in any moment, we can choose to focus on what is missing or what we’ve got.

I dreamed of my two-year-old granddaughter the other night. In the dream, she came up to me and exclaimed, “Mama!” (which is what she calls me because she can’t pronounce “grandma” yet) and collapsed in my arms, as if I was her safe place, just as my grandmother’s heart and home were mine. Little Ava needs the purely unconditional, grandmotherly love I can give her. I want to be her rock, like my grandmother was mine. She will need a rock. Don’t we all? Someone to be there for us unconditionally, who reflects our light and believes in us always.

That’s the energy I felt when I used my grandmother’s electric hand mixer. Grandmotherly love, as both a granddaughter and a grandmother. I am new to this grandmother thing, but the love I experienced when using the mixer felt like a form of both guidance and connection. It was like holding a compass in my hand. A compass that points to love.

There is a choice in moments like that to lean into grief or gratitude. I could cry because I miss her and feel bad about the way her life ended in a nursing home. Or I could embrace how her spirit connected with me, grandmother to grandmother, and seems to be guiding me in my new role, which she occupied gracefully for 45 years.

Little Ava. She’s the one who most needs me to reflect her beauty, light, strength, and goodness. I am motivated to be the best I can be not only for myself but also for her. May she see her own reflection through me and how I love her. By loving her unconditionally, may I plant seeds for her to cultivate self-love. Hopefully it won’t take her until she’s 50 to do so (like yours truly), but that’s her path and her business. My part, my responsibility, is to love her…without any strings or conditions. Just love, like my grandmother did for me.

© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this blog post, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (River-Bliss.com) is a contemplative photographer, writer, educator, and artist who lives on the Hudson River. Her work combines her passion for photography and writing with her deep interest in the nature of mind and perception and her love of the natural world. 

All the Beautiful Qualities

All the Beautiful Qualities

It’s not for everyone. But what a powerful weekend it was! Inner Critic weekend up on the hill.

I’m one of 20 enrolled in the first year of the three-year Hidden Treasure program at Light on the Hill retreat center in Van Etten, NY, near Ithaca. There’s not a certain “type” of person who participates in Hidden Treasure. We have a retired trooper, a kindergarten teacher, computer programmers, college professors, a minister – just to name a few. And there’s a very wide age range, as well, including parents, spouses, and adult children of former Hidden Treasure graduates. We’re all there to discover the “hidden treasure” of our True Self and to transform what gets in the way of that.

The Inner Critic, for instance.

On Saturday afternoon, we made a list of hurtful words our Inner Critic says to us and then starred the one that stings the most. I chose “Nobody is interested in anything you have to offer.” Ouch. There was a whole lot of ouch in the room. Then we did a dyad activity in which we sat facing a partner who read our selected Inner Critic comment to us in as harsh a voice as possible, repeatedly, to notice how it felt and where we felt it in our body. In my mind, I realized the unkind statement wasn’t true, but I became aware of a stabbing sensation below my ribs when the words were spoken and felt like a little child shrinking into a corner, not wanting to be seen. 

As I worked with my partner, I heard the other pairs around the room and all the harsh words of my classmates’ Inner Critics expressed out loud. 

You’re stupid.

Nobody likes you.

You’re an imposter.

You’re a hypocrite.

You’re ugly.

You’re incompetent.

Nobody would like you if they knew what you’re really like.

On one hand, it sounded ridiculous because the people in the group are such lovely human beings, and I wanted to tell them not to listen to their Inner Critic because it lies! However, it also was powerful to hear all these silent voices in other people’s heads, unsilenced.

Actually, I hear the Inner Critic’s voice spoken out loud quite often in my part-time work at the library helping patrons with computer issues. There’s a lot of self-deprecating “I’m so stupid!” declarations, and I always assure people that no, they’re not stupid, and so many other people run into the same issues and feel the same way…because it’s true. Hearing my five-year-old kindergarten students exclaim, “I’m stupid!” broke my heart when I was still teaching. Such frustrated exclamations tended to be followed by tears, hiding behind their coat in their cubby, or pounding the table. The Inner Critic is formed early.

It’s something we all have going on to some extent, and my voice isn’t any more truthful than anyone else’s. We say things to ourselves that we’d never think of saying to a friend or anyone we care about. I can’t even imagine speaking such unkind words to anyone! It felt awful to have to say those words out loud to my partner. And at the end, she told me I was too nice. Too nice to others, perhaps, and yet, I still say those words to myself, especially when I’m tired or stressed.

Next, we repeated the activity, but this time, we replied by saying something like “…and I am a being of light” or “…and I am a seeker on the path”. It felt empowering and expansive, like I was so much bigger than that critical voice in my head and could rise above it. The words couldn’t penetrate like sharp arrows as they did in the first exercise.

We did a number of guided meditations and activities over the weekend aimed at transforming the Inner Critic. I recalled a recent conversation in which I wanted my daughter to realize how strong she is. I told her I know who she is. I was there when she was born and when she was a baby and experienced her radiance, which is still there beneath all the layers of conditioning that have accumulated around it during her lifetime. That’s who she really is – the hidden treasure – and that’s who we really are. Witnessing the birth of my two children and one grandchild showed me that this innocence and radiance is our true nature. We never lost it. We just lost our way to it because other stuff got in the way. Therefore, we don’t have to become more in order to “improve” ourselves. We just have to find our way back to our true nature and release or transform what is false. What a marvelous journey that is.

Our closing activity Sunday afternoon was incredible. Earlier, we did a meditation in which we experienced ourselves as rays of light, each with its own essence and qualities. Before leaving, we stood in two lines and faced the person opposite us. We held hands with that person, took a moment to get centered, and then looked into their eyes and said the words that sprung up from our hearts that described their essence. Then we switched roles. After each person in the pair had a turn expressing and receiving, one line shifted so we had a new partner in front of us. This continued until we had been with ten different partners. It was the polar opposite of the previous day’s exercise, and it was exquisite. By the end, everyone was shining, having been reminded of our beautiful qualities, our deeper essence that shines through the layers of personality and conditioning.

During the four-hour drive home, I voice-recorded the whole experience, to remember.

Then my thoughts turned to my parents. Realizing that so many people have histories of abuse and trust issues, I felt grateful for having parents who were so loving and kind. They were also my parents, and there were conflicts, misunderstandings, projections, roles to play, and things got messy. Although they could be rigid in their thinking and passive-aggressive in their actions, they were truly loving people. They both were sweet souls who never offended or argued with anyone! However, when they were alive, I didn’t notice their beautiful qualities much. I was fixated on their personalities and the roles we played together. In my mind, I criticized my mom for being too sweet and nice and wanted to be different from her.

Since I was their daughter, I experienced other sides of my parents – their fears, the ways in which they wanted to control me or change me. At the time, it felt like judgment and disrespect, but in hindsight I realize they just cared about my welfare so much and wanted me to be happy and successful and had different ideas about how I should go about it. I’d always wanted my parents to be different. More spiritually open-minded and inquisitive, more encouraging of my creativity, less fearful. That’s the personality stuff that got it in way, which was very different and so much smaller than their essence.

When my mom was dying, there was a softening of her personality and the roles we played, and I felt her essence come through more strongly and clearly than ever. It was really beautiful, and I was in awe of it. When we stopped playing our roles, it felt like we could really be Present to each other. That was perhaps the greatest gift of that difficult and anguishing chapter: interacting as two rays of light rather than as mother and daughter.

Now that she’s gone, I can let my light shine even brighter because I’m not trying to suppress the qualities I associated with my mom that are also very strong in me.

So I did that amazing exercise with ten people I’ve only known for a few months and realized that I’d never really allowed myself to see or express to my parents their spiritual essence – the rays of light they emanated in the world. Reflecting on their lovely qualities brought me to tears. Gratitude tears. I appreciated them so very much and felt so connected with their essence – their hidden treasure. The “…and I am a being of light” part of the human experience. Now that my both my parents have passed on, that’s all that remains. How wonderful is that?

Being aware of my parents’ essence helps me to realize that anything they did that hurt me was not done with an intention to do so. That realization helps me to liberate myself from my Inner Critic, which they unknowingly and unintentionally helped to create. One of the gifts of not having them on this earth anymore is how easy it is to acknowledge their divine qualities – the greater energy and pattern of their lives. I have so much gratitude for my parents, even though we were so different in terms of our interests and how we viewed the world.

What about the people who are still in my life?

The Islamic religion recognizes 99 Names of God (Allah), taken from the Koran and the hadith. In Sufi circles, I’ve heard them commonly referred to as the “99 beautiful names”, and I really love this idea. So many different divine qualities to celebrate! When aspirants are initiated to the Sufi path, they are given a spiritual name. Many Sufis have names derived from the 99 beautiful names. However, some are given names from other religious traditions – in my case, Tibetan Buddhism (Tara, associated with the quality of compassion). So the list of 99 names is not exhaustive (in my opinion) but is a wonderful starting point to appreciate the different qualities of light each human being brings to the world.

As I reviewed the list of the 99 names, I considered my loved ones and myself and which rays of light we emanate through the prism of personality.

Each of us is a unique ray of light in this world. Nobody can express light and truth the same way. Our ideas and wisdom might not be anything new that nobody else hasn’t said or offered before. However, the words, energy, and personality we use to convey them is uniquely our own. Nobody can speak in exactly the same voice or communicate it in quite the same way.

So back to the words of my Inner Critic that stabbed the deepest: Nobody is interested in anything you have to offer. First of all, it’s not true. It comes with a hook that I can get caught on if I’m not mindful. However, it’s not true. I can think of plenty of examples that indicate otherwise – and this is part of the work of transforming the Inner Critic. I know better than to allow my Inner Critic to silence me and send me into hiding. It can’t be an excuse not to share my voice, talents, and wisdom. The light we shine in the world has the power to heal and transform others. You can hear the same idea over and over from different sources, but it doesn’t really speak to you until you hear it a certain way – perhaps from a certain personality, using certain examples, or expressed in a language you resonate with.

Let’s not let our Inner Critic silence us or convince us to keep our light to ourselves. (I did that for far too long!) The world needs us to honor and express our essence, truth, and wisdom. It is worthwhile to transform the layers of accumulated “stuff” to find the hidden treasure. And to share that treasure – our True Self – with the world.

Post Script: Alice McDowell, my beloved spiritual guide of 30+ years who leads the Hidden Treasure program, recently published a wonderful book based on the work we do in the program. It’s called Hidden Treasure: How to Break Free of Five Patterns that Hide Your True Self and has received all five-star reviews on Amazon. 


© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this blog post, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (River-Bliss.com) is a contemplative photographer, writer, and educator who lives on the Hudson River. Her work combines her passion for photography and writing with her deep interest in the nature of mind and perception and her love of the natural world. 

The Grace of the Journey

The Grace of the Journey

Maybe it’s a little strange, but I can’t resist heading outdoors with my camera on frigid, winter mornings to photograph a frosty landscape. It’s so thrilling that I almost don’t even feel the cold!

I captured the above image at the beginning of a recent period of brutally cold weather. The weather forecast for upcoming days looked much the same as the conditions that morning, but I was surprised to wake up the next few mornings to no frost whatsoever. Apparently, it was too cold! In fact, it got so cold in the past week that I didn’t take my camera outside at all. Morning temperatures were around -20° F, without windchill!

However, one morning at the end of the deep freeze, Jack showed me an incredibly beautiful video of soap bubbles freezing. (He should have known better.) The frost forming on the bubbles was enchanting, and I remembered that ever since my children were little, I’d wanted to experiment with blowing bubbles when it was well below 0° outdoors. Finally (now that my youngest is 20), the conditions were right. 

So I mixed up a DIY soap bubble solution and headed outdoors with my reluctant assistant who no doubt regretted showing me the video. He blew the bubbles, and I attempted to photograph them. It wasn’t easy! Even though they didn’t pop when they hit the ground, they were like weightless, speedy tumbleweeds! There was a slight breeze, and whenever I tried to scoot a little closer to them to get a better shot, they rolled around too fast for me to catch up with them.

It was brutally cold that morning, close to -30°. Too cold for people and cameras to be outdoors for more than a few minutes, so I didn’t have much time to work with. In the narrow window of opportunity, I managed to get a few shots – but definitely felt the cold!

When Mother Nature doesn’t deliver, sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands and make the best of it. Whatever gets you through the winter!

This morning, for the first time in a while, I noticed some frosted trees in a certain area along the river. I had a plan: I’d snowshoe to the dam, which was next to the frosted trees, for a good view. I hadn’t photographed frosted trees from that spot yet.

So I started on the path but was delayed because I noticed glistening, frosty branches low to the ground along the river and couldn’t resist stopping for a closer look. I spent the next half hour or so photographing the delicate, feathered frost on low branches and noticed that, viewed through my macro lens, the frost resembled ferns and trees.

By the time I made it to the dam, there was no more frost left on the trees. However, I sat on a rock and appreciated the warmth of the sun on my face. After a string of such brutally cold days when the air hurt my face, it was a pleasure not to take for granted.

As I sat on the rock, I realized my morning walk was a metaphor for how I want to journey through life. You can have a destination in mind, but be sure to enjoy the journey! After all, we spend more hours working toward goals than we do attaining them, right? And when we achieve a goal, there’s always a new one to work toward. So we’re constantly working toward something.

But what do we miss along the way when we’re focused on a particular outcome? I thought of all the times I was on the river stalking herons or bald eagles, determined to paddle back home with a decent photograph but missing so many other opportunities along the way – like turtles, dragonflies, or the reflection of sunlight on the surface of the water projected onto the trees so it appears like cells of light flowing down the branches to the center of the tree. 

The other day, I got triggered by a situation and felt my life was falling short, in a big way. That kind of thinking is my kryptonite, and I spent the next day trying not to cross over to the dark side of poverty consciousness and general unworthiness.

Focusing on gratitude helped a lot. While showshoeing late in the afternoon, I felt grateful because there was enough snow for snowshoeing and because it stayed light late enough for me to go snowshoeing when I finally got home. Also, it was so wonderful to be outdoors breathing fresh air that didn’t hurt my face!

These gratitudes led to more, and before I knew it, my snowshoe walk had turned into a gratitude walk, which raised my energy and improved my mood. I realized how much I have compared to so many other people in the world. I have food on the table, a roof over my head, a warm coat, snowshoes on my feet, and everything I need. Furthermore, to borrow a line from Hafiz, “Any king would trade his throne for the splendor my eye can see.”

When we work toward a particular goal, the danger is that we will feel we’re not enough as we are right now and need to achieve the goal in order to measure up. But don’t you dare believe such toxic thoughts! When I tried not to cross over to the dark side where feelings of lack would convince me I was in need of something that would make me feel more whole and complete, these words came to me:

As I snowshoed and drove around, I repeated the words over and over because it was really important to reprogram my thoughts and let the message sink in. Create new neural pathways.

Our journey through life is so much more enjoyable when we appreciate what we already have and believe we are already whole and complete and don’t need to achieve a particular goal to have value and worth and to feel good. If we can have a lighter attitude of curiosity and joy and not be so heavy and serious, we can experiment with growing and expanding toward our goals without making our worth dependent on a successful outcome. We can notice more, follow our intuition, and feel good as we travel along, not only when we finally arrive. We can even give ourselves freedom to fail, which I believe is good practice.

This morning, falling in love with the frosted branches along the way made the whole journey worth it. The destination wasn’t dazzling, and therefore I didn’t get pictures of frosted trees. However, the journey – of curiosity and delight – made up for it. So this is a little reminder not to be so focused on the end result (whatever it is for you) that you deprive yourself of tiny pleasures, positive thoughts, and intuitive nudges that make the journey more delicious.

Enjoy the journey, knowing you are already enough exactly as you are right now!

© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this blog post, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (River-Bliss.com) is a contemplative photographer, writer, and educator who lives on the Hudson River. Her work combines her passion for photography and writing with her deep interest in the nature of mind and perception and her love of the natural world. 

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