Contemplative Photography & Reflections

Category: Personal & Spiritual Growth

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 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. 

Deep-Freeze Vision Board Inspiration

Deep-Freeze Vision Board Inspiration

I just completed my first personal growth creative project of the year and am excited to tell you about it! It’s a project that’s ideal for this time of year, not just because of the New Year but because the bitter cold, shorter days present a wonderful opportunity for going inward when it’s too cold to spend much time outdoors. 

I overhauled my vision board so it sparkles with fresh, new energy!

I created my first vision board two years ago. It was a simple one on which I glued pictures and words that inspired me and supported my goals. That year, I focused on abundance and freeing myself from abundance blocks and therefore included several positive affirmations related to prosperity. It was a memorable experience because I completed it before going to bed one night, and I hadn’t even fallen asleep before I received a phone call from my daughter who told me she was in labor! It was perfect timing. 

Later in the year, I created another vision board – a supercharged feng shui version – after returning from a life-transforming trip to visit relatives on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. Spending nearly two weeks with them was a profound experience that helped me to better understand myself and where I come from. It was the first time in my life that I really felt at home and understood around people from the family system I was born into. Relatives who share my love of nature and my affinity for artistic creativity and writing. I experienced a sense of true belonging and being appreciated for who I was, rather than feeling like the family oddball. Finding my tribe right in my family tree changed everything, and a new vision board was in order.

I loved my feng shui vision board! I learned how to make it under the guidance of a mentor who is a feng shui expert, and it’s different from a “typical” vision board because it has separate spaces for each of the nine areas of the bagua:

  • Wealth, Prosperity, and Abundance
  • Fame, Reputation, and Recognition
  • Love and Marriage
  • Family and Community
  • Health and Unity
  • Children, Creativity, and New Beginnings
  • Knowledge and Wisdom
  • Career and Life’s Journey
  • Helpful People and Travel

I put my vision board on the wall next to my bed, and every morning it was the first thing I saw when I woke up. Then I’d bring it downstairs so I’d see it during the day. It was with me day and night, and I even photographed it and printed out a mini version to carry around with me. The energy coming off it was that powerful, and I found it to be a highly motivating tool for creating a more authentic and empowered life. 

As I achieved various goals, I’d remove those pictures/words from the vision board, to make room for new ones and keep it relevant.

However, I noticed that for the past month or two, my vision board remained on my bedroom wall. The spaces on it made the placement of the remaining pictures and words seem not quite right (visual person that I am), and it just didn’t have the oomph it used to have. I didn’t feel drawn to it because it felt cluttered. There were some pictures and words on it that didn’t resonate anymore, especially in the Career section. Too many different possibilities which made me feel pulled in too many directions. 

Also, I’d recently undergone another big, inner transformation as a result of decluttering my entire home and focusing on mindful self-compassion for the past year. Now it was time to declutter my vision board and infuse it with fresh energy that fit with the new me! 

I used the existing structure to revamp each section, and now it sparkles with inspiring energy again, and it doesn’t stay on my bedroom wall! I enjoy creating simple, daily rituals to keep me focused on what’s most important and recently came up with a new one that features my vision board and feels really good, too!

I love to give myself hand and foot massages and remembered that I have a foot massage roller that I haven’t used in a while and Chinese medicine balls, as well. So I put them under my bed and start the day = sitting on the edge of my bed and using the hand and foot massagers while looking at my vision board for a few minutes and reminding myself of what’s most important. Sweeeet!

It’s a great way to get focused first thing in the morning.

Another ritual I enjoy is to look at my vision board while doing my “tea meditation”. (I wrote a blog post about it.) Essentially, it involves practicing feeling the feelings of attaining my vision board goals as I hold the cup of tea in my hands, and imagining those feelings going into the tea before consuming it. It’s one of my favorite cold weather meditations!

If you’ve never made a vision board, it’s pretty simple to do! It used to be that you’d need a stack of magazines to look through for inspiring words and images, but Google searches make it so much easier to find inspiring images now! Magazines are still good sources of words, but you also can print out words yourself using different fonts and colors. I hold onto the Omega and Kripalu retreat center catalogs that come in the mail, for words and ideas. Hay House and Sounds True have some really great book and audiobook titles that are great for vision boards! And my Inspirational Photo Gallery and Instagram account is filled with “quote pictures” (my latest creative passion!) – some of which I included on my own vision board. There are so many sources of vision board inspiration available!

There are apps to create virtual vision boards, and another option is to create a Pinterest board for a vision board. However, there is value in creating a physical vision board because you only have a limited amount of space to fit in what’s most important to you. That cuts out a lot of clutter and can help you stay focused.

Making a vision board is a great cold weather project. I really appreciate this time of year because it’s a time to go inward, get in touch with yourself, and decide what you want to cultivate in your inner garden this year – how you want to expand. If you’re interested, Google “vision boards” for some inspiration, and give it a go! 

© 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.

Supercharging the New Year

Supercharging the New Year

I’m so excited because it’s that time of year again! Time to reflect on 2017 and set intentions for 2018. I’m not talking about resolutions but supercharged goals and intentions and tools that keep me focused on my vision of who I want to be and what I want to do and manifest in the next year. Magical, life enhancing stuff!

For the past two years, I’ve been using the My Shining Year Life Workbook to set goals and intentions, and it’s made such a positive difference! I’ve also been using a (recently discontinued) companion daily planner with pages for setting intentions at the beginning of each month and reflecting at the end of each month, which are monthly rituals I really look forward to. Since it’s the end of the year, this week I’ve been going through all the monthly reflection pages and am compiling a big list of all the dreams and goals that came true, the difficulties and challenges, the lessons I’ve learned, and what I’m immensely grateful for. It’s a deep and meaningful process that helps me to put the year in perspective, acknowledge the big and little things I have accomplished, see patterns, and LET IT GO with gratitude, to prepare for more wonderful things to come in the New Year. 

It’s an opportunity for celebration and an invitation to cultivate self-compassion and equanimity and to reaffirm my inherent worthiness despite anything and everything that happened or didn’t happen during the year. It’s a time to realize that I am no better or worse than anyone else and to feel connected with everyone who struggles with human shortcomings and wants to feel good. Which is everyone.

In 2017, I checked off lots of goals, experienced huge personal challenges, and bombed abysmally in some ways. However, it’s been a big year for learning HUGE, pivotal lessons, and that list alone is massive and makes me grateful for all the challenges that contributed to so much deep learning and inner transformation.

It’s all grist for the mill, every bit of it. It all serves a purpose in our spiritual evolution, even the stuff that didn’t feel good at the time.

I have to admit that I’ve felt some sorrow acknowledging some of what I’ve experienced in the past year. Lots of whys: Why did I put up with some of the things I did? But it only hurts because hindsight is 20/20 and because I am wiser now as a result of what I have experienced. You can always look back and wish you had done things differently. But we have to give ourselves some credit and trust we did the best we could at the time with the understanding, experience, and resources we had. It’s useful to take an honest look at the patterns of the past year to understand ourselves better, especially if we can have compassion for ourselves rather than judgment. 

Even though I have shed some tears this week, these realizations don’t sting as much as they would have if I hadn’t learned to be kind to myself, which is what I focused my attention on this year. And THAT is a HUGE personal victory for which I am profoundly grateful! Even if it doesn’t show on the outside, today I am very different than I was a year ago.

The New Year is a great opportunity to reflect on the past year, look for patterns, push the reset button, and envision a new path ahead. It doesn’t mean we have to put pressure on ourselves to be perfect going forward. Not at all. This time of reflection should be a time of joy and hope, connecting with our true essence, and re-envisioning how we can express it more authentically. It’s not about perfection. It’s about being authentic and true to ourselves! 

Although the planner I’ve been using for the past two years has been discontinued, it’s okay because even though the process of using it has been so rich and fulfilling, I found the format too thick, bulky, and hard to open and flip through. Even before I learned it would be discontinued, I planned to create my own version because I found myself skipping certain sections every month that didn’t resonate.

So ta-da! I made my own customized planner! And if you’d like, you can make your own, too. In fact, I’ll share with you my monthly system of intention- and goal-setting because it is so fun and gratifying and has made such a difference in my life that I’d love for you to experience, too!

Customize an Ordinary Planner to Make It Awesome

Originally, I’d considered making a planner from scratch, including designing weekly and monthly page templates. But then I thought: Why reinvent the wheel? Why not work with something that’s already available and just needs a little tweaking to customize it to my needs?

So I shopped around for the most perfect planner I could find. I had to love the weekly and monthly layouts and overall design. It had to feel good in my hands and look nice. I decided on an At-A-Glance planner from Staples.

It didn’t knock my socks off straight off the shelf, but I saw possibilities in it. It had potential. 

I didn’t love the cover. Red isn’t the color I would have chosen for a planner, but it is an energetic color that wakes you up and inspires action. I came up with a way to de-emphasize the redness by attaching inspiring quote pictures to the front cover and end pages. BAM! Instant, customized upgrade. I chose quote pictures that I created and that resonate strongly with my vision of how I want to grow in the new year. Quote pictures that could serve as a compass and keep me on track. I covered the front side of the pictures with clear packing tape so they’d better withstand daily use and then glued the cover photo on with tacky glue and affixed additional pictures to the inside cover and end pages.

Now it absolutely sparkled with the energy of what’s most important to me!

Then I went page-by-page through each week and wrote uplifting, alliterative adjectives before each day of the week. For example:

  • MONDAYS: Miraculous, Manifesting, Magic
  • TUESDAYS: Terrific
  • WEDNESDAYS: Wonderful, Wealthy
  • THURSDAYS: Thriving, Thankful
  • FRIDAYS: Fun, Fearless, Fabulous
  • SATURDAYS: Super, Spirited, Spectacular, Sensational
  • SUNDAYS: Soulful, Shining

I also indicated all new and full moons, astronomical events (meteor showers, eclipses), holidays, birthdays, school vacations, and miscellaneous reminders. 

Once I settle on a sacred word/theme for 2018 (which I think will be EMPOWER), I will write inspirational quotes related to that theme at the top of each weekly spread. Or perhaps that will be part of my weekly ritual. It’s all about staying focused!

My planner has a fabric cover that probably won’t wear well if it rubs up against other objects on a daily basis. Therefore, I store it in a plastic ziplock bag for an extra layer of protection.

Monthly Intentions & Reflections Journal

Now, the only thing missing from my planner was the intentions and reflection pages for each month, which is what made it beyond awesome. So I created a little workbook to serve that purpose. It features a photo for each month with an original, inspirational quote based on themes relevant to that time of year. Although I’ve been setting intentions and recording reflections faithfully on a monthly basis for the past two years with the planners I’ve been using, I like the idea of following a lunar cycle for the upcoming year. Therefore, I included the dates of the lunar cycle for each month to allow for that option. Then I made space for monthly:

  • intentions
  • goals
  • pleasures to experience
  • mantra/affirmation/quote/word to focus on
  • desired feelings
  • goal-supporting resources
  • inspirational question related to what’s happening in nature.

At the end of each month or lunar cycle, there’s space to reflect on accomplishments and successes, difficulties, gratitude, and lessons learned.

You could do this in a notebook (perhaps a three-ring binder with sections for each month) or purchase my 2018 Monthly Intentions & Reflections Journal, which is the resource I created for my own personal use.

Inspirational Bucket List

The secret sauce that provides a lot of material for my monthly intentions is a bucket list of things to do in the new year. Simply make a list of everything you can think of (up to 100 items) that you’d like to do and experience during the year. It can include anything, in any area of your life, no matter how large or small. (I included my 2016 list in this post, which might provide you with some ideas.) You might have a certain goal or project in mind that can be broken down into a number of smaller steps, which you can pencil into the relevant months of the intentions/reflections journal. Do the same with goals you want to focus on at certain times of year, such as travel goals, for example.

Although it’s certainly not necessary, I’ve grouped my bucket list into categories mostly borrowed from feng shui, including:

  • Abundance & Prosperity
  • Fame & Reputation
  • Home
  • Love & Marriage
  • Family & Community
  • Health & Body
  • Creativity & Children (including a sub-category of nature photography goals)
  • Spiritual Growth
  • Skills & Knowledge
  • Career & Life Journey
  • Helpful People
  • Travel
  • Nature
  • Organization (this is where I listed my decluttering goals).

At the beginning of every month when I’m filling out the Setting Intentions page, I refer to my bucket list to see if there’s anything from it to include in that month’s goals. That way, I don’t miss anything!

Daily Gratitude

I’ve been keeping a daily gratitude journal for more than ten years now and wrote a blog post a few years ago about how that practice enriches and has transformed my life greatly. Since my monthly reflection page includes a section on gratitude, my gratitude journal goes hand in hand with the other resources to help me live intentionally and mindfully throughout the year. It’s lovely to review what I’ve been grateful for each month and to select the most wonderful “gratitudes” to record on the reflection page. Writing five things in my gratitude journal at the end of each day helps to raise my energy/vibration and promote positive feelings, and when you focus on gratitude every day, you find more to be grateful for!

Putting It All Together: The Magical Manifesting Bag

I carry my “Magical Manifesting Bag” with me everywhere I go! It includes:

  • My Shining Life Workbook
  • Customized daily planner
  • Monthly Intentions & Reflections Journal
  • Gratitude journal
  • A folder of supporting/relevant materials 
  • Pens and pencils
  • A pad of sticky notes
  • An eraser
  • Shiny star stickers (it’s the kindergarten teacher in me)
  • Correction tape
  • A glue stick.

I carry it everywhere because I’m constantly coming up with new ideas for what I want to do and how I want to express myself in the world! My Magical Manifesting Bag is like an extension of myself. Keeping my written goals and intentions close keeps me focused on them and encourages me to take action toward my goals every day. It makes them more real!

Find a tote bag that raises your spirits when you look at it, or designate a special container or box to hold your “manifesting resources”. And be sure to refer to it as your Magical Manifesting Bag or something equally magical!

So there you have it: My tried and true system for supercharging my vision for the upcoming year! There are a few other tips I’m eager to share, but I think this is enough for now!

I wish you a very happy, healthy, and hopeful New Year filled with all kinds of sweet surprises and revelations about how magnificent you are and what you are capable of!


© 2017 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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