Contemplative Photography & Reflections

Category: Tender Loving Self-Care

Tuning Out and Tuning In

Tuning Out and Tuning In

Imagine what it would be like to be raised with the belief that all the answers you want and need are inside you. Imagine being taught from a young age the importance of dropping down into yourself every day, becoming still, focusing on your breathing, and allowing all the mental chatter to settle so you can hear your own wisdom. Can you even imagine? I recently listened to an interview with two daughters of a spiritual teacher who described their upbringing this way, and it blew my mind! Imagine the possibilities! It certainly wasn’t the way I was raised. It’s a concept I’ve been familiar with for a long time but didn’t really believe, deep down in my bones, until quite recently. And it feels like a total game-changer.

A dear friend shared with me her story of a recent commute to work. Normally, she drinks a smoothie in her car as she drives along a winding road near her house that she knows like the back of her hand. This particular morning, as she reached for her smoothie, a voice arose inside her that told her not to drink it. Although she thought it was peculiar, she listened to the voice, and when she went around one of the next turns, she was shocked to discover an unaccompanied toddler in the road! Apparently, the child’s caregiver didn’t notice the child had slipped out of the house and made his way down the long driveway, all the way to the dangerous, country road. Had my friend tipped her head back to drink her smoothie as she normally did, she might not have noticed the child until it was too late. Fortunately, she listened to the voice and was able to help the child get back home safely.

Last weekend, Jack went out for a drive and returned home quite shaken. He explained that he was driving along, and a voice arose in him that said the purple car up ahead in the distance was going to pull out in front of him. The voice took him by surprise. As he got closer to the purple car, sure enough: It did pull out in front of him, causing Jack’s vehicle to screech and swerve. Had he not listened to the voice, he probably wouldn’t have paid such close attention to the purple car or reduced his speed ahead of time. It could have been a bad accident. In addition to being shaken by nearly getting in an accident, he was in awe of the voice that knew what was about to happen and was looking out for him.

We all have that voice inside us, and I’ve learned through plenty of experience that when I follow it, I’m much better off than when I don’t. It seems to be the voice of a sophisticated intelligence that connects us with our greater self, like E.T. phoning home or vice versa.

Last month, I committed to taking time for self-care first thing in the morning and not checking emails or social media until after I have checked in with myself. Sometimes it takes the form of kayaking on the calm river because that’s where I tend to hear the voice of inner wisdom most clearly. One morning, I paddled across the river, reflecting on what a great decision it was to be on the river instead of doing any number of other things. My phone rang, but I did not answer it and felt good about how disciplined I was with regard to my self-care time. I thought: I paddle through stillness to a quiet spot where a deeper voice arises. Right after thinking and recording that thought into my phone, a feather floated by me. It gave off an electric energy that compelled me to turn around and take a second look, and I realized it was a bald eagle feather! In all my years on the river – in all my years on this planet – I had never come across an eagle feather and considered it a powerful sign that a feather held to be so sacred would float by me like that. It seemed like a nod from the Universe for taking the time to turn away from distractions and tune in to my authentic self.

One morning earlier this month, I got out of bed at a ridiculous hour and felt compelled to take a long drive because I was certain it was the right thing to do. It would have been much more convenient to stay in bed, but I knew I needed to get up and drive. The inner guidance was very loud and clear! The image of a particular scenic overlook popped into my mind, and I wondered if I’d end up anywhere around there for the sunrise. I never checked my GPS to see what time I would arrive; I just kept driving. Amazingly, I arrived there exactly as the sun was about to peek over the distant mountains. I didn’t have to wait at all or linger to catch it but arrived at precisely the right moment, without rushing or trying. I experienced a glorious sunrise that now serves as a symbol of following my inner knowing. Every time I look at pictures of that sunrise, I feel the power of following my intuition.

On the other hand, I recently didn’t follow my inner guidance and ended up suffering a painful injury that absolutely could have been avoided if I had been more rested and centered and therefore better able to access and act on my intuition. Sometimes, the worst pain compels people to do whatever they can to medicate it away. But it can be an opportunity to really drop down into yourself and see what’s going on – what’s getting in the way of you feeling better and healing. That’s what I’ve been doing during my convalescence while staying close to home and keeping things real simple. 

Did I ever get in touch with what was holding me back as I writhed, cried, and prayed my way through excruciating pain! I confronted some deep issues and patterns that mostly involve not following my inner wisdom throughout my life – whether to please others, to be loved and accepted, or because I truly believed other people knew better than I did what was best for me. I began this healing journey feeling awful about how I betrayed and injured myself as a result of not listening to the voice of my greater self. I wanted more than anything to go back in time and prevent the injury from happening in the first place. However, when I started tuning in to my inner guidance, I realized the importance of accepting the situation and even being thankful for it because it is an opportunity for seriously deep healing and overcoming unhealthy habits I had not been able to free myself from any other way. I think I needed this to happen in order for deeper healing to take place. I’ve been listening closely to my body and what foods it wants for healing. I’ve rediscovered the joy of true nourishment and am naturally gravitating away from certain foods and people that take me out of alignment with my true self. 

It feels so good to tune in to my inner guidance system. I’m happy to report that I turned a corner over the weekend and began to feel much better. No more pain! As I started to expand my food choices and communications, I noticed instantly which ones didn’t feel right. They were more of a jolt to my system than usual because I’d been so tuned in to what felt right. I realize the importance of making space for stillness and tuning in to my inner wisdom on a daily basis. If I’d been doing that all along, I probably wouldn’t have ended up in this situation.

Sometimes it’s really hard to follow inner guidance. It’s easier or more fun or exciting to remain in denial or not face your fear, or maybe you don’t want to disappoint someone. But following intuition saves us from so much more suffering, and when we are ready, it is there for us, helping us find our way through what might feel like a no-win situation. Even though we may convince ourselves otherwise, doing what’s in harmony with our greater self will ultimately benefit everyone else, too. I have learned the hard way that betraying myself causes the worst suffering and that tap dancing around issues and being afraid to speak and act on my inner knowing ultimately prolongs and worsens the unconsciousness and suffering for all involved.

You can do the work on your own proactively, or you can wait for the Universe to step in and help you along. It is usually more comfortable and empowering to do it on your own. But if you are unable to do it on your own for whatever reason, the Universe will step in eventually. And when that happens, no matter how painful it is, be grateful. If this level of pain is what it took to get me back in alignment with my inner knowing, then so be it. The feeling of being in harmony with both my body and my greater self is its own reward.


© 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.

Out of My Head

Out of My Head

This morning, I woke up feeling unsettled. Perhaps you can relate? For me, it was a combination of family concerns, feeling overbooked this week and trying to do too much, feeling the usual nervousness/excitement about the photo shoot I’d have later in the morning, and current events. Even though I don’t watch TV or have cable, I don’t live in a bubble, and there was no escaping the topsy-turvy energy in the air. We are deep in eclipse energy at this time, with the solar eclipse only a few days away, and the energy is palpable.

Normally, on the morning of a photo shoot I’d get up and pack up my gear before doing anything else – jump right into the day. But not this morning. I realized I was out of balance and too much in my head and needed to drop down into my body and senses and out of my thoughts. Before getting out of bed, I took a few moments to do a body scan and feel the energy of what Eckhart Tolle calls the inner body and noticed some tension. Shifting my awareness to what it felt like inside my body was a good first step to get me out of my head. It’s the difference between judging the tension as somehow not okay (i.e. there’s something wrong with me) and feeling compelled to do something about it vs. simply noticing, feeling, and allowing it. Yoga works wonders for that, too, and other physical activities, including taking a walk along the river or a beach. Not walking to get somewhere or to check off the exercise box but to experience the sound of the river flowing or the sensation of my feet touching the sand. Being in relationship…with my environment and my body. Not judging or trying…just experiencing. Expanding beyond the thoughts in my head.

Though I was tempted to start the day with yoga, the river was nice and calm, like glass, and I decided to go out in my kayak before doing anything else, while the morning air was still a bit cool. But since I had been dwelling so much in my head, I felt it was time to ramp up the self-care and packed a little breakfast picnic-for-one. I poured steaming, hot water into a travel mug and slipped a tea bag into it, pausing to consider what flavor tea I was really in the mood for rather than grabbing something out of habit. I also packed my favorite mug, for an extra special touch that would help to pull me out of my head and into delightful sensory impressions, such as how beautiful my mug was and how nice it felt in my hands. Then I paddled onto the calm river.

Immediately, I realized that in times like this, it helps to ground ourselves in presence and spaciousness, where peace presides. It doesn’t matter what is going on in the world or in our little corner of it, or what we feel compelled to do about it. Everything we do will be more effective if we first ground ourselves in spaciousness. 

I took out my phone to take a picture and saw that I had several social media notifications, but I had no desire to check them because I was on the river immersed in stillness and beauty, where nothing was missing. Beginning the day like this – with mindfulness and intention – makes a difference.

I arrived at my favorite place to float and stopped paddling. It was tea time! I heard the beating of wings but didn’t see a bird lift off around me. (If I were absorbed in thought, I probably wouldn’t have heard it.) A few still, quiet moments later, I heard the sound again and realized it was the beating of a dragonfly’s wings. The dragonfly zipped around my kayak and then landed on my right shoulder! That was a first! Dragonflies have landed on my kayak and stayed for a while, but not on me. It stayed on my shoulder for about five minutes!

I was not in my head at all during those five magical minutes. I experienced awe and noticed how the dragonfly’s wings shimmered with light. I felt connected with the dragonfly, completely in the moment and free from habitual thought and monkey-mind. Tears of joy streamed down my face. 

After the dragonfly flew off, I realized that in this moment, I am enough. I realized that’s always the case, even though I don’t always remember it. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in being busy and getting things done, checking emails and social media, and you have to stop and pause to cut through all the layers of busy-ness and remember that you’re already enough. No activity or communication is necessary to complete you because you already are whole, warts and all. So bask in it. Embrace it. As Pema Chodron would say, befriend it – whatever you find there.

Stop. Be still. Listen. Feel. Befriend. Then you can discern what’s important and what’s not and get a clearer sense of what to do and keep and what to let go of. This is an antidote to reactivity.

Several moments later, a dragonfly (possibly the same one) landed on my paddle, and then a second one came along. Their bodies touched, and they did a spiral dance (that resembled a DNA strand) together before zipping off together. They made me think of my parents, and it felt like they were with me in this spacious field of presence. Earlier this summer, I dreamed that my mom was with me and communicated that she had been trying to get through to me, but I hadn’t been paying attention because I was too busy focusing on other things, filling my head with thoughts and to-do lists and not making space or being quiet enough for much else to come in. Immersed in nature, my thinking mind settles into the background, into stillness, and I experience spaciousness, where what is most important arises and makes itself known.

With things as they seem now in the world and close to home, it was restorative to be out on the calm, mirror-like river. It was like pushing the reset button. I noticed some ripples on the surface, but then they radiated into the distance, and the water was calm and clear again. Thought ripples! It seemed like the surface of the river reflected my mind and brought me back into calm and stillness as it regained those very qualities. Immersed in nature and sensory impressions, the calming solitude was a channel I really needed to tune in to. When a thought crept in about current events, practical matters, challenging relationships, etc., they were more noticeable and less compelling because I was connected with something so much larger. 

My peach nectar tea was still hot and more delicious than usual.

Then I paddled back to shore and began the day.


© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2017. SHARING IS CARING, and I appreciate my work being shared with others! Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer (River-Bliss.com). Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. In other words, I put my heart and soul into my writing and photography and want to be credited for it and have some traffic sent my way. It’s the high vibration thing to do! 🙂

Practicing Gratitude

Practicing Gratitude

This morning I got up in time to experience the sunrise, and while I was waiting to witness the first rays of this new day, I was inspired to share with you how a simple practice of gratitude has transformed my life. But first, the sunrise. Ahhh – such peace.

 

I have kept a journal on and off throughout my life, but several years ago it occurred to me that I tended to use it as a tool for venting my frustrations – and that if someone were to read it someday, s/he might get the impression that I was a very unhappy person, which was not the case. I didn’t want to leave behind that kind of legacy in print.

Somewhere I came across the idea of keeping a gratitude journal. The idea was to spend a few moments at the end of each day writing down five things for which I am grateful. It is simple to do and only takes a minute or two. However, this practice has had profound effects on my life over the past five or more years that I have been doing it.

I select a journal that strikes me as beautiful and feels good in my hands. I prefer journals with pages that can lay completely flat. The one shown below has a pocket in the back that is handy for holding ticket stubs, photos, notes, etc. I also use a pen that writes smoothly and feels good to hold. The experience of keeping a gratitude journal needs to be inviting. It may or may not involve a cup of herbal tea. (Usually it doesn’t, but I like the idea.)

 

Pausing to recall positive experiences and impressions is a lovely way to end the day. I fall asleep focused on happy thoughts rather than anxieties. This makes for better sleep.

I write down anything that struck my fancy or uplifted me during the day: Conversations with family members, the earthy smell of a homegrown tomato, the proud smile on a student’s face when he showed me how he learned to write the number five, comfortable clothes, eating a pomegranate, holding my husband’s hand while taking a walk, a smile from a stranger, the sound of my children’s laughter, heated car seats, the aroma of bread baking, having a washing machine – anything at all. When feeling down, it is comforting to open up my gratitude journals and remember all that has brought a smile to my heart. Some days (for example, when I am tuned to the “overwhelm” channel) it is more difficult to think of things for which I am grateful, and the list may consist simply of: good health, electricity, warm house, plenty of food, and a steady paycheck. But think about it: These basic things are tremendous blessings! Consider food: 47% of the world’s population doesn’t have food security! Sometimes it’s useful to acknowledge and appreciate these fundamental blessings that may go unnoticed on other days. Doing so is a surefire antidote to feeling sorry for oneself.

 

I find that when I set the intention to write in my gratitude journal each evening, my mind is busy looking for examples throughout the day. The result is that I notice more of the good stuff than I did prior to keeping a gratitude journal. Noticing is the first step. When you are able to notice, you can more fully savor the positive elements of your day. I literally find myself stopping frequently to smell the flowers or take in a beautiful sight. My mind is being trained to catch the fleeting moments and really experience them as they happen. The journey is one of joy.

 

After practicing gratitude for several years, I find that I am a happier, more peaceful person. Even in the midst of a difficult situation, I can glance out the window and appreciate a bird flying by or a leaf twirling gracefully to the ground. They are like little teachers reminding me that beauty is all around, even when I’m knee-deep in muck. Attuned to gratitude, it is easier to put challenges into perspective and not give them too much weight. Most of the troubles with which we burden our minds are so petty!

At this point, keeping a gratitude journal is no longer necessary in order to more fully savor and appreciate the goodness of life; the compass of my awareness points in that direction. However, I still try to maintain this daily practice. I also focus on gratitude as I drive to work each morning.

 

Some people develop a grateful heart as a result of some kind of wake-up call in their life – perhaps an illness, injury, or loss of some sort. For me, I think it was financial hardship. At some point when my children were young, I came across the book, Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel, which helped to put things in perspective for me. Although it was published in 1994 and is now somewhat dated, it remains on my bookshelf, and I pull it out (along with my gratitude journals) when I feel my life situation is somehow deficient. This book features portraits of families from 30 different nations outside their homes surrounded by all of their possessions. In some portraits, there is little more than a few pots or jugs. Some families live in war zones with mortar shell holes blasted through their walls. What an eye-opener. After spending a few minutes with this book, I realize how privileged I am. Peter Menzel has a number of books out, and all of them are wonderful.

I remember hearing my friend, Al, tell me about a trip he took to Calcutta and how he saw children who were impoverished beyond belief radiating great joy while experiencing simple pleasures. Al, himself, is one of the most content people I know, despite having very few material possessions aside from an extensive record collection that brings him great joy. Likewise, my friend, Trish, and my daughter’s friend, Dionna, remind me to be truly grateful for good health.

Our lives are full of blessings that are often taken for granted. Something magical happens when we become more aware of the big and little things for which we can be grateful. Speaking from my own experience, life becomes a more joyful journey. Gratitude gives a buoyant quality to life.

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

Time for Sleep

Time for Sleep

This week, I have spent several hours viewing livestreamed and webcasted talks given by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama during his speaking engagements throughout New England (and also Virginia). Ever since taking a world religions course in college more than 25 years ago, His Holiness has been one of my greatest personal and spiritual heroes and a source of deep inspiration. His life experience and relationship with the Chinese government provide me with a model for dealing with adversarial themes in my own life while remaining rooted in kindness and compassion. I am grateful for the technology that makes it possible to watch these live and recorded events, particularly after an unsuccessful attempt to purchase tickets for his public talk at Middlebury College.

During one of this week’s talks, a questioner asked how the Dalai Lama can maintain such a busy lifestyle without compromising his health. He responded with gusto, “Good sleep!” He went on to explain that he gets eight or nine hours of sound sleep every night. During this morning’s talk at Middlebury College, he stated, “My sleep is an important part of my meditation,” and once again expounded on the importance of sleep.

I found this interesting because the day before I heard him speak about this topic, I arrived at the realization that getting a good night’s sleep is an important contribution to world peace. My reasoning was based on the assertion that world peace is generated from inner peace. Inner peace arises from a happy heart and mind, and I realized that depriving myself of sleep tends to compromise my mood and my ability to manage the normal stressors of everyday life.

I haven’t been able to go on the river this week because it’s been too windy and cold; the water has been rough. I’m sure there will be more opportunities for river bliss before retiring the kayaks for the winter, but the season is winding down along with the garden. In fact, we had our first frost last night.


Soon it will be the season of the wood stove, candles, and shorter days.


And you know what? That sounds like a great opportunity for getting more sleep!

I have been shortchanging my sleep since June because there has been so much to see and do during the longer, warmer days. Toward the end of summer, preserving tomatoes (canning, drying, sauce-making) and other gifts of the garden occupied a lot of my “free” time. So did experiencing and photographing the outdoors. Trying to fit in creative pursuits after resuming full-time teaching more than a month ago has presented additional challenges to getting a good night’s sleep. But the act of creating is like breathing to the artist’s soul, and I can’t not do it. I just have to remind myself constantly that adequate rest is perhaps even more important and put some boundaries around my creative endeavors.

Among the lessons I learned from observing the water lilies on the river all summer was the importance of getting plenty of rest. By 2:00 or 3:00 p.m., they already were closed back into tight green pods until the following morning. The beauty they gave to the world during their waking hours was breathtaking. It was as if they put all their energy into blooming fully and then needed lots of time to regenerate in order to do it again the next day. They spoke to me of balance and simplicity – not trying to do too much. It seems to me that there is a certain amount of doing that is necessary and healthy each day, and anything beyond that only serves the ego, which is never satisfied. We need to discern when enough is enough and call it quits for the day.


This week, I have begun prioritizing sleep. It requires a great deal of discipline because there is so much I want to accomplish and experience each day. However, sleep needs to come first! It is the foundation for everything else, including having the energy and motivation to get enough physical exercise, maintain a healthy diet, and generate enough mindfulness and patience to manage my classroom, home life, and other interactions effectively.

During the summer, I often had to choose between experiencing the sunrise or the nighttime sky (made more compelling by the fanciful glow of thousands of fireflies around the yard and the allure of moonlit kayaking). I usually chose the latter. During the cooler months, it is easier to do both and still get a good night’s sleep. This is one reason to welcome the cooler weather and darker months as the sun favors the southern hemisphere and travels a path lower on the horizon.  

I have had numerous conversations during the past week with friends who are experiencing tangible and measurable symptoms of too much stress. In our fast-paced world where many of us find ourselves burdened with heavier workloads and impossible demands put upon us, I feel the Dalai Lama’s simple advice is much needed. We can come up with umpteen excuses to keep running on the treadmill in a futile attempt to satisfy the appetites of all the egos in our lives. However, peace and happiness in our hearts, our homes, and our world depends on everyone taking personal responsibility for meeting this most basic need for sleep. With proper rest comes greater creativity for problem solving the issues that confront us in our daily lives. With a good night’s sleep, our minds are clearer, and our actions are more effective.

So why not join me in doing ourselves and everyone around us a favor by prioritizing a good night’s sleep?  

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

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