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Journal

Back in Balance

Back in Balance

It’s been a while since I’ve balanced rocks by the sea, which is one of my favorite things to do. Right now, I’m visiting my relatives on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. It’s the first time I’ve made it to either coast this year. 

It’s been 2-1/2 years since I last visited my Canadian relatives, and it’s great to be back. I’m so glad I didn’t cancel my trip, which is what seemed inevitable last week due to personal stuff, over-scheduling, and Air Canada changing my travel itinerary in a big way. I called to request that they change my itinerary to something more reasonable than having a 12-hour, overnight layover in Chicago. However, the rep said I’d have to pay a $100 change fee in addition to any price difference. I made my flight reservations back in March, and this would nearly double what I paid originally.

When I considered canceling my trip, pictures of my Vancouver-area relatives on my vision board reminded me how important it is to connect with them. I went away for my group retreat weekend immediately before my scheduled trip, and a few dear women there encouraged me to call Air Canada again and speak with a different rep. They also pointed out that leaning into the drama is an Enneagram Four pattern that I might want to be aware of. Perhaps do something different. Get a little distance from it, and avoid letting other people’s issues stop me from doing what’s best for me!

I took their advice and called Air Canada, and everything was resolved easily without any extra charges. I thanked the rep profusely and felt so happy that I could visit my beloved relatives! My cousin generously offered to pick me up from Vancouver airport, which simplified travel plans greatly. 

We spent some time enjoying Granville Island and Stanley Park in Vancouver before taking the ferry to the Sunshine Coast. The timing was perfect for an incredible sunset on the Strait of Georgia.

There is a rocky beach about a 10-minute walk from my relatives’ house where I enjoyed balancing rocks during my previous stay. I never see anyone on that beach. It’s like my own, private playground, and it’s awesome.

I noticed a starfish on the beach and picked it up along with some rocks that caught my eye. My first balance of the year was a fun warmup that featured the starfish.

The next day, it rained lightly the whole time I was on the beach. But I was determined to balance a particular rock that was shaped a bit like the state of Texas. 

This balance wasn’t as cool as the previous day’s starfish balance. If you knew how long it took to accomplish it, you’d probably wonder if it was worth it or if I didn’t have something better to do with my time.

Well, it was totally worth it! In my heart, I KNEW it could be balanced and never allowed myself to believe it couldn’t. I just knew. I was patient, determined, and really tuned in to the energy and engaged my sense of feeling rather than my dominant sense of seeing. But the main thing is that I believed this rock could and would be balanced and didn’t give up.

Balancing rocks teaches me that if I believe in something and don’t allow doubts or distractions to creep in and stop me, I can do it. Not just rocks. Goals in general. That’s why balancing rocks is so gratifying!

And that’s great. But you know what can totally ruin it? Comparing our accomplishments to others.

I’m connected with a lot of stone balance artists, including the legendary Michael Grab and Peter Juhl, who literally wrote the book about rock balancing art. Whether it’s photography, music, teaching, yoga, rock balancing, finances, or anything else, comparing ourselves to others is a surefire way to put the brakes on any positive momentum you’ve generated toward manifesting your goals. It’s not enough to believe you can. You also have to avoid the temptation to compare your work to others if doing so leaves you feeling not good enough.

It’s great if others’ work can inspire you, but if it brings on feelings of inadequacy, you have to train yourself to stay focused on your own work. Keep your eyes on your own paper, kids! Don’t be concerned with what anyone else is doing or try to keep up with the Joneses. Give your full attention to your own work. Please.

The poet, Rumi, suggested: Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. THAT is the energy to engage with, rather than the energy of comparisons and self-doubt that divert your energy and lead you astray.

This morning it’s raining, so I’m writing rather than balancing. However, I hope to have more opportunities to balance rocks by the sea before I return home. Already, I have some new pictures to bring back with me. Photographing my rock balances helps me to remember how it felt to believe I could do it – and then actually do it! Practicing that feeling is as important as practicing your craft. And sharing reminds others that they can, too…which is also important!

© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Better Than Envy

Better Than Envy

My friend, Colleen’s 18-year-old son, Isaac, is an amazing wildlife and landscape photographer. Last summer, his shot of the solar eclipse made National Geographic’s “Daily Dozen.” I have to admit, I was a little jealous. 

Okay, more than a little. It wasn’t just the shot itself. It was the killer lens he used to capture it and the resources he has access to, including epic landscapes. And he was only 17 at the time.

Today I learned Isaac was named Young Photographer of the Year through the prestigious Windland Smith Rice Awards for nature and wildlife photography, and his winning shot, “Battle of the Bulls,” will be in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Holy cow!

There are moments when you realize how much you’ve grown and that the work you do on a daily basis really does make a difference. Learning of Isaac’s latest accomplishment was one such moment…because I didn’t feel jealous or envious as much as I felt truly happy for him. And that’s a big deal for an Enneagram “Four” like me because we tend to default into envy, comparing ourselves to others and feeling bad because we convince ourselves that we don’t measure up and lack any kind of personal significance and existential worth. 

In the past year, I’ve done a lot of inner work – more than I can remember ever doing in a year. Diving into Enneagram work has made a huge difference in my life. It’s a powerful combination along with daily mindfulness meditation practice. Finally, I can catch myself when I start to go into “Enneagram Four negative thoughts” and label them as such…and transform them or let them go.

Noticing and labeling are important. You can think of a thought as a bus with a sign lit up that shows where it’s headed: “The Dark Side of Enneagram Four”. Seeing that sign, I realize it’s not a bus I want to get on. It’s one of the usual routes I’ve taken all my adult life, but now I can see it for what it is and where it goes to and can let it pass. It stops in front of me, and I hear the sound of the door opening and the bus driver inviting me to get on…and then choose to continue sitting right where I am.

As the bus pulls away, I go back to noticing the sights and sounds around me, the sensation of breathing, the areas of tension in my body, and don’t give that bus a second thought. Eventually, another bus comes along with either another or the same destination sign lit up, and again I can make a conscious choice about whether or not to get on and go for a ride.

This is kind of amazing! It’s like the bumper sticker slogan: You don’t have to believe every thought you think. Freedom from thought. Yes, we do have a choice! Why don’t they teach us that in school?? What a difference it would make in our personal lives and in society.

So instead of wasting time and energy wishing I had that sweet glass and 12,000 Instagram followers, instead of getting on that thought-bus that travels down dismal streets like “I really screwed up my life” and “There must be something seriously wrong with me”…

I allowed Isaac’s success to inspire me and to help me clarify what is most important to me. Because that’s what you can do when you don’t get on the bus that takes you to places that suck the life out of you.

Truth is, I’ve been focusing on a lot of other things lately. Building infrastructure for photography and other endeavors. Decluttering across the board – emails, Pinterest boards, all kinds of stuff that has accumulated but no longer fits with who I have become and what I want to move toward. I’ve been doing portrait shoots, but because I’ve been so busy, I haven’t taken my camera out as much as usual to photograph nature, which is my true passion. I haven’t even left the area in the past year except to go on spiritual retreats at two retreat centers. 

Isaac’s photography reminded me that I have a photography bucket list. It reminded me that the Adirondacks and New England (for fall foliage) are close by. Even Maine isn’t too far away for photographing northern lights. His photography reminded me of the importance of having a work schedule that offers flexibility to travel for photography. And this is good because I nearly interviewed this week for a position that would have made that much more difficult – and doesn’t fit with who I am now, anyway!

Isaac’s photography reminded me that there are beautiful places near and far. Just as with meditation, healing, and spiritual growth, you start where you are right now. That’s what you work with. There’s no need to wait until conditions are better or different – until I can travel out of the area or until fall or until I’m awake for a really nice sunrise on the river. Right now, there is a garden full of morning glories just outside my door. Start there. Photograph them…because that’s what’s available to me right now.

Isaac’s photography reminded me that having my camera in hand makes me more aware of the beauty around me, and that is a big part of my spiritual practice. It re-inspired me to take out my camera every day because it adds so much meaning and joy to my life.

And so I did. I photographed the morning glories outside my door. I didn’t capture any National Geographic worthy images, but I fell in love all over again with the anatomy of morning glories, how they look dappled with raindrops, and the way their petals roll up when they’re ready to call it a day. Feeling appreciation, awe, fascination, wonder, and connection with nature feels so good and allows me to be my best self much more than wallowing in disempowering envy, self-pity, and shame. Neuroplasticity is for real! I am creating new mental habits!

So thank you, Isaac, for your passion for photography, and congratulations on yet another success! Thank you, too, for the inspiration and reminders about who I am and what’s most important. Isn’t it wild that by doing what we love, we can affect others in ways we’d never imagine?

Of course, that could go either way. Witnessing accomplishments like Isaac’s could lift a person up or bring a person down depending on that person’s own level of mindfulness and self-esteem. It’s useful to keep in mind that when you are in the spotlight (or even when you’re not) and receive unflattering comments or unsolicited advice, they often are more about the person commenting/advising than the quality of your work!

And of course, shooting in Wyoming with Isaac is one of the items on my photography bucket list!

© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Changes in Attitude

Changes in Attitude

When I started meditating back in my 20s, my intentions were very different than they are today. A little more spectacular, you could say. I hoped to see visions, experience altered states of consciousness, receive special knowledge…and relax. But after a whole lot of living, my reasons for meditating have become more subtle and practical. Mindfulness meditation enriches my daily life, big-time.

Here’s a small example:

It used to be that I’d get upset when a yacht or motorboat would speed by when I was kayaking on the river. The boats created turbulence both on the water and in my mind. I became angry and stayed angry at the selfish, insensitive boaters who only cared about themselves…and presumably were wealthy, too. Selfish, rich people who think they own the river. Grrrr.

That was the story I told myself. Eventually, I’d let it go…until the next boat went by too fast for my liking.

It didn’t bother my husband as much as it bothered me, and he came up with a name for me and a song to go along with it. Remember the song, “Mississippi Queen”? Well, I was the Hudson River B**ch. He’s a joker, and it was all in jest. An attempt to lighten me up. And it did make me laugh. 

But I still got angry with the fast boats.

Truth be told, I was afraid of the big waves they created. Once, I got a wave of Hudson River water in my face and didn’t want it to happen again. 

I spent the last month migrating my website to a new domain and purging my blog to half its original size. In the process, I read every single post and remembered all the challenges of the past few years – some I’d forgotten. I wrote a lot about waves as metaphors and learning to work with them so they wouldn’t keep knocking me off balance.

I’ve had a lot of practice with waves. No doubt you’ve had your share, too.

AND (as I’ve mentioned before) I went on a seven-day meditation retreat a few months ago that took me to a deeper level of mindfulness meditation practice and have meditated every day since. It’s mellowed me out and helped me to be more clear and intentional about my “To Be” list. Every time I sit down to meditate, I light a candle with the intention to release erroneous thought patterns and embrace deeper truth.

As a result, kayaking on the river has been quite different this summer. A yacht comes barreling down the river. Instead of cursing it or feeling agitated, I allow it to be exactly as it is. I know I will be able to navigate whatever turbulence it creates and realize the boat has a right to be on the river, too. If the boat slows down when it goes by me, great! (How wonderful the boater was so considerate! Thank you! Happy wave!) But I don’t need it to. Either way, I know I’ll be fine. If I really want to keep my distance from boats, I’ll stay on the eastern side of the river, which isn’t my preferred side, but wow, aren’t I fortunate to have a river in front of my house that I can kayak on anytime I want? And the waves are actually kind of fun to bounce around on.

If the word “wealthy” slips in with a negative connotation, ding! ding! ding! ABUNDANCE BLOCK! Take notice, and take a deep breath. Put some spaciousness around that thought. Feel grateful and prosperous for having such easy, daily access to the river, and remember that my dear cousin in British Columbia spends a lot of time on a 68-foot yacht and is one of my favorite people in the whole world. Maybe even direct some lovingkindness in the boat’s direction. Ahhhhh, that’s better! 

Same situation. Totally different reaction. A little awareness makes a big difference. Awareness + spaciousness + better go-to thoughts = GAME CHANGER.

Awareness opens the door to transformation.

It makes a difference to have equanimity towards the boaters who create turbulence on the water, the bugs buzzing around, and the people who aren’t looking out for me. All these things are part of life. If you want to go out on the river, chances are you will have to deal with turbulence. You’re grateful when the warm weather finally sets in, but then there are bugs. Unsatisfactoriness is part of life, but we can learn to better prepare ourselves for the unsatisfactory conditions and not let them disturb our peace of mind so much. We can cultivate equanimity and deep aspiration to free ourselves from suffering.

The First Noble Truth of Buddhism is that life is unsatisfactory, or imperfect. There will be difficult people, challenging circumstances, failures, and disappointments. The goal is not to eliminate these conditions from your life and “live the dream”. It’s to cultivate inner peace despite it all. True freedom. It is possible to experience inner peace even if you have noisy neighbors or lose your job or a close relationship. Even if your significant other isn’t exactly who you want them to be.

The point is to practice not letting any of these factors disturb your peace of mind. Not expecting them to change before you are truly happy. You can be happy anyway, right now. But first, you have to reclaim your power and stop making other people or circumstances responsible for your happiness.

We have the power to release ourselves from suffering. Holding resentment and anger in our heart is like choosing to ingest poison. It’s one thing to notice an unpleasant emotion arising and to accept it with mindfulness and lovingkindness. It’s another to hold onto it and feed it. It didn’t hurt the boaters when I felt angry and resentful. It only hurt me. When you can stop blaming and accept the invitation to take responsibility for your own patterns, it’s such a hopeful, empowering shift!

In the past, I would have been consumed with irritation towards the boaters and feared the turbulence. Inner peace is a much more pleasant alternative! Now I know I can handle the waves, and I know what kind of thought patterns I do and don’t want to cultivate. That’s a powerful combo.

It’s easier to ride the waves when you’re not upset with the inconsiderate boaters who caused them. You accept that there inevitably will be waves, and you ride them without aversion. And maybe even with some amusement or even joy.

You decide to stop making yourself miserable.

© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

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