Contemplative Photography & Reflections

Reflections

Eclipse Stories

Eclipse Stories

Now that the solar eclipse is behind us, I wonder: What is your eclipse story? It’s a question that can be answered on a number of levels depending on how deep you want to go.

On the surface level… I didn’t get any stunning eclipse photos because I had to work during the eclipse. But that’s okay because lots of other people had their cameras pointed at the sun to capture the phenomenal event. My friend Colleen’s 17-year-old son, who lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, managed to capture a stunning image of the eclipse that was selected for the “Daily Dozen” by National Geographic editors out of thousands of submissions, and my buddy, Peter, was able to achieve a quality representation of our partial eclipse via a DIY rig of his Canon Rebel DSLR. And there were many others, as I’m sure you have seen for yourself. Some of the most intriguing images I saw were of sunlight passing through trees and illuminating sidewalk shadows with hundreds of tiny, crescent-shaped lights – like moons, only they were suns.

It was disappointing to have to be indoors during this greatly anticipated celestial event. But when I arrived at work, I was delighted to learn we had permission to go up on the roof to view the eclipse. There were a few pairs of eclipse glasses up there to be shared, along with other viewing options that included a cardboard box pinhole projector and a colander. I watched the eclipse via NASA’s live stream, and when it looked like it was really getting underway, I went up to the roof. The moment I put on the glasses and looked at the moon partially covering the sun was one I always will remember: a WOW moment you might have experienced, too. What a marvelous sight!

I went back to work beaming and feeling supercharged with eclipse energy! I noticed all the people on computers, and it seemed surreal that something so magnificent was taking place in the sky at that moment, and they were indoors staring voluntarily at computer screens. How could you not be blown away by this? (Well, maybe because you didn’t have eclipse glasses or permission to be up on the roof.) I went back up for a second and third glimpse of the astronomical event and was wowwed all over again. The afternoon flew by, to say the least, and since it was quieter than usual, I was able to focus on my eclipse project. 

A few days prior to the eclipse, I came across the idea of “Absolute Yes” and “Absolute No” lists in the book, The Art of Extreme Self-Care: Transform Your Life One Month at a Time by Cheryl Richardson. The “Absolute Yes List” is about priorities: What most needs your immediate attention in the next few months and makes you a stronger and better person? When making decisions, you can ask, “Is this an Absolute Yes?” That question cuts through a lot of schedule clutter and keeps what’s most important in sight. It’s also important to be aware of your absolute noes. The “Absolute No List” is a list of things that weaken and irritate you and lead you away from the person you want to be. The day before the eclipse, I started creating my lists while floating in my kayak on the river. During the eclipse, when I wasn’t up on the roof viewing the spectacle through special glasses, I engaged with the eclipse energy by putting the finishing touches on my Absolute Yes and No Lists and setting intentions based on them.

Yesterday morning, I took it a step further. I’ve gotten into the habit of paddling to a quiet spot on the river in the morning and stopping there to savor a cup of tea. Holding the mug of hot tea in my hands, I reflected on my yes and no lists and the feelings behind each item and practiced feeling those feelings. As I sipped the tea, I imagined I was drinking in those feelings that I really thirsted for. I realized that, most of all, I wanted to feel aligned with my Higher Self in both thought and action. Several items on my lists were about making time for self-care in the morning, and I realized that taking time to realign with spirit every morning is essential. This includes not checking email, messages, or social media or focusing on anything else until after I have spent some quality time checking in with myself. In other words, get on the Innernet before going on the Internet!

A couple of intuitive astrologers I follow stressed the significance of the period between this month’s lunar and solar eclipses and the current lunar cycle. They said that the effects of the solar eclipse may be felt for a few months after the actual event and that it is a good time for planning, setting intentions, and resetting/reorganizing your life in terms of what you want to do. Unexpected events, revelations, and endings might happen suddenly on a personal and/or planetary level, and it’s all part of a cleansing process.

I love a good metaphor, especially when it comes from the natural world. Whether or not you believe in astrology, the solar eclipse offers metaphors that can take your experience of it to a deeper level so that what happened celestially mirrors or activates something in you. For example, during a solar eclipse, the shadow blocking the light is exposed, and you can put on special glasses that give you the ability to actually see what is blocking the light. On an intrapersonal level, this translates to getting a glimpse of your shadow self and the unconscious blocks that might be sabotaging you and perpetuating illusions that you believe to be true about yourself and others. It can be inconvenient or even scary to become aware of your shadow side or the unconscious blocks and self-sabotaging factors that have been operating in your life behind the scenes. But these realizations are ultimately positive because becoming aware of your unconscious material is a first step in setting yourself free, which is something that can’t happen when it remains hidden. It is an opportunity for clarity, disillusionment, and empowerment. 

When I ask about eclipse stories, this is what I’m getting at: stories involving life-changing realizations and events. Epiphanies. Things you cannot unsee once you’ve seen them, much like the moment I put on the special glasses and saw the shadow of the moon blocking the sun. My own eclipse story seems to begin last weekend, when I ended up at The Abode of the Message by “accident”. Being there helped me to realize I have a need to be part of a spiritually supportive community, and I put that high up on my Absolute Yes List

The day following the eclipse, I had a conversation with some co-workers during which a sentence came out of my mouth that felt a little too honest and self-revealing. Walking away from that conversation was a WTF moment that lingered as I floated on the water the next morning. It was an opening to a surprising realization that explained quite clearly why I haven’t had more success in a certain endeavor – a feeling that I have been misplacing my energy. My speech (which reflects attitudes, beliefs, and feelings) was blocking and even sabotaging my best efforts. Once I glimpsed that block, I couldn’t unsee it and realized I need to make some changes: Either do the work to remove the block or let go of the endeavor, and move towards something that feels more aligned with who I really am and what I really want. 

Similarly, since the eclipse, I’ve also been able to see more clearly the shadow side of others, which allows me to act appropriately and set healthier boundaries based on the clarity that seems to grow stronger every day. Again, disillusionment provides an invitation to either change yourself or your perceptions in some way or to let go of unhealthy relationships. Whatever you do, you can’t unsee what was hidden previously or continue on, status quo.

So, that’s my eclipse story so far. I might have missed out on photographing the eclipse this time around, but I hear that in 2024, our area will experience a total solar eclipse – and I will be ready for it and will make sure I don’t have to work, even though it was fun and memorable to hang out with coworkers on the roof viewing the eclipse through special glasses, cardboard box pinhole projectors, and colanders. And perhaps at that time, while looking through the lens of my camera at the shadow of the moon blocking the sun, I will reflect on the amazing and surprising ways my life changed course after the eclipse of 2017 when some pretty important truths all of a sudden became visible to me.

I wish the same for you.


© 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.
No Accidents

No Accidents

I’ll begin with the all-too-human part.

I’ve been in a waterfall mood, eager to explore new waterfalls closer to home, to hold me over until I get to Ithaca again. I did some research and found a nature preserve within a one-and-a-half-hour drive that has 12 miles of hiking trails with some waterfalls. After looking at pictures on Google, I placed it high up on my to-do list. 

This morning, I was itching for an outdoor workout, had hiking on my mind, and thought about that nature preserve. Jack was preparing to go to a music gig with his band. I couldn’t remember where, but before leaving he said it would be a nice drive through some pretty towns and mentioned the name of the town where the nature preserve is, which he said was close by. I thought: Wow! What a coincidence! Sounded like an opportunity, so I asked if I could tag along and had 15 minutes to get ready.

As we drove closer to where the gig was, my GPS showed that we were getting further away from the nature preserve. Something didn’t make sense. If we were going to pass through that town, then why was it twice the distance now from the gig location? Eventually, I realized we were headed in the opposite direction. Turns out the name of the town with the waterfalls was similar to the name of the county where the gig was; hence, the mix-up, and I became quite upset. I’d just finished up a week with a much heavier than usual workload and had my heart set on hiking and photographing a waterfall. Now that plan was foiled, and I didn’t have a plan B.

When we arrived at the gig, I got my bearings and was determined to find a place to be in nature and walk off my grouchy mood. I discovered we were only 17 minutes away from The Abode of the Message, an Eco-Sufi village in New Lebanon, NY. (If you are familiar with Omega Institute, you might be interested to know that The Abode is where Omega began.) In 1995, I was initiated into what is now the Inayati Sufi Order and was active in the Ithaca Sufi Center when I lived there. For years, I worked with my beloved guide, Alice, who gave me practices to do on a regular basis. Eventually, I left Ithaca, was completely immersed in raising my children, and didn’t live close enough to a Sufi community to stay involved. Over the years, I stopped asking Alice for Sufi-specific practices, although every time I sit down to meditate, I still recite the Sufi invocation, and when I thirst for spiritual nourishment, I turn to the great Sufi poets: Rumi, Hafiz, and Kabir. In fact, a book of Hafiz poetry is the only book I keep in my bedroom.

So I drove to The Abode, feeling deep humility for getting so upset. Between the lunar eclipse on Monday and Mercury and lots of other planets being retrograde, astrologers have been cautioning to take it easy and be mindful because tensions are running high, and misunderstandings and drama can arise easily. Lots of shadow material is coming to the surface. Despite having fair warning, I still got caught up in the energy. I should have been more mindful! After shedding a few tears, I decided to allow myself to be human and not get down on myself for overreacting.

As I got closer to The Abode, I noticed several signs and flags that carried political and religious messages that conflicted with my own ideas and bothered me. Then I finally turned onto Shaker Road and drove the last few, familiar miles to The Abode, past a Shaker Museum, where the energy felt different and welcoming. 

It felt great, as always, to arrive at The Abode. It was like returning home to my spiritual tribe. The moment I got out of the van, I realized there were no accidents, no mistakes. I was meant to be at The Abode today. Amazingly, the Abode called me back to it, even though I had my heart set on being somewhere else and pitched a fit when my plans fell through. But that was over now, and I was where I was supposed to be.

I had some lovely interactions with a couple women who lived there and learned that my timing was perfect. The Spirituality in Medicine program participants were on a lunch break for the entire time I’d be there, so the Meditation Hall (where I’d attended Universal Worship services in the past) was accessible.

Had I shown up the previous weekend, the main grounds would have been largely deserted because everyone (females, anyway) moved up to the Mountain Camp for the well-attended Wild Woman Fest ’17. I heard all about it. It sounded amazing and powerful, and I knew I needed to hike up to the Mountain Camp to experience the incredible, feminine energy still lingering in the air. Before hiking up the steep path to the Mountain Camp, I asked one of the women if there’s a labyrinth up there, and yes, there was. Awesome! 

Waterfalls and labyrinths are the two things I love to discover. I had planned to explore new waterfalls but ended up walking a labyrinth in the forest. 

I was all alone up in the Mountain Camp on Mount Lebanon, which was sacred ground to the Native peoples, the Shakers, and then the Sufis. When I spotted the ruins of the sanctuary that burned down years ago, the mesmerizing sound of an enormous wind chime greeted me, its wind catcher gliding and twirling gracefully in the space below the long, metal tubes. 

The forest was silent except for the sounds of the wind chime, birds, crickets, and other late summer insects. The labyrinth was adjacent to the sanctuary ruins, with a large tree at its center. In complete solitude, I walked the stone-lined path to the center, strewn with tiny acorns, mushrooms, moss, and some autumn-toned maple leaves.

On my way back from the center of the labyrinth, I came to a turn that seemed like it would bring me right out of the labyrinth and felt a pang of disappointment because I wasn’t ready to leave yet. I wanted to stay in the labyrinth a little longer. And in that instant, the labyrinth became symbolic of a human lifetime, which so many people get pulled out of before they feel ready…so enjoy the journey, every step of it! I also realized there is no going off the path. Everything we encounter and experience is on the path, including the shadow material that arises and humbles us. There are no wrong turns. We are always on the path.

As I walked back down the mountain, my emotional reaction earlier seemed even more foolish. I had become upset because I didn’t end up where I wanted to be, when the Universe had something even better in store for me. 

I also thought about the signs and flags that bothered me on my way to The Abode and saw them as a spiritual litmus test that offers feedback about where I can open my heart more fully and grow. Hazrat Inayat Khan, founder of the Inayati Order (formerly the Sufi Order of the West) explained, “Sufism is the religion of the heart, the religion in which the most important thing is to seek God in the heart of humanity.” Sufis seek to develop the heart by finding divinity in all creation. Rumi, Hafiz, and Kabir all wrote about this. It is something I have been struggling with lately as so much shadow material has been arising globally, in the U.S., in interpersonal relationships, and in myself. Coming back home to The Abode reminded me of the importance of seeing divinity in all beings, and I really needed that reminder: I am a manifestation of divinity in this life, and so is everyone else. It seems like a critical reminder during chaotic times. Tuning our hearts to a higher frequency is not easy, but I think we collectively are being called to heal the shadow energy that is coming to the surface en masse, beginning with ourselves so that when we come across signs, flags, and people with messages that contradict the truths we hold as self-evident, they don’t ruffle our feathers. Then we can have a clearer, less reactive sense of how to engage.

A few days ago, I was working at the library, and a book, The Radiance Sutras by Lorin Roche, landed on my desk. It had an inviting energy to it, and I opened to the page that was bookmarked and read the following poem:

That space is bad.
This space is good.
The ride is rough,
Or the going is smooth.
We are thrown into suffering,
We are thrown into joy.

Beloved Soul Mate – 
Find the space in the center,
The pulsing spaciousness
Encompassing all opposites.

Here the essences of creation are at play:
Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Space,
And the senses that perceive them.
The center is the dancing ground.

I think that is an excellent starting point. And I think there is guidance all around if we open ourselves to it, like books and places that pull us to them when we are looking for something else.


© 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! 🙂

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