Contemplative Photography & Reflections

Reflections

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. 

A Facebook Experiment in Self-Compassion

A Facebook Experiment in Self-Compassion

Last month, I reached my limit. My stress level was high. I felt upset, confused, frustrated, and disappointed and couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t selling more calendars. I had made a substantial investment to have my 2018 calendars printed and wondered why people in my Facebook network hadn’t bought more. Other people seemed to be more successful selling via social media during the holiday season. What was I doing wrong?*

I had learned about the “trigger” words to avoid so Facebook won’t squash the reach of a post. The workaround was to pay for an ad, so I took the time to create nice ads only to receive messages about them “not delivering”. Grrrr! Then I learned about the bidding system that prioritizes which ads would be seen. It’s complicated, but the bottom line was that people weren’t seeing my posts or ads. I seriously began to suspect I was chosen without consent to be a subject in a secret Facebook study. By New Year’s Day, I’d had a number of mini-meltdowns and was (and still am) nearly $200 away from breaking even on my investment, which was terribly disappointing.

I was fed up with Facebook.

On the other hand, I was so grateful to everyone who did buy a calendar(s) or share my posts. Every time I received a sale, I literally jumped up and down, clapped my hands, and exclaimed, “Thank you!” It meant so much to me.

But I also began to feel jealous of people who were getting more sales and “likes” than I was – or likes from certain people – and couldn’t understand why, after posting free, uplifting content every day, more people didn’t support their local artist friend by buying a calendar. I’m not proud of those feelings, but I’m being honest.

I reminded myself of the real reason why I post daily to social media. It wasn’t to get likes. It was because photography, writing, and sharing the inspiration that comes to me through them is my spiritual practice. It’s something I can’t not do. It’s who I am and how I express myself. I’d keep doing it if nobody “liked” my posts – which, due to Facebook’s frustrating algorithms – sometimes happens! Reminding myself of this made the jealousy and comparisons seem so superficial and yucky. It was humbling. How could I let my spiritual practice – my true purpose – get hijacked by ego?  

I didn’t want to feel that way or be that kind of person. If my interaction with Facebook took me out of alignment with who I want to be – if I had so much trouble maintaining what Buddhists call “right relationship” to it – the answer was clear: Take a break. A Facebook fast. It would be my “new moon project” for 28 days. Posting to my “business” page was allowed, but no personal posts. Just jump on, post on the River Bliss page, and jump right back off without looking at anything else. Including my daughter’s pictures of my granddaughter.

In the nine years I’d been on Facebook, I’d never taken a break and even wondered if it would be possible, especially around the holidays when there’s so much to share! But it ended up being astonishingly easy! Now that the lunar cycle is over, and we’re almost halfway through the next one, I’m in no hurry to jump back in and so far have only stuck a toe back in the water.

It feels good to get unhooked. Amazing, actually.

There were some things I truly missed during my fast. I missed knowing what’s going on in my friends’ lives and being able to offer a word of encouragement to those who could use it or simply to acknowledge that they are seen, heard, and accepted. I missed the enriching and inspiring content certain friends share regularly and the opportunity to radiate love and acceptance to more people than I otherwise would interact with daily.

I think those are positive reasons to engage with social media. But do I need 562 “friends”? I think not. So before I return to Facebook, I intend to clear the clutter from my friend list and only keep those with whom I have or have had a real connection and/or those who inspire and uplift me. Common interests, resonant energy – things like that.

Being on a Facebook fast allowed me to gain perspective on what I like and dislike about the platform and why I engage in the first place. I couldn’t care less about the vanity posts that showcase the masks of idealized self-images we put on to impress others and to feel better about ourselves or to get “likes”. Political posts are a another issue. You can scroll through without much effort, but I have no desire to come across intolerant or hateful posts – which actually doesn’t happen much in my newsfeed. Mostly, I’m interested in authenticity and inspiration and the opportunity to be authentic and to inspire.

As with all relationships, I want my engagement with social media to feed and grow my soul, not my ego. Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s poem, “The Invitation” (of which a few lines are excerpted below – click on the link to read the full poem) sums up the kind of connections and sharing I seek on social media and in general:

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

Source: Oriah Mountain Dreamer. The Invitation. New York: Harper Collins, 1999. Print.

I don’t care about the parties you go to and who you know. I want to know what fuels and inspires you and what you have overcome to be who you are today, how you are the hero of your own life story. I want to know who you are on the inside…because the outside is only a shell, and that’s not the level on which I seek connection.

I want to understand your story and thereby better understand my own, as well as the greater story we are all part of. And I want to share my story with you so you might better understand yours through our similarities and contrasts. I want to feel inspired by the challenges you are able to overcome and connect through your suffering, which (at the most basic level) is also mine and only looks different on the surface. As the R.E.M. song goes, everybody hurts. But when we share our pain or connect with others who have experienced pain we are familiar with, it eases the suffering a bit. At least we don’t feel so alone.

I want my Facebook feed to be filled with authenticity, inspiration, radiance, resonance, and hope. As I declutter my friend list, that’s what I’m looking for. It doesn’t mean only keeping people who appear to be most “like me”. Some people I respect deeply don’t share my world view, and they help me to break down the illusion of “other” and practice equanimity, tolerance, and love.

As I mentioned above, so far I’ve only stuck a toe back into the Facebook stream. Quick peeks. In those glimpses, one friend wrote about some incredible, synchronistic events she’s experienced that suggest her daughter, who passed away over a year ago, continues to communicate with her. This same friend also has shared her pain over losing her daughter. I find her journey through grief inspiring and her accounts of after-death communication uplifting.

Another, new friend posted about learning of her brother’s death, which hit her hard. Last week, her family received the call they knew they’d receive someday but hoped they wouldn’t. Her brother had been estranged from the family for the past 25 years, and she shared her tears and questions about who he was with courageous vulnerability. The next day, she shared joyful revelations about what she had learned about her brother’s life from a stranger who was a close friend of his. These revelations flew in the face of everything she assumed about her brother’s life and is clearly part of her healing journey. I believe we are ultimately part of the same journey and the same story, and witnessing healing and transformation in others helps to heal and transform us.

And then there were pictures of my granddaughter playing with some toys she got for her birthday. Feel-good posts.

These are all reasons why I am going to slowly break my Facebook fast. But as I return, I’ll be conscious of staying in alignment with my true self (not my ego!) while engaging with social media. If I cannot do that and find myself getting hooked again, then I’ll need to either adjust my friend list, educate myself, work with my mind to adjust my attitude, or take another break.

I’m glad to have interrupted the trance I had fallen into by stepping back and turning off what was sabotaging my peace of mind. To say no to what doesn’t feel right. Sometimes you have to get a little distance or take a time-out to regain perspective and a healthier balance so you don’t lose yourself. To remember you have a choice. My Facebook fast was yet another method of decluttering – not physical things this time, but my time and my thoughts. Letting go of what doesn’t serve us, whether on a physical or energetic level, is truly empowering.

It feels so good that I didn’t stop there. Today I’m on my tenth day without chocolate because apparently I’m quite sensitive to that, too (in a different way). And again, it has been so much easier to give up than I ever imagined. But that’s another story for another time.

*This blog post is NOT an invitation for solicitation from anyone who charges for services related to social media marketing, website optimization, etc. I am taking care of all that with the help of trusted professionals. Solicitous messages will be reported as spam and deleted promptly, unread.


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

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