Contemplative Photography & Reflections

Tag: Books

The List That Became a Book

The List That Became a Book

All of a sudden, it feels like summer here on the river! My walks have been so dreamy lately, with cottonwood seeds drifting through the air and landing on the ground in a sprawling, fluffy blanket. The black locust trees lining our back yard are in full bloom with fragrant, white flowers that perfume the air with their heavenly scent. And the fireflies have returned!

All this signals the end of another school year, so congratulations to my teacher and student friends! My son has been home from college for a few weeks, and we are preparing for some friends’ graduation parties next week. It’s exciting because my very first class of students graduates from high school this year. They were first graders when I was student teaching, and I can’t believe they are graduating!

Speaking of graduation season, I am excited to tell you about an extra special project I created just in time! It is a handcrafted book, 50 By 50, that contains 50 nuggets of wisdom I acquired by age 50 – but wish I had found sooner!

After publishing my list of “50 Things I’ve Learned by Age 50” as a blog post during the winter, someone approached me about turning the list into a poster for her teenage daughter, and it got the wheels turning in my head because it seemed like a perfect book project to dive into. So I revisited my original list, tweaked it a bit, typeset it, and turned it into a unique, handcrafted gift book. Each book is different because I painted the cover papers myself and sewed different kinds of bindings to make it one-of-a-kind. It is perfect for grads and anyone seeking insight and guidance along life’s path. I put my heart and soul into it and am really pleased with how it turned out.

The book began as a letter to my one-year-old granddaughter, which I’d been meaning to write since before she was born. Sometimes I’d sit down and begin to write, but I didn’t get very far. There was so much I wanted to say! It finally came together when I was on a spiritual retreat prior to my 50th birthday earlier this year. The book is full of advice and seeds of wisdom I’d like to plant in my granddaughter and wish I had back when I was in my twenties and trying to figure out which direction to go. Above all, it is a message of love and self-worth.

This little book is infused with so much positive energy! In addition to authoring the words when I was in a very peaceful, expansive state of mind, I painted the cover papers and sewed the text blocks and decorative stitching on the outside. Each handmade book is unique, and it’s available for purchase through my Etsy shop.

I just wanted to let you know in case you’d like a copy for yourself or someone special! I’d love to send one or more your way!


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The photographs in this blog (except for those attributed to other owners) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.

© 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 and River Bliss Photography (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!  🙂

Blueprints and Dragonflies

Blueprints and Dragonflies

I’m a little more than halfway through the book, Testimony of Light by Helen Greaves, which was recommended to me recently as an excellent text in the “near-death” genre. It is an authenticated account from the 1960s of two nuns who communicated telepathically while they were alive and continued to do so after one of them passed on. It resonates with the other books I’ve read in the genre, and I have been working my way through it by reading small chunks and allowing the ideas to settle in my mind when I’m kayaking or sleeping.

Sometimes I’m out on the water immersed in thought or some kind of pursuit (which often involves an elusive heron). Then I catch myself and am amused by the attempts of my little mind to make sense of the Big Picture – for I sense that the truth of our existence is beyond human comprehension. Our sensory organs and conditioned minds can only handle so much Light.

Today I set out looking for herons but fell in love with a small turtle basking in the sun. Then I returned to my pursuit of herons but dropped that agenda after a short time when I realized the “heron paparazzi” state of mind prevented me from entering stillness. Sometimes it’s grace that brings us back into presence (for instance, coming upon a turtle basking in the sun), and sometimes it’s awareness of mental activity (much like realizing within a dream that we are dreaming).

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Then I rested in stillness, knowing there was nothing more important at that time than floating and filling with bliss. I wanted to stay there all day!

While floating, an idea from Testimony of Light entered my awareness regarding the existence of a Divine Blueprint for the work we set out to accomplish in our lifetime – and how it compares with the actual map of our human life when all is said and done. Every cell of my being seems to vibrate with a burning desire to attune to and follow my Divine Blueprint. I want to get down to business and do the work I intended to do. I’ve never felt it so strongly! Since returning from my recent retreat, the energy has been incredible! It’s blown open the door of my self-imposed prison and called, “Follow me!” And I am.

Still, I can’t help but wonder how far off course I’ve strayed by allowing myself to be driven by fear or a desire to please others. That method of traveling seems like taking a detour. Taking the long way home is not a failure. Nor is getting lost. There are times in life when we feel lost, especially when familiar markers are removed from the landscape of our journey. But what’s wonderful about realizing you’re lost is that you make an effort to dust off the map and find your way. Such times are opportunities to get back on course! Intuition is a useful navigational tool for realizing you’re lost and finding your way. It is my compass.

But perhaps in the grand scheme, the journey is more like a labyrinth with one winding path to the center. During times when we are driven by fear or other distractions, perhaps we just slow down and progress along the path in our own rhythm. Perhaps, despite periods of inertia, we’re never truly lost.

How interesting that when I entertained this thought, a dog came to the water’s edge and started barking at me. It reminded me of a story of a dog traveling to a particular town:

His journey was a very long one, taking two or three days as a rule, and yet he arrived before sunset of the same day. The dogs of that town were all surprised to see him so soon.

“Yes, it was a very long journey,” the dog said, “but I attribute my speed to the kindness and help of my fellow dogs. Since I left home, whenever I felt tired and tried to stop a moment to rest, four or five would run up and bark at me and want to bite me. So I had to run on without staying to rest in that place, or to search for food. And so it went on at every place I came to, until in the end I have arrived here at my destination.”

Citation: Khan, Hazrat Inayat (1991). Tales. New Lebanon, NY: Omega Publications.

As far as others are concerned, I can’t even begin to judge another human being’s path through life! It’s hard enough to discern and navigate my own!

There were so many dragonflies darting around on glistening, iridescent wings as I contemplated Divine Blueprints. So much life energy all around!

At one point, I experienced a moment of clarity from which a question – no, perhaps it was more like a prayer – bloomed like a lotus in my heart. And in that instant, a dragonfly landed on my arm for the first time all day. We remained completely still for quite some time regarding each other (or so it seemed), and I felt myself being drawn into dragonfly energy, as if it were the answer to my prayer, pollinating the lotus in my heart.

Then I felt it was time to paddle back home and engage with my to-do list. I focused on the sounds around me – a form of mindfulness meditation – and followed the sound back home.

But this wonderful energy remains, and I follow my intuition from one “yes” to another. It is an amazing feeling – this movement that has broken the spell of inertia.

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The photographs in this blog and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. 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. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Journey of Music and Literature

I’ve been sharing some really personal stuff lately on this blog, and I want to be clear about my intentions – not because anyone has inquired but because I feel the need to do so. Sharing my experience with my mom’s illness is not something I do out of narcissism. I’m not trying to set myself apart from anyone else who has made this journey. Nor do I seek attention or praise, although I do hope that writing fearlessly from my heart may be comforting or helpful to others – perhaps even my own family members. In the words of author, Elizabeth Gilbert, it seems to be what “Love is calling forth” from me now. Some insist it takes courage to share such a personal journey, but you know what? Some people are fearful of revealing details of their personal lives or innermost thoughts. Others fear change or speaking in public. There are countless, diverse fears that plague humanity, and I think when we take risks in the direction of authenticity, we help others to push past their own boundaries and barriers. It is a way to build bridges, heal, connect. Several times in the past week or so, a voice has arisen and commanded: “Write!!” Each time, my eyes widened in surprise, and I nodded and responded, “Okay!” I almost felt pushed in the direction of my laptop. So I write, not knowing why – only that I must and that it feels right to share the parts that don’t violate the privacy of others. I thank you for coming along for the ride.

It feels as if I’m in a sacred and tender place, and I still wish I could retreat to a cabin in the woods for a while and distance myself from many of my responsibilities. People often say it’s good to keep busy during times like this, to keep your mind occupied. They say having a routine to escape into is a blessing, for it makes everything else go away for a little while. But that is not true for me. I have a need to dive in and experience it fully, much like when I refused to take pain meds during childbirth. I wanted to be fully present to the miracle of a new universe (two, actually) being born through me and to experience it as intimately and completely as possible. I did not want to medicate the experience in order to dull the pain! I wanted to experience my own power and learn to surrender to the intense, raging contractions. And I’m not saying my way is ultimately any better than “taking the drugs.” It’s just my way; it’s what I needed to do. And I think it was good training.

Each person in my orbit seems to be dealing with my mom’s illness differently, in his or her own manner and rhythm. It feels strange and frustrating to brush up against the edges of another person’s fears, preconceptions, and limits. When I was kayaking on the calm river yesterday evening, I was completely alone except for some geese beating their wings against the surface of the river (a sound I love) and the first beavers I have seen this year. Although the beavers seemed less territorial than usual as I glided past, I was impressed by the power of the two tail slaps I witnessed. They spoke to me of clear boundaries and respecting the boundaries of others. I have to keep centering myself in love and compassion so I can honor and respect each person’s unique journey – and to remember that, even if we have different opinions about how to proceed, we are all united by our love for my mom. 

Maybe all my responsibilities keep me grounded, but I don’t want gravity to keep my feet on the ground! I feel so supported by extraordinary energy that I sense most clearly when I am in nature, in the place between sleep and wakefulness, when I feel sad, and when I am alone and quiet. I have been craving solitude so I can perceive this energy more strongly and put this earthly experience into a larger context. I want to float.

Some people close to me have trouble knowing what to do or say. I especially appreciate the music people send my way. In general, music, art, and nature have more of an impression on me than logic and rational thought, or even words in general. But that’s just me. I honor the truths that sustain the lives of others. Some people need religion like plants need sunlight. Some need spirituality. Some need neither. It’s all fine to me. It’s hard – and would seem foolish – to argue with a painting or a symphony. Words are trickier, more jagged. But when someone offers me a scripture, for example, I accept it as a gift, even if it’s from a source from which I don’t tend to seek guidance, inspiration, or comfort. It does not matter how the religious context of the words relates to my beliefs (which are constantly expanding). When words are offered in the spirit of love, they become vessels of love.

Our fears, religious/spiritual beliefs, the way we grieve and give birth – along with myriad other aspects of the human condition – are so personal and diverse and deserve to be honored. That being said, in addition to listening to music, I have been doing more reading than usual, almost exclusively from what I call the “near-death” genre. In chronological order, I have read:

Each of these books has been a most illuminating companion on this journey, and I recommend each one enthusiastically if you are receptive to ideas and experiences beyond the ordinary. (Interested skeptics might want to begin with Proof of Heaven.) Each book resonates strongly with my own impressions and experiences, fills me with hope, and has brought tears of joy to my eyes by placing the human experience within a much larger perspective. Each of the books emphasizes that unconditional love is at the heart of the universe, which is something I find easy to believe perhaps because I was raised by such gentle, loving parents.

I have been strongly in touch with music since my mom’s diagnosis and would like to share some of the music that I have found particularly significant and uplifting in recent weeks. The first two classical pieces feel celestial and divinely inspired and were mentioned specifically in The Afterlife of Billy Fingers as hints of sound experiences in other realms.

The first one is the finale of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 in E flat (Chorus Mysticus) depicting the closing scene of Goethe’s Faust epic, when Faust is welcomed into heaven. (I find the visuals of the “conductor” highly distracting and suggest closing your eyes once that part begins and letting the music fill you.)


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The following tone poem, The Swan of Tuonela, composed by Jean Sibelius provides another hint of “cosmic sound,” as described by Billy Fingers.


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And then there are some more contemporary songs friends have sent my way that contribute to the soundtrack of this leg of the journey:


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Blogger is not allowing me to post more than four YouTube videos, but HERE is a link to another song that really grabbed me: “Let Her Go” by Passenger.

I’m sure there will be much more music as the path ahead unfolds. And art. And nature. And floating, I hope.

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. 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. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

I Am Love (and So Are You)

I Am Love (and So Are You)

I imagine you’ve heard the proverb, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” For the past week or so, my teacher has been Anita Moorjani’s book, Dying to Be Me (Hay House, 2012) – which I finally got around to reading! This is an inspirational memoir written by a woman who was dying of end-stage lymphoma, had a near-death experience (NDE), and returned to her body knowing for certain that her cancer would be healed completely. It is an amazing, profoundly inspiring account. As miraculous as the medical piece is, what impresses me most is the way her life changed as a result of what she experienced during her NDE.

I was intrigued by the author’s descriptions of how her NDE transformed the way she perceived and lived her life because so much of what she had to say described with surprising accuracy the way I have come to perceive and relate to the world. However, there is one major difference. Right before deciding to return to her body, she was guided to go back and live her life fearlessly. And she did. Eliminating fear transformed her life completely, and I realize this is precisely what has been holding me back. (You, too, perhaps?) The rest of this post is a reflection I wrote when I was midway through the book and inspired deeply by the author’s revelation that love is the nature of the entire universe and our true essence, as well. Since so much synchronicity occurred as I read and reflected on this book, it feels right to share my reflections. (There is something very powerful and magical about this book!) So here goes…

I spent decades believing it was of the utmost importance to figure out what kind of work I should do – meaning what kind of paid job I should devote my life to. I felt this was predestined, and if I did not figure it out correctly, then my life would be wasted; I would have failed, and I would be held accountable in the end. (I had a tendency to put a lot of pressure on myself.) I believed there was one thing I was meant to do, it was my Life’s Purpose, and it was so important to discern it and to have the discipline to see it through. But I’m realizing now that what’s most important isn’t what I do but what I am.

I am love, and so are you.

If I am love, it doesn’t matter what I do. What I do becomes an expression of who I am. I suspect that many situations can be transformed from the inside out if we stop focusing on outcomes and accomplishments and allow the love that we are to flow through us. It is a choice to cut off the flow, whether or not we are aware that we are doing so. We can align ourselves with any situation by surrendering to the flow and allowing our essence – love – to be expressed in the world. Not our ego desires, but our true essence. When love comes through, miracles happen.

And yet, there are times when it seems love seeks new expression. There may be another way in which our essence can manifest more fully through our work and actions in the world. Too much thinking can get in the way of allowing this to happen. Imprisoned by fear, our minds generate countless reasons to stay where we are and not risk change. I think of the great blue herons I observe on the riverbank. They know when to move on to a new spot – when conditions are no longer favorable and other spots offer greater possibilities.

Imagine a heron too afraid to move to a new spot along the river when the food supply at its current location is insufficient, or a predator or other threat encroaches its space, or it is time to migrate to a warmer climate. How absurd! The heron knows instinctively what it needs to survive and takes swift action. Not bogged down by the human mind’s compulsion to process the situation in detail, it moves with the flow of life, lifting into the air and following its instincts to a new spot.

“When we try to move with this flow rather than adhere dogmatically to the doctrines of others or the beliefs we once had that no longer serve us, we more accurately reflect who and what we truly are.” -Anita Moorjani (Dying to Be Me, p. 154)

I think of my true essence (or “infinite self” as Moorjani sometimes calls it) as a heron that discerns when conditions have shifted enough to inhibit its fullest expression. I have spent a lot of time observing herons and can tell when they begin to feel uneasy and are about to rise into the air and squawk en route to a new spot. I recognize that unease and restlessness in me and realize that what is different between the heron and me is a mind fettered by fear.

Moorjani explains:

“The mind is more about doing, and the soul is more about being… The intellect is just a tool for navigating through this life…while the soul only wants to express itself.” (Dying to Be Me, p. 146)

She continues:

“I have discovered that to determine whether my actions stem from ‘doing’ or ‘being,’ I only need to look at the emotion behind my everyday decisions. Is it fear, or is it passion? If everything I do each day is driven by passion and a zest for living, then I’m ‘being,’ but if my actions are a result of fear, then I’m in ‘doing’ mode.” (Dying to Be Me, p. 147)

I have spent countless hours on the river searching for definitive answers about what to do in matters large and small. Once, the river told me to write, so I did. The little voice within tells me to keep writing, so I am. I think the path of the infinite self unfolds when we find our center and do what we feel drawn to do from that centered awareness – when we are still enough to hear it speak. I am beginning to recognize the voice of my infinite self that arises when I am not immersed in thought and urges me to take a certain action. It’s like a little nudge. Make this phone call. Read this book. Message this person. Pause for a bit. Plan an exhibit. It has a different quality to it than my thinking mind – like the difference between intuition and thought – and when I follow it, I feel more alive. It feels right. It’s different than checking off items on a to-do list.

It seems to me that the path unfolds when we stop allowing fear to hold us back and do what we feel drawn to do each step of the way because we realize how precious our time is and that we help the world to evolve by allowing our essence to be expressed as magnificently and completely as possible. (A major theme of Moorjani’s message is to remember our “magnificence.”) I truly believe that when we follow and express our true essence – love – the universe responds and supports us. But first, we must stop clinging to the alligator we have mistaken for a safe and stable rock and surrender to the flow of the love that we are.

 

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. 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. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Putting the World on Hold

Putting the World on Hold

Life has been so full and intense lately, and this week I hit the wall. Too many appointments, school events, and obligations, and not enough sleep and solitude. The combination of a full moon and St. Patrick’s day on Monday (when my kindergartners insisted there were leprechauns in our classroom) – after a busy, sleep-deprived weekend – was, in itself, enough to do me in energetically after barely leaving the starting gate for the week.

Needless to say, I learned a thing or two about my breaking point, and also about the necessity of self-care.

The first thing I did was take a day off in order to rest and recharge my depleted batteries because I knew that if I didn’t, I’d be absolutely no good to anyone in my orbit – and might also wear down my resistance to the point of being more vulnerable to all the viruses going around. I slept in, was able to schedule an appointment for that afternoon with my therapist, took a walk outdoors, and took it easy. The next day, I returned to work full of energy, enthusiasm, and presence. However, I realized that I still had a strong need for solitude and considered going on retreat for the weekend. But I didn’t feel that a proper retreat at a retreat center was feasible, so my husband and I came up with an affordable, convenient solution: I would have the house completely to myself for the weekend, to get the solitude and space I needed so desperately. He arranged to stay with his parents for the weekend. My ex-husband also was eager to help out by being our son’s home base and transportation for the weekend.

Friday afternoon arrived, and before doing anything else, I visited my parents since I wouldn’t be able to for the rest of the weekend. On the way home, I stopped for a take-out salad from the salad bar at the health food market. My son was still home when I returned. Nonetheless, it felt as if I had arrived at a private retreat cabin! There was something very special and different about the energy. Simply setting an intention and arranging to have space to myself made a difference! The space felt sacred and welcoming.

My son left, and I cleaned the kitchen to make it look more like a retreat environment. I started a fire in the wood stove just as I would have done on retreat, made a cup of lavender-mint tea, lit a stick of incense, and turned on a cascading water fountain. Aside from the soothing sound of the fountain and the crackling of the fire in the wood stove, all was quiet.

My soul was smiling like the breaching dolphins I had encountered in a recent dream. It felt so right to create this space for self-nurturing. I had no agenda other than to get to bed early as I always do when I go away on retreat, work with my dreams, write, meditate, and get some exercise. I also would unplug from technology for the weekend, except for using my laptop to write and to view or listen to content that supported this inward journey.

It was surprising how different my living space felt. This was now a dedicated space for going deeper within and hearing my soul speak, free from distractions. I knew exactly what to do – what felt right. Two things that were obviously different from a retreat center retreat (besides the familiarity of the space) were: 1) the clutter and dust, and 2) not having anyone to cook for me. But I realized that doing chores such as light dusting and cooking were part of this particular retreat process. I found, for example, that when I was dusting, a specific dream image from the previous night came to mind, allowing me to identify the core element of the dream that I needed to focus on.

While making tea, I had insights about the nature of fear and the role fear plays in my soul curriculum. While making the bed, I had an insight about synchronicity and noticing.

Normally, I might have similar insights but more distractions preventing them from penetrating so deeply. Instead, I was able to sit with them and allow them to take root.

I read a book, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander, stopping to reflect on the content and what arose in me as I interacted with the text. I wrote down the insights that came to me. The book, recommended to me two days prior, was mind-blowing and reinforced much of what I’ve been experiencing lately through dreams and images. I read it from cover to cover – something I haven’t done in as long as I can remember and wouldn’t do on a “proper” retreat, but which felt enormously important.

I watched a breathtaking video of flowers blooming. Made tea. Added another log to the wood stove. Made lunch. Took a walk in the woods. Meditated. Before falling asleep, I listened to a Ram Dass talk that a friend had suggested recently. There were no pressures whatsoever, despite report cards being due in less than a week. I knew that creating this space was more important than anything else. It was a necessity. And when it was over late Sunday morning, I would welcome my husband back home and return to my daily responsibilities with fresh energy and insight and restored balance.

I was pleasantly surprised that I could go so deep despite the clutter and routine familiarity of my retreat space. It was different than a “proper” retreat in a dedicated space where spiritual, healing energy had a chance to accumulate. But it was absolutely perfect given the constraints I needed to work with, and I am grateful to those who rearranged their schedules and whereabouts in order to make it possible.

What made this time different from other time alone at home is my commitment to putting the world on hold for a while by not thinking about or engaging in worldly concerns that diminish my energy. Report card deadlines, for instance. I did not have that gray cloud hovering over me during this time, encroaching on my peace of mind. Even at home.

I recommend the experience highly and intend to build more retreat space into my life on the weekend. I used to have a nice rhythm going, but then life got a little more “real” so to speak, and it became easy to overlook the need to slow down and create sacred, nurturing space. I learned this weekend that doing so is immensely rewarding and important – for myself and everyone around me.

 

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The photographs in this blog and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. 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. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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