Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Continuing Saga of Spring

It is school vacation week, and I had promised to take my son to Ithaca for an overnight. We planned our trip around the weather and decided to go on Monday because it looked like it would be the warmest day of the week. As we drove along, I noticed the trees budding more and more. It looked like a fairyland! By the time we arrived in Ithaca, it felt like summer! After stopping for lunch, we retreated to Ithaca Falls with our cameras. Although Ithaca Falls seems most vibrant during warmer months when there are leaves on the trees, I enjoy photographing it during Spring because more of the waterfall is visible from a distance and not concealed by foliage. 



We wore shorts and t-shirts and were grateful for the breeze that offered some relief from the nearly 80° heat. Daffodils and crocuses were in full bloom. It was summer for a day, and I found it very hard to belief the weather forecast, which called for snow the next day!

We didn't have an easy view of the sky from our hotel window that night, and I ended up sleeping through the "blood moon" lunar eclipse - although I dreamed that all the planets in the solar system were in perfect alignment on either side of the sun. It felt like a good thing.

By morning, it was raining hard, and the temperature had dropped, so we were on our way home by noon. By the time we got back home, the temperature had plunged further. I dropped my son off at a friend's house for the evening, and when I went out to pick him up a little after 9:00 pm, it was snowing horizontally so hard that it was like driving through a wide tunnel of white fireworks bombarding the windshield continuously. I could barely see the road at all. When I rolled down my window for a better view, I heard a chorus of spring peepers. The contrast was surreal!

In the morning, I woke up to a clear blue sky and a yard covered lightly with snow. Although we do not welcome snow at this time of year, it was astonishingly beautiful! Before our winter snow had melted, I longed to photograph a purple crocus pushing through the snow. Desperate for signs of spring, I dug holes in the snow on a couple occasions to try to find such colorful evidence - but to no avail. This morning was a little different; instead of Spring pushing through Winter, Winter had covered Spring. But still, I headed out expecting to be dazzled. 

Here is the sight that greeted me in our yard...


Notice the budding treetops!


My eyes are drawn to the daylily shoots in this photo:



 In the park, the labyrinth path was embossed with snow.


Winter may have covered Spring, but Spring made quick work of melting Winter!



It was hard to believe we were in t-shirts and shorts two days ago!


Back in our yard, daylily shoots were sprouting up everywhere, completely unfazed! 


As I wandered through the yard, the sky was a deep shade of blue, and the sun felt so warm. I thought of Colorado, where my husband and I are thinking of moving. Is this what a Colorado winter feels like - snowy, sunny, and warm?


What I find appealing about these images is that Spring so clearly is in charge now! By noon, the daylilies and budding trees already had laughed off the snow, which is now helping to green the grass and awaken all sorts of plants and flowers.

This is not 1816 ("the year without a summer"). No siree! This morning, Spring established its dominance!

---------------------------
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 blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Monday, April 14, 2014

In Two Different Worlds

This evening, I drove home from my parents' house with their health situations on my mind. My mom spent a week in the hospital and was discharged a few days ago. She is home recovering from the latest onslaught in her struggle with advanced stage cancer. Today my dad experienced a health scare that sent him to Urgent Care but fortunately did not result in hospitalization. Life is quite intense at this time, and as I drove home I contemplated what I can do to help my parents, who are not good about asking for or accepting help.

Then I noticed the moon rising in the baby blue sky just above mustard toned willow trees. The sight was absolutely breathtaking. In my rear view mirror, I saw the golden-tangerine glow of the large, low sun sinking behind a patch of trees. I was so moved by the beauty surrounding me as the sun and moon simultaneously illuminated the sky with contrasting color and light. It seemed as though the setting sun was casting a golden glow against the eastern sky where the moon was rising, saturating the blue of the sky and the golden-yellow of the willows even more. It was the magic moment of the day, and I was caught in between the sun and the moon, completely in awe.

Finally, I couldn't take it any longer. I had to stop and photograph the landscape. I pulled over in front of a farm and pointed my camera to the west to capture this image


then turned around to shoot the soft tones of the moonrise.


I wish I could have captured the moon hovering just above a willow tree. But perhaps you can use your imagination.

My heart overflowed with joy, gratitude, and awe. I arrived home with tears in my eyes for the beauty of this world we inhabit, despite all the suffering.

The past year, since my dad's brush with death, has been a rough one. And now he is caring for my mom. My parents are such kind, loving people who don't want to inconvenience anyone or cause any suffering. They don't want to burden their children with their health issues. While I care for and love my parents deeply and feel anguished by their suffering, I wish they could know there is another side to all this that I am in touch with every day - as a result of all this - and that gives me strength. I wish they could realize that I am being pushed to grow in the most amazing ways and am being liberated from many ways in which I used to bring suffering upon myself. I am learning that it is possible to grieve personal losses while giving thanks for spiritual blessings and keeping a joyful heart.

Lately, I have been experiencing life on two different dimensions, as if I am walking with each foot in a different world. On the personal level, there is great sadness that my mom's life has taken this cruel, abrupt turn. On the spiritual level, I realize that everything is unfolding as part of a greater plan and that those we love never leave us. That spiritual gifts sometimes come disguised as great challenges.

Writing about being aware (during her near-death experience) of the sense of urgency her brother felt about getting to the hospital in time to say goodbye, author Anita Moorjani explained:

"I recall knowing that I didn't want my physical body to be dead before he arrived. I was aware of how that would make him feel, and I didn't want him to go through that. But yet again, as my affection for my brother started to take over and I was becoming overwhelmed with not wanting him to experience the pain of his little sister dying, I found myself being simultaneously drawn away. Each time my emotions took over the situation, I discovered myself starting to expand again, and I felt a release from all attachment. Once more, I was surrounded by the reassuring feeling of a greater tapestry unfolding, where everything was exactly as it should be in the grand scheme of things." (Dying to Be Me, p. 64)

This is exactly what I have been experiencing as I accompany my parents through this chapter with a foot in each world. When I feel myself fixating on the level of personality and feeling deep sadness for their suffering and our personal losses, I am pulled into an expanded awareness in which I realize there is so much more to the picture than we can perceive through these dense bodies we inhabit. And I feel so much love coming through. One of my mom's friends told me that many people are praying for my family's peace and comfort, and I wonder if I am experiencing the power of their prayers.

I wish I could bottle this awareness and give it to my parents and anyone else who is suffering. The closest I can come is sharing the images that transport me and expand my awareness and the feelings and words attached to them (although words are often insufficient), hoping that some of the awe, awareness, and healing energy will come through.

---------------------------
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 blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

It Happens Every Year

It happens every year, no matter how intensely Winter embraces us. Eventually Winter loosens its grip, and the first signs of Spring push through. At first it looks as if Winter has devastated our yards and landscapes, leaving everything brown, brittle, and dead. Then, the next thing you know, the rain convinces the grass to green overnight, and life bursts forth, green and tender.

Yesterday was the first genuine Spring day in my world. Smiles returned to people's faces, and we bared our pale limbs to feel the the sun's warmth and receive our first dose of vitamin D. This day was a long time coming, but finally, it has arrived and was well worth waiting for!

Friday night, we heard the spring peepers for the first time. Yesterday morning, I awoke to the sound of a black fly hitting against the window blinds above the bed. While walking the labyrinth later that morning for the first time this year, I discovered the first flower: a purple crocus!


On closer inspection, I noticed a bee hard at work.


As an afterthought, I wished I'd taken some video of the bee pollinating the flower with the sound of birdsong all around - the sound of the world waking up!

Forests of daffodil shoots sprouted up everywhere.


Blackbirds perched loudly in budding trees.



We saw about a dozen painted turtles basking on logs



 ...although not far upstream the surface of the water remained covered with patches of ice - a scene that revealed three seasons: Winter's ice, Autumn's fallen leaves, and the reflection of Spring trees.


In our yard, scallions and lilies seemed to grow a little more each hour.

In the evening, the nearly full moon rose into the trees with budding branches silhouetted against it, and the chorus of peepers began again.


Although the river is rather high, and the current is strong as I write, I already have taken my kayak on the river once - a week ago today. A few days earlier, I never would have imagined this would be possible.

For a while, we were in a holding pattern between Winter and Spring, but Spring can spring suddenly, even after the worst of Winters! My purpose for writing this post is to remember this. Next year, when Winter feels endless and Spring seems so far away, I can remember how quickly it happens. And how alive I felt walking along a favorite trail, filled with awe and gratitude for Spring bringing everything back to life. It almost makes you forgive and forget how long and frigid Winter was.

Almost, but not quite.

 ---------------------------
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 blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Monday, April 7, 2014

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.

 ---------------------------
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 blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Breathtaking Cinematography of Louie Schwartzberg

"Throughout my life, nature has always been my greatest mentor." 
-Louie Schwartzberg

We are in the midst of another gray slump. This time it's rain. Finally, winter is melting so spring can push through. I actually have dug through the snow on more than one occasion to try to find evidence of that, beyond the daffodil shoots that have been visible in a sheltered, snow-free area outside my classroom for nearly a month. I want to see purple crocuses pushing through the snow! My mom told me she has been checking her garden every day (since hearing about my classroom daffodils) for signs of her flowers coming up.

Not yet. But soon.
 
It has been a very long winter. In my third attempt to capture an image every day for an entire year, I've photographed sunrises and sunsets, frost, mist rising from the river and hovering like a magic carpet, back yard birds, shadows, and food. (Food photography tends to be the answer when I'm in a pinch. And I realize what a blessing it is to have food on the table.) When I'm outdoors steeped in wonder and awe, I don't feel the cold. But I am ready to move on. Done with winter.


During this gray and muddy time of year, my spirit has been nourished by the magnificent films of Louie Schwartzberg, my favorite cinematographer. Every film Louie offers the world - whether free online (see my list of links, below), on Netflix, or available for purchase through his website -  is absolutely amazing. The way he (first notices and then) slows down or speeds up what happens in nature reveals a rhythm and dance that we couldn't perceive otherwise. His images are love letters that open windows to profound perspectives of the world around us.

Louie has been filming time-lapse flowers 24/7 for more than 30 years - the only cinematographer to do so - and this was my introduction to his work. Viewing his macro imagery of the graceful dance of flowers opening, closing, and repeating these movements awakened something in me. It might even have awakened my passion for photography a few years ago. His skill goes far beyond composition and technical mastery to capture the spirit of his subjects - the energy and connectedness of all life. 

Cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg (photo provided)

I watch Louie's films to awaken wonder, and also to relax and recharge. His films truly are visual meditations, and when I watch them, I notice my breathing becoming slower and deeper and my heart rate slowing. I even have measured how my blood pressure changes when I view his moving images. (The systolic number has been known to drop more than 20 points!) When I feel stressed and want to relax, his films are good medicine. And when my outlook mirrors the grayness of my surroudings, his films reawaken wonder and gratitude for all the hidden treasures in the world. I am immensely grateful to him for these gifts. In a recent Facebook post, he wrote:
"Take a good look around.
No matter what you're looking at, it's only a fraction of what's actually around us."

And how true is that? There is so much more than we perceive in the course of our everyday lives. Louie's lenses focus on images that are too tiny, too slow, too fast, or too high to perceive normally. His images invite the viewer to enter a whole new world. He speeds up the rhythmic dance of the flowers and the motion of clouds or stars moving across the sky, slows down the flights of hummingbirds and the crashing of ocean waves, rises into the air to take viewers on journeys over extraordinary locations, and zooms in to reveal a whole world of virtually invisible wonders right at our fingertips - all via vibrant, breathtaking images steeped in wonder, gratitude, and awe.

As a teacher, I also appreciate the value that Louie's films offer my classroom. When my kindergartners have high energy that needs to be brought down a few notches, or when I am feeling overwhelmed (and realize that if I'm feeling that way, they must be, too), showing one of Louie's films on our SMART Board works like a charm. The children are enchanted by the images and inevitably want to respond to them and discuss their own experiences in nature - which makes my heart happy because I believe the heart of all learning is a reverence for life itself and strive to connect my students with the natural world. My students have been stuck indoors for recess almost all winter long because it has been too cold to go outdoors, and our jam-packed Common Core curriculum leaves us with less time during the school day to explore outdoors. I appreciate how Louie's films continue to connect my students with the natural world even when we cannot experience it for ourselves, up close and personal. And I imagine my students won't look at hummingbirds, bees, flowers, butterflies, etc. quite the same when they do notice them in their environment. Louie's films facilitate awareness and connection. They also give my students a much needed "brain break" during our busy, academically-oriented days.

Speaking of academics, Louie's films enhance our science content greatly. For instance, I intend to use his DisneyNature film, Wings of Life, to teach my students about the pollinators. I also intend to weave together science and character education by using some of Louie's insights about bees as examples of cooperation and community, and the forest as a model of diversity. This more holistic approach encourages children to recognize aspects of their own selves reflected in nature, which I believe fosters connection.

Louie Schwartzberg is an award-winning artist with a mission to share the wonders of nature and help heal our planet through a shift in consciousness. Through his art and insights, he is also a teacher of gratitude and mindfulness. The child of holocaust survivors, he was taught to appreciate life's small blessings, and gratitude is an indelible aspect of his artistic vision. On April 6th, he will be featured on Oprah's "Super Soul Sunday" series discussing "how focusing on nature's beauty can help us experience a deeper spiritual connection to the world around us."

Every day, I take a moment to give thanks for all the beauty in this world, whether I experience it directly or through the generosity of others, such as Louie, who feel called to share the imagery they have captured. Shared images remind me that, although my environment might be predominantly gray-scale at this time of year, so much goodness exists in the world nonetheless. Sometimes this reminder is the greatest gift you can give someone! 

The first thing I did to kick off the weekend yesterday afternoon was to watch Louie's film, Chasing the Light: A Filmmaker's Journey to Extraordinary Places, which I ordered via his website. The film was mesmerizing and inspiring, just as I'd expected. It lifted my spirits on an overcast, foggy evening and moved me to take my camera out for a ride along the river (thinking that very act could serve as the definition of "optimism"). Here is an image I captured in what I am tempted to call my "Embrace the Suck" series:


Obviously there are good reasons why Louie Schwartzberg doesn't live in the Northeast. But you've got to find beauty where you are, and his images inspire me to keep looking because there's always more to see if you look carefully enough!

To experience Louie's films for yourself or to become part of his online community, check out these resources:

In addition, a number of Louie's films are available for streaming on Netflix, including: DisneyNature: Wings of Life; Moving Art: FlowersMoving Art: Oceans, Moving Art: Deserts, and Moving Art: Forests. All are extraordinary.

---------------------------
The photographs in this blog (with the exception of the photo of Louie Schwartzberg, which is not my image) 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 blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

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.

---------------------------
© 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 blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

In My Own Back Yard

My husband has warned me of the dangers of continuing to share snowy, wintry images at this time of year, for this has been a long, cold winter, and the general consensus is that winter can go away now, thank you very much, and let spring take hold.

Nonetheless, I'm going to risk it...

We had a mixed bag storm this week with snow, sleet, and ice. By the end of the day, after the storm had ended and the sun came out, I found myself in the middle of the woods filled with awe and gratitude, and I can't resist sharing the beauty with you.

Once the precipitation had ended, I heard birdsong outside the window as I sat indoors by the wood stove appreciating the warmth. I have noticed more birdsong lately, which (literally!) is music to my ears. When I stepped outside, I noticed several flashes of red darting about our snow-covered back yard. Cardinals! Lots of them! I adore the sight of bright red cardinals against the whiteness of winter. So I set up near one of the bird feeders and enjoyed the show as all sorts of birds came and went - some squabbling, others coexisting peacefully.





Meanwhile, the robins congregated in the corner of the yard next to the kayak shack.


All was well and good. I went back inside, content with the back yard birds being the subject of the day. But eventually the sun came out, and the treetops glistened with ice still clinging to the branches. And then I knew there was more to see.

I took a 15-mile drive along the river to see what I could see but didn't find anything worth stopping to photograph. I thought of Dorothy's reflection in The Wizard of Oz about not needing to look beyond her own back yard for her heart's desire - as it occurred to me that perhaps my own back yard was precisely where I would find what I was looking for. Why hadn't I answered the call of the glistening trees and gone into the woods in the first place?


It was a white and sparkling world in the forest, silent except for a woodpecker nearby and the delicate sound of ice-covered tree branches blowing gently in the wind. The trees were like crystal chandeliers, glistening.


And then...oh, my! I was surrounded by such breathtaking beauty that I didn't feel the cold.


All was Yes and Thank You.  

And Oh. My. God.

As those words escaped my lips, I thought of something my favorite filmmaker, Louie Schwartzberg, said during his TED presentation on Nature, Beauty, and Gratitude:

"When people see my images, a lot of times they'll say, 'Oh. My. God.' Have you ever wondered what that meant? The 'oh' means it caught your attention. It makes you present, makes you mindful. The 'my' means it connects with something deep inside your soul. It creates a gateway for your inner voice to rise up and be heard. And God? God is that personal journey we all want to be on, to be inspired, to feel like we're connected to a universe that celebrates life."

That is exactly what it felt like to be in the forest that afternoon.


Yes, our polar vortex winter has been very long and cold. Yes, we are ready for spring. But to be in the middle of the divinely glistening forest filled my heart to the brim with gratitude and awe.

The sun was setting, and it was time to return home. As I followed deer tracks through the forest, I thought of a line from Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet:

"The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain."

Yes, sorrow has carved deeply into my being during this long, cold winter. But it has carved a well capable of holding so much joy. And that joy is my fuel. I go in search of it every day with a grateful heart. Every day, despite all the sorrow. And then I need to share it so others will know that the possibility for such joy and beauty exists.

Even when I am not steeped in the beauty of nature, I can pause to sip from the well of joy by recalling beautiful imagery and the way it felt to be there. Imagery is very powerful and can induce a relaxation response as if I were there in person.

May we find beauty and goodness where we can today and every day. It's out there waiting to be discovered. And when you find it and immerse yourself in it, nothing else exists. No worries. No fears. No sorrows.

Imagine that.

---------------------------
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 blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.