Saturday, October 27, 2012

Calm Before the Storm

The sun rises later now, making it easier to get up early enough to experience the sunrise without compromising sleep. This morning's sunrise was heavy with fog, although the surface of the river was clear, with no mist rising from it. The air was also thick with a pervasive sense of calm, which wrapped around me like a soft blanket. I thought it would be a good time to take the kayak out, but after I returned from gathering my gear, I noticed the view of the shoreline was disappearing gradually as thick fog descended.


Lagging behind the other trees, the oaks began releasing their leaves today in earnest. A hurricane is making its way up the coast, and it's as if the trees have counseled the leaves to let go on their own terms rather than wait for a thief to come along and steal them away in a fury.

There is a parade of mostly oak leaves floating downriver as if on a conveyor belt. The freshly fallen leaves speak of total surrender to the flow of life.

After the fog had lifted, I went on the river eager to photograph the fall foliage for what might be the last time this year. I was drawn to the image of oak leaves falling, landing on the water, and drifting away from the reflection of the tree to which they used to cling. There is a metaphor in that image that has intrigued me for the past couple years. The reflection seems like a memory of a lifetime completed.


Some oak leaves travel in groups held together by an invisible force of some sort. I saw the movie, Cloud Atlas, last night and couldn't help but perceive the groups of floating oak leaves as having recently ended one existence together and traveling toward a new one.


Several skeins of geese have been flying overhead today. Some honk loudly. Others fly so silently that I can hear the whistling of their wings beating in unison. The sound reminds me of the squeaking of old playground equipment.


The heron is a master of invisibility. He continues to surprise me when he takes off all of a sudden to find a more private location.


The water was calm, producing vivid reflections.





As I write, it is so quiet. The air remains heavy with moisture and stillness like the calm before the storm.

Aside from the oaks, there seem to be more leaves on the ground now than on the trees.


In the yard, the sole, large pumpkin cut from our lengthy vine is working on turning orange. Numerous cauliflower plants seemed to have come alive and are busy growing. The Brussels sprouts are still growing. Some spearmint plants remain, and I am fond of plucking the leaves to make a thermos of hot tea to take along for the kayak or the classroom. The broccoli hasn't given up yet, and the scallions continue to thrive.


Heading indoors, it is time to turn my attention toward charging batteries, doing dishes and laundry, and preparing food for blustery weather.

Be safe, my East coast friends!

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Everyday Heroes

Sometimes our light goes out, but it is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being.  Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.  -Albert Schweitzer 

Every morning, I take a few moments to give thanks for various blessings in my life, set an intention, and invite into my day enough guidance, support, mindfulness, and skill to manage my classroom and other interactions effectively. This morning when I woke up, my heart was filled with gratitude for the ways in which such guidance and support have manifested, and I feel compelled to write about a few people who make a positive difference in my life.

This school year has been exceedingly challenging for me thus far due to a number of factors, including: school reform mandates, challenging behaviors, increased class size, and limited human resources. I find solace in knowing I am not alone. Public school teachers all over the country - licensed, highly educated, experienced, committed, caring professionals - are feeling overwhelmed and disempowered by a system that is being driven by statisticians and politicians at the state and federal levels who in general appear to understand neither child development nor the realities of the classroom. That being the case, I want to acknowledge two angels in my professional life who provide me with valuable guidance and support through the storm. 

The first is Sally Haughey of the Fairy Dust Teaching blog. I knew the instant I visited Sally's newborn, Waldorf-inspired blog nearly two years ago that she was a kindred spirit. When she began offering professional development courses online via her blog, I signed up for every one of them, hungry for the wisdom she offers so generously with regard to "soulful teaching." She has been holding my hand all the way from Oklahoma for more than a year now and enriching my life both in and out of the classroom. I am grateful for her vision, passion, and inspiration and for the technology that makes such sharing possible.

Another small miracle in my teacher life is a community volunteer who is helping in my classroom every morning out of her sheer love for children. Peggy does not have any children in our district but is a retired high school teacher from another district who lives in the neighborhood. I didn't know her until a connection was established via my administrators. Unless you are a teacher, you probably have no idea how much of a difference volunteers can make in the life of a classroom, especially now that the whole game has changed. If there is any way to help a school or teacher in your community, please consider doing so. It is becoming clear to me that some of the finest teachers are among those most seriously considering jumping ship, and you might be responsible for keeping one in the classroom.

Several years ago when I was in the midst of a graduate program in education, I encountered some obstacles that nearly caused me to abandon my dream of becoming a teacher. On my birthday, I had a powerful dream that has stayed with me all these years and filled me with confidence and optimism. In the dream, I was traveling on a road surrounded by water, and it was raining so hard that the road up ahead in the distance was flooded. I didn't know how I'd ever get back to my car. When I finally reached the flooded area, I noticed there were several flotation devices off to the side, and I used one to get across. The point was that I couldn't see these objects from the distance; they appeared when I was truly in need of them. The dream convinced me that there would be help available when I need it - help I would not be able to foresee. When circumstances seemed bleak, the memory of that dream helped me to push through.

The two women mentioned above are examples of the kind of help that becomes available in times of need. I never could have imagined or anticipated the gifts they would give me! They appeared all of a sudden as if out of nowhere.

Finally, I want to mention two other people whom I consider everyday angels and whose positive energy is infectious. The first is a man named Lorenzo who works on a road crew at a construction site I drive through every day. He is so friendly and animated and looks like he is having the best time managing traffic. Talk about positive vibes! It always makes me smile and feel good to see him. He'll exclaim (even through closed windows), "What a beautiful smile! So great to see it!" when I drive by and wave back at him. He is like a performer interacting symbiotically with an audience, fueled by the energy that returns to him.


Today during a staff meeting, the presenter happened to mention Lorenzo and that he'd given him a gift card. Then we discovered that other staff members also have given him gifts or stopped to thank him for his incredible, uplifting energy. I considered taking an alternate route around the construction on my way to work in the morning but decided I'd rather leave a few minutes early and wait in traffic in order to experience Lorenzo's extraordinary energy! When I mentioned his exuberance on Facebook, several people commented that his happiness fills them with happiness and excitement and that they go out of their way to see him. What a gift he bestows upon our little corner of the world! I wonder how far it ripples as each of us, uplifted by his cheerfulness, goes about our day.

No doubt the finger pointing at the left edge of this photo is attached to a smiling face!

Spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, explained that the first step toward finding more satisfying work is to change how you do what you're already doing by bringing full presence to it. You radiate positive energy, and then perhaps somebody will notice how present you are and feel drawn to that. Then perhaps you will make a connection that leads to a new opportunity. Or perhaps the act of being present will breathe new life into the work you already do. I think of this when I drive through the construction site because that is the kind of energy Lorenzo radiates.

Addendum: Lorenzo's smiles and greetings have created such a buzz and touched the hearts of so many people in our community that a couple articles have been written about him, and he recently was given the key to the city and made an honorary citizen "because of the unbridled joy he gives to all those who pass by him." What an extraordinary example of the difference one person can make  through the power of a smile and simply being kind and loving to everyone he sees! 

And then there's Bill, the crossing guard/custodian at our school - an older man who has got to be one of the sweetest, gentlest souls on this planet. Every morning, he greets me by name with a smile and a few words about the weather. I look forward to his daily greeting. On special holidays, Bill gives all the children candy canes or other small treats just to see their smiles. Truth is, he reminds me so much of my deceased grandmother, who also loved children and worked at a school. Last Christmas, I gave Bill a card that acknowledged how much his morning greeting means to me. I knew that if I didn't communicate this to him, I would regret it someday.

Peace Pilgrim said, "Just as there are no little people or unimportant lives, there is no insignificant work." By the very nature of the energy we put forth in the world, each of us has an effect on those with whom we come in contact, however briefly. Never underestimate the power of a smile or kind word to light up someone's day. May we be a channel of blessings to others through the energy we emit throughout the course of our daily lives, and also be receptive to blessings that flow to us through the simple, caring actions of others!

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Autumn Haiku

Sensory impressions have been intense on the river this week! The various brilliant and subtle sights and sounds ushered me deep into stillness and gratitude, and I don't want to dishonor them by pairing them with too many words. I'm in a haiku mood. And in some cases, haiku-inspired verse helps to fill in the blanks when images were elusive - particularly where birds and low lighting were involved.

 1.

enter this chapel 
with empty mind tuned to now—
inhale reverence


2.
 
stained glass windows of
gold, crimson, and tangerine—
sunlight dances through


3.

sunrise thick with mist—
bald eagle soars gracefully
through silent stillness


4.

art revealed at dawn—
fiery orange-red canvas
with frosted outline


late morning sunshine—
frost has melted into strings
of translucent beads


6.

the sun has returned—
yellow leaves glisten with last
night's clinging raindrops


7.

beating of thick wings—
elusive heron takes off
seeking solitude


8.
silver maple leaf
lands silently on river—
a rippled applause



9.

full, ripe, and bursting—
milkweed pods release silky
seed fairies to fly


10.

brilliant foliage—
vestiges of town's heydey
draw my attention



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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Time for Sleep

This week, I have spent several hours viewing livestreamed and webcasted talks given by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama during his speaking engagements throughout New England (and also Virginia). Ever since taking a world religions course in college more than 25 years ago, His Holiness has been one of my greatest personal and spiritual heroes and a source of deep inspiration. His life experience and relationship with the Chinese government provide me with a model for dealing with adversarial themes in my own life while remaining rooted in kindness and compassion. I am grateful for the technology that makes it possible to watch these live and recorded events, particularly after an unsuccessful attempt to purchase tickets for his public talk at Middlebury College.

During one of this week's talks, a questioner asked how the Dalai Lama can maintain such a busy lifestyle without compromising his health. He responded with gusto, "Good sleep!" He went on to explain that he gets eight or nine hours of sound sleep every night. During this morning's talk at Middlebury College, he stated, "My sleep is an important part of my meditation," and once again expounded on the importance of sleep.

I found this interesting because the day before I heard him speak about this topic, I arrived at the realization that getting a good night's sleep is an important contribution to world peace. My reasoning was based on the assertion that world peace is generated from inner peace. Inner peace arises from a happy heart and mind, and I realized that depriving myself of sleep tends to compromise my mood and my ability to manage the normal stressors of everyday life.

I haven't been able to go on the river this week because it's been too windy and cold; the water has been rough. I'm sure there will be more opportunities for river bliss before retiring the kayaks for the winter, but the season is winding down along with the garden. In fact, we had our first frost last night.


Soon it will be the season of the wood stove, candles, and shorter days.



And you know what? That sounds like a great opportunity for getting more sleep!

I have been shortchanging my sleep since June because there has been so much to see and do during the longer, warmer days. Toward the end of summer, preserving tomatoes (canning, drying, sauce-making) and other gifts of the garden occupied a lot of my "free" time. So did experiencing and photographing the outdoors. Trying to fit in creative pursuits after resuming full-time teaching more than a month ago has presented additional challenges to getting a good night's sleep. But the act of creating is like breathing to the artist's soul, and I can't not do it. I just have to remind myself constantly that adequate rest is perhaps even more important and put some boundaries around my creative endeavors.

Among the lessons I learned from observing the water lilies on the river all summer was the importance of getting plenty of rest. By 2:00 or 3:00 p.m., they already were closed back into tight green pods until the following morning. The beauty they gave to the world during their waking hours was breathtaking. It was as if they put all their energy into blooming fully and then needed lots of time to regenerate in order to do it again the next day. They spoke to me of balance and simplicity - not trying to do too much. It seems to me that there is a certain amount of doing that is necessary and healthy each day, and anything beyond that only serves the ego, which is never satisfied. We need to discern when enough is enough and call it quits for the day.


This week, I have begun prioritizing sleep. It requires a great deal of discipline because there is so much I want to accomplish and experience each day. However, sleep needs to come first! It is the foundation for everything else, including having the energy and motivation to get enough physical exercise, maintain a healthy diet, and generate enough mindfulness and patience to manage my classroom, home life, and other interactions effectively.

During the summer, I often had to choose between experiencing the sunrise or the nighttime sky (made more compelling by the fanciful glow of thousands of fireflies around the yard and the allure of moonlit kayaking). I usually chose the latter. During the cooler months, it is easier to do both and still get a good night's sleep. This is one reason to welcome the cooler weather and darker months as the sun favors the southern hemisphere and travels a path lower on the horizon.  

I have had numerous conversations during the past week with friends who are experiencing tangible and measurable symptoms of too much stress. In our fast-paced world where many of us find ourselves burdened with heavier workloads and impossible demands put upon us, I feel the Dalai Lama's simple advice is much needed. We can come up with umpteen excuses to keep running on the treadmill in a futile attempt to satisfy the appetites of all the egos in our lives. However, peace and happiness in our hearts, our homes, and our world depends on everyone taking personal responsibility for meeting this most basic need for sleep. With proper rest comes greater creativity for problem solving the issues that confront us in our daily lives. With a good night's sleep, our minds are clearer, and our actions are more effective.

So why not join me in doing ourselves and everyone around us a favor by prioritizing a good night's sleep?  

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Seed Stories

"I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders."   - Henry David Thoreau 

We haven't had a frost yet here on the river, but the garden is certainly slowing down. Summer's watering and weeding of tender new growth has been replaced by gathering the tail end of the harvest (Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, herbs, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower) and turning our attention to collecting seeds.


I love the tidy little seed pouches hanging from our morning glory vines. We have been collecting lots of morning glory seeds and are saving them in small envelopes to give to friends and to plant next year. I also plan to have my students give their mothers packets of morning glory seeds as part of a Mother's Day card in the spring.


For the past couple years, I have dried and saved pumpkin seeds to plant in the spring. Last year, I had my students remove the seeds from a pumpkin I brought from our garden for a pumpkin investigation activity. I allowed the seeds to dry, and my students colored pumpkin seed envelopes that I assembled, filled with seeds, and gave to each child to take home.

There is something really special, satisfying, and metaphorical about sharing seeds. It is a gift of love and hope. There is tremendous potential in a seed.

This summer, I discovered my husband was hoarding some concord grapes his parents gave him from their garden. Truth is, he didn't want my son to know about them because he has quite a reputation when it comes to fruit! At some point, my husband let me in on his little secret, and boy were those grapes delicious! Eventually he even gave some to my son, who appreciated them very much. My husband decided to save the grape seeds in hopes of growing some from seed, and we have little trays of grape seeds lined up with little trays of several other types of seeds drying on a kitchen shelf. A dear friend of mine (who I consider my first spiritual mentor) came for a visit a couple days ago, and during his visit, my husband remembered that his parents' grapevines came from the grapevines of my friend's father! That made the grape seeds even more special. They are part of a legacy. And a small world of infinite interconnections.

Acorns are probably my very favorite seeds of all. I find it amazing that the acorn resting in my hand has the potential to become a mighty oak tree. There is an incredible picture book written by Joseph Anthony called In a Nutshell that explores the life cycle of an acorn that falls from an oak tree at the beginning of the story. The acorn grows into an oak tree and lives a full life. In time it dies, becomes part of the soil, and nourishes a cherry tree that eventually is planted in its place long after anyone can remember an oak tree ever having been there. At the end of the book, the life energy that was in the tiny acorn becomes part of the soil, the new tree, and the family that eats the cherries. It is an endless cycle that has much in common with the human life cycle.

Before reading this story to my class this year, I showed them a little acorn baby I made a while back, explaining that the acorn baby is asleep on an oak leaf in a cradle of acorns, dreaming of becoming an oak tree.


I love to create acorn themed figures!


This week, I've also made some felted acorns while viewing livestreamed and webcasted talks given by H.H. the Dalai Lama during his Northeast tour.


As the sun set today (and after watching one of the Dalai Lama's talks), I felt inspired to create a fall mandala using the felted acorns.


Then again, I also adore milkweed seeds. One of my favorite fall activities is to give each of my students a milkweed pod to open on a windy day. We go outdoors and watch millions of milkweed seed fairies being released into the wind - and hope that some of them will grow into milkweed plants that will attract and feed monarch caterpillars and butterflies on our school grounds.


When I think about plant life cycles, it occurs to me that the most basic purpose of a plant is to produce seeds. The flowers are beautiful, and the fruit and vegetables provide nourishment to humans and other animals, but the seeds are what endure and carry the plant forward into subsequent generations. There is another exceptional children's book called A Fruit is a Suitcase for Seeds (written by Jean Richards). What a fabulous title! Pretty much says it all.

It's interesting to stop and consider what seeds we carry in our suitcase. What kind of legacy are we creating as we go about the business of expressing our unique essence and fragrance in this world?

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Autumn's Splendor: Be Here Now

I recently heard that the spiritual teacher, Ram Dass, has a bumper sticker on his car that reads, "I'd Rather Be Here Now." (It is a clever play on the "I'd rather be..." themed bumper stickers and also makes reference to Ram Dass's influential 1971 book, Be Here Now.) Whereas this seems to be sound advice in general for living a more mindful and fulfilled life, these words are particularly relevant in the Northeast at this time of year.


This week in my corner of the world, Mother Nature is donning her most stunning gown, and it is a sight to truly behold. By that, I mean: Drop everything else, bundle up, go outdoors, and experience the colorful leaves waving and tumbling elegantly from the trees!


Meditate on letting go. Allow the mundane preoccupations and habits of daily life to release their hold on you, and be here now in nature. We only get to see this intense display of colors for a couple weeks each year; Mother Nature does not wait.


On the theme of letting go, we also can consider: What has outlived its usefulness in our life?

And what can we harvest?


At this time of year, some Northeasterners feel sad because the cold, gray time of year is on the way. The sun sets earlier in the evening, and we are putting the remainder of our gardens to bed under covers to protect them from frost. But now is not the time to dwell on thoughts of winter! If we spend time thinking about winter, we are not experiencing this spectacular moment! In this sense, I've experienced autumn as a teacher of mindfulness - of being in the moment and not getting ahead of ourselves. We can pause for a few moments to feel the crisp air and appreciate the vibrant colors, forms, and movements of the natural world.


Smell any number of familiar, comforting aromas carried on an autumn breeze or from a warm oven.


Taste the gifts of the harvest.


Hear the geese honking as they fly in formation overhead.


Occupying our senses through an awareness of the natural world is an antidote to too much thinking - about a personal situation, a political situation, or whatever else may occupy our mind.


As I sit in the kayak watching leaves fall one by one, I feel the stress fall away, as well. Why? Because when I am seeing or listening (etc.) with my full attention, I am not thinking!


I find the image of falling leaves inspiring. Some leaves seem to be in a hurry and nosedive to the ground with obvious gravity. Some free-fall courageously with arms extended and belly into the wind. Some flutter down delicately, easily mistaken for butterflies. Others glide erratically like paper airplanes, distracted by ever-changing air currents. Some somersault, head over heels the whole way down; I swear I hear them giggle. Some spiral down dizzily while others zigzag weightlessly. Others take advantage of a generous breeze and ballet their way gracefully through the air, looking like they are having so much fun, liberated and free and nearly defying the laws of gravity.

Watching the leaves let go awakens something in me. It fills me with an urge to live more fully and authentically. In our brief human existence, do we want to be a leaf that simply drops to the ground or one that dances elegantly the whole way down and perhaps inspires others to do the same? Are we paying attention and aware of when it is the right time to let go?


When I lived in Florida, I missed fall greatly. My grandmother would send us care packages of lovingly packed apples, and after moving back up north, I sent a package of autumn leaves to a Florida friend who was a transplanted New Yorker. I realize some of my friends are experiencing fall vicariously through the photos I post online and that this is a time of year when those who have moved away really miss "home." This is a powerful time of year, and although we can honor the gifts and themes of autumn no matter where we live, what a blessing it is to be here now!

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Autumn Visualization

Today I offer you a mental health moment.

Take a moment to pause in your day and imagine:

It's a soft, shades-of-gray late afternoon, and the river doesn't look particularly inviting under the thick cloud cover; however, there is a certain magic drawing you to it, beginning with a sense of stillness and warmth.

You step into the kayak and immediately enter a dream world. The sky is a very light gray heavy with moisture. The fall foliage is spectacular, offering a rainbow of color:

  • Clusters of unidentified light purple wildflowers dotting the shore
  • A great blue heron squawking as it lifts into the air to cross the river
  • A variety of greens: evergreens, grass, weeds
  • An abundance of trees glowing golden yellow 
  • Blazing orange and red maples accenting the shoreline


Looking up, a canopy of leaves appears like a stained glass image allowing light to shine through.


Single, fallen leaves float silently and weightlessly down the river like tiny, sculpted rafts.



It is silent except for the occasional honking of geese passing overhead and the sound of your paddle cutting through the water and returning drops of water to the river with gentle, rhythmic splashes.

The brilliant foliage fades into fog in the distance, providing stunning visual contrast.


The world around you is all stillness and silence but for the sound of wings of several skeins of geese, one followed by another, beating against the water as they touch down briefly, honking incessantly. 

Your skin is tickled by a misting of either very light rain or heavy fog (creating no ripples on the water).

You pause to sip hot spearmint tea snipped from the garden this morning and to inhale its sweet fragrance, inviting the breathtaking colors and serenity to burn an enduring image in your soul. Drink deeply and savor this exquisite moment.


The nearly white sky darkens as an invisible sun sets behind a thick blanket of clouds, and the world around you is painted in shades of bluish gray, olive, and evergreen. 

With a grateful heart you return home, soul restored and batteries charged by the stillness and peace.



Ahhhh...river bliss! 

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.