Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Surprise on the River

Today was the most gorgeous spring day! I came home from work eager to get out on the river but decided to first make pizza. Incredible pizza with a crust made from scratch brushed with a mixture of olive oil, fresh garlic, and crushed red pepper and then topped with smoked Gruyere, caramelized onions, baby portabella mushrooms, and fresh chives from the garden. After going a few years without making pizza, this has recently become a weekly menu item.

My husband was already out on the river, and I went out as soon as the pizza came out of the oven. I don't usually take my good camera on the river, but boating season officially begins tomorrow, and I thought I'd take advantage of this last day without any boat traffic to do some river photography on a particularly colorful evening.

I didn't see my husband anywhere, so I decided to paddle north to visit my favorite tree, Patrick Cottonwood. I photographed this male cottonwood tree extensively last spring and shared the photos with my kindergartners. They named the tree Patrick (after a starfish character in the SpongeBob cartoon) because at one point it looked like the tree was sprouting starfish.

Dazzled by all the changes the male and female cottonwood trees go through during the course of a year, I fell in love with Patrick, in particular. I noticed recently that the majority of trees lining the riverbank opposite us have been marked with fluorescent orange paint. I'm not sure exactly what fate is in store for the marked trees, but I wanted to see if Patrick had been marked - and was relieved to see that he wasn't.

I floated around under Patrick Cottonwood for several minutes and then decided to cross the river to observe the female cottonwood opposite Patrick (named "Fluffy" by last year's kindergartners). When I paddled across the river, I could see around the bend - and was alarmed by what I saw.

The fourth season of the Hudson River PCB dredging project officially began yesterday, and it's much closer to home this year than we had anticipated. Knowing where the project left off last year, we figured we'd have another year before the mechanical dredges appeared in our stretch of the river.

Wrong! After 20 minutes of leisurely paddling along my usual route, I was face-to-face with dredging-related operations.

View from the road, in operation

A bit further ahead, there was a huge dredging barge that sounded like it was in operation.

Closeup from the road

The massive project, which spans 40 miles of the river between Fort Edward and the Federal Dam at Troy, is nearly halfway to the goal of removing 2.65 million cubic yards of PCB contaminated sediment from the mud in the bottom of the river. A 200-mile stretch of river from Fort Edward to the Battery in Lower Manhattan was designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as a federal Superfund Site in 1984. It is one of the nation's largest hazardous waste sites due to PCB contamination. For 30 years, from 1947 to 1977, General Electric dumped an estimated 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the river before PCBs were banned by the Federal government in 1979. In 1976, the Upper Hudson was closed to fishing because the fish were so badly contaminated with PCBs. Sportfishing on the Upper Hudson (i.e. between Hudson Falls and the Troy dam) was reopened in 1995 on a catch-and-release basis only.

There is much controversy surrounding the Hudson River dredging project, which is being watched worldwide. I became familiar with the pro-dredging argument more than a decade ago when I accompanied my husband's band to Clearwater's Great Hudson River Revival festival, where they performed for a number of years. I didn't come in contact with opposing viewpoints until we became part of the river community five years ago. As a river resident, I have concerns about airborne PCBs during dredging and the resuspension of PCBs in the water resulting from toxic sediment (that had sunk into the river bottom) being stirred up by the dredging. The EPA claims that the air and water quality is very closely monitored on a daily basis to fall within conservative limits and that there is hard data to show that fears regarding air and water quality are not manifesting. Rumor has it that an air quality monitor will be installed in our yard.

I, personally, have trouble trusting any agency with a political agenda - even the EPA - when my family's health is concerned. However, it is a complicated issue, and since I am not a scientist, I do not feel qualified to take a side. Dredging takes place 24 hours a day, six days a week, for about eight months during the year. Having it in front of our house will be a huge inconvenience, and we have talked about finding alternative housing during that time. However, personal inconvenience is ultimately trivial if this project really can improve the health of the river ecosystem in the long run. I sincerely hope it will. The river runs not only through Eastern New York; it also runs through generations. When I listen closely with my heart, I believe that the river wants the PCBs removed. And when I watch migratory birds like great blue herons and egrets feasting on contaminated fish, I realize there are no boundaries to the contamination. But I guess the best solution is to begin at the source.

May this project be blessed and bring forth blessings that will endure for many generations. And may businesses and people all over the world stop dumping poison into our rivers, oceans, and other bodies of water, thinking it's a convenient, invisible solution. All life on this planet is interconnected by water and air. Our collective survival depends on the quality of both. Contaminated fish are like canaries in a coalmine.

© 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, April 27, 2013

Flower Power

"Even a stone, and more easily a flower or a bird, could show you the way back to God, to the Source, to yourself. When you look at it or hold it and let it be without imposing a word or mental label on it, a sense of awe, of wonder, arises within you. Its essence silently communicates itself to you and reflects your own essence back to you."  (Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose, 2005, p. 26)

It's funny: Up until not too long ago, I didn't really understand the purpose of growing flowers. Vegetables and fruit, yes - but not flowers. They are nice to look at, but I wondered: What purpose do they serve other than to be beautiful? Since childhood, I watched my mom labor in her flower garden and knew that she loved her flowers - but I just didn't get it.

But now I do. 

Crocuses in my mother's garden

I experienced my first awakening one summer evening several years ago when a floral fragrance from a neighbor's garden drifted in through an open window. It occurred to me that I was benefiting from someone's act of kindness, for flower gardeners grace their surroundings with intoxicating scents that can travel on a wind, catch us unaware, and uplift our spirits. I felt grateful to whoever it was that took the time to plant and care for the flowers I was smelling - the fragrance of a neighbor's joy and love.

A couple summers ago, I was feeling a little down while walking a labyrinth in a local park. All of a sudden I stopped in my tracks because I noticed - really noticed - an orange flower near the edge of the labyrinth that called to me and transported me instantly into a state of intense awareness of beauty and unity - at-one-ment. That was the day of my great awakening to the energy of flowers.  

The cosmos that awakened me

Flowers are my current photography obsession. Something about the way they dare to bloom speaks to me and inspires me deeply at this time. And I am really feeling their energy.

"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."  -Anais Nin 

With grace, each of us blooms in our own time, when the conditions are right. 

And flowers can help us along the way, as portals of awareness.

After a particularly harrowing day this week, I left work with such an adrenaline rush and couldn't get on the river quickly enough. I paddled until the adrenaline had run its course and I returned to my senses, able to hear the gentle lapping of the waves against the shore, feel the warm sunshine on my face, and notice the beauty of the budding trees. The river (which, as if mirroring my energy, was not particularly calm) removed my mask of anger, revealing the great sadness beneath it. And then I felt compelled to be around flowers.

I retreated to the labyrinth, now surrounded by thousands of daffodils of different colors and sizes and hyacinths still closed tight in purple buds. 

As I walked the labyrinth, I felt calmed and uplifted by the silent energy and delicate beauty of the flowers. It was as if the flowers were my witnesses, emitting healing energy and - along with the birdsong all around - realigning me with a higher truth. Perhaps the flowers were mirrors reflecting my own innermost essence that is not disturbed by the dramas of the world. Surrounded by this gentle, supportive energy, my footsteps slowed as I continued deeper into the labyrinth, until I was immersed fully in walking meditation and peace. By the time I exited the labyrinth, I felt taller and stronger - much like a flower growing toward the sun. That was no small miracle given my physical and mental state prior to the river and labyrinth experiences.

Flowers are among the best teachers and healers I have known.

I resonate completely with what Eckhart Tolle has written about flowers:
"Flowers can become for us an expression in form of that which is most high, most sacred, and ultimately formless within ourselves. Flowers, more fleeting and ethereal, and more delicate than the plants out of which they emerge, are like messengers from another realm, like a bridge between the world of physical forms and the formless. They not only have a scent that is delicate and pleasing, but also bring a fragrance from the realm of spirit." (Eckhart Tolle, Oneness with All Life, 2008)
The more disharmony and insanity I feel in my environment, the more passionate I am about finding beauty and goodness. And it is always present, if you take time to notice. I often go outdoors before or after work in search of my daily dose of beauty and inspiration. I walk slowly and contemplatively, connecting deeply with the flowers, birds, or whatever else captures my attention. When I am guided toward a life form that appears to be serving as a conduit for the "formless" realm to come through, I focus my camera with reverence, hoping to preserve the manifestation so it can be shared with others. I photograph moments when I sense a spiritual message or energy coming through the natural world.

This daffodil shoot pushed up through a leaf:

I live for moments like this when all of a sudden the sun shines through an opening in the clouds at just the right angle, illuminating the flowers like stained glass. And I truly believe that flowers live for such moments, too, and somehow benefit from being noticed and appreciated - loved - by humans.

Moments of clarity, transparency, and wholeness. Of accepting the present moment as it is and reaffirming the "yes" that propels us through life and keeps us growing toward the light.

And of course, we can't do it all on our own.

I am so grateful for everything and everyone that helps our world to awaken and bloom!

And - as an aside - naturally I named this month's full moon...

Note: The images in this post are now available through my Etsy shop as a set of note cards or as individual prints.

© 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, April 21, 2013

In Celebration of Earth Day

"If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength."  -Rachel Carson

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

This post is geared primarily toward educators; however, I have a couple gifts for everyone if you scroll down to the bottom - two videos I have created in celebration of Earth Day. :-)

Sharing nature with children is one of my most deeply held inspired values as an early childhood educator. I believe that:
  • If children are to care about and want to protect the Earth, they need to have a personal relationship with it
  • The sense of wonder children experience early in life will remain with them and bring a greater depth of understanding to their later studies and explorations
  • Nature can enrich our lives as a source of inspiration, creativity, and strength.

Despite the recent, dramatic changes to the public school curriculum and the restricted freedom and time we now have for "enrichment," I hold onto some goals that I strive to weave into my teaching however possible. They include:
  • Connecting children with the natural world through direct experiences and observations, stories, photographs, informational resources, and art projects
  • Putting children in contact with growing things to develop a greater awareness of the cycles of nature
  • Cultivating the child's reverence and sense of wonder for the whole of creation (natural world)
  • Encouraging sensory awareness and mindfulness of nature
  • Sharing metaphors and cycles from nature that speak to the human experience
  • Using natural objects as manipulatives and play props.

To accomplish these goals, there are certain activities throughout the year that I will do everything in my power to keep in my kindergarten curriculum despite it all. For example, I would continue to have an indoor butterfly pavilion in my classroom for children to observe the monarch butterfly life cycle. Even if (hypothetically) we were not taking time to officially learn about it, at least my students could observe it, be in awe of it, and ask questions. We could take a few minutes at the beginning of recess to release the butterflies outdoors. This is an example of one of my personal "non-negotiables." Another is growing plants from seed. Both of these activities cultivate caring.

I've thought long and hard about different ongoing activities and structures I can include in my classroom to support my goals of connecting children with nature no matter what. Here are some I came up with:
  • Having a seasonal "nature" table in the classroom
  • Naming each full moon based on what is happening in the natural world during that month
  • Celebrating each full moon by reading a story featuring the moon
  • Observing and discussing the weather and temperature on a regular basis
  • Pausing for a moment to honor and observe natural phenomena as they occur (i.e. leaves or snow falling, squirrels playing, wind gusting, butterfly hatching)
  • Setting up science investigation stations for free exploration
  • Offering magnifying glasses as tools for exploration during outdoor recess
  • Providing bags for children to pick up playground trash
  • Providing direct experiences when possible - and when not possible, alternatives include virtual experiences (on our SMART Board) and family "homework"
  • Taking monthly nature walks and focusing on sensory observations and signs of the season.
Seasonal nature tables
Science investigation stations

I have yet to implement "family homework," but here are some ideas:
  • Feel the bark of different trees, and do a leaf rubbing with paper and crayons.
  • Collect and press a few fallen autumn leaves, and send to school to share, compare, and use in an art project.
  • Go outdoors after dark, and notice (and make a list of) different night sounds.
  • Look for bird nests after the leaves have fallen from the trees; inspect with a magnifying glass, and perhaps bring to school for our bird nest display case (empty fish tank).
  • Make a snowman or snow sculpture, and take a picture of it.
  • Make a bird chart, and keep track of the birds you see in your yard during winter (or spring).
  • Look at the night sky, and identify constellations, or make up constellations of your own.
  • Take a walk, and notice signs of spring (or fall).
  • Listen to the sounds of spring.
  • Put out materials for birds to use in making their nests (such as hair from a hairbrush).
  • Full Moon Club: Step outside when the moon is full each month, and make a list in a small notebook of what you notice (sights, sounds, smells, temperature, etc.); notice how the sensory impressions change from month to month.

Like delicate plants determined to push up through cracks in the pavement, there is always a way to facilitate children's connection with the natural world. Sharing my nature and wildlife photography is one of my favorite ways to do this. It seems that my passion for what I have photographed and experienced on the river awakens something in my students. They engage and pay attention when I share my photos and anecdotes via the SMART Board, and it is among the highest quality, most insightful and observant discussion we have. I think that a teacher's passion is infectious and ignites learners. I have a class website with a photo album in which families can upload pictures of nature and wildlife they observe outside of the classroom so children can do the same - a high tech version of show-and-tell.

I also make room for some read aloud stories pertaining to Earth Day. Some of my favorites are:
  • Why the Sky is Far Away: A Nigerian Folktale by Mary-Joan Gerson
  • The Gift: A Magical Story about Caring for the Earth by Isia Osuchowska (since I teach in a public school, I omit religious references)
  • Zinnia's Flower Garden by Monica Wellington
  • Each Living Thing by Joanne Ryder
  • The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry

Each year, I like to create something in celebration of Earth Day. One year I made a book from a paper bag that showed, through photos and text, 20 different ways we care for the Earth in our classroom.

To raise awareness of what we already do - and to brainstorm more ideas - I included items like:
  • Sharpening crayons, using the shavings for art projects, and using the stubs for crayon rubbings and melting into block crayons (message: using all the parts instead of throwing them away)
  • Turning off the lights when we leave the classroom
  • Obtaining most of the books in our classroom library secondhand (message: buying used rather than new and passing things on to others after they have outlived their usefulness to us)
  • Having a system for reusing and recycling paper, and using both sides of paper for writing and drawing
  • Repurposing different kinds of food containers to make classroom materials (paint cups, pencil holders, mini greenhouses).

For the second year in a row, I have created a video in celebration of Earth Day. Last year, I wanted to share Louis Armstrong's song "What a Wonderful World" and Tom Chapin's "This Pretty Planet" with my students and thought it would be more powerful if I paired the songs with images. That is how the first video came into being. My students asked to see it repeatedly; I think it has a comforting effect. Since I didn't have my blog going at that time, I'll share last year's video HERE. (Please be sure to watch it at the highest quality setting!)

This year, I created a video based on one of my favorite songs, "The Garden Song" by David Mallett, in memory of my friend, David, who passed on in February. David was a faithful gardener of both land and spirit, and my last visit with him ended with a walk around our yard looking at our gardens. One of his last pieces of advice was about how to keep cauliflower heads protected as they grow. He planted so many seeds during his lifetime, some of which have been growing in me for decades. In a nutshell, I think life is about growing and blooming where we are planted, and offering the world our highest expression - and then leaving seeds for the next generation to do the same. "The Garden Song" is full of metaphors, and it reminds me so much of David.

Email followers: Click HERE to play video.

I hope you will enjoy the videos and find some way to plant a seed in honor of Earth Day! 

With love and light,

© 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.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Mary Oliver: Rousing the Inner Poet

"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

There is a certain writer whose name has been attached to delicious morsels that have been showing up more frequently at my table, and I have loved everything I have tasted. Her name is Mary Oliver. This week, I felt it was time to seek out more of her poems, so I requested a few of her books from the library. I opened one of them, Thirst, for the first time last night, and the very first poem, "Messenger," took my breath away. It described to a tee how I experience my purpose in the world. Here is an excerpt:

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird - equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.

As I turned the pages, savoring each new poem with tears streaming down my face, I wondered how it could be possible for someone I have never met to know my heart so completely. Perhaps it is because we share the same heart, the heart that holds all life.

I feel such gratitude when I read Mary Oliver's nature-inspired poetry. I have felt that there are certain places where poems reside - or perhaps drift through the air - and my pencil and notebook (which I always bring on the river) together form the net with which I catch them. In my twenties, I used to catch a lot of poems while sitting at the bottom of waterfalls and even thought I needed to be by a waterfall in order to write anything worthwhile. 

Eventually, I learned that I could write next to my sleeping babies - and in time virtually anywhere else where I could find some peace and quiet.

Often when "I" write poetry, I feel I can't take the credit because I simply write down and edit something that was whispered in my ear. The only credit I can accept is being still enough to hear it and moved enough to write it down.

I read Mary Oliver's words, and poetry flows through me like a river. Her poems are like the warm sun that melts the ice so the river can flow once again. Of course, when the surface of the river is frozen, the depths remain fluid; however, it is certainly hard to dive below the frozen surface! When I read Mary Oliver's poems, the mystic-poet in me awakens, ecstatic and singing. It's as if she lights my own wick with her flame. The flame is within each of us, but sometimes it needs to be fanned or reignited in order to bring us back to life - to melt the places in which we have become frozen.

In my twenties, I experienced this same phenomenon whenever I read Kahlil Gibran's poetry. It was as if I began channeling his spirit and even writing in his vernacular - using words like verily and selfsame as if they came naturally to me. 

And this is the power of art as I experience it: to awaken, to inspire, to uplift, to transform. I am so grateful to the poets who give voice to the song of my soul - our collective soul that I am often too busy or frozen to hear bubbling below the surface. I love brushing against a poem that awakens the poet within me and reminds me of who I am at my core.

When I do take time to write - often when I am seeking answers or resting in a stillpoint - what comes through my pen sometimes transcends ordinary consciousness. This is a therapeutic and uplifting experience. However, the interesting thing is that when you write something that transcends the ordinary state of mind, people often expect you to live up to those words and seem disappointed when you don't. And I quite often don't, falling under the spell of fear, anxiety, or restless desire - especially when I don't get enough sleep or exercise. 

When I write about peace, stillness, and joy, it is not just a naive, Pollyanna view of the world. Life has kicked me around quite a bit - much moreso than people who read what I have to say would ever believe. At times, I have felt so ashamed of circumstances that I built a wall around myself, fearful that nobody would possibly understand. The flip side is that the hard knocks have made me more compassionate and less judgmental toward the suffering and situations of others. And no life is without its fair share of suffering! I often think that people who label uplifting, feel-good poetry as "saccharine" or "sentimental" don't accept full responsibility for their own happiness. Perhaps they don't understand what tough, courageous work it is to attune to peace, joy, and goodness after - or even in the midst of - 10,000 upheavals. It takes determination not to allow the world to bitter your mind or steal your faith. But that is the poet's work: to bring a transcendent vision into a world riddled with sorrow. To light a candle in the darkness. To raise seedlings of hope.

A good poet finds the joy above it all and offers us wings, freeing us from the gravity of the world.

I intend to savor Mary Oliver's books and am so grateful for her inspired voice! 

I am also grateful for a video I came across recently in which Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert reflects on the creative process as I relate to it and the impossible expectations put on artists when they are considered fully responsible for the creative process.

Email followers: Click HERE to view video.

© 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.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Unity, Awe, and Joy: Two Inspired Videos

"We are not separate from our fellow humans. It's only from that higher viewpoint that you can know what it is to love your neighbor as yourself."   -Peace Pilgrim

I don't know about you, but I could use a little inspiration right about now. What the world needs now is LOVE! However, I have not been functioning at full throttle this week due to an acute case of APPR anxiety (New York State public school teachers' least favorite acronym) as numerous deadlines loom. So instead of attempting to inspire with my own words and images, I am going to share two particularly inspiring and uplifting videos that I came across recently.

The first one is a 17-minute documentary about the radical shift in consciousness experienced by the Apollo 8 astronauts upon glimpsing Earth from outer space for the first time during their 1968 mission to the moon. Seeing our blue planet suspended in the vastness of space without any political borders was a transcendent experience of awe and ecstasy. A realization of total unity and oneness that revealed the fallacy of the Western emphasis on independence and individualism. 

Having not experienced this myself, perhaps the closest connection I can make is the way it feels to glide along the surface of the quiet river amidst a stillness in which nothing makes sense except for love. Living on the river offers me an intimate window through which I understand the interconnectedness of all life on this planet while contemplating the wildlife that comes and goes and carries to other locations the toxic realities of this tragically polluted river. This perspective - so small in comparison to the astronauts' experience - fosters in me a desire to listen to and care for the river and the diversity of life it supports. The boundaries of river become quite blurred when I witness and consider the implications of both wildlife migration and the water cycle. But take a few enormous leaps outside of this picture frame to a vantage point from which the river becomes the whole planet, and the shift in consciousness that takes place must be downright ineffable. I won't attempt to describe it any further. Do yourself a favor, and watch this powerful video by clicking below: 

OVERVIEW from Planetary Collective on Vimeo.

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."  -Viktor Frankl

The second, somewhat shorter, video is about Alice Herz Sommer, a 108-year-old Holocaust survivor who teaches us about experiencing joy and gratitude by being aware of the bad but always looking where there is good - and never allowing herself to be poisoned by hatred. This woman is a gem and a beacon of joy and wisdom.

Email followers: Click HERE to view "Everything is a Present." 

I hope you will find these videos as uplifting and inspiring as I have!

With love and light,


© 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.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Creating Labyrinths

In a recent post, I mentioned the labyrinth I walked while I was on retreat. The topic of labyrinths deserves a post of its own, and here I will describe different ways to make your own, even if you don't have any land or space.

Knowing how much I love labyrinths, my husband surprised me one day a few years ago by mowing a seven-circuit, Classical labyrinth design in our yard while I was at work. 

Maintaining it (with a lawnmower and a weed wacker) has been a labor of love ever since. Mowing only takes about 20 minutes, but weed wacking, which needs to be done every couple weeks, takes about three hours. I think of it as our "wildflower labyrinth" because flowers grow in the "walls" between the circuits throughout the summer. We placed a "gazing ball" orb mounted on a stone pedestal at the center of the labyrinth. 

Mowing a labyrinth seemed like the simplest way to go since we didn't want to go through the trouble of buying and laying down rocks. It is also an easily reversible choice. 

The Classical labyrinth (scroll down to see my turquoise and purple mini replica) is a simple design that is perhaps most easily recreated by beginning with the cross toward the bottom near the entrance and working outward from there. If I were making one, I'd measure and mark it out beforehand. My husband, on the other hand, took a more "intuitive" approach; he attached the labyrinth design to his lawnmower and started mowing at the beginning of the path, moving very slowly and only a few steps at a time as he followed the path on his "map." To each his own!

It's a nice touch - though certainly not necessary -  to have a passage or threshold leading to the entrance. Ours is very simple:

A more permanent labyrinth may be created with rocks, as in the 11-circuit design based on the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth that I walked at Light on the Hill retreat center...

or with slate, as in this seven-circuit, Neo-Medieval style labyrinth in a nearby park:

I love the entrance to the park labyrinth (photographed while exiting the labyrinth):

A portable alternative is to tape or paint the labyrinth design on tarp, vinyl, or cloth (such as a king-sized sheet) that can be laid on the ground or floor. I have considered doing this for my classroom but haven't gotten around to it. I'm thinking it could be a useful tool for helping children to relax and center their energy. They would need to remove their shoes before walking it, to help it last longer.

If time and space are issues, a finger labyrinth could be the answer! A finger labyrinth is held in your lap, placed on a table, or mounted on a wall, and the path to the center and back out is traced with a finger (preferably the pointer finger of your non-dominant hand) or stylus. A finger labyrinth is a tool for calming and centering mind-body-spirit. In its simplest form, it can be an image you find online and print on a piece of paper. However, I prefer finger labyrinths with raised "walls" so I don't have to pay so much attention to remaining on the path (and not inadvertently crossing over to an adjacent circuit).

Click HERE for instructions on using a finger labyrinth. 

Here are a few different designs I have replicated for finger labyrinths:

Santa Rosa
Chartres replica (sans lunations)

Applying the non-dominant hand theory, I created the above finger labyrinths with a left entrance for right-hand dominant usage with the left hand. (Does that make sense?) The pattern could be flipped for lefties.

To make the design, you could attempt to draw it freehand (for Classical style), trace it using an overhead projector, or affix a paper printout to a board (or stiff cardboard) of some sort. After much experimentation, here is my method for creating finger labyrinths:

Materials needed:
  • Artist canvas panel, acrylic-primed (11"x14" is a nice size, but you will need 14"x18" for the Chartres design)
  • Mod Podge
  • Dimensional fabric paint
  • Printout of labyrinth design (on plain paper, watercolor paper, or scrapbook paper)
  • Scissors
  • Acrylic paints
  • Colored pencils or crayons (optional)
  • Glitter (optional)
  • Round gemstone (optional)
  • Hot glue gun

  1. Print out the design, and make sure it is the right size for your canvas. You can reduce or enlarge it using a photocopier. You could bring it to a copy shop if it needs to be printed larger than you're able to do on your own. (Variation: You could print the design on watercolor paper if you want to paint it with watercolors. Simple Variation: You could print the design on patterned scrapbook paper and skip steps 2 and 5.)
  2. Decide whether you will color the labyrinth using paint, crayons, or colored pencils. If you wish to use crayons or colored pencils, go ahead and color it at this point. (Watercolor paint is another choice but only if you printed the design on watercolor paper.)
  3. Trim around the boundary of the labyrinth using scissors so there is no excess paper around it. Or you might choose to keep a small border around the labyrinth, as I did with the Santa Rosa design, above.
  4. Attach the printout to the canvas using Mod Podge.
  5. If you are painting the labyrinth, do so now, making sure you can still see the lines. You can paint the rest of the canvas at this point if you wish, or wait until later.
  6. Very carefully, trace the "wall" lines with fabric paint. You might want to practice on a scrap paper first to get a feel for how the paint flows.
  7. Allow fabric paint to dry completely.
  8. If you haven't yet painted the rest of the canvas, do so now.
  9. When paint has dried, cover the entire canvas with a coat of Mod Podge, and allow it to dry.
  10. If you're using glitter, apply more Mod Podge to the center, and sprinkle on some glitter. You could even mix the glitter into the Mod Podge. Allow to dry.
  11. If you'd like, affix a gemstone at the center, using a hot glue gun.

There are many alternative methods you could experiment with, including using glue and string, sand, or tiny pebbles (instead of fabric paint) for the walls. The possibilities are endless!

Here is a simple finger labyrinth I printed on cardstock, colored with pencils, traced with black dimensional fabric paint, and put on the wall next to the Peace Table in my classroom. The children find it calming to trace the path to the center and back out.

I have a vision of creating a labyrinth in a grassy or paved area around a school. Children could walk the labyrinth as an activity during recess, or it could even be used as a tool for problem solving or conflict management - as a non-punitive "time-out" or reflective activity. I imagine it would be useful for helping children focus, as well. My husband gave one of my finger labyrinths to a blind woman who works in an alternative educational setting with teenagers when they are in highly agitated states and need to cool down. Although he gave it to her for her own use, apparently the students enjoyed it, too. 

I am now offering finger labyrinths (Classical and Santa Rosa styles) in my Etsy shop.

Here is a larger (24"x30") labyrinth that I painted on canvas as meditative art:

To learn more about the uses and kinds of labyrinths, to find images for creating your own, or for more in-depth instructions for making them, here are two highly informative websites:

© 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.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Time to Bloom!

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.  -Ralph Waldo Emerson

As usual, the flower parade has begun with the daffodils leading the way, to be followed closely by the tulips. Growing tired of winter, I was thrilled to notice the daffodil shoots pushing above ground outside my classroom during the last week of February - and I have been observing them with my students and photographing them ever since. They became a symbol of hope and spring, and I enjoyed watching the yellow tips mature and bulge.

Yesterday was the first day back from spring vacation, and I hoped they hadn't bloomed in my absence. I was not disappointed! They were just about ready.

This morning, I arrived at school anticipating something wonderful - and here is what I found:

The sight filled me with joy.

I observed the daffodils obsessively throughout the day. And they couldn't have picked a better day to bloom.

It so happened that our big book read-aloud story for the day (as per our language arts core curriculum) was Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus. This is a story about a young tiger named Leo who couldn't read, write, draw, or "eat neatly" like his friends. I introduced the story by talking about what it means to bloom - how flowers bloom and how people bloom, as well. I gave an example of my mother learning to play guitar in her mid-70s and talked about how beautiful it is to see someone bloom and how good it feels to bloom. I also mentioned that our daffodils were in the process of blooming today, and the children were eager to see for themselves since we'd been watching and waiting for so long.

But first we read the story. Young Leo wore a sad expression on his face throughout most of the book as he tried unsuccessfully to do what his friends were doing. His dad was worried, too, and told Leo's mom that he's afraid Leo is not a bloomer. His mom, however, had faith in Leo's natural developmental rhythm and assured his dad that Leo will bloom in his own time. The dad tried not to worry, but as Leo continued not to bloom, he couldn't help but worry. Again, the mom reassured him that Leo will bloom when he is ready. And at last...Leo bloomed! He was able to read, write, draw, and eat neatly. And he was so proud.

I love the message of this story. It saddens me that recent public education mandates have raised the academic bar so much higher for kindergartners, and as a result there is little tolerance for the natural developmental rhythms of diverse learners. I tell parents at the beginning of each school year that my primary goals for their children are for them to enjoy coming to school, to love learning, and to feel good about themselves. And yet, even in kindergarten, teachers are required to identify children who are not meeting grade level benchmarks and to provide them with intervention services designed to accelerate their learning so they will catch up and end the year where they are expected to be. Although I agree - and have seen for myself - that children are often capable of more than we may imagine - I worry that this approach may result in more young children feeling badly about themselves and feeling self-conscious about not measuring up. Some children are ready for the new, more demanding kindergarten curriculum, but others are not. I wish we had greater freedom to honor children's developmental rhythms and to rely more on authentic assessment methods.

I really enjoyed reading and discussing Leo the Late Bloomer with the children. We talked about how poor Leo felt bad about himself and how his dad was worried about him - but also about how his mom had faith that he would bloom in his own time. I really stressed his mother's attitude, hoping to get across the message that children bloom in their own time - and not to worry if something is very difficult for you because eventually it will get easier. Don't worry or compare yourself to others. You will arrive in your own time. I have faith in you. Despite all the report card testing, benchmark testing, and progress monitoring, I have faith in you, and I know there is something each one of you does really well. It might not be something we assess in school, but it is important and valuable nonetheless.

After reading the story, we had snack time, and the children wanted to see the daffodils, so I took them outside one table group at a time. It was so beautiful to watch their faces light up when they saw the daffodils opening and beginning to bloom. 

We noticed that some of the daffodils were blooming more quickly than others. Each of them was growing and opening their petals at a slightly different pace. And each will become a beautiful, fully formed flower in its own time. 

We continued to observe the daffodils throughout the day, during recess and at dismissal.

We have observed the daffodils since we noticed the first shoots and talked about how people and flowers are alike in the way they bloom. And it seems my students have developed reverence for the daffodils in our little garden. They are protective of the flowers and remind children in other classes to be gentle and to keep a safe distance.

I hope that the ways in which our curriculum coincided with natural phenomena today deepened my students' connection with the natural world. I hope they will grow to regard nature as a mirror of their own social, emotional, and spiritual selves and to find strength and hope in the metaphors offered so abundantly by the natural world.

The first of our daffodils will be in full bloom tomorrow.

And woe to any unsuspecting child who innocently attempts to pick one. I don't think my students would stand for it!

© 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.