Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Being Music, Being Love

This past Sunday ranks as one of the most musically meaningful days of my life, with two separate experiences in two different parts of the state. It began at the first annual "Summer Hoot" festival at The Ashokan Center nestled in the Catskill Mountains. The festival took place the whole weekend, and my husband's band, The Zucchini Brothers, was part of the Sunday lineup.

As The Zucchini Brothers were setting up on the main stage, a gong ensemble was shimmering on the stage next-door, setting the tone for the day.

 Everyone in the audience was either seated or lying down meditating under a brilliant blue sky.

I joined them once I got my spot set up. After the gong ensemble finished, I wanted to take a picture of just the gongs and didn't realize until I got home that night that Pete Seeger was in the picture!

Next, the Zucchini Brothers played a set on the Toshi Stage, named in memory of Pete Seeger's wife who passed away last month at age 91.

After the Zucchini Brothers finished breaking down after their set, the stage was prepared for Pete Seeger while Elizabeth Mitchell and Dan Zanes played next-door.

The crowd filled the sprawling lawn in anticipation of Pete Seeger's set. This is a man who, at 93 years wise, is a national treasure. His musical activism for social and environmental justice is legendary, and he and I share a deep love of the Hudson River. In the 1960s, he gave concerts on the riverside to raise funds to build the sloop Clearwater, which led to the birth of the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc., a non-profit environmental organization. His activism was vital to the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, and the Hudson River PCBs Dredging project going on in front of our house as I write is a direct result of Clearwater activism. For a number of years, I attended the annual Clearwater Festival with The Zucchini Brothers, who were among the performers. I remember seeing Pete Seeger walk around the festival always surrounded by a small group of people hanging on his every word. This was even the case in the performer's food tent. This was before we moved to the riverside and developed a personal connection with the Hudson River. At the Clearwater Festival, there were signs everywhere in favor of dredging, and that was my introduction to the Hudson River PCBs dredging issue. I wasn't aware of how controversial it was until I moved to the riverside, and local opinion was in stark contrast to the Clearwater position. Now that my family and I make our home on the river, my respect for Pete Seeger has deepened. I am grateful to him for working so hard to care for the river and its people and ecosystem, and grateful that the Clearwater organization continues his legacy of environmental activism by reviewing the dredging data and drawing attention to shortcomings of the project in the interest of restoring the river to its full potential.

Pete Seeger's performance at Ashokan was perhaps the most powerful and moving musical experience I've ever been a part of. He looked so feeble walking around behind the stage before the show, but the profound strength of his gentle presence wove a spell over the entire audience once he took the stage. He made his way across the stage to a standing ovation, but when he got to his microphone, he told everyone to sit down because he wasn't there to see us stand and cheer for him but to hear us sing.

Pete Seeger's presence was pure love and joy. He seemed to be so free of ego and so full of wisdom, humor, peace, and hope for humankind. He was so much more than a musician performing on a stage. To me, it seemed he transcended being a musician playing to an audience and was the music itself. And the music flowed through the entire audience, making us music, as well. He and the audience were connected and united as one beautiful energy flowing and transcending our sense of individual separateness. When he spoke from the heart about his wife's final moments in her earthly body as she slipped quietly into death, the audience was transfixed, barely breathing. It was a sacred moment.

I have heard friends describe what it was like to be in the presence of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. You just know when you are in the presence of a master soul, and I knew I was in such a presence at Ashokan that afternoon. Pete Seeger elevated the energy of the entire audience. It was incredible, masterful. Although my husband and I had another concert to drive to and had talked about leaving midway through Pete Seeger's set, there was no way we could do that when the time came. We were part of something profound. As excited as I was to get to our next show, the thought of leaving never entered my mind. Here is a brief video of him leading the audience in singing his song, "Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There is a Season)" from the late 1950s. It was the perfect response to the words he spoke about the passing of his beloved soulmate, wife, and partner.

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Can you feel the energy we were all a part of? The unity? The sacredness of it all?

He ended by singing "Quite Early Morning" with the audience singing along and repeating the lines:

Through all this world of joy and sorrow
We still can have singing tomorrows.

And then, after all the applause, he left the stage, and the musical spell was broken, but a deep sense of peace, hope, and love remained under the incredibly beautiful blue sky that afternoon. It was truly awesome to be a part of it.

The next show we went to was very different from the Ashokan experience but was hands down the most fun concert I've ever been to, and so the magic continued in a different way. In fact, I think the energy space I entered at Ashokan had a direct influence on my experience later that day at Damaschke Field in Oneonta watching my favorite band, America, perform. An incredibly scenic, mountainous, blue sky drive linked the two events.

We arrived an hour and a half before the show - much later than I originally had intended, seeing as tickets were general admission, and I wanted a good seat. The parking lot was swarming with aging baby boomers, and the gates already had opened. I felt disappointed upon realizing we'd probably end up sitting quite a ways back. Many people carried lawn chairs in, although we had left our blanket in the car, assuming it was stadium seating on the bleachers. But once we got inside, we saw that a huge tent had been erected across the field, and that's where the stage and seating was located. I followed my husband to the front of the tent, right up to the stage and was quite astonished to find two seats in the second row that weren't taken!

The first rock concert I ever attended was America in 1977, when I was ten years old. I saw them the next couple years as well and developed quite a crush on Gerry Beckley, one of the two remaining founding members. In a previous post, I mentioned that I was able to meet and "interview" him and his partner, Dewey Bunnell in 1979. The time they gave to me won them a fan for life. I hadn't seen them perform in person since the early 90s. So, needless to say, I was thrilled to land a seat right up front, with my camera and tripod!

Normally, I'm not a dancer. I tend to be quite shy like that. However, throughout the whole America concert I was completely free and totally allowed the music to flow through me (when I wasn't taking pictures). When they sang one of my very favorite songs, "Riverside," my exuberance drew Gerry's attention, as you can see in this brief clip:

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I credit the Ashokan energy, along with my lifelong love for the band America, for liberating me into a place I probably never entered before at a concert. By the end of the show, my husband and I were right up against the stage dancing with a small group of diehard fans. I am so glad I didn't bring either of my teenagers along because they would have been completely mortified. Actually, my daughter probably would have understood and found it amusing.

It. Was. Awesome.

I have never had so much fun at a concert, completely losing my self-consciousness and letting the music move me. The musical experiences of that day seemed to grow on each other and liberate me - so much that the next day, my husband and I sang together for the first time in years. Now, I was a musician early in life but gave up playing piano due to stage fright and acute self-consciousness. I got caught up in performing being about me and how people would view or judge me, rather than being a conduit of musical energy. My performances came from a place of ego, rather than a place of flow. I did experience flow when I practiced on my own - and still do on the rare occasions when I sit down to play - but not on stage. And not even in a practice room when I knew anyone else was around and could peek through the window and see me playing.

My husband, on the other hand, is a professional musician. Whereas I was mostly about technique - reading and interpreting music on a printed page - he is all about improvisation and expressing his authentic musical self. He can step out of the way and let the music just flow through him, making it look so easy and natural. I always have admired him for that. We have tried on a few occasions to play together, but I just couldn't let go and let the music flow - even with him! I was too concerned with technique.

So, it was exciting to sing with him last night, and again today. It seemed that the Ashokan/Pete Seeger experience and the America show opened me up in some way, and I hope that door will remain open because I love inhabiting that dimension again. Perhaps when a door opens like that, you need to seize the opportunity and run with it because it only stays open for so long. I am grateful to the door openers, for they are helping me to recover a lost part of myself.

Yesterday, I went to the cemetery for the interment of my dear friend David's ashes. As I experienced Pete Seeger's concert the day before, I thought about how much Pete's energy and the light in his eyes reminded me of David - especially the last time I saw David alive last fall. Here were two men who let the light and wisdom shine through so brightly. Two vehicles of light, love, and wisdom. Pete Seeger is a musician and activist, and David was a teacher and author. On the way home from the interment, I thought a lot about how important it is to use our talents in service of others. Give the best that you have, and you make the world better in some way. Some people - like my deceased grandmother - are generous, and their special talent is knowing what to do to help others and doing it. Others teach or do applied research or care for people's bodies, minds, or finances or write or make art. The list goes on and on. It doesn't matter what we do as long as we let the light shine through. When we can step out of the way and be an instrument of that light, magic happens. We become healers without even knowing it.

America's music has spoken to me all my life, and even though they must see the same scenario repeat itself night after night after night - after 43 years of heavy touring - I can't help but think that it must feel good to see people loving their music so much and being so moved by it. It's a really beautiful thing to see the smile you bring to someone's face and to know that your work uplifts them in some way and makes them feel good. Often, we don't get to see the positive effect we have on others as clearly as a musician playing to an audience. But when we are centered enough to be our best, authentic selves, we are always planting seeds.

When a musician is performing on stage and interacting with an audience, s/he is not thinking about the state of the music industry. Nothing truly worthwhile would flow through if that were the case. You have to be centered and present in the moment and do your work. Something to keep in mind as I switch gears and begin focusing on teaching again. 

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Engaging the Magic

Every day, God gives us, as well as the sun, a moment when it is possible to change anything that is causing us unhappiness. The magic moment is the moment when a "yes" or a "no" can change our whole existence. Every day, we try to pretend that we do not see that moment, that it does not exist, that today is the same as yesterday and that tomorrow will be the same too. However, anyone who pays close attention to his day will discover the magic moment. It might be hidden in the instant that we put the key in the door in the morning, in the moment of silence after supper, in the thousand and one things that appear to us to be the same. This moment exists, a moment in which all the strength of stars flows through us and allows us to perform miracles." 

-Paulo Coelho, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept

This has been a very busy week. As summer draws to a close, this week is like the finale of a fireworks display. I've visited many beautiful places: Ithaca, a 5.5 hour cruise on Lake George, sunrises on the river - and we're not done yet. There is still major work going on in my classroom, so I'm still going strong with summer!

I arrived at Ithaca Falls early this week on a gorgeous, sunny, blue sky day. As usual, there were several people around also admiring and soaking up the energy of this thunderous, powerful place. I set up my gear and took a few shots.

Someone had balanced rocks in several places throughout the gorge, and I focused on shots of the falls with rock structures in the foreground. The title in my mind was fabulous: "Ithaca Falls Rocks!" (It does!) And I liked the element of balance, especially right in front of a very powerful waterfall.

And then, all of a sudden, I realized I was completely alone! All of a sudden, there were no people to try to work around or wait until they moved along. I had complete creative freedom!

I was alone for between five and ten minutes and was exhilarated. It was a perfect weather day - quite hot, but the gorge and the breeze from the falls offered relief from the heat. The chances of finding myself alone in this popular spot on this particular afternoon were slim. I considered it a gift.

And then I noticed shadows moving behind me signaling that people were arriving. I did a quick review of the images I'd captured and noticed that one of my settings had been off the whole time, and the photos weren't as sharply focused as I would have liked.

Quickly, I adjusted my settings and tried to snap a few more shots before people stepped into my frame. Lots of people. Within a few minutes, there were between 50 and 100 people milling about. But I still managed to capture some satisfying images in the end.

And the lesson I learned is that sometimes the universe, God, fate, or whatever you want to call it, gives you a gift. And when that happens, you have to be ready! Are your settings right? I don't mean just technical settings on a camera, but variables such as state of mind, awareness, skills, etc.

Every moment offers new and different possibilities. You have to be alert and ready, or they might pass by unnoticed, leaving you convinced that nothing amazing ever happened.

Circumstances and conditions are constantly shifting, as the mist on the river this morning during sunrise.  

Yesterday's sunrise was so beautiful.

I tried for a similar shot this morning, but it just wasn't the same. That's not where the magic was this morning.

Sometimes the magic happens when you turn around and look in another direction.

Perhaps until now you have had your back turned to the best available opportunity because you were looking for it elsewhere. Maybe because that's where you found it before.

You can expand your awareness of the moment and see it from a different angle that adds a whole new dimension.

In the foreground: timber remnants from the old wharf

The interplay between external and internal shifts is, in my opinion, a great reason to keep hope alive. You just never know when the sun is going to burst through at exactly the right angle, changing everything.

Squat down. Turn around. Move to a different spot. (Even just a few yards could make a huge difference, in terms of either better scenery or gaining access to locked areas of your mind, much the same as when you walk into a different room and all of a sudden remember what you were looking for.) Come back in a few minutes. Just sit and be and notice. Something else might catch your attention.

These are all ways to be in the right place at the right time and find yourself part of something wonderful that is arising.

I call it "engaging the magic." Other variations: Engaging the moment. Engaging life.

Show up. Be receptive. Be yourself. Speak your truth. Let your energy flow freely into the world.

That is how the magic happens!

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Red Lights, Screens, and the Value of Waiting

As I mentioned in my last post, I upgraded to a smartphone this week. I'd considered doing this for quite some time but finally went ahead with it because I felt it would improve my communication with my busy teenagers considerably if I had better texting capabilities and could interact with greater mobility and ease. And this definitely is proving to be true. However, one thing I've really noticed during the past few days is that having a smartphone with me throughout the day kind of pulls my attention in that direction. The phone is a trap door into a world of possibilities - excessive possibilities - much as the painting, Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in His Picture Gallery in Brussels by David Teniers the Younger depicts. (You can click on the name of the painting to view it.) I noticed that little tug while waiting at a lengthy red light in town. And that little tug made me aware of the values and virtues of knowing how to wait.

Waiting - in line at a grocery store or at a traffic light or doctor's office or any number of other places - is a wonderful opportunity to awaken from the trance of activity, to still the mind and tune in to our body, the rhythm of the breath, the environment. In his book, Peace is Every Step, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh suggests reframing the red traffic light "as a bell of mindfulness, reminding us to return to the present moment." He continues: "The next time you see a red light, please smile at it and go back to your breathing. 'Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile'" (p. 33).

When I was growing up, we didn't have devices to occupy us during long car trips until Walkmans eventually came along. But even then, it was only audio and not the full audiovisual experience. We looked out the window at the scenery. We thought and imagined. We squabbled. We got bored. And I think boredom that comes from uncluttered moments and an uncluttered mind is a gift that our youngest generation is deprived of to some degree. I do hope that today's children and teenagers will come to know the joy and freedom of unplugging and being present to the world around them, and to their own selves. Growing up in a world of screens - both stationary and handheld - I hope they will achieve a healthy balance between the virtual universe and the living, breathing universe. Connecting children with the wonder and mystery of the latter is important work. We need to help them find that balance.

With camera in hand, I find myself doing a great deal of waiting. I wait for clouds to cover the sun and provide better, more diffused lighting. I wait for people to move out of my viewfinder. I wait for a rainbow to appear when the sun bursts through rainclouds.

I wait for bright yellow goldfinches to return to wilted sunflowers so I can photograph one resting on the backside of a drooped seed head and eating the seeds.

The goldfinches are the same colors as the sunflowers that have popped up in abundance all over our yard this year. We didn't plant a single sunflower; the birds did it for us. And now we have hundreds of sunflower bird feeders as a result. I have been wanting to get this particular shot for weeks but have yet to accomplish it. The trick is to wait quietly for quite some time so the skittish goldfinches don't notice my presence and feel it's safe to return to the sunflowers. And in the meantime as I sit, I listen to the crickets and grasshoppers, the grand symphony of late summer, the breeze rustling the leaves of the towering black locust trees lining our yard. When I tap into the environment like that, I feel connected with all the life around me and feel the life energy moving through me. I feel more fully alive.

I don't want to fill up all the spaces by disappearing into a tunnel of information and chatter. Each moment offers a choice between authenticity and habit, presence and ego, expanding and contracting.

I will return to work in 16 days, and life will become much busier. There will be many professional responsibilities demanding my time and attention both within and outside of my contracted work day that go far beyond actual classroom instruction. But one thing I have really practiced this summer is being more fully present in the present moment. When you're truly inhabiting the present moment, you realize that there is so much more than this little problem or situation demanding attention; you can access a spaciousness that channels fuller consciousness and wisdom. And that is why I am here now and not burdened by all the things I need to do at the beginning of the school year. I write in my planner when I want to set up my classroom, for instance, and then forget about it. It'll get done. Put it on a list, and assign it to a certain day or week. No sense bringing anxiety related to what I need to do in the future into this moment. Because this moment is perfect as it is, if I am tuned to the right channel.

And even if I don't end up getting a picture of a goldfinch on a sunflower, the time spent waiting was not wasted because it was a portal into All This.

And chances are that when the image I'm fixated on doesn't manifest, I'll find something else that I wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't stopped and paused - something that seems to appear out of nowhere and simply fascinates me.

It's truly wonderful when waiting facilitates awareness and being rather than habitual doing. Actually, it makes all the difference in the world!

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

When Answers Arrive

Although I have not gone into great detail, I have been facing a dilemma this year and was hoping to find guidance in the midst of being in beautiful, peaceful places. I expected to find the answer hanging in the air somewhere if I was able to enter into stillness.

Sometimes that's how answers arrive.

But that's not exactly how it happened this time.

With all the changes to public education - some of which I feel are harmful to the young children in my care - I had been considering leaving the teaching profession. The past two years have been so difficult. For much of the summer, I couldn't even discuss my job with anyone - at least not in a positive way. I felt that I needed to get out in order to protect my physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being as well as my family's well-being. Problem was, I couldn't figure out what I'd want to do instead - only what I didn't want to do. I found myself unable to form a clear vision of any alternatives. When I allowed myself to dream Really Big, I realized that my ultimate dream is to operate a small retreat center or to live and work at one that's already established. I love cooking nourishing food for people and creating healing spaces. There is a woman I follow on Facebook who is living this dream in Pennsylvania. In addition to running a retreat center, she is a photographer and artist, and she integrates all of this into such beautiful work. Part of her work is to uplift others on a daily basis by posting beautiful imagery paired with inspirational quotes on Facebook, which is something I have been trying to do as well. There is a retreat center close by that is very simple, and I can see myself creating something like that if I had some land to call my own. So who knows: Maybe someday I'll attract that into my life.

Last summer, Eckhart Tolle presented a three-day workshop at Omega Institute which I attended via live-stream. I was able to download all of the teaching sessions and have been watching them again this summer. During one session, he was asked how you know if an answer comes from the higher Self as opposed to ego, and his answer, in a nutshell, was that it comes with a sense of abiding peace. There is a knowing, a certainty when the answer or guidance you seek arrives.

When I had essentially made up my mind to leave teaching, my mind was running a mile a minute trying to come up with solutions about what to do next. I realized it might take another year of preparation before it would be feasible for me to really pursue an alternative route. I was not at peace.

Then, all of a sudden, about two weeks ago peace washed over me, and I knew that staying was my answer. I awoke from a dream in which I had been preparing to fight Voldemort (the terrifying dark wizard from the Harry Potter series). The words on my mind when I woke up were, "I don't think I need to fight Voldemort after all, but if I do, I will kill [him]!" (There was a much more colorful term in place of "him.")

Instantly, all of the negativity fell away, and I felt peaceful and empowered. I was able to think about and talk about the upcoming school year, and my entire attitude changed. It was around this time that I also received some positive, affirming comments about my online portfolio (a brand new requirement under New York State's Annual Professional Performance Review legislation) by my administrator. I poured my heart and soul into that portfolio. By the time I was done, it represented 100% who I am as a teacher, and I received a "highly effective" rating for it. Maybe in the midst of all of the testing frenzy and what feels like way too much change all at once, what I needed most was to hear that what I do - and who I am - is valued by someone in a position of authority.

I am amazed and fascinated by how answers arrive - answers that resonate deeply. You know it when the "real," deep answers manifest! And on that theme, I want to share another synchronicity that happened last night related to all this, that I found quite astonishing.

Yesterday, I finally ditched my TracFone for a smartphone. I'd considered doing this for a long time and finally felt the time was right. Since I barely ever used my TracFone, I didn't feel the need to keep the same number. At first, my new number was difficult to remember. However, eventually it occurred to me that it was a complete date. The way my mind works, the next step was obvious: Find out what happened on that date! At first glance, it didn't look like anything newsworthy took place. However, I realized that small but significant moments occur every single day all over the world and felt strongly that I would discover something happened on that date that would resonate with me.

Here's what I found, with very little effort:

Henry David Thoreau (one of my very favorite Americans) wrote one of my favorite quotes in his journal on that date! The particular quote has been on my mind all summer long! Reading it within the context of the journal entry, I realize that it applies directly and perfectly to my dilemma about teaching. (Although I would love to, I'm not going to offer the quote here so as not to broadcast my phone number!) It's not a definitive yes or no answer but rather an important insight about relating to the work one does to earn a living - the way our heart and soul relates to our work and the importance of our work staying true to the highest within us.

Thoreau's journal entry rang true to me, resonated deeply, and arrived with a sense of certainty and peace. As long as my higher Self can remain connected with my current work, then it is the right path for me. If my higher Self becomes deeply connected with something else that is pulling me elsewhere, then that is the right path for me. I think that "right work" is ultimately the result of moving toward something you love rather than away from something you don't love.

It's interesting, too, that I spent so much of the summer dredging up the negative, just as the dredging machinery is doing all around me on the river this year. Such a perfect mirror. The barge that was in front of our house has moved down to the next hot spot. A lot of junk has been removed and is being shipped to a landfill across the country that can accommodate toxic PCB waste.

As I've written time and again, I can't speak to whether the Hudson River PCBs Superfund Dredging project will go down in the history books as a net success or failure. Perhaps it would have been better to leave it alone and let it remain undisturbed in the sediment. But something has motivated me to sit on the dock at night and watch the excavators removing the toxic muck from the river bottom - and to feel a sense of excitement about it. A river can be a metaphor for life itself. I think there's something in all this that speaks to the value of removing the toxins polluting our life - namely, our negative, sabotaging, limiting thoughts and habits - so that we may lead a healthier, fuller, more authentic life. For a time, disturbing the toxic junk might make it more intense. But if we stick with the process, eventually it all either gets shipped away to a place that can handle it or settles back to the bottom. But hopefully in time - after such great effort has been made - the river becomes healthier than it was before and can accommodate a greater, fuller diversity of life.

I just love river metaphors.

Rainbow over dredging barge
© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Dredging: At the Epicenter

We are surrounded by dredging equipment and activity now, and the light show at night is fantastic!

The dredging operations have not disrupted our routine, aside from kayaking. The activity is much quieter and the lights less bright than we'd expected. We're able to sleep at night and don't notice it too much during the day unless we look out the front windows. 

Well, technically we're able to sleep at night, except that I often end up mesmerized by the lights and the reflections on the river and stay up watching it and sometimes photographing it. I figure it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness a historic environmental cleanup project close up. It's kind of exciting. They have five lit up barges operating near us through the night. Here are four of them dredging across the river a few nights ago in the area where I photographed water lilies last year:

There was so much activity going on that it was virtually impossible to take a 30-second exposure shot without getting trails of light from moving pontoon boats! And as I stood on the dock, the waves were coming at the shore with such vigor that my lower legs were almost getting splashed with water. That's never happened before! Even though I didn't get wet aside from a few drops, I took a shower before going to bed, just to be safe.

Here is the barge that was closest to us that night, which I couldn't fit in the picture above:

Our dock could disappear any day now, for we are at the epicenter. But they need to work carefully, to preserve the remnants of the old wharf right next to our dock. The dredging has entered an area that was bustling with activity and commerce nearly 200 years ago. Who knows what they might find?

Yesterday evening when I got home from all my errands, the excavator was almost right up to the road in front of our house, only a few yards away from our dock. 

The moment we had been anticipating all summer had arrived. When I spoke with an EPA rep earlier this summer, it looked like the equipment would be immediately in front of our house at the beginning of September - about when school begins. I am so glad operations are a little ahead of schedule because I will really need a good night's sleep when school starts!

Last night, I had intended to get to bed earlier. But I couldn't resist going to the dock and watching the nighttime operations closeup.

However, after I had finished processing photos and shut down my computer, from behind closed windows I heard one of the guys (I'm guessing the engineer) ask, "What have you got there?" And then the clamshell excavator stopped dredging for the first time that evening and began idling. They were checking things out. Then the excavator retreated a little ways from our dock. At one point, it became active again for a couple minutes. Although it wasn't going down deep enough or staying down long enough to dredge for PCBs, it looked as if it was trying to pick up something. A lot of water was splashing around as the excavator kept coming up and emptying itself. It looked like an enormous dinosaur splashing around. It was pretty wild!

 I wonder what they found! Maybe something, maybe nothing. But I will continue to keep my ears and eyes peeled to the activity, which is both environmental and archeological!

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Summer Quest: Ocean Getaway

I have a thirsty fish in me
that can never find enough
of what it's thirsty for!

Show me the way to the ocean!
Break these half-measures,
these small containers. 

All this fantasy
and grief.

-Jelaluddin Rumi, "A Thirsty Fish," from The Essential Rumi (1995), translated by Coleman Barks

All summer, my husband and I have talked about taking a day trip to the ocean. I longed for my spirit to be fine-tuned by the rhythm and atmosphere of the ocean. Until a few days ago, it was beginning to look as though we wouldn't be able to make the trip together since August is such a busy time for my husband. However, Saturday he came home from work and announced that he had arranged for time off and that we would go to the ocean on Monday. Only, it wouldn't be a day trip; he wanted to stay overnight and have two days of ocean time.

We had only gone to the ocean once in our 12 years together - to Assateague Island, Maryland, known for its wild horses. I had gone there once before nearly 20 years ago, and it was a magical experience. I went with my ex on a virtually unplanned honeymoon, and we happened to be in the right place and ran into the right people at the right time and ended up camping for a night on the beach at Assateague for free. Listening to the rhythm of the ocean waves was heavenly, and I wanted to experience it again.

However, when my husband, son, and I went to Assateague two years ago, this was not the case. It was more like purgatory. The drive was long  - at least eight hours. Then we had to park and trudge quite a distance through the sand to set up our beach campsite. There was no shade, it was oppressively hot, and we were exhausted. And then there were the insects: horseflies, mosquitoes, and (worst of all) no-see-ums. We couldn't sleep at all because of the latter and ended up fleeing at 2:00 a.m. in search of a hotel. After driving around for an hour and a half looking for something for less than $300 a night with no success, we finally gave up and got a room back at the first place we'd stopped. We slept for most of the next day. In all, we ended up spending about a day and a half on the beach - which was great except for the bugs - and vowed never to return. The long drive and having to set up camp in challenging conditions was too much. And nearby Ocean City just wasn't our cup of tea, although many people love it.

Last summer, we planned a week-long vacation in Wells Beach, Maine. I put down a deposit on a cottage, and we looked forward to going to Maine for the first time. However, when it was just about time to go, we decided we didn't want to be away from our garden for that long and cancelled.  

But this summer was different.

Sunday - the day before my husband wanted to leave for our extended day trip - I got online and made a hotel reservation that was surprisingly affordable. I wondered what the catch was. (Was it a casino hotel?) But it turned out there wasn't one. And that is pretty much how our entire trip was. We were pleasantly surprised to the point of astonishment at how quiet the entire area was, how friendly the people were, and how beautiful it all was. At the beginning of the summer, I asked friends on Facebook to recommend ocean destinations that could be done as a day trip and knew immediately which one was right for us. It is in the vicinity of Mystic, CT, although I have promised not to disclose the exact location because it is not well known or touristy, and everyone we ran into there would like to keep it that way.

Basically, my husband and I were blown away by the fact that the ocean is less than a four-hour drive from us. And we didn't have to go through trials and tribulations to get there or break the bank to stay overnight. Four hours after pulling out of our driveway, we were on the beach!

It was so easy that we vowed to do this at least once a summer, if not more. This is a life-transforming realization, and neither of us could believe that we've lived on the East Coast for our entire lives and have only been to the ocean a handful of times! I think we also held the impression that ocean beach communities, for the most part, are too built up and touristy to be truly relaxing. Now we know differently!

Although I brought along three books, I only spent about an hour total reading on the beach and could only digest a page or two at a time. Mostly, I just needed to BE HERE NOW and allow the ocean to work its magic. To gaze at the waves constantly rolling in, to fall asleep to the soothing rhythm of the waves and the call of seagulls, and to dream salty air dreams.

At the ocean, I didn't have a care in the world. It was as if the waves erased everything except for the present moment - the relaxed sounds of the beach and ocean; the particular smell of ocean life and sunscreen; and the pleasing colors of sky, ocean, surf, and sand. Ocean bliss.

I watched smooth pebbles on the sandy shore being pulled into the ocean by the mighty force of the waves and felt it had the same effect on my mental processes. Being in the presence of the ocean, I experienced a force much stronger than my little mind and its concerns. The ocean pulled it all away, leaving me to focus on the tremendous beauty around me. To breathe it in deeply.

Standing on the sandy shore facing the immense ocean, I felt at the same time small and also connected with and part of all life, for the oceans of the world truly do connect us all - both in a geographical sense and via the water cycle. My water is your water; it is constantly being moved around and recycled, through us and around us. It reminds me of a loose translation of Rumi's poetry: You are not the drop in the ocean. You are the ocean in the drop. (I can't find a reliable citation but love this idea.)

When we weren't simply relaxing and doing nothing at all, Jack spent some time balancing rocks

...and I made footprints in the sand and took lots of pictures and some video.

We ate dinner next-door to the beach, with the waves crashing only yards away from us the whole time. Then we took a walk along the beach at sunset.

The soft pastel hues hanging just above the horizon painted a sublime picture.

Our hotel was only a 15-20 minute drive from the beach. According to locals, it was a new, very nice hotel with a bistro and spa, and we had an oversized jacuzzi in our room. It was perfect. I was completely unplugged for the entire trip. No internet, and I didn't turn on my phone once. In the morning, we stopped for breakfast at a small cafe next-door and were the only customers. One of the two employees there told us where to find the quietest beach, and we decided to give it a try. The beach is located in an affluent coastal village less than three miles west of the beach at which we spent the previous day. It offered a great, mellow atmosphere and a scenic lighthouse in the distance.

It was an incredibly beautiful place for my husband to balance rocks while I searched for tiny ones washed ashore by the waves and tried to collect them before they were sucked back into the ocean.

I think this arrangement looks like an angel:

When I returned from one walk, I found my husband at our beach site instructing an audience of four girls who were interested in balancing rocks. One girl stayed longer than the rest and was quite good at it. She was still balancing rocks when we left later in the afternoon.

After a blissful second day at the ocean, we stopped in Mystic, CT to walk around the downtown shopping district and have dinner before returning home.

We'd never been to Mystic before. I've always loved the name, and the town itself has a wonderful vibe. We dined at S&P Oyster Company right on the waterfront next to the Mystic Drawbridge, which was raised a couple times while we were there.

Though I am very particular when it comes to food, I had the best restaurant meal I can remember ever having! And then we drove home, in the direction of the sunset. It was an incredible trip from start to finish, and we realized that we need to make the time to take trips together. It really does make a difference. And the biggest thing we learned is that we don't have to go far to have a truly spectacular, relaxing, and affordable ocean getaway!

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Art of Noticing

"A shaft of gold light streams across my field of vision as I stare at the yellow pinewood floor this afternoon. Specks of dust are illuminated, whirling and sparkling, dancing. The chickadee's song goes into my scalp and down the back of my spine like liquid notes turned into heat. The sun is warming one side of my face.

I am so at peace. There's nothing more to need or want. Nowhere I'd rather be. The humming of my mind is at rest, like sediment that has settled to the bottom of a glass of water. It's still, perfect. There's a warm, deep, calm feeling permeating everywhere.

How could I have missed this pleasure for so many years?"

Citation: Dobisz, Jane (2008). One Hundred Days of Solitude: Losing Myself and Finding Grace on a Zen Retreat. Boston: Wisdom Publications.

Most summers, I go kayaking nearly every day and spend some of the time paddling hard and getting exercise and the rest of the time slowing down and noticing with intensity. At times, I look for something in particular, such as a great blue heron or bald eagle. I know what kind of tree the bald eagles favor and scan the branches and leaves ever so carefully. Other times, I just keep my senses alert and receptive, curious about what hidden treasures may be revealed.

Since my river time is greatly reduced this year, I've found a new sanctuary in a nearby park. I especially enjoy retreating to the labyrinth, which is surrounded by flowers of all shapes and colors. Every time I go there, I expect to notice something new - perhaps a new kind of flower blooming, a different kind of butterfly, or the sunlight passing through a flower at just the right angle.

The labyrinth is a magical place. After walking through the threshold, I focus my attention on my footsteps, making it a walking meditation. At the beginning, some thoughts enter my mind, and I try to let them pass like clouds in the sky above me. As I proceed along the winding path, I usually begin to notice sounds. Today it was birdsong and crickets. And I really connect with the flowers and flower energy, too. Whether I'm listening, seeing, or focusing on my footsteps, one thing I'm not doing is thinking. Thinking cannot occur when you're listening, seeing, or noticing deeply. And that is why the labyrinth is such a magical place for me. I become absorbed in pure sensory awareness and am released from the tyranny of the chattering mind for a while. It is wonderful.

Blessings and beauty reveal themselves as I walk the labyrinth, and when I exit through the threshold, I'm never the same as I was when I entered. I feel more peaceful, serene, harmonious, aware.

Last weekend, it rained one morning, and once the rain stopped, I felt compelled to go to the park. When I got there, I was drawn to a patch of lilies and entered "the zone" in which my sense of sight was heightened. Eckhart Tolle would call it "entering the Now." It is that place of no-thinking, just sensory awareness. I noticed a tiny green tree frog inside a yellow lily.

I immediately fell in love with this little frog who gazed at the center of the lily as if in awe. I imagined myself as only an inch long and realized what a fascinating sight the center of that flower must be!

Or the center of an echinacea flower, vibrantly colorful and otherworldly with countless tiny green spears and larger orange ones that gradate into red at the tips. How could bees and butterflies resist such a spectacular sight?

Walking on the peninsula trail between the river and the canal, I was struck by how beautiful leaves and berries looked with the sunlight shining through them.

Inside the labyrinth, I watched a giant swallowtail butterfly fluttering its wings at lightning speed as it touched down on one flower after another.

What I am describing is fascination. Fascination with the little things that tend to go unnoticed. And fascination with larger things that are often tarnished with opinion and mental commentary.

Today, I returned to the park and once again found a tree frog nestled inside a lily.

Here is a closer view:

That tiny frog looked so calm, almost as if s/he was meditating or praying. "Life is good," thought the little green tree frog nestled protectively inside a glorious pastel universe!

Then I walked the labyrinth. There weren't any new flowers calling to me, so I focused on my footsteps and on sounds. And then all of a sudden, I noticed the shadows cast by grass and small plants on the slate tiles of the labyrinth!

How exquisite! Each slate tile had become a piece of art as the sun and adjacent plants interacted with it! I have walked this labyrinth countless times. Why hadn't I ever noticed this before?

Because there is always something new to notice.

This opens up a whole new creative world! And that's what I love about not thinking: Possibilities emerge all of a sudden. It's as if the guard at the gate is asleep, and creative ideas can slip right in.

Beauty truly is everywhere when the mental commentary subsides. And this is true outside of the labyrinth, as well.

Since my last post, the PCB dredging barges moved even closer, and one is currently anchored right in front of our house with four more right behind it. I have had months to come to terms with this, and since I can't do anything about it, I figure I might as well be fascinated, just like I was with the tree frog in the lily and the butterfly on the echninacea.

The lights at night are actually quite beautiful reflected on the water, if you don't think about why they're there.

Fascination is a much more pleasurable manner of traveling through life than grumping and groaning or believing we know all there is to know about the world around us. Life takes on a whole new dimension when we allow people, places, things, living creatures, etc. to surprise us, in a good way!
"Attention is an alchemy
That turns dullness to beauty
And anxiety to ease."
-Steve Taylor
© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.