Saturday, December 6, 2014

The First Thanksgiving

This post was originally published on November 27, 2014 on River-Bliss.com.

 This first Thanksgiving without my mom is a holiday I'm experiencing from the sidelines. Even though I've been cooking all day, there is no formal, sit-down meal to share with family, for we are scattered in different directions. (I think the cooking is mostly therapeutic.) My dad's neighbors have adopted him, my daughter is in Georgia, my son is spending the day with his dad in their new home, one of my siblings is in New York City, and the other is celebrating with her in-laws. I had considered volunteering at a soup kitchen and made some phone calls to explore possibilities but didn't follow through. The bottom line is that I just want to lay low this Thanksgiving. It is quiet here in this little empty nest on the river.


Yesterday, we had our first snowfall of the season. This morning, I woke up to a snow-covered world and went out in search of beauty for the first time in a while. I took a walk in my special sanctuary close to home, where I spent many frigid mornings last winter in silent solitude. It occurred to me that the last time I walked there in the snow was when my mom was sick. This is the first snowfall since she died, and I'm filled with gratitude for how the snow-kissed beauty of this special place saved me almost daily last winter. In this place, I found tranquility, inspiration, beauty, and joy. I was elevated above the challenges and filled with energy to attend to everything that called for attention. I'm grateful for the snow-covered trees that were here for me last year and transformed my grief into gratitude today.


While walking, I contemplated gratitude. In addition to family, food, good health, and shelter, the following blessings rose to the forefront of my mind:
  • Reconnecting with old friends. Many friends from high school and even earlier resurfaced in my life upon hearing of my mom's illness and death. Connecting with long-lost friends is like collecting lost pieces of myself. Some people who were little more than acquaintances in high school have showed up most faithfully and literally have offered me a shoulder on which to cry. As much as I've tried to forget the teen years ever took place, there is an undeniable bond that is forged through growing up in the same town and sharing a common history.
  • New friendships formed by shared grief and understanding. Knowing that others in my circle are experiencing the same loss gives me strength and comfort. I know I'm not alone. And the most wonderful gifts are the stories we share with each other - of dreams, peculiar occurrences, and awareness of our loved one's presence. Many times, I have experienced a tingling, hair-raising sensation from head to toe when listening to friends' stories. I long to hear them and share mine freely. We speak the same language, describe the same sensations, and transmit hope and joy to each other. The friends with whom I was close when our children were babies always have held a special place in my heart, and clearly it is the same with the friends I have made in the wake of our parents' deaths.
  • The helpers who stepped forward out of the blue. Often, they weren't the people closest to me but natural helpers who find their way to those in need - for example, one of my dad's neighbors who shows up frequently on his doorstep with home-cooked meals and even an apple pie (with a heart-embellished crust) on Thanksgiving morning. These dear souls fill me with hope for this world and inspire me to be more helpful and giving.
  • Having a closer relationship with my other family members. My mom was the only extrovert in my family of origin. She was like a puppy that greeted us gleefully at the door. She did most of the talking and often talked for us by being the default family messenger. A large percentage of our communications took place through her. Now that she is gone, we have to step out of our introverted comfort zones and communicate with one another. I'm building a much closer, direct relationship with my dad, and my sister and I turn to each other when we miss our mom and when we feel upset about matters we would have brought to her. I think it would have been unfortunate for my dad to have died without experiencing a more direct relationship with his children. It used to be that we would talk with Mom on the phone, Dad would come on and say hello, and then Mom would fill him in on all the news afterward. But now he doesn't get the news from her; he gets it from us. He is able to receive presence and love directly from us now. This is perhaps the greatest gift my mom could have given him - and us - by leaving us.
All of the above are blessings received as a result of losing my mom. It's easy to sink into sorrow when thinking about what her death has taken from us. But I know that on Thanksgiving - and every other day - my mother would want us to celebrate the ways in which our lives are richer as a result of her life - and even her death.


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

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Shifting Sands of Grief

This post was originally published on November 23, 2014 on River-Bliss.com.

This blog has been uncharacteristically quiet in recent weeks because I have been taking inventory regarding where to go from here. My intention all along was to pair nature photography with contemplative reflections. Why was I drawn to a certain image in the first place? What feelings and insights arise?


And then my mom became ill and died, and I find myself grappling with Big Questions and the many manifestations of grief. My writing has become more personal than I ever intended to share. Am I writing an autobiography of grief? Is it useful to share such personal feelings and experiences?
Much of the time, I honestly feel as if I am losing my mind - which I realize is one of the primary manifestations of grief. When I was in my twenties, I volunteered for an organization in Syracuse called Hope for Bereaved, which published a book called Hope for Bereaved: Understanding, Coping and Growing Through Grief that consists of short articles that address all kinds of losses. The title of the very first article is "I Wasn't Going Crazy...I Was Grieving." How reassuring!

It's not only the loss of the deceased loved one that makes this season of grief so challenging. It's the way relationships shift, like aftershocks from an earthquake. It feels as if the very foundation on which I stand has been removed from underneath me. Life feels unstable, unsupported. Even my sense of self feels like shifting sands. I have been floating in teardrops, releasing inhibitions, and dwelling in questions - Big Questions, like:
  • Why am I here in the first place?
  • Where does my responsibility to others begin and end?
  • Is my ultimate responsibility to myself, to live fearlessly and follow my soul wherever it leads?
  • How do I balance my own happiness and peace of mind with caring for others?
  • Is there some kind of divine blueprint for my life, and if so, how am I doing so far? How can I tell?
  • Or perhaps when all is said and done, is all the content from this lifetime just information to process and understand rather than to judge? (Will we review our life with an omniscience that allows us to see things as they really were, rather than through the limited, skewed lens of our own ego?)
Sometimes these questions threaten to overwhelm me, for I don't have the answers and can be very hard on myself. Sometimes I wear myself out by giving in to the temptation to seek external stimulation by filling my mind with the voices and opinions of others, when true peace and fulfillment is an inside job cultivated more effectively by sitting alone and still and filling with light from the inside out. Only then can I beam light to others. But I can't do that when my own battery is depleted.

It is more important than ever at this dark time of year to kindle the inner light and to be gentle with myself - especially now that my mom's nurturing presence is absent from my life. Yesterday, it occurred to me that there's nobody to buy me gloves and socks anymore. Sure, I can buy them for myself. However, that was something my mom always did - and that I often took for granted. She came through with sweet, small, comforting gestures that nobody else thought of. There's a certain kind of love and care that is missing now and that needs to be cultivated in other ways. And there's also the question of how to navigate new and unfamiliar relationship patterns. Who picks up the pieces? Who (and to what extent) cares for the most fragile family members? I try my best but cannot fill my mom's shoes, and my attempts often feel awkward and clumsy.

It reminds me of what it was like to become a mother. Having a child changes your life monumentally, and I remember wondering: When will life return to normal? The reality was that it never would return to what it was before. You become accustomed to a new "normal." And I think that's what I'm dealing with now, in the wake of my mother's death.



I find that when I feel overwhelmed by questions about how to manage relationships, the best I can do is to avoid taking the tempting detour into the thinking mind. Instead, take a deep breath and slow down. Return to the moment and practice self-care faithfully. Get enough sleep, to begin with. Meditate. Exercise. Eat right. Speak the truth. Say no when saying yes would overload my circuits. Channel the energy so it doesn't get stuck inside me. Listen to and follow the internal compass known as intuition.

These responses might not provide the answers to the questions that arise. They might not be exciting. However, they restore me to a more centered, balanced state from which I can discern the next step. And that's probably the best I can do. One step at a time, may I be led by the best and highest within me and honor the Self that unites us all.

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

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Sanctuary Between Paradoxes

It's been two weeks since my last published post, which must be an all-time record! I've actually written quite a bit in the interim but felt most of it was too personal and perhaps wouldn't resonate meaningfully with others. Basically, I've been grappling with the Life is Short; Do What You Love philosophy that has fueled me all year long. It feels like an energy that came on strong after being activated by a brush with death and needs to be worked with so it can be integrated gracefully and for the greater good.

I've wished I could put life on hold and retreat to a mountaintop for a few months to figure out how to proceed in the wake of my mother's passing, when it feels as if the rug has been pulled out from underneath me, and there's nobody looking out for me in a maternal way. The bottom line is that life is short, and I don't want to die with my magnum opus still locked inside me. That seems to be one of my greatest fears.

On the flip side of Life is Short; Do What You Love is the paradoxical realization that no external outcome is necessary to complete or "fix" me. There is no job, relationship, project, etc. through which to seek fulfillment because true fulfillment is ultimately an inside job. I've learned this from experience. It doesn't mean that any of those efforts are without value but that they are the icing on the cake of personal and spiritual fulfillment. At my core, I already am whole and complete. (And so are you.) I've never felt that so strongly. It's a matter of returning to that core and being receptive to the guidance that arises.


Resolution of the paradox creeps in silently as an invitation to enter the inner sanctuary and surrender to the mystery. I have been longing to meditate every day, knowing that when I sit on the cushion in front of my altar, behind my desk, or wherever, I will fill with light, rise above the waves of ordinary life, and engage with the present moment from a place of wholeness rather than deprivation or lack. What great pleasure to feel the warmth of the wood stove, inhale the earthy fragrance of incense, and accept the invitation from spirit to sit alone in a quiet, candlelit room and journey to the center of my being!


Inevitably, I returned to the realization that while trying to integrate Life is Short; Do What You Love in a way that doesn't upset the entire apple cart, the key is to love what you do. Love - or at least accept - what is. The full catastrophe of human life. Cultivate inner fulfillment by connecting with the present moment, regardless of external factors. When my pain-body (a term coined by Eckhart Tolle) is activated or I find myself in frantic pursuit mode (for example, burning the midnight oil with intense creativity that inevitably leads to exhaustion) and look outside of myself and the present moment for salvation, I feel like a sun that has forgotten her true identity and strength and wanders around at night trying to steal light from the moon (that, of course, only reflects the sun's light).


But the soul is patient. It is beyond time, not threatened by it. When you’re in flight from what is, you make your hell worse because you do the exact opposite of accepting and embracing the present moment, which is a portal to infinite possibilities and personal power. It's like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, thinking she was so far from home and then learning that the whole time she had the power to return in an instant. You can return - again and again and again - and connect with the light.


Even in my darkest hours of exhaustion and grief, I have discovered that I am able to experience how much larger I am than my feelings - that I can take one conscious, spacious breath and breathe over the top of them. I can put my hand on wherever I feel the tension in my body (usually the solar plexus area), breathe, and be present to it - and become aware of a much larger part of myself at the core of it all. I am grateful for experiences that provide me with the realization of how much more IMMENSE I am than anything I can feel! Who I AM can hold and support all of that. With awareness, there is no need to indulge in suffering and/or distraction for a moment longer. No need to give in to inertia or to be held hostage by emotions. How liberating is that?


What’s different for me this time around is that there’s no judgment or shame. It’s all feedback. I can see areas in which I’m resisting the present moment and shutting out blessings. It gives me material to work with. As my spiritual teacher advised during a group retreat two weekends ago, I can acknowledge that, while I might not have done this or that thing right or well, I am a being of light. I've recalled this advice numerous times, and it's quite powerful and empowering. You don't get sucked into spiritual or emotional quicksand.

 
Email subscribers: Click HERE to view India.Arie's "I Am Light" music video.

Reawakening to the inner light after wandering in darkness (whether in the form of exhaustion, waves of emotion, or any other kind of forgetting) is the most wonderful homecoming. It’s as if you prepared a nourishing, homemade meal then left the house for a short time. When you open the door and enter your home (i.e. the indwelling light) after being away, the comforting aroma welcomes you instantly. Had you stayed home the whole time, you would have grown accustomed to it and perhaps not have been able to smell and appreciate it at all. It’s as if you have to leave and return in order to experience how lovely and nourishing it really is. Strengthening that return reflex is what mindful awareness is all about. There is such joy in returning to the present moment, which is the only moment we truly have -  the bridge between paradoxes.


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

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Surprising Intensity of Resistance

It is a gorgeous, warm, sunny, Friday afternoon in October. The Friday afternoon feeling is a wonderful feeling that heralds two days of relative freedom!

There is so much I want to do this weekend. First and foremost, I want to WRITE! There is so much inside me that wants to be released on paper! It’s been hard to fit in writing time during the week after exhausting days at work - and futile to even try on some days. The weekend is when I look forward to making space for writing.

I want – no, I need – time alone to recharge my batteries after teaching kindergarten all week.
I want to spend time with loved ones. Sunday is my parents’ 51st wedding anniversary – the first one my dad will not be able to celebrate with my mom. I would like to be around for him this weekend because I know it will be difficult for him.

I want to have some time this weekend to work on mid-term reports that are due in a week – and to plan and prepare for the work week ahead. It's so easy to fall behind!

And of course I want to follow light and beauty with my camera and share magical moments.


But I am not going to do any of these things this weekend. Instead, I am beginning a new adventure that involves spending the weekend at a retreat center four hours away with a group of people whom I haven’t met, shut off from the outside world. It is a commitment I have made to myself for deep, meaningful spiritual growth – the kind of work you cannot do on your own. Speaking with someone who is in the homestretch of this journey was like talking to my future self – a self who has faced and overcome many fears, barriers, and defenses and is more integrated and stronger as a result. I want to birth that self even if it means going through the hard work of labor - for I believe it is worth it.

This afternoon, I am experiencing so much resistance that I could gnaw off my hands! Part of me wants desperately to stay within the confines of my comfort zone and not go away this weekend to embark on this new adventure. It wants to remain fixed and stable and feels like crying, gnawing, escaping. But a deeper, quieter, calmer, larger part – the part that feels like the backdrop on which the events of my life are played out – is steadfast and confident that I must go. The deeper part knows it’s all going to be okay. Better than I can imagine. I sense that the larger part can hold it all. There’s room for everything.

The voices that would have me stay home are the ones that have kept me stuck all these years, that haven’t allowed me to grow past a certain point. I can’t follow them anymore, for they just lead me in circles. No, thank you. I’m going to get off the carousel this time.

The work I intend to do is similar to how I need to train my kindergarten students in order to have a well run, effective classroom. I can’t get rid of difficult students but have to learn more about them so I can work with them more effectively and do my job to the best of my ability. I cannot allow the behavior of a small number of children to sabotage the experience of the whole, just as I cannot allow myself to be sabotaged by any unhealthy or undeveloped parts of my psyche.

In hindsight, I know it doesn’t matter one iota that taking the first step wasn’t easy. The only thing that will matter is that I did it. That I forged ahead despite the parts of me that felt threatened by my commitment to changing and evolving spiritually. I’ve done it before and want to strengthen that response whenever it's time to shift or change in some way. I want to live dynamically.

Of course, after acknowledging how unsatisfying certain aspects of my life are, I remember all the underprivileged people in the world who don’t have enough resources to feed their families. People living in war zones. People who are dying or watching loved ones die. So much suffering! What right do I have to be discontent with any aspect of my privileged life? To complain about anything at all? The irony is that the suffering of watching a loved one die is what awakened me to the realization that some things need to change in order for me to live a fulfilled life. It's not about the grass being greener elsewhere. It's more about flowing with the current. Getting off the carousel when it's time.

How strange that, at the same time, it is so hard to fathom staying the same and also so hard to take the first step into the unknown. At this moment, I am feeling the tension between simultaneously being discontent with current circumstances and being afraid to change. I'm writing about it because I know it is a temporary but very intense place to be. It's the point at which you can choose to stop or to proceed. But despite the resistance, stopping is not an option.

I’m making a choice to be really aware and conscious and to explore those places that frighten me, that I didn’t even really know were there because I feel pretty comfortable with myself and enjoy spending time alone. I'm actually very surprised by the intensity of this resistance! It makes me think that the possibility for transformation is even greater than I'd imagined!

And I know I am going to look back at this afternoon and laugh about all this resistance. Possibly even by the end of the weekend.

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

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Magic Carpet Time

"There is no greater gift you can give or receive than to honor your calling. It's why you were born. And how you become most truly alive."  -Oprah Winfrey

Every morning for the past week and a half, I have prayed for clarity. Really prayed, with every cell of my being. And every day I have received it. In clouded moments, it arrives feeling like failure. But in the stillness of the evening, when I let go of the day's residue and tune in to myself, I know to thank and praise clarifying circumstances because they are pushing me closer to living a more fulfilled life, no matter how uncomfortable and inconvenient it feels on the surface.

I am ready to open to the winds of change and make some shifts I've been too afraid to make until now. This time, I will do it. I am determined! It is a promise I have made to myself, and I'm beginning to build a support network.


Last weekend, I took specific action by committing to a three-year program of personal and transpersonal transformation that I had been resisting for years for various reasons including finances, even though the facilitator is my longtime, beloved teacher in whom I have complete trust. I was guided to talk with a woman who began the program two years ago despite having the same initial misgivings, and she assured me that the money will come. She said she doesn't understand how it works, only that it does. Before we hung up, she said she doesn't know what kind of sign I would need to know for certain whether or not the program is right for me, but she hoped I'd get it. However, I'd already heard and felt what I needed to and made the commitment immediately after hanging up the phone. I knew that the time finally is right to do the deep, inner work.

Yesterday morning while doing yoga, I happened to catch the pink reflection of sunrise in a window as I twisted backwards. I jumped up from my mat and dashed to the dock to photograph the colorful sky and its reflection on the river. On my way back inside, I opened the mailbox and found a check that would cover exactly two full weekends of the five-weekends-per-year program, including my share of carpool expenses. I was elated and felt the magic already was revealing itself to me because of my commitment to transformation. It was my sign.


 It has been a week of tremendous clarity.

A few days ago, I heard the words, "Let it go," spoken around me several times in different contexts - even from the mouths of my kindergartners. A wise soul once advised me to pay attention if I hear the same message three times. So I did.

That evening, a friend shared a link to Jimmy Buffet's song, Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On, which I'd never heard before. It was exactly what I needed to shift my energy from sorrow to serenity. I've adopted the title as my mantra.

The same evening, another friend posted an interview with Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman suffering from brain cancer who plans to take advantage of Oregon's Death with Dignity Act and end her life on November 1st. Her words really spoke to me:

"The reason to consider life and what's of value is to make sure you're not missing out. Seize the day. What's important to you? What do you care about? What matters? Pursue that. Forget the rest." -Brittany Maynard

This morning, I awoke at 3:30 a.m. from the most real and powerful dream yet about my mom that left me feeling ecstatic and absolutely certain of the importance of engaging new possibilities and playing with life instead of being ruled by fear.

Watching my mom die has convinced me that life is too short to remain stuck in circumstances that drag us down. We can try to adjust our attitude and perception, but sometimes there's no denying when it is time to move on. Life is a flowing river, and the work is to follow the Life Force where it flows - or as Henry David Thoreau put it: 
"Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows."
In the nearly fifty years I've been alive, I've learned a few things that have prepared me for the journey:

I've learned that the way I feel now isn't how I'll always feel. Moods come and go like clouds.

I've learned that spring always returns, and the sun rises every morning,

That one mindful moment, or one conscious breath, can change everything,

That when you make a full and sincere commitment, you attract the right people and circumstances out of the blue, recognize them as such, and embrace them.

And inspiration plays an important role.

Conditions one recent morning were too cloudy for me to witness the full lunar eclipse at sunrise. But I knew that someone would see it, and I would be able to experience it through their lens.

Somewhere someone is standing on a beach watching the sun rise over the ocean. It is happening right now even though I'm not able to see it because I'm a four-hour drive away from the coast. There is so much beauty in this world at every moment, even when we aren't experiencing it for whatever reason. Just knowing it exists can be a lifeline that provides balance and perspective.

Somewhere someone has resolved not to be ruled by fear and limitation any longer, and this inspires me and gives me strength to follow in his or her footsteps. (And it's why I write!)

Somewhere someone is balancing stones in seemingly impossible arrangements and, by sharing his work, is helping me to redefine what is actually possible. I am grateful for this. It opens the way for me to dream bigger.

All around the world, there are people engaging the magic and setting powerful examples by manifesting and expressing their higher purpose. We can make excuses and say they got lucky and are the exceptions; they're somehow special. We can make all kinds of excuses that keep us locked in our comfort zone, even when it's not so comfortable there. Or we can seize our rightful power and discover higher laws at work in our lives when we have the courage to surrender the props that support the false self that masks our magnificence. The kingdom of heaven is within.

I fully expect to be amazed and inspired on this journey and to amaze and inspire others. How often are we unwitting messengers when we share what moves and inspires us?

I used to believe that each of us entered this life with a specific purpose to fulfill, and our great work is to discover and pursue that one thing. But now I experience life as more fluid than that and suspect that our true calling is more broadly to engage our divine nature and infuse matter with spirit. Doing so elevates our life into a work of spirit and inspires others toward spiritual artistry.
"On earth, it seems that most people fret, worry, and lose sleep over some of the silliest things they've done. But what's funny is that later on, from here, more often than not, it's the things they didn't do that they still think about. Which of course sends them back." -A Note from the Universe
No more excuses. No regrets. It's magic carpet time!

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

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

All the Places I Find Her

Although I connect daily with the light that shines through each and every one of the five-year-old angels assigned to my heart this year, some weeks are more trying than others. After a brutally long week of what felt like mothering the world, I wish I could pick up the phone and call my own mom and get a little mothering, myself. I've been missing her a lot lately.

Every morning on my way to work, I ask for blessings on my mom's soul, send out prayers for loved ones and myself, and then express gratitude for everything I can think of. Yesterday morning, I was in a dejected mood but did this practice anyway. Immediately after I said, "Amen," I received a blessing. It felt like a spiritual wind embracing me (yes, while I was driving), and I was filled with an inner knowing that everything (is and) will be all right. It felt like a response to my prayers.

Is that how my mother speaks with me now? (Or some other benevolent force?)

Fall, my favorite season, has arrived in all its colorful grandeur. However, there's something about this particular fall that makes my mom's absence feel more real. Perhaps it's because summer always was her busiest time of year and the season in which we saw her the least. She was more present during fall. But on top of that, I realize from my earlier work with bereaved populations that we are heading into a challenging time of year - a two-month span that includes my parents' anniversary, both of my children's birthdays, Thanksgiving, my mom's birthday, and Christmas. My mom's absence will be felt big-time, by all of us.


In the past few weeks, I've caught traces of my mom's essence several times. It's a far cry from picking up the phone and talking with her - and even from the supra real dreams in which she has appeared. And yet, sometimes brushing up against her imprints makes me feel closer to her than ever, as if she truly does live on inside of me. As if there are no boundaries between us. Sometimes it even feels as if the qualities that were expressed through her actively seek expression through me (and others, I'm sure) now that she's moved beyond this world.

A couple weeks ago, I found her a few minutes after dropping off my son at a friend's house for the evening. Alone in the dark car, I turned on the radio and heard a song I'd only heard once before - when my dad and one of my mom's best friends from 50 years ago sang it around her deathbed two days before she passed away (after we'd belted out a few John Denver songs). The song is, "Eddie, My Love," and my dad told us she would sing it to him all the time when he was taking his time getting out of the house. I'd never heard it before but remembered enough of the lyrics to recognize it - and gasp - when it came on the radio in the car. Certain that was the song they sang around her bed, I pulled to the side of the road, took out my phone, and recorded it so I could play it when I returned home. (Interestingly, right when I took out my phone to record the song, I received a text from my sister asking for one of my mom's best-loved recipes. What timing!) It turns out that yes, it was the song, and when I played it for my daughter, she explained to me wide-eyed that the very same song popped into her head completely out of the blue earlier that day, and at the time she wondered how she would feel if she ever heard it on the radio - for she, too, only had heard it once before, at my mom's bedside. And that is the truly amazing thing about sharing such experiences. Had I kept it to myself, I would not have received the information my daughter had to offer that took the experience to a more intriguing and powerful level.

Needless to say, I let my dad know about the song coming to both my daughter and me the same day, and it made him happy.

That same evening, while sitting at the kitchen table, I happened to notice that the bag of ecologically grown apples I'd bought that afternoon came from the small town in Vermont where my mom grew up. I've never before seen or heard any reference to that town other than in my mom's obituary and in her stories about her childhood!

Last weekend, I was surprised to find one of her memorial prayer cards on my bed. It was the only thing on my bed.

And then there's a certain kind of longing that is entirely new to me.

Recently, I was preparing for a meeting about which I felt quite anxious. As the day of the meeting approached, I found myself wanting to channel my mother's energy for the first time in my life. It continues to astound me that it took a terminal diagnosis before I was able to perceive and appreciate fully the gifts she gave to the world through the kind, gracious, and hospitable manner in which she lived her life. In an effort to differentiate myself from her and become my own person with a strong backbone and the ability to say no, I had rejected and discarded some of her most salient qualities, considering them weaknesses (for nobody experiences a parent's shadow side as clearly as his or her children). But that week, I was nearly desperate to retrieve them, for I was neither whole nor balanced without them. If only I could channel my mother's energy, I knew I could relate to the other parties with loving-kindness and handle the situation with grace and poise. As an extra measure, I wore one of her bracelets that day - a delicate chain with gold hearts and pearls - as a visual reminder to stay calm and rooted in kindness. It worked, and I left the meeting feeling relieved. (Thanks, Mom!)

As I floated in my kayak one afternoon this week, the following words drifted through my mind as I thought of my mother:

As Jesus taught us to pray
And our mothers taught us to love,
Let us forgive our parents' mortality
And embrace our divine heritage
Which is unconditional love and light.

When I write my way through grief, there's a natural tendency to want to tie it up neatly by the end. But the human reality of my mom's death is not neat. Pardon my language, but it sucks not to have my mom physically in my life. I derive strength from knowing I am not alone in this journey and that losing a parent is part of the natural course of human life. But I also find strength in the recognition that my mom's legacy lives on through me. Integrating the qualities that I used to push away is a journey towards wholeness and a blessing. To discover my mom's essence inside the very breath I breathe is a joy to which the only response is gratitude. Gratitude like mighty rays of sunlight that evaporate the tears of the clouds that temporarily cover the luminous sky.

It cuts through the sadness.


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

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Astonishing Light

The Astonishing Light   


(a new poem)


I am a devotee
Of sunrise, sunset,
Sunlit flowers and leaves,
And love. But why?
Friend, I want to show you
The astonishing light that
Shines in this world
Of shadows
So you will know
You are never alone
And always
In the presence
Of grace.
I want you to look
In my eyes
And see the reflection
Of your inner light
And fall in love
With your
Exalted self. I want
To awaken you
To illuminated moments
When sunbeams penetrate
Shadow and form
And extend a ramp
To paradise.

—Susan Meyer © 2014


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

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Floating to the Center

"What you will see is love coming out of the trees, love coming out of the sky, love coming out of the light. You will perceive love from everything around you. This is the state of bliss." -Miguel Ruiz

Tonight I am grateful to have kayaks and ready access to two different bodies of moving water to which I can bring a burdened heart and mind and invite the water to work its magic. It begins with the sensation of floating, weightlessness. But there's more.

I rarely feel less lonely than when I'm alone on the river or creek surrounded by the sounds and movements of the natural world, removed from the human drama that weighs so heavily. Nature absorbs emotions wondrously until all that's left is serenity and love.

In nature, we are never alone. I have learned this from animals, sunrises, flowers, and the list goes on and on. This evening, the sunset was absolutely dazzling. The colors along the shore were extraordinary. The sound of acorns plopping into the water was constant and sometimes indistinguishable from the tapping of a redheaded woodpecker. But sunlit oak leaves - THAT is where the magic was late this afternoon. They commanded my attention and ushered me back to my center. And I am ever so grateful.


After paddling for a short time, there is a place on the creek where I come to rest in stillness, and my heart becomes a net that catches sermons of love drifting through the air. I open a small notepad and take dictation.


In this place, I know that we must be kind, first and foremost to ourselves, by practicing self-care without ceasing to love - and (ultimately) to love everything and everyone: the full catastrophe. Here, I appreciate the value of growing a warm heart that doesn't break when handled carelessly, that acts without holding others' wounds and grace against them, and that respects the responsibility of others to do the work that is necessary for them to evolve. I realize that everything I experience, however unsettling, is an opportunity to discover the still point and cultivate compassion - and that I am the only one responsible for my happiness and peace of mind. Here, I know that sensual pleasure is a mere shadow of spiritual joy and am filled with the joy and serenity that are readily available when we stop wrestling with or running from life and embrace what is.


Oh, to be clear and free and floating in stillness warmed by the late afternoon sun! Here it is all so simple. The sunlight twinkles on the water like water lilies of pure light flashing on and off.


How blessed to be still, to whittle the complexities of life down to the bare bone of this present moment by letting go of stories and assumptions. To be less afflicted by the gravity of the world and the tyranny of the conditioned mind. I wish I could give this gift to everyone. God, help me to love the best I possibly can. Make me a channel of blessings and light.

That is what it feels like to float in this sanctified solitude.


I can't be so naive or condescending as to believe that what works for me will work for everyone, for every mind has its own history and design. Rather, I must do it myself and share, hoping some of the energy will be transmitted through the images and words and make a positive difference, however small.


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

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Schoolhouse Rocks

It was an awesome day in kindergarten. I couldn't hold out any longer. Today was the day to introduce the youngest generation to stone balance art. I didn't plan to do it. But all of a sudden, the moment felt right, and I seized it. I use humor a lot in my teaching and have a running joke with my students that when they don't follow our rules and make it difficult for me to do my job, I sometimes start dreaming about becoming a princess or a rock star. This morning, I decided to explain what I mean by "rock star."


During our Morning Meeting, I turned on the SMART Board, opened my Flickr album of Stone Balance Art, and showed them some of my balances. They started oohing and ahhing and wondered how I was able to balance the rocks so precariously. They were amazed to learn that stones they assumed must have fallen immediately remained balanced for a couple days. Then we sat in a circle on the carpet, and I took out my basket of beach rocks.

I explained that the rock basket is our newest indoor play center and that they can either arrange, stack, or (if they want a real challenge) balance rocks. Then I demonstrated each, beginning with arranging rocks in a spiral pattern - for arranging is about lining up stones to make shapes, patterns, or pictures. I also showed them how to stack the rocks by laying them flat, one on top of the other like a tower. Finally, I modeled how to concentrate on balancing stones on their ends and then ever so carefully placing more stones on top.

A couple basic ground rules to begin with were:
  1. No throwing rocks.
  2. Be careful not to knock down anyone's rocks.
I also explained that rocks will fall, and that's okay. Just start over again, and it will be even better the second time. When the rocks fall, it means you were trying something difficult and learning what does and doesn't work. No big deal. I explained that eventually all of the balances I photographed fell down but that pictures make them last forever - and that if they create a balance they are proud of, I will photograph it and put it on our class website.

What I didn't tell them is that every time you try to balance rocks and they topple before you're done, you have a golden opportunity to transform failure into resilience. Every time you choose to keep trying, you strengthen your resilience response, and that is one of the most crucial life skills you could develop in any classroom. Failure is permanent only when you stop trying as a result. Learning to fail without giving up is essential practice for life.

When it was playtime at the end of the day, a number of students went straight for the rocks. They got right to work and within minutes approached me with great excitement and asked me to come see what they had made.


I was every bit as excited as they were. After taking a few pictures, I invited them over to my computer to look at what other stone balance artists have created. We explored the portfolio on Michael Grab's Gravity Glue website, and they were blown away. They seemed so interested and excited, asked questions, and commented on what they liked most about the pictures. There are so many talented members of the international stone balancing community, and I intend to expose my students to a variety of artists and styles, to inspire their creativity.

They returned to their work and called me over a few more times to see and photograph their stone art.



Genuinely thrilled, I complimented their work. They seemed so proud. They were beaming. They worked cooperatively, and everyone was careful not to knock over anyone's stones.


At dismissal time, as I walked the children to their buses, one boy who had called me over several times to see his stone art looked up at me and announced, "I'm going to miss you." I told him that I will miss him, too, but we will see each other in the morning. But I understood what he really was trying to say: Thank you for noticing and valuing me. He felt good about himself. Every year during our Open House night, I tell parents that although my job is to teach the Common Core curriculum, my overarching objective is to help their children feel good about themselves and love coming to school. For that little boy, balancing stones served that purpose today.

For some it is art. For others, music or sports. The list goes on. As an early childhood educator, it's the best feeling in the world to see a child light up with pride and passion. Ideally, my role is to provide the materials and a dose of inspiration and then stand back and and allow their natural curiosity and creativity to lead the way and amaze me. The best days in my classroom are the days when I'm able to create the space and time to be truly amazed.

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

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Light of a Distant Fire

It's Sunday evening, and still so much to do to prepare for the work week ahead. Bills to pay. Lessons to plan. Laundry. The day has faded into darkness. The vegetable and herb gardens are covered with old sheets in anticipation of the season's first frost. I light a stick of earthy incense on the indoor porch overlooking the river. Then I notice the light across the river.


It's the light from a neighbor's back yard wood fire. It pulls me into a state of peace and serenity and ignites the desire to sit around a warm fire in my own back yard on this chilly night. I ask my husband if he'd like to have a fire (knowing full well that I don't have the time). He is too tired and hasn't gathered any wood but asks if I'd want him to prepare some for tomorrow evening. Of course. It's hard not to be inspired by the contagious energy of a fire glowing softly nearby - the woodsy scent and peaceful, crackling sounds. The warmth and the glow. The light of the fire across the river reminds me of the sweet, unexpected fragrance of a neighbor's flowers drifting in through an open window like a friendly ripple of peace and kindness. It's comforting.

I linger on the porch appreciating the glow of the distant fire and consider what music would deepen the ambiance. Beethoven piano sonatas, beginning with Moonlight Sonata and followed by Sonata Pathetique. Perfect. As the music flows like the river outside the porch windows, I balance some stones on my altar and complete the arrangement with an origami water lily floating in silky, blue waves and the light from two homemade, glass lanterns embellished with carefully chosen words for attunement. Tranquility infuses the air through the music, the balance, the light as the weekend draws to a close. A moment of gratitude to be shared. It's the little things, the small moments - at the same time extraordinary and nothing special.


May your week be filled with blessings, balance, and light.
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The photographs in this blog (except for those attributed to other owners) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a "custom print" in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

This, Too, Shall Pass

Have you ever had one of those days when you swear you must be wearing a "Kick Me!" sign, and pretty much everything feels like it's not working? I already know the answer: We all do from time to time. But if we have enough mindfulness and wisdom and our mind is not too afflicted, we realize even on our darkest days that this, too, shall pass. Tomorrow is a new day, and a good night's sleep can do wonders.

It is now tomorrow, but I will begin with yesterday, when my mom's absence felt more real than ever. More than anything, I wished I could call her and hear her voice. I have a voicemail from a month and a half before she died saved on my phone for such occasions. It begins with a cheery, "Hi, honey!" and ends with a reassuring, "See you later!" Oh, how I wish. She would have known just what to say - as mothers do - and the reality that I will not hear her voice for the rest of my life weighs heavily when it hits. It is a grief shared with every other family member and with virtually everyone who has lost a mother.

A friend from high school sent me a metal, inscribed stone (pictured below) during the final week of my mom's life. (The other side reads, "COURAGE".) It has brought me solace on numerous occasions, including yesterday.


Normally, I am comforted by the impression that my mom continues to shine her light in my life.


I sense that she is only a thought away - closer than ever. But at the same time, I don't want to pull her back to this world by being emotionally needy, if that is possible. I want her spirit to be free and unfettered.

Normally, when it hits me that she's gone - viscerally in the gut - and I feel sad, the sadness is answered immediately by the thought, "Be grateful for the time we had together." And then the sadness fades as quickly as it arose, like magic. But yesterday was different, and I missed her terribly. She was my best friend, the first person I would pick up the phone and call to share joys, frustrations, and sorrows. I needed some mothering.

The last time I visited my dad, I found on the refrigerator a quote in my mom's own handwriting that says it all: "People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel." The quote is from Maya Angelou, who died the day after my mom died. (!)


In my mom's absence (or perhaps through a new kind of relationship and communication with her?), I've noticed the seed of motherly self-love taking root and growing inside me. This seemed to begin soon after I learned she was terminally ill, and it's a priceless gift, not to be confused with selfishness. The Inner Critic has been remarkably silent, and the Inner Mother has taken over and become my default responder - which makes a world of difference!

So...it has been a crazy week. I was hoping for a more stable, drama-free school year, but after only two weeks back, an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu already has crept in. In the spirit of self-mothering, I woke up yesterday morning with the realization that I am putting too much pressure on myself and that the only sane response is to simplify as much as possible. There are times when all kinds of assistance shows up to help us along. Other times, it withdraws (perhaps due to a lack of clarity or commitment?). I write about times when I feel supported and in the flow, to remember that they happen. I write about times when support seems to wane, to get through and find my footing. It feels like a waning phase at this time - although it can shift in a heartbeat.

This weekend, I planned to embark on a new, three-year, spiritual venture, but the universe threw so many curve balls that I had to cancel (hopefully just postpone) my plans. It feels like there is no space at this time for a new commitment. So, again, the only sane response is to simplify. Therefore, my new weekend plan is to begin Project Sanctuary, which I did not get to over summer vacation. This involves purging mercilessly all the stuff that has outlived its usefulness in order to create space for new possibilities...because LIFE IS TOO SHORT NOT TO! As the leaves begin to change color and fall to the ground, I intend to clear away the clutter and transform our home into a sanctuary. (At the moment, it is anything but.) Get the chi flowing. Come to think of it, what season is more perfect than fall for releasing what no longer serves a purpose? I understand that in between releasing the old and budding the new, there might be a season that feels stagnant. But if that's the case, it must be honored, for winter is part of the natural cycle and offers unique gifts and opportunities - for example, the cultivation of patience.

Speaking of patience...

As soon as I finished typing the last sentence above, thinking that was the end of this post, I got a message from my friend and fellow photographer, Peter, who was heading out with hopes of photographing the aurora borealis and invited me to come along. We drove to a boat launch on the Great Sacandaga Lake and were disappointed to see that there was substantial cloud cover. He consulted the weather radar, and it looked like the clouds would blow over soon - so we waited. Eventually, I began to balance rocks. The waves lapping against the shore reminded me of the ocean as the moon floated higher in the sky (which actually makes nighttime photography more challenging). I recalled how my mom would laugh when I told her Peter and I went out for a nighttime photography shoot. I never understood what she found so hilarious, but I knew that if I could tell her about waiting for the northern lights along the Sacandaga, it would tickle her funny bone all over again. I felt her laughter in the moonlight, and that made me smile. After about an hour and a half of waiting, we decided that the clouds probably were only over the lake and not about to dissipate, so we left. Although we didn't glimpse the colorful, shimmering ribbons of the aurora borealis, my mood had shifted, and that alone was worth the trip.

Not ready to give up after we made our way to clearer sky, we took a lengthy detour in search of a north facing field or body of water that would permit a view of the northern lights. The detour didn't yield the results we hoped for, and by the time I got back home, it was hours later than I'd intended to be awake. But at least we could say we gave it our best shot - for I've never seen the aurora borealis and have a very strong urge to witness it in this lifetime!

At 6:14 this morning - with less than four hours of sleep - I heard a ping! sound (like when I receive a message on my phone) that prompted me to open my eyes and look out the bedroom window to the sky over the river. The sunrise was colorful, textured, and dazzling, and I jumped out of bed to photograph it, knowing the colors would only be at peak for a few minutes before fading. Then I went back to sleep.


After such a challenging day and a night of waiting for the right conditions and searching for something that was not to be found, that ping! was a hopeful sign that the universe continues to assist and support me - for I can't explain where it came from. (There were no other people or devices in the house.) I just heard it inside my head and opened my eyes at precisely the right time to catch the extraordinary colors and light, not of the aurora borealis, but of a new day dawning.

Yesterday's gone. Today, I shall simplify.

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

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sunrise/Moonrise Meditation

After a full week with my energetic, new crop of (mostly male) kindergartners-in-training, the importance of keeping my battery charged throughout the day has become very clear! It begins with a good night's sleep and morning yoga. If I can fit in seated meditation before leaving for work, all the better. If not, I try to arrive at my classroom with enough time for a minimum of 10 minutes of practice. I slip in through the back door, turn on my illuminated water fountain, unroll my mat, place a cushion on top of it, open the Insight Timer meditation app (complete with the rich tones of Tibetan singing bowls), and sit in the Quiet Space behind my desk until the "get ready" bell rings. I don't unlock my door or turn on the lights because taking this time to center myself is essential preparation for the school day. All else can wait. I keep a crate with meditation and yoga gear behind my desk and practice when the children are out of the room. And I find that I really crave and look forward to meditation because - after all these years - I finally "get" the benefits it offers on so many levels. Now it is a gift I give myself, rather than something I feel obligated to do.

This week, I have been waking up to a thick mist on the river. Meditating on the dock on my zafu (meditation cushion), wrapped in a blanket as the sun rises is a special treat. There is so much energy in the sunrise. It's like pure fuel.

Photo courtesy of my husband
This week, moonlight has been a mighty battery charger as well. I spent the last two evenings kayaking on a nearby creek as the huge, full harvest moon emerged and floated above the treetops. The first night, my camera was away for its annual maintenance, so I had to work within the limitations of my point-and-shoot - which was fine because it allowed me to savor the experience more than I would have with my big camera in hand. As I took the picture below, the moon had just come into view over my left shoulder.


The wild, adventurous energy that I enjoy so much was engaged by kayaking in solitude on the moonlit creek. The rising harvest moon caressed the water, serenaded by a chorus of crickets. And I was there, paddling gently and rhythmically through the shimmering light on the surface, resting in the stillness, and gliding in the fullness that arouses all the senses and makes you feel truly alive. It was the perfect medicine to satisfy and channel the energy of a wild heart seeking expression.

To celebrate getting back together with my camera after eight days apart, I took it onto the creek the following evening for an equally exquisite moonrise. Again, there were no other people around, and the only wildlife I saw was the low-flying shadow of a great blue heron beating its strong wings en route to its next stop along the water's edge. Then a pink-orange glow appeared just above the horizon, heralding another enormous harvest moonrise.


I had to get creative with settings and processing for the images I captured because I was floating in a kayak in the darkness without a tripod and needed to achieve a fast exposure to control for the motion. (Hence, the noise.) The way the textured clouds framed the reflection was sublime. I could have floated on the creek all night under the moonlight.


Despite the technical challenges, the finished images convey quite accurately how it looked and felt as I floated and glided along with the rising "super moon" in complete solitude that evening. It was at the same time exhilarating and serene. I just want to remember and to share the profound peace with you. It was like a dream. A transcendent dream. I hope you can feel it.
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The photographs in this blog (except for those attributed to other owners) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a "custom print" in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.