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.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

First Day of School

Today was the first day of school with my new crop of (mostly male) kindergartners. By the end of the day, my voice was shot, but I felt mighty tall - something I only experience in my classroom! And so a new year begins.

This year, I'm working with several families I've worked with before, and it was heartwarming during our "Meet the Teacher" open house yesterday to hear older siblings up to sixth grade who are former students of mine sit down at the art table and reminisce about kindergarten. They remembered the most surprising things. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall last night listening to them prepare their little brothers and sisters for their first day of kindergarten.

As for me, I reread a couple poems I wrote when my youngest child started kindergarten, to remind myself that - despite all the ways in which early childhood education has changed since then - sending a child to kindergarten is still a big deal for parents. The first poem, "Five," was written a few months before my son (who is now learning to drive) started kindergarten and originally was published in the March/April 2004 issue of Mothering magazine.

Five 
Sacred season of frog pond, 
humming and mommy time 
appreciates dandelions three-fold 
with fistfuls of I-love-you bouquets, 
proud salads of tender, hand-picked greens 
(despite their bitterness), 
and seed fairies blown into the wind. 
He digs, snuggles, makes books 
(humming all the while), 
relentlessly searches for lilacs 
to grace the kitchen table. 

Budding scientist employs sticks, nets, 
stones and containers as tools 
of observation and exploration; 
young monk sits straight, cultivating 
meditative awareness of an anthill. 
He plants peach pits, 
stops to smell flowers, 
cares for salamanders, frogs and insects 
yet is fearful of bullfrogs and snakes 
(who have no place in this pond). 

Five dwells in the realm 
of imagination and possibility, 
bonds with the living, breathing world. 
He creates fairy houses, 
constructs the perfect train track, 
names the pair of robins who 
frequent our yard, 
always enjoys a campfire. 

Five is precious like a late autumn day 
sunny and warm with clear blue sky 
when a new season beckons. 
Though winter silences the voices 
of crickets, birds and frogs, 
I beg Six and school teachers 
to spare the sweet songs 
he hums throughout the day. 

He says, “But I’ll always 
be like I am, when I’m six and seven 
and eight and nine and ten... 
and twenty-eight and—what comes 
after twenty-eight?” 
Gratefully, I smile 
as Five continues counting. 

© Susan Meyer 2003 

The next poem was written during his first week of school...when I wasn't in a punctuating mood.

First Day of School 
bit of scarlet in the treetops 
bit of silver glistening in my hair 
bit of chill in the morning breeze 
as a season draws to an end 

summer was sprinkled with showers 
of anticipatory grief 
crying at the drop of a hat 
at the thought of him going 
to kindergarten 

the first day of school 
we walked together to his classroom 
bypassing the dreaded school bus goodbye 
that left a trail of mothers’ tears 
all along our road 

I handed him off to a woman 
with a beautiful smile 
who remembered his name 
all I needed was the bridge formed 
by looking into her eyes 
and beseeching her, without words 
to please take good care 
of this precious boy 
who already felt at home 

tearlessly I walked away 
returned to a quiet house 
and cleaned the morning dishes 
no small shadows 
following me around 
asking how to spell words 
or begging to go to the library 
feeling as if I were missing 
an appendage 

he bounced off the bus 
jubilant about his day 
eager to ride the bus in the morning 
and sure enough 
he was dressed and ready 
first thing in the morning 
so as not to miss it 
he is well attached and ready

along the sidewalk, mothers 
wearing tee-shirts and ponytails 
push strollers, 
nourish hearts, souls, and bodies 
without wristwatches 

some look tired, expressions 
of marathon days, diaper changes, 
tantrums, lack of privacy and solitude, 
moments of sheer exhaustion 
when a poorly timed spill triggers 
a full-fledged breakdown 

some look serene, expressions 
of the perfectly timed kiss 
that replenishes and brings you back; 
innocent, kind words; new milestones; 
gracious belly laughs 

how many times have grandmothers 
and mothers of older children 
babbled to me with that knowing look 
about how quickly time passes? 
now I have arrived at the other side 
of this first crossing 
I am one of them 

now there is time 
to begin where I left off 
time to launch a career, 
make phone calls and appointments, 
think uninterrupted thoughts, 
sit down to meditate, 
entertain new possibilities 

bit of scarlet in the treetops 
bit of silver glistening in my hair 
bit of chill in the morning breeze 
yesterday’s eternal season 
has drawn to an end 
like a flash of lightning 
in the summer sky

 © Susan Meyer 2003 

© 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.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Dancing a New Self into Being

Last night - the last official night of summer vacation before heading back to work this morning - I danced in the darkness under the rising first quarter moon like I've never danced before - ever, in my whole life. No need to go into details other than to say that I've always wanted to dance like that and dreamed I could be so uninhibited but never thought I actually could do it because I believed too many limiting stories I told myself about myself.

In mid-August, I knew I needed to have three more adventures by the end of summer vacation. The first was a trip to Vermont. The second was a trip to Narragansett. Both trips were spontaneous and energizing. I thought I might need to grant myself an extension for the third experience because time was running out. But then last night, as sorrow for the end of summer crept in, I felt an irrepressible urge and knew exactly what to do. And so the third adventure was dancing with wild abandon (and glow sticks) in the moonlight to the Grateful Dead, accompanied by the percussive sounds of crickets, katydids, and cicadas (or whatever insect was responsible for the continuous sound of a vigorously shaken maraca).


At one point, I laughed so hard that I cried real tears and rode an arc across the tipping point into grief and sorrow that coexisted with joy in perfect, unprecedented harmony illuminated by stars and moonlight. I liberated a wild energy that birthed a new self and felt so full of life.

It was surprising and awesome.

I am not the same person as I was when summer began. After such an anguishing first half of the year - the darkness before the dawn - this was hands-down the best summer of my life, fueled by my new motto: Life is short. Do what you love. There was a special kind of magic that came from falling in love all over again with water lilies, herons, painted turtles, and flowers in all stages of becoming. I was enchanted by the starry, summer sky and the glow of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of fireflies lighting up the back yard. I experienced a deep, inner shift on retreat up on a hill during a full moon, and my whole being was tuned by the ocean air and the rhythm of the waves on two separate occasions. I connected with my mother's spirit in dreams that felt more real than waking life and in every note played by her beloved symphony orchestra on an evening dedicated to her memory. I collected lost and forgotten pieces of myself through reconnecting with old friends, friends of my parents, and former neighbors whom I hadn't seen in decades - and met some brand new friends whom I recognized at first glance as members of my soul tribe. It was a full, sprawling summer, richer than I ever could have imagined. After engaging the magic all summer long, my cells are dancing to the energy of new possibilities.

Albert Schweitzer said:
“In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”
As I return to my classroom for another school year, I am sincerely grateful to those who have reignited my teacher spirit by sharing stories about educators who truly made a difference in their lives, and I am equally inspired by stories of shining moments that make it all worthwhile shared by former teachers. I am grateful for assistance in working toward goals that take my talents and passion to the next level and to the friends who listen closely and call me out on things I do and say that compromise my capacity for happiness in the present moment. I have been surprised, blessed, and inspired by unexpected generosity and invitations. I have been uplifted by the waves of beautiful energy that have come to me all summer long and want to express my gratitude to those who have helped me to redefine and reinvent myself.

In the past day, I have had conversations with a couple people who are in crisis and feel hopeless. I encouraged both of them to hold onto hope because sometimes blessings will fall from the sky when you least expect them. I know this to be true from my own experience. The right people or circumstances will show up at the right time. Grace happens. It reminds me of some lines from one of my favorite poems, My Friend Yeshi by Alice Walker:

Who knows
Where the newness to old life 
Comes from?
Suddenly it appears.

Babies are caught by hands
they assumed were always
waiting.
Ink streaks
From the 
Pen
Left dusty
On
The shelf.

This is the true wine of astonishment.

We are not
Over
When we think
We are. 

After all the blessings I have received this summer, it is time to move onward to a new school year with a heart that has been supercharged and is ready to love, love, love. And to keep dancing with more passion and wild abandon out of the old, outworn skin and into new, expanded, delicious possibilities.  

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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.