Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Courage to Leave

“If you ever find yourself in the wrong story,
(…unless you can change the story from within, of course. But if you can't? Please leave, I beg of you.)"

-Elizabeth Gilbert
Well, I finally went ahead and did the thing I'd been terrified of doing for a very long time: I officially walked through the threshold that appeared so threatening and resigned from my teaching position.

I had been struggling with this dilemma for a few years. The scale finally tipped, and my inner knowing that it was the right thing to do outweighed my fear. I don't know what's next, but all the energy that went into "Should I or shouldn't I?" is now freed up to figure that out. I feel a tremendous weight has been lifted. That weight is a double whammy called the Common Core and New York State's Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) teacher evaluation system. Together, they have at least tripled both the teacher workload and the amount of testing young children are subjected to, and ultimately turned kindergarten into something unpalatable to my soul.

I apologize in advance for what will probably be a lengthy post. But I have a story to share and want to emphasize from the beginning that this decision was not made on a whim. I was passionate about teaching and had to work hard and overcome many obstacles to become a teacher. And I am not in a financial position to just quit my job.

I entered the teaching profession relatively late in life as a divorced mother of two, after staying home for several years to raise my children. Prior to having children, I had been working on an MSW degree, specializing in hospice care.  After becoming a mother, however, I was drawn to working with children and felt called to be a teacher. When my youngest child was in kindergarten, I began substituting in our local school district prior to pursuing a career in teaching. I had a long, complicated, expensive path ahead of me that involved obtaining a Masters degree, completing extra academic and internship requirements necessary for multiple teacher certifications, gaining experience, and finally landing a job in a highly competitive job market. The investment of time and money would be huge, but I knew I would have regrets if I didn’t pursue my dream. So I embarked on the long journey fueled by passion and focused on one step at a time so as not to be overwhelmed by the complexity and immensity of it.

There was a variety of unforeseen obstacles that I overcame along the way. For instance, in the middle of my graduate program, my ex-husband lost his job, and child support payments ceased. In order to proceed in the program (which that year consisted of a semester of full-time, unpaid student teaching), it was necessary for me to rely on student loans to cover basic living expenses. But I did it because I was passionate about teaching and anticipated it would be a lifelong career. One step at a time, I made my way towards my goal, not only for my own fulfillment but also to model to my children that when it comes to actualizing your dreams, where there’s a will, there’s a way. The day I was offered my teaching position was one of the happiest days of my life. I don’t think I stopped smiling for a week straight and was so excited I could barely sleep!

Eight years later, at nearly 50 years old, I have very little in savings. I do not have an inheritance of any sort. I do not receive child support. I do not have a spouse who carries health insurance, holds full-time employment, or has any kind of retirement plan. I do not have a nest egg or safety cushion. I need to generate income to pay the bills.

The fact that I left my job despite all that speaks volumes about how my career has changed in recent years.

I had been contemplating leaving for a few years and did a great deal of reflection to determine, beyond a shadow of a doubt, whether resigning was the right course of action. I inhabited that possibility all summer, trying it on for size to determine whether it was a choice I really could live with. Any time I imagined myself returning, I knew doing so was not a viable option. My work environment had become a desert with a hot, unrelenting sun beating down every day, and my soul had moved on in search of sustenance.

Over the past seven years, I have grown and learned so much as a kindergarten teacher. My life has been enriched by so many wonderful children, families, and colleagues whom I have had the pleasure of knowing. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to educate their children, share my knowledge and passion, and be a supportive, compassionate, creative – and hopefully inspiring - presence in their lives.

This June, I received a tremendous gift. During a quick trip to my car during my lunch break, I ran into more than half of the students from my very first (kindergarten) class. They were all dressed up for the Moving Up ceremony (which marked their transition from elementary school to junior high school), which would take place later that day. They ran around the playground in search of kindergarten classmates, and about a dozen students gathered around me and shared their favorite kindergarten memories. It filled my heart with joy to see the light in their eyes as they spoke of: the Eric Carle seahorse collages we made, our "Gingerbread Baby Travels the World" (multicultural celebrations) unit, retreating to the Peace Table, the interactive and artistic alphabet books we made, watching a monarch caterpillar transform into a butterfly, being the Star of the Week, and more. Many of them echoed what I've heard from numerous parents of former students through the years: That the book all their classmates contributed to during their "Star" week (to celebrate what is wonderful and unique about the Star student) remains one of their most cherished possessions. It has been a most incredible journey, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be a positive, nurturing force in the lives of so many children and families.

So, what compelled me to resign after only seven years? To be candid, the way the Common Core has been implemented in my district at the kindergarten level conflicts with my core values and beliefs about early childhood education and has made it increasingly challenging to teach from my strengths and passions. As I expressed during my last post-observation meeting with my principal, I feel I’ve been working in an environment in which my talents, strengths, and passions are no longer valued. Kindergarten has become a whole new ballgame that differs radically from what I signed up for eight years ago. Veteran teachers insist that the decline began with No Child Left Behind, and I recall subbing for devoted teachers who returned from meetings in tears, distraught over foreboding changes that already were set in motion. Despite putting forth my best effort, I ultimately found it impossible to keep my passion alive in the new kindergarten culture. Working in an environment in which teachers' professional experience and expertise was micromanaged, disregarded, and bypassed was demoralizing - and exacerbated by budget cuts and several changes in administration during the shift to the Common Core. Since I started teaching, we've had two principals and an interim principal, two superintendents and an interim superintendent, and two assistant principals (and a period during which that position was eliminated).

In my last formal observation, the evaluator entered my classroom unannounced in the midst of my most challenging student having a complete meltdown. Within a few minutes, I was able to calm her down enough to have her sit next to me as I taught a math lesson, and she followed along every single step of the way. That was an incredible accomplishment for this child, and it was completely unacknowledged in my observation write-up. This is an example of what is so disheartening and frustrating.

Early childhood educators are responsible for both teaching a more rigorous curriculum and keeping a handle on misbehavior that I believe is fueled by the more demanding expectations we now put on our youngest learners. When you are the only adult in a room of 20 or so kindergartners, and disruptive and/or dangerous children are sometimes not removed at all, or removed only for a brief time (i.e. 5-10 minutes) before returning to the classroom - only to repeat their disruptive and/or dangerous behavior - it is hard to adhere to the curriculum map. And that is what happens when school psychologist and classroom aide positions are reduced or eliminated due to budget cuts. Such lack of support becomes exhausting and demoralizing on a daily basis. It takes the wind out of your sails.

What looks good on paper and in theory often doesn't hold up when real, live children are involved - especially when the policymakers and powers-that-be lack actual classroom or grade-level experience, and early childhood educators are required to do more with less, year after year.

For the past few years, I have felt like a fish out of water and have questioned how much longer I could continue. I realized it came down to making a choice between changing my mind and leaving my job. Prior to deciding on the latter, I tried in earnest - for years - to change from the inside. I attended conferences and enrolled in (self-funded) online courses aligned with my professional passions, values, and beliefs in hopes of reigniting my enthusiasm and finding ways to reconcile my personal and professional values with the new realities of public education. I returned to my classroom with renewed energy and optimism only to have them drained by the day-to-day, rigorous, and developmentally inappropriate demands of the Common Core.

So much that is important to me and that I believe is beneficial to children has fallen off the plate because it has been edged out by the Common Core curriculum and the excessive assessment that accompanies it and APPR. It became clear to me that I must leave in order to express and grow my soul.

I was thrilled to be appointed as a Kindness Club Advisor when the club began in 2012 because social-emotional learning is one of my greatest passions. However, it was anguishing to have to step down from that position because the workload resulting from the shift to the Common Core that year was so overwhelming.

Through 20 years of parenting and teaching experience, observation, and study, I have developed a personal philosophy of education concerning the nature of childhood and the importance of play and developmentally appropriate practices. I included my philosophical statement on my teaching résumé. Here are two excerpts:

The ultimate purpose of schooling is to cultivate the whole human being. School is a place for developing intellectual and technical abilities along with the social-emotional factors, creativity, and strength of character necessary to use them wisely.

Ideally the end product of education is an individual who loves to learn and is engaged with life, and in whom the healthy seed of self-respect has blossomed into respect for others and an attitude of social and ecological responsibility.

I believe early childhood education should focus on the whole child and be developmentally appropriate. Pushing an accelerated curriculum down to kindergartners can be detrimental to children who, for example, are not ready to read at age four or five. It saddens me that recent public education mandates have raised the academic bar so much higher for kindergartners, and as a result there is little tolerance for the natural developmental rhythms of diverse learners who come to kindergarten with a wide range of background knowledge and exposure. I always told parents at the beginning of each school year that my primary goals for their children are for them to enjoy coming to school, to love learning, and to feel good about themselves. And yet, even in kindergarten, teachers are required to identify children who are not meeting grade level benchmarks and provide them with intervention services designed to accelerate their learning so they will catch up by the end the year and be where they are expected to be.

Although I agree - and have seen for myself - that children are often capable of more than we may imagine and are able to meet higher standards when the bar is raised, I am concerned that this approach may diminish the self-esteem of youngsters who are struggling. Some children are ready for the new, more demanding and accelerated kindergarten curriculum, but others are not. I showered my students with empathy and compassion, and still, those lagging behind were aware that they were not measuring up and felt bad about themselves. It breaks my heart to see children break down and cry because they are not able to perform at the level that is now required of them…and they know they're not measuring up, no matter how much I try to ease the pressure and emphasize their strengths. I worry about future, unintended consequences (i.e. stress-related illness, drop-outs) stemming from this early push to achieve and don’t want to be part of a system that I believe, in my heart of hearts, is harmful to young children. I aspire to work in an environment that respects professional experience and expertise and offers greater freedom to honor and trust children's developmental rhythms rather than pressure them to perform at a level that might not be appropriate for their developmental rhythm.

Without going into detail, I also offer this article, which a colleague familiar with my situation shared with me: . 

Given what I have explained above, it seemed quite clear that the most responsible and honest action was for me to move on to new opportunities that more fully embrace and utilize my particular skills, talents, and values and make room for an educator whose principles and philosophies about early childhood education are better aligned with the direction the school district has been heading in recent years.

And so it was with a heavy heart and a strong inner knowing that I submitted my official resignation letter last week.

Now all my personal teaching possessions are stacked in a storage unit. It saddens me to take inventory of all the materials I made and purchased with my own money to facilitate joyful engagement and provide authentic teaching that honors and inspires young learners. This includes a library of literally thousands of children's books and materials that have gathered dust for the past few years because they have been muscled out of the curriculum by "non-negotiables" and time-consuming assessment.

As word got around, I received an outpouring of communication from parents of former students who expressed gratitude for the special connection I had with their children, the seeds I planted in them, the confidence I instilled in them, and how I awakened them to the beauty and wonder of nature. They also expressed sadness for their younger children and all the other children who will miss "such an amazing experience and journey through kindergarten with you." They said I'm one of those "special teachers" who entered the profession for the right reasons at a most unfortunate time. I believe the relationship between student and teacher is the true curriculum, and these parents expressed gratitude for elements that can't be measured but are ultimately more important than any test score. They knew I loved their children as if they were my own, that I listened to what was on their mind, and celebrated their special strengths that often weren't represented on report cards - just as my special strengths as an educator were absent from observation checklists. No rubrics can measure what is ultimately most important in the student-teacher and home-school relationship.

People who know me best have unanimously expressed joy that I finally had the courage to follow my heart's wisdom and release myself from something that weighed so heavily on my soul and compromised my well-being. They expressed relief that they will not have to continue witnessing me being tortured by anxiety and returning to a broken system that is driving out many of the best teachers. A system that, instead of backing up teachers, reprimands them severely and accuses them of "stirring the pot" when they act with integrity and look out for a student's health by sharing relevant information with a concerned parent.

For a couple days after submitting my resignation letter, I was thrilled that I finally had the faith and courage to follow my heart and leave what had become a poor fit. Then I felt angry. Angry that it had to come to this. Angry that politicians hijacked the career I felt so passionate about, taking children and teachers hostage. Angry that (as another colleague put it) something I was so passionate about was squished and torn right out of my soul.

And sad. Sad for the former students who would come to my room first thing in the morning for a few kind words, a hug, and a smile only to learn that I'm no longer there. Sad that I won't have the chance to get to know a lovely little girl who would have been in my class this year and whose sister had been in my class three years ago. (I hadn't seen my class list prior to resigning, but her family had received the letter, and her mother sent me a lovely, heartfelt message that hit me hard.) Sad for all the other children I wouldn't have a chance to fall in love with and nurture this year.

But below the anger and sadness was a much greater, abiding sense of peace at my core.

When I was floating in my kayak on the river earlier today, I visualized myself teaching in an environment that is not bound to APPR and the Common Core - and felt hope arise in me. An environment that honors and educates the whole child. A holistic environment in which the arts, social-emotional learning, awareness and mindfulness, and nature are integrated uncompromisingly throughout the curriculum. I know such schools exist because I have been in the presence of teachers who work in them. When I attended a conference recently, I was blown away by what some innovative schools are doing and how they prioritize and weave into the curriculum uncompromisingly all that is in alignment with my heart and soul. Hearing these educators and administrators describe their schools with such love and gratitude brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my soul...and propels me onward.

And so a new journey begins.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2015. 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 ( with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Through Day-Blooms and Beads of Dew

This post was originally published on July 7, 2015 on

This morning, I didn't start off in an ideal state of mind. I was consumed by thought and longed for circumstances to be different. I'm in the midst of making a major life change, and some days it takes more work than others to pull up the weeds of doubt and cultivate the faith necessary to "advance confidently in the direction of [my] dreams and endeavor to live the life which [I have] imagined," as described by Henry David Thoreau.

I went outside to get my sneakers from the car so I could take a walk. The daisies and spearmint leaves were still covered with dew, and the chicory and daylilies were opening, for it was their day to bloom - their one day to open up and offer their vivid colors to the world, to attract pollinators and play a starring role in the circle of life. It's the day they've been preparing for, the day they for which they were created. Daylilies take full advantage of their day in the sun by remaining in bloom for the duration, whereas delicate chicory flowers close around mid-day when the sun is most intense.

I stopped in my tracks to listen to the advice the day-blooming flowers offered about making the most of a brief existence. They said:
Dry your eyes!
There's so much living to do.
Get to it! 
The day is young,
and the day is short.
Wake up and engage it.
Don't waste a moment
Wallowing in longing or regret.
You have this one day to work with 
the material of Here and Now
So make the most of it.

How interesting that the Chinese name for the daylily, xuan-cao, can be translated as "forget-worry herb" or "the plant of forgetfulness" because it was believed to alleviate worries by causing one to forget. When I stopped to connect with the essence of the daylilies, I forgot mine!

Then delicate beads of dew clinging to the leaves of weeds commanded my attention. Their existence as a single bead of dew is even briefer than a chicory bloom. If you sleep in or rush past, you'll miss them and never know they were there in the first place.

For about a half hour, I was transfixed by beads of dew on common weeds and captured 80 thoughtfully composed images in all. It was my morning meditation.

If someone were to walk by and see me gazing intently with my camera pointed at a patch of ordinary, green weeds, they'd probably consider it a bit odd. But if you were to look closer, you'd see the beads of dew clinging to the edges of the leaves and perhaps would find poetry in the shapes, contours, patterns, and reflections.

Spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, explains that making the present moment the focal point of attention produces a shift in consciousness from conditioned to unconditioned awareness. Even something as small as a bead of dew on the edge of a leaf can transport you from an unconscious, habitual state of mind to spacious presence and stillness. It can bring you back to the present moment and free you from the tyranny of the incessantly chattering monkey mind.
"And then you notice a miraculous thing... You see aliveness and beauty around you that you didn't see before. When you are in that aware presence, a deeper intelligence begins to operate in your life." -Eckhart Tolle
That deeper intelligence is where the juice is. It's where life really flows. Tapping into that is like entering an alchemical dimension.

As a Four on the Enneagram, my default programming tends toward romanticized thinking and idealization of what is not available here and now. Transformation for someone like me involves releasing wasteful fantasies and romantic longings and connecting with what is here right now and allowing presence and gratitude to arise. Presence and gratitude are potent elixirs for an alchemical life.

Instead of lamenting over what feels unattainable right now or feeling anxious about the future, through my half hour with the blooming flowers and dewdrops I was able to become conscious of the present moment, connect with what is, and do what I love most (photography). As I see it, that is making the most of the moment at hand and following the advice of the daylilies. It is a first step in the direction of engaging the magic and transformed the quality of my energy.

And it doesn't have to take a half hour. Awareness can arise in an instant when we pause to connect with the life that surrounds us.

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, 2015. 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 ( with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Luna Moth Encounter

This post was originally published on June 18, 2015 on

Last night, I did something I'd never done before: I attended a group session with a psychic medium. And it was mind-blowing. I hadn't planned to do it, but it's interesting how the universe works.

It all began with a visit from a luna moth Sunday night.

I was doing some work on the porch that evening. Before going to bed, I put everything away and proceeded to shut the porch windows. As I approached the last window, I noticed a lovely, emerald-toned luna moth about five inches wide, with elegant, feathery antennae, suspended on the screen. She seemed to be looking at me, waiting for me to notice. I gasped with amazement.

I'd never seen a luna moth before and had wanted to ever since reading Eric Carle's picture book, The Very Quiet Cricket, to my children when they were young. Even though I was quite tired, I took out my gear and spent the next 45 minutes photographing the luna moth from inside and outside the porch.

It felt like a very special visit, and before I turned out the lights, I pressed my hands together in a prayerful gesture, bowed to the luna moth, and thanked her for visiting.

Then I did something I never do, not knowing why: I woke up Jack to tell him there was a luna moth on the porch window. It was action driven by pure intuition. And then he did something he doesn't normally do: Instead of grouching at me for disturbing his sleep, he sat up and, in an interested tone of voice asked, "Really?" I was surprised that he wanted to see the luna moth. Unbeknownst to me, before he fell asleep, he saw a picture of one online and thought strongly about how much he wants to see one because he never had before. He fell asleep with the picture of the luna moth on his phone and thoughts of it in his head. In addition, he had an experience during the day that brought to mind someone named Luna. So when he saw the luna moth on the porch - right next to the table where he does his spiritual reading and writing every morning - it was very powerful and significant for him. The next day, after he explained the significance to me, I summed it up by saying that what we are seeking is also seeking us.

I went to work in the morning, and a woman who was a substitute teacher in the building had some free time and was sent to my classroom to help out. After the children went to lunch, we talked for a while. We'd conversed once earlier in the year when she was helping in my classroom.

I sensed we were on a similar wavelength and told her I had a story to share with her that I thought she'd understand. So I told her about the luna moth on the window screen, and she got the significance of it. The conversation deepened, and she asked me if I'd ever been to a psychic medium. She planned to attend a session later in the week and thought I might be interested in going and wrote down the information. The way she spoke of him gave me a good feeling. Even though it was an incredibly busy week with report cards due, my intuition nudged me to go.

So I did, along with my adult daughter, an open mind, and no expectations. When the psychic medium, Adam, entered the freshly smudged room filled with the earthy fragrance of sage, I felt immediately drawn to his gentle, loving, joyful energy. No ego! As he explained the process to us before beginning, the electricity went out - something which apparently hadn't happened there before! It's often said that disembodied spirits are able to manipulate electricity, and I felt the presence of spirits was strong.

The session lasted for two and a half hours, and there were probably 20 women (interestingly, no men) in attendance. An hour and a half into it, nobody had "come through" for me, and we took a brief break. I went to the deserted second floor to use the bathroom and whispered, "Come on, Mom! Where are you?" In my mind, I heard her say, "I'm here! I'm just waiting my turn." And that would be so like her - to stand back graciously and allow others to go first. She was never one to push her way to the front.

When the session resumed, Adam led us through a meditation to help us connect with loved ones who have passed on. My grandmother came through first, followed by my mom. (They were the same two who came to my daughter, seated next to me.) I asked each of them a question and received an answer. Then Adam went back to connecting with the spirits who were gathered to communicate through him. At one point, I heard my mom's voice inside my head say, "I'm next!" and my heart began to pound. Then Adam said my sister's name and mentioned a young boy with a musical connection. He said "she" (the spirit) was with him a lot. He said he saw an acoustic guitar, and I knew it was my mom coming through, so I spoke up.

For the next 10-15 minutes, so much information came through to my daughter and me from my mom and my grandmother! It seemed like my grandmother was there but letting my mom do the talking - which was often the case during their earthly existence. I am not going to relate specific information, but the content that came through via images, words, and the "language" of intuition was astonishingly accurate and meaningful. (I hadn't provided any personal information beforehand other than my first name when I signed in.)

Adam described features of a landscape I had been to recently and said that my mom had been there with me. He quoted - word for word - something my son had said to me three days prior about the ways in which my mom and I are alike and different. He knew my mom died of cancer and said she'd had it for two years then immediately corrected himself because he saw her bring her hands closer together in a "shortening" gesture and said she had it for two years but only knew about it for a few months. He referenced that I make "good bread" (which is true) and said that she (or my grandmother?) is with me when I make bread.

In addition to seeing an acoustic guitar, he saw an airplane and a theater stage. If I could illustrate my mom's life in three symbols, those would be the ones I'd choose. She was passionate about learning to play guitar during the final years of her life, had a career as a flight attendant early in life, and enjoyed a long career working at a performing arts center for 35 years, until retiring only a few years before she died. She and my dad met when they both worked for the airlines and always loved to travel. For her funeral services, the three objects on the altar (as per her instructions) were her guitar, her flight attendant hat, and an autographed baton given to her by her favorite conductor.

Adam explained that my mom is still very strong around me because I talk to her frequently, and she wanted me to know that I need not worry about these conversations keeping her earthbound because it's perfectly healthy and fine, and she has free will to come and go. That really spoke to me because when I have my conversations with her - out loud if I'm alone or inside my head if I'm not - I often tell her that I don't want to pull her back here. I worry that missing her so much or trying to communicate with her will prevent her from moving on to where she needs to be. So this seemed to be a direct response from her to my very sincere concerns about that. Adam didn't say this to anyone else in the room.

The experience leaves me convinced that Adam truly was in touch with a dimension in which our deceased loved ones continue to exist. I could write many more paragraphs about the content that came through - meaningful and relevant content, including specific messages to my daughter and me and details about us that very few people are aware of. However, it would be difficult to truly understand the potency of it without experiencing the energy in the room. That is something I can't convey verbally. I've continued to process the experience for the past 24 hours, making connections and remembering more details. One connection I didn't make until this morning was that right when the energy was shifting from someone else to my daughter and me, Adam saw the image of a butterfly and said that when certain animals are around you, the spirit of your loved one is with you.

The luna moth!

The same luna moth that led me to Adam's group session in the first place, when I followed my intuition and shared the encounter with someone I barely knew.

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, 2015. 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 ( with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Floating Under the Moonless Sky

This post was originally published on June 16, 2015 on

Oh, the bliss of being out here on the river during late sunset! Come float with me.

It's getting dark. The colors in the sky are quite vivid, and I'm floating in my kayak. The birds are singing their goodnight songs, the frogs are croaking, and I'm feeling incredibly light. There is an unidentified, sweet, floral fragrance in the air, and so far I've seen two beavers swim by me. Such peace! I breathe slowly and deeply.

I have not a care in the world. Everything is right with my world. Everything is hush. All personal concerns are so far away when I'm out here floating. They can't reach me and have no pull on me. I smile and fill with joy.

The colors deepen from moment to moment. Being under this sky is like watching an enormous Polaroid picture developing.

I worked an 11-hour day today and have so much to do in the next eight days that it makes my head spin when I think about it. But not right now. Now is all just peace. I feel so light. I'm dictating into a voice recorder so I can write, and then I will write so I can remember that this state of being exists. It's one big ahhhhhh.

The first light I see is a plane making its way across the sky as its reflection sails across the water, almost like the flight of a mosquito because of the gentle ripples on the surface of the water bouncing it around.

This is the real me. The unconditioned stillness. I recall when I felt grief deep down in my bones. Now I feel peace and joy just as deep. A line from Kahlil Gibran's "On Joy and Sorrow" from The Prophet goes through my mind: "The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain." It's not an unbridled, frenetic joy but a balanced, full-bodied joy steeped in tranquility. When you've been down as low as I've been recently, it's such a blessing to feel this way. You really appreciate it.

I perceive a lengthy decrescendo of birdsong. Fewer birds are singing now.

I observe two pinpoints of light in the sky, which I determine (after several minutes) to be celestial bodies, perhaps Venus and Jupiter. One is larger and brighter, and the other is tinier, fainter, and higher above the horizon. I could have sworn they were airplanes. It's so hard to tell what's moving and what's stationary out here. I'm drifting on the water, the clouds are floating in the sky, and I can't tell if the pinpoints of light are moving or if everything around them is.

The sky grows dimmer, and the air becomes cooler. It feels wild to be out on this great river alone with all these sounds in the stillness under the darkening sky. I feel so alive, even tingling. Surely, this spacious serenity is my more natural, open state. It feels like being Home.

Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have this wish I wish tonight.
I wonder: What does my heart wish for? To follow love, not fear, and to experience right now what it would be like to let that energy flow like this river. Imagining this makes my whole body smile. Makes me feel vibrant and liberated.

I look in the direction of the swamp - where the frogs are croaking in the distance - and notice what at first glance appears to be car lights coming down the road. But they're not. The fireflies have come out! I've been waiting to see them flashing their light in the darkness, looking for love. The light show has begun. Now there are no birds singing at all. The sky is almost completely dark. There will be no moon tonight.

The first few stars are twinkling in the sky, the fireflies are flashing below, and all the light is reflected on the water like a mirror. Some fireflies are near the ground, and some are way up at the very tops of the trees.

The sight I'm most drawn to (besides the light of the fireflies) is the rippling light on the water, the reflection of the last remaining light in the sky. Light and darkness dance on the surface of the water in a wavy pattern.

I barely can make out a beaver swimming in front of me. I can only tell by the interplay of light and shadows moving silently on the surface of the water. If I were to start paddling, the beaver would slap its tail on the water, adding a percussive touch - like a kettledrum - to the swamp symphony.

Now there's almost no light whatsoever, so I decide to head back to the dock. This is such a different state of consciousness than the gravity of being on land.

But there is grace upon returning home, for the light of hundreds of fireflies flashes in the back yard in a spectacular light show. It looks magical, like the light of hundreds of fairies - and fills me with delight.

I hope you can feel it, too.

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, 2015. 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 ( with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Waking from the Dream

This post was originally published on June 13, 2015 on

The Beloved sometimes wants
To do us a great favor:
Hold us upside down
And shake all the nonsense out.

I'm getting tired of writing about grief and loss. My plan was to write my way through the first year without my mom. It's not that I thought the feelings of loss would disappear or diminish after the one year marker had come and gone. I just didn't want to dwell on them - for there is so much else going on! So much else to write about! Positive, beautiful stuff.

There have been many moments in the past week when ordinary images have awakened me in some way. For example, waking up to the rising sun shining through the window filled me with gratitude and a simple prayer: May we rise in the morning fully aware of the value of the gift of this new day and resolve to bring our highest self into expression. In other words, may we wake up and shine! May the first thought we think when we wake up in the morning be positive and hopeful and set the tone for the day.

On the creek yesterday afternoon, I was able to get closer than usual to a great blue heron and was impressed by the bird's keen attention, which I interpreted as not thinking or planning but simply being fully present, and from that state of presence discerning where to be, what to do, and when to act. The heron reawakened me to the value of here-and-now presence.

Opportunities to awaken and expand our consciousness surround us all the time, whether or not we notice them. It's a matter of mindfulness and perception.

I could write about either of the above images - or many others, as well. But this is an extraordinarily hectic time of year as I wrap up yet another school year and attend to a dizzying array of paperwork, meetings, and deadlines. There really isn't much time to write during most of June, so I haven't. Then along comes something that demands to be written, immediately - for last night, I dreamed of my mom. And it threw me.

I barely had enough time to fall asleep before I dreamed that I walked out of the living room, and when I returned, my mom was sitting in the chair. Sometimes in dreams, it takes me a few moments to remember that she has died in waking life. But this time it was instant. I exclaimed, "Mommy!! It's so good to see you!" (I haven't called her "Mommy" since I was a young child.) Then I woke up.

The dream only lasted for a few seconds, but it took my breath away. I felt a bit panicked and anxious upon waking and realizing acutely that I will never again experience that particular joy and comfort in this lifetime - for she is physically gone forever from my life.

I've written previously about the waves of grief. When these waves hit, they hit hard. It feels like a wave crashing over me with such force that it knocks me over, and I lose my footing. I suppose I should just allow myself to float back up to the surface without so much resistance to "what is". It's a very unpleasant feeling.

I believe it is also an invitation to go deeper and to get in touch with who I Am at the core. The totality of (my) consciousness, where I experience love through being the most loving person I can be, rather than depending on a certain person to fulfill certain emotional needs. It is so much more fulfilling to relate to others from the higher, infinite Self than from the lower, egoic self. The higher Self is like a sun that shines its light freely. It doesn't need anything from another person in order to feel complete. It is free to appreciate and enjoy the other without any expectations, to be grateful for what was and what is. It is able to find beauty in the present rather than focus on what is missing. When we walk with presence and gratitude, we don't worry about the future because we trust our footsteps and know we will be okay. In this manner, each step blesses and enriches our journey.

I recently listened to an Enneagram presentation by Robert Holden and was struck by the notion that on a spiritual level, there is no such thing as a broken heart. Our expectations and hopes break, but not our heart. The essence of who we are can’t be broken because it is made of love. When the waves hit, it's useful to remember who we are when we're not suffering and to reconnect with the groundless being that can contain it all - the ocean, itself, which is so much greater than a single wave.


There's oh so much I wish I could talk about with my mom, but I won't be able to, ever, in this lifetime - at least not in the way we were accustomed to communicating. It can be painful to awaken from a dream to the realization that I don't have a mom anymore and will never experience the joy of seeing her in the same room as me. When I fall into ego and forget who I really am, it feels so lonely. And when it happens, it's time to call upon the inner Mother and nurture the little egoic self with kindness and compassion. It is a call to be present to the beauty and goodness here and now rather than get lost in yearning for what is missing. To experience love by loving, rather than yearning for love. Generate it from within.

Why do we characterize others with qualities that we think we don't have in ourselves and therefore need from them, when who we really are contains the totality of consciousness? The solution is not to look to others for what they can give us - to fill our holes - but to expand our consciousness and cultivate those qualities in ourselves. And then we can REALLY love, from a source that is a blessing and not a burden for others.

From where I am writing, I can see the river sparkling with sunlight. It's time to engage with the splendor of this new day, one grateful footstep at a time.

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, 2015. 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 ( with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

One Year Later

This post was originally published on May 24, 2015 on
Soon buds and leaves will fill the empty spaces. In the mind of this love The fissures mend themselves. -Sharon Salzberg
This week marked my mom's first "angelversary." In the early evening on Memorial Day last year, our family gathered around her bed to say goodbye. She passed on during the night, in the wee morning hours.

This year, Memorial Day weekend was pretty rough as I remembered each day leading up to her death. Ideally, I would have been more mindful and resilient, but I was worn out from various personal and work-related matters and was not at my most resourceful. I cried a lot. However, one morning later in the week, I woke up feeling peaceful and hopeful. Mercifully, the energy seems to have shifted.

On the evening that marked the official anniversary, the weather and the colors of the sunset were essentially the same as they were exactly one year prior.

There was a familiar holiness to the evening, a deep, comforting peace in the air. Before going to bed, I stepped outside and savored the intoxicating fragrance of black locust blossoms that permeated the warm, evening air as a few fireflies flashed under the light of the rising moon. I returned to the practice of writing in a daily gratitude journal, realizing that gratitude makes all the difference in the world.

The remainder of my mom's ashes were interred during the week, and yesterday, family and a few close friends gathered for a ceremony at the cemetery and formed a circle of love around her grave. The circle of the year - a long cycle of holidays and rituals - is now complete.

But I have to say... This past year has been the most intense, challenging, and vulnerable year of my life, as I tried my best to adjust to the physical loss of my mother and best friend. The toughest parts have been not being able to pick up the phone and call her to share news and yearning for the kind of presence only a mom can provide.

I journeyed deep into the wilderness, although on the surface I continued to go to work every day and did my best to fulfill my various roles and responsibilities. I functioned to the best of my ability despite feeling like I was living two different lives. And I learned so much.

I learned a lot about the nature of codependence and the importance of putting our foot down even when it breaks our heart to do so. I learned that we can neither depend on anyone else to rescue or complete us, nor can we save anyone from doing the hard work that is necessary for their own growth. The best we can do for others is to be a loving, radiant presence - a beacon of light and inspiration rather than a sponge. I learned not to look to anyone else to give me what is already latent inside me, for others can only support me in finding it within. I learned that what matters most is love and that we can only love and nurture others to the extent that we love and nurture ourselves. I learned what true love feels like and that it is free from the desire to possess or control and supports our genuine happiness and well-being.

I learned that grief comes in waves that can throw you off balance if you're not mindful, and I know what it feels like to have my body ache with the heaviness of grief - to feel it in my heart, solar plexus, and sacral chakras, and deep down in my bones. To feel it so intensely that I want to scream at the top of my lungs or do whatever I can to expel it so it won't suffocate me, even though resisting it only makes it worse. It's not just the loss of my mother but the loss of so much else as well. To restate it in more hopeful terms, it has been a year of clarity and clearing the way for what's next - even though I don't yet know what's next.

Perhaps most important of all, I've learned that when I feel shattered, empty, stained, and severed, my core essence remains whole, immaculate, radiant, and indelibly connected.

For about 25 years, I've had recurring nightmares in which a door of my house couldn't be locked. I feared an intruder would enter and harm me. On Memorial Day, I dreamed that two different doors had broken locks and was afraid when I heard a man call my name in the distance. Then I noticed two adolescent boys entering the garage and shooed them away. They returned later and took some of my possessions, which I demanded that they return. When they gave them back to me, I looked at the objects in my hands and realized I had no use for them. I told the boys they could have them - and anything else they wanted. I realized I was surrounded by things that I no longer needed and wanted to open up the garage and let people come and take what they wanted and thereby lighten my load. I wanted to let go of all the stuff, rather than hold onto it, and realized there wasn't anything that really could be stolen from me. It was a wonderful dream that had a deeper meaning and also filled me with a strong desire to purge so many possessions in my waking life. Get rid of what no longer serves a purpose to make room for something new.

On this anniversary of my mom’s passing, I feel as if I am emerging from the forest. I spent a full year wrestling with the illusion of separation and loss and becoming clear about what is not healthy for me. Letting go is a process, but I am finding my way back to the Source and turning toward the light. My backbone, which had softened for a while, is on the mend.

 I'm sensing that all the while during the deep, dark winter of grief, I was like a chess piece being moved by the unseen hands of a master. I am beginning to sense the brilliance of this cosmic dance we do on earth and the energies that come to our aid. Perhaps what felt like a humbling fall from grace is all part of the dance, and there are no mistakes, only opportunities to learn and grow.

Recently, I took my kindergarten class to see local puppeteers perform The Wizard of Oz. Before the performance, I summarized the story for them, and tears welled up in my eyes when I talked about how each character yearned for something they thought they lacked. They put their faith in the great and powerful Wizard of Oz to give them what they desired. However, in the end, Oz explained to them that they had these qualities in them all along. At the end of the show, Glinda assured Dorothy that now that she knows in her heart where Home is, she will be able to go there. And after she returned home, she always remembered and was enriched by her adventures in Oz.

What a great metaphor for the past year.

This morning, I woke up and realized that, like Dorothy, I was wearing silver shoes of protection fashioned by my mom’s love for me as I wandered through the enchanted forest. All is well - and I believe it always has been.

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, 2015. 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 ( with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Difficult Rock

This post was originally published on May 24, 2015 on

There is a place on the Battenkill (river) where I spent a lot of time during the winter. Little did I know that it overlooked a prime spot for balancing rocks! A narrow, rocky island was visible through the winter, but I didn't realize it was accessible, public land.

The Battenkill roared along all winter long with such velocity that I couldn't imagine attempting to cross to the island. But now it's late spring. The water level is lower, and the river bubbles along peacefully. It's safe to cross to the incredibly beautiful, peaceful spot that is literally in the back yard of the private property to which I had access.

I go to the river often and sit in the center with my feet in the water to learn what the rocks can teach me about balance. The harmony of all the sounds - the rooster crowing, the children playing, the birds singing, the river flowing - soothe the soul and make me grateful to be a small part of it all.

Most recently, I spent about 45 minutes focusing on a single rock. It was reddish and very bulky and nearly came to a needlepoint at the tip on which I wanted to balance it. It felt like a rock that couldn’t possibly be balanced. But I believed I could do it and wanted to prove to myself that what looked and felt impossible was actually within the realm of possibility. I found that rock intriguing and believed in its potential for balance. In my mind's eye, I already could see it balanced and knew it was lovely and worth the effort.

One thing I appreciate about the practice of stone balance art is that my most dominant sense (sight) is not particularly useful during the actual process of balancing. I need to rely primarily on my sense of touch, which gives me the opportunity to further develop it. I work with attention and gratitude as the river sings its song of change and flow; the rocks whisper of stillness; and my heart, mind, body, and spirit fall into alignment in deep and harmonious collaboration with nature.

After about 35 minutes of trying to balance this one rock, I started to wonder: What’s the point? Why would I want to spend my time trying to balance this rock if it’s that hard to balance? Well, the point was to show that I could do what seemed impossible - what I put my mind to. To help the rock experience the balance it seemed to long for when I held it in my hands. It eventually did click into balance, and it was gratifying.

The large, red rock remained balanced long enough to photograph it. It was a windy day, so conditions weren't ideal for keeping the rock in a state of equilibrium. After it fell, I picked it up to rebalance it. However, after a few seconds, I felt that familiar, lopsided heaviness and decided to let it be. I’d already gone through so much trying to work with this challenging rock and get it in balance. Why go through that again? Why not move on to a different rock that’s not so difficult?

And so I did. I imagine many people would consider it a waste of time to focus so intently on that one rock. When I work with other stone balance artists, they tend to put up many more balances than I do in the same amount of time. But I don't regret the time or the full attention I gave to that rock. While I connected with its energy, the hypnotic sound of the flowing river carried me into deeper connection with the life energies around and within me. My state of mind was elevated to a place of peace and equanimity that transported me beyond the habitual preoccupation with thought, where stillness and wisdom speak. For a brief eternity, I was in perfect harmony with that bulky, red rock, and it was wonderful. And I learned a lot by working so intimately with its unique properties.

And then I moved on to heart-shaped rocks, for they had something to teach me, too - and stayed balanced longer!

Every rock has something to teach, if you care to listen. And so I go to the river every chance I get, to learn from the rocks as the river sings its song.

Click HERE to hear the song of the Battenkill.

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, 2015. 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 ( with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.