Discovering Creative Ketosis

Discovering Creative Ketosis

I’m on this new diet (I hate the connotations that are associated with that word; every one of us is on some kind of diet, right?). Anyway, it’s the Keto Diet, and I can’t have more than 27 (ideally 20) net carbs a day.

Perspective: I was downing probably 300 net carbs a day. So this is a big change for me.

The purpose of the diet, in simple terms, is to switch your body from burning carbs to burning fat. This is what is known as entering a state of ketosis, where your body becomes this incredible fat-burning machine. It’s magical, and it’s beginning to work for me.

But the transition has been tough. As my body goes through this adjustment into ketosis, it is very possible that it is resisting the change of burning carbs to burning fat. That might very well explain why I have been so fatigued these last few days. My body is searching for carbs to burn, and it hasn’t completely learned just yet that burning fat instead is a completely acceptable concept.

I’m feeling it kick in today, though, and it’s pretty magical, like I said.

A few weeks before I started the Keto Diet, I also decided to deactivate my Facebook and step away from most of the social media scene. I did this for myriad reasons, but mostly because I didn’t like the energy it was taking away from my writing. I had a bad year last year, and I’m trying to reclaim my creative game.

At first, leaving Facebook was instantly liberating, but lately, I’ve been struggling with getting the creative juices flowing. Then  this morning, it struck me: I think the resistance I was feeling in my diet can be true as well about my transition from a social media life to a writer’s life (I’m not really saying that we need to choose one or the other, but in my situation, I’ve made such a choice).

There is resistance. My creative soul is looking for social media to feed its appetite, and it is just now learning that it can be far more healthy and productive by working on meaningful pieces like my novel, Fossil Five; my blog; and other original writings and creative works.

Here’s the point: The writer (or artist, or creative) strives to stay in a complete state of creative ketosis, where the mind, body, and soul are working optimally to produce the greatest works possible. This is the very essence of Samadhi, the state of superconsciousness, for the writer: Aware of all things, in all ways, to make the most of his or her creative journey toward polished products, whatever they may be.

I have said for some time that the energy we spend on social media takes away energy that could be better spent in healthy ways. Indeed, social media is nothing more than a high-carb fast food, filling us with nothing and leaving us feel, paradoxically, empty and bloated all day long.

So, as I continue to lose weight in this dietary state of ketosis, and as I continue to forego the energy-sucking platforms of social media and stay in creative ketosis, I am eliminating the “un-creative” carbs from my life in every way, allowing my body to burn optimal creative fuel for its energy: a heightened sense of awareness and mindfulness of all around me. It’s space that fosters healthy growth for my novel and other creative endeavors. The energy is pure, accessible, clean.

It takes time. Everything does. I’m glad I’m sticking with both.

Being Resolute in 2018: Begin Within

Being Resolute in 2018: Begin Within

If we make happiness our primary goal instead of our secondary goal, then we easily accomplish everything else we desire. ~Deepak Chopra

Across the country and throughout the world, people are asking themselves the same question: What will my resolutions be for 2018?

The “Greatest Hits” of resolutions include weight loss, saying goodbye to cigarettes and liquor, and establishing a fitness regimen.

No doubt, these are all admirable goals to live a better life. But one hardly needs a new year to begin — or resume — being so resolute; in fact, I would argue that many of us are overweight, smoky, and out of shape because we set ourselves up for failure in some other previous new year. Resolutions have a way of making us feel horrible about ourselves before January is even over. Once we fail at keeping our resolutions, we find solace in remembering that another new year will soon be upon us — in 11 months.

I found another set of New Year’s “Greatest Hits” on my friend’s Facebook page. Chris shared the top ten “Words of Wisdom” by the late Wayne Dyer, and it paired nicely with my daily readings of Deepak Chopra.

The resolution we really need to be making is simple, requires no exercise equipment, and prepares us to accomplish any secondary goal we might have to live a more healthy, fulfilling life. It’s so simple, in fact, that we do everything we can to make it harder on ourselves, when we don’t need to.

Are you ready? Here it is:

Embrace happiness and joy in this moment, within you.

And we don’t even have to wait until January 1. It’s accessible, and doable, right now. All you need to do is shift your priorities, see the beauty within you first, and then go after any other goal or resolution you wish to pursue.

You might be asking: What’s the difference, then, if I go for my goals first? Won’t that lead me to the same goal of happiness anyway?

It seems logical that it should work that way, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it almost never does. Here’s why. When we seek things — materialistic or otherwise — to bring us happiness, we allow our well being to become dependent on achieving those things. And, as we are hardly creatures of contentment, we then seek out the next thing that will make us happy.

Thoreau, over 150 years ago, nailed it when he penned those timeless words:

“The mass of men lead their lives in quiet desperation.”

We can’t keep chasing resolutions, thinking they are going to be making us happier. They simply won’t. But, if we begin with happiness, and then pursue our resolutions, that wellness within will keep us motivated throughout the year — and beyond — to make those better choices in our lives.

So here are Dyer’s words of wisdom below, coupled with ten of my own photos from previous years. At the end of this post is a lovely 39-minute sunrise that I have been playing while writing in the early hours. Enjoy.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2018 for each of us. May you discover the beauty and joy that awaits within.

Love, Rus

10. If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

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9. How people treat you is their Karma; how you react is yours.

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8. When you judge another, you do not define them. You define yourself.

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7. You cannot be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with.

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6. Conflict cannot survive without your participation.

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5. Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.

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4. Abundance is not something we acquire; it is something we tune into.

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3. Loving people live in a loving world. Hostile people live in a hostile world. Same world.

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2. You’ll see it when you believe it.

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1. Go for it now. The future is promised to no one.

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Hungry Harvest: A Healthy Choice That Helps Many

Hungry Harvest: A Healthy Choice That Helps Many

It started with a poolside conversation with a friend of ours who teaches in the Baltimore City school system. Hungry Harvest had partnered up with the schools in her area, and she was sharing — quite supportively — Hungry Harvest’s mission and the healthy impact they were having with children who lacked the finances and resources for a balanced diet.

My wife and I are no strangers to healthy eating. We’ve ventured on many vegetarian journeys (and for me, a few stints as a vegan), over the last few decades. We did it for ourselves, though, and it didn’t go much further than that.

Two things of importance here. First, we’ve also struggled with the lure of quick foods and the decadent experiences of some of the taboo delicacies. It’s easy for us to get sucked into that routine of convenient and tasty meals.

Second, we’ve looked at a lot of Co-Op deals with local farmers. Most of them are pretty good, if not outstanding. Nearly all of them, however, are asking for a full-season (usually 20-24 weeks) kind of commitment. And, the variation of fruits and vegetables you receive each week would leave us a little worried that we would be getting too much kale and not enough peaches, cantaloupe, and peppers.

When we did a little research into Hungry Harvest, however, we were immediately attracted to the work they do to support families in dietary needs in and around Baltimore. As well, you are on a week-to-week schedule with them, and you can modify your orders to supplement with fruits, vegetables, and even breads that are not in the package we ordered (they have everything from Mini Harvest, Full Harvest, to Super Harvest with conventional or organic options). You can even specify a full-fruit or full-veggie order. Their produce packages begin at just $15. So many options, and all of them are healthy and yummy.

The story behind Hungry Harvest is simple.

According to their website, Hungry Harvest has delivered over 3 million pounds of food, provided access to over 50,000 pounds of reduced-cost produce, and donated over half a million pounds of produced to their partner organizations, including SNAP.
Per their website, “Produce in a SNAP is a partnership between Hungry Harvest and Baltimore City Public Schools to bring fresh, affordable produce to food deserts in order to promote healthy eating and fight hunger. The goal is to allow food-insecure families and individuals who could benefit from affordable produce, including those on government assistance programs such as SNAP/EBT, WIC, and SSDI, to stretch their food budgets and put nutritious produce on their dinner table.”
To be honest, they exist because the statistics cited on their website are startling and speak for themselves.
  • 40% of food in the US goes to waste.
  • 16 million children in America struggle with hunger.
  • 6 billion pounds of fruit and vegetables go wasted each year in the US.
  • Each year, American consumers, businesses, and farmers spend $218 billion, or 1.3% of GDP, a year growing, processing, transporting, and disposing food that is never eaten.
  • If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter behind the US and China.
  • If one-quarter of the food wasted were saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people globally.
And the list continues, but that was enough for us to realize that what Hungry Harvest is doing for our communities right here in Baltimore is making a difference.
By ordering food from them, we are supporting their mission:
“We believe that no food should go to waste and no person should go hungry. That’s why we source 🍐, hand pack and securely deliver delicious boxes of recovered produce a weekly and bi-weekly basis. For every delivery, we subsidize 1-2 lbs of produce for families living in food deserts through our Produce in a SNAP sites. We currently deliver in Maryland, DC, Northern Virginia, Philly, South Jersey, and South Florida.”
Amy and I just finished our first meal with Hungry Harvest produce, and we are excited to continue to support them every way we can. They have many volunteer and staff options available to be a part of their mission. As we continue to improve our health, it’s good to know we are helping a worthwhile organization like Hungry Harvest improve the lives of others as well.

Hungry Harvest offers many discounts and incentives. If you are interested in ordering produce from Hungry Harvest and want to save on your first order, let them know that you heard about them from Amy VanWestervelt. We are excited to do everything we can to spread the word of how they are helping so many in our own communities.

Being Relentless in Living Fully: Five Things I Have Learned

Being Relentless in Living Fully: Five Things I Have Learned

The other morning, I found myself rushing out to my car to head to school like any other weekday. The sun was just breaking the horizon, and I was juggling too many bags of work and thinking about beating the early rush along the 25-mile commute.

I could feel the tension building already: stress upon stress from two years of seemingly endless troubles and challenges that I failed to understand: family deaths, loss of work, other matters that are just a part of life itself. I’ve never lost sight on the fact that we all go through this; we’ve all got our stresses in our lives that challenge us to the very core of who we are.

For me, I could see the toll they were taking on my body and my mind; making poor dietary choices and dwelling on those stresses create a very unhealthy lifestyle. And before you know it, the troubles you are experiencing within begin to permeate other areas of your life: friendships, work, social occasions.

So on that morning, as I was fumbling with my keys to unlock my car, I heard the unmistakable song of the American Robin.

“Cheer up! Cheer Up! Cheer Up! Cheerily, Cheer Up!”

Yes. This is the actual song of the Robin.

The bird’s sing-song notes seemed so crisp against the cool Spring morning, and they pierced through the stress building upon more stress. In that one instant, I was carried back to younger days when I was living on Chesapeake Bay, and my mornings would begin with the sweet songs of morning birds like the robin, the wren, and the finch.

Those days weren’t trouble-free, by any measure. My father had just died, and money wasn’t any better, really, than it is today. But nature served as a real solace to me then, and I remained open to the things that brought me peace and that soothed me.

In the busy rush of the world we live in today, I sometimes lose sight of that. Thanks to the song of a single American Robin, I found that peace last week, and since then, I’ve been returning to a relentless approach to living a better life.

While there are so many strategies and structures out there to remain relentless in living fully, I’ve narrowed it down to a good list of five that keep me in my game. My five might be different from what you need. I guess what’s most important is that each of us figures out what works, and then stick to it.

Find Your Focus and Keep It Close. For me, it’s three things: writing, photography, and music. I’ve learned that when I’m struggling, I write less, my camera lens captures nothing but a layer of dust, and my playlists are dark and brooding. It’s almost as if my body is creating an environment to nurture the stress, to make it last as long as it possibly can. I need to be conscious of keeping my journal out in the open where I can write freely and often; I need to carry my camera with me so I can capture life as I see it; and I need to choose the songs that empower me, give me encouragement and strength, that keep my mind clear and my heart open to give, as much as to receive.

Let Go of the Past. Nothing keeps us from being relentless in our living than dwelling in the past. I’m not talking about remembering a great hike along the Appalachian Trail when you were 23 or hearing a Zeppelin song along back roads at 19 with windows down and volume up. Hold on to those moments and cherish them often. I’m talking about regret, or decisions you made hastily, or even opportunities brushed aside or declined. You have to place yourself in the present, embrace what is, and seize the songs that remind you that there is a life all around you to be lived, experienced, and celebrated.

Stay Healthy. We are so tempted to stray from what keeps us mentally and physically healthy. Just remember: The quality of every aspect of your body, mind, and heart is entirely dependent on what you put into your system. And it’s different and unique for each of us. My diet might be a catastrophe for you, and chances are pretty good that your good choices would nauseate me. We need to be mindful of what our body needs, and then give it the fuel to make us relentless machines of power, love, and balance.

Remove the Triggers That Set You Back. This is an important one, because the first three tools to remain relentless make it sound like we all lead happy, care-free lives. The truth is that the things that can stress us out are still in our lives. Staying healthy doesn’t bring back a loved one; there is still great sadness and stress associated with it. We just need to defend ourselves with these tools. Triggers are going to continue to be in our lives that remind us of what was causing us so much stress. We need to be active in removing them as much as possible from our daily routine, as they can set us back faster than a 12-inch cheese-steak sub with extra fried onions and all the fixin’s. For me, those triggers are hidden in word games, songs, and radio stations. If I’m vulnerable to these triggers, I need to be mindful of this and remove them. That might mean deleting an app on my phone (or burying it on that last screen and hiding it in an obscure folder), making a different playlist, or even turning off the radio and finding a good mystery to read. Don’t set yourself up to be vulnerable. Living relentlessly means always providing yourself a little self-check on how you are reacting to the experiences around you. Stay relentless and stay in control.

Embrace Your Spirituality. Whatever spirituality means for you, find your affinity for something greater than yourself and make it present in your life-always. Our communion with a higher entity — even if that’s in the spirit of nature itself — puts everything in context with your place in this world. It sorts through the challenges and puts them in perspective; it prioritizes the things that really matter, like health, peace, and love; it gives you greater strength to confront the things that bring stress and offers the space and faith to work on resolutions. No matter what you believe, your spiritual foundation reminds you that you aren’t alone, and you have the  strength of a higher power with you every step of the way.

If all else fails, remember this: you are most certainly not alone. Sometimes it takes a simple song of a common bird to remind us of how beautiful life is: in this moment and in the hours and days to follow. It’s all about our perspective and our choices.

Choose to embrace the relentless pursuit of a life lived fully.

What’s In Your Creative Vision Tile for 2017?

What’s In Your Creative Vision Tile for 2017?

With the new year quickly approaching, it’s a good time to think ahead to what we really want to focus on for ourselves (I know that I preach selfless acts a lot, but we also need to think about what’s best for us). It’s easy to look back at 2016 and reflect on what we did wrong, or where we went astray. That’s important, for sure. It’s equally important, though, that we look at where we are right now and focus on what we want or need to refine or change in the next 12 months.

One way to do this is by creating a vision tile for 2017.

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The tile above was created by a few of my students about 6 years ago, but it serves as a testament for capturing a bit of self-love and vision for what we want for ourselves in our immediate future. Whether you are (Super) Dave or Jalagna, you’ve made a statement that you are proud of.

So what’s in your creative vision statement for 2017?

First, brainstorm a list of what goals and dreams you want to experience in 2017. Find words, pictures, and images that capture the essence of what you want to achieve.

Second, find a square paper, card stock, or even ceramic tile and design a powerful layout. You might want to begin with a skeletal mandala frame (see below) that gives you some real focus and forward motion in reaching your vision.

screen-shot-2016-12-15-at-1-21-45-pmThird, be creative in your layout and don’t be afraid to bring your vision to life. Use every inch of the tile to capture the essence of the 2017 YOU. 

Here’s one sample of a polished vision mandala that focuses on new energy for the new season. You can really see the swirl of movement and motion showcasing the interconnectedness with the various elements.

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Finally, put the polished vision tile in a prominent place where you can keep your vision present. Take a photo of it and make it the wallpaper on your laptop, phone, or tablet.

Keep focused on your vision for 2017, and capture the energy and possibility of what certainly awaits for you — if you visualize it!