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.

DSC_8522

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

DSC_0475

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

LR sunrise 022512

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

DSC_8326

6. Conflict cannot survive without your participation.

rvw0006org

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

DSC_2721

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

DSC_8129

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

Goucher Easter 011

2. You’ll see it when you believe it.

DSC_0809

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

DSC_8117

 

 

New Light, New Hope for Baltimore

New Light, New Hope for Baltimore
IMG_5275
All photos taken by Rus VanWestervelt. Copyright 2016.

IMG_5278April in Baltimore could very easily be remembered as one of the darkest times of the year for our Charm City, following the riots in 2015.

Oh, what a difference 12 months make.

It was nearly 600 years ago when Chaucer wrote the timeless saying, “As tyme hem hurt, a tyme doth hem cure.” We know it by its more common aphorism, “time heals all wounds.” It’s a phrase that is most aligned with wounds created by personal hurt, or a sudden void created by a loss or tragedy.

Certainly, after the riots began in Baltimore last year on April 12, we all thought that it would take a long time (maybe not 600 years, though) for Baltimore to heal from the wounds we felt during those tense hours and days in April. After all, the images and the acts were horrifying to see, and we all knew they represented a problem that was simmering for some time. We were raw, exposed, vulnerable; worse, we didn’t know what to do about it. We sought quick-fix solutions, but soon realized that the problems we have will take many years of hard, united work to solve.

IMG_5314I remember wondering in those weeks and even months that followed what it might take — and how we would even  begin — to recover.  Who would have thought that, in less than a year, Baltimore City would take such a short amount of time to make great strides in the process of beginning to heal their wounds. If this past week is any indication of Baltimore’s health, I would say this city is well on its way to a full recovery.

IMG_5292I write this having just returned from spending our Saturday evening in downtown Baltimore with tens of thousands of city residents and visitors, celebrating the sixth day of the first annual Light City: A Festival of Light, Music, and Innovation in Baltimore. The event, which ends today (Sunday), has provided Baltimore with seven days of hope, illumination, and possibility, just in time for the world to see how we respond to tragedy, how we bounce back and put on a first-class show that helps bring the city back to life.

IMG_5341My wife and I are not frequent visitors to downtown Baltimore, and to be honest, I was very hesitant to put ourselves and our two younger children in a public venue with thousands of people crowded around us. Yet, every aspect of this event sparkled and dazzled us. Police officers were laughing with visitors, taking selfies with them and posing for impromptu pictures. We didn’t witness a single incident the entire evening (and we covered a lot of ground). Even when we were caught in a bottleneck of thousands of individuals barely able to move along the front of Baltimore’s World Trade Center, nobody panicked, and we worked through the gridlock together.

That experience — seeing all of us work through those challenging, tense minutes — served as the symbolic hope representing who we really are, and what is truly possible.

IMG_5366Everybody demonstrated respect, kindness, and especially patience as we stood in line and waited for our chance to see or participate in a particular display or event. Genuinely, we were in this together, and everybody got along in a way that, frankly, I didn’t think was possible.

IMG_5382Now I do, though, and I extend that beyond the Light City experience we had Saturday night. If Baltimore can pull off such a monumental event like they just did, I believe that anything is possible to build on our year-long healing and establish a new, firm foundation epitomizing every positive aspect of this past week.

Focusing more on what brings us together (even as generic as the power of light and energy via an art installation) unites us all. Festivals emphasizing universal art, seasons, and our City’s history offer opportunities for us to realize what we share, and not necessarily what ways we are different.

In this light, may we all see that we can embrace our differences and still find common ground to celebrate who we are, just as importantly where we are. Baltimore IS a great city, and in this past week, we have shown the world that our proud and beautiful, collective light will always overcome our isolated moments in darkness.

IMG_5336

IMG_5268

IMG_5281

Pushing Through The Darkness: Faith, Trust, Commitment

Pushing Through The Darkness: Faith, Trust, Commitment
BlueSkyJuly212015
Taken 21 July 2015, Towson, MD. rus vanwestervelt

On June 16, when I cut ties with social media to focus entirely on finishing my book, Fossil Five, I made a big deal about descending into darkness (you can read about it HERE). After all, I selected a 105-day period that ran from a new moon to a total lunar eclipse. You can’t get much darker than that, I thought.

Until I heard from a college friend, who reached out to me the other day, disconsolate as she struggled with her own darkness in the early stages of divorce.

“There is no light,” she wrote. “Everywhere I turn, there is this blackness, this abyss, and it all looks the same. I have no idea where to go or what to do, because no direction is providing any hope.”

Our periods of darkness are relative, and her darkness is genuine and even terrifying. Even with the great differences between her involuntary darkness and my decision to “go dark” for 105 days, there are some similarities that emerge.

When I took that big jump off the cliff (and into my own creative abyss), I wanted to remove myself from the distractions. What I found is that what lurks in that darkness are all of the things that really have stopped me from writing all this time. And down here, they are just plain mean and ugly.

Now, I’m not beating myself up here. I write all the time, and more for publication than at any other time in my writing career. But there’s writing for the paper, or blogging, or journaling … and then there’s writing a 130,000-word story about five individuals who have inherited the mystery of their lives.

This story — and all by my doing — has been a bear to map, to design, to plot, to create.

To write.

Going into the abyss was necessary. I knew it then when I made the decision, and I affirm it today, 36 days into the journey.

Removing social media and other distractions, however, only showcased the deeper reasons for the challenges I’ve faced with finishing this story.

And that, Fellow Creatives and Faithful Readers, is why this is the hardest — and best, I hope — story I have ever written.

So what’s in the dark lurking with these words about these five wandering characters, facing their own challenges right along with me?

Raw, primal living where I am face-to-face with the big questions challenging my Faith. Trust. Commitment.

I’m a 50-year-old husband and father of three children, ages 10 to 19. Life is busy, as it is for everyone else, and I am writing around and among my life as a husband, father, and individual. I have chosen to sacrifice none of these things as I write.

But still, I write.

In this darkness, I have explored the depths of my own faith and am more spiritually connected in a 50/50 East–West blend of Taoism and Christianity that, if it were a brew at Starbucks, the line would be out the door. My faith continues to strengthen, my confidence in who I am, my belief in the power of my spiritual core and what I am here to do, here to give, here to share.

In this darkness, I have hit some pretty low points in motivation and creativity. But in those low points, I have realized what trust is all about: trust in others, trust in a plan, trust in having patience. I have realized that the greatest Trust comes in what cannot be seen.

But still, in all that darkness, I continue to write.

And in that writing, the trust and patience have turned frustration into epiphany. I have discovered new connections, new experiences, new opportunities for Fossil Five as well as for myself. These would have never been possible without jumping off that cliff and into the abyss.

As well, in this darkness, I better understand commitment, and that going all-out for one thing (plunging into darkness to finish writing a book) doesn’t necessarily mean that the rest of the world stops spinning. Kids get sick, bills need to be paid, and dogs and cats still need to taken care of.

Commitment is the long walk, the big journey over hills and through valleys. It’s through rains and then droughts. It’s in the blazing, intense sun and under the ecliptic, portentous storm clouds. It’s day when it’s night, and night when it’s day. It’s the most oxymoronic experience of my life.

And still, in that darkness — thanks to commitment, I continue to write.

I guess that after you have walked a few hundred-thousand steps and you look over your shoulder, you see how far you have really come through all of it, even when life was so dark that you couldn’t see your foot as you took the next step forward.

I marvel at how far Faith, Trust, and Commitment have carried me, just as they begin to carry my friend facing divorce, and just as they might have carried you (or continue to at this moment). All because we kept moving, or kept writing. We invested Trust. We held on to our Faith. We didn’t waver in our commitment, even though we might have trudged begrudgingly up the hills and searched for a way out of the valleys.

How beautiful it all continues to be.

For my friend on the verge of divorce, I tried to offer a little life-light to let her know that she was not alone. In her own abyss, there can still be Faith, and Trust, and Commitment that will pull her through. In darkness, these three — and Love (always Love) — will get us through. I hope she reads this, and I hope she knows that others (you, and you, and I know you) have been in your own darkness. You got through, as will she.

We just need Faith, Trust, Commitment to see the first beam of light, feel the dark slip slowly out of sight, and gather strength from the Promise that awaits.

It always awaits.

The story itself of Fossil Five: I am in love with it. Every single word. I don’t regret the struggles along the way, the battles within and the challenges around me. All I need to do is keep writing, and I’ll reach my goal of finishing this beautiful, wonderful story about five people I have come to love very much.

So. It’s back to the writing. Thank you for allowing me these few moments of light to share these thoughts with you.

I look forward to the moment when I can finally share these five fine lives with all of you as well. I do believe they will change your life, as they have changed mine.

Until then, Embrace Faith. Have Trust. Be unwavering in your Commitment.

And Love. Always Love.

 

 

The Story Behind The Picture: Solitary Pony on Assateague Island

DSC_3769
Solitary Pony on Assateague Island. Photo: rus vanwestervelt, 2010.

My buddy Brad and I were in Ocean City, MD with our families, and we decided over dinner one night that we would head in to Assateague Island, MD the next morning to get photos of the horses on the beach at sunrise.

The weather, itself, did not disappoint. An agitated swirl of cirrus clouds preceded the rising sun, and we were treated to a beautiful pre-sunrise that left us somewhat breathless.

The only problem we faced was the lack of wild ponies. In fact, we couldn’t find a single one.

After our initial shoot of the sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean, we headed back toward the Jeep to pack up and see if we could find any herding ponies in the dunes (we eventually did). As we started to get into the Jeep, we turned to give the rising sun one more look.

To our shock, a small herd of ponies had appeared on the dune’s horizon, and we immediately began taking photos.

This was the last one I took, pulling back as far as I could to get the rising sun and solitary pony at opposite ends of the frame. I knew when I depressed the shutter that it would end up being one of my favorite photos that I have ever taken. Today, that still stands true.

I guess it pays to keep looking up, keep living an attentive life, and keep capturing the beauty that exists in each moment. I am grateful that we looked up to see such beauty.

 

Instant Happy Therapy: You Are In Control

Instant Happy Therapy: You Are In Control

DSC_0013

I am fascinated with the trends on my social media feeds, or at least the ones that Facebook and other social networking sites chooses for us. If somebody with a pretty strong presence in my feed rails about the injustices of customer service, it seems as if it is nearly always followed by a run of status updates proclaiming similar unsatisfactory experiences.

Look, I know this might be a Law of Attraction thing – you want to buy a green VW Beetle, and then that’s all you see on the road the rest of the day. I get that. But FB and other networks have already admitted to using some kind of software that tracks trends in updates and flows them together, all for the sake of “enhancing” our overall online experience. Talk about customer service being a little too self-serving…

Regardless of how they end up in my feed, people are writing them, and sometimes, they are downright depressing.

Well, I’ve got some Instant Happy Therapy for you that works for me every time. I step away from the phone/laptop/tablet and get outside.

I listen. I observe. I inhale. I absorb everything that is around me.

So few of us really do this. Here’s a quick quiz for you. Name the following:

  1. The natural colors and shapes around you.
  2. The types of trees in your neighborhood.
  3. The names of the wildlife outside your front window.
  4. The sounds of birds (and their names) in your neighborhood at dawn, noonday, and dusk.
  5. The insects and animals comprising your community’s little ecosystem and wild life cycle.

Not that any one of these is super important to your happiness. What is super important, though is your awareness of such things. All it takes is a little time outside, unplugged, to become aware of the vibrant life all around you.

This is my Instant Happy Therapy. It is grounded in the present, and it is happening, despite me. I get to become an observer to the wonderful movement of my natural and community surroundings. It grounds me in what matters most in this life.

So log off, and get outside for a little Instant Happy Therapy. It’s free, and it’s always available to you (and everyone else).

DSC_0095

 

More Than A Moonrise

More Than A Moonrise

IMG_1828

I do not know whether to trip over the light of the moon,
Or walk gently along the beams that find their way,
A cool, quarter-million miles to where I stand
This invitation to abandon stress, release the burdens, and follow play.

I marvel at its simplicity,
Framed in the silhouette of a Maple tree’s silk–
Long limbs cradling the brilliant orb,
A babe in nature’s womb, rebirth’d every 28 like the fate of the phoenix.

It is enough to be alive, a witness to beauty,
A gem polished again and again by the swirl of the sun,
The spin of the Earth,  the push–pull game of gravitational love;
The opening of a heart, receiving love rising along the light-dancing horizon.

~lines composed at moonrise, 8/7/14, rus vanwestervelt