To My Graduating Seniors of 2015

3585820414_fe31eddd26-300x228

Earlier today, I had my final class with my seniors. This was the third of three groups that I have had to say goodbye to in as many days. Very sad to say farewell to some very fine individuals; I have been with many of them for 2, 3, and even 4 years. Before the final bell, I thanked them, offered a few final words of reflection, and reminded them that, before any other role they might play in life, they are individuals first. As the period ended, I gave them the following letter — and an accompanying CD — to remind them that this journey has not ended for any of us; it simply continues in new and exciting ways. 

May it continue for all with mindfulness, love, and compassion. ~rvw

May 2015

To my graduating seniors…

A few weeks ago, there was a moment in our classroom when I realized that we had turned that final corner of the academic year; the end was too close to ignore, and like some giant magnet pulling you away from our discussions of Hamlet and the many literary devices that I wanted you to learn before your AP exam, you looked at me with eyes alive, but not for what we were studying. You were gone – already on some beach or along a narrow mountain trail – you were, simply put, at a place far, far away from our classroom.

I get that. Not only have I experienced that for myself in such trips through the academic circuit – first in elementary school when I graduated from sixth grade, then high school, then undergrad, and most recently as a father in grad school – I have experienced it too, as a teacher for close to 30 years, where I have seen an energy in my students for all that awaited you once that final bell rang and you had thrown your cap in the air. The world was yours to conquer.

The little secret, though, that I want to pass along to you, is that it has always been yours – a great life is not waiting for you somewhere out there; it is already here, as it has always been.

I tell you this because you are going to face this feeling again – and again, as you journey onward. And even though they are indeed milestones, they are pinnacles in a life that is already extraordinary – or should be.

To keep it that way – to stay in the extraordinary – I want to leave you with five guiding lights that have led me along my own personal journey. It’s never easy to stay the course and keep the focus, but they have been good reminders to me, and I hope they help you too.

  1. Do The Work. You have a limitless source of energy within you. Channel it in ways that are productive, in ways that benefit you and others in genuine and authentic ways. Many will complain about why they can’t do something. If you are “doing the work,” then you have no complaints; you are in control of your actions, and you are empowering yourself to have greater options available to you, now and in the future.
  1. Trust The Process/Have Patience. It is a tough time to be growing up, simply because you live in a give-me-now society where instant gratification is not fast enough for us at times. We are easily bored, quick to judge, and quick to react. We have to trust the process of how problems evolve into solutions. We need to have and practice patience along the way. We cannot expect to have every answer appear in our newsfeed as we scroll through items and updates that pass by us at a rate of 1 to 2 seconds at a time. Take a deep breath. Step back. Observe. Be patient. And trust the process… and trust yourself.
  1. Practice Compassion/Be A Good Listener. It’s so hard for all of us, I think, to get to where we think we need to go. We keep our heads down as we plow through on our journey to become better students and harder workers while we build that resume or get those high test scores. The danger in such a pursuit is that we rarely observe and understand the struggles that others – just like ourselves – might be going through. There’s a phrase in Lost, Live Together, Die Alone that really fits here. We need each other. We need to practice compassion for our friends and our family members, and for everyone else, too. We need to be good listeners to each other so we know that we are in this together, and we are not alone, in this shared journey of individuals. Do the work, but keep your head up and remember to be compassionate toward others along the way.
  1. Respect The Lessons And Stories Shared In Literary and Artistic Works. Artists – writers, painters, musicians, actors – have used their talents for centuries to tell us something, to share their stories that matter deeply to them and, as a result, to us. Reading and appreciating the arts was never intended to be done for grades or for assessments; it was to offer an expression of shared experience, to touch us in some way, to reach out as a lasting attempt to tell us something. Read, watch, listen for a purpose that is deeply personal; let the art touch you and then own a part of it for yourself. Capture what is most important and carry that with you. Let it breathe through your own words, brush strokes, and actions as you continue along your own way in expressing your experiences.
  1. Have Courage, Release Fear, and Embrace Love. The greatest challenge we face is fear. It holds us back from taking risks, believing in ourselves, and pursuing our passions and what is most important to us. Fear disguises itself through rationalizations and securities of comfort. Have courage to discover what you want in your life. Believe in yourself, release the fear that holds you back, and embrace self-love and love from others along the way. Once you do this, you will see that your choices will become your realities.

Living Your Life Fully – now – is all about recognizing, understanding, appreciating, providing, and loving. The songs that I have selected for you on this CD are what I would feature if I had my own online radio channel. They are timeless for me. They are the musical version of my guiding lights helping me along the way. I hope they help you too.

It’s been an honor and privilege to spend this year with you. We have learned from each other in our short time journeying together. Always remember the power of words – both of what we read and of what we write. They are miracle workers for others as well as for ourselves. I wish you the very best as you continue on, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. May the walk be long, filled with love and compassion, friends and solitude, challenges and epiphanies.

It’s your journey. Make every step worthwhile.

Offering love and peace to each of you. I’ll see you on the other side….

as always……………….VW

 

The 12AP2K15 Playlist:

  1. “Waiting on the World To Change” ~John Mayer
  2. “One” ~U2
  3. “Love Is the Seventh Wave” ~Sting
  4. “Don’t Worry Be Happy” ~Bobby McFerrin
  5. “Secret O’ Life” ~James Taylor
  6. “Three Little Birds” ~Bob Marley
  7. “This Is Home” ~Switchfoot
  8. “Imagine” ~John Lennon
  9. “Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World” ~Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
  10. “Black Rock” ~O.A.R.
  11. “Soulshine” ~Warren Haynes
  12. “Free > Into the Mystic” ~Zac Brown
  13. “Redemption Song” ~Bob Marley
  14. “Ripple” ~Grateful Dead
  15. “All You Need Is Love” ~The Beatles

unconditional_love

Three Little Reasons To Write in 2015

IMG_24801. Writing provides discovery, clarity, cleansing, understanding, epiphany, courage, belief, hope, and love — all for yourself as well as for others.

2. Writing keeps you focused on what is most important for you; it’s a natural journey that keeps you moving, keeps you going, keeps you clarifying and refining that journey. When we write, we move.

3. Writing stimulates your creativity, energy, desire, will, and motivation. It reminds you of the courage and energy residing within you, at all times, and at the ready for you to tap, use, and apply.

We write to change our own world before we can change the world around us.

So write for yourself, and see the immediate manifestation of these three little reasons.

2015: Living Primal In The 21st Century

This is my last post for 2014. I made some bold decisions in the past year regarding my writing, and I expect to see the benefits in 2015. Not because I can kick back and cherish the fruits of my labor; it’s because I have laid the foundation to really begin doing the hard work (which I love) for many years to come.

And so, with this entry I remind my readers: often, I write to discover an understanding of what I am feeling, of what is — or is not — establishing balance in my life. This post is no different; it is not a judgment on you (or you, or even you). Rather, it is a general conclusion I have made about my own use of social media, of how I, as a highly introverted writer, need to get on in this world to refine my focus and establish a more stable balance of existence. Simply put, I recognize that each of us has a unique path. If my epiphanies work for your journey, then I am grateful. If, on the other hand, we have little or nothing in common, and my words affirm your own place in the world (be it far different than my own), then I am equally grateful.

All good? Wonderful. Let’s move along, then.

Ulysses and the Sirens

Artist: Marie-Francois Firmin-Girard: “Ulysses and the Sirens” (1868)

We have sacrificed a great deal of ourselves in the early years of this 21st century, and as I get older, I am becoming more aware of the pull, the siren-type lull as famed in Homer’s The Odyssey, to resign to passivity and mediocrity.

Bluntly put, that doesn’t lead us to anywhere good.

Nineteenth Century British author Walter Copland Perry called the Sirens in our mythology the muses of the underworld. He wrote, “Their song, though irresistibly sweet, was no less sad than sweet, and lapped both body and soul in a fatal lethargy, the forerunner of death and corruption.”

For much of 2014, I grappled with the tease of social media, the reasoning behind my dangerous attraction to it, and the manipulation of data by the media and money-hungry conglomerates that have thrown the net far and wide to catch as many consumers as possible. All of this has sucked me in, but out of disgust. It’s like that inevitable accident that you can’t stop watching. You flinch, you grimace, you might even bring your arms up to protect your face.

But you still leave a crack of light open for your eyes to capture it all. That’s where I have been with social media and the battle to live life simply.

And– when I step back, I mean really far back, the bigger picture is even more horrifying.

I am reminded of the scene in the movie Contact, directed by Robert Zemeckis in 1997 and starring Jodie Foster, when the masses gather to celebrate the “message of Vega.” They were drawn to experience something that they had never seen before. Immediately, they were lulled in to so much more. This short clip from the movie, to me, captures what Social Media is doing to me and so many of us in the first handful of years of the 21st Century.

This is what I see, at least. We are jumping on a bandwagon that’s been rigged from the start to placate us, to make us doubt ourselves as we pretend to build ourselves up. We buy and sell things, feelings, emotions, lies, deceit, hope, promises, love, and even hate. We persuade, distract, overwhelm, satiate, and lull — yes, lull like the Sirens — each other into false senses of security, comfort, and rescue from chaos. It is the machine of all machines, and we are all cogs in its greater mission. It is the largest force of artificial intelligence, and we are all contributing to the hum of its finely tuned operation.

I want out.

Friends and writers alike tell me it is social suicide to delete social media accounts and make the move to the woods. They tell me that I will never get my writing to “take off” and build on the momentum that I have created over the years. Social media is the number one way to stay in touch, informed, and intrigued. To sever that cord is like walking out of the Superdome in life’s greatest ongoing Super Bowl event that has ever occurred.

I know that, to a large extent, they are right about my career. But more important than any writing dreams I might have, there’s this: I don’t want to lose touch with everyone I care about.

So what to do?

I have to return to one of my old stand-by lines of great wisdom. To quote Emerson (for, perhaps, the 12th time on this blog):

“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

That’s it. Right there. I want out, but I want to stay in, too. I just don’t want all the ugly stuff that comes with staying “in.”

Is it any different, though, than watching television? We are given the opportunity to tune in to nearly 1,000 channels at any given moment. We choose the frequency, my friends. We make the choice.

What I have learned in 2014 is that those choices require a lot of hard work, focus, dedication, and commitment. Getting older doesn’t make any of those things easier; in some ways, we have to try even harder to avoid the sirens’ alluring calls. They tempt us to resign to the complacency that social media offers us.

Tempting, yes. All the time. That’s why 2015 is about returning to the Hunter-Gatherer within me.

It’s not going to be easy to focus my energies into the things that matter the most to me. I have to employ a will to seek out my greatest needs and achieve them; I need to do away with everything “processed and refined” in my life and retain the primal goods and meaningful relationships that exist. I need to let them flourish, become the most powerful things in my life, and live genuinely with and among them.

There it is. My focus for 2015: Living Primal in the 21st Century.

I leave you (and 2014) with a great clip from a movie called Facing The Giants (2006). It captures the essence of how I need to prepare for the long haul in 2015. Maybe you feel the same. Maybe you need to realize that you can do some pretty once-believed impossible things. For me, I need to remember that it’s a long year, and I can’t lose sight of my focus and my goals, no matter how heavy or burdensome the pursuit might seem.

Just keep going, never give up, never quit, and never stop believing in the greatness within you.

 Happy New Year to all of you, near and far. May these be the greatest of days, regardless of the challenges we will most certainly face along the way.