The Call Heard ‘Round Baltimore

There have been so many magical moments at Camden Yards in the last 24 hours, with the Orioles taking a 2-0 lead over the Detroit Tigers in the American League Divisional Series.

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This double play in today’s fifth inning, for instance, was just unbelievable (well, not for die-hard O’s fans).

But it was this call by Orioles’ announcer Joe Angel on WBAL Radio, with the Orioles down 6-4 in the bottom of the 8th inning, that sums up everything magical about this season.

Delmon Young’s bases-clearing double

This is a wonderful time to be an O’s fan, but just as importantly, this is a wonderful time to be a baseball fan.

Good luck in Detroit, O’s. May you muster the strength and magic to sweep the Tigers with a win on Sunday!

Instant Happy Therapy: You Are In Control

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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).

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More Than A Moonrise

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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

Slow Down: Abandon the Speed of Your Newsfeed

photo: rus vanwestervelt, loch raven reservoir, baltimore, md

photo: rus vanwestervelt, loch raven reservoir, baltimore, md

My newsfeeds on multiple social media sites stream by me at a too-fast rate, pushing news and updates across my screen faster than I can refresh them. Emails await my replies in an overflowing inbox, and text messages are still unanswered from last night.

The world is too much with us…. wrote William Wordsworth in a sonnet he penned 212 years ago. Talk about words standing the test of time.

It is easy to get caught up in the rush of our digital world, isn’t it? With everything screaming by us at speeds that were incomprehensible earlier in our own lifetimes, we find ourselves feeling the need to keep up and match that speed so that we can stay in the flow of this ever-pressing world.

I think otherwise. In fact, I don’t buy it for a nanosecond.

I’m standing here on the banks of Loch Raven Reservoir in Baltimore, watching the colors of the rising sun sift through a patch of lazy steam making its own ascent from the still waters. There is nothing “fast” about this process. It moves independently, a natural beauty both fluid and brilliant in its display. I am mesmerized by how unfazed it is by my presence. I am a witness to its tranquil unfolding. I am open to all it has to teach me.

I come out here to be reminded of what matters most in my world. At times, like now, I have to remember what I am not, as much as who I am.

I feel my pulse align with my natural surroundings; my muscles relax, and my feet feel rooted in the damp, dewy grasses here at the edge of the waters. This is what life is about; this is what I am about.

A Mindful Intimation

I am not part of a scrolling newsfeed, nor do I need to keep up with one. The speed of my life experience is not dependent upon, or a mirror of, the technology around me. I align myself with the rising mist on local pre-dawn waters. I will not allow the world to be too much with me — at least not the one filled with screaming technology that never rests. I set my pace; I am mindful of my independence and personal solitude. This is my world. This is my existence.

 

TBW Writing Prompt #1: Where Do You Find Energy?

 

photo: rus vanwestervelt

photo: rus vanwestervelt

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about the story of a barn in Finksburg, MD, and the charge of energy I received when slowing down to really absorb its beauty and purpose.

Today’s TBW Writing Prompt is all about energy.

We all have at least one place that charges us, don’t we? For some, that place might be in our past; for others, it is a mainstay in our present lives.

Georgia Heard, in her book Writing Toward Home, calls this place Querencia, our wanting-place where we feel strongest, perhaps even invincible.

Where is your Querencia? Where do you find energy?

Write without inhibition for 15 minutes about that special place, and bring it to life on the page. You are writing for no one but yourself, so there’s no need to worry about what others might think.

If, however, you decide to share with others on your blog or in your social media space, leave a link for us in the comments so we can check it out and give you a virtual high-five. If you want, you can even paste your writing in a comment and share that way.

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TBW (The Baltimore Writer) Writing Prompts usually run the day after I post an essay or lengthy observation. You can see all of the previous writing prompts under the category “TBW Writing Prompts.” I look forward to reading what you are writing! Be sure to drop me a note in the comments section to share your thoughts on what we’re writing. ~rvw

 

Moving Day

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This moving day was long overdue.

For the last week or so, I have been planning the best way to simplify and streamline my writing and my social media experience. Many years ago, I decided to use BlueHost to handle my various sites. At that time, it was a good decision; the difference between free and paid blogs was extensive. That’s not the case anymore.

So… The following sites have been moved:

rusvw.net –> baltimorewriter.wordpress.com

rusvw.net/blog –> baltimorewriter.wordpress.com

linesoflove.net –> iamalineoflove.wordpress.com

The baltimorewriter.wordpress.com address will house everything I am doing as a writer. It now includes the archives from my other two sites, dating back to 2005.

The Lines of Love address will continue to provide resources for those in need. In addition, I will be expanding our outreach to other groups, including the homeless and victims of domestic violence. Lines of Love is “growing up” and will move beyond the club level at area high schools.

Finally, look for Maryland Voices (creative nonfiction journal) to make a comeback in the fall, with a slightly new look. It, too, is growing up and will be a “journal of literary advocacy” to bring greater awareness to issues of social (in)justice and offer strength to those who are in need.

To all of you: I thank you for following me and supporting me through the years. I hope that these changes will simplify my efforts to share my writing and advocacy with a larger community.

 

Baltimore’s Better Fire In The Sky

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Last night, just before 5 (well, at 4:53 p.m. to be exact), my wife was in Target picking up a few things for dinner and tomorrow’s lunches.

I sat in my car, waiting.

I could have been checking my Twitter feed, or trying to advance beyond level 80 of Candy Crush. All important things, of course.

Instead, I took the time to turn off the radio, put down the phone, and just observe what was around me.

I could not have been better rewarded. Just outside my window, the setting sun was painting a brilliant canvas across the sky, as ice crystals in the clouds were capturing the sun’s final moments on the horizon with uncompromising colors of red, purple, orange, and yellow.

It lasted for just a few moments, and I purposely stayed “unplugged” from my phone to first enjoy its beauty, a fire in Baltimore’s sky that was not only harmless to its citizens, it was uplifting and empowering in every way imaginable…

…If you took the time to look up and savor the show.

I snapped this shot before heading back to the store. Although it doesn’t replace the experience of seeing it in person, it serves as a constant reminder to me of the beauty that exists around us, all the time.

The holidays are approaching. Stores are opening earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving Day. Don’t let the retail rush distract you from looking up every now and then. There’s plenty of beauty abound, and its magnificence is greater than any tweet or App imaginable.

Baltimore Beauty in Autumn

Last Sunday, I was fortunate enough to drive along Mt. Carmel Road in northern Baltimore County. The stretch from Falls Road to York Road is one of the most meditative and breathtaking rides close to home. When I looked out my window and saw this view, I had to pull over to really enjoy its natural beauty. I think the turkey vulture in the sky (although I would love to romanticize it as a soaring eagle, but I won’t) adds to the whole concept of perspective, and viewing our lives in different, unique ways.

Imagine that eye from the sky appreciating Baltimore’s patchwork quilt of autumn reds, yellows, oranges. I believe that my only fear would be to remind myself to breathe every now and then. Surely, I would be too swept away to do much of anything else but appreciate its natural beauty.DSC_0080

 

Mindfulness in the Heart of Baltimore

 

Mid-day sunshine brings Baltimore to life.

Mid-day sunshine brings Baltimore to life.

I don’t know if you have ever read or seen Ambrose Bierce’s “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” but yesterday, walking mindfully through Baltimore on my way to a photo shoot for my new gig writing for our local paper, I had one of those “occurrences” in everything that I saw, heard, and felt.

If you aren’t familiar with Bierce’s short story, “Occurrence” is about a man who is hanged for treason during the Civil War. In the process of being hanged, though, the noose breaks, and he embarks on an all-senses-heightened run back home to his wife. (I have included the video at the end of this post. Really– it’s an Oscar-winning classic short film by filmmaker Robert Enrico).

No. I didn’t feel like I was being hanged. It was the other part — the all-senses-heightened experience that I was mindful of: brilliant colors brought to life by a descending sun, the intricate textures and architecture in the buildings, and the people– the people! I was blown away by the surprise on some people’s faces when I looked into their eyes and smiled as we passed by. There was life there, a sudden belief that they were acknowledged, even appreciated without judgment. The energy we shared in the simple exchange of smiles was exhilarating.

It was all available to me simply by walking mindfully as I went from the Light Rail train to the Baltimore Sun building on N. Calvert Street.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is all about awareness and staying in the present, with open appreciation and gratitude. I could have occupied my walk with plenty of worries and fears about meeting the individuals I am now working with at the paper. As well, I could have stressed the entire way about getting back in time to pick up my daughter before 5 p.m.

What if the photographer has a line of people waiting for head shots?
What if my editor is in a meeting and I have to wait?
What if the trains are running late?
What if…?

Nope. Waste of energy. Every single one of those thoughts. At that precise moment when I stepped off my train and started walking toward the Sun building, not one of those what-ifs was in my control. If I kept my focus on there, an hour in the future, I would have passed up the mindful walk that centered me and enriched my experience in Baltimore.

Walking mindfully is having an awareness of your surroundings  It is simpler than you might think.

Yesterday, in my walk through Baltimore, my mindfulness allowed me to experience, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city, “perfect sweetness [in] the independence of solitude,” as Emerson wrote in his essay, “Self Reliance.”

Mindfulness Is Available to All of Us

Creativity and beauty can be found throughout Baltimore; all we need to do is be mindful to see it!

Creativity and beauty can be found throughout Baltimore; all we need to do is be mindful to see it!

Mindfulness has been around for centuries, and it continues to be practiced everywhere — in the workplace and in the schools. According to Cara Moulds, an energy-shifting, confidence-building possibilitarian, it is anything but a fad.

If you simply look at the many examples of how mindfulness is already being incorporated into business and education, you can see that this is much more than a trend. And also, consider the scientific research being released to show the benefits both in employee productivity and student test scores, not to mention well-being and compassion toward others.

Still, many people align being mindful with some deep religious sect or cult. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a very simple tool to help us live more creatively and fully, every day of our lives.

Meghan Vivo does a wonderful job debunking the myths of mindfulness in her article, “8 Misconceptions About Mindfulness.”

Mindfulness is a quality and a tool – a very powerful one. It won’t, by itself, bring eternal bliss or answer all of life’s questions, but it can bring a sense of connectedness and peace to the practitioner, which can translate into fewer self-defeating behaviors. . . . It also helps cultivate other qualities, such as wisdom and compassion, that lead ultimately to greater satisfaction, even in difficult circumstances.

We don’t have to join some kind of group or live our lives any differently; the difference is that we need to understand that the powers of mindfulness are within us, right now. Once we understand that, everything suddenly becomes possible in our lives, even when taking a simple walk in Baltimore City.

Here’s the short film, “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” by Robert Enrico:

 


About Rus VanWestervelt: I am a pretty mindful guy who teaches writing, creativity, and — yes — even mindfulness. My eCourses have received great praise over the years, and I would love to work with you. Shoot me an email (rusvw13@gmail.com) or find me on Twitter (@rusvw) or Facebook (facebook.com/RusVanWesterveltWriter). My fall classes will begin mid-August. I am looking forward to working with you!