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 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.

Why We Fear Creativity, And How To Let Go

001creativity

I have been in this cafe for a little over an hour, writing in my Daybook to the ambient sounds of chatter, the clanging of dishes, all blended with the meditative, hollow sounds of Deuter playing his bamboo flute. On these pages, I have written about singular moments I experienced decades ago along the marshy lands lining the Patuxent River, the beautiful flow of my life in this present here in Baltimore, and the possibilities that await elsewhere in this world with an open heart.

It was not hard to get here. In fact, I’m not really in a cafe at all. Try a dining room table in my suburban home next to my kids who are experimenting with crayons, sketch pencils, and a lot of funny faces.

But I feel like I am in a cafe, thanks to the assistance of coffitivity.com with the background noise. Because of their creative and innovative thinking, I am able (as are you) to find a fertile environment for creativity anywhere and at anytime.

(I have to admit, I discovered Coffitivity in Anahad O’Connor’s article in the New York Times (published 6/21/13), How The Hum of a Coffee Shop Can Boost Creativity. O’Connor cites a fantastic study published in the Journal of Consumer Research on the correlation between ambient noise and enhanced creativity. The findings by Mehta, Zhu, and Cheema — the authors of the study, through a series of five experiments, showed how and why moderate ambient background noise can enhance creativity, primarily by opening up the mind to think more abstractly.)

Being creative: it doesn’t take planning, or great orchestration, or even cooperation from others.

All it really takes is a decision, on your behalf, to embrace the powers of creativity within you and live a mindful and inspired life.

Too busy? Too old? Not your style?

Nope. Sorry — Not buying it. Everybody’s busy doing the work that everybody else expects, we all think we are older than we really are, and too many of us are trying to discard the things we have been told are foolish, childish, and a downright waste of our time.

I’m not buying any of it, and you shouldn’t either.

We have been fed, far too long, the belief that “being creative” is something extreme artists do. They are poor, they are messy, and they are crazy, wild madmen and madwomen set out to do outrageous things.

Those creative types, always cutting off their ears and stuff. Really! Get over it already and find a real job like everybody else!

Yes. Creativity has gotten a pretty bad rap over the last century or so. It’s not your fault, though, and it’s not even your parents’ fault; it goes a little deeper than that. But we don’t need to be concerned about the past so much. We need to be concerned about what is happening to creativity right now to you, me, and even our children in our heavily funded school systems. (if you haven’t stumbled over this TedTalk gem by Sir Ken Robinson, go grab a fresh cup of coffee and push play; you won’t be disappointed.)

The Suppression of Creativity

Julia Cameron, author of the best-selling book and program, The Artist’s Way, has spent her entire career fighting for the right of all individuals, young and old, to reclaim their creative souls and live a more mindful, inspired life. In her follow-up to Artist’s Way, Vein of Gold, she argues that the first step is to awaken from the ho-hum expectations passed down to us. “Most of us are not raised to actively encounter our destiny. We may not know we have one. As children, we are seldom told we have a place in life that is uniquely ours alone. Instead, we are encouraged to believe that our life should somehow fulfill the expectations of others, that we will (or should) find our satisfactions as they have found theirs.”

How sad! But it makes sense, doesn’t it? Somewhere in our childhood, right around the age of 8 or 9, our lives changed. The time had arrived to put away the colored pencils and get “serious” about life.

Cameron continues: “Rather than being taught to ask ourselves who we are, we are schooled to ask others. We are, in effect, trained to listen to others’ versions of ourselves. We are brought up in our life as told to us by someone else! When we survey our lives, seeking to fulfill our creativity, we often see we had a dream that went glimmering because we believed, and those around us believed, that the dream was beyond our reach. Many of us would have been, or at least might have been, done, tried something, if…If we had known who we really were. But how were we to know?”

Ugh. It makes me sick every time I think about how we suppress the very key to innovative thinking and inspired living. Our greatest accomplishments in the history of our world have come about from being creative! And yet, we treat creativity like some banished, bad kid who has spent a little too much time being naughty, wasting everyone’s time with silly games and stupid thoughts.

And, now that we are older, we seem to think that it is just too late to do anything about it.

But I have a family, a job, other responsibilities now…

Yes. Most of us do. But the truth is this (and here’s where we can boldly begin to discard the excuses and the worries): We can use these constraints to our advantage, once we accept creativity back into our lives.

Turning Constraints into Creative Opportunities

Daniel Levitin, speaking on “Creativity in Music: Constraints and Innovation” at Stanford University’s Behavioral Science Summit earlier this month, argued that much of our creative explorations that have led to masterpieces are a result of evolution, rather than just revolution.

Levitin defines creativity in the following way: “Works of art that we judge to be the most creative involve the artists working under constraints to produce something novel, or something that pushes the edges of these assumed constraints.”

In other words, because of these constraints, our creativity can manifest into great things, for ourselves, for our communities, or for the world.

Well, it’s not too late. I am here to tell you: You are a creative individual, and you have the right and the duty to live a mindful and inspired life right now. Maybe it’s time to take an online creative writing course, or at the very least, head to your local bookstore and pick up a new journal and begin creating. What matters most, right now, is that you realize there’s a creative YOU waiting to be rediscovered, right now, and you don’t have to do anything extreme to bring creativity back into your life.

Why wait any longer? A creative, mindful, and inspired life is waiting within you, ready to be ignited.

 

 

It’s Time For Us To Get (Really) Acquainted

cropped-rvw-autumn-road.jpgHi.

I read a piece this weekend by a former student of mine and now fellow writer/author. Amanda, like a few others I know, is really digging deep and writing authentically (here’s the piece I’m talking about).

She made me turn the mirror on myself and see if I practice what I preach in my writing, or if I am one of those e-Posers, creating a false image of who I really am.

After thinking about it for the last 24 hours, I’ve come to this conclusion: I’m walking the thin fence, and I wobble a little to the left, a little to the right, a little too often.

What does that mean exactly? Well, to be honest…

What I Am Noticing

I believe everything that I write, everything that I preach, everything that I share. My mantras on love, kindness, wellness, and spirituality are all sincere — not just for you, but for me as well. All of that stuff is true.

The wobbles come in when we start talking about what I will call “selective posting.” Like Amanda writes, we’re all at least a little guilty of it, in some way. Right? We hold back the negatives that might cast a harsh light on our otherwise stellar lives. We keep in the backs of our minds our jobs, our family, our friends, our relationships. We are careful to walk that smooth line atop that fence, keeping our opinions in check, making sure that what we say, or write, or do does not become a misconstrued piece of evidence to jeopardize any aspect of our lives as we have crafted them.

In effect, though, we are becoming a mirrored image of the not-so-transparent people that we pose to be in our online worlds.

Do you get that? Do you see what is happening? In our effort to use social media to build ourselves up, we are actually using it to build nothing more than a superficial prototype of ourselves.

This is not who we are! And yet, the more we put in to that image, the less we can access that core of who we really are.

There’s another thing that happens, too: We spend a lot of time doing two things: logging in and logging out of the virtual world, and spending a lot of energy trying to get back to a place that we are losing touch with.

Thoreaus_quote_near_his_cabin_site,_Walden_PondThoreau called it the masses leading lives of quiet desperation. I think that, in this 21st century, Thoreau’s editor would change that to “…masses leading desperate lives of quiet superficiality.”

It’s sad, but it’s true. All it takes is a little mindfulness to slow it down long enough to step off the train and get reacquainted with who you really are.

Then hold on to that knowledge and never, ever surrender it.

What I Am Changing

Well, for starters, I’m going to use this space to be a bit more… uncut. My friend Steve has always liked these kinds of posts. He says that they are raw, real; something he can relate to. That’s what I want to share with you: more of the real side of me that isn’t always shown in a polished piece of writing. That begins now.

I’m also changing the frequency with which I write in this space. A good friend of mine, Jackie, writes a blog called the BaltimoreBlackWoman, and I find her words to be so encouraging and sincere as she embarks on this journey of online writing and publishing. Last month, she PM’d me and asked if everything was okay, as I had not been publishing much here at the Baltimore Writer. I assured her everything was fine, but it made me realize that I wasn’t seizing an opportunity to write more, share more, be authentic…more.

So that’s a big thing: Walking the walk while talking the talk. I want you to get to know me as a writer who freaks out about synthetics sucking all of the negative ions (and creativity) out of his soul, who charts methodically — obsessively — about every character’s nuances and every twist and turn of the story’s plot.

I want to share my more personal thoughts that are behind the polished pieces I write.

In essence, I want you to get to know me 3-dimensionally, where the struggles and challenges of living are made apparent in such a way that you can identify. That we can say we’re going through this thing called life together, holding hands, and taking our steps forward with courage and determination.

That we can say we knew each other more deeply than what was printed on the page, the screen, the tablet.

That we can say we appreciated the genuineness of our words, of our friendship, of our ideals.

That we can remember that we are not alone, that we are deeper than our social media avatar, that we are more loving, more gentle, more kind than we might have let on.

That we love, that we need to be loved, that we need to deliver love.

Those last few grafs sure sounded pretty plastic, I know. They sounded like the stuff I always publish, and maybe that’s the part of me that’s transparent. I believe in those things; I really do.

But what I believe in, just as much, is authenticity, through and through.

So there’s this:

I’m a writer runner, skipping over projects sometimes two at a time to get to the safer piece, usually without the deadlines, so that I can continue to feel productive. I am immensely deadline-driven, and I lose myself whenever possible in the non-structured wilderness of brainstorming, generating, and molding of ideas.

But for me to be successful, I have to stay close to the core of who I am. That’s a daily struggle as a writer. I have enough freelance gigs now that I can hop from story to story without feeling too guilty. Hey– I’m writing all the time; isn’t that what this life is all about?

Yes and, well, no.

The stuff I’m writing isn’t deep enough. I have to stay closer to the core, and more often, to really capture the words to express what I am thinking, feeling.

It’s not about hopping from deadline to deadline; in fact, it’s the complete opposite. It’s about crafting pieces deeply and then finding homes for them afterward.

It’s also about being genuine with myself, more often.

And that’s what you will be hearing from me, more often, here at The Baltimore Writer.

 

 

Answering The Call To Adventure: Part 1. Discovering The Writer Within

A91-179982A few days ago, a close friend passed away rather suddenly. I think the shock of her death gripped many of us in those first hours, where we didn’t know exactly how to react. We searched for meaning, we tried to make sense of the fact that she was here in one moment, and gone in the next.

I posted the following on Facebook to express that yearning for understanding:

When a friend dies, you search. You look for meaning in your own life, seek out understanding in the loss, and rummage through old words shared. In that search, you find yourself laughing and crying, wishing and regretting, loving and hating. Gretchen, I have done all of these things in the past 5 hours, and none of it brings me any closer to finding illumination in a loss as great as yours. There were too many stories untold that we were to share over coffee. You, Gretchen, will always be a merchant of smiles to the masses. We love you, and we will miss you greatly.

The morning after I posted it, a person I did not know on social media commented on it and asked if, many years ago, our paths might have crossed. It turned out they did – for the entire year of third grade, where she was my teacher.

Other elementary school classmates joined in, and within moments words of grief had turned into a celebration of life and gratitude. In Gretchen’s passing, relationships were rekindled, brought together for profound, yet simple purposes: there is an appreciation of life in this moment, and wherever we go, we can discover the beauty of others that swirls around us endlessly. There is no limit in the abundance of love.

holding hands 2In talking with my old teacher and new friend, I found myself returning to two memories from elementary school. The first was when I was in first grade, and I had written a little tribute to Abraham Lincoln for Presidents’ Day. In that brief piece, which I read to the whole school during the afternoon announcements (talk about publishing at a young age), I remember distinctly calling Mary Todd, Lincoln’s wife, his “beloved.” The principal snickered and suppressed a laugh as she held the microphone in front of me. I guess this was the first review I had ever received of my writing.

Jack Delaney1The second memory was of another teacher I had in elementary school. Jack Delaney was my sixth grade language arts teacher. He passed away 11 years later in my first year of teaching in 1988. Jack assigned us weekly writing projects, which I absolutely loved. What Jack did differently, though, was he had us go through this thing called “the writing process,” where we would draft stories, workshop them, edit them, and then share them with a larger audience.

Perhaps that was happening all throughout elementary school and I just don’t remember it. I certainly don’t remember workshopping the line about Abe’s “beloved” wife Mary.

The point is, Jack gave me a chance to breathe as a writer. He gave me the space to explore writing and take risks as that writer. Since that year, I have journaled on a near-daily basis. And in those journals, I have discovered the writer within.

magnetic_poetry1_by_cassandra_tiensivuWe don’t all have those lucky moments where we are given, directly, the chance to discover who we are as artists. In fact, in too many instances (especially today), those opportunities no longer exist. There isn’t time in the classroom, or we are too caught up in other aspects of life to give ourselves the time to discover that writer or artist within.

But inside you, the artist resides. You have to make the time, create the space, provide yourself with the license to write for no other purpose than to discover your voice and see yourself for the artist you have always been.

Maybe you journaled a little when you were younger, and you had to pass it up for reasons that, even today, might make perfect sense. What makes greater sense, though, is reconnecting with the artist inside you, giving that artist the chance to breathe, and allowing that artist to resonate more confidently through you.

In Part 2 of my series “Answering The Call To Adventure,” I will address how you can create a vision – an authentic direction – as that writer.

An Open Letter To God: Are You There?

are you there god 2

photo: rus vanwestervelt

Dear God:

Are You there? Lately I have been wondering, as a few things have happened around our world that makes me question what’s really going on.

Well, I guess it is a combination of things. I mean, bad stuff happens all the time. No real change there. The change is in us, and the way that we are living our lives.

It’s really beginning to concern me.

I remember when I was in fifth grade, our teacher took us to the library to pick out a book (or two) for the winter break. I was an avid reader by that time, and I was going through the books we had pretty fast. Most of the nonfiction titles were about sharks or ghosts, and I had already devoured them. When it came to fiction, though, I read anything I could find. I walked over to the “New Arrival” shelf, and I found a book that I had never heard of before. It came at a time when I was curious about all things related to God and spirituality. I distinctly remember thinking that this book was there, for me, at that exact time.

I took the book to the librarian to check it out. She read the title, then put the book behind her on a separate shelf. She looked at me with disappointment.

“I’m sorry, dear. You can’t read that book.”

I looked at her incredulously. I had never heard of such a thing.

“What do you mean? I’m in fifth grade! I thought we could check out any book here.”

“You can,” she responded. “But not this one. It’s not appropriate for boys.” She waited for me to leave, but I just stood there. I was an ornery kid.

“Why isn’t it appropriate?” I asked.

All she could do was get angry at my persistence. “It just is! Find another book. Look around you. We have plenty of other titles that you will like.”

I left the librarian, and the copy of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume, remained on the back shelf and out of my reach.

Later that day, I found out from a girl friend of mine that the book had stuff in it about bras and menstruation, and I immediately decided that I had heard enough and would be happy to find another book before we left for the break, even if that meant rereading about sharks and ghosts.

I admit, though, I was pretty bummed. I thought that the book was about God, that it was there for me, on that shelf, for a reason. And that librarian? She could have recognized why I was interested in the book in the first place. A little redirection to the God shelf would have been pretty appreciated.

I’m wondering how many fifth graders today are wondering about God and looking for answers. I know that, if I am now, at the age of 48, then others must be as well.

So, God, instead of going to my local library (where, by the way, I can now read any book I want without being questioned because it’s all self-serve when it comes to checking books out), I thought I’d come directly to You today.

Are You there, God? It’s me. Rus.

I want to tell You why I am so confused right now. It’s not about these tragedies that are happening around the globe and, terrifyingly enough, right here in the States. Like I said before, I get that (I don’t like it, but I get it).

I am confused because I feel like I know too much. I have read too much about the history of religion, and I question the validity and the motivation of our historians to capture certain religious events. Even more specifically, I question the timing and the similarities between the development of Christianity in relation to other religions.

Or should I not get too hung up on all that stuff? Should the hows and the whys regarding the past not matter to us in the present?

To be honest, God, If it were a purely historical thing, then I don’t even think I would have the need to write you. Wam, Bam, Thank you for the facts, Ma’am. And I’d be on my way.

(Probably not too appropriate here in this context, God. Sorry ’bout that.)

Anyway, this is why I am hung up on this.

photo: rus vanwestervelt

photo: rus vanwestervelt

I feel Your presence. I feel Your love. In all things. I listen to the holiday songs, and I feel You. I see the icons of Christmas, and I don’t see dollar signs or material goods; instead, I feel You.

When I don’t think about all the things that I have read, and when I stop comparing it to how historical or significant events are archived today with so much bias and subjectivity, where seemingly unrelated agendas govern the accuracy of actual events, everything is different.

But I do think about them, and that’s the problem. I’m finding it so hard to follow my feelings when my head is telling me something so different. It’s just so hard to let go of all of that thought stuff and just believe.

Isn’t that how it worked before we had all this stuff written down? Why did it have to get so political about who wrote what, and how?

Earlier today, I asked a few friends about how they knew You existed, and the answers that I got were right in line with us believers having a personal relationship with You that transcends the written word.

Believe me, God. As a writer, it’s very hard to acknowledge that anything should transcend words. But when we write, we are just trying to understand, aren’t we? To put things in a relative context that makes us understand something a little better? In this case, I think it has done just the opposite.

Anyway, here’s what they said.

Mark offered a quote from a band called, Live: “I don’t need no one to tell me about heaven. – I look at my daughter, and I believe. I don’t need no proof when it comes to God and truth, I can see the sunset, and I perceive.”

That’s pretty clear to me, God. You exist in all things, now and forever. Check.

Natalie went deeper with her thoughts, bringing to light in a strong reminder that Nature offers proof that something greater than us exists. “Why does something greater than ourselves (nature) have to be attributed to a deity? I believe there is a higher power than mere humans, but I think nature in all her glory is more than enough to believe in. That way, I can remove judgment and feeling from the equation and just accept what is.”

I couldn’t agree more that the spirit of the higher power existed long before we could write anything about it. It existed, and we as humans reacted to it in the best way we knew how.

Bernadette: “Something inside a belief, a feeling and yes faith. Who or what created all this? Even scientifically speaking, all this energy starts and ends where and why … I know in my darkest hours that my faith and God carried me through it. I don’t believe in “my god” or “your god” over Allah or any other named [deity]. I believe in one God who does not discriminate; he/she loves everyone “as is”; the rules I find to be man made and not God driven at all. The God I know is for all people, all of the time. Even the nonbelievers.”

Again, we are back to the origins being before any written documentation. Beautiful, Bernadette.

Adam: “The quest to understand ourselves as spiritual beings requires belief in a spiritual realm, one which explains the origins of the universe, the world and of us as individuals, and our relationship with the creator. My belief comes from an understanding that we are spiritual beings, created by a spiritual deity. This is the framework through which I see the world. I understand maths and science as manifestations of the creative language of a creative God.

photo: one of my favorite students!

photo: one of my favorite students!

Each culture has its sacred texts, including atheists, to explain origins and meaning. The opening chapters of Genesis do not explain how the world came into being, but explains why it came into being, because God wanted relationship with the creation. And the resultant Bible is the history of that relationship.

How do I know God exists? I know the relationship I have with him and the communion with the saints. I have seen, and heard, many physical miracles of healing; have heard prophecy and words of knowledge, which, like a scientific theory, must be weighed carefully and proved.

The natural world is therefore a reflection of a creative God, a sign to direct me to the one who made it. I see it and know it most when I see people enacting the commandment to ‘love thy neighbour.'”

God, isn’t Adam awesome? (whoa– If there are no coincidences, I’m pretty excited here about mentioning God and Adam in the same sentence, and knowing you both). When he says that the natural world is a reflection of a creative God, it makes perfect sense to me.

I don’t need the words as much as I need to connection with the natural world, the communion with all that transcends us as humans. And yet, as Adam says so eloquently, we can also see You through the kindness of others.

Katie couldn’t agree more with what Adam shares: “Grace, any moment of someone else sticking their neck out for you or lending a hand, especially when we don’t deserve it, to me is a reflection of the original, ultimate example of this kindness. It’s something that even in today’s world, none of us have time for, goes against ‘every man for himself’ survival instincts, and yet its still everywhere.”

Deborah sees you, God, in everything around her: “You need only to look around to know that God does indeed exist. He is there in all of nature, in the falling of the leaves off the trees in autumn, and in the budding of leaves in spring. When you truly look around and realize what nature has to do in order to complete this cycle each and every year, than you know that a higher being is in charge.”

Jim, ever succinct, agrees as well: “The balance of chemicals in your blood stream, the Natural Order of the Universe, the Beauty of Nature – all evidence to me.”

So God, I guess writing does help us get closer to you in some ways. When my friend Lisa wrote, “That’s why it’s called ‘faith’; I just know,” it’s probably one of the simplest, yet most convincing statements I’ve read in a long time. Tonight, writing helped me understand more of what I believe, and why. As well, my friends’ writing put to shame my concerns that you might not be there anymore. Through their words, I feel Your love. And that’s probably the greatest way to receive Your love, through the kindness of others.

Phew! I feel better already!

Thanks for all You do (this is getting awkward).

Yours,

Rus

(p.s.: I think I might write an “Are You There God?” book for boys. All of this might have been a little simpler if that had been on the “New Arrival” shelf all those years ago.)

Change Your Perspective, Change Your Life

Last Sunday, Oct. 27, I began my day with realizing the following:

Inspiration surrounds us in all things; we merely need to realize the beauty in what we already see.

The experiences we have, and the way in which we perceive and receive them, are entirely up to us. Sometimes, all we need to do is shift our perspective in the slightest of ways, and we are rewarded with unimaginable gifts.

It is hard, though. Too often, we are on auto-pilot, going through the day so fast that we hardly take the time to even process all that we see and experience.

Late in the afternoon on that same Sunday, my son and I took a walk around Deer Park in Carroll County. It was our first visit, and we were surprised with the number of playing fields, a fair-sized pond, and preserved lands along a meandering trail.

The park was, in many ways, similar to Sandy Mount Park, which is about 4 miles east of Deer Park: multiple fields, the paved trail that winds around the perimeter of the park, but much less wildlife and natural surroundings. In fact, at Sandy Mount, BGE has removed many of the trees that once served as a barrier to the noise, pollution, and visible traffic along Westminster Pike.

Very sad.

Anyway, in our walk around Deer Park, I took a few pictures. The sun was setting, and I wanted to take advantage of the light low to the horizon. My mind was pretty open to what I might find.

I never expected, though, to realize the truth so quickly in my early-morning words.

Two sets of photos showed me all I needed to experience the power of changing my perspective, just a little, and seeing the beauty that had been around me the entire time.

DSC_0473In this first photo of milkweeds, which I took at 5:33:09 p.m., I was pleased with how the focus of the plant contrasted the natural backdrop. The light hitting the pods from the right really added a nice dimension to an otherwise colorless image.

As we continued our walk, I was aware that the sun was setting over a barn in the background, and I was focused on getting that just right. As I was walking by to get more angles of the barn, I glanced back at the milkweeds in a remarkable light. Immediately, instead of seeing brown milkweed pods illuminated softly by a peripheral light,  I saw angels dancing in an explosion of fire, of energy, and I had to find a way to capture it. I underexposed the image by a few F stops, and got this next picture at 5:34:02, exactly 53 seconds after I had taken the first photo. DSC_0475

I could not believe the difference between the two images. All I needed to do was shift my perspective, by mere inches in this case, and I found myself enriched beyond measure with an image that seemed almost heavenly.

We continued our walk around the trail. I took a few more photos, and then we reached the pond.

When we first saw it, I was happy with the early fall canopy of matted oranges, greens, and browns that were in the background. I thought the bench added a nice touch, suggesting that we all need to take a break every now and then and enjoy the colors of the season.

Just in that thought, I had believed that I had already changed my perspective. I felt as if I had received the reward so easily, with very little effort.

I must be more mindful, now. More aware. Appreciating the moment is providing me many rewards along this path…

I took a few pictures of the pond and the bench. The time was 5:46:35 p.m.

DSC_0485Very nice, I thought.

I continued my walk along the edge of the pond and, when I reached the other side, I turned around to call my son.

I saw a different kind of sun, though, one that was now descending just along the top of the barn’s roof.

I was immediately struck by its beauty. This was not the same pond that I had just photographed minutes ago.

How could this be? It was as if I were experiencing two entirely different worlds, simply by walking to the other side of the water.

At 5:51:11 p.m., just 4 minutes and 36 seconds after I had taken the first photo of the pond, I took another shot. sunset deer park

I changed my perspective, and the experience changed my life.

I do my best to really seize the moment. I was raised on the mantra of Carpe Diem, or seize the day. I don’t know any other way to live my life.

But this. This experience in a short walk around a man-made park — a walk that lasted no more than 30 minutes, confirmed my words from early that morning:

Inspiration surrounds us in all things; we merely need to realize the beauty in what we already see.

Change your perspective, change your life. Not a bad way to seize this moment, now and for always, now and in all ways.

 

What If…

 compassion01

photo: resonancewithlife.com

What if…

…You took 10 minutes today and took out a sheet of paper and wrote a note to a friend?

And what if you took another 5 minutes to put that note in an envelope and mail it to that friend?

What if…

…You did not interrupt a friend who had something to say?

And what if you gave them your eyes for 3 minutes while they talked, just to let them know you were really listening, and that for these few minutes, nothing else in the world mattered but them?

What if…

…You didn’t answer that text, or message,  or phone call, when you were with a friend?

And what if you took just 15 seconds and turned your phone off entirely, so there wasn’t even any interruption at all?

What if…

…You waited just 10 seconds before you responded to someone who is upset?

And what if you made the decision in those 10 seconds not to take anything personally?

What if…

…You smiled and acknowledged someone when you passed each other in a hallway or on a street?

And what if you took another 3 seconds to say hi?

What if…

…You offered compassion instead of judgment?

And what if you recognized that the choice to love is split second, and you can make that choice any time, any place, with anybody?

What if…we discovered that we occupy a very tiny place in the heavens, yet the few moments we take to care about the lives of others are immeasurable and can change the lives of strangers, friends, and loved ones?

What if…?

Preparing for the NanoWrimo Marathon

typewriter-270x300The Baltimore Running Festival just concluded last week. I am terribly proud of all of my friends who ran their own race during the event. It was just a year ago that I participated, and to be honest, I missed it this year. As the emotions from a little regret and envy begin to settle, I am left with a resolve to run again. It’s such a healthy thing to do for the mind, the body, and the spirit.

No brainer, right? That’s what I’m thinking, too. The training can be really challenging at times, and setting out to run 13+ miles at one time (and on purpose) is just a little crazy.

We do it anyway. It’s in our blood, our nature, to do what we can to stay well.

There’s another kind of marathon coming up that I am participating in, and that’s NanoWrimo, or National Novel Writing Month.

The basic premise is this: write a book that’s at least 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s 1,666 words a day. You can’t begin until the stroke of midnight on Nov. 1, and you shouldn’t stop until you finish by 11:59 p.m., Nov. 30.

Preparation is no different for this kind of marathon: exercise daily, make strategic plans, and get in good physical condition.

Exercise (Write) Daily

Instead of running 3 miles a few times each week, writers participating in NanoWrimo write 1,000-2,000 words daily in the weeks and months leading up to Nov. 1. The writing is not supposed to be brilliant prose, but it is supposed to be purposeful, where there are real intentions to produce content that is meaningful. This might include essays, character sketches, setting descriptions, short stories, or vignettes. The point is to discipline yourself to write daily, and with intent. Even if you don’t make the minimum 1K target in the first few days or even weeks, monitor your progress and focus on increasing your word county daily. If you establish the disciplined practice of writing daily, everything else will more naturally fall into place.

Make Strategic Plans

So many writers don’t complete NanoWrimo. One reason is that they are not prepared to write that many words for that long of a sustained period. Another reason — and one I believe is a bigger concern — is that they do not prepare adequately for the story part of the competition. With so much emphasis placed on the number of words and the short time given to write a novel-length story, the actual book you are writing gets dropped a bit by the way side. We forget to focus on plot, setting, characters, conflict, and resolution.

In short, we forget that the reason we are doing this is to write a book-length story.

If you prepare properly, this won’t be an issue. I spend weeks plotting out the details of my story using outlines, index cards, interviews, drawings, and actual video and photos from potential “sets” where the story might take place. Then, when Nov. 1 comes around, my book has been outlined to the point that it is just a matter of breathing life into the skeletal structure.

I know that some people don’t like writing from outlines; they say that it takes away from the creative aspect of the writing process. Trust me, when it comes to writing, I am an absolute madman, and there’s no creativity lost in this process. We are creating and composing all the time; it’s just that the creative form is ever-shifting.

As well, you don’t have a lot of time to mull over the direction of the story. Writing nearly 2,000 words a day is akin to running a solid two miles daily. You don’t want to spend precious running time figuring out your route.

Plan ahead, and you’ll meet with success.

Get in Good Physical Condition

Philip Gerard was a good mentor to me in grad school at Goucher College. He taught us about the finer aspects of writing creative nonfiction, but he also taught us about taking care of ourselves as writers. One of his stronger recommendations was staying healthy, especially when you are taking on a long writing project (and NanoWrimo certainly qualifies). Writing can be a very sedentary profession, and any compromise in your health can also compromise your endurance and focus while writing your novel. Get plenty of rest, take 10-minute moving breaks every hour, and schedule a good walk or light run each day. Eat well, and stay hydrated.

If you want to participate in any kind of marathon, be smart about your preparation. Writing a book in 30 days is no easy feat, but it is very do-able if you remain mindful of your daily practice, your strategy, and your health.

Three Reasons Why So Many Resist Mindfulness

Why is it so hard for us to be mindful on a daily basis?

After taking a pretty hard look at my own life, and then at the lives of so many others who have lived and died so desperately in the past few decades, I’ve come to some conclusions.

I’m curious to know: Do you agree or disagree with these three reasons explaining why so many of us resist mindfulness?

Before we can even look at those three reasons, though, it is probably a good idea to discuss what mindfulness is.

In a recent article I published on Mindfulness in Schools, I defined mindfulness as being aware of our thoughts and feelings, of the way we express them, and the way they affect our bodies and our behavior. That doesn’t seem too threatening or hard to do, does it?

Yet, we live in an age where the practice of being mindful simply takes too long. We are discouraged to slow down, to practice patience, to consider the value of a thought, an action, or a reaction. Instead, we rush to publish our immediate and often emotion-laced thoughts on social networks with little concern about consequences (which, horrifying in its own right, there seldom are consequences, because most others participating in the social stream of consciousness are not thinking too deeply about what is being posted anyway; a death of a friend can get a “prayers to you” comment where, in the next 15 seconds, a YouTube video about a crazy cat can get an “LMFAO TOO FUNNY!!!” reaction, both by the same person).

Here are my three reasons why Mindfulness is just so darned hard for so many in a social network-driven society.

Accountability

Girl with mirrorsBeing mindful of our thoughts and actions, and the way we might express them, means that we also have to slow down and take responsibility for them. It is an awareness that requires the courage to say, “This is who I am; this is how I am living my life.” It requires us to acknowledge that we are participating in the often fast and mad rush of social networking, among other aspects of life, and that we are glossing over most everything we read and see, simply because we don’t want to slow down and really feel what each of these status updates and posts might mean to us.

How else can we justify they way we read our feeds? Because so many of us now rely on social media as a primary source for news and information, we are allowing ourselves to detach from the deeper stories, the deeper meanings behind the words and the pictures.

Being mindful requires many of us to be accountable of these emotions, actions, and reactions. Our plugged-in lives do not allow for such slower speeds. As a result, we sacrifice the deeper experience for the superficial skim along life’s long surface.

Stepping Out Of The (Main)Stream

The second reason why so many resist mindfulness is that it might mean we are different from everybody else, and that by stepping out of the mainstream, we place at risk our friendships and social connections.

This begs the question: If this is a real danger, are you really living authentically in the first place?

Never before has it been so important to so many to “go with the flow” and be accepted or popular. Social media networks are designed for popularity (“How many likes can I get for this post?” “Do you like what I did/noticed/felt today?”).

To be mindful of our own thoughts and actions, it means that we have to also have the courage to step out of the mainstream and live a life that is not motivated, based on, or valued by a quantity of likes or comments.

Being mindful means asking ourselves a different question: Why am I sharing this? or What is my motivation in posting this information? Providing the answers to to questions such as these requires a commitment to living authentically that, in many ways, goes completely against the design of social networks.

Scorn, Judgment, Alienation

rusvw pic2The third reason so many of us resist mindfulness is that we are afraid of the results or consequences of being mindful, most notably scorn, judgment, or even alienation from others.

If we are mindful, and thus accountable and not worried about stepping out of the social mainstream, we face the possibility of being labeled as different.

Soon, the chatter begins: “Did you see that…?” and “Why do you think…?” and even “I heard that….”

All because we were mindful and aware, and we thought a little before acting or reacting to a given event, circumstance, or situation.

So That’s It? Goodbye Social Networking?

Being mindful does not mean that we have to give up the social networks that we might follow, though it might lead us to change our behaviors in how we post and interact with others. In fact, being mindful should naturally enrich our online experiences because we are acting and reacting more genuinely to the information we and others are posting.

Our fears associated with mindfulness are based on nothing more than what-ifs and senseless acts of peer pressure, often self-imposed.

It is easy to believe that being true to ourselves will endanger the habits and friendships that have defined our lives for so long; this is simply not the case. The new friendships and experiences that come about from being authentic will undoubtedly add to the more rewarding and genuine relationships we establish with the people we have known most of our lives.

And for those that do offer scorn, are judgmental, or do alienate, so be it. They are merely showing their own insecurities, and we can only hope that, by being mindful and authentic, our lifestyle becomes their life lesson.