Being Resolute in 2018: Begin Within

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you ready? Here it is:

Embrace happiness and joy in this moment, within you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love, Rus

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

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

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

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

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6. Conflict cannot survive without your participation.

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

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

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

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2. You’ll see it when you believe it.

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

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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.

 

 

A Chill In August (Re)Ignites The Fire To Teach

It reached 77 degrees today, on this, the 24th of August. Blue sky, patchy white clouds, and the eerie absence of a Baltimore humidity that makes thousands of locals usually proclaim, “It’s not the heat; it’s the humidity.”

In Baltimore, it’s been neither this summer; just one late-spring day after another. Heat waves have lasted hours, not days, and nobody has been asked to be reminded of the endless days in winter where polar vortices and near-blizzards were making us stare at the summer months on the kitchen calendar.

The real cold front this summer, though, had nothing to do with the weather. It occurred on August 11, when news quickly spread that Robin Williams – comedian, actor, and goodwill activist – had taken his own life.

His death sent a chill in each of us for many different reasons, stirring an unsettling rush of emotions. Whether we felt the chilly sting of childhood memories, the angst of another life lost to depression and mental illness, or the dumbfounding shock of the loss of a great human being, we felt the chill deep in our hearts far longer than we thought possible.

Some of us feel it still.

I appreciated Williams’ stand-up humor or his role as Mork from Ork. It was his movies, though, especially Dead Poets Society, that made a mark on me at the most vulnerable months in my life.

“You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” Robin Williams

20140812-071531-26131782.jpgFive events happened in the span of 66 days in 1989. They changed my life because I made the choice to realize my little spark of madness, open my mind for the positive, and accept the charge to live fully. For me, it was a 66-day gestation period of what Carpe Diem really means. Since those 66 days, I have lost my way on several occasions, but I keep coming back to my foundation from that experience.

On April 22, 1989, my father died.

On June 9, 1989, my mother and I took a trip north to New England for a change of scenery from the daily reminders of our lives without her husband, my father. We visited Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where the graves of Emerson and Thoreau moved me as much as when I spent the afternoon at Walden Pond, reading excerpts from “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For.”

On June 17, 1989, despite my resistance to see anything that was popular or trending (we didn’t even know that word existed in 1989), I saw the movie Dead Poets Society with my best friend. I had just finished my second year of teaching, and the portrayal of Mr. John Keating by Robin Williams echoed the sentiments swelling within me from the death of my father and my trip to New England.

On June 24, 1989, 63 days after the passing of my father, 15 days after retracing Thoreau’s steps, and 7 days after seeing the movie Dead Poets Society, I wrote this in my daybook:

“Going to New England made an impact on me that I pray to God I will never lose. . . .Thoreau has made an impact on me like no other. His natural philosophies of “Simplicity” and “Carpe Diem” are the ways that I have been haphazardly living my life. I don’t want to overdo it, however. All I want to do is seize the day and have as much control over my life as God will allow me.”

And this:

“Yes. I love teaching, and I will continue to educate. But my style will change, and my focus will change. I can’t do it all as a teacher. So therefore, I must focus my classroom to resonate a very specific theme or intention. Much like the character Robin Williams played in Dead Poets Society, I want to teach my students to seize the day, to see their independent strengths and weaknesses, to dare to strike out and find new ground.”

And finally this:

“I will not be one of the masses leading my life in quiet desperation. I am a happy man, and I don’t have any regrets. I love this world, and I will strive to leave my small mark to make it just a little better place in which to live.”

On June 26, 1989, I started my 5-week journey with the Maryland Writing Project to become a certified Teacher-Consultant.

The fusion of philosophy, spirituality, and pedagogy had occurred within me, and I carried with me the spark to teach, to make a difference, to accept the dare to strike out and find new ground.

Twenty-five years later, on this chilly afternoon in August, on this Sunday before classes resume at sunrise tomorrow, I can feel the fire burning within me to teach, to inspire, to seize the blessed gifts of being a classroom teacher.

We are given so few chances in life to make a difference. It’s what we do with those chances that changes lives. I will not spend a moment of my time in my classroom grieving the loss of a great actor and human being; I will, instead, continue to ignite that fire to learn, to embrace the importance of individual strength and confidence, to engage my students in literature that resonates truth and passion for living, to empower them with the mighty pen so that they, too, can change the world with their words.

I slip on a light sweater and review my notes for the first week. My Daybook is overflowing with ideas about what to teach, and suddenly 180 days seems like such a finite number. I turn to day one, and focus.

Carpe Diem, I think.

For you, Robin, yes. But for 142 others as well who have a world of dreams around them.

It is time to share the fire. It is time to stand on new ground, and teach.

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47: Oh, The Things I’ve Learned…

Today is my 47th birthday.  I have been blessed with 17,166 days — opportunities — to experience and share life and love in this world. When I reflect on the lives lost in those 47 years — friends, family, students, mentors, I cannot be too grateful to be here today, to use this moment and this opportunity to cherish all that is before me.

17,166. That’s a lot of opportunities to embrace life.

So, on this 17,166th day, I share some of the things I’ve learned along the way (10, to be exact; it seemed more reasonable than sharing 17,166 things–or even 47–that I have learned…). Some are deep, and some defy gravity. Please join me in celebrating this day by adding to the list. What have you learned along your journey so far?

  1. This moment is the only sure thing. Joan Didion, in The Year of Magical Thinking, shared her journey following the sudden death of her husband in their kitchen in the middle of chopping vegetables for dinner. In her book, she writes, “Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.” I do not need to look to tomorrow or back at yesterday to find my peace. It is right here, right in this very moment.
  2. Nature provides infinite energy. There’s chi — energy — in nature that we rarely take the time to tap into. And yet, what it offers us is unlimited strength balanced with graceful humility. We need to spend more time outside and less time in our heads.
  3. Finding our muse means discovering unlimited energy. I have learned that our muse contains a limitless supply of energy and spirit. Every time we write, sketch, paint, sing… we tap into something greater than our little minds. We bypass thought and enter a higher realm of spiritual possibility. Why is it unlimited? Because we will never be able to capture something that is so much greater than we will ever be able to comprehend… Continue reading