True Self and Self 1 & Self 2


I’ve used the term “True Self” in earlier posts. It’s a phrase I’ve lifted from Richard Rohr and his work on finding our True Selves in absence of ego and other “shadows”. (Which, he most likely picked up from Carl Jung.) While it’s a theme found in a lot of his work, he really develops this in his book about True Self and False Self, The Immortal Diamond. (Spoiler: The True Self is the Immortal Diamond.)

But I’ve had this nagging feeling that I’ve heard something very similar in a book I read about, of all things, sports.

The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance (first published in 1972) is a book by W. Timothy Gallwey and in it he develops his findings as a tennis coach into a philosophy for teaching and learning.

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Camp is a Pure Land

At the beginning of this month, I had the chance to take my wife and children to the camp I grew up going to and worked at during summer breaks during college. The camp is called Cedarkirk and it’s loosely Scottish for “church in the trees.” A lot of my friends from my hometown church, and my camp days were coming back to join me, and introduce their families to Cedarkirk. It was a remarkable homecoming.
Initially, I was a little apprehensive about how much my wife would enjoy it. When given the choice, there was never a debate with her about whether to “rough it” or choose air conditioning and a hot shower. Her susceptibility to bug bites and the quarter-sized welts they leave for days convinced me not to push the extreme camping adventure with her any time soon.    
But at the first night at camp, we met in a hallway after getting the kids to bed. We embraced and she told me, “I get it. I understand why. There is no ego here.”   

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An Experiment in Dying

When talking with friends and family about what I’ve been through, the topic of my radical perspective shift comes up over and over. And I always say that “staring down the barrel of that gun” or “dangling on the edge of that cliff” or “looking straight into the abyss” will do that do a person. But I am also quick to follow up with the qualifier that a person can’t force that experience onto themselves. It just has to happen— and dying will do that. 


In my much loved (now dog-eared and marginalia-covered) book Falling Upward by Richard Rohr, he writes the same sentiment— that one cannot force the second phase of their spirituality to happen. It just does. But he also mentions that it seems common for it to happen to people sometime around their mid-40s. 


I have heard of someone who did manage to simulate their own dying experience and come away changed forever as a result. Kevin Kelly is former editor-at-large at WIRED magazine and has his hands in a long list of fascinating projects. He’s written several books about technology and the future. I’ve read his latest futurist book, The Inevitable, and recommend it if you’re interested in things like what automation will look like, AI, and the singularity. At the heart of his futurist predictions there are very rooted and optimistic outlooks on what we as humans will learn from our own advancements. To paraphrase his take on automation, when robots learn to do everything we do and obviate the need for work, the result will be that we will learn, deeply, what it is to be human. 


The following summary of this story was made into the very first episode of This American Life. He also reflects on it during a long-form interview on The Tim Ferriss Show podcast.

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Mark Twain and Nassim Nicholas Taleb on Religion: Two different lights cast on the diamond


Image by Jackie Ramirez from Pixabay, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s pictures available for public use.

Mark Twain has some good zingers when it comes to a well-placed jab at organized religion. Although his eloquent critiques of doctrinal organization and dogma don’t completely aim to do away with religion, they do provide plenty of fuel to the fire for people who like to scapegoat religion as The Problem in the world. Consider the following:

“So much blood has been shed by the Church because of an omission from the Gospel: “Ye shall be indifferent as to what your neighbor’s religion is.” Not merely tolerant of it, but indifferent to it. Divinity is claimed for many religions; but no religion is great enough or divine enough to add that new law to its code.”

Mark Twain, A Biography

Or:

“Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion–several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother’s path to happiness and heaven….The higher animals have no religion. And we are told that they are going to be left out in the Hereafter. I wonder why? It seems questionable taste.”

Mark Twain, “The Lowest Animal”
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Don’t get sucked into the American Success Agenda

This confusion about our True Self and False Self is much of the illusion of the first half of life, although most of us do not experience the problem then. Only later in life can we perhaps join with Thomas Merton, who penned one of my favorite lines, “If I had a message to my comptemporaries it is surely this: be anything you like, be madmen, drunks, and bastards of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success…if you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live. If you have learned only how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted.” Success is hardly ever your True Self, only your early window dressing. It gives you some momentum for the journey, but it is never the real goal. You do not know that, however. In the moment, it just feels right and good and necessary- and it is. For a short while.

-Richard Rohr, The Immortal Diamond, Thomas Merton, Love and Living

What to do or say when your friend is dealing with cancer; or, What NOT to do or say when your friend is dealing with cancer

So this one’s a bit of the blog post and leaning towards a bit of the “My Journey”, right? Well, we all know both of those distinct sections are going to merge together sooner or later, that’s where we’re headed, right?


For my birthday, Paige got me a quick-read book entitled Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler. I hadn’t heard of it but after reading a blurb about Kate (35 years old, married with an 18 month-old son when diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer) I raced through the book in two days. 


Kate Bowler also has a very active website, articles, podcast, and book club. She is a divinity professor at Duke Divinity School who has specialized in the prosperity gospel. [An aside for my a-religious friends. Prosperity gospel focuses on receiving rewards such as money, health, or success in exchange for being a faithful Christian, or in some crude cases, in exchange for money given to a church. Thinking televangelists. It’s the worst example of a very conditional arrangement.] I feel very drawn to Kate’s work and her perspective throughout her diagnosis, surgery, and treatment. Not that she would take me up on it, but I wished I would’ve been familiar with her work when Paige and I went up to Duke Cancer Center for our 2nd opinion consult so I could’ve asked to meet for coffee or lunch. Stage IV besties probably isn’t a thing but it would be fantastic to have a conversation with her.

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