Winter 2023 Blog Update (Part 6 of 6) ~ Media Recommendations List

If you’re interested in followup resources to explore some of the themes I’ve covered in my Winter 2023 Blog Update project, I invite you to review my media recommendations below.

Throughout my freelance writing work, I’ve contented myself to helping other people with little concern about financial compensation for my time and energy. Nowadays, I’ve grown more appreciative of my boundaries. In respect for the tremendous effort I’ve dedicated to this humble blog offering, I kindly request your consideration. Besides investing in your own wellbeing, any purchase you make would help honor the work I’ve done so far and support more work to come. I also welcome comments of any kind. Feel free to reach out to me through your preferred platform: Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Emotional appeal aside, dear visitor, thank you very much for your attention—I don’t take that for granted. Until we meet again, please continue your journey into greater heights (and depths) of your being.

Please note that my list includes affiliate links from Amazon. I may earn a small commission if these items are purchased using the links I have provided. 

Media Referenced in my Blog

I have listed the following media in the order that they appeared in my blog.

The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture 

Book by Gabor Maté

The Path of the Warrior-Mystic: Being a Man in an Age of Chaos

Book by Angel Millar

The Bhagavad Gita (Translated into English prose with an Introduction by Kashinath Trimbak Telang)

Book by Vyasa, translated by Kashinath Trimbak Telang

Tao Te Ching

Book by Lau Tzu, translated by D. C. Lau

On the Decay of the Art of Lying 

Book by Mark Twain

Man’s Search for Meaning

Book by Viktor Frankl

Musashi’s Book of Five Rings: The Definitive Interpretation of Miyamoto Musashi’s Classic Book of Strategy

Book by Miyamoto Mushashi, translated by Stephen F. Kaufmann

Marcus Aurelius – Meditations: Adapted for the Contemporary Reader (Harris Classics) 

Book by Marcus Aurelius, translated by James Harris

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Boxed Set: The Hobbit / The Fellowship of the Ring / The Two Towers / The Return of the King

Book set by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Book of Equanimity: Illuminating Classic Zen Koans

Book by Gerry Shishin Wick

Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself

Book by Kristin Neff, Ph.D

The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself

Book by Michael Singer

King James Version Holy Bible

Sacred religious text

Media Not Referenced in my Blog

Because the following media were not referenced in my Winter 2023 Blog Update project, I have provided some context as to how they relate to the preceding text and why they might matter to you.

Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be

Book by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter

Marshall Goldsmith is an executive coach with a passion for helping individuals and organizations create positive behavior changes. Co-authors Goldsmith and Reiter both acknowledge at the outset of Triggers that living in the world with other people inevitably implies the potential for conflicts. It’s essential, therefore, that we learn to manage our individual triggers so we can cultivate healthier personal relationships in addition to achieving greater business success. For people unfamiliar with the mental health term “trigger,” Healthline defines a trigger as: “something that affects your emotional state, often significantly, by causing extreme overwhelm or distress. A trigger affects your ability to remain present in the moment. It may bring up specific thought patterns or influence your behavior.” Because triggers are deeply rooted in patterns of behavior, changing our triggers implies changing our habits. Changing habits, however, is hard. In order to help us, Goldsmith and Reiter offer a system for tracking our progress towards our goals. Since a trigger, in the authors’ estimation, can be either positive or negative, our challenge is to create triggers in our lives that encourage the changes we want while deterring the changes we don’t want. Goldsmith and Reiter also propose a conceptual model about the lifespan of a behavior cycle that underlies our tracking system: trigger-impulse-awareness-choice-behavior. When we are triggered by a personal belief or something in our environment, awareness acts as the buffer between an impulse and a choice; that kind of awareness functions like an act of mindfulness, creating a spaciousness around our reflexive instincts where our informed, responsible agency can best enact itself. 

Force Majeure

Movie by Ruben Östlund

As the sole movie entry in my media list, Force Majeure earns its company for good reason. With the depths of a psychological character study, filmmaker Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure tells the story of how a single passing conflict between spouses can disrupt an otherwise perfectly happy marriage. The catalyst for the relational disruption occurs when one spouse’s primal instinct betrays them in a misguided moment of self-preservation, casting doubt, thereafter, upon their integrity. At its core, this is a moral tale: The interaction between spouses tests each other’s convictions, leading them to question their assumptions and beliefs about their relationship. Highlighting ambiguity within morality, even where one spouse has valid reason for criticism and concern, the way their reconciliation is pursued turns into an obsession, betraying the very thing that they cherish the most. The title of the movie carries its own depths of meaning. Merriam Webster defines force majeure as: “1) superior or irresistible force; 2) an event or effect that cannot be reasonably anticipated or controlled—compare act of god.” Sometimes acts of human will can occur as unpredictably as forces of nature. We can be bound to that which we intensely pursue or avoid—either way leads to obsession. It’s our reckless force of will that can trigger a landslide within our lives and within the world at large, causing unforeseen consequences. Fortunately, reconciliation remains possible for people who can approach their truth with an open mind and heart, building their lives in good faith upon the raw earth exposed after a passing avalanche is cleared.

Mastering Confrontation: Become an Expert at Effective Communication. Master the Art of Dealing with Conflict

Book by Robert Hunt

The theme of conflict management is at the beating heart of this Winter 2023 Update blog project. Short of people who have gained spiritual mastery of themselves, navigating personal conflicts remains an unavoidable part of most people’s daily lives. Studies show that people spend nearly 3 hours per week engaged in some form of workplace-related conflicts. And that’s not even accounting for conflicts we engage in with families and friends in our free time! Even if the statistics are exaggerated, it’s still startling to consider that we are so poorly equipped by default to advocate for our personal needs. Robert Hunt’s Mastering Confrontation: Become an Expert at Effective Communication. Master the Art of Dealing with Conflict makes a convincing case that we waste precious energy fighting with people with whom we should be communicating in more meaningful—i.e., both more effective and peaceful—ways. The premise behind Mastering Confrontation is that our view of confrontation influences our approach to it. Instead of confrontation being something best avoided, ostensibly because it necessitates subjecting ourselves and other people to criticism that may lead to embarrassment and hurt feelings, we can view confrontation as a catalyst for positive growth. When the value of confrontation is disentangled from our hang ups with it, we can approach confrontations as an opportunity to learn more about others, fuel innovative new ideas, and develop solidarity through collaboration. Of course, not all issues can be resolved fairly, so Hunt also details how to discern when it’s time to quit. But before we call it quits, we can all empower ourselves through developing a greater appreciation for patience and active listening that will make us not only more effective communicators but also more peaceful human beings.

The Art of Everyday Assertiveness: Speak Up. Say No. Set Boundaries. Take Back Control.

Book by Patrick King

Patrick King’s The Art of Everyday Assertiveness: Speak Up. Say No. Set Boundaries. Take Back Control. serves as a fitting counterpart—in spirit—to Robert Hunt’s Mastering Confrontation: Become an Expert at Effective Communication. Master the Art of Dealing with Conflict. To be clear, both books address the issues inherent in navigating interpersonal relationships. Furthermore, both books advocate for healthier modes of communication in our human affairs. But whereas a conflict often implies a differing opinion or belief held by multiple parties regarding a mutually agreed upon issue, the issue of personal boundaries is often more encompassing in its applications, less overt in its manifestations, and doesn’t necessitate the awareness or buy-in of multiple parties. Boundaries, simply put, are something we create by and for ourselves for reasons that are entirely our own. King explores a variety of strategies that people can use to manage healthier boundaries in their lives, including cognitive behavior therapy and exposure therapy. At the most basic level, however, the main tool for implementing boundaries in our lives, after we are clear about the underlying issue, is assertiveness. In a brilliantly simple way, King places assertiveness as the ideal mode of communication along a spectrum ranging from aggression on one end and passiveness and passive aggressiveness on the other end. For people inclined to overcorrection, we are cautioned that being assertive is not incompatible with being accommodating and agreeable. Rather, being assertive is about appreciating that nobody else is entitled to our precious time and energy. It’s never too late to ask for what you really want and gain respect, from yourself and others, in the process. In an effort to make his teachings actionable, King offers a 28-day assertiveness action plan to jumpstart both the chronically overwhelmed people pleasers along with those who just need a little tune-up. If saying no to people is often a challenge for you, like it has long been for me, then The Art of Everyday Assertiveness may be the text that inspires a much-needed life transformation. 

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book)

Book by Don Miguel Ruiz

Those who don’t like to read, or don’t have time to do so, will find a sympathetic author with Don Miguel Ruiz. Don Miguel Ruiz has dedicated his life to sharing the wisdom of the ancient Toltecs, an ancient people of southern Mexico who were known for their great knowledge. Avoiding the pitfalls of both New Ageism and academia, Don Miguel Ruiz writes without pith or pretense, trusting that the wisdom he shares is intuitive enough to resonate with readers viscerally, striking simultaneously in the brain, heart, and stomach. The main argument underlining The Four Agreements is that our lives are governed by the agreements that we make. An agreement is an arrangement that we make with ourselves, and for ourselves, about how we live in accordance with the roles we adopt in the world. The four agreements include: 1) Be impeccable with your word; 2) Don’t take anything personally; 3) Don’t make assumptions; and 4) Always do your best. These agreements also imply stories we craft about ourselves and the world. Oftentimes, we don’t reflect upon where our stories come from and what purpose they serve us. Furthermore, our stories lead to self-perpetuating narratives that can limit our growth potential. But we always have the right and responsibility to question the stories we hold to be true. We have a choice to make between choosing a path of suffering or liberation. 

The Perfectionism Workbook: Proven Strategies to End Procrastination, Accept Yourself, and Achieve Your Goals

Book by Taylor Newendorp, MA, LCPC

Perfectionism isn’t a theme I addressed explicitly in this Winter 2023 blog project. Yet it complicates the relationships I have shared with many people in addition to my professional and creative projects—including this blog project with its laborious two-year conception. For me, perfectionism is most likely a habit I picked up from my upbringing, finding myself under the influence of demanding figures in my life. Whether I was chronically struggling with my math homework or improperly attending to my house errands, I seemingly chronically fell well short of other people’s rigid standards. Eventually I grew up and realized that it was my responsibility to question the narrative voices from my past that I had been choosing to believe and continue carrying with me—like luggage with someone else’s name on it. But before I can accept myself as I am now, someone whose self-worth is independent of my egoic strivings, I have learned the necessity of accepting the damage caused by my counterproductive narratives, recognizing the signs of their toxic influence, and then taking steps to change my thinking patterns and behaviors. Although I tend to avoid workbooks, because it’s easier to read theories than it is to reflect upon how certain concepts apply within my life, Newendorp succeeds in creating purposeful exercises that inspire actionable steps for creating changes within one’s life. It helps that Newendorp has a background as a clinical therapist and offers grounding approaches to implementing mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy practices. It’s never too late to get off the perfectionist treadmill and find peace that isn’t conditioned upon one’s accomplishments. 

Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self

Book by Chuck DeGroat

So many people around the world are experiencing burnout these days, and often unnecessarily. Therapist and pastor Chuck DeGroat makes a moving case in Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self that the drive for busyness so common in contemporary cultures has been misunderstood and misdiagnosed. The kind of busyness DeGroat examines can’t be medicated or alleviated by an occasional vacation. The kind of busyness DeGroat refers to is deeply existential: It is born of a divided self and begets yet more division. Readers who are open to the Judaeo-Christian tradition will find a gentle voice grounded in a Biblical worldview supplemented by a background in psychotherapy and psychology. Implicit within DeGroat’s position is that we all struggle in the aftermath of our disunion with God, misidentifying ourselves with our own vain labors. One person prides themselves in their worldly knowledge; another in their stock portfolio; and yet someone else in their acts of philanthropy. But try as we might, we are fighting with fire—our acts of production won’t redeem us; lasting peace of mind and being can’t be gained through our own devices. Only rooting our identities in wholeheartedness, in alignment with our higher being, or, in DeGroat’s belief system, in alignment with God’s Word and Spirit, will bring us a lasting grounding that can’t be counterfeited. Because good ideas and inspiration aren’t always enough, Wholeheartedness includes chapter exercises to work through for those who like a little homework. Readers who are agnostic or secular will still find much that is compelling in DeGroat’s work. Ultimately, since we all inevitably fall short of ideals, including the ones we set for ourselves, the concept of wholeness is relevant enough to apply to human nature as a whole. 

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Book by Parker J. Palmer

At 115 pages, Parker J. Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak is the slimmest book in this media list, making it the perfect leaflet to be read in a gently bustling park one warm spring day. But Palmer’s lived wisdom shouldn’t be downed in one casual sitting; it speaks all the more clearly and profoundly when it is slowly savored. With a career spanning a doctoral education in sociology, community organizing in Washington, D.C., and long-term residency in a Quaker commune, Parker has lived with curiosity and compassion in response to personal failures, setbacks, and battles with depression. Key to letting our life speak is first separating the difference between a profession and a vocation. While the former is often motivated by a paycheck, to the end of supporting one’s primal survival drives, Parker outlines the latter quite poetically as the alignment of one’s greater being with the greater good of humanity, “True vocation joins self and service.” A vocation is really an expression of one’s life calling. Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner deepens the definition, suggesting that true vocation belongs “where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep needs.” The titular phrase in the book ,”Let your life speak”, is a traditional Quaker instruction about living in witness to the deep truths that are particular to each individual. For Parker, finding the right calling involves finding companionship—a kind of union which is neither romantic nor religious. In our own way, we are called to rise to the type of service that we can’t help doing for ourselves in addition to others. Although our individual journeys all differ, the drive towards a common end binds us all together.

The Enneagram of Discernment: The Way of Vocation, Wisdom, and Practice

Book by Drew Moser, Ph.D, with Chuck DeGroat (Foreword)

The Enneagram of Personality Types is an ancient conceptual model for assessing the nature of human personality. I find the Enneagram to be more humanizing than the more clinical psychology standard of the Big Five personality test. In contrast to the Big Five’s data-driven approach, the Enneagram envisions a more subtle perspective of human behavior that is equally deep yet more fluid and hopeful. Of course, a human being is far more complicated than any test can fully account for. But it still helps to orient one’s understanding around objective insights. What makes Dr. Drew’s book unique, within an ever-expanding forest of Enneagram literature, is its focus on the implications that personality has for decision making. Sometimes embracing our strengths involves appreciating our weaknesses. Through introducing nine questions designed to illuminate one’s vocation, calling, and passions, The Enneagram of Discernment balances an intriguing mixture of fields ranging beyond psychology into neuroscience, theology, and spirituality, providing practical wisdom that can help us cultivate greater awareness and meaning in our lives. Better yet, when we are grounded in a fulfilling vocation, our increased wellbeing also pay dividends in our personal relationships. The more we gain through self-love, the more we have to offer other people.

Transitions (40th Anniversary Edition): Making Sense of Life’s Changes

Book by William Bridges with Susan Bridges

I am certainly not immune to the allure of prestige. Yet in the era of the Information Age, when reactionary consumerism seems to drive so much of our palette preferences, it’s easy for me to become cynical at the accolades fawned upon cultural classics old and new—especially the best-sellers. Considered one of the all-time top 50 best self-help and personal development books, William Bridges’ Transitions (40th Anniversary Edition): Making Sense of Life’s Changes transcends my cynicism, proving itself to be a timeless treasure with universal appeal. Every culture throughout humanity seems to have its heroes and bards who comment upon change as the essential matter of life. Try as we might, encountering change in one’s life is unavoidable. However, like the theme of conflict, change often suffers from bad optics requiring a deeper appreciation. Changes, as the promotional copy for Transitions reads, can bring both opportunities and turmoil. In Transitions Bridges reframes changes as portals between dynamic stages in our lives that are full of activity: The Ending, and The New Beginning. And in between these two stages lies another transition: The Neutral Zone. We have the right to feel lost, lonely, and confused in The Neutral Zone. That’s normal. But without the dual curse and blessing of this overlooked desert territory, without taking time to wander through the twilight wasteland where coyotes and cicadas thrive, we can’t emerge with a new vision, new goals, new dreams with which to guide us next. Seen from this vantage, transitions, whether personal or professional, serve as memorial celebrations of the valuable, and unavoidable, changing seasons that make up our colorful lives.

As helpful as the above media resources have been for me, and may also be for you, a list can never encapsulate the dynamic needs of a single living person. For a deeper voyage into the realm of transformative life resources, I highly advocate for a holy trinity that has been especially beneficial for me: cats, counseling, and yoga and meditation.

Cats. Love them or hate them, the world is obsessed with the domesticated feline. In a way, the fandom rivalry between The Rolling Stones and The Beatles reminds me of the modern clash between dog and cat lovers. Excusing some studies demonstrating the possible link between IQs and pet preferences, we can obviously be fans of both types of furry companions; our tastes certainly don’t need defending—check out a more humanizing study about the demographic differences between dog and cat owners as expressed in character traits like extroversion and creativity. Pet preferences aside, adopting a cat is like inviting an agent from an alien civilization into your house to shock and seduce you into awe and submission. They come to you, and leave you, solely on their terms and, throughout their stay, remain largely resistant to your influence. Caring for a cat is a meaningful lesson in unconditional love and acceptance inspiring equal parts humor and grace. For those who have minor feline allergies, there’s always air filters and medication.

If you value personal interactions with other human beings that meet you as you are currently, I highly advocate consulting with a professional therapist. Unlike turning to close friends and family who are biased in their relationship with us, a therapist can offer objective feedback and emotional confirmation in a way that is both compassionate and dispassionate. There is no shame in asking for guidance and talking through issues in real time. Quite the opposite. Reaching out for support takes humility and courage, and, when we do so, sends ourselves the message that we are worthy of the time and attention. For general purpose counseling, consider getting started with BetterHelp. BetterHelp offers a range of counselors from a variety of backgrounds along with scholarships for people who have financial hardships. For an intimate experience combining insights from neuroscience through ancient wisdom, I highly recommend life coaching by Jade, the 5D coach. Encouraging wellbeing for all, Jade offers a complimentary coaching session along with an ever-growing catalog of inspirational knowledge videos.

The market is flooded with free meditation apps and Spandex-clad yoga videos. While I believe that any kind of deep breathing and mindful movement of one’s body is a net gain, there are some tools and techniques that are worth learning more formally. The Isha Foundation, founded by spiritual leader and humanitarian Sadhguru, offers a wide range of yoga and meditation workshops. The Inner Engineering course is a good starting place. And The Art of Living Foundation, founded by spiritual leader and humanitarian Gurudev, also offers courses. The SKY Meditation course is their signature entry-level course and is backed by clinical studies confirming its effectiveness in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. For people who are religious but skeptical of spiritual traditions or practices that are foreign to their own, Gurudev makes a delineation that is especially relevant for orthodox Judao-Christian believers: “Prayer is asking or thanking God for something. Meditation is listening to God.” These tools are not mutually exclusive. While Gurudev’s observation reflects my own practices, people who are more humanistic and prefer to avoid anything with a whiff of spirituality can still benefit from yoga and meditation even if these practices are approached as purely mechanical tools for the mind and body. Take what you wish from the experience.

Lastly, if you are looking for an alternative or supplement to the above resources, consider taking an online character assessment test to receive some insight into who you are as a person. The Big 5 Personality Test is an industry standard within the field of psychology. It’s a good place to start for people who have more data-driven minds or like having an abstract subject quantified in a visual way. Consider taking the Big 5 test here. However, the Enneagram is my personal favorite. It takes a more wholistic view of human nature as an integration of emotional drives, defense mechanisms, and communication styles that conceives of every person as a combination of strengths and weaknesses. Consider taking the Enneagram test here. As American historian and philosopher Will Durrant puts it, “Knowledge is the eye of desire and can become the pilot of the soul.” Everyone benefits when we pilot our soul with deeper (and higher) awareness. Imagine what the world would look like if we looked ourselves in the face and said with real conviction, The sky is the limit!

(The featured image is used by courtesy of Janko Ferlič on Pexels.)

Winter 2023 Blog Update (Part 5 of 6) ~ Current Challenges Continued: The Wisdom of Moving-through-ness

Ultimately, our lives end for us all with an unavoidable stage right exit—Death: The end of our physical existence as we know it… An ocean crossing scales with the wind…

We are carbon-sparked stories pulsing in the cosmic filament strung through space and time. When we are gone—awakened, perhaps, in some other side of consciousness—someone may take care to memorialize our lives with an obituary. If our lives are especially profound, perhaps they may receive the special honor of a statue or biography. Ultimately, who’s to say how to evaluate the worth of a human life. 

This need not be grim. Don’t reach for the gothic wardrobe yet. The pharmacy-fueled emotions wired to our survival instinct are not required prescriptions for our illuminated being. On the stage of life, we don’t need to understand how or why we shine to make a lasting, meaningful appearance. There is no dress rehearsal. Forget the curtain call. 

Whatever neighborhood, nation, or galaxy we come from, our personal growth should be motivated not because we’re aspiring to collect an achievement or surpass someone else, but because any movement forward might as well be driven into greater heights (or depths) of our awareness. 

If this all sounds a little mystifying, it may help to contemplate our journey with applied realism. Understanding that it’s easy to distort our evaluation of ourselves and rationalize our progress, Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl warns us about putting our ends before our means, “… self-actualization can only fall into your lap automatically once you have fulfilled a concrete meaning, done the best of a situation. Then you actualize yourself as a byproduct.” Fortunately, we don’t need to survive a death camp in order to experience transformative meaning within our lives.

Throughout the history of humanity, the world’s diverse religions and spiritual practices have offered profound wisdom with which to guide our lives. Beyond the sacred texts, the spark of the divine exists everywhere. Even the field of military philosophy can instruct us about how to live a better life. The Book of Five Rings, written by the legendary Japanese swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi, discusses martial arts strategy in a way that is equally relevant for everyday civilians. Cutting to the existential quick, he sums up the warrior’s philosophy without pretense, “Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death.” Likewise, it seems to me, the Way of the wise man involves resolute acceptance of one’s mortality, the inevitable departure, while pursuing the greater potential of our shared humanity—and divinity.

Musashi’s reflection about the philosophy of the warrior continues, “The Way of battles is the same for man to man fights and for ten thousand a side battles. You must appreciate that spirit can become big or small. What is big is easy to perceive; what is small is difficult to perceive.” The battlefields of the warrior and wise man may differ in terrain and tactics, but they share a common characteristic: The method we use to measure the movements of our spirit influences how we conduct ourselves on the battlefield. 

Some appreciable differences do exist, however, between the lives of soldiers and civilians. While the goal of the warrior is victory, the defeat of an opposing power through attrition or cunning, the wise man aspires to peace through harmony, a goal that can only be realized by surrendering to a purpose greater than one’s survival instincts. 

The types of conflict that we confront are more or less universal. Even though societies have changed throughout time—consider middle-class life in 21st-century U.S.A. versus aristocratic life in 2nd-century Rome—human nature largely remains the same. Ancient Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius, the last of the Five Good Emperors of Rome, commanded an empire by day while reflecting by night on human nature. In his bedside journals (which were later published posthumously as a book, Meditations), Aurelius wrote insightfully about how the governance of others can function as a natural extension of ourselves: “To grow together like fellow branches in matter of good correspondence and affection; but not in matter of opinions. They that shall oppose thee in thy right courses, as it is not in their power to divert thee from thy good action, so neither let it be to divert thee from thy good affection towards them.” The ancient Roman philosophy of Stoicism promotes self-governance as a central virtue within their system of ethics. As responsible citizens, we have a duty to conduct ourselves in conscious attunement with the world. Stoics believe that choices, not passions, should lead our lives. Pleasure and happiness are byproducts of willed virtues; they are not passive experiences to be pursued in isolation. When we abide by the disciplines of logic and self-control, we can prevent needless suffering—physical, mental, and emotional—that we cause ourselves and others.

Elsewhere in his journals, Aurelius introduces an ethical concept he calls meekness. Meekness is a virtue at odds with the Western concept of power as control over other people. Instead, meekness implies a transcendent control over ourselves, “… meekness is a thing unconquerable, if it be true and natural, and not affected or hypocritical. For how shall even the most fierce and malicious that thou shalt conceive, be able to hold on against thee, if thou shalt still continue meek and loving unto him; and that even at that time, when he is about to do thee wrong, thou shalt be well disposed, and in good temper, with all meekness to teach him, and to instruct him better?” It’s not easy to respond with love to the world’s ill intentions. We understand this implicitly. What we don’t grasp with equal conviction is that we each have a bountiful kingdom within us that can be led, and misled, only by ourselves. While world-appointed authority employs power as a means of leveraging control over other people, genuine power is unassailable by the world’s authority, resting securely in the birthright of its sovereignty. With an iron-clad claim to the throne, we are tasked with overseeing peace and order within the kingdom of our soul. 

Whether we abide by the meekness of Stoicism (also referred to as temperance), the equanimity of Buddhism, or the divine grace of Christianity, each school of thought grants a person freedom through practices of self-awareness and self-control. When we experience resistance between ourselves and the world, we are wise in not yielding compulsively to our triggers or passions. Instead, conflicts can encourage us to liberate ourselves from ourselves—even, or especially, in our lowest moments.

Although our lives are all inseparably connected, our growth is always our solitary right and responsibility. We cannot change other people. It’s hard enough to change ourselves. Nevertheless, we can influence change in the world through the nature of our interactions with it. 

In contrast to the conflict-free life that we may prefer, every battlefield upon which we stand offers us an opportunity to grow alongside other people. In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, a J. R. R. Tolkien fantasy novel which has been adapted into a contemporary movie, a large cast of characters are pressed to the limits of their faith and courage, repeatedly forced to discover themselves anew in order to succeed in their journey. The lead character, Bilbo, is an unlikely hero among a group of adventurers who all set out to save the world from an expanding empire of monsters. In a moment of vulnerability early in his adventure, Bilbo confesses to the wizard Gandolf his hesitation about going into battle, “I have never used a sword in my life,” Bilbo says. Gandolf, wise as his beard is gray, responds first with compassion, “And I hope you never have to,” before adding a crucial qualification, “But if you do, remember this: True courage is not about knowing when to take a life, but when to spare one.” 

Wandering further into the realm of fantasy-land analogies, some video games involve battles that can’t be avoided. It’s a common incentive within some games for players to collect rewards throughout their virtual adventures. Typically players level up (or improve) their characters by defeating opponents, gaining experience points and treasure by doing so. The algorithm for payoffs is consistent: The greater the challenge, the greater the reward; adventures that culminate in battles with boss characters, opponents that are noteworthy for their special powers, are especially rewarding. That’s all good and simple in videogame fantasylands, however, conflicts in real life are not quite so clearly marked.

In the battlefield of real life, we don’t always win or lose as gracefully or graciously as we believe every hero should. Sometimes other people may perceive us to be the opposing boss confronting them in their journey. Sometimes, when confronting an overwhelming challenge, we may be wise to cast the treasure we possess to the pool of our shared humanity. Alluding to the theme of conflict resolution in everyday life, an insightful tweet by the video game developer Xbox rings as a moral call to action, inviting us to accept the times when it’s beneficial to override our ego for the greater good: “Be the kind of person who would drop epic loot after a boss fight.” 

One particularly meaningful form of treasure casting involves surrendering something precious that we idolize. Our attachment to idols can be tangible, including people, places, or belongings; or they can be intangible, including ideas, beliefs, or feelings. We can also form attachments to problematic behaviors and habits. Sometimes our idols can get in the way of our growth. Sometimes, although it seems counterintuitive, we can turn the subjects of our pain and suffering into idols, guarding them jealously.

Whatever it is that we encounter as we move through our journey of self-actualization, as author and Soto Zen roshi Gerry Shishin Wick advises us in The Book of Equanimity: Illuminating Classic Zen Koan, “We can’t heal wounds by “trying to put them behind us” or by “just moving on” or “letting go”—we have to go right into them.” 

Unfortunately, we often struggle to evaluate our wounds with equal clarity and compassion. As research professor Brené Brown puts it on The Happiness Lab podcast, “People will do just about anything to avoid pain, including cause pain.” If left ignored, unresolved pains tend to multiply, emerging all the toothier elsewhere in our lives where they are even less welcomed. 

Acknowledging the pains we cause ourselves and other people is a responsibility best braved without condemnation. A healthier approach to owning our accountability is to replace self-judgment with a more sustainable motivation: self-compassion. As self-help author Kristin Neff discusses on The Psychology Podcast, people who develop more self-compassion tend to take more responsibility about their past transgressions; not less. This may seem contradictory to some people who associate responsibility with austerity: the proud burden of power in the absence of affection. She explains, “If you shame yourself and criticize yourself, it’s not safe to take responsibility and you’ll want to blame it on other people, because it’s too painful. So what self-compassion does is it actually increases your ability to take responsibility, it increases your motivation to improve; but it does it for a different reason.” Rather than improving ourselves because we believe that we are inadequate, we can do so because we care about the wellbeing of ourselves and other people. Compassionate responsibility, therefore, involves acting in everyone’s best interest.

Furthermore, Neff discerns different types of compassion and different ways to apply them. While fierce self-compassion can help motivate us to make difficult, and necessary, changes in our lives, tender self-compassion accepts us, unconditionally, as we already are. The dance between this yin and yang dynamic recalls Carl Rogers’s insight about the psychological paradox that the more we accept ourselves the more we are able to change ourselves. Anticipating pushback from critics, Neff clarifies what’s at stake here: It is not letting ourselves off the hook, “Quite the opposite. You need to be brave and strong to say, that hurt so badly.”

Avoiding the cycle of pain also requires us to disarm various traps of self-deception that we employ for our egoic benefit. These traps often involve lowly strategies like short-cuts, dismissals, or wishful thinking. We use such traps when we try to skip the journey for the treasure. However, before we can realize moving-on-ness, the gleaming treasure we desire, we must first resolve our moving-through-ness, the uncertain journey from here to there. This isn’t a truth we can engage with the magic of intellectual abstraction. We must undergo this truth experientially, attend to its infinite upwelling beneath our finite understanding.

As spiritual teacher Michael Singer explains in his workshop, Living From a Place of Surrender—which is based upon his best-selling book, The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself—there’s invaluable wisdom in accepting our experiences as a gift. Our personal experiences are unique, unrepeatable occurrences taking over 13.8 billion years of galactic evolution to arrive at. Considering the magnitude of this scale, why would we fight against that which gave us life? When gazing at a starry sky above, how can we not feel inspired to live with greater purpose, or, at least, a little more awe?

Please take a moment to appreciate the unfolding of our existence within the history of the cosmos. How amazing! Never mind your mind; feel this miracle between your gut and heart.

As I close this sprawling monologue, I should clarify that I’m speaking to myself here, dear visitor. I have been from the start. 

While I developed this text tenaciously over the last two years, I took care to field-test the guiding principles that I’ve written about until I could embody them with some iota of conviction off the page. More than a casual blog entry, I pursued this project with zealous devotion—eventually doing several 40-day dietary cleanses and a couple of silent retreats to motivate a conclusion. 

I’d like to think that I found a little more peace and acceptance in the process. Of course, my struggling continues. However, I know that I struggle in good company. As I continue to wrestle with this blog’s themes off the page, hopefully whoever encounters this imperfect testament of my lived journey will find some value in its offering. Meanwhile: I can speak only of what I now know and believe. So, follow if you dare!

This is not a disclaimer. There’s surely a danger in appearing as an authority on a subject then failing to follow the standards that one represents. And this responsibility is even greater when the subject is life itself, or, rather, how to live life well.

Those who know me in real life should bear no surprise in my disclosure that I’m human, and, therefore, imperfect. So, where my words don’t always match my behaviors, I ask you not to hold me blameless, but to refrain from collectively dismissing the wisdom I’ve tried to express. Besides constillating thoughts and feelings into shapes we call words, it’s a slippery task separating one’s idealized message from the pains, limitations, and biases of one’s lived experiences. This is an admittance; not an excuse. We are responsible for the life we steward.

Sometimes pursuing the noble why of life—that is, the drive for meaning behind why we do what we do—requires making life-sized sacrifices. In the Bible, Jesus talks to his disciples about the sacrifices involved in following him. In Matthew 16:24, Jesus commands his disciples with a message that would constitute a career-ending speech by even the most audacious dictator. Instead of offering consolation for what ails us, and promising a brighter future with less suffering, Jesus challenges his disciples to renounce their lives in order to follow his thorn-crowned example. The life Jesus offers does not come with the taglines of extra conveniences, safety, or national pride. The cost is great. Jesus speaks boldly, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” What Jesus promotes is not an obliviousness towards one’s self, rather an awareness that the pursuit of righteousness lies in contrast to one’s self-serving preferences. 

My self-serving preferences are numerous. I don’t need a legal team to protect me from this statement. Short of achieving sainthood or enlightenment—and perhaps even then—a human life contains inevitable discrepancies and contradictions. Still, this is no reason against trying to live one’s best life. Nor is this reason against sharing our humble wisdom with each other as we find it, however thorny it may be.

But we should take care. When we communicate about a subject beyond our mortal reach, like the elusive ideals with which we pursue, our wisdom can be lost in our efforts. A classic Zen image of a person standing on Earth pointing at the moon above them can remind us not to mistake our striving for the end itself. The purpose that we reference, whether in words or actions, hangs always overhead like a beacon guiding our way towards a better way of living. As Patrick Buggy puts it, “It’s never about the finger. It’s about seeing for yourself what the finger is pointing at.” In order to discern the difference, we must learn “to intuit the Real in itself.” Language is a slippery construct that both leads and misleads us. Still, there’s something irreducible within our messages, like our beliefs, that permits them a life of their own. With or without case capitalization, what constitutes the Real or True for you? How will you recognize it when you see it? And are you willing to follow it even if the cost is great? 

Wherever I have stumbled in my practice of living, wherever I have fumbled in the delivery of my messages, I request your grace. Please don’t give up on me. And please don’t disregard the moon towards which I’m aiming; salvage any speck of wisdom you can from its hazy image. I see no way out from this bind—negotiating roles as man-who-proclaims-to-know and man-who-struggles-to-follow—than building bridges in fellowship towards our continuous unfolding. 

We each choose our path onward. We each choose how to measure our growth. It matters little if we actualize, realize, develop, explore, transform, transcend, deny, or accept our inner being. It matters little if we define the core of the self as a boundless field of consciousness, an indivisible, tailor-made soul, or an evolutionary program of finite biology. What matters is how we carry on in good faith, cultivating, each in our own way, greater courage, humility, and kindness in our lives. 

So, dear visitor, here’s to many more years of open-hearted path walking. And here’s to recognizing value in our conflicts as they come, including good, clean fights when needed and, hopefully, just as many reconciliations. 

Whoever you are, whatever your struggles may be, know that you are human. You are no mere aftermath of unlikely statistics. You are something far more profound. Whether you exist as a voice of divine love or an eruption of stardust sentience, you are an unique expression of consciousness that precedes and exceeds human understanding. 

While navigating the heights (and depths) of your consciousness, tend to the soil of ancestral wisdom within you. Don’t pick the fruit of your spirit out of season; you will reap the harvest of your labors when the time arrives. Be kind to yourself and others. If your conscience is clean, round up: Accept that you’re a good person, despite a few weaknesses, and, with equal conviction, offer the same benefit to other people. 

Occasionally, the conflicts of life may entangle you. That’s okay. Unravel your attachments to attachments, especially the sticky ones, like resentment and bitterness, that hinder your flourishing. Press into the pain of loss with curiosity and compassion: You will discover grounds for healing if you persist. 

It may be tempting to idolize the aches of adversity. Instead, face them directly, embracing the changes with an open ease of being. Remember, you can move on with peace only after you move through what confronts you. The landscape for growth spans your mind and heart, yet continues far beyond. As often as possible, in troubled times and otherwise, give gratitude the wings of generosity: Appreciate the gifts you’ve been given; and befriend what should have been—we aren’t built to carry conclusions like tombstones. 

When you feel stuck, take one step forward. Again. And again. 

Careful—your soul is not an assembly line. Spend a day without chasing your goals. If they are worthy, they will still be there when you return. 

Now sit. And close your eyes.

Breathe in. Humor yourself when you are alone. 

Pause. Yes, your unfortunate haircut will soon fade. 

Breathe out. No, you can’t get your money back. 

Attention! Are you waiting for a miracle? Remember, you are a miracle: your very existence and the way you live it. 

Now go. Nobody grows by dwelling in departures.

However you find yourself strung in space and time—with or without grand design—honor your wild glowing on this earthen stage. Accept that all that you cherish will change form eventually, leaving you without your permission. Count each season as a lesson in arrivals, a blessing from an unseen host, a whispered hello among the rustled leaves above: 

You are awake… You are complete… As you have always been…  

(The featured image is used by courtesy of Tara Winstead on Pexels.)