Rob Bell is one of a few authors who have dramatically shifted my perspective on life. His book, How to Be Here, was released a few years ago, but I just got around to it reading it recently. It’s different from his other books in that it doesn’t dive into Christianity much. I like to think of How to Be Here as Seth Godin meets John Mark Corner.
We all seem to possess a part of the mind with a consciousness of it’s own. It’s the part that can be dicing tomatoes for dinner while also chasing down a hundred other thoughts: the car that needs an inspection, the bill that needs paid, and the friend that needs called. It’s that part of your brain that can be anywhere, seemingly everywhere, but has the hardest time being here.
One of my favorite stories from the book is when Rob fell too many times trying to water ski and injured his head. The resulting trauma left him in an altered state where he was physically only capable of experiencing just. this. moment. The part of his brain that normally chases down other thoughts shut down.
What happened? Magic.
When his mind wasn’t closing every open loop, feeling every worry, and hearing every thought, it could only process the present moment. As he found out, being wholly present, can actually be overwhelming. A home-cooked meal can bring you to tears. A hug can fill you with a joy you didn’t know was possible. Dust streaming through a window can be the most beautiful sparkly beam you’ve ever seen.
Reading Rob’s story makes me want that experience (without the head injury). I want to feel what it’s like to only be here and now, no where and no time else. That’s the here where I want to be.
Below are some of the themes, advices, and quotes I picked up from Bell on learning how to be here.
Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Comparison will disturb your peace and pull you far away from here.
We rob ourselves of immeasurable joy when we compare what we do know about ourselves with what we don’t know about someone else.
Bell calls us to, “Decide now that you will not spend your precious energy speculating about someone else’s life and how it compares with yours.” Stop comparing their highlight reel to your behind the scenes. You think you see their life? One of the best things I did last year was delete my instagram account. If you’re wondering, yes, I am happier for it.
Jesus always has the best comebacks, and of course he has one on comparison: “Peter asks, What about him? and Jesus responds, What is that to you?” I ask myself that now when I’m trying to compare or judge. What is that to you?
Why am I here?
Humans were made to create. To bring order from chaos. To create art in the world.
The universe is unfinished, and God is looking for partners in the ongoing creation of the world.
The world is full of unfinished symphonies. There are injustices to be made right, and we, as human beings, have a part in making it right. The world is a work in progress because we are works in progress. To accept this as fact and continue with a smile is the way forward. We weren’t put on this Earth to stand still. There is work to be done and wrongs to be righted.
Some people find their ikigai by asking, What do I love to do? Others find theirs by asking, What makes me angry? What wrongs need to be righted? What injustice needs to be resisted?
Your ikigai is sort of like your calling, your reason for being, or your work’s purpose. Hesitation has killed too many ikigais. If you think someone should do something about that, that someone should be you. You don’t need qualifications to make change happen. Just do. No permission needed.
Stop asking, Who am I to do this? and instead, “The new question is this: Who am I not to do this? (Who am’n’t I?)”
Who cares if it’s not your job? Make it your responsibility to step up.
Craft vs. Success
Success is seductive. Craft is tedious. Success is thrilling. Craft is arduous. But chasing success keeps you shallow. Working for craft takes you deep.
Bell makes a clearer comparison:
Craft is when you have a profound sense of gratitude that you even get to do this. Craft is when you relish the details. Craft is your awareness that all the hours you’re putting in are adding up to something, that they’re producing in you skill and character and substance.
success promises something it can’t deliver. As soon as you reach your goal, success creates a new one, which creates new anxieties and stresses.
Derek Sivers has a wonderful article on how to get paid to do what you love, and it doesn’t have to do with monetizing your passion. The path of the happiest people he knows is to find a vocation that pays reasonably well and leaves you with enough energy and time to pursue what you really love. It takes the pressure off your passion.
Bell echoes this advice in his book: “Some people have a mission, a cause, a love, a thing they’re most passionate about—and it’s not their job. What they need is a job that doesn’t drain them, so that they’ll have the energy they need for the thing they know they’re here to do.”
Getting caught up in success is a trap. It tricks you into thinking satisfaction isn’t here when that’s the only place it can be. The thing you’ve been hoping for for so many years won’t be what you thought it would be.
“Success says, What more can I get? Craft says, Can you believe I get to do this?”
No Easy Life
There’s a myth that I believed my whole life up until this year. It’s the myth that there is such thing as an easy life. No doubt—there are people who have it easier than others—and that’s not fair. However, the belief that a blissful life comes from the right circumstances is false.
I used to believe a lifestyle could fulfill me. If I could just find a job where I could work from home, where I would have more time off, where I could work on projects I loved… but chasing easy circumstances only makes life harder because it makes you weaker.
But Bell reminds us not to be discouraged because Jesus has a way for you to carry the burden of life with ease. It’s alongside him. It’s choosing his easy yoke. There is no easy life, just an easy yoke to bear it.
Even if you find work that sets your soul on fire (in a good way), it doesn’t exclude you from difficulty. No matter how passionate you are about whatever it is you do, there will be times where it leaves you exhausted, discouraged, and doubtful. You will doubt, you will tire, and you will break. In these times, it will take faith to embrace the struggle, but it’s worth it.
You can only do one thing at a time. It’s easy to get caught up in the next steps, but the next steps can’t happen before the first one, so start there.
Far too often, we don’t start because we can’t get our minds around the entire thing. We don’t take the first step because we can’t figure out the seventeenth step. But you don’t have to know the seventeenth step. You only have to know the first step. Because the first number is always 1. Start with 1.
It takes effort to just focus on one.
To do anything new—to do the 1—requires tremendous mental fortitude to not think about 2 or 3 yet.
But you don’t have to get your mind around the whole thing, you only have to get your mind around the 1.
The first number is always a 1. You don’t know what you have when you start, and so you suspend judgment on whatever it is you’re doing while you’re doing it.
When we’re starting out, it’s easy to believe the work is beneath us. It’s not. It’s a gift to have something to throw ourselves into. It’s wise to treat whatever we’re doing as such.
She’s got things she wants to do, places she wants to go. But for now, what she said gives us a world of insight into her actions: This is where I start.
Adopt that mantra: this is where I start. If you feel like life is passing you by, start by throwing yourself into the small things. Give them everything you’ve got. Eventually, you’ll see, “the joy is in the work.”
What if I did that . . . ? Take that step. Make that leap. Try that new thing. If it helps clarify your ikigai, if it gets you up in the morning, if it’s good for you and the world, do it.
I keep telling him, “Stop thinking about shit that ain’t happenin’.” Is this you? You’re here, in the middle of your day, doing whatever it is you do, but your mind is all over the place, thinking about 2s and 9s and 47s, playing out possible scenarios, wondering about certain outcomes, constructing conversations in your mind about what you’ll say and then what they’ll say and then how you’ll respond—thinking about shit that ain’t happenin’.
Nerves are God’s gift to you, reminding you that your life is not passing you by. Make friends with the butterflies. Welcome them when they come, revel in them, enjoy them, and if they go away, do whatever it takes to put yourself in a position where they return. Better to have a stomach full of butterflies than to feel like your life is passing you by.
how to be fully present in this moment. My friend Richard Rohr has a mantra he repeats often: Just this. When you find yourself overwhelmed with all that is coming at you, take a deep breath and say to yourself, Just this. Just this conversation, just this 1, just this moment. You’re building muscle, learning to focus on the 1 in any situation.
What is lacking in this moment? Because the answer is usually “nothing.”
If you are looking for a particular response to bring you joy, that response may never come. The joy comes from being fully present in this moment. The reward is in throwing yourself into it right here and now.
If you often feel like you’re in one place but your thoughts are ping-ponging from one idea to the next, examine the space you’re in. Is it clean? Is it organized? Does everything in it need to be there?
There’s a rhythm to the day because there’s a rhythm to everything.
Sabbath is a day when you act like the work is done, even if it isn’t. Sabbath is when you spend a day remembering that efficiency and production are not God’s highest goals for your life. Joy is.
Sabbath forces you to listen to your life. Sabbath is a day when you are fully present to your pain, your stress, your worry, your fear. Sabbath is when you let whatever you’ve pushed down rise to the surface. Sabbath is a day when things that are broken get fixed, when things within you that have torn are mended.