Most of humanity is so enchanted with its False (concocted) Self that it has largely doubted and rejected – or every known – its True Self. And so it lives in anxiety and insecurity. We have put so much time into creating it that we cannot imagine this False Self not being true – or not being “me.”*
(Richard Rohr)

I […] beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.**
(Paul the Apostle)

The apostle Paul was likely writing two thousand years ago about humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance and peacefulness because they were needing to be encouraged amongst his listeners. Jump to the present time and take a look through a sample of tweets, posts, blogs and social streams and you realise some things don’t change, only the technologies.

When we admit the truth about ourselves – we mess up, get things stupidly wrong, act out, don’t know what we’re talking about – we can see how important Paul’s characteristics are for taking us out of ourselves to others.

As he concludes The Second Mountain, David Brooks summarises,

The first mountain is the individualist worldview, which puts the desires of the ego at the centre. The second mountain is what you might call the relationalist worldview, which puts relation, commitment and the desires of the heart and soul at the centre.^

Brooks is observing is the hyper-individualist society in which many of us find ourselves. It is good to know who we are and what we can do, but if we do not commit ourselves to others, it spins off into “Me-centred” world that struggles with and cannot hold onto the kind of characteristics we were thinking about earlier.

Just to be aware of this, to notice it, is what the ego – or False Self as Richard Rohr names it – fears most of all. Becoming people who notice and reflect provides us with the opportunity forwards, to become our True Self.

I do not see us as one or the other, but both at the same time with one or other being in the ascendency; Brooks feels the same:

A committed life involves some common struggles. […] It is, for example, a constant struggle to see people at their full depths. In the business of daily life there is the constant temptation to see the other person as an object and not a whole. […] There is a constant struggle to communicate well. […] There is a constant struggle to live as an effective giver and receiver of gifts. […] Personal being […] is essentially generous.^

I see the Individual and relational needs of humans as two poles. When we are spinning around both we are interdependent beings, but when our lives spin off beyond the individual into Brooks’ hyper-individualism then we are become hyper-independent. The opposite, though Brooks doesn’t mention this, is when we spin off beyond the relational we become hyper-dependent.

We are always trying to know who we are and live towards others, expressing Joseph Campbell’s insistence that we need two myths: a personal and a societal.

The ego or False Self squeezes life small because it never has enough. The eco (self with others) or True Self stretches life large as it finds it always has more than enough because life is always becoming more.

Check out Rebecca Solnit’s excellent retelling of the Cinderella fairytale as Cinderella Liberator to explore more aspects of what it means to become our “truest selves.” Here the fairy godmother speaks in her own way of the second mountain or relationalist worldview:

There is always enough for everyone, if you share it properly, or if it has been shared properly before you got there. There is enough food, enough love, enough homes, enough time, enough crayons, enough people to be friends with each other.^^

(*From Richard Rohr’s Immortal Diamond.)
(**Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 4:1-3.)
(^From David Brooks’ The Second Mountain.)
(^^From Rebecca Solnit’s Cinderella Liberator.)

More than faith

It feels like faith in wider possibilities than I had imagined and living one’s life in the shadow of those possibilities.*
(David Brooks)

Faith, like fire, does not dispel the darkness. It creates a space within it. Faith creates a womb for hope and love within a universe that seems indifferent to both.**
(Alex McManus)

Faith is not a religious capacity but a human one; religion is, perhaps, one way for organising it.

Faith is what we all need in difficult or dark moments, creating a space in which it can harness and bring shape to everything we are and all that we have. When we thought there was no space, nothing that we could do, we are shown a way forward through our talents and values and energies.

What is faith. It is many things; here’s a definition for starters:

To imagine and hope in a future that does not exist and to live towards it with all our being.

(*From David Brooks’ The Second Mountain.)
(*From Alex McManus’ Makers of Fire.)

Life undercover

My own particular cover is that of a university professor. It’s a way of looking responsible while attending to more important things.*
(Belden Lane)

Where is your ifthen? We all have them. […] Too often an ifthen is nothing but a stall.**
(Seth Godin)

What’s your cover? The thing you have figured out to do that makes it possible to follow your higher calling, the thing you most want to do with your life?

If you have an ifthen, it could be that you haven’t found your cover. An ifthen is a way of putting own hold the thing you really want to do until something else happens: If this happens then I can pursue what I really want to do.

A cover makes it possible to pursue what you must sooner, it doesn’t wait for everything to be in place, but even while things are exactly where and how they are at this moment, finds one small possibility and then another, and another.

So it may well be about where you are right now, doing the things you’re doing, is just the cover you need for beginning to pursue your higher calling.

One small place to begin is by writing out what your higher calling or purpose is – it’s more difficult to ignore once you have put a little ink on the paper.

(*Belden Lane, quoted in David Brooks’ The Second Mountain.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog: Where is your ifthen?)

Daemons and dreams

A daemon is a calling, an obsession, a source of lasting and sometimes manic energy.*
(David Brooks)

If he who is organised by the divine for spiritual communion, refuse and bury his talent in the earth, even though he should want natural bread, shame and confusion of face will pursue him throughout life to eternity.**
(William Blake)

Daemons and dreams are yoked.

Your daemon is the world’s greatest need as you are attuned to hear:

when you are looking for a vocation, you are looking for a daemon. […] You are trying to find that tension or problem that arouses great waves of moral, spiritual, and relational energy.*

This daemon calls to your deepest joy, the dream you have to live with creativity, generosity and enjoyment.

In Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia stand four unfinished statues by Michelangelo – the figure in each strains to be free – a picture of your dream. But only the chisel can achieve this – a picture of your daemon. It will always be the grittier element of what it is you must do with your life.

(*From David Brooks’ The Second Mountain.)
(**William Blake, quoted in Austin Kleon’s blog: You’ll be Miserable if You Don’t Do What You’re Supposed to Do.)


He would go insane could he not liberate himself from this prison and reach out, unite himself in some form with men, with the world outside.*
(Erich Fromm)

Maybe the most important thing you can train an aspiring improviser to do, [Charlie Todd] says, is listen and observe and stay fully open to the possibilities in whatever his or her fellow actors might be saying or doing.**
(Rob Walker)

I may be an introvert, but I know I need others to become my True Self, to be fully alive.

We all prefer different ways to connect to people. For me, connections need to be deep, so I prefer one-to-ones and small group immersions.

David Brooks shares an experience of transcendence from a journey to work with thousands of others that feels like the sun rising on a grey day:

Suddenly it seemed like the most vivid part of reality was this: Souls waking up in the morning. Souls riding the train to work. Souls yearning for goodness. Souls wounded by earlier traumas. Souls in each and every person, illuminating them from inside, haunting them, and occasionally enraptured within them, souls alive or numb in them; and with that cam a feeling that I was connected by radio waves to all of them – some underlying soul of which we were all a piece.^

When we notice people, really notice them, then we find more of ourselves.

We also find find hope for what we can be about together, especially when we can leave our scripts behind and begin to improvise – the kind of scripts that tell us people like us don’t mix with people like them, whether because of beliefs, age, gender or ethnicity.

(*From Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving.)
(**From Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing.)
(^From David Brooks’ The Second Mountain.)

Who cares

The truth – that love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire.*
(Viktor Frankl)

I came to realise that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.**
(Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn)

Have you noticed that when we care about someone or something, the world grows larger; more wonderful people, more detail, more colour, more possibilities.

And the larger the world grows through our caring, the more we grow.

May you grow very large indeed.

(*Viktor Frankl, quoted in David Brooks’ The Second Mountain.)
(**Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, quoted in David Brooks’ The Second Mountain.)

The commitments

Most of us make four big commitments over our lives: to a vocation, to a spouse and family, to a philosophy or faith, and to a community.*
(David Brooks)

David Brooks argues our commitments provide us with identity, sense of purpose, move us to a higher level of freedom, and build our moral character.

Not bad for investing ourselves in the things that matter most to us in life.

When we lack commitment, we set ourselves adrift, prey to external forces and pressures, internal whims and vacillations.

Nothing worthwhile emerges from an uncommitted life; in considering the thing we must do, Seth Godin writes,

With only slight exaggeration I would say that we approach our process with commitment. It acknowledges that creativity is not an event, it’s simply what we do, whether or not we’re in the mood.**

We cannot be told to commit by others, we can only be invited. True commitment, though, comes from a deep-down-inside-of-us place in which we find humility – who we truly are, gratitude – what we truly have, and faithfulness – what we can truly do with these for others:

Art is something we get to do for other people.**

I commit therefore I am …

How would you like to complete this declaration of your true self and contribution?

Have fun.

(*From David Brooks’ The Second Mountain.)
(**From Seth Godin’s The Practice.)

Things can only get better*

Human beings at their best are givers of gifts.**
(David Brooks)

Only love and suffering are strong enough to break down down our usual ego defences, crush dual thinking, and open us up to mystery.^
(Richard Rohr)

I am only guessing, but you probably admire selflessness in others and struggle for it within yourself; I know I do. There is a hunger within us that can only be fed when we live for others:

the chasms within us cannot be filled by the food the ego hungers for**.

We can understand this to be our quest for nobility, outlined here by Nassim Taleb as he contemplates how we must have skin in the game of life:

noblesse oblige; the very status of a lord has been traditionally derived from protecting others, trading personal risk for prominence^^.

There comes a point in all our lives when we wonder whether we have lived meaningfully. David Brooks likens the soul – ‘the part of you that is of infinite value and dignity’** – to a leopard, perhaps glanced at different moments in our lives, but finally cannot be ignored:

And then there are the moments, maybe more toward middle or old age, when the leopard comes down out of the hills and just sits there in the middle of the doorframe. He stares at your inescapably. He demands your justification. What good have you served? For what did you come? What sort of person have you become? There are no excuses at that moment. Everybody has to throw off the mask.**

The third elemental truth is your life is not about you. We can lose the wonder and glory of this amidst the industrial landscape that separates us from one another, but there is another way, as Seth Godin reflects on here:

This is the path followed by those who seek change, who want to make things better. It’s a path defined by resilience and generosity, but not dependent on reassurance or applause.*^

When it comes to the path we are seeking, there are three tests we can use to see whether this path is worth following.

The psychological asks whether it reflects our personality, including our talents and abilities.

The emotional test asks whether the path resonates with our heart.

The moral test asks whether we will do good as we pursue it.

(*You’re welcome to read though while playing D:Ream’s Things Can Only Get Better, with the message that we have to see it through.)
(**From David Brooks’ The Second Mountain.)
(^From Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now.)
(^^From Nassim Taleb’s Skin in the Game.)
(*^From Seth Godin’s The Practice.)

How did we get here?

We are now absorbed in something, no longer self-aware, even of our bodily self. We have become the thing on which we are working.*
(Richard Sennett)

How did you get here, doing this thing you do?

Long ago, there was a glance, but something registered,

Your curiosity slowed you down to look more closely,

It was as if a conversation had begun, fascinating questions and answers,

Before you know it, you have gone deeper,

Bringing you to the beginning of the surrender,

You commit,

Things go wrong,

You try again and show you can learn

(You will fail and learn many times),

And finally it all comes together –


(**From Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman.)