Godless

Jeff_Rasley

Stretch your limits and shake up your boundaries! No one does this more or better than writer, philanthropist, mountaineer, husband, and father than Jeff Rasley. Having written and published his eighth non-fiction book, Godless, Jeff goes deep into the discussion of humanity, and what it means to be a believer and non-believer of any religious or political doctrine. As a man who has travelled the world, trekked mountains, and swam with whales, Jeff encourages us to examine our lives and where we’re going. It’s a pleasure to interview this intrepid spirit and share some of his thoughts to the questions posed. Welcome Jeff!

Interviewer: Debbie McClure

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Q     How did your early life as a child, then as a lawyer, prepare you to undertake life-altering global and spiritual explorations?

A   My family encouraged curiosity and intellectual exploration and that has been as aspect of my identity since childhood. Practicing law demands rigorous questioning about facts and evidence. So, both of these influences influenced me to have open eyes and open mind to different and new ideas and spiritual growth.

Q   Who has been your greatest life coach or mentor, and why?

A   Many teachers, professors, coaches, pastors, and friends have had influence on me, and friendships developed with my Nepalese sirdars have been inspiring. But, I can’t name one as being the greatest. The constant love, forgiveness, and understanding of my parents and wife have been more important to me than anything I’ve gained from other people.

Q   What inspires and drives you?

A   I want to take good care of myself, live life as an adventure, and offer what I can to others who ask for and need my assistance. I want to enjoy life and affect the world with pragmatic philanthropy.

Q   Some would say climbing a mountain is the ultimate physical manifestation of spiritual seeking. What did you discover about yourself during your first and subsequent climbs in Nepal?

A   That I could endure a lot of pain even to the point of being barely conscious. There are moments in mountaineering when your body, mind, and will are in sync or flow, which is beautiful. When you are able to stop, look around and savour the view, it’s movingly beautiful. But, most of the time actually climbing is hard slogging, putting one foot in front of the other while trying to maintain steady breathing, and maintaining a focus on staying balanced.

Q   You’ve written eight books now, each dealing with issues of self-discovery, philanthropy, and seeking. What drives you to delve so deeply into yourself and our current societal beliefs, then write about them?

A   The admonition of Socrates, to “know thy self”, is, I think the first step on the path of seeking wisdom. We are our own interpreters of reality, so we need to be self aware of how we filter information through our subjective experience. Then, we can participate in family, community, and the world more intentionally and productively. I discovered during adolescence that it turned me on to figure out how, and then to implement, ways to improve communal relations, to help people get along better. So, I’ve tried to do that in various ways from my own local communities to international philanthropic development projects.

Q   Clearly travel plays a large role in your life, but why?

A   I grew up in a small city which didn’t have much cultural diversity. Whenever my family did a driving trip, it thrilled me. So, when I was 18 I walked to the edge of town, stuck out my thumb and hitch-hiked across the country. It was a wonderful experience of meeting people utterly unlike those I knew. And, I loved seeing different parts of the country both urban and rural areas. It lit a fire in me that still burns. (I’m leaving in a few days for another cross-country driving trip with my wife out to CA.) Every trip, whether it’s just a weekend of outback camping, cultural tour of a city, or solo-kayaking Pacific islands, is an opportunity to learn and grow, so long as it’s understood as an adventure.

Q   Can you share with us a particularly amusing or scary story about your mountain climbing?

A   How about an ocean story, instead? This is excerpted from Islands in My Dreams:

Fifteen times we approached the mother and calf when they surfaced, and then we jumped in the water and swam as fast as we could toward them. Each time they sounded before we reached the whales. The boat captain gave us one last chance as he was low on fuel and it was time for us to get back on the slower boat to be taken back to Neiafu.

The three of us dove in with fins kicking as hard and fast as we could. Anjo told us splashing bothers whales, so we kicked with our fins below the surface and didn’t stroke with our arms to minimize splashing.

The mother and calf didn’t dive this time. They swam just below the surface staying about twenty yards ahead of us. Tashio, the Japanese guy, tired from the fifteen times we had already swam after the whales, gave up the chase after about fifty yards. Kevin, the Floridian, broke off after one hundred yards. I kept kicking. After another fifty yards of pursuit, the whales stopped.

The mother let me swim up beside her, but kept her baby on her other side away from me. I swam up beside her huge eye, turned on my side and looked through my snorkel mask into her eye, which was as big as my head. She looked back at me. Our eyes locked. Time stopped. It was if we were looking into each other’s souls.

She rolled and nudged her calf with her flipper to encourage the calf to swim over to me. The baby whale swam up to me, swam under me, then circled around me, and let me caress its tail. It was surprisingly smooth to my touch. The calf returned to its mother’s side.

They began to swim off slowly. I swam with them for about one hundred yards, but then another whale-watching boat approached. The mother gave one great flick of her tail and they vanished deep into the dark water below me.

I stroked back to the speedboat and clambered up the ladder and dropped over the gunwale. I could barely stand. My legs were vibrating and shaking. Electric current (or adrenaline) was coursing through me from the thrill and power of the encounter.

For a few moments, the otherness separating the mother whale and me had vanished. We looked into each other’s eyes and saw trust and acceptance, instead of fear and danger. She trusted me to caress her baby. I trusted that she would not crush me like a minnow with her gigantic tail.

I can still see her awesome eye in my mind’s eye. And I remember how she trusted me with her calf. It would be a good thing for our finite planet if humans could see the soul of all other species, especially the endangered ones.

Q   What does your family think of your travels, books, philanthropy, and growing ideologies?

A   That it’s all pretty cool.

Q   You say that your wife encouraged you to go “climb a mountain”, so clearly she supported that first climb, but does she ever travel or climb with you?

A   We travel regularly together, and used to do hiking and camping trips. But she has MS and is medically restricted from strenuous physical activity.

Q   On returning home to the United States after your various travels, you must be met with many conflicting emotions regarding (global) economic waste and excess. What else do you struggle with in your integration back into your everyday home life, and how do you deal with your emotional conflicts?

A   I’m really not bothered by the vast discrepancies in material wealth anymore. I was the first few times I experienced “third world” poverty. It felt very weird coming home, caring for our kids, going to the office, and just living my life which was so different from that of the people I had been around in Nepal, India, and other “exotic” places. But the other cultures I’ve spent time with are more wealthy than ours in other ways. I’d like to bring back to the US the emotional and spiritual maturity I have found in Nepal (which it the poorest country outside of Africa). What I still wonder and sort of worry about is whether my own efforts at infrastructure development in Nepal are actually helping or hurting the villages I’ve worked with. But, we do the best we can, and then, “so it goes” (per my fellow Hoosier, Kurt Vonnegut).

Q   People often feel helpless to “do something significant” to improve our world or find meaning to their lives. What suggestions would you give to others perhaps not so adventurous as yourself?

A   Consider deeply what you care about. When you understand what you truly value, then guide your life in a way which promotes the values you care most about.

Q   Your recent book, Godless, is a very provocative title and offers what others may consider controversial insight into religious doctrines and dogma. Have you received any negative feedback or misunderstanding regarding it, and if so, what would you want to clarify for potential readers?

A   “Godless” is explained in the book on several levels. One of the points it makes is that making gods out of religious doctrines or political ideologies has caused much harm throughout human history. Believers tend to divide humanity into us and them, believers and nonbelievers. But what you personally believe or don’t believe probably won’t harm other people so long as you value tolerance. Unfortunately, religious and political zealots tend not to value tolerance and many are led by unscrupulous leaders to treat nonbelievers as less than human. The book makes the case that we would be better off to ditch the whole God-thing and admit we really don’t know whether God exists, or, to think that everything and every moment is sacred.

Q   What’s next for you, Jeff?

A   After finishing writing a book, I take several months to try to promote the book, as I’m doing now. And, the last thing I want to think about is writing another one. Eventually another seed will germinate. In the meantime, I run the Basa Village Foundation, serve on 5 nonprofit boards, teach a class on philanthropy at Butler University, and organize trekking and mountaineering expeditions.

Q   Where can our readers discover more about you, your philanthropic work, and your books?

A   My website has all that info: www.jeffreyrasley.com

Amazon Author page is http://www.amazon.com/Jeff-Rasley/e/B004Q3D6B2

Other social media sites are :

https://www.linkedin.com/pub/jeff-rasley/12/984/619

http://www.pinterest.com/pinner362436

https://twitter.com/jeffrasley

https://plus.google.com/u/0/104731913652844816663

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4114763.Jeffrey_Rasley

https://www.facebook.com/JeffRasleyAndMidsummerBooks

 

 

 

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The Long, Steep Path: Everyday Inspiration From the Author of Pay It Forward

Catherine_Ryan_Hyde

Catherine Ryan Hyde was one of my heroes growing up; I learned about her book, Pay It Forward, when I was 17 and a new writer trying to work out if I wanted to pursue my writing or if I might do something else. Seeing what Catherine accomplished with her book, and then having the joy of meeting her in person and discovering it was possible to achieve the level of influence she did without it changing who she was—I realized I could become the writer I wanted to be, without having to give up the aspects of myself that I was sure would get compromised if I ever became a public figure (at the time I thought you either were a nobody or a celebrity in the artistic fields).

Catherine was exceptionally down to earth, and she encouraged me to pursue my writing. That someone “like her” could believe in me that much meant a lot to me, and when she wrote on her Pay It Forward dedication “Please say you will [Pay It Forward]” I made a silent promise that I would, for the rest of my life—and ironically it’s that mindset that’s led me full circle, to where I have the opportunity to interview Catherine about her exquisite book, The Long, Steep Path: Everyday Inspiration from the Author of Pay It Forward where she shares herself in spirit the same way she has touched my life – and this way she can be a mentor and a friend to millions more people than she has graced personally. (My book review is on Blogcritics at  http://blogcritics.org/books/article/book-review-the-long-steep-path).

If you’d like to know more about Catherine, she’s truly accessible – check out her website at  http://www.catherineryanhyde.com, her Amazon author page at http://www.amazon.com/Catherine-Ryan-Hyde/e/B001ITTR60#/ref=la_B001ITTR60_pg_3?rh=n%3A283155%2Cp_82%3AB001ITTR60&page=3&ie=UTF8&qid=1363147923 and Facebook at  https://www.facebook.com/#!/crhyde?fref=ts.  

Interview by Joanna Celeste

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Q: What prompted you to write your memoir?

A: I don’t think of it as a memoir… exactly. It’s memoir-ish. It has some elements of memoir, in that everything in it is true, and happened to me. But I tend to think of a memoir as a more complete story of a person’s life. So then, for readers to want to read that memoir, they would have to be interested in knowing about that person’s life. I’m not assuming that people wanted to know my life story. Instead I’ve chosen life experiences that changed my thinking about the world in a small way, and laid them out in a way that just might, possibly, change your thinking about the world in a small way as well.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that’s it’s not really so much about me. It’s more about things I’ve observed that might be useful to you (the reader).

Now, to answer your question: It was one-third reaching out to the people who so far only seem interested in Pay It Forward and not so much the rest of my body of work. It was one-third carried forward from some opinion pieces I’d done for AOL News—on such subjects as happiness and gratitude—that I enjoyed doing and that people seemed to like. The final one-third was a realization I had as I was walking down Indian Cove Road in Joshua Tree, headed for a trailhead. I thought, too bad I don’t write about my hiking and travels. If I did, this trip would be tax deductible. But I didn’t write The Long, Steep Path so I could deduct my trips. I wrote it because that started me wondering why I’d never written about my hiking and travel. When I thought about it, it seemed like an oversight. That really is the honest answer. I wanted to write a creative nonfiction book about hiking and the outdoors, but was eventually able to see that it should have a broader scope.

Q: I loved all your metaphors about hiking. You touched lightly on your past—that you changed your name, just had to get out, that you had deep emotional issues—I’m curious what happened but I also respect that you want to keep some things private. How did you approach writing your memoir, culling the points you wanted to share and what you didn’t feel necessary?

A: I’m not a secretive person at all. I jokingly tell people I’d be the worst blackmail target ever. I’d be like, “Fine, I’ll write about it myself. Save you the trouble.” But that’s my history. When you start writing about your family of origin, that’s shared history. Other people’s privacy and feelings are at stake. I think you probably noticed in my Author’s Note at the end of the book that I only wrote about one living person, and only with her express permission. I was careful with the anonymity of AA members, using no last names, not repeating anything said in a meeting unless they said it outside one as well. The one person whose story was pretty personal, I didn’t use a name at all. I tried to be really careful of other people’s “stuff.” 

Q: That was done very well. I also loved the way you organized your chapters. What was your process of writing like; did you write the essays over time and compile them or did you have an outline of what you wanted to share?

A: There was a bit of trial and error to that. I really chose the subjects more by the seat of my pants. I wrote all the stories I felt were worth writing. Then I laid them out and got a sense of what they all added up to, and how their messages could be most cohesive.

Q: Nice! As a self-proclaimed hybrid author, why did you choose to self-publish this work?

A: Because I wanted to pair the essays with my own photos. And I knew that if I used a traditional publisher, they wouldn’t want to print color photos, because it’s expensive. It raises the production costs, and forces the publisher to charge more for the book, maybe more than most readers want to pay. So we never shopped it around to publishers. Instead we (my agent and I) decided to go independent ebook only. That way I could not only include a big handful of color photos, I could link to the full photo albums for those who were especially interested in one or more of the locations. You can’t do that in a print book.  

The photographs were a wonderful touch. You’ve got me wanting to hike now, so I can visit those places in person.

Q: It was fun learning that you were once a tour guide for Hearst Castle and a pastry chef. For the 8 years you worked a multitude of part-time jobs, how did those experiences influence your writing?

A: Well, they give me a lot of good experience to fall back on. I always prefer to have characters live in a city I’ve lived in, or work at a job I’ve done myself. Because the quality of material you pick up is altogether different than what you learn through research only.

Q: What did you love the most about your experience as a pastry chef?

A: For a time I worked at an actual big bakery, in the pastry department. The hours were terrible, 6:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. I had to drive about 70 miles round trip. And I gained weight because I couldn’t stop sampling the product. Not much to love there.

Later I worked at a little restaurant in Cambria, doing homemade breads and desserts. The chef was my best friend Janet, and we worked very well together. Even when things got busy, we stayed stress-free. At the end of the night we ate like royalty. That I liked.

That makes all the difference, working with people you get along with.

Q: I loved your metaphors about animals, like how you developed “gentling” your horse rather than breaking it, and the dog’s attitude towards his daily walk. What would you say is an essential thing we can learn from animals?

A: Presence. The ability to be completely in the moment. Animals are very good at that, and humans are unusually bad at it. And it’s a real goal of mine, to be present. I think it’s the essence of my spirituality, the idea that “the powers that be” in the universe are found in the present moment. So when people act like animals are very simple and inferior compared to us, it seems backwards to me. I’m not saying we’re inferior, but I am saying I feel they are ahead of us in some respects. I guess it all depends on what you value. 

Q: Thank you. One of my favorite parts of The Long, Steep Path was your story about how one sentence changed your life. Your book was full of these one sentences for me. Since publishing your book, have you had any other “one sentence” experiences?

A: It may sound strange, but I have that experience on Twitter all the time. It encourages people to boil down their thoughts. And if you follow the right people, you pick up all these statements that are just so beautifully phrased that they cause you to look at some aspect of life in a new way. I think we do that for each other all the time, just in less dramatic ways than the one I described in the book. 

Yes! Twitter is awesome for that. The philosophy at the heart of The Long, Steep Path– finding the life you want in the life you have – is beautiful. When was the moment you discovered this?

A: I don’t think there was any one special moment when I discovered it. I think the realization came slowly over a period of time. But I think there was a moment, as I was putting together all my thoughts for the book, when I suddenly got a grasp of how to say it. I found the words in that few lines from the prologue of Pay It Forward: “Knowing it started from unremarkable circumstances should be a comfort to us all. Because it shows you don’t need much to change the entire world for the better. You can start with the most ordinary ingredients. You can start with the world you’ve got.” That paragraph seemed to resonate with a lot of people. I guess because, when you think about it, where else could you possibly start? It hit me quite suddenly that this is true of our individual lives as well. And why shouldn’t it be? Put all our individual lives together and you get the world in question.

Q: This spirit seems to be conveyed in the style of your writing—capturing lives that are mosaics; perhaps not perfect, but whole in their own way. What drives you to write your fiction?

A: Human nature. I find it endlessly fascinating. I’m curious about why we take good care of each other, when we do. And why we don’t when we don’t. I’m particularly interested in unlikely bonds, the kind that fall outside blood relations and romance. Both of those are easy to understand, but I love the odd bond that’s quirkier, that says more about the good, loving side of human nature.

Q: That’s my favorite aspect to your stories. As a mentor or a sponsor, how do you approach those whom you take under your wing? What is the basic advice you give them?

A: I think the most useful thing I can do for another writer is to help them develop a new relationship with criticism and rejection. There’s nothing I can say to stop it from stinging. Not even to myself. But it’s possible to look it in the face and not let it stop you. You can learn to see that people are really telling you more about themselves when they judge you.

That’s as a mentor.

As a sponsor, I think my goal is to help people accept life for exactly what it is. When you let a person into your life, you have to take them as a whole. You can’t change them. You can’t take the parts you like and leave the rest. I think if we could have that kind of unconditional love for the world, and our lives, we’d be much happier.

Q: You have a lot of experience you can share from (I still can’t believe that Pay It Forward was shot down by your agent). As someone who went from being relatively unknown to being the center of an international movement, what are some of the pros and cons of celebrity? 

A: I don’t really think of myself as a celebrity, though I think I was thrust into that world for a time during the initial “Pay It Forward Phenomenon.”

Actual celebrity, I’d say mostly cons. There’s something false about it. I always make an effort not to tell people what I do until we’ve gotten to know each other a bit. Because it changes the balance of interactions. And it shouldn’t. No one is above or below anyone else, unless they place themselves there by their own actions.

What I do like is the genuine interaction with readers—when a reader finds me (I make myself easy to find) and shares the thoughts and feelings they had when reading one of my books. That’s very genuine. And of course it happens more as more people read you. So that’s one positive note. That and being able to pay my bills.

Q: Yeah, life is awesome when you can do what you love, interact with the people you write for, and pay your bills. Your book ends, quite aptly, with “The Path Continues”. What’s next on your path?

A: Well, that’s a good question. In many ways I’m waiting to be surprised. But it would be a safe bet to say there will be books involved.

Q: Yay! You’ve got your new book out now, Always Chloe and Other Stories, which I’m excited to read. Anything you’d like to share about that?

A: One of the nicest parts of independent ebooks is my ability to give them away on a limited basis as a way of helping the book find its audience. Always Chloe and Other Stories contains the novella-length sequel to my novel Becoming Chloe. It’s a stand-alone work, though, for those who haven’t read the original. On the 22nd through 24th of March, the Kindle ebook will be free on Amazon. And all anyone has to do is subscribe to my blog, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook, to hear about future deals. I tend to give a lot of books away, even physical books. In the long run, it always brings me more readers.

Wonderful, thank you so much!