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
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 :