Significant Influences on my Perspective
The gap year that I spent travelling was highly formative for me, and I remain a huge advocate of travel, adventure, volunteerism, study abroad, and immersion programs. The world around us is but a mirror of ourselves, so the best way to learn about you is to learn about others! (Let me know if you're interested in travel or gap years—I can definitely help guide you in the right direction!)
Several specific coaches, masters, and teachers have had an especially powerful impact on me: My mentor Rob Robb, as well as Sadhguru, and Bill Murray are all people who’ve taught me much about how to live fully. Three of my professors at Penn were also particularly influential educators who opened my mind in different ways—Robert Kurzban, Stephen Hastings-King, and Victor Mair.
Reading has always been a huge part of my life, and the following authors and books have played a big role in fundamentally shaping my perspective & approach in helping others find their own path. In chronological order, from middle school, through high school and college, to the present day:
- St Thomas Aquinas (the Summa Theologica)
- St Josemaria Escriva (The Way)
- Neale Donald Walsh (The Conversations with God Trilogy)
- Deng Ming-Dao (Chronicles of Tao)
- A.R. Orage (Psychological Exercises and Essays)
- Napoleon Hill (Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude)
- Ekhart Tolle (The Power of Now)
- Pamela Oslie (Life Colors)
- Charles Haanel (The Master Key System)
- and the modern retelling of the same by Gladstone, Greninger, and Selby (Tapping the Source)
- Leadership and Self-Deception (put out by the Arbinger Institute)
- and many other books on motivation, leadership, psychology, philosophy, Eastern thought, relativity, high-energy physics, cosmology, and self-development.
Quite a few excellent science fiction authors have also had a big impact on me, as good sci-fi has a way of opening to mind to fantastic possibilities and potentials that are still soundly rooted in reality. Greg Bear, Stephen Baxter, Arthur C Clarke, Frank Herbert, Ursula K Le Guin, and John Varley have all shared visions of futures that are grittily realistic, yet still full of promise and new horizons for humanity. But it is Neal Stephenson who has spoken most directly to me through his works, and I can’t recommend his books Snow Crash, The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, The Baroque Cycle: Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World, and Anathem enough. He also helped to bring about the thought-provoking and inspiring collection Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future, too.
Exercise, and balancing mind, body, & soul (or mental, physical, & emotional; or neurochemical & musculo-skeletal; or however else you might want to view it) has also been a strong focus for me. After all, how can the mind function at its full potential if the body is neglected (and vice versa)?
I’m a tremendous advocate of the Five Tibetans in particular and yoga in general, which I’ve practiced regularly since 2001. Staying active and physically engaged during every moment of daily life can also be quite powerful, and traditional parkour (and the earlier ideas of Physical Culture) are of great interest to me. Daniele Bolleli’s On the Warrior's Path is another book that contains much wisdom related to physicality. And when it comes down to it, there's really nothing quite as head-clearing as a good, long trail run.
Finally, I’d love to share the following poem, with particular focus on the last eight lines, since it has been a powerful reminder for me to stay centered and keep some perspective in my life—maybe it can do the same for you!
The Half and Half Song
By far the greater half have I seen through
This floating life—ah, there's the magic word—
This "half"—so rich in implications.
It bids us taste the joy of more than we
Can ever own. Halfway in life is man's
Best state, when slackened pace allows him ease.
A wide world lies halfway 'twixt heaven and earth;
To live halfway between the town and land,
Have farms halfway between the streams and hills;
Be half-a-scholar, and half-a-squire, and half
In business; half as gentry live,
And half related to the common folk;
And have a house that's half genteel, half plain,
Half elegantly furnished and half bare;
Dresses and gowns that are half old, half new,
And food half epicure's, half simple fare;
Have servants not too clever, nor too dull;
A wife who is not too ugly, nor too fair.
—So then, at heart, I feel I'm half a Buddha,
And almost half a Taoist fairy blest.
One half myself to Father Heaven I
Return; the other half to children leave—
Half thinking how for my posterity
To plan and provide, and yet minding how
To answer God when the body's laid at rest.
He is most wisely drunk who is half drunk;
And flowers in half-bloom look their prettiest;
As boats at half-sail sail the steadiest,
And horses held at half-slack reins trot best.
Who half too much has, adds anxiety,
But half too little, adds possession's zest.
Since life's of sweet and bitter compounded,
Who tastes but half is wise and cleverest.
~by Li Mi-An
Trans. Victor Mair
From the The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature