The Legend of the Northern Lights

“Look to the light and swim to the top of the Great Mountain. There you will find your home. There you will swim in the eternal river of the sky.”

I worked on this legend (and video) for a very long time. I  included it in my book, Your Life Isn’t For You, with the sincere desire that it will help guide others forward. If it inspires you, please—as a special favor to me—share it with others.

I am profoundly grateful for Ashley Collett (for creating such amazing illustrations) and for David Tolk (for allowing me to use his beautiful music). Underneath the video is the FULL text of the legend.

It is said that not long after their creation, the salmon lost their way. Aimlessly, they swam in the rivers and waters of Alaska. But in their wanderings, they found neither home nor rest.

Overcome with fear and despair, they began to fight among themselves. But their fighting only deepened their fears and worsened their condition.

Then one day, a legendary being appeared to them at the base of the Great Mountain—a beast of unspeakable wisdom and healing: the White Bear. The Bear came to the edge of the waters and called to the salmon.

“Look to the light of the North Star,” said the Bear. “Look to the light and swim to the top of the Great Mountain. There you will find your home. There you will swim in the eternal river of the sky.”

The salmon wondered at such a thing. Could it be true? If they followed the North Star, would they be able to swim in an eternal river?

Some of the salmon ignored the White Bear, while others fled in terror. Bears often ate salmon; perhaps his offer was just a clever trap. The smallest of the salmon peeked out of the water and spoke to the Bear. “How can we swim upstream? It is against our nature. We do not have the strength.”

“If you look upward and fight onward,” replied the Bear, “you can conquer the Great Mountain.”

And so it was that those who chose to follow the North Star began the long journey to the summit of the Great Mountain. Swimming upstream was tiring, difficult, and painful. Some of the salmon turned back. Those who remained began to feel discouraged.

“Look to the heavens,” reminded one of the salmon.

The other salmon looked up. High above them was the night sky, filled with numberless glittering stars. Despite the darkness of the hour, the light from these stars reminded the salmon of the Bear’s promise.

With renewed energy, the salmon fought to swim upstream—growing in strength and desire with every passing moment. As they moved forward, the salmon discovered that they were being filled with a beautiful new light. Their bodies underwent a transformation, changing colors from silvers and grays to magnificent greens and reds.

After a long time of difficult swimming, the salmon made it to the very top of the Great Mountain.

And as they peeked out from the water to look upon the stars, they found—to their astonishment and joy—that they could touch the night sky. It was not an endless expanse of air as they had assumed, but an endless expanse of water.

The night sky was as the White Bear had spoken. It was an eternal river.

These former wanderers wanted more than anything to swim in that water, to live among the stars. But something inside of them held them back. They looked down the mountain to the valley below and distantly saw the other salmon lost in the darkness below. “What about them?” they wondered aloud. “We want to share this joy and happiness with them as well.”

As they said these things, the White Bear once again appeared before them. He told them that in order for the salmon to help those who were struggling below, they must swim in the eternal river and become a light for those who were wandering in darkness. But in order to swim in the eternal river, they would have to give up their lives.

Knowing what they truly wanted, the salmon let go of all their doubts and fears, and dove into the night sky—passing from this world into the next. Then, they who had become so full of life and light themselves became the Northern Lights—a river of light to guide the way for others who wander in darkness.

And from their death sprang a new generation of salmon, who swam down the mountainside to show others the way home.

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I Made A “Literal” Tree!

“I think I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree.” (Joyce Kilmer)

I love reading and I love autumn. So, naturally, I ripped out the pages of some of my favorite books, plastered them on the wall, and painted a tree above my desk. Now I have a “literal” tree in my office!!!

Ain’t it purdy?

Literal Tree 01

That’s my desk right there. See it? I’ve had the same desk ever since I was six. True story. And I’m NOT parting with it.

Literal Tree 02

This is what it looks like up there. Neato torpedo.

Literal Tree 04

This is a leaf. It isn’t real. I taped it to the wall. No plants were hurt in the making of this wall. (Except for the trees that were cut down to make the pages of the book—sorry guys!)

Literal Tree 03

I got this paint at Target. I got the brush there too. I got the leaves from a friend. I got the desk from my dad. I got the natural lighting from God. High fives all around!

Justin Bieber and the Nude Photograph Backlash

I try my best to be an optimist, but sometimes the news gets me down. The world seems particularly depressing as of late: the situation in Ukraine, the Ebola outbreak in Africa, violence in the Middle East, the gruesome beheadings by ISIS, and so much more.

There are so many problems in the world that are practically screaming for help—yet Justin Bieber is once again trending on Facebook:

Justin Bieber News

Trendy?

To be fair, many of the things that trend on Facebook are merely headlines for a day—they flash briefly before giving way to larger and more pressing stories. Yet it never ceases to amaze me that a person like Justin Bieber commands so much attention. He seems to care so little about the world and yet the world cares so much about him.

Why? Why do we give so much time, energy, and money to such trivial things? Some time ago I tried—to the best of my ability—to bring attention to the Yazidi genocide in Iraq. I conducted a video interview, wrote an article, and contacted numerous media contacts.

The result? The article had less than a thousand views.

Immediately afterward, I posted an article called “7 Things That Will Make You Laugh.” I’m sad to say that the article has had significantly more clicks and views than my article on Iraq.

To be clear, we’re talking about genocide vs. giggles.

On the flip side of all this, I applaud the backlash against the nude photographs that were stolen from numerous celebrities. It’s been remarkable to see a significant portion of our society rally around the victims of a disgusting crime. With the amount of energy and zeal behind this, it sends a clear message to any would-be wrongdoers and I have no doubt that the perpetrator will soon be found and brought to justice.

Seeing all of this, I hope that we can also invest the same level of energy and zeal behind other worthwhile causes. Because the world is screaming for help—and we have the power to help—but are we listening?

20 Life-Changing Books!

Life-Changing Books

If you want to change your body, change what you eat and how you exercise. If you want to change your outlook on life, change what you read and put it into practice.

Listed below are twenty life-changing books. Unless you are determined to be miserable (which, strangely enough, some people are) these books will change your life for the better. Click on the titles to order a copy for yourself, then mark them up and put them into practice.

Man's Search for Meaning

Man’s Search for Meaning

1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl – In this book, the author details his experiences in an Auschwitz concentration camp, while simultaneously sharing his perspective on living a meaningful life. The book has sold well over 10 million copies and has been consistently listed as one of the most influential books ever written. From the book: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

2. As A Man Thinketh by James Allen – Although you could probably finish this little booklet in less than an hour or two, its words are powerful and profound. Words like these: “A man’s mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must, and will, bring forth. If no useful seeds are put into it, then an abundance of useless weed seeds will fall therein, and will continue to produce their kind.”

3. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown – In this book, the author addresses how to find deep personal worth while living in a world that is constantly bombarded by messages of who, what, and how we should be. From the book: “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

4. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho – This is a fantastic, beautiful narrative about finding out who we are and fearlessly chasing our own “personal legend.” In this book, Coelho says: “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”

5. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo – Does this book really need any explaining? It follows the life of reformed convict, Jean Valjean, and illustrates the power and beauty of redemption. From the book: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

6. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch – Diagnosed with terminal, pancreatic cancer, professor Randy Pausch delivered his “last lecture” at Carnegie Mellon in September of 2007. His lecture was structured around the hypothetical question: “What wisdom would you try to impart to the world if you knew it was your last chance?” The book fleshes out the ideas presented in the last lecture and was co-authored and approved by Pausch before he died. From the book: “The key question to keep asking is, Are you spending your time on the right things? Because time is all you have.”

7. To Kill a Mockingbird – To put it simply, Atticus Finch is one of the best, noblest characters ever written into existence. From the book: “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

8. The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck – Where do I start? This book is honestly one of my absolute favorite books of all time. It is packed with incredible insight and solutions for confronting and solving some of life’s greatest problems. For example, consider this: “Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and wisdom.”

9. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson – This book helps you overcome “the small stuff” that can drive you crazy. It is filled with supportive and thoughtful suggestions on how to live a more peaceful life. From the book: “…when you let go of your expectations, when you accept life as it is, you’re free.To hold on is to be serious and uptight. To let go is to lighten up.”

The Seven Paths

The Seven Paths

10. The Seven Paths by the Anasazi Foundation – This poetic, evocative story presents the meditations of an ancient Anasazi tribesman who learns that the point of life’s walk is how one is moved in the heart. He walks seven paths, each teaching a lesson symbolized by an element of the natural world: light, wind, water, stone, plants, animals, and, finally, the unity of all beings with the Creator.

11. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne – In this bestselling book, various individuals share their insight and experience with “The Secret” (the law of attraction). While this book can get a little mystical, it does a really good job at explaining how our mental outlook can affect all areas of our lives (for you business types, I would also recommend Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill).

12. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey – This book is consistently listed as one of the most inspiring books ever written and has sold more than 15 million copies worldwide. From the book: “But until a person can say deeply and honestly, “I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday,” that person cannot say, “I choose otherwise.”

13. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis – If you’d like to read some more inspirational fiction, check out these classics by C. S. Lewis. Not only are they entertaining, but they’re also filled with timeless wisdom about addiction, sin, guilt, and the nature of man. Plus, the seventh book is quite possibly one of the most beautiful fiction books I’ve ever read. From the book: “Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

14. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie – I’m a fairly introverted person, so I’m not exactly going out of my way to meet new people. But this book provides some great, practical advice on working with and helping people. I’m a big believer finding happiness  From the book: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

15. The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino – This book probably isn’t what you think it is, but I won’t spoil the surprise. From the book: “Wealth, my son, should never be your goal in life. Your words are eloquent but they are mere words. True wealth is of the heart, not of the purse.”

16. The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis – In this allegorical story, a busload of sinners leave the depths of hell to see what heaven might be like. When they get there, they are told that they can stay in heaven if they can give up the sins that are holding them back. Through an array of characters struggling with different vices, C. S. Lewis masterfully illustrates that, more often than not, we are the very things that are holding ourselves back.

The Book Thief

The Book Thief

17. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – I don’t even know how to describe this book. It’s beautiful, heart-breaking, yet very comforting—all at the same time. It tells the story of a little girl growing up in Germany during World War II. There is one scene in the book (which was left out of the movie) that is absolutely astounding—reading that one scene is worth every minute spent reading the whole book.

18. The Shack by William P. Young – After his youngest daughter is murdered by a serial killer, Mackenzie Allen Phillips receives a mysterious note—apparently from God—telling him to return to “the shack,” the scene of the crime. What happens next is a spiritual journey of love and forgiveness that forever changes his life. From the book: “[…] love is much stronger than your fault could ever be.”

19. The Book of Virtues by William J. Bennett – This book is a massive collection of some of the greatest stories ever told. I actually have a copy of it on the corner of my desk right now—one of the stories in that book changed my life.

20. Sacred Writings – I don’t know if you’re a religious person or not, so this one is entirely up to you. But I believe that many religions contain incredible, invaluable, time-tested truths—and we would be foolish to simply ignore them. At the very least, there’s something to be said of getting in touch with your religious/cultural roots.

If you like any of these books, please be sure to check out my upcoming book “Your Life Isn’t For You.” In it, I draw upon inspirational stories from history and literature to illustrate my deep conviction that the only way you can truly find and live your life is to give it away to others.

Did Mitt Romney REALLY Lose?

Mitt-Romney-successful

Mitt Romney

Ever since the 2012 Presidential Election, I have wondered, did Mitt Romney REALLY lose?

Now, before you get yourselves all worked up over politics, cool it. This isn’t about politics. I’m just trying to convey an important idea.

Whenever a major election comes to an end, the “loser” tends to disappear from the spotlight—becoming little more than a joke for talking-heads and an example of what not to do for future candidates. But for some reason, Mitt Romney’s name keeps surfacing in a favorable light. In fact, two well-known MSNBC commentators recently lamented the fact that Mitt Romney isn’t currently the president.

But again, this isn’t about politics. It’s about something much deeper than that.

These past few years, I’ve had the privilege of working with a number of charities that have benefited greatly from the efforts and donations of Mitt Romney. And, although I’ve never met him, I know a lot of people who have worked closely with him. From what I can gather, Governor Romney is a prodigiously charitable and sincere man.

Not only has Mitt Romney donated millions to charities, but he’s also rendered incredible, heart-warming service to those in need.

Knowing just a handful of things he’s done to help people, it’s hard for me to understand why some people dislike Romney so much. Throughout his political career, a lot of people have attacked him for being wealthy. But truthfully, Governor Romney spends a lot of his resources to help other people.

Here is just one example of many:

In 1995, Romney heard about the Nixons, a family who moved to Boston. Soon after, a car wreck left their sons paraplegic. Romney called and asked if they were available on Christmas Eve. Romney, his wife, and his sons arrived with a stereo and other gifts for the crippled boys. Romney offered to put them through college and supported them through numerous fundraisers. As their father told Kranish and Helman, “It wasn’t a one-time thing.” (Source: National Review)

Recently, Mitt and Ann Romney inaugurated the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases—a research center dedicated to fighting MS, Alzheimer’s, ALS, Parkinson’s, and brain tumors. If you’ve followed my writings for very long, you’ll know that I’m particularly sensitive about a number of issues, one of them being multiple sclerosis (my grandmother had MS). I can’t describe to you how much something like this means to me.

So with that in mind, I ask you again: did Mitt Romney really lose? He lost the election, sure, but he gained a wider circle of respect, media attention, and influence, which he’s now using to promote wonderful, meaningful causes and help thousands of people.

I think there’s a lesson here for all of us: When we are met with defeat, we don’t simply lose. Not really. The only time we really lose is when we give up on ourselves and others.

And from what I can see, Mitt Romney not only won, he is still winning.

Why You Should Read to Your Children

Read to ChildFew topics are as near and dear to me as reading. I absolutely love books and the power that words have to transform our lives and heal our souls.

When I was young, my dad sat down and read a bedtime story to my sister Jaimie and me. Now, he may have read to us on other occasions, but that is the one and only time that I can remember him doing so. I remember where we were, the words that he read, and even the inflection in his voice.

The story he read—and the meaning behind it—made such an impact on me that I have carried that same book with me throughout my life. (True story. It’s on the corner of my desk right now.) The story transformed my life, and it’s now the backbone of my non-fiction book that will be published in September.

Now, why am I telling you all of this? Because although it may seem like such a simple thing, taking the time to read to children can change their lives for the better. Not only can it have a positive impact on their character and future relationships, but multiple studies have highlighted the educational benefits of reading to children at an early age.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association:

“Toddlers are like little scientists.” They explore with all their senses, learn trial and error, cause and effect, and their brain growth increases through personal interaction with parents, grandparents, caregivers, and even other children. Reading aloud, laughing, talking, and exploring books together from an early age significantly improves language development and literacy outcomes for children in the long run.”

To meet the need of these “little scientists,” one of my friends is currently running a Kickstarter campaign for a new type of book called Pictivities. The project is so innovative that it’s actually been selected by Kickstarter as a Staff Pick:

“Pictivities is a new series of board books for young children. The books are designed to generate interaction between reader and child by linking pictures to words and actions. On each page there is a picture button that shows an object, animal, or person. Each image is also linked to an action. You prompt your child to touch the button and then you both say and do the action together.”

All the words and pictures for the first Pictivities book are DONE and the funds generated from this Kickstarter campaign will help finance the first print run of the book. As they’re nearing the deadline, I would humbly ask that you check out their project and donate generously. The authors themselves have partnered with several organizations to help donate copies of their books to charity.

Reading to your children is so important and I couldn’t endorse this project more. Please click on the image below to watch their video and make a pledge to help make Pictivities a reality.

Reading to Children

7 Things That Will Make You Laugh!! :)

Life can be hard and sometimes all you need is a good laugh. If that’s what you need then you’ve come to the right place! Here are seven things that always make me laugh…

1. EVIL CAT

It’s up to something…

2. HAVE YOU EVER HAD A DREAM LIKE THIS?

He put into words what I’ve been trying to say for years…

3. DR. PEPPER

I enjoy an occasional Dr. Pepper, but it looks like this guy REALLY enjoys his Dr. Pepper.

4. VEGETABLES

Vegetables are a great source of nutrition and can make you strong. I am sure that after Godzilla ate his vegetables he destroyed the monster that forced him to eat them.

5. BABIES LAUGHING

Because who doesn’t enjoy watching babies laugh?

6. UNCONTROLLABLE MASCOT

This is just the best!

7. MY DAUGHTER HAS JOINED THE DARK SIDE

Mwhahaha!

I’m Tired of Praying for Iraq

Yazidi Child

A Yazidi child.

Since 2003, Americans have been encouraged to pray for Iraq. But after another display of barbarism by the Islamic State militants I realize I’ve grown tired of praying for Iraq.

Now is the time to act.

Do you realize that the Islamic State militants (also known as ISIS) is a terrorist army with an estimated 80,000 fighters? (30,000 in Iraq and 50,000 in Syria). They were once closely affiliated with al-Qaeda but al-Qaeda has recently cut all ties with ISIS because it is too brutal.

‘Brutal’ is hardly the word for it. Savage, barbaric, and animalistic is a little bit more accurate.

Not only is ISIS responsible for the deaths of thousands upon thousands of innocent people (many of them religious and ethnic minorities), but they photograph and record these brutal murders and post them on social media.

To put it simply, what is happening in Iraq is ethnic cleansing—genocide.

The Yazidi are a group of religious minorities that have been targeted by ISIS. Unable to defend themselves, the Yazidi fled to the safety of Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq. In an attempt to defend the Yazidi, President Obama ordered humanitarian airdrops to the Yazidi, and authorized a number of airstrikes against the Islamic State. The airstrikes allowed a number of Yazidi to escape the mountain, but thousands remain—trapped on a mountain that is 130 degrees during the day, and sub-zero temperatures at night.

In spite of this, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said “The Yazidis who remain are in better condition than previously believed and continue to have access to the food and water that we have dropped.”

But relatives of those still trapped on the mountain strongly disagree. On Monday, I had the chance to interview Lucy Usoyan, a Yazidi activist living in America. She described the situation in northern Iraq, shared a harrowing account of ISIS killing a pregnant, Yazidi woman, and tearfully asked for the U.S. to intervene and rescue her people.

In seeing all of this violence, I have grown tired of praying for Iraq. It’s time for us to do something. I know that we are all war-weary, but please do not turn a blind eye to the brutal slaying of thousands. Continue to pray for Iraq, but then get up and do something about it. Share this story. Write about what’s happening. Take action! Never underestimate the force of your own voice.

Please watch my interview with Lucy and decide what you can do to help.

More Resources:

The Yazidi people are not comfortable—it is America that is comfortable. We must respond with more humanitarian aid and we must rescue the thousands of Yazidi people still trapped on Mount Sinjar.

More Resources:

Local Woman to U.S. Leaders: Don’t Abandon the Rescue of My People in Iraq

Persecution of Yazidis by ISIS

On Death Mountain

Is Suicide Selfish?

In 2006, I nearly succeeded in taking my life.

Six months later, I received a letter from a close friend. I half-expected it to be a letter of comfort. It was not. It was cutting. Of the many things which were written, I will only share two sentences: “I can’t believe you tried to take your life. How could you be so selfish?”

Loss of a Loved OneAs I held that letter with a trembling hand, I was immediately reminded of all the letters and notes I had written to my family and friends in the hour before I tried to end my life. In those notes, I tearfully expressed deep regret and remorse for what I was about to do. But the pain had become so unbearable that I believed I was toxic—that my continued existence was actually hurting my family and friends. I sincerely believed that suicide was the only way to end the pain for myself and everyone associated with me.

Is that selfish?

And what of the tens of thousands of people whose emotional agony becomes so intense that it overrides their innate, natural desire to live? Are they selfish because they’re consumed with a pain that won’t go away? What about the people who attempt suicide as a desperate cry for help? Are they selfish for needing help? Is it selfish to feel like you’re trapped in a burning building and your only escape is leaping from the window? Is it selfish to forget about how your death might hurt others?

I honestly don’t know. It took me years to make sense of my own medical condition. How on earth could I accurately judge someone else’s situation? Everyone’s struggle is unique and there is so much that we just don’t know.

But here’s something I do know:

Calling someone selfish doesn’t help.

Calling someone selfish for being depressed and having suicidal thoughts doesn’t help them recover. And calling someone selfish for committing suicide doesn’t help their families and friends recover. It only encourages bitterness, resentment, and guilt.

But do you know what does help?

Empathy. Reaching out and loving those who are in pain—suffering alongside those who suffer—that’s what matters. That is the most helpful thing that anyone can do for another person.

The person that wrote me a letter and called me selfish nearly tore me apart. Their words settled into my stomach like a razor blade. I couldn’t sleep. I was consumed with guilt and a renewed sense of self-loathing.

About a week later, I received another letter—this one from my sister Shannon. Shannon is the oldest in our family and was born with a mild form of cerebral palsy. Her condition has caused her to struggle with a severe learning disability and has made it difficult for her to walk straight. Shannon is as gentle and innocent as a child and she’s one of the most charitable and loving people I’ve ever known.

Here is part of the letter that Shannon wrote to me:

“Seth...Keep pressing forward. Your family loves you very much. Don’t give up.”
 
Can you feel the difference between the two letters? The first one cut me down while the second one lifted me up. I was so touched by Shannon’s letter that I’ve carried it with me wherever I’ve gone (it’s on the corner of my desk right now). And “pressing forward” and moving forward has since become my own personal motto.
 
I’ve seen a lot of comments and articles debating whether or not suicide is or isn’t selfish. I would humbly suggest that you bring those questions to God, the Master Physician—for He is the only one that fully understands each unique situation. And instead of calling someone selfish for being depressed or suicidal, I would ask you to reach out  to that person in love. Write them a letter and tell them that you love them and encourage them forward.
 
Take it from me: whatever the root of their problem is, empathy goes a long way to helping them move forward.
 
…and they will never, ever forget it.