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The Seven Paths

The Seven Paths

Today, The Seven Paths—one of the most beautiful, and one of the most profound books that I have ever read—has officially been published.

The Seven Paths
The Seven Paths

Originally self-published through the Anasazi Foundation for over a decade, I first read The Seven Paths in 2006 after my attempted suicide. Up until that point, I had been living a very selfish life full of fear and lies. Like the main character in the book, I was running away from my people and my problems. All I wanted was to be left alone.

And yet…all I wanted was to not feel so alone.

Reading The Seven Paths was a complete game-changer. It helped me realize that “happiness in life’s walk depends upon how we feel about others in our hearts.” Indeed, happiness in life comes from living for others—or, in Anasazi speak, living the path of WE.

From The Seven Paths:

I have learned that the point of life’s walk is not where or how far I move my feet but how I am moved in my heart. If I walk far but am angry toward others as I journey, I walk nowhere.

…We travel only as far and as high as our hearts will take us. When I ran from my people, this is what the hills, the trees, the valleys, and the streams invited me to learn—and before it was too late:

The the success of my journey depended on whether my heart walked forward—toward my people—instead of backward, away from them.

Since reading The Seven Paths, my life has completely changed. Looking back, I can actually distinguish a clear line between living for myself and trying to live for others. My life before was a desert wasteland of selfishness. But my life after reading The Seven Paths, and living its principles, has been an oasis of peace and community. Of course, life has had its ups and downs, but I don’t lose sight of what is important: living the path of WE.

It’s no small thing to claim that living the principles found in The Seven Paths have brought me more joy than any other self-help book, but I claim it. In my opinion, The Seven Paths is the ultimate self-help book because it encourages the reader to leave the path of ME and live the path of WE. “Finding ourselves” and “helping ourselves” means that we lose ourselves and forget ourselves in the service of others. The Seven Paths taught me that—for which I will be eternally grateful.

I invite you to purchase a copy of The Seven Paths and read it for yourself. I promise you that its words will inspire you in your walking and help you move forward.

A Former Russian Prison in Utah!

A Former Russian Prison in Utah!

Not long ago, I discovered a Russian prison in Utah. No joke! Ask Garrett Batty!

Garrett Batty is the writer and director of the upcoming LDS film, The Saratov Approach, a film about the 1998 kidnappings of two LDS missionaries in Saratov, Russia.

I met with Garrett in July and interviewed him about the project. Here is what he had to say:

At some point during the interview, Garrett mentioned that they had filmed the “prison” scenes in the basement of the building we were in.

“Wait, are you serious?” I asked, my little boy heart giddy with the prospect of visiting the set of a movie.

“Yeah, do you want to see it?” Garrett asked.

I wanted to scream: Yes, take me there, NOW! But I managed a, “Oh, sure, if its not too much trouble.”

He then took me down to the basement and showed me where they had filmed The Saratov Approach. They had scrapped the set, but you could still see some outlines of where there was once a Russian prison—in Utah.

IMG_9184
The stripped set of “The Saratov Approach.”

 

Set of The Saratov Approach 02
Garrett Batty, giving me a tour of a former “Russian prison.”

 

Garrett Batty and I (with a small portion of the film in the background).
Garrett Batty and I (with a small portion of the film in the background).

Made you look.

WHY Do I Miss San Francisco?!

WHY Do I Miss San Francisco?!

My wife and I officially moved from San Francisco at the end of June 2013.

…and I miss it.

But why? WHY do I miss San Francisco?! By all accounts I shouldn’t. I didn’t really want to move there in the first place! But my wife wanted to—and she’s super attractive and all sorts of wonderful—so I (somewhat begrudgingly) agreed.

An evening in San Francisco (source, Wikipedia)
An evening in San Francisco (source: Wikipedia)

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against San Francisco. I’m not a fan of big cities in general. I’m an equal opportunity city despiser.

And for the life of me, I still can’t understand why people even like big cities. They’re crowded, dirty, expensive, loud, polluted, and smell like urine. On the other hand, small, country towns are calm, clean, inexpensive, and only occasionally smell like horse manure (but that’s good compost)!

Small country towns produce an abundance of tranquility, happiness and family time.

The only things that big cities seem to produce are high taxes, pollution and a sense of caffeinated urgency.

Be that as it may, I’m now living in Florida—in a quiet suburban area—and for some reason I miss San Francisco! Why is this?!?!

After days and weeks of furious reflection, I think I know who’s to blame…

Jeevan, as if saying: "You blame me? You're out of your mind."
Jeevan, as if saying: “You blame me? You’re out of your mind.”

Officially, I blame Jeevan Sivasubramaniam (yes, that’s a name) and I blame every. single. one. of his cohorts in the editorial department at Berrett-Koehler Publishers, a book publishing company in the very heart of San Francisco. Those editors at BK are so wonderful and so good that it makes me sick just thinking about it!

It’s their fault for twisting my time-honored hatred of cities. It’s their fault for making me miss San Francisco!

They were so clever about it. So very, very clever.

It all started innocently enough. “Review a couple of our manuscripts,” they suggested, baiting me with monetary offerings to do something I loved.

“Come to the author day lunch,” they invited, ensuring my demise with delicious deli delectables.

It was only a matter of time before they sealed my fate with an internship in the editorial department…

I became an intern at BK a year ago this month. Laying aside my sarcasm (just for a few paragraphs, don’t worry), I want to be sincere about my gratitude for the Editorial Team at Berrett-Koehler.

From the time I was a kid, I’ve had a fascination with words, books, and writing, but I never felt like I could share or truly accomplish anything with my writing. My first day as an intern, Jeevan, the Managing Director of Editorial and my boss, turned the tables on that thinking with his line “Books don’t start movements, movements start books.” If I were to eventually publish a book (or anything else, really) I had better get moving. Conversations with him encouraged me to start ForwardWalking.com, share the story of my attempted suicide, and write two novels. This “movement” has prompted several other things in my life—things that I never would have supposed or dreamed possible.

Jeevan openly weeping at the publication of "The Seven Paths." WEEPING!
Jeevan openly weeping at the publication of “The Seven Paths.” WEEPING!

Conversations with Neal Maillet, the Editorial Director and a native of New England, produced numerous writing and publishing ideas (yes, for that YA novel I’ve been working on). His cheerful confidence and encouragement has allowed me to be more confident in my own writing. In addition, I am very proud of his accomplishments at the University of Slovenia (and for his buccaneering skills on the high seas to deliver manuscripts to Van Diemen’s Land).

And I am profoundly grateful to Charlotte Ashlock and David Marshall for the confidence that they’ve had in my work on the digitally enhanced version of “The Seven Paths.” Physically contributing to a publication is a thrilling experience, and I’m thankful for your faith in me. (Oh, and I’m constantly amazed at Charlotte’s feedback on any and all manuscripts she reads. That girl’s insights are amazing!)

But like I said, I officially blame Jeevan Sivasubramaniam as the reason I miss San Francisco. I’m not going to wax sentimental (Jeevan doesn’t tolerate such things). But I will say that I consider him a great man and an even better friend.

And a great friend can make you miss a city—even San Francisco.

Here’s to you, Jeevan:

Selling Vacuums to Penguins with Josh Weed?

Selling Vacuums to Penguins with Josh Weed?

What do Liz Lemon Swindle, the director of a film about missionaries in Russia, a Modern Prodigal, and Josh Weed have in common? They were all interviewed by me last week!

Oh, and they’re all Mormon. Well, anyway…

Liz Lemon Swindle, Artist

On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I interviewed artist Liz Lemon Swindle. We talked about her Joseph Smith paintings, the Son of Man project, her parable paintings, her trip to Africa and lots of other stuff. She’s a really down to earth person with a great sense of humor.

I’ve said it before, but talking to Liz is always a surreal experience for me. Liz’s paintings (particularly the one of the Martyrdom) have had a profound effect on me and I “blame” her art for inspiring me to do all of my online LDS work. Add to that the fact that she’s already an artistic legend. So yeah, it’s a bit intimidating to talk to her…

…but I managed.

Liz Lemon Swindle is photo bombed by Seth Adam Smith.
Just expressing my enthusiasm about the interview.

As a side note, it’s really cool to have famous artists (Liz) leave awesome messages like this on your Facebook page:

Hey, I really enjoyed the interviews this week, I hope you were able to get what you needed. I have found that the best interviews hinge on the interviewer and if that is the case,then you should be set. Let’s get together before you leave for Florida, maybe a BBQ in the backyard.

So cool.

Garrett Batty, Director

After my last interview with Liz, I interviewed Garrett Batty, the director of the upcoming film, The Saratov Approach. Being the true story about two missionaries that were kidnapped in Russia in 1998, The Saratov Approach isn’t your typical, LDS missionary movie. But wow! It is a miraculous story that needs to be told!

The interview went great. Garrett was very gracious and good-humored (he’s been working with high-def cameras and I was using a dinky little Cannon Rebel). Garrett even gave me a tour of the area they used for their Russian prison (it’s the basement of the office they’re using to edit the film)! Afterward, he showed me a few clips from the movie—it was intense! But in a good way. It felt like I was watching a Jason Bourne movie. Fantastic editing.

All in all, I had a great time talking to Garrett and I walked away truly moved by the work that he’s doing. It takes a lot of guts to go forth “boldly, nobly and independent” to do something that you believe in. Garrett’s not only doing it—but doing it amazingly well!

Garrett Batty and I (with a small portion of the film in the background).
Garrett Batty and I (with a small portion of the film in the background).

Cam Roberts, Modern Prodigal

On Thursday, I interviewed Cam Roberts, Liz’s model for The Prodigal Son. Seven years clean, Cam is a recovering addict to almost every drug imaginable. He is also one of the most humble, most inspiring people I have ever met.

Being someone who has struggled with addiction, and having a dear friend that was a Prodigal Son himself, this interview was a very emotional one for me. There were many times that I fought the tears. Cam’s insights are stunning, and his experiences are impossible to describe. I’m beyond excited to share this interview with you. I know that it will inspire positive change for thousands.

Me with Cam Roberts, the Prodigal Son.
Me with Cam Roberts, the Prodigal Son.

Josh Weed, Vacuum Salesman

And finally, on Saturday, I interviewed Josh Weed. This interview was easily the funniest interview of my life.

Okay, so here’s how it went down. Josh was in SLC for the weekend for a conference. We made arrangements (without having previously met) so that I would pick him up after the interview and film him. My wife and I sat in a suburban in the parking lot, waiting for him to come out. His approach was comical—lots of pointing coupled with curious expressions. I could tell he wasn’t sure if we were the right people—or just a bunch of strangers in a suburban willing to pick up a stranger for ransom money.

The interview went great with lots of laughs on and off camera. At one point Josh said “You know, I haven’t gotten much sleep. You’re basically getting me completely unfiltered.” Referencing back to the line about ransom money, those unfiltered comments will likely make us very rich!

As we were driving him to where he was staying, Josh asked us about our hopes, dreams, and what we wanted to do with our lives (standard small talk). I told Josh that my real goal is to be a writer, publish YA fiction, and drive around the country speaking to youth about reading a writing.

He replied: “Really? Wow! That’s awesome! I want to do the same exact thing!…Except, not the speaking to youth part…”

I started laughing and replied: “Yeah, except that part…and I really don’t want to write.”

Josh laughed then chimed, “Yeah, no. Not the writing, or the driving. Not even books, really. Instead of books it’s vacuums  I want to sell vacuums. Not to people, but to penguins. But other than that, you and I want to do the exact same thing!”

Kim and I were rolling with laughter. Well, I was less rolling because I was driving. If I was rolling while driving then we would have a very serious problem on our hands.

So that’s Josh Weed’s biggest ambition: selling vacuums to penguins. There you have it.

Me with Weed (yes, I intended it to sound that way).
Me with Weed (yes, I intended it to sound like a drug reference).

Anyway, I truly enjoyed my interview with Josh and everyone else. I’m truly humbled that these inspirational people would take time out of their busy schedules for an interview with me. Each interview has strengthened my own character and resolve to move forward.

We live in a world that is filled with difficulties, it’s true. But we also live in a world that is filled with people overcoming those difficulties. I’m so grateful to be surrounded by those kinds of people.

The Ultimate 1% | Occupy Heaven!

The Ultimate 1% | Occupy Heaven!

The Creation of the World
The Creation of the World

I was at work, keeping my head down, when one of my colleagues asked me about the “three kingdoms” of Mormonism.

“So, I have a question about those three kingdoms,” he asked. “Are the people at the very top—you know, the really righteous ones—allowed to visit the not so righteous ones in the bottom?”

It’s not every day you’re asked about one of the more complicated aspects of your faith. So I simply made a joke about it by referencing the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“Nope, can’t associate with those peasants,” I laughed. “It’s like the ultimate 1%. The rest of those miserable 99%-ers are supposed to stay where they are.”

Jokes aside, nothing could be further from the truth. True Mormonism (and true Christian belief) defines leadership, kingship, godhood very differently than the world defines it. The world defines leadership as someone who calls all of the shots, has dominion over others, and has great powers of force.

However Christ defines leadership very differently: “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11) a sentiment which King Mosiah echoes in the Book of Mormon:

“I say unto you that as I have been suffered to spend my days in your service…I, myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes…And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.

“Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another?” (Mosiah 2:12-18)

Paradoxically, “greatness” and “power,” as defined by God, are to be found in those who humble themselves and serve others.

A sunstone from the Nauvoo temple. The image of the sun is often used to represent the Celestial Kingdom.
A sunstone from the Nauvoo temple. The image of the sun is often used to represent the Celestial Kingdom.

We see this true mark of leadership in the life of the Savior, who—the greatest of all beings—left the throne of heaven to serve all mankind in an effort to elevate us to greatness. The ultimate 1% serving the 99%.

Furthermore, in the book of Moses we learn that God’s “work and [His] glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). God’s very life purpose is to serve others. And if we are to become like God (Matthew 5:48), we must be willing to be like Him—to live has He lives—to serve others.

And that’s where the Three Degrees of Glory come in…

Mormonism teaches a doctrine that is very different from that of mainstream Christianity. In a nutshell, we do not believe in the traditional idea of heaven and hell. We believe that through Jesus Christ, all men and women are essentially saved: that we will each receive a degree of glory in the life to come. These three degrees of glory are the Telestial, Terrestrial, and Celestial. Each of these kingdoms have different laws and standards—degrees of righteous living.

But which degree of glory (or life) we receive, however, is entirely up to us:

“…they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received” (D&C 88:32).

The highest degree (the Celestial Kingdom), is the degree of life at which God lives. The Celestial Kingdom is the highest standard of living—one that requires us to make the immortality and eternal life of others our primary purpose. The Gnostic Gospel of Phillip reflects this idea: “In this world, the slaves serve the free. In the Kingdom of Heaven, the free will minister to the slaves.”

For many people (especially selfish, anti-social types like myself), that degree of living makes receiving the Celestial Kingdom very difficult. Because the Celestial Kingdom is less about power and dominion and more about serving others.

Those who receive the Celestial Kingdom (the “1%-ers” of Heaven), are those who are willing to humble themselves while laboring to elevate the rest of humanity.