In this episode, we sit down with New York Times Bestselling Author, Rob Bell. We discuss his profound and deeply personal new book, “Everything Is Spiritual: Who We Are and What We’re Doing Here,” and touch on anything and everything related to how to navigate the human condition, how we approach the big questions, and how we ultimately attempt to make sense of it all. We explore thought-provoking topics including how to reconcile your spirituality with organized religion, the ego, forgiveness, and the creative process. We also talk about NUSHU Group, and our collective need, desire, and craving as human beings to feel seen and heard. Rob Bell is the author of ten books, including The New York Times Bestsellers “What We Talk About When We Talk about God,” “The Zimzum of Love,” “What Is the Bible?” and “Love Wins.” His podcast, The RobCast, was named by iTunes as “Best of 2015.” He’s been profiled in the New Yorker, toured with Oprah, and in 2011, Time named him one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World.” He has a regular show at Largo, the legendary comedy and music club in Los Angeles, where he lives with wife Kristen and their three kids.
Rob Bell: You need an ego, you need a sense of self. Oftentimes the ego is used like it’s negative. It’s like everything’s wrong. But you have to have a sense of self in order to enter into the endless process of death and rebirth.
Vanessa: Welcome to The NUSHU Podcast. I’m your host, Vanessa Cornell. I invite you with love into this space to learn and grow with me. And for a brief moment of the day, come home to yourself.
Vanessa: I have been having a conversation in my mind with Rob bell for years. And it was such a thrill when I asked him to be a guest on the podcast. And he said yes. If you don’t ask you don’t receive so go out on a limb people. It’s scary. But so so worth it. And so is this episode. Before I had met Rob, I had already learned so many valuable lessons from him from his podcast, his books, his courses workshop, they have influenced me in the formation of NUSHU and of NUSHU Group. We actually talk a lot about no shoe group in this episode. And if once you listen, NUSHU Group is something you’re interested in checking out, head to our Instagram @nushu and sign up for a free introduce your group through the Link In Bio. But boy, do we talk about other things too, if you have ever struggled with how to reconcile your spirituality, with organized religion, well, so have Robin I and we talked about it. We talked about the ego, we talked about forgiveness, about the creative process, and our collective need or desire or craving to feel seen and heard. The deep humanity under it all that we’re all just trying to uncover. Welcome to this episode. Welcome. I’m so glad to have you here. It’s great to be with you. So I want to go back to the beginning of how did this book start to enter your mind or enter your heart? How did it come in? How did that process go?
Rob Bell: The book is called everything is spiritual. And I’ve done a couple everything is spiritual speaking tours. And I’d had these giant whiteboards made up. And I did all this stuff on quantum physics and on Hebrew spirituality and on the power of poetry. It was always like big ideas about the cosmos we’re living in and what we now know about subatomic particles, like all over the place. And so I had the idea for the next, everything is spiritual. And yet, it was all just big ideas about the wonder of the universe and our bodies and how it’s all similar. But it’s like it was flat. You don’t I mean, it was like big ideas, but kind of was like missing something. So I set the book down, it would have been my 11th book, I just walked away from it enough have tried to make this book work. And what’s weird if you’ve done it 10 times, is you would think the musculature you develop would be like, Oh, yeah, it would get easier. So you are getting better at whatever it is you’re doing. But you’re also have to start over every time, which is this odd paradox of the creative process?
Vanessa: I mean, have you written it? Or had you outlined it?
Rob Bell: had a whole bunch of ideas that looked a lot like how a book normally starts. But no, yeah, okay, good. And we’ll go there. And then we’ll go there, and then we’ll go there. So I had, it’s almost like sometimes it’s the actual ideas. And sometimes it’s a larger atmospheric awareness of what the project is like, Oh, that’s what that Oh, got it. I can almost feel the contours and then it starts to fill in from there. Then, one day, I was like, my grandma used to keep cash in her bra. And I somehow found myself back there, and Williamston, Michigan, on the porch of her farmhouse looking out the fields, with my grandma who kept cash in her bra. And how sometimes I would go out and visit her. And we would just sit in silence while the wind blew in over the fields. And it was like this experience of wordless grace that I would have, I was like, Oh, that’s what that was. If that person that their presence communicates to you everything’s okay, even if it’s not. And it was this odd. Like, what if the book started with on that porch? It was like we, you don’t do a book about quantum physics and start by telling a bunch of grandma. But it was like, oh, how did I get here? Like these ideas, these things that go around the world and talk about how did all this get shaped in me, but I even find this interesting. And I’m doing this and having more fun than ever, years into this work. And suddenly, it became, how did I get here? Who shaped me? I come from these people. Because her husband had died and he was 34. My dad’s dad, her other son, my dad’s brother had died when he was 15. So she had experienced this tremendous loss and suddenly I’m into her Pain, and like the tears are coming and I’m just tell the story, tell where you come from who you come from. These somebodies that we all come from. And that was honestly that I said, that’s where I found everybody. We all are like born into these dramas. It’s like we stumbled into the play in the second act. You know, I mean, there’s already there’s already been characters doing stuff. And it’s like we were born on the stage going, what has happened so far? Because there’s like stuff all around here. What is this? And so it was like the particulars of my, where I come from the people in the soil. Well, that’s where we find each other. It’s the universal is hiding in the particulars. Suddenly, that became like a really interesting book. To me.
Vanessa: To me, too. And I think to a lot of other people, that you showed in yourself that the big ideas live inside your story, and therefore also everyone else’s story. I’m curious, though, was there a moment where you felt vulnerable? where you’re like, I don’t know, am I sure, I want to share all this.
Rob Bell: My experience of vulnerability is that when you’re just following it, where it leads, you’re not conscious of labeling a vulnerability. I’ve actually noticed that about people who do things that are courageous and brave, and everybody’s like that, so courageous. And that’s so brave, how often the person doesn’t say, I know, they often say something about, well, it was just something about the obvious nature of whatever it was, they’re the let the last person who’s impressed with what they did. So there’s something unselfconscious about being in the moment, and taking whatever the next step is, at the moment asks for.
Vanessa: So I want to back up a moment and just share how I first met you. Oh, yeah, met your voice. So a good friend of mine sent me your podcast episode from the ROB cast, which I highly recommend. And the episode was called him for the curve for people trying to do something that sometimes feels crazy, frankly, crazy. And sticking with it. And one of the most important things you taught me from the beginning, because after I listened to that episode, I researched a little bit, and I looked up what you had done. And you go through this in the book, but you had created a very by anyone’s measure successful church, and that there were 1000s of people, and you were ways to make it bigger and more successful, and you walked away. And that was a point of tremendous freedom for me. Because I realized, it doesn’t matter how successful or how much you have the thing that people think you should want to have, you can always walk away if you evolve beyond it. And if it doesn’t work for you, I don’t know if I’ve ever said that to you specifically. But it really had an impact on me and the way I think about my work in the world. And so people say, what’s your work in the world, and I said, Well, this is what my work in the world is right now. And that might not be the only thing I ever do, I might do several things. But this is what I’m doing right now with my whole heart and with passion. So just wanted to thank you for that.
Rob Bell: Oh that’s a good story. You touch on how much of life is seasons. And in the modern world we are. So cut off from the seasons mean in lots of situations, the highest value is stick around and don’t leave. That’s what gets rewarded. And not. We’re here having this experience together. And then there’ll probably be other chapters and other seasons, and that some things end, because they’re good.
Vanessa: There’s a sense of imagination, but also venturing into the unknown when you’re willing to say I see the model that I’m in, I see what everyone else is doing. I understand the way it’s been done before. And something in me tells me it’s not the right model for me, but there isn’t another one. So I have to go make it. I’ve been in that place. And I’ve sort of felt the crushing uncertainty. Yeah, yeah. In that place.
Rob Bell: Yeah. Because you come up through a world that gave you conventional wisdom. This is how it’s done. So then you do it that way. Yeah. There’s pre conventional wisdom. That’s the two year old, a three year old. His favorite word is no. So then you think about even in parenting. There’s the subtle thing a parent is doing. When you say to like your junior high student. Hey, we try to shower once a week in this house. It’s like you’re you’re, you’re ever so subtly guiding your child from preconventional to conventional wisdom. There are ways things are done. And for healthy human development, there has to be moved from preconventional to conventional. But then in other places, you’re doing it how it’s always been done. And you realize this isn’t working? Or This isn’t how I am. Yeah, I always tell people, you’re looking around wondering, why are other people talking about this way or trying this? And you’re like, upset and lonely. But if everybody else was it would be called normal. But it’s not.
Vanessa: Let’s talk about it, where I think about it a lot, which is in organized religion. Yeah. So I have sat up at night, and thought to myself, What is more likely that the way that the world is, and what is true, is dictated by where you happen to have been born? Right, and the family you happen to have been born into? Right? What did you get? And what did you need? And that structure or tradition or ritual or community that is now no longer being served through that maybe for you? And and how can we reimagine that? Because those needs are real, because that thing is sticky and strong, as we know. And so that’s what I sort of stay up at night thinking about and trying to reimagine.
Rob Bell: Yeah, because with NUSHU, you essentially did that. You essentially reimagine, okay? There’s, there’s something about the human experience that when we sit with each other, and witness to our experience, and the full spectrum of our experience, all the doubt, rage loss, betrayal, euphoria, joy, connection, love, longing, desire, all of it. There’s something when we come together and witness to each other’s experience of this experience. That makes it way better. So there’s this endless process of destruction and construction, there’s leaving behind what isn’t working anymore. And that human beings have been doing this for 1000s of years, and opposed to being a problem. It’s the juice of life. What are we doing here? How does it work? Who are you? Who am I, we’re having this conversation, we’re aware that we’re aware. That’s enough wonder and mystery to take you the whole way. We’re aware that we’re aware, I can observe myself being aware. And then within this larger sense of consciousness and awareness, we each have, there’s a body, as opposed to the body being the outside of the experience, the body is happening within this experience. Oh, my goodness. This is why the wisest ones in every tradition are always the ones smiling. Yeah, cuz they’re like in on the joke, like we’re here when a ball of rock hurtling through space at 67,000 miles an hour. And if you’re not smiling about that, you’re gonna be that’s actually what happened to me is I always found this, these this great mystery. And for many people mystery is something you can’t know. But true mystery is something you could know endlessly. That’s really important. And for us, especially people who are like, spirituality, etc. Feels very woowoo and squishy and ridiculous. It’s just all a bunch of No, no, no, it’s things you can No, you can just know that mentally. That’s what happened to me in my 20s. I found all this to be fantastically interesting. How do you forgive people who have wronged you? How do you find your way in the world? How do you become more generous and loving? And then in the world I was in like you would then you would do religion become an expert in religion. So that like helped me exactly what you said. But also God was in the way, a lot of these texts and poems and prayers are incredibly helpful at naming this experience. But then there’s a whole other side to it. That’s like, just get that just get me away from that, because that’s in the way.
Vanessa: Yeah. How do you forgive someone who has wronged you?
Rob Bell: Why could talk about forgiveness? There’s some really interesting things about forgiveness, because forgiving is not forgetting necessarily. Because somebody who’s wronged you again and again and again. Part of forgiving them is remembering. So there may be distance boundaries. Forgiveness doesn’t mean reconciliation, because reconciliation takes too. Oftentimes people will say, I’ll forgive them when they say they’re sorry, which they may never say they’re sorry, or explain it. And so you have put your freedom and liberation from the wound in their hands. Forgiveness is a process, the ancient Greek word forgive means to send away. So somebody wrongs you. And now it’s like you’re holding this wound. And to forgive is just, it’s like, it’s a wait. So that’s why forgiveness is always heavy, is you’re the one holding the thing they did. That’s why forgiveness always has a sense of lightness. Yeah.
Vanessa: Yeah. So I’m going to go Another question, this is about your ego. When you get great feedback on a book, how do you transcend the dangers of the human ego and the pride of authorship? How is your relationship to your ego wrong?
Rob Bell: If you see the whole thing, like a great art project, then like you’re crafting something are shaping something. And you see these possibilities. And you’re giving yourself to bringing these possibilities into flesh and blood. It’s not just the idea, but it’s the idea. Be committed, incarnated, you need an ego, you need a sense of self. Oftentimes, the ego is used as a like, it’s negative, it’s like everything’s wrong. But you have to have a sense of self, in order to enter into the endless process of death and rebirth, where you’re letting go, which is death of what you need to let go of so that you can really live. I’ve had lots of people not like my stuff. So at an early age, in my work, there were critics who were defending their God and their religion and all that. So right away, I had to learn some other way to think about the work than basing it on how it was received. So the only path forward, I could figure out this was like late 20s, early 30s, is the joy is in the work. And so you throw yourself into it, and you surrender the outcomes. We’ll see how it’s responded to, to me, that is the answer to how does one deal with your ego is the joy that you got to make it? And then if somebody actually liked the book, well, it’s amazing.
Vanessa: Yeah, it reminds me of another thing that really stuck with me from what I think is probably the best bang for buck, you will ever get the something to say audio course. I think it’s $20 or something. And it’s like seven and a half hours of incredible wisdom and insights and how to communicate and how to get across what you want to say. So people should check that out. A lot of things stuck with me. But one thing really stuck with me, which was you have these trifectas, Trinity’s and one was actions, attitudes, an app here, right? Where action is that you’re building something? And then at that action level, there’s a lot of measurable results in that place. Right? And that the ego loves that place of measurable results, where it’s like, how much did I sell? Or how many people said they liked it? And that as you move from actions, to trying to change attitudes to trying to create an atmosphere in which ideas can build, you get less of that? measurable? Yeah, and some feedback, instant feedback, and maybe you need to go more towards I’m putting this into the world? Because Yeah, knows, no, all happen. Yeah, yeah.
Rob Bell: And you think about like, action level, if somebody’s doing a feeding program right now in an area of the world that’s experiencing some sort of famine. We like, yeah, be ambitious. That’s fantastic. Somebody’s making a symphony right now, please go for it. Make it as big and awesome as possible. So we have no problem with ambition, you need an ego to do something like that. It’s when the ego runs out of control, that when you move to attitudes, which is helping shift the way people perceive something, it’s a little less tangible metrics data. So you have to move to a larger trust that what we’re doing here is what I’m supposed to be doing here. I never actually connected that to how the ego has to make peace with a number of things.
Vanessa: And I talked about in our training for facilitating group that there’s no outcome, that’s better than another outcome. Right, you could have a group where everyone like, pours their heart out, and tells you all the intimate things and then you can have a group where people are super tight. And who’s to say, what shifted more in one group versus the other, you just have to let go, of any sense of that was a good one. That was a bad one that was powerful. That was not powerful. I did a good job. I didn’t do a good job. And that’s actually freedom, where you just sort of like trust in the structure and the process, and it’s not up to you really.
Rob Bell: Oh, it’s so when I started out giving sermons, which I saw is like this art form, I would have done in my early 20s. And it’s like, Is everybody laughing? Does everybody like is the room big and open and what? And then sometimes the room would be, it would be like, a stillness. But then I would interact with people over the years and realize, Oh, your reading of the room. Remember that sometimes that quiet? Is because stuff is happening. Yeah. So whatever you do, do not judge the response in the room, because some people, when the ground is moving beneath their feet, they just want to laugh and dance and shout and stand up and go tell everybody. And some people, when the very tectonic plates in their soul are shifting, go incredibly quiet and don’t make a noise. And then a week later, they’ve sold their business. And they’ve given all their money, like I literally watched people make massive changes because of experience they’ve had. And the experience itself was just the most even keel. So all you have is the experience of the moment and just letting it be whatever it is.
Vanessa: Yeah. So we have a question about creativity. What are your practices for moving into and sustaining your creativity? And I would add another question, which is, how do you think in general about the sort of creative force inside you not just in terms of creating things, but how do you relate to that creative force inside you?
Rob Bell: My wife, Kristen is very helpful. She’s like, Rob, everybody doesn’t have four books, two plays, three tours and five teachings in their head all the time. So I can only talk to my experience, like a rushing river, at times that felt earlier especially felt like I was being attacked, because I would just have so many ideas. Now I’m, I’m more calm and trusting of them. My next book has taken shape. It’s outlined, title, I know what it is. So it’s almost ready to start typing, I wrote these two plays that I really like now, there’s a third and a fourth play that over the weekend, all the characters in the fourth play. I like wrote them all out. And like their names and what they what they’re wearing, and all that. And then my son and I are going to start a Saturday School, where we teach about the nature of consciousness and this experience that we’re having. So he and I are knocking around, okay, what do you want to do week one what to do. And then in a couple weeks, I’m going to do a writing class, which I’ve never done. And then I have about three or four Rob cast episodes. That’s how I would just learn how it works. Yeah, there’s like a whole bunch of stuff up there. And then I jot notes, and then I watch it sort of grow, and then I go surfing, and then it starts to take shape. Every morning, there’s a period of time where I sit with all of it, I picture it like seeds that have been planted in the backyard. And I picture looking out a window in which one is farthest along. So paying attention to how far along all these different ideas are because like I just got so many ideas. I got so many ideas. You know what, make one. So right away, I realized the people who talked about having all these ideas could easily people never seem to finish anything. And that finishing one thing is better than Mike you telling people. All of your wonderful ideas just finish. So like that I actually what I just told you, I normally wouldn’t even talk about what I’m working on. I just would rather be the person who actually finishes one thing. So like the person who asked the question, I would ask them which thing is farthest along? And then I would ask them now talk to the thing of whatever it is you’re working on? What does it want to be? And if you listen to it, it’ll probably tell you what rhythm of life. Look at me an hour a day, go away one weekend, a month, it’s generally the space that you created in will start to take shape around it. And I found for a number of people that calms everything down.
Vanessa: Yeah, I try and leave space for ruminating and space for executing. So that I’m not always passing, which is a place where brand new things don’t pop into my mind when I’m tasking sometimes they do but usually not know, right? Right. Right, right. And then there are times where I’m just listening and not tasking and not moving anything forward. So that stuff can come, but I can’t be all in one. All the time or on the other all the time. Yes.
Rob Bell: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Most people if they’re quiet and listen, how they make things, begins to reveal itself. Because there’s not just thing they want to make. It’s how am I going to make that? And that’s all part of the creative process itself. Morning night, one day a week, however that works. I’ll literally meet somebody who’s made things that I really admire and ask them stuff like, what kind of car do you drive? It wasn’t just the the work that person was doing. It was? How did they set up their life to do meaningful work year after year that brought them and others some sense of joy? That was always as interesting to me as the work they were doing.
Vanessa: Let’s go one step back, though. For those of you who feel like I might not know yet What I want to create in the world? How do you think about setting yourself up to be able to hear that? If you’re like, I’m not really satisfied with what I’m doing? I know there’s something off.
Rob Bell: The first day I would always ask a person is, okay, when were you doing something? Like take them back through their own history? Because the sessions that I do with people who are working on something and watching them get unstuck. There’s always always, always earlier breadcrumbs. No one ever goes, Oh, my God, I guess I’m supposed to learn Russian and move to like, it’s never like some random departure. It’s always a remembering of the true self. Vanessa Yeah, yeah. So it’s almost like, there just has to be a curiosity and a willingness to be honest. Yeah. And inquire, like what When did I feel alive? When did I feel joyful? When did I like something? And I find that joy is often sort of an under estimated guide towards things right, like doing something important, absolutely hard has to be feel really hard.
Rob Bell: Yeah. What I often notice when somebody finds the next step is with it a relief at some soul level, that they don’t have to carry it and make it all happen and rustle it all up from scratch. There’s some sense that something else is in play. And they’re floating along with it. So it’s there’s some surrender of their strength, because they realize there’s others power and strength and flow and play.
Vanessa: Yeah, yeah. So here’s a question. Some people say right now that like, the world is waking up. Maybe some people describe it as a collective dark night of the soul, or that people are sort of becoming aware, and people are having to sit with themselves, like, like, shit is happening right now. Right, right. There’s no question. And I can relate to being totally unconscious, first 35 years of my life, not really being aware from a sort of outside perspective and what was going on with me. So I can see both sides. The world is waking up. But then some mornings, I wake up, and I think, actually, no, I think maybe the world is going to shit. We’re destroying our planet. We’re killing each other. We can no longer speak to each other. And then 1000 years, the aliens will look back, and they will say, that was the beginning of the end. And that’s the storage history will tell like, Yes, I don’t often think that. But I sometimes think that. Yeah. What goes through your mind about what’s this shift? Is there a shift happening? Are you hopeful? Are you cynical? Are you both
Rob Bell: Kristen and I talk about apocalyptic hope. But many times when we use the word apocalyptic, what we mean is an ND. So for many people, an apocalypse is over. an indie apocalypse is a Greek word that means a revealing, or like a disclosure. So apocalyptic as it originally arose, didn’t mean that everything was ending, it meant that everything was being revealed and unmasked in its truth. And apocalypse is brutal. But so many of these institutions and systems aren’t serving us as they should be. In many ways, what you’re seeing is a great Apocalypse, everything has been laid bare, this system, leaves lots of people unable to pay their bills, this educational system, this political system, that is a representative democracy actually represents these people over and against these people, these systems that we are all a part of that were supposed to serve us well aren’t. And so I would read this moment as a great unmasking. I mean, there are people who don’t want more people to vote, because when more people vote, they have less power. That’s called voter suppression. And it was a something that we all knew but wasn’t spoken. Now. It’s just being owned in public. Yes, we don’t want more people voting doesn’t work well for us. So what’s happening is all of these things that we knew were real, are actually my son calls that the great unmasking are now just being said, and it’s the most painful thing ever. And yet, it’s actually how you get, you’re getting, you’re starting to get to the bottom of the wound, or you think about race in America until we are having the open disclosure and unmasking of how the system really works. It will just fester below the surface forever. Never, ever, ever, ever. So I would say to everybody right now, historically, you’re in a moment That is very similar to other modes have come before this, in that, it feels like the whole thing is falling apart like you said, it feels like it’s like it’s going off a cliff. Yes. Because that’s the only way to get to a reordering. Otherwise, the system just keeps duct taping itself and sort of rolls down the road. If you take it to the personal, and everybody who’s listening to this, when you look back on your life, did the great changes come? Because out of nowhere, you just decided to transform? Or did you get in enough pain that you got help? You’re up until 35 years old, you apparently hadn’t hit a wall or you hadn’t crashed or I hadn’t been enough pain to wake up. So how it works personally for each one of us, is generally the moments of greatest transformation involves some sort of upheaval, disruption, loss, or pain. The bias to everybody listening right now tell us the three or four moments that most shaped you that formed your character that made you who you are. Most people would not say, Man, one time I went to Florida on vacation. It was awesome, right? No one, you know, I mean, I got this pickup truck. It was no, no, we would talk about loss, betrayal. It’s always something that is a personal, intimate version of the thing we’re all living in right now. So what happens when you grow in maturity is to previous things that were a binary or a duality this or that suddenly become? Both are true at the exact same time. And that’s actually the thing that’s hurting people’s brains right now, is a number of things that they used to have to say is that this or this literally, it’s a stretching. Well, they’re both true.
Vanessa: Well, we are out of time. But this has been so much fun, Rob, I loved it. Thank you for having me. Thank you for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, we welcome you to stay close and discover more of our offerings. Check us out on Instagram at an issue or visit www.nushu.com for more.