Bob Trask is a uniquely American spiritual philosopher and self-help teacher who hails from the Pacific Northwest. For over three decades, he has been spiritual guide, author, and counselor to thousands. In his recently published book, "Romancing the Soul" Trask expands his vision of the "Trask Triangle," a paradigm he developed in his first book, "Living Free."
The triangle is a tool for success in work, relationships, and one's internal life. The principle is that at different points in your life, you have the chance to take risks and then to succeed, or "win." On the other hand, you can choose to avoid life's challenges, which leads to paralysis, guilt, and boredom. With its emphasis on the power of the individual to forge his destiny, Trask's latest book is heir to the literary tradition of such American self-improvement classics as Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People," and Norman Vincent Peale's "The Power of Positive Thinking."
I encountered Trask's philosophy when I was in college at the University of Washington in the early 1990's. As a student in editorial journalism and English literature, I was a bit of a literary snob and a skeptic of books that promised people better lives. For instance, the idea that you could achieve continually greater success by taking risks to expand your "comfort zone" and that you "create your own reality" struck me as a little flaky. But after reading "Living Free," which is chock full of original insights and profound observations, as well as considering the merits of the triangle, I came to regard Trask's books and "Triangle" as a sturdy tool set for building a life.
Here is one of Trask's insights from "Living Free" regarding decisions: "Don't decide too early. Most decisions make themselves when the time is right."
Here's one from "Romancing the Soul": "A life well-lived is a life filled with failure. But failure is not fatal; it is a blessing. The more precious our goal, the more failures and self-expansions we must undergo in order to attain it."
"Living Free" also contains a devastatingly honest account of Trask's having accidentally shot and killed his best friend, Gary, on Trask's fifteenth birthday. That experience, and Trask's strict Catholic upbringing, seem to have heavily informed his perspective, including his belief that most tragic, poor and even evil behavior is driven, perversely, by guilt. "The great saboteur of life's natural joy is guilt," Trask writes in "Living Free." "Most tragedies are created by guilty people so they can become victims and pay more intensely for their guilt." While I am not sure I am 100 percent on board with the idea that guilt is wholly negative (how much bad behavior is prevented, for instance, by a healthy sense of guilt, or conscience?) Trask makes a compelling case that corrosive guilt of the variety that becomes self-hatred or low self-esteem has a deleterious effect on human behavior in many ways. And that human beings in a state of self-acceptance and self-love are much more inclined to good behavior than those who have been taught they are bad or worthless, the latter making them prey to addictions, criminal behavior, and resentment of others.
In "Romancing the Soul," Trask writes that people should use their fear as a motivator rather than labeling it a negative. "The only way to have a new experience is to risk; to venture beyond the safety of our established comfort zones to places we've never been before," he writes. But in Trask's paradigm, we should not take risks just to be daredevils. Instead, we should take risks, or push ourselves, in service to our highest callings, or visions. The discussion of visions--how to discover them, and how to pursue them--forms the backbone of "Romancing the Soul."
"Our visions should be so sparkling and enchanting that they inspire us, pull us out of ourselves and make us want to grow," Trask writes. "Then our fears will become pure energy and empower us to do what we normally could not."
In a chapter called, "Following Your Soul Around the Triangle," Trask shares his concept of a "vision": "A true vision enchants us, holds our attention and draws us into and along the path of our enlightenment. When an idea or goal is so captivating it causes us to smile and at the same time scares us and causes our creative juices to flow, that's a vision!"
How does one discover one's visions, which can be anything from writing a great novel to becoming a trapeze artist to having a better sex life? Trask offers a series of suggestions, including journaling and a bit of solitude each day, to "open the door to your soul" and discover what inspires it. You can also simply ask yourself, "What is worth getting up early for? What is worth working at for no gain, other than the joy it gives you?"
Trask examines the difference between a vision and a fantasy: while the former tends to recur and has "magnetic pull;" the latter is shorter-lived. But indulging in fantasy can lead the way to a vision.
In order to achieve a vision, one requires a mission, or plan. While the vision is unchanging, the mission may alter many times. While mission-planning is all about practicality, Trask believes spiritual power will accrue to one committed to a vision. "Though my mission will be a carefully planned journey, much of it will seem magical because of the Universal power radiating between my Vision and me creating things that will seem like miracles, things I could never have forseen. Every obstacle I overcome will strengthen me."
Trask peppers the book with inspiring true stories of individuals like Olympic ice skating gold medalist Tara Lipinski, and by recounting his own experience teaching self-empowerment in Communist China.
Perhaps the most valuable insight in the book concerns creating one's own reality. This concept is elucidated more cogently here than I have ever heard it done. It is not that imagining something will make it so, according to Trask. For instance, fear of dying in a plane crash, and in one's anxiety, envisioning that happening, will not make it happen. Rather, free will--on a psychological plane and, if you believe it, on a metaphysical one--has great power, and is the single biggest determinant of one's life's outcomes. If one cultivates fear and anxiety, one will not necessarily make one's specific fears become reality. But one will create a life of fear and anxiety.
Human beings have great power over ourselves and our life's direction through the exercise of free will, which begins with thought and culminates in action. "We create our realities by where we focus our attention," Trask writes. "If our mission path is focused on running from what we detest, rather than creating what we love, we will create more running from what we detest ... If we train ourselves to envision the way we want things to be and then live as though that vision is becoming a reality, miracles will begin to happen."
When we learn to harness the power of self-love and self-acceptance and, to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau, "go boldly in the direction of our dreams," then, according to Trask, "our fear of failure cannot keep us from taking the risks we must take in order to win."
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