Walking the Path Unbeaten

I wrote a book called Walking the Path Unbeaten, and self-published it via Amazon KDP this week. It’s about my personal and spiritual journey and a bunch of things I learned along the way.

I’d been wanting to write a book for years, but had been putting it off for multiple reasons. One was that I didn’t really know what I was going to write about. I just sensed that the subject matter would come. The other main reason was the crippling sense of inadequacy. When my story did eventually arrive, I refused to believe that anyone would actually want to read it.

I toyed with the idea – and still am – of creating a book made up of stories much like mine, which mine could hide amongst, finding safety in a crowd. It’s not that I think my story isn’t worth knowing, but more that I have a ridiculous notion that people will try to invalidate it somehow. It sounds daft now I write it down. How can someone invalidate my very real life experience? But if they did, does that somehow invalidate me? I’ve spent a lifetime finding my voice, always being the one to hide in the shadows, keep quiet, make peace.

Over time I’ve grown. Personally, spiritually and in self-confidence and self-belief. I owe a lot of that growth to people who have written books I’ve read, and I also owe a lot to my wife and the journey she’s been on and shared with me. Together we share, and together we grow.

I wanted to write something about the book and the process I went through. I hope it gives you an insight behind-the-scenes, as it were.

Vulnerability

The thing that struck me most about this whole process was the vulnerability it required of me. I was sharing a lot of myself, but also a lot of what I had learned. We all see things from a point of view, and if someone’s point is drastically separate from yours it can feel risk opening up to them.

The writing wasn’t so bad, but the review process, and eventually publishing it – scary times! The day it went live on Amazon I felt inexplicably sick, and did for days after. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to get back to sleep for thinking of it.

The Title

I like the title because it has two meanings:

  1. Walking the Path, Unbeaten – it says something about how I’ve journeyed and refused to stop, get stuck or give up. I’ve always felt like there was more, and that is what I’ve been seeking this whole time. My journey took me to the darkest depths of suicide, but still I remain.
  2. Walking, the Path Unbeaten – it also says something about a point I make in the book, which is that everyone’s journey is different. We all make the path by walking it. We learn our own lessons and along the way. Our lessons are tailored to us, and the lessons change us, help us to grow in the areas we need to.

The Writing Process

To get this book done I bought a course – 30 Day Book Writing Challenge by Joshua Sprague. It took you through a process which meant that, by the end of 30 days, you had the makings of a book. It wasn’t perfect, but given that I had started and restarted this book 7 times over, it got me further than I had ever been before.

A few days in, the course required that I sit and write for 2 x 25 minute slots every day. Sometimes I wrote in flow†, and those were the parts of the book I’m most happy with. Sometimes I felt like I had to force the words, and those became the parts of the book I like the least.

By the end of it, I had a first edit, but it felt far from finished. I ended up procrastinating a bit after that, making tiny edits here and there and wondering when I would feel like it was a done thing. I felt like I would just know – like falling in love 😂

I swung wildly between being excited about it and wanting to get it out there and wanting to trash the entire thing – “Why would anyone read this?!” I felt sure that there were a million other books just like it out there written by far more accomplished writers than me. I’m grateful that I was surrounded by some encouraging people, some of whom were good enough to review it for me.

† If you don’t know what “flow” is, you will no doubt have experienced it at some point in life. Flow is when whatever you’re doing just happens in the best way possible with no effort at all, and it’s almost like you’re not even doing it, but something is doing it through you. People who understand about higher selves are grinning their faces off right now.

The Review Process

Once I had a good first edit, I wanted someone else to read it. I had lots of volunteers, but it was nearly impossible to find anyone who actually would read it once I’d given it to them. I didn’t really want just anyone to read it, I ideally wanted someone who understood the target audience, or was the target audience to read it so I could get a feel for how helpful/interesting/offensive/original etc it all was.

In the end four people who I gave it to gave me actionable feedback, with the most useful feedback coming from friends who were reading it from a casual reader perspective, and a friend who has written a few books in the past himself.

These reviewers picked up on the fact that I sometimes spiralled into a way of writing with negative undertones. This didn’t happen intentionally, but was probably related to how I was feeling on the day I was writing. They were also great at pointing out parts that were incongruous or diluted the message, and on challenging me on some of my thinking.

When you’ve been looking at the same text for what feels like days on end its hard to see the wood for the trees. It was so helpful having people point out that some bits just didn’t make sense to anyone who wasn’t in my head, or were in the wrong place entirely.

I’m very grateful to all my reviewers, whatever progress they made.

Publishing It

Initially I started to look for a bonafide publisher to publish my book. I found one that I thought would fit really well, wrote my first ever book proposal, submitted it and never heard anything back.

Turns out their submission process was broken. The company (other than their social media manager) wasn’t great at communicating and it took weeks to get a successful submission. After which I still didn’t hear anything.

After that experience I decided that I didn’t want to use a publisher after all. In this day and age, it’s totally possible to self-publish. Why should your message be held back by someone else?

There are a few self-publishing options out there. The one that offered the widest distribution was Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. Using their system I was able to setup paperback and eBook versions of my book. If someone bought a paperback, KDP would print the book and and post it off. Ideal.

The next part was the marketing.

Marketing

I didn’t do this right, as my wife would likely tell you! Partly because I didn’t understand KDPs process, and partly because once my book was live the horse left the stable before I had the chance to saddle up, so to speak.

The day it went live I told various friends out of excitement, they told other friends, people started buying it and so it went on. This isn’t a bad thing! But here’s how you’re supposed to do it:

  1. Pick a release date and configure your post-review go-live date for that date.
  2. Grow your audience – connect with as many people as possible who will be most interested in your book.
  3. Prepare for launch – announce the release of your book, and offer an incentive for people to buy it on the day of release (and ideally leave a review of the book). This gives you the most chance of hitting best seller lists, increases general chatter and spreads the message to a wider audience.
  4. Launch and detach

This is not an insignificant thing to coordinate. It requires a decent social media presence on most platforms and an existing network of a decent size, unless you’re willing to hold off releasing until your network grows, which could take a long, long time.

Post Release Feelings

One of my friends asked me how I felt about it once it had gone live, and this was my response:

“Honestly? Wracked with self doubt! There are still bits I’m not totally sure of. It’s a real balance between the 80-20 rule and wanting it to be perfect.
I expected to feel 100% happy and proud and not scared at all. Instead I’m unsure and worried about what people will say and think. That’s if anyone even buys it…”

That about sums it up, really! Some people have bought my book – I have no idea exactly how many because KDP reporting is shockingly bad. That means some people will be reading it soon, and all I can do is sit back and wait for the varied responses.

It’s unrealistic to believe that everyone will love it, find it helpful or even agree with it. This is a world filled with billions of unique people and a wide preference spectrum. But still, I hope that it’s useful for some people. Mainly the people that spend money on it! 😅

Even reading it now I can spot things that I want to change 🙈 Edition 2, coming to a store near you!

Buy My Book

If you’d like to buy my book, please do. You can find it here.

If you buy it, leave a review and send me proof of having done so in the month of June, 2022, I will enter your name into a hat to win a copy of one of my favourite books: The Human Condition, by Thomas Keating. That way you get two books for the price of one 😄

OR

Tell someone about my book on your chosen social media platform and send me proof via Twitter or DM me on Facebook Messenger and I’ll enter you name to win a signed, dedicated copy of the book itself!

God didn’t need Jesus to die for your sins

Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) says that God required a man who was also considered God (Jesus) to die as a blood payment for our sins. It’s an atonement theory popularised in the 15th Century by St Anselm, and seems to have really stuck on John Calvin, who, being an ex-humanist lawyer, probably really appreciated the legal-justification aspect of it.

Even whilst I was still 100% Christian, I wouldn’t say that it was a theory that I agreed with. It just doesn’t make sense – either God has limitless grace, or they require a blood sacrifice for appeasement of sins, and that’s simplifying it.

Personally, I do not believe that anyone had to die for me because I’ve been a bad boy. If you’re interested to know how I got to this place from someone who once used to say the sinners prayer regularly for fear of hell, read on.

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Reasons why I need to grow up more than my kids

It was another one of those mornings. My eldest has been quite anxious about school this year, which is weird, because he’s really good at it. He worries about getting his maths wrong, when he’s one of the best in the class. He worries about being told off, even though he’s one of the best behaved. And he worries about his friends being mean to him, which, to be fair, sometimes happens. Kids at this age can be little pricks, to be honest. You can teach your kid to be the best they can be, but it doesn’t stop them bumping up against some miniature assholes in the playground.

We’ve just had the school Easter Holidays – two weeks off school for Easter, and he spent the second half of the day before he went back having random meltdowns about a range of things. When we talk to him there are 101 reasons why he’s upset, but really we know that they all boil down to one thing: school tomorrow.

Monday was Mitigation Monday. My eldest loves loves LOVES waffles, so I borrowed a friend’s waffle maker and got up early to make waffles for breakfast. I wanted to start the day positively, with something happy and exciting – if only I could manage this every day! The trip to school was surprisingly ok – there were no dramas. It probably helped that Granny and Papa were coming along as well. We get to the top of the ramp which leads into the school and I see him visibly take three deep breaths before heading off to join his class line. I know he’s nervous, and I also know that there’s really not a lot I can do about it. It’s quite disempowering to see it, and it breaks my heart.

The things we tell ourselves

I know that, inside his head, there are a million negative stories he’s conjured up and is telling himself about how school will be. He’ll imagine a million situations where school is pure torture, either because of the lessons, or the teacher, or his “friends”, or classmates, and all of those little stories will gang together to beat on his spirit.

It’s a trend we’ve noticed, not just with school stuff. He tends towards identifying the teeniest negative thing in a whole lot of awesomeness and letting it ruin his entire experience. We’ve talked with him about it – that he gets to choose how his life is. He can choose to imagine the horrible things that might happen and let that make him feel miserable, regardless of whether they actually will happen or not (most likely they won’t), or he can choose to remember the great things that happen every day and be generally a lot happier.

It’s easy for me to say this to him, but it’s taken me years to learn that state of mind. I grew up in a very anxious family where we learned to prepare for and mitigate all the things that might go wrong. It’s taken me years to see that worrying about the things that could go wrong is such a massive waste of energy. Sure, things might go wrong, and if you know what you’d do immediately it saves you having to think too hard at the time, but the chances are nothing will go wrong, and all the worrying about it has been such a waste.

Tuesday

Tuesday – today was another day, and another story. No waffles, no Granny and Papa. He seems happy enough in the morning. He gets dressed without complaint, eats breakfast no problem. But when it comes to leaving time he won’t get his stuff to come.

“Get your fleece, it’s time to go.”
“No.”
“Come on, it’s time to go. Please go and get your fleece.”
“No.” (wanders off into another room)

He’s pushing back. He’s standing up for himself. All the things I want him to be able to do, just not right now. We’re already running later than usual and I feel my temperature rising, my mind blanking. These are signs of anxiety, but I’m not present enough to deal with that. I know I need him to come and I need him to come now. I don’t know how to make him get his fleece, so I revert to the only thing I know should work, because it worked for me: I raise my voice.

“GET your fleece NOW!”

Not great, Nathan. Really not ideal. He needs to know that I understand, that I’m there for him loving him, that I have his back. Shouting for obedience does not show him those things.

Shouting works in that he gets his fleece, but it also doesn’t work in a million other ways. He hasn’t felt heard, he doesn’t know why I’m shouting, he’s not doing it out of respect, he’s doing it out of fear – fear of being shouted at again. When kids do stuff out of fear, they’re doing it for all the wrong reasons.

What I should have done is reassured him that I was with him, that I knew he was finding it hard. I know from past experience that when I do this he softens a bit. It helps when I do this. Why can’t I remember that this is what I need to do?!

Running late

At this point my youngest school-attendee throws in a spanner: He doesn’t want to wear his reversible fleece-coat because it’s too thick, so I now need to run upstairs and find him his other fleece. Exactly what I need when we’re already running late and one child is refusing to even get ready.

On the way upstairs I say: “We are officially late, now”. At which point my eldest freaks out – he’s also terrified of being late to school! Ironic, isn’t it? Moments ago, he was refusing to get ready, but he’ll go into meltdown if we’re late. It doesn’t make sense, but actions driven by strong emotions often don’t.

“Why aren’t we FREAKING leaving the HOUSE then?!” he shouts, running out the door.

Second failure

He runs ahead the entire time. We catch up with him at the road (he won’t cross it without me). I’m still in turmoil, filled with adrenaline and anxiety. Rather than show him love and care I’m despairing that this is a situation that will repeat itself every morning regardless of what we’ve tried to say or do to change things.

“You need to flip your script, boy, or you’re going to spend every morning miserable. You choose whether you want to be miserable or not, but you do this every day and EVERY DAY you come home having had a good day. Is this fun for you? Are you enjoying this?”

He’s not. Now his face is set – he’s even more frustrated. You could say that I’m right, and I am, but that’s not how he’s seeing things, so it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if I’m right or not, what matters is that he feels understood, heard and loved. What I really need to do is grow the heck up myself and stop being so triggered by his outbursts so I can be with him in them instead.

Third failure

The entire way to school he doesn’t talk. He grabs his bag off the buggy when we get there and stalks off. I call him back for a hug, he comes. I say again that we need to change the negative messages – it’s going to be better than he thinks it will be. He runs off without a word.

I have to wait for my other child’s teacher to come before I can go, during this time me eldest’s class walk past. He’s on his own, looking miserable.

Well done, dad. Handled that one really well. Again.

I suppose tomorrow is another day and I can try again to be better, to be more present, to be more loving.

Broken Lens

I recently read The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer, and found myself really enjoying it. I’ve since challenged a few people to read even just the first chapter titled “The voice inside your head”, which talks about the ongoing mental dialog that just never stops. Eckhart Tolle calls this the mind stream – a constant stream of chatter narrating thoughts we’re having. 

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Healing Poetry

“In most of human history, poetry and religion were almost the same thing. Poetry was the only language worthy of religion. Good poetry doesn’t try to define an experience as much as it tries to give you the experience itself, just as good liturgy should do. It tries to awaken your own seeing, hearing and knowing. It does not give you the conclusion as much as teach you a process whereby you can know for yourself.”

Things Hidden, Richard Rohr (pg 117)

When I had hit rock bottom I regularly had panic attacks. The sheer anxiety relating to what I’d done in my darkest place, what that said about me, and the ramifications of that for the people I loved the most just surged out of me from time to time. It was so intense I could barely see. I’d curl up on the floor in an absolute mess.

At that time my Mother in Grace recommended a book to me: Falling Upward by Richard Rohr. It came to me at the perfect time. At the back of it was a poem by Thomas Merton. I memorised it and recited it to myself whenever I felt a panic attack coming on. Eventually, the pool of pain I had gathered over the years dissipated. I drained it away, feeling all of that pain. You have to feel your pain, or you will store it and more than likely transmit it to others. As I felt more stable I didn’t need the poem so much anymore, but I still appreciate the truth in it.

Poetry is a way of communicating and exploring experiential truths. Like the quote above says, good poetry doesn’t define an experience, but rather takes you on a journey where you can have the experience yourself. This is also what scripture should be, and was originally written to be – not a set of facts, but rather truths, and in reading them they take you on a journey, give you an experience of “god” – so long as you read them in the right state of mind, which most people don’t.

Poetry is so often discounted, and relegated to English lessons, or hippy recitals. But really, it’s an important part of being human. Just as important as our STEM subjects.

What poetry have you found healing in?

When in the soul of the serene disciple
Where there are no more Fathers to imitate
Poverty is a success
It is a small thing to say the roof is gone
He has not even a house

Stars, as well as friends
Are angry with this noble ruin
Saints depart in every direction

Be still:
For there is no longer any need of comment
It was a lucky wind
That blew always his halo with his cares
A lucky sea that swallowed his reputation

Here you will find
Neither a proverb nor a memorandum
There are no ways
No methods to admire
Were poverty is no achievement
His God inhabits His emptiness like an affliction

What choice is there?
Well, to be ordinary is no choice
It is the usual freedom
Of men without visions

Thomas Merton

Note: It might be helpful to know that “poverty” in this sense is not financial or material poverty, but rather being in the seat of the mind – not being the seer, but being the one who sees. It means to step back from your compulsiveness, your attachment to yourself, and be truly conscious.