British writer Alan Watts once said, “You are a function of what the whole universe is doing in the same way that a wave is a function of what the whole ocean is doing.” You are one tiny part of this big and beautiful universe, but what exactly is your place in it?
We don’t always talk about them, but we all have questions like this. We ask questions about God, the universe, and our place in the world. As humans, we’re continually seeking wisdom about spirituality and how we’re connected to something bigger than ourselves.
But these are some pretty big questions. We’re not going to answer them on our own. Thankfully, we have my friend and School of Greatness favorite Rob Bell in the studio today to help us out!
Rob Bell is an expert in a lot of different things. He has spent decades studying spirituality, human experience, and the universe. He has an incredible amount of wisdom to share, and that’s why he’s one of my favorite guests to have on the show!
And today’s conversation might be our best yet. We’re discussing everything from how we can address doubt in our lives to how we should handle grief to our relationship with politics, and so much more. Let’s get started.
Rob Bell is a speaker, former pastor, and bestselling author of many books. Time Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and he’s the author of the latest book, Everything is Spiritual.
Rob Bell founded the Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, and he served as the head pastor there until 2012. However, he decided that he needed to take his message to an even wider audience, so he left his position at the church to become a speaker and author on a much larger scale.
Since then, Rob has developed more incredible projects than I could possibly list here. He created the video series Nooma, which features a series of Rob’s teachings. He also wrote several books, including Love Wins and What We Talk About When We Talk About God. He also joined me right here on Episode 484 of The School of Greatness!
More recently, Rob has joined the podcasting world for himself with The RobCast, where he shares his wisdom on various topics. He’s also published a new book called Everything is Spiritual, which offers answers to many of our biggest questions about the universe.
I genuinely love talking with Rob. We always have deeply profound conversations, and I’m so excited he’s back on the show today! In this interview, we talked about a whole range of topics. We talk about the very nature of the universe, the cycle of destruction and rebirth, and how to handle grief. We discuss what it means to experience spiritual doubts and how to handle times of adversity.
We also get into relationships and what we should do when we meet people whose spiritual beliefs are different from ours. And lastly, we talk about joy, some simple and beautiful spiritual practices, and why you are exactly enough, just as you are.
Friends, this conversation will inspire you. It will lift you up, and it just might cause you to lean into your own spirituality a little bit more. So without any further ado, let’s dive in!
Rob and I dove headfirst into a profound discussion. He was already blowing my mind right out of the gate with this definition of mystery:
“Mystery isn’t something you can’t know. Mystery is something you can know endlessly. … A lot of people … bump into mystery and they’re like … ‘It’s just all fuzzy woo-woo whatever.’ Oh, no no no no. Love, the nature of the cosmos, the depth of the human heart — these are great mysteries, but you can actually know them. It’s just [a] different kind of knowing. It’s … a bottomless, infinite knowing.” – Rob Bell
So what is the nature of this universe that we call home? Surely it’s a mystery, but that’s no reason not to ask the question. We can answer it — but we can also continue learning and evolving our perceptions and interpretations.
Right now, our perception looks something like this: According to Rob, scientists tell us that 4% of the universe is known, and the other 96% is made of things like black holes, dark matter, and dark energy. The universe is this enormous thing made up of a few familiar things we do know and a lot of scary things we don’t know.
At the same time, our own lives are made up of “dark matter” and familiar, positive experiences. We all have regrets and mistakes from our pasts, and yet we need both good and bad experiences to make up a full life.
Our universe is made up of these dualities — Light and dark. Up and down. Known and unknown. Creation and destruction. And according to Rob, that cycle of creation and new birth and destruction and death is what really makes the world go round:
“In times of disruption, trauma, and tragedy, you either dig in your heels and give your energies to reclaiming the thing that got lost and making it great again and idealizing it as once great, or you let the pain and disruption break you open, and you find the seeds of imagination to build a new thing.” – Rob Bell
Think about a time in your life when something difficult happened to you — maybe you made a mistake or experienced trauma. When you went through that, you had two options, right? You could sit still in your pain, fear, or anger, or you could choose to find the lesson in it and keep moving forward. You could choose to continue experiencing that destruction and loss, or you could choose to experience a new creation.
While both options are definitely open to you, only one moves you forward. And that’s how life and the universe work — bad things happen, and we experience loss and grief, but then new things happen. We experience birth, life, and new creations. That’s truly the stuff the universe is made of.
Experiencing those times of rebirth and new creation can be incredible, but overcoming adversity is hard. How do we handle the times when it feels like everything is collapsing?
“The problem for most people is … the adversity becomes everything. But the real art of a spiritual vision for life is you’re learning how to witness to it.” – Rob Bell
Rob gave the example of a relationship between a student and a teacher. If you recognize that a teacher is really getting under your skin, don’t rest and get comfortable in your frustration. Instead, ask yourself, “Why does that person provoke me? What are they here to teach me?”
Remember the cyclical nature of the universe — we experience the hard and painful times so that new and good things can happen. That’s true for every kind of adversity we experience. The key is to witness the things that happen to us intentionally. We have to pay attention. When we do, we give ourselves the opportunity to learn the lessons the universe wants to teach us.
That’s even true for the internal conflicts we experience within ourselves. We’ve all experienced doubt — the way to handle doubt is to realize that it’s just part of life and to keep moving forward with courage and curiosity.
“Doubt is all part of it. … It’s all part of the full spectrum of the human experience.” – Rob Bell
But how do you develop that curiosity you need to overcome adversity and doubt? It seems to me that curiosity is a skill that we have to develop and hone — but how can we do that?
“Regret is stuck in the past. Worry is stuck in the future. But what’s interesting is all of the questions of self-doubt that keep people from doing the thing are in the future, which isn’t real — that’s an illusion. So the only interesting question is, ‘What do you want to do now?’” – Rob Bell
In moments of adversity and doubt, choose to remain focused on the present. Don’t worry about the future — all of your worries about the future are only illusions because the future hasn’t happened yet. But if we focus on this moment right now and choose to witness it, we can overcome our adversity and doubts.
So when we experience doubt and adversity, the best thing to do is witness to it. But what about when we experience direct conflict with other people? What about when we meet people whose spiritual beliefs are different from ours? And what if that person is in your own family?
“I always just ask questions of exposure. … So if you and this family member have had nine awkward Thanksgivings in a row, hey, you realize you don’t have to go to Thanksgiving. … You can’t take people where they don’t want to go, right? So oftentimes it’s just a straight-up boundary.” – Rob Bell
Maybe you can’t come to a place of peaceful conversation with someone. In that case, just limit your exposure to them. Don’t spend lots of time around that person, and don’t feel bad about it! But what if you could open yourself up to a conversation? Maybe you meet someone whose beliefs are different from yours, but you can have open, honest, and polite discussions with them.
“… Feeling free to be like, ‘No, I think you completely missed it,’ actually often is the doorway into compassion. Oh, dear God, look at the world that person’s in. It’s a world of scarcity. It’s a world of lack. Look at the system that they’re a part of that trained them, and … it gave them a horrifying view of the world. … No wonder they’re frightened. … The real art is: Can I look far enough inside of you to find me? … Political polarization is the inability to see myself in someone else.” – Rob Bell
When you and the people around you can have open discussions and be honest with each other when you have different beliefs, you open up so many doors. You start to see each other with compassion, and you can treat each other with love. And if you reach far enough, you might even be able to identify with that person. You can see where their insecurities and fears come from because you recognize your own insecurities and fears inside them.
Think about a person in your life who has different beliefs from yours. How can you open yourself up to understand their perspective? Especially in the election season, we’re in, it’s more important than ever that we’re treating each other with love and compassion.
So in this cycle of destruction and creation, of adversity and compassion, what should we be striving for? What spiritual practices can we use to tap into our best selves and completely connect with our human stories?
“I began to realize [that in] the moments … in life, the real joy, the moments when you were caught up in something, you left behind a whole world of duality — right, wrong, winning, losing. The moments of love, the moments when you were caught up in a conversation, an event, some transcendent anything are the moments [you’re] no longer looking at [your] watch … think about the moments you would look back on and say, ‘That’s what it’s all about.’” – Rob Bell
The key to a healthy spiritual practice goes back to that idea of witnessing. It’s about living in the present moment, honoring it, and allowing your experiences to provide you with these transcendent moments. And what is the end outcome of those moments? Joy.
“Happy, sad, positive, negative, pessimist, optimist — those are all binaries. Joy wraps its arms around the full spectrum of the human experience. Joy is when you see how fragile, temporary, fleeting this experience is — COVID, cancer, natural disasters, forest fires. Joy is when you come face to face with just how fleeting this experience is, and it heightens your gratitude and appreciation for what you do have right now.” – Rob Bell
That’s the kind of joy we all want to experience. It’s the kind of joy that is bigger and stronger than any pain or adversity, and that carries us through those hard times and into the next grand, transcendent moment we’re living for. And you are worthy and capable of experiencing that type of joy.
“You are enough. You are enough exactly as you are. Accept that you are accepted, [and] you’ve been loved the whole time. Belonging was never an issue.” – Rob Bell
It’s true. You can experience deep spiritual joy. You just have to take a look around you, enjoy what you have, and make sure to witness every moment.
Friends, this interview was powerful. Rob Bell always leaves me feeling like both my mind and my heart have been expanded, and today was no exception. I want to acknowledge Rob for the fantastic work he’s doing and the spiritual leadership he’s providing for the world. He’s definitely been a huge inspiration to me, and I hope he inspired you too!
Before we ended our conversation, I had one last question for Rob. I’d already asked him for his three truths and definition of greatness back on Episode 175, so today, I had to mix it up a little bit. Instead, I asked Rob for his definition of love:
“So love is less an abstract concept or feeling and more something we’re in. … There’s a pandemic, and there’s massive social unrest for some very heartbreaking and good reasons, [and] there’s forest fires. … We don’t know how long we’re going to be in our house under lockdown, but [my family and I] will be there together. And they’ll be playing some song, and we’ll be laughing, and all is not well, but all is well. [There is] so much pain and suffering in the world, and we’re here, and we’re alive, and we’re going through it together, so there’s nowhere I’d rather be. That’s love for me right now.” – Rob Bell
That’s such a beautiful definition. Think about the people around you. Even though we’re all going through a time of difficulty and uncertainty, you can still love others, and they can still love you. It’s about going through the hard times together — that’s real love.
Thank you guys so much for joining me today — I hope you loved this episode! If you did, please share it on Instagram! Post a screenshot, tag Rob, @realrobbell, and me, @lewishowes, and let us know your biggest takeaways. And always remember — You could change a life just by sharing this episode.
And by the way, don’t forget to check out Rob’s latest book, Everything is Spiritual! It’s a great read, and I know it will help you reach deeper into your spirituality.
I’ll catch you guys next time! Until then, make sure to listen to the full episode! If you’re ready to learn how to gain inner peace, master your grief, understand God, and learn so much more, join me on Episode 1,018 of The School of Greatness!