Four days after a book I co-authored, 'Transforming Your Life Volume II' was launched, it became a number one bestseller in 12 countries. It contains 22 powerful stories about personal transformation and growth, from 22 coaches from all over the world. The chapter I wrote, 'The Bomb, the Mountain, and the Art of Walking' is based on two big events in my life: surviving a bomb explosion and an incredibly tedious journey up a mountain. You will find an excerpt from my chapter further below.
It has been an incredible privilege to work for almost a year on a project that involved so many people.
Beyond the joy of publishing, it's been incredible to see all the positive reactions: We've hit Number 1 best sellers in 12 countries across 76 categories.
All the proceeds from the sales of the book are going to the Tony Robbins foundation, to help feed families in need. To get a copy, simply go the Amazon store website in your country:
Enjoy the excerpt!
The Bomb, the Mountain, and the Art of Walking
an excerpt from 'Transforming Your Life Volume II
by Sasha Raskin
I'm writing this while resting at a fourth of the way up the grind hike (its official name) at Vancouver, Canada. Twice higher than the 102-floor Empire State Building, engulfed inside a magnificent rainforest, this hike makes some individuals reach the borders of their physical and mental abilities. In this green lung of planet Earth, human lungs struggle for air, and their faces turn red. Meanwhile, the people who climb the mountain fall into a deep state of trance.
As I sit at the sides of the trail and rest, I’m watching some of them. Most people just keep on moving, perhaps afraid to stop. This story is about a bomb that went off in Israel, a few meters away from me, and is also about the nearly impossible climb of the great grind in Canada. But, most of all, this story is about humans as they walk the face of the Earth. In a symbolic and quite literal way, it also reflects what I am helping my clients with on a daily basis, whether they are individuals, couples, families, organizations, or counseling students. As a psychotherapist, coach, and counseling teacher, I help them achieve the things they did not think possible. I also aid them to reach places that are out of their comfort zones, to keep on walking even when it gets really tough to continue, and to create a lifestyle where they have time to have fun and take breaks. I would not be here today if I did not have mentors in my life who helped me do the same. There is no blood or bodies in my story, even though it involves a bomb in Israel. But there is plenty of hope and love for the human spirit that has infinite potential for growth and connection. In my work, I pass on what others have done for me. I help people continue walking forward, while they’re climbing their mountains and overcoming their bombs.
If you go visit almost any coach’s website, you’ll probably find a lengthy explanation stating that coaching is not psychotherapy. However, the way I practice psychotherapy and the way I coach is not very different. In fact, I am not sure how much it matters if the person who is walking with you is a priest, a rabbi, an imam, a coach, a psychotherapist, a truly good friend, a family member, or your romantic partner. The important question to ask is in a sense a scientific one—does it work for you or not?
My office walls are covered with diplomas, but beyond the initial trust that these diplomas create, none of my clients really cares about them. They are only interested in one thing: Can I help them move forward toward the lives that they want for themselves? And even better, can I help them to pass that imaginary barrier to discover a life that is fulfilling beyond what they thought was possible and to help them believe that they deserve it?
I sit under a huge rainforest tree, completely awake. I feel the blood pulsating in my veins, the cold air, and the sweat of my forehead. A slight wind is touching my bare feet as I let them breathe and rest from the effort of climbing the endless stairs. There is nothing better than to feel fully awake and fully present, playing outside of one’s comfort zone. However, this has not always been the case. In my teenage years, I suddenly realized that I am dreaming a dream—that I am operating in a pre-conditioned, pre-programmed way. As I grew up, I discovered the many ways in which I was living my life habitually, within the illusion of safety—buying the same groceries, ordering the same favorite dish at restaurants, and having the same type of romantic relationships. I felt comfortable, but as the Pink Floyd song goes, I really was comfortably numb.
Once I started noticing more and more, it was as if the illusion of freedom suddenly burst. What I perceived to be a clear choice was many times just a habit, influenced by my parents, school, and society. I based my choices in life on what was familiar and safe. My safety zone was a golden cage I chose for myself, and for the big part of the day, I was not even aware of it. I was trapped in constantly rehashing the past and planning the future, while the present moment was passing me by. I was drifting on autopilot. This was me, and many times it still is, but let’s talk about you for a moment. What are you thinking about right now? How awake are you? Can you notice the next moment when you will lose focus and let your thoughts drift away? When will be the next time when you will automatically open your mailbox or Facebook just because it is one click away? And the big question, WHO’S THE ONE WHO IS REALLY IN CONTROL? And if for a moment, you entertain the idea that you are living your life partially asleep, then how do you WAKE UP?
Ten years ago, when I was on my way to a psychology undergrad class in Jerusalem, Israel, a bomb went off as I got out of the bus at the central bus station. It was very close and extremely loud. That foreign sound shattered the air and was both so sudden and overwhelmingly loud that I knew right away what it was.
The confusion on the faces of people around me as they struggle to climb the Grouse mountain reminds me of that time. They carry an expression of fear. Will I make it? Will I survive? After the bomb went off, I did make it, I did survive, and I kept walking for hours without stopping. That sudden burst of fear that made a lot of sense back then still keeps coming back to me, especially in moments of doubt. I have learned to recognize it very well—the tightness in my stomach and the lightheadedness as if the ground is disappearing beneath me. Where do these feelings come from? What is generating this texture of doubt and fear? When I am able to identify it for myself and with my clients, it is one big step through what stops us living a truly meaningful life.
Even though we rarely mention it, at the center of our lives is the most basic fear of death. The big question underneath this mask of trance is, “Do I have what it takes, will I safely get from point A to B?” I believe that this is the main reason as to why my clients come to see me when they’re in a place where they keep on doing things that they don’t want to be doing and keep postponing the things that really matter.
I am proud and excited to constantly see my clients achieve incredible results. For example, this one revolutionary company I coached created the first preventive wellness platform and set a goal to prevent 70% health problems by using technology. Within a few months, they launched their product, secured work relationships with leading hospitals, authors, and health experts in four continents, and launched their pilot program. During the first two months of our work together, the CEO struggled to even pronounce the word CEO out loud. It is scary to fully step into a leadership role and into personal power. He was scared to fail as he was scared to succeed. I felt waves of pride and excitement washing my body as I was watching him after a few months at the launch of his company's product, in front of three thousand people, introducing himself as a CEO—his voice firm and clear. A few minutes later he was sharing, with the same voice, a story of his own grief. Power and vulnerability. Inner power unfolds.
A different company I coached created an innovative healthcare platform that provides the technology and tools needed fort organizations, funders, and providers to map out both personal and organizational networks and strengthen social connectedness for people. They were able to launch their product and secure funding. I helped them navigate the power struggles at the company, create clear boundaries, empower each other, and help each other feel seen. They were able to succeed even though a prominent person involved quit unexpectedly due to a family emergency right before the launch. He left with love and respect. At that session, everyone shed a tear. Something that could have broken a company made them stronger.
You do not have to be a CEO to grow as a leader. Some of my clients who do not manage companies or startups found their inner power in our leadership coaching. I’ve listed some examples here.
A writer who spent 19 years on writing and rewriting his book finally published it two months after we started working together.
A burnt-out programmer decided to quit his job after 10 years and is now one of the leaders at a successful new tech company.
A coach who had a dream to build a center for women’s empowerment recruited more than 50 new clients within two weeks.
Like many of my clients, for many years, I chased after what was not essential and
focused on things that I didn’t really care about. I started many companies: a food catering, marketing agency, a web design company, and a sound equipment company. While I achieved success, I was focusing on all the wrong things. My calling is to touch lives and help others fulfill their dreams. By letting go of the unnecessary, I decided to study and practice what I was most interested in.
Why is it that people many times do what they don’t want to be doing (by postponing indefinitely) the dreams that they truly want to achieve. After six years of changing my majors in school, I finally decided to study what I really wanted to study—the human mind. I learned how people think and make decisions in my Bachelor of Arts program in Psychology. I learned how to help people to turn their lives around in my Master of Arts Counseling program. I learned how to help families and couples create the lives that they wanted as a certified marriage and family therapist. I make an impact in the field by training the next generation of therapists and coaches at my Ph.D. program in Counseling Education and Supervision and as a Counseling Teacher at Naropa University. I have coached hundreds of individuals, couples, families, and organizations to create the changes that they struggled to create on their own. And I do this with a severe ADHD and with English as my third language. So truly, if I can do it, anyone can.
And yes, surviving that bomb is also a part of my story. Ten years ago, when I heard the loud sound of the explosion and looked around, I knew it was a bomb that went off and I had just survived a terrorist attack. My instincts pushed me to start walking away. The same way they push me today to keep climbing the Grouse mountain, even though my body says no.
Unfortunately, living in Israel in my teenage years meant facing the possibility of dying in a terror attack daily. They were frequent occurrences, and people, tragically, somehow got used to them. When the bomb blew up, I did not know exactly where it had happened, but I did know that I needed to get away as fast as possible because there might be another bomb. My life did not pass in front of my eyes, as is often described in novels. The two only thoughts that I had were, “I need to get out of here right now” and “I need to make it to class.” I started walking fast, but after a minute I stopped to look around and see if anyone needed my help. I did not see anybody on the ground. What I did see was another bus coming toward me, with some liquid dripping from it, and with both doors open, empty of people. Once again, my mind emptied all thoughts except two: get out and get to my class.
I started walking again, very fast, while calling my mother, to tell her that everything is alright. We talked, and she asked me if I was okay. I said I was. She was sweet and supportive and did not question my weird idea of going to class after surviving an explosion. She knew what I knew; it was not about the destination. The class by itself did not matter as much as the act of walking.
I continued calling family members and friends as I walked, supported in my unusual journey by people that I loved and that I knew loved me. Their support was like the wind to my sails. My movement was fueled by their caring words. I posted on social media about what had happened and received love from all over the world. I felt connected, and I did not feel alone. I knew that I needed to continue moving forward, even though there was no real reason to do so. From what I know as a psychotherapist today, the fact that I was moving the body for hours after that traumatic experience and the fact that I was processing the information with people I trusted prevented me from developing PTSD. My movement allowed a trauma release in the same way that animals in the wild shake after they play dead to escape a predator. Needless to say, I was late for class. By five hours. It will take me approximately the same time to climb the mountain.
I'm resting now after walking uphill for three hours in what has been the steepest climb of my life. I'm almost at the top of the mountain, but now that I'm close to being done, I feel sad. The mental effort that it takes to climb one wooden step after another cannot be described easily. I am sure that for athletes it probably would not be as difficult. But, I am in pretty good shape, and it was extremely strenuous for me. And the majority of the people here are not athletes either. It is the surprise really that got me. For some reason, I thought that it would be easy. But as that song goes, no one ever told you it’s going to be easy…
I was lured here by TripAdvisor’s suggestion, and my initial plan was to take the train up the hill to enjoy the view. But when I arrived, after walking on the breathtaking Capilano hanging bridges, I couldn’t get enough of the rainforests. After experiencing the magnificence of the gracious giant trees for the first time in my life at the Capilano park, I felt completely alive. The smell of rain and the incredible height of the trees touching the skies got me in a state of flow. I was completely awake from a long dream. The promise of what’s to come can be a very powerful motivating force. So, in the heat of the moment, I decided that I will climb the mountain by foot instead. It was a spontaneous decision when I decided that I am going all the way to the top. I found the big red disclosure sign about the park taking no responsibility for any accidental injury or death to be somewhat amusing, but disturbing as well. However, it did not seem to stop the families that passed through. It didn’t stop me either.
After fifteen minutes, I started to realize what I had gotten myself into. It was literally a non-stop climbing up journey. The stairs that were made from pieces of trees, spaced far apart, looked picturesque, but it did not make them any fewer stairs and any less arduous. And then at some point, when I was completely out of breath, I suddenly realized that the numbers I saw for the third time on a tree were not random. 3/40 meant that even after all that tremendous amount of effort, I still had 37/40 left to climb. And that’s when the fear kicked in. Yep. That old familiar “Will I make it?” voice. That very familiar, very alive awakening to the fact that I exist and do want to continue to exist. At that point, I, of course, could have turned back and come down the mountain. But that would be a defeat. I felt the guilt, and I knew that it could direct me down the hill or be the fuel to push me up. I chose up. Just like that day, ten years ago, when I decided to keep walking for hours after the explosion, and even in that horrible moment, to stay in control.
A few hours later, at the moment, I am sitting under a tree that has the number 30/40 on it. I am left with only one-fourth of the climb. I am thinking of all the parallels between the climb and the hours I walked after the bomb went off, and how these experiences and similar ones like them shape my life. I am transformed not so much by what life brings, but by my ability to choose how to respond to them. I am shaped by the experiences that I choose to create for myself, and the way that I respond when obstacles arise.
I feel the emptiness that comes with approaching the top of the mountain and the end of the climb. It is such a mysterious feeling. Up until now, all that I could think about while moving my feet and catching my breath was how badly I wanted it to end. But, now that the end is near, I just want it to last. I am realizing how difficult it was at the beginning, but now that I see the end, even though I am more exhausted, it is so much easier. I see this many times with my clients. The most important thing is to start the journey. Once they start moving, the momentum carries them forward. They create a stack of successes that they can look back at, and that is all the proof they need to believe that they can do this.
The manner in which I see people look at each other while they climb the mountain stairs, encouraged by others, reminds me of my clients. Coaching them is so much easier when my clients know that they are supported by me and others in their lives. It is just so much simpler to keep on moving in life when you know that you're not doing this alone and that others are moving with you, too. This is why it is important to surround yourself with the right people. It is like the old saying that you are the average of the five people who you hang out with the most. I am not sure if I would continue climbing the mountain stairs if I was surrounded by people who were going down after giving up. Everyone around me continued walking up, no matter how tough it got.
I am noticing how much of this collaborative climbing is a game that people are playing together. There is a sense of competition, but it is a healthy one. It is a game that everyone will win, not on the account of someone else but by sharing a victory. And we’re playing this game literally one step at a time. When I notice that the goals of my clients get overwhelming, it is usually a matter of remembering that they do not need to focus on all the steps at once. They just need to take one step at a time.
When I was working as a staff member at a substance abuse recovery facility, we would often remind the residents that they did not need to focus on finishing the entire three months of the program. All they needed to do was to finish that one day. And then do it again the following day. This little game of taking one step at a time that we play now is how nature works. It has worked this way since time immemorial. We’re back to where we started as a species—far away from our phones, computers, and cars. We are back to the most basic way of living, taking the time out from our busy lives to remember. And what we discover together, once again, as we reach the top is that impossible things are always so much easier than what they seem to be.
The Coaching and the Therapy
So how do I help my psychotherapy and coaching clients to climb their mountains and overcome their bombs?
As a contemplative therapist in training, my home base is a humanistic and strengths-based approach, which is by itself a synthesis of many western and eastern approaches. From western psychology and psychotherapy, it draws from humanistic psychology, Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, Jungian analytical theory, Rogerian person-centered therapy, and positive psychology. From the eastern traditions, contemplative psychotherapy draws from 2,400 years of contemplative practices, psychologies, and philosophies such as Buddhist psychology, meditation, and yoga.
While I find the empathic and person-centered contemplative approach to be incredibly helpful in creating a deep therapeutic bind with my clients, I believe it can go to much greater lengths when coupled with much more active marriage and family therapy modalities. Couples and family therapy is a huge umbrella for a myriad of theories and therapy modalities, some drawing from each other and some improving upon each other. They all, however, look at the world through a systemic point of view. As a certified marriage and family therapist, I am grateful to be able to use the many family therapy theories, assessments, and interventions I have been trained in, including but not limited to Bowenian family therapy, structural family therapy, strategic family therapy, emotionally focused couples and family therapy, narrative therapy, Gottman couples therapy, and others.
The theories that I use complement each other by combining cognitive and emotional insight, taking action, and experiential relationship building. The contemplative approach allows the creation of a safe, supportive, and empathic environment. The clients learn to put into words their thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations and gain deep insights and integrate their experiences. In contemplative psychotherapy, the sharing and the clarity with a mindful and present therapist allows a sense of calmness of relief for the clients, and a renewed sense of trust in themselves and others. New ways of interactions, together with a deep emotional bond, can occur with the contemplative therapist, which can be applied to any other relationships in the clients’ lives. Also, the strengths-based approach, together with the unconditional positive regard of contemplative psychotherapy, empower the clients to view themselves more positively to believe in themselves and to feel encouraged to take more risks and step out of their comfort zone.
That being said, contemplative psychotherapy is a highly person-centered model, in which the session is mostly led by the client and the therapist is mainly providing empathic presence. The therapist is encouraged to let go of any agenda, not to give any advice, and not to be an obstacle between the client and healing. Even though research shows that the therapeutic relationship plays an immense role in how helpful the clients feel the therapy was, this kind of unstructured model cannot be very useful in helping the client to create change promptly. Also, the model is more suited toward working with individuals than working with couples or families. Merely listening to a couple in distress or just replaying the same family quarrel in the therapy office will not cut it. There needs to be experiential work to experience and practice new ways of interaction to reduce conflict and increase friendship. If the couple or the family would continue having the same fight, even though it is in front of a nodding compassionate therapist, it would be nothing more than a costly fight.
Contemplative psychotherapy is an incredibly powerful tool to create a safe container for therapy to happen. To adapt it for accelerated growth, and for working with couples and families, this is my call of action: the experiential elements and the systemic view that marriage and family therapy bring to the table.
One might ask, how does the contemplative view, which encourages letting go of agenda and a more passive role of a therapist, work with the more active modalities of family therapy. The answer is that the modalities I use from family therapy are by themselves strengths-based and very much humanistic in nature so that there is an overarching belief in human potential. The systemic view of focusing on the whole system, such as family and the society in large, is very much in correlation with the Buddhist view of interconnectedness that the contemplative psychology theory draws from. In both approaches, humans are connected much more than they think, and when one is affected, many more get affected as well. The systemic theory in family therapy and the Buddhist approach seek the true meaning and life’s organizing force in our connection with others. Thich Nhat Hanh (1988) in one piece of advice summarizes how this interconnectedness should be nurtured, “If you wish to have children, please do something for the world you will bring them into.”
When I lean more toward the contemplative psychotherapy style, very much affected by the Rogerian client-centered approach, I am not the one leading or prompting. At the same time, many of the interventions of family therapy that I use are very much the opposite, very direct, and very much leading the clients toward the goals they identified at the beginning of our work together. The thing is that I do not have to choose one approach or the other. Just like jazz, since I know the rules very well, I can drop the rules entirely and just enjoy being in the moment—completely present, improvising, and letting the interventions to choose themselves. There is tremendous freedom in not subscribing to the active role of a family therapist, or what looks to the outsider as the passive role of the contemplative psychotherapist. I can be both, depending on the client and the moment. Sometimes clients just want to vent and want to be heard. Sometimes, they very clearly want to create specific changes in their lives but do not know how. By combining contemplative psychotherapy with family therapy, I can be useful in doing both.
Get the full book here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07WHJQTTN
Sasha Raskin, MA, is an international #1 bestselling co-author , the founder and CEO of Go New , a transformational education program, a life, and business coach and a psychotherapist in Boulder, CO. He is working on a P.h.D in Counseling Education and Supervision and is an adjunct faculty at the Contemplative Counseling master’s program at Naropa University, from which he also graduated. Sasha has been in the mental health field for more than 10 years, worked with youth at risk, recovery, mental health hospitals, and coached individuals, couples, families, startups, and groups. He has created mindfulness stress reduction and music therapy programs within different organizations. Whether it’s in person or via phone/video calls, Sasha uses cutting-edge, research-based techniques to help his clients around the world to thrive.
As a coach Sasha Raskin provides individual and group coaching in Boulder, Colorado, and worldwide via video and phone calls, drawing from over ten years of experience. His services include: life coaching, business coaching, career coaching, ADD / ADHD coaching, leadership coaching, and executive coaching. Schedule your free 20-minute coaching phone consultation with Sasha Raskin
As a counselor in Boulder, CO, Sasha provides individual counseling in Boulder, CO , family therapy in Boulder, CO, and couples therapy in Boulder, CO, marriage counseling in Boulder, Colorado, and couples intensives / couples retreats, drawing from over ten years of clinical experience. Schedule your free 20-minute psychotherapy phone consultation with Sasha Raskin