The Inconceivable Surprise of Living

Sustaining Wisdom for Spiritual Beings Trying to Be Human


CLB Press, softcover, 5.5. x 8.5, 266 pages.  Copyright 2014 by Kevin Anderson



Kevin sharing Inconceivable Surprise at recent event

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The Inconceivable Surprise of Living gives you the power to find not just better thoughts to deal with life, but some of the best thoughts of all time. Being familiar with preserved wisdom allows us to benefit from our own self-administered "wisdom-infused cognitive therapy" or, if you prefer, cognitive therapy on steroids! Below, some of the gems of wisdom from the book are interspersed with Kevin's thoughts about developing what he calls "an inner pantheon of wise advisors."



Every suffering is a seed, because suffering impels us to seek wisdom.         BODHIDHARMA


Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.        PLATO


The renowned seventh-century Zen master Seng-tsan taught that true freedom is being “without anxiety about imperfection.”       TARA BRACH


Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.        KAHLIL GIBRAN



Let’s face it: being human is a beautiful and difficult adventure. As we try to make sense of our lives, we’re often hampered by thought patterns that have been with us for decades. As we meet each day’s challenges, we cycle through repeated grooves of thought that keep us stuck: I can never get ahead financially. I just feel overwhelmed. Is this all there is? Others seem to have it more together than I do. In a busy and stressful life, these thoughts are as easy to find as weeds in an untended garden.


Cognitive therapy has been the subject of thousands of studies of depression, anxiety, and many other forms of human suffering since the 1960s. Its core idea is that if we want to change how we feel, we need to change how we think. It’s hard for me to keep from laughing when I read the 2600-year-old words of Buddha in the opening lines of the Dhammapada: “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.” I think it’s funny that this modern, scientific, well-researched treatment modality we call cognitive therapy is right there in the first lines of such an ancient document.



One regret, dear world, that I am determined not to have when I am lying on my deathbed is that I did not kiss you enough.            HAFIZ


Answers divide, questions unite.    ELIE WIESEL


You may call God love, you may call God goodness. But the best name for God is compassion.  



Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.        WILLIAM JAMES



A 2015 review of research on cognitive therapy suggested that it might be losing some of its effectiveness, perhaps because we have all heard so often how it is important to manage our thoughts. Maybe we think it’s just an old idea, or maybe we long for something more dazzling to lift us out of the inevitable difficulties of being human. I suggest that it is time for cognitive therapy to get re-juiced by helping people find truly transformative ways to reframe their thinking. I think we need Wisdom-Infused Cognitive Therapy (WICT). Or I could just call it cognitive therapy on steroids.


I spent a good deal of my time from 2010 to 2014 reviewing and writing reflective essays about the best wisdom quotations about being human I could find from throughout history. In The Inconceivable Surprise of Living (CLB Press, 2014), I present my picks for the top 225 pieces of preserved wisdom I think can lead us beyond depression and anxiety to mental health, purpose, love, spirituality, authenticity, and courage. Countless wise, creative, noble human beings have lived before us. When we’re stressed, we don’t have to rely just on our own familiar, tired, repetitious thought patterns. If we are familiar with the preserved words and ideas of great human beings, we can draw on the best of their insights into being human when we need them.



The winds of grace are always blowing, but it is you who must raise your sails.        



The fish in water who is thirsty needs serious professional counseling.      KABIR


Holiness is a greater ideal by far than happiness because it embraces struggle.     DAVID WOLPE


You don’t need nine tenths of the things you scramble for. Don’t be afraid to have nothing. Happiness is not what you have, but who you are.         DIOGENES



Here’s one way to think about the value of being familiar with several hundred of the best thoughts about being human. Imagine a two-on-two basketball game. Both teams practice hard to develop as much conditioning and teamwork as they can. When the game comes, the final score is 102-9. Why so lopsided? One team is composed of Michael Jordan and Lebron James and the other is my son Jim and I. It doesn’t matter how much teamwork Jim and I developtalent matters! In the same way, we can try cognitive therapy all day long, but if we’re just replacing negative thoughts with our own only slightly better thoughts, we’re not going to get maximal benefit. Imagine if, in life’s toughest tests, we could replace our thoughts with truly wise and inspiring thoughts. Now that would be cognitive therapy on steroids!



If the mind can get quiet enough, something sacred will be revealed.         HELEN TWORKOV


Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.            VICTOR FRANKL


Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I will meet you there.      RUMI


You, as much as anyone in the entire universe, are deserving of your love and compassion.




Here’s an example of how this helps in my life. Not too many workdays go by when I don’t catch myself wondering if I’m succeeding enough in what I’m doing with my life. My ideas about success and my doubts about my own success are saturated by the larger culture’s ideas about success. Getting clear-minded about what success is feels to me about as challenging as a pickle getting rid of the garlic flavor it’s picked up from soaking in garlic-flavored brine for so long. I need a clear and concise thought about success that interrupts the endless loops and flip-flops my ego can do trying to figure out “success.” Here is the thought that works best for me: “Success is not something to be pursued. It is to be attracted by the person you become.” (Jim Rohn)



Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living.    



The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.     



The first act of awe, when man was struck with the beauty or wonder of Nature, was the first spiritual experience.         HENRYK SKOLIMOWSKI



A second example: I was raised in a religious family that prayed and attended church often. As an adult, however, it has been difficult to get my mind around the concept of prayer. Is there someone in the sky handing out favors to people begging the loudest? Is prayer an illusion? I could just let go of the idea altogether, but one wisdom quotation makes it crystal clear to me how I want to think of prayer: “Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living.” (Abraham Joshua Heschel).


Here’s one more example of how finding a truly memorable and wise thought to replace an unhelpful one can make all the difference. When life begins to seem mundane, boring, or predictable, and I need a sense of the awe and wonder that bring such energy to young children, I reach for the words of Albert Einstein: “There are two ways to live your life. One is as if nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is a miracle.”



Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.         JOSEPH CAMPBELL


There is only one of you for all time. Fearlessly be yourself.          ANTHONY RAPP


The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. 



What great thing would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?        ROBERT H. SCHULLER


Success is not to be pursued. It is to be attracted by the person you become.           JIM ROHN



More and more people describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious." The Inconceivable Surprise of Living explores wisdom sayings from throughout recorded human history on topics such as God, love, happiness, suffering, death, and authenticity.  These preserved words spanning 2600 years make it plausible that, as Teilhard de Chardin wrote, "We are not human beings trying to be spiritual, we are spiritual beings trying to be human." This is the ideal book for those who want to deepen their awareness of spirituality even though they are uncertain about religion.  For those steeped in a particular religious tradition, this book can strengthen an awareness that the common spiritual questions pervading the human experience are a persistent reminder of our essential oneness.


Each page of this book consists of a quotation chosen for its power to shift consciousness in the direction of greater awareness and an essay by the author. The essays do not attempt to explain the quotation; rather, they are the author's attempt to model how the preserved words of women and men across the ages can spur us to creative personal reflection.


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Crecopia moth photo in header used by permission of Scott Rosenfeld,