Your Personal Bible: making a handbook of your most treasured text

Since publishing the below post I’ve finished and shared mine publicly. You can read about and download the file here

Your Personal Bible

I’ve come to really value the process of reading the same content over and over and over, until I feel that I know it inside and out like a favorite song or an old sweatshirt. It’s a habit I’ve grown to enjoy and I think it has many uses. Today I want to take the concept a step further and share the idea of building your own Personal Bible.

The Judeo-Christian Bible, from my perspective, is a set of stories and lessons that have not only survived but thrived for millenia. It is both a historical document (who, what, when, where) and a doctrinal one (how you should live, and why). Believers read the Bible weekly if not daily, both silently and out loud, in private and within groups. For many centuries, the Bible was a growing, changing document to which its authors added and removed, edited and curated.

A few weeks ago I began to build my own such “bible”, by collecting my favorite texts from blog posts, books, poems, notes, and the like. (I mean no offense to Christians or anyone who may be put off by a perceived misuse of the word)

My goal for this Personal Bible is to have a handbook of the most inspiring, powerful, and interesting content I’ve experienced. Something I can read every day or as often as possible, a resource I can turn to when facing important decisions or tough emotional times. Together, they represent the ideas and beliefs and insights that I want to remember forever, concepts that I want to become a concrete part of my daily life.

Here are some examples of content that I’ve included in mine:

  • Richard Hamming: You and Your Research [link]
  • Paul Graham: How to do what you love [link]
  • David Brooks: The Heart Grows Smarter [link]
  • Paul Buchheit: Applied Philosophy, a.k.a. “Hacking” [link]
  • Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power [Kindle]
  • Steve Pavlina: Broadcast Your Desires [link]
  • 38 insights from Alain de Botton [link]
  • The Scott Adams happiness formula [link]
  • Jiro and Rene Redzepi have a cup of tea [link]
  • Derek Sivers: Hell Yeah or No [link]
  • Patrick McKenzie: Don’t End The Week With Nothing [link]
  • George Saunders advice to graduates [link]
  • Jure Robic and “That Which Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Stranger” [link]
  • The BVP Anti-Portfolio [link]

When I struggle to commit to a project or path, I read about Jure Robic and how he pushes his mind to near insanity. When I want to be more effective with my time and efforts, I read Richard Hamming’s advice on how to do great work. And so on.

(please note: for most of the above content, I do not include the full text in my bible, but rather my notes and select quotes and excerpts that I pull from the pieces)

And within this document I also include a few of my favorite poems, such as:

The Man Watching by Rainer Maria Rilke

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister.

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time, and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape, like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great.
If only we would let ourselves be dominated as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestlers’ sinews
grew long like metal strings
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined to fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

Alain de Botton said something like, we are already far better read than the great Greek philosophers of old, yet we are still think we’re not well-read enough. We hunger for the new. Instead, why not spend our limited time to really understand and know deep within our soul the great stuff we’ve already enjoyed?

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.