Being smarter than you are


The following was posted on the Lifewriting page:

“Wooosh!!! Anybody ever get that intense feeling of euphoria when a moment of insight from what you’ve just listened to or watched connected major parts of your story by growing a whole new thread and exposing a trait of your character you couldn’t quite put your finger on!? Man I love that!!!! I’m not even on anything and I’m so riding high right now lol!!!”




I love it when my friends or students share insights like this.  The energy comes from resolving the dualities.    Simplifying the model.  Seeing that what you thought were many different things are actually different versions of the same thing.  From one perspective, the energy of an orgasm comes from dissolving the ego boundaries. The energy of art from dissolving the subject-object relationship.  We invest HUGE amounts of energy in doing this, and every time we escape one of the illusions, we free up the energy we used to construct them.


SEEING THE CONNECTIONS.  This is precious.


About twenty-three years ago, living in Vancouver Washington, I was stuck on a story point, couldn’t figure out how it all fit.   While in deep meditation a vision came to me: of the chakras (a metaphor for the multiple levels of human existence or focus) as the vertical  axis of a sphere, and the Hero’s Journey as  a horizontal axis.  Some force I’ve never quite been able to label is the third axis, and rather than try to “understand” it, it is better just to flow with it.


I could see it, feel it.  A dynamic sphere of character interaction.  A danger on the level of survival triggers a “Hero’s Journey” and as soon as survival is assured, sex and physical comfort become the next major issues, each of them demanding their own journeys. In complex stories, multiple levels engage at the same time, so that there are inner and outer journeys.  Further, different people can have different priorities, and the same person will have different priorities at different points of life.

Even a movie as simple as “Die Hard” has an outer journey (defeating terrorists) and an inner journey (healing his marriage) with the two journeys linked through action and emotion.


More complicated stories are complex skeins of tangled emotions, but this model, something that started as a circle but kept manifesting as a dynamic sphere, allowed me to understand my story beautifully: the character was at THIS point of a journey at THIS level, but THAT part of a journey at THIS level, and…


It was glorious.   And it jumped my writing to another level.   But then about six months later I had another flash.  It was so obvious, in retrospect.   If the chakras were a model of humanity that I had appropriated for use in fiction…and the HJ was a structure of fiction I had appropriated for life…


And I’d just applied both of them to fiction, mightn’t I also apply this new model to life?  This “dynamic sphere” to real world interactions and real flesh and blood people?


The idea hit me like a thunderbolt.  It was too complicated to really hold in my mind.  I’m not that smart. But…out of the corner of my eye I could see it, an almost infinitely complicated web of desires on the levels of survival, sex, power, emotion, communication, intellect, and spirit…


And human beings struggling to navigate them by confronting challenges, dealing with fear, taking action, finding allies, gaining powers, failing and dealing with depression, struggling to renew faith, dealing with success, and moving to the next level…


Oh My God.  I could see it all…but only in peripheral vision.  Only “grasp” it all emotionally, an utterly humbling experience. The “Chakras” and the “HJ” are only maps.  I say they are the best maps in human history, but they aren’t a fraction as complex as real live human beings.  But…but…


The test was: could I disprove this?  Could I find human interactions that didn’t fit into the model?  So far, I’ve not.   The test is “is it true?  Is it useful?  Is it kind?

Well…I may not be able to prove if it is ultimately “True”.

Useful?  The combination is probably the most useful tool I’ve ever found, offering insight into every human interaction, hope, dream, or goal anyone could mention.

Kind?  It suggests a path to understanding the unity of humanity, the connection between all of us, and the reason to be gentle with our brothers and sisters, each of whom is doing the very best they can with the resources they have.  If they could do better…they’d resolve their current issues and pop right up to the next level of challenge.  Everyone is dealing with all they can handle…at the moment.

But it also suggests, clearly, how we can change and grow…


The implications are massive: IF YOU WILL START ORGANIZING YOUR MODELS OF LIFE ALONG THESE TWO AXIS, you will slowly begin to expand perception and intuition, to function with wisdom and clarity that you are “borrowing” from millions of past sages and storytellers.


The results, over time, are startling.


Now…if I can just figure out what the third axis is…naw. Let it go.  Mystery is a good thing.





Four basic principles

(From 2005)

There are four basic principles of THINK AND GROW RICH:

1) A definite purpose backed by a burning desire for its fulfillment.

2) A definite plan expressed in continuous action

3) A mind closed tightly against all negative and discouraging influences, including negative input from friends, family, and acquaintances.

4) A friendly alliance with one or more persons who will encourage one to follow through with both plan and purpose.

A huge amount of the rest of the book just tells you how to implant these four steps in your life, so that they function automatically. The whole “Lifewriting” thing came about when I posited that the core mythic story of mankind, the Hero’s Journey, can be viewed as the combined wisdom of all the world’s cultures on the path from one level of our life to the next. Actually gender neutral and apparently about as pan-cultural as a concept like this can possibly be, it suggests a syntax for organizing whatever resources you possess or must acquire that can be applied to a given task. And what task is that? Well, in my case it was balance, probably because I saw a very real potential for self-destruction in my efforts to succeed.

You might take a close look at these four principles, and ask yourself what happens to people who have NONE of these four in place? Which do you think most important? Which do you have in place in your life, and which do you still need to find a way to apply? Are there any that you find unnecessary, or counterproductive? This is an important conversation, as these four points are at the heart of the most successful success strategy I know of. Ignore it at your peril.

-Steve Barnes

Climbing Dog Mountain


IMG_0781.JPGFifteen years ago, I wanted to climb Kilimanjaro in Tanzania as research for my novel GREAT SKY WOMAN.  Due to other factors, Nicki and I did a nature safari instead.  But the urge always remained.   The last year or so, I decided to organize my time and energy to take another whack at it. The question I had was: could I handle it physically?  Mentally?


And…why did I want to do it? There was a sense of pilgrimage.  Tanzania felt…odd.  Like a homecoming.   I don’t think it was as much a matter of it being a black country, as it was the experience of going to Oldevai Gorge, site of the excavation of some of the very earliest human remains. The sense, in other words, of being in the cradle of humanity.  Returning to the United States felt like returning home after a day at the beach…I could feel the tide pulling at my bones.


So…the problem was that I needed to test my fitness.  Fifteen years ago, I was confident in my ability to do it. The measure was: if you can climb 3000 feet in three hours, you are fit enough.   There are factors of acclimatization, but you really won’t know until you get on the mountain.  If the 3000 feet felt right, I was prepared to accept the risk.


Which brings me to Dog Mountain in the Columbia Gorge. That was what we used to climb to prepare ourselves, test ourselves.  I’d never climbed it since going to Tanzania, and it seemed my best touchstone.


So…when I was asked to speak at the “Write on the River” conference in Wenatchee, I saw that as an opportunity.  Flew into Portland a day early, drove into the Gorge last Friday morning, and started hiking.


It was tough. REALLY tough.  Steeper than I imagined, and just a constant grind.   Up and up the mountain, the first time I’d ever climbed it alone, allowing the exertion to drive me deeper into my mind.  Paying attention to the rhythm of step and push and breath.  Where was my attention focused?  On the effort? The   splendor of the gorge as I traversed the switchbacks and rose higher and higher?


How about watching the other people, many of whom raced past me as I struggled? What about the monologue in my head judging myself and my efforts?


I noticed something interesting. At the bottom of the mountain, there were lots of people hitting the trail. They were friendly, but preoccupied and distant.   In the middle, it got sort of lonely.  Not many people around, nothing but my own head and my doubts and struggles. And then as I traversed the last few hundred feet, it got oddly crowded again. And…the attitude of the people changed. More deep smiles. Nods.  The people coming back down were warm, welcoming.  “you’re almost there!  Doing great!   Keep going!”


Why?  Because everyone there had paid the same price. Experienced the same thing.  We all had similar values, far moreso than the people in the tiny cars we could see streaming along the road below. And by the time I reached the very top, and sat looking out over the river, there was a peacefulness I’d forgotten about.   I was the only one there by himself.  It was all families and couples.  Mostly quiet and still.  A sense of deep, deep satisfaction.   I loved it.


And then I started back down.  And immediately, I knew something was wrong.    I could barely walk.  My balance was trashed.  And walking over piles of naked rock, an annoyance on the way up, became a nightmare on the way down.  They jabbed through my inadequate shoes, tried to twist my ankles, fatigued my calves.   Balance was trashed.   I’d never felt anything like that, as if the muscles in my lower legs were dead, leaving me balancing on my bones.


It took me longer to get down than it took to go up.  Every step torture.  Literally taking ten tiny steps, and having to rest.  Every time the ground leveled out I started to recover, but downhill was murderous.   And worse…THE GROUND NEVER GOT ANY CLOSER.  That’s how it seemed.  No matter how long I walked, it felt as if nothing changed.  For the first time in my life I understood how people get lost and die in the woods, exhausted and frightened, crushed by terror-induced tunnel vision and unable to see options.


After almost four hours, I got close enough to the ground that I could see cars in the parking lot. In every other previous instance, this had given me a burst of energy and I’d almost RUN down the rest of the hill.   Nope.  In fact, the fatigue hit even harder.   Tiny steps.  Tiny little steps. And then…I was finally down.


Driving four hours to Wenatchee was a little “crampy” but not that bad.     Dragging my luggage up the stairs to my room…not horrible.    Did a little yoga, and went to bed.


I knew it would take feeling my body in the morning to know that my experience meant in terms of Kilimanjaro.  I could get fitter (in fact, I’d prepared for the climb with nothing more than the Zero Net Time program.  I could push MUCH harder), could have better equipment, food, more water, etc.


But the question was: would I wake up in the morning with my body saying “please sir, may I have another!”


Ummm…no, it didn’t.   What my body told me was that I could push harder, smarter, work with experts, and without a doubt if someone put a gun to Jason’s head and said “climb!” I could do it.


But…I just didn’t see a way that I could have FUN doing it.  Nope.  Five days of torture, a half hour of celebration at the top, and an entire day (or much more!) of disbelief in my own asininity coming back down.   What would that feel like if I got a blister?  Let alone a badly twisted ankle?


Why had I wanted to climb Kili? For pilgrimage, adventure, joy.   Did that sound like a joyous experience?  No.


Then…why do it?   Because my ego didn’t want to let it go?  Because I was afraid of the implications of giving up (ah!   You’re getting old!)  Afraid of what others might think?


Just couldn’t think of reasons strong enough to motivate me to do something I knew in advance would be an incredibly painful and unpleasant experience.  No. Sigh.  My window of opportunity for that adventure has closed, dammit.


So…I’ll have to find others.  Physical challenges, sure…but nothing where, if I reach my limit, I’m four days away from safety.  Mental challenges, absolutely. And emotional.  And spiritual.    But my Hero’s Journey hit that Dark Night of the Soul place, and my leap of Faith was that I had not just the right, but the responsibility to ask myself what my real values were.    Did Rick lose in Casablanca because he put Ilsa on the plane with her husband?


No, in fact he won his soul, by accepting that our actions have to be motivated by our emotions and values, that every action changes us, and that it is foolishness to cling to a notion after you have new and contradictory information.


I’m still sore, but am really, really glad I climbed Dog Mountain last Friday.  It was one of those painful lessons which prevent even more painful mistakes.


And now…I wonder what challenge I’ll choose next?  It will be fun to find out.




Business versus Government

I saw a recent conversation about business people going into government. I’d guess that someone managing a business empire might be good at running a governmental entity with a budget twice that size–say a billion-dollar business translates to a medium-size city. Does anyone know of a research paper comparing business people who go into government with government people who go into business, with comparative success rates based on size of organization or some such?0

The War of Art

Today a reader, friend and BKF brother posted the following:

Bilal Al’amin “accomplishment is a continual thing, it is reaping the rewards that elude us. For all my prowess in martial arts, I’ve accomplished a lot, yet have never reaped the  rewards. One can say it doesn’t matter but it does matter, for it gives you a feeling of doubt and second guessing. That is where laws of attraction must be applied in earnest. Yesterday I wrote myself a bestselling review, which I posted on my refrigerator. So that everyday I look at it, I also wrote myself a check in the amount that I am worth, in regards to my writing, posted that as well. What I lacked was applying that concept to my successes. For if you desire to grow from one level to the next you must not limit your vision to just saying I want to be a writer, but to I want to be a successful bestselling author, I want grow financially enough to make a difference in the world, that was what I lacked and now I see so clearly. Works and the law of attraction it works, I was just using it on a minimal scale through limitations of my vision for the future.”


Back in about 1988 when Nicki was about two years old, my agent called me and told me I had a pitch meeting at Paramount for the “Friday the 13th” television series. The premise was simple: there was a haunted curio shop, and if you purchased an item, it forced you to murder people. The stars of the show had inherited the shop, and had to trace the items down and get them back before disaster occurred.  The question was: could I come up with an idea for this series?


I was a fan of the movies (hey, who doesn’t want to watch teenagers get hacked up?) and thought: “sure.”   I devised an idea I thought would work, and went in to pitch.  Drove onto the Paramount lot, filled with optimism, and into the bungalow where they had their offices. There were three or four guys in there, and we chatted a bit (they were “big fans” of my work. They always are.) and after a few minutes I pitched my story.


It was called “Purple Heart.”


It started in Viet Nam.  There is a unit being led by an incompetent young officer, the kind of idiot who would send you to retrieve a live grenade in a mine field under heavy machine gun fire.  The squad’s NCO is beloved of the men, and due to the officer’s asininity, is killed. The men respond by fragging the officer. Realizing what they did, and that they will be tried and convicted of the murder, they frame the dead sergeant for the crime.  There is only one problem: the sergeant isn’t quite dead.  He is medivac’d out and taken to the hospital, where he loses both legs, an arm, and an eye…but survives.


The brass is certain that he killed the officer, but realize they could never convict him–he would look too pitiable. An embarrassment. Instead, they find ways to screw him out of his benefits and discharge him dishonorably.


He is mentally confused, and can’t quite understand what has happened to him. Years later, as a squad reunion on his birthday, someone accidentally drops the dime about what really happened.   He is shocked, heartbroken.  “How could you do this to me?  I loved you guys.  I would have died for you..”


The party dissolves into acrimony, and he leaves, returning to his cold-water walk-up flat.   His landlady pities this poor young man, knows he has nothing, and that it is his birthday.   On the way home that day she passed a certain curio shop, where she saw, in the window…a Purple Heart medal someone’s grandfather won in WW2.  She bought it, and gives it to the sergeant.   She pins it to his chest. “Here’s the medal you should have won…” she says.


And a single tear rolls out of his single eye.  He goes up to his room, pulls himself up onto his lonely bed, and goes to sleep. But as he sleep…the medal begins to GLOW.   And BEAT.  Boom-boom.  Boom-boom. Boom-boom.   And metal VEINS  extrude from the sides of the medal and PLUNGE into his chest.  And his empty eye socket begins to glow, and the eye grows back. And the stumps of his legs begin to glow, and his legs grow back. And the stump of his arm begins to glow, and the arm grows back.


And he levers himself up out of the bed, reborn as a creature of vengeance, and goes after the men who framed him, killing them off one at a time, Commando style.  Karate chops, barbed wire garrot, pungi stakes dipped in human feces…




You get the picture.  I pitched that story, and after I finished, the room was silent.  The guys looked at each other, and then one of them said: “we can’t do that story.  Because if we did that story people would think that this show was about something. And our only excuse for doing a mass murder every week is that this is pure entertainment.”


I sat, thunderstruck.  Realized that my very quest for quality and meaning had sabotaged my efforts to support my family.  I NEEDED these men to say “yes”. With a wave of a pen, a single phone call to the finance office, these men could pay me TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS of desperately needed money.


“What else have you got?” they asked.   And…I began to babble out ideas, as their eyes turned to glass and they assumed attitudes of mild pity.


“Well, come back any time,” they said, ushering me out.  And I left, saddened, confused, and afraid.


But something odd happened. As soon as I stood in the parking lot, it was as if I’d walked out of an opium den, and the toxic lure of money began to lose its pull on me.  I breathed more deeply.  And I heard a voice in my head. Clearly. It was a child’s voice. And it said:


“Daddy, why did you have me talking to those terrible men?”


That was the voice of my inner child. The little eight-year old boy who first looked out at the world and wanted to be a storyteller. He was crushed. Because his father had tried to pimp him out for money.


For the next months something terrible happened. The natural flow of creativity, the endless fountain of ideas I had always enjoyed just…dried up.    I slogged on, but it was painful.  Where writing had always been a refuge from the world, now it was pure horror. Torture. I had betrayed my own creativity, and was paying the price for it.   I could not go on like this.  I remembered seeing the business card of an older writer:  “Freelance Hack and Literary Mechanic” it said.


Within a year he was dead of alcoholism.  I now understood how it had happened.  Somehow, he had betrayed the child within him, and he was a dead writer typing.


I had to heal myself, or die.



I began a daily meditation regimen. Every day I would visualize a place I loved as a child.  Santa Monica beach.   When I went there, there was no Little Stevie to be seen, but I brought toys and treats anyway, would sit quietly looking out over the ocean, then leave the toys and food and go away.


The next day I’d return, bringing new toys.  For weeks, months, nothing happened. In that dream logic way, the previous day’s stuff was usually gone, but it was as if I’d never brought them.  But one day…they had been disturbed.


Little Stevie had been there when I was gone. I continued, day after day, sitting for from 20 minutes to an hour, bringing him treats, and more and more often when I arrived the next day it was clear he’d played with the toys, or even eaten the snacks.


And one day, maybe eight months later…I saw, distant on the horizon, the figure of a tiny boy-child.  Day after day I kept coming, and noticed that, as weeks passed, he came closer and closer.   A sad, lonely little boy, terrified to trust.


And then one day I rose. Just stood there. And he was close enough for me to see his frightened, angry expression.  He turned and walked away.


The next day I did the same thing. And that day he stood facing me, but came no closer.


The next week he took a step toward me.  And the next day another step. And then I took a step toward him. He flinched, but didn’t run.


And over the next weeks we came closer and closer, until one day he broke, and ran to me, and jumped into my arms, and we hugged each other and cried.  “Oh daddy,” he sobbed.  “I’ve been so lonely. Where have you been?”


And I swore to him that I would never leave him again, that I would never EVER force him to do the work it was MY job to do.  That I would die first.


I’ve never broken that promise. And he has been within me always.


The job of the creative child is to dance, and be told he is wonderful and precious. The job of the adult is to build a safe space for that child to play.  To build the walls high, prune thorns off the flowers, and keep the pumas at bay.  The child dances. The ADULT works.




In the arts, the creative impulse is the child self.   It is the ADULT’s responsibility to market and sell and exert discipline and handle the rejection.  What should I have done at Paramount?  I should have had back-up stories before ever walking in the room. Or told them I’d be back. But NEVER exposed my creative heart to those men.  Never. It was child abuse.




The creative heart doesn’t understand money.   Children have NO idea how the parents suffer to protect him from the reality.  The children play while the father goes down into the coal mines to work. The child sleeps and dreams while the mother stays up all night mending cloths. The child eats while the adults pretend not to be hungry because there is no food.


The adult understands the world of exchange and symbols like money.   To the child, putting a price, a value on the dance, the song, the story is like putting a price on a kiss.  They are priceless, or nothing at all.


If you are to thrive as an artist, if you are to survive, you have to disabuse yourself of the notion that quality in art is tied to money.  It is not. It never has been, any more than the fact that McDonald’s is the largest and most profitable food organization is tied to the quality of their hamburgers.


If you want your creative “child” to thrive, your “adult” has to do HIS job.


“If you have mastered anything, you know how to master anything else.”


Jerry Pournelle said this to me a long time ago.  The implication is that YOU ALREADY KNOW how to succeed at anything, if you really look at what you know, and how you learned it.   Bilal is a wonderful martial artist. I so miss playing with him!  And he has struggled to make money with it, or with his art.


That means his “child” is not safe.   What are the lessons from his arena of mastery (martial arts) that he can apply to being successful in writing?   Let’s take a look at a belief chain implied by his note (there are others, but these are common among artists):


  1. Thinking “if I’m good, I’ll make money/ get rich” in the arts.
  2. “Talent” determines success.
  3. Since it doesn’t work that way, the “game” must be corrupt.
  4. Marketing and sales are bad, wrong, painful.


Let’s take a look at the Martial arts, an arena both Bilal and I have refined over decades. A core text of martial theory is A BOOK OF FIVE RINGS by Musashi Miyamoto.  In it, he has a list of nine principles for warriors. They also work for writers.


  1. Do not think dishonestly.
  2. The Way is in training.
  3. Become acquainted with every art.
  4. Know the ways of all professions.
  5. Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.
  6. Develop the ability to see the truth in all matters.
  7. Learn to perceive those things which are not obvious.
  8. Pay attention to even small things.
  9. Do nothing which is of no use.



I am going to get you started.  I would do more, but really, you need to engage with these ideas personally if you want to learn.  So I will take those first four beliefs and couple them with the first four principles.  I could have coupled them to any of the nine.     PLEASE DO THIS YOURSELF.


  1. “If I’m good, I’ll make money/get rich.”   Couple this with “Do not think dishonestly.”  Look around.  Is this true?  Do the best artists make the most money?  NO never happened.  Get over it.  IT IS NOT TRUE.
  2. “Talent” determines success” is coupled with “The Way is in training.”  Day in, day out.  10,000 hours before you can dare to consider yourself expert.   And that’s 10k hours of conscious, focused training preferably following a path laid out for you by a master.  And the next one is critical.
  3. “Since it isn’t true that quality=reward, the system must be corrupt.”  couple this with “Become acquainted with every art.”  There is the skill and craft of dance, music, painting, writing.  And then…there is the BUSINESS of selling them.   Look carefully.  THEY ARE DIFFERENT THINGS.   The apparatus of money-making is NOT the apparatus that develops pure skill.      They are very different aspects.  And that means that either you find someone willing to take the “adult” role (a lawyer/ agent/ manager) or you will have to do it yourself. And let me be brutally honest: those “adults” are easiest to find if you have already developed your own “adult” in that sense.  Sending your “child” out to tap every adult it meets on the arm and say “will you be my mommy?  Will you be my Daddy?” is abusive.  It is YOUR responsibility to do this.   No one else’s.  This is why so many artists teach school and do their art at night.
  4. “Marketing and sales are bad, wrong, painful.”  Couple this with “Know the Ways of all professions.”  In every money-making enterprise, you need three things:
    1. To develop a unique skill or talent.  Otherwise you are in a race to the bottom with pricing. If you can’t be the cheapest, you are screwed with this approach.  Be yourself.  Be WORLD CLASS at being yourself.
    2. Find the “hive” of people who need what YOU have.  It is said that an artist needs only 1000 raving fans to support them. You don’t need the world.
    3. Find the right MEDIA to reach those 1000 fans.


Message, market, medium.  THOSE are the three keys.  IF you believe you have something worth offering, you have an obligation to share it with the world.  A baker must believe in his cookies, be willing to give free samples, put up delicious pictures of cookies, let the smell of fresh-baked cookies waft from his shop. Put his shop where there is traffic, people whose mouths can be induced to water.


Message, Market, Media.

The child dances, the adult markets and sells.


And…sales and marketing are as much a skill as anything else.  Don’t you dare think you can master it by reading an article or two. If you have a thousand novels and books on writing, but two books on selling, don’t you DARE think you know enough.  That is the child self, who wants and needs to believe his kisses and hugs are of ultimate value.  Who will cry if she has to read rejection slips, who just wants to be told she is precious.


It is the adult who can handle a thousand rejections, who can go into meeting after meeting and stand up to the other adults, and walk away without feeling beaten: it’s just business.


This is why I created the “Ancient Child” program, to help you separate the two.  This is why I beg people to re-read THINK AND GROW RICH once a year.  Why I implore you to use “The Morning Ritual” to shift your energy so that you can take action day after day after damned day.


EVERYONE wants to make a living doing something they love.   Something that expresses their hearts.   If you want your child to dance, your adult must be stronger, tougher, more resiliant and ruthless, more protective and cunning, like a frontier family whose mother and father must deal with Indians and bears and locusts and every other damned thing…so that the children can play.


It’s worth it, I swear it is.   The reward is the sweetest smiles, the dearest kisses, the warmest hugs.  “Mommy.  Daddy.  You never left me alone. You never quit”


And you will be able to answer, honestly:  “And I never will.”





Flow and Impostor Syndrome

One cure for both “Impostor Syndrome ” and raging ego is to think not of yourself, but of the path you walk.   I am nothing as a writer or martial artist, but my teachers and role models have molded me well.  I express them, not my ego identity.


When I am in the maximum flow state, there is no awareness of “I”.  My attention isn’t on me.  How can “I” be an impostor, if “I” is not there?


No self-pity.  No self-acclimation. No “self” in the moments of deepest commitment to craft or action.


Like most kids, I used to love watching cartoons all day.  I’d just fall into the television screen.


The first book I ever read was called “The Five Chinese Brothers”.  I memorized the tale, read the pages, and began to associate the printed words with the sounds, with the feelings.


But the first REAL book, chapter book, was probably something called “Space Cat.”  And after about fifteen minutes, I would fall into the book the same way I did into those cartoons.


Later, I began to write stories. At first it was just letters and words.  But after about fifteen minutes of constant scribbling…it felt as if the page opened up, and I just fell in.  It was a wonderful place to be, a safe space for a small, sensitive kid.  This was harder than reading.  I had to EARN it, whereas “Space Cat” demanded less work…and television cartoons took even less.


But it was so satisfying.



I used to run the track at Pepperdine University.     Took me a few months to work my way up to five miles, but I noticed the same pattern every time.   I would run, and for the first mile or so, felt creaking and rusty. Then the next mile I’d feel discomfort, and my body might send me pain messages. Even panic.  “You’re gonna die!”  But I would answer: “if I’d die from running, I’d probably drop dead later on today anyway.  If I die, I’m going to die on my terms.”  Kept running…and reached a place where suddenly I was in rhythm with my body.  It felt as if I was standing still, and the rest of the world was moving around me.  Beautiful.  Like writing. Reading. Cartoons. Took even more work, but it was wonderful, and worth it.



Much later, I studied sexual magic.  And noticed that once I stopped chasing an orgasm (for either myself or my partner), there was a “gateway” where breath and motion and focus all started coming together, entering the same realm.  About fifteen minutes it took.




I’ve found this space physically, mentally, emotionally, sexually, spiritually.   At one point there are opposites, and pieces, and a collection of parts. Then there is a functioning machine. And then…something living and beautiful appears.  And then…even that disappears, and there is just…flowing.


And every time I’ve been through that progression, the outcome has been the very finest and most valuable interaction or performance of my life.  That road is the doorway to everything you’ve sought in life.


And the key is to find any thread of it in ALL THREE basic arenas: body, mind, and emotions.   And begin to wind them together.


Can you identify moments of flow in all three arenas?  In which do you find it easiest? Can you identify your breathing patterns? The qualities of mind? Can you transfer them from one arena to another?


Because if you can, it is like noticing that steam, ice, and flowing water are all the same thing.   And once you see that, feel that, KNOW that, you have touched something very difficult to teach.


But easy to learn, if you will actually move, and feel, and think, and ask: “what is true about these things? How are they all the same?”


So…what has been your experience with flow?





One of my favorite lies

I’m gonna tell you about one of my very favorite lies.  I tell it all the time.  Yes, I do.



I watched “Chicago” again recently, and was struck by the brilliant labors of lawyer Billy Flynn ( a tap-dancin’ Richard Gere.  I mean, has he got a John Travolta voodoo doll or something?  Do you realize that Travolta turned down AMERICAN GIGOLO and AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN?).  Flynn had to get dim but clever, venomous little chippie Roxie Hart (a wonderful Renee Zellwegger) off on a charge of pumping three bullets into her lover.


He couldn’t change the core facts of the case, which had her dead to rights.  What he COULD do is control the narrative. Control the STORY.   He created a new back-story for her (“A convent girl!  A runaway marriage!”), said that she had indeed fallen into an affair but called it off when she found she was pregnant with her husband’s child (“don’t hurt the BABY!!”) that her lover attacked her (“she fought like a tiger”) and that they struggled over the fatal weapon (“they both reached for the gun”).  Later he rather flamboyantly suggests that the District Attorney fabricated evidence.  He deliberately creates a confusing circus (“give ’em the old razzle dazzle” as the song goes) that confuses the very clear facts, then uses force of personality to imprint his chosen narrative, while the hapless DA, far less charismatic, is unable to maintain the thread of his own story.   Verdict?  Not guilty.



Remember the O.J. case?   Get the joke yet?



Now. About that lie…

When I was a kid,  maybe 5th grade,  a bully followed me home from Alta Loma elementary school, punching me in the stomach as I walked.   If I tried to cover my stomach, he threatened to punch me in the face.  The shame of feeling unable to defend myself damaged my self-image for decades, made it difficult to practice marital arts, contributed to my sense of hopelessness and helplessness.  I would feel vulnerable, and attend class until I started making contact with my animal self, where I would automatically respond to threat with proper technique. But then that created another threat (“I am small and weak!  My skills are attracting the attention of stronger predators!  I must stop!”) and the fear would push me back out of the school…until my eroding skills created greater fear of the outside world, pushing me back to the school.  This toxic loop continued for SEVENTEEN YEARS.  It was so bad that I remember being afraid to go back to my school to reclaim a Levi jacket I’d left there, for terror that someone would ask me to spar with them (the sad thing? They wanted to spar with me BECAUSE I WAS GOOD.  Emotionally, seeing myself as the boy who got beaten up, unable to defend myself, I only saw that “they wanted to hurt me.”)


I’ve spoken of my major breakthrough here, the realization that fear was a universal human experience. But never talked about one of the individual tactics I used to clean up the mess.


I had to do something about that memory.  In the book A TASTE FOR DEATH, Peter O’Donnell created a monster villain, six and a half foot tall Simon Delicata, “built like a rhino and moves like a cat) who terrified Modesty Blaise’s right-hand man, Willie Garvin, who is depicted as one of the greatest martial artists in the world (I’ve read the entire 40-year run of the comic strips four times, and no one, NO ONE ever lays a finger on Garvin in fair combat.  Modesty does in practice, but the real thing? Never.  Not once.  In the books, yes.  I pointed this out to Peter once, and he was shocked, sort of the way Charles Schultz supposedly never realized that Charlie Brown had never kicked that damned football!). Why was he terrified, and have no hope of beating this man? Because when Willie was much much younger, he got into a fight with Delicata, hit him with everything he had, couldn’t hurt him, and was SLOWLY beaten   almost to death.  The memory went deep into his head “the old psychological domination” Willie said, tapping the back of his own head.


He literally wasn’t able to access his skill and speed and tactical cleverness, and would have died during the inevitable final confrontation…were it not for the fact that Modesty FORCES him to rise above his fear to save her life.  Fantastic scene.


I needed to break my own “Psychological domination”, which is kinda like driving with your brakes on.  But that bully was long gone. Can’t even remember his name any more. His face is a blur. I just remember the pounding as we walked along West Boulevard.  What could I do?


I could take control of the story.  I could block and scramble the memory. Would this be cheating? Who cared? They were MY friggin’ memories.   I’d noticed that healthy, successful people tended to remember their lives as BETTER, their own actions as more central to change than they’d really been. While depressed people tended to selectively edit THEIR memories: they’d never been loved or supported, never had a victory, never been happy, and so forth and so on.


As House M.D. says: “everybody lies.” The only question is: will you lie to support yourself or tear yourself down.  Yeah, I know…”do not think dishonestly.”


But…is it dishonest if you KNOW and ADMIT you’re doing it?  And would that be wrong..?


I decided no.   So…I  began a course of meditation. And would envision that incident.  And every time I envisioned it, I felt sick to my stomach.   Remembered the pain, and the rage, and the helplessness as the bully pounded me in the belly again and again, threatening to hit me in the face if I even defended myself.


I couldn’t even identify with the situation–it hurt too badly.  So I imagined myself sitting in a movie theater WATCHING the scene.  Had to bleach the color and sound out of it, make the image small and distant…then finally I could see it without wanting to vomit.


And then…I began to change the movie.  Re-edit it to my satisfaction.


I began to imagine that I could go back in the past, and coach my younger self, teach him how to whip that bully’s butt…


Another time I imagined that I was a full-grown adult who could laugh off the bully’s punches…


And yet another time that I was able to talk the bully into being my friend and protector…


But most of the time, I imagined kicking his ass. Throwing him on the ground.  Making him cry.


Over and over and over again.  Until the original memory was damaged–I no longer identified with it enough to cause the shame, pain, and nausea, like scratching a record until it no longer played.  Until, when I remembered it, I automatically selected a more empowering memory, a different interpretation (I was only PRETENDING to be hurt, so that he could feel like a big, strong guy to counter his own insecurity, you see…)


Scrambled that memory. Built a new one.  Imprinted it. Ran it forward and back and back and forth until I have no EMOTIONAL memory of what happened that day.   I could find it, reconnect with it…but why would I want to?




I changed the story.   Just like you can change yours.   And when you organize the events of your life, you get to organize them to that they empower you, or so that they tear you apart.  And you can do it for your children, or family, or readers–because every story you write or tell is only about one of two things: what human beings are, or what the world is.


We don’t ever REALLY remember things the way they were.  While we are obliged to search for truth, we also have the right to be happy, and healthy.   If I’d seen total truth, the memory would have given me no pain at all.  But as long as I was still lying to myself (“I’m still small and weak!”) I might as well tell an empowering lie.


That lie, no worse than the other lie, gave me power, eased the pain. And led me to being able to embrace truth.  Strange…but true.





Forget clever…just tell the truth

Controlling the story you tell yourself controls the results you get. And controlling the stories you tell OTHERS influences the world, powerfully.  Lifewriting, and the techniques embedded in it, is/are incredibly powerful, so powerful that it is critical to remember the most basic gatekeepers of morality. Simple principles like Musashi’s “Do not think dishonestly” or the Sufi “the beginning of evil is to treat people as means, rather than ends.”


Without such basic principles, self-justification can lead us down the path to destruction, as it did Walter White in “Breaking Bad” or as will happen to Jimmy on “Better Call Saul.”  Small actions, every step justified…leading to hell itself.



Does power corrupt?  I don’t think so, any more than sunshine and rain destroy. They also create life.  Whether it bakes the earth or drowns the crops, whether wheat or weeds grow…is all a matter of degree and circumstance.  But the things themselves are neutral. The universe doesn’t care.


So we must.   Or the most basic principle I know of for the test of good and evil cannot be met: “does it make the children safer?”


Let me tell you about a time I walked away from power, even though all was well, even though everything worked out, even though I operated on the side of the angels.




Many years ago, I made friends with a co-worker.  My wife and I socialized with him and his wife. Call him “Harry.”   A good, smart guy, maybe a little reserved. I liked him.  One day I got a call from his wife that kind of spun me (it was one of those: “why in the hell is she talking to ME?” moments I’ve kind of gotten used to.)


She told me that her husband Harry was deeply depressed. Addicted to pornography. Would lock himself in his office all night watching it on his computer, and hadn’t touched her in months.  And…was starting to talk about suicide.  She was terrified for him, for them. He wouldn’t see a therapist, or talk to anyone about it.


And yeah, you guessed it: she asked me if I could help.


WTF?   I couldn’t believe it. I mean…why me?  And then I heard a little voice in the back of my head that said: because you can. And she knows it. Somehow, she does.


I believe that on some level, people can read your mind.  I really do.   And so I said to her that I’d try.


Wow.  Well…I’d been studying Neuro Linguistic Programming for a couple of years, and thought I was pretty good with it.  And thought that maybe it could be of use.  NLP is the study of intra and inter-human communication, the “machine language” of human consciousness.  It controls the symbols that we use to represent reality.  The “story” we tell ourselves.


So I decided to tell a story.  Could I?   Wow.   What a challenge! Nothing more than a marriage and a human life possibly at risk. No pressure, right???


So…the next day I called Harry and, with a slight quaver in my voice, asked him if we could meet for dinner. I…(quaver) needed some advice, and he was the only person I could think of to go to.  He was surprised, but agreed.


We met the next day at a restaurant.  I was uncertain, insecure, had a hard time meeting his eyes.  But the whole time I was doing this…I was using NLP techniques called “matching and mirroring” to get into synch with him.  I matched his breathing patterns.  Body posture. Verbal predicates (he spoke in auditory terms if I recall correctly, so I’d say things like “I’ve heard…” and “sounds to me like” and so forth as opposed to “it feels”, “I see” or “I know” which would be kinesthetic, visual, or digital)


Once I had matched breathing, posture, predicates, gestures and so forth…ALL below the threshold of awareness (It doesn’t work if the person knows you’re doing it) I went deep inside myself and induced a state of deep relaxation/awareness in MYSELF.   Because by this time Harry and I were deeply connected, he began to follow me.   I slowed my breathing. Relaxed my shoulders. Wove slightly, rhythmically side to side, and noted when he began to follow me.




Well…all the time, I was telling him that my marriage and life were doing badly. That I was depressed, and starting to wonder what it was all about. Whether anyone would miss me.  Yeah, I know it sounds bald to you NOW, but I was very careful, and by this time, “Harry” was deeply entranced. Really. Sitting right there at the dinner table.   And I asked him what advice he might have for me.


And he began to say something about remembering the good times in life, and not letting the bad overwhelm me. Knowing that I would get through it all, in time.


I watched his eyes.    He believed what he was saying. He FELT it, his eyes misting up just a little.




Now, pay careful attention to what I did next.  All of this was subtle, but I have to make it explicit to show you how it worked.  And it would NEVER have worked had I not established rapport and guided him into a relaxed place.


“Are YOU (I pointed at myself!) telling ME (I pointed at him) that every time I (pointing at him) am feeling depressed, I (pointing at him) should remember the good times?”


He nodded, weaving as if he was drunken.


“And are YOU (pointing at myself) telling ME (pointing at him) that every time I (pointing at him) am driving down the street and see a red light, I (pointing at him) will remember to STOP the negative thoughts, and every time I (pointing at him) see a green light, I (pointing at him) will remember to GO FOR IT, to just put the pedal to the medal and use that good mind I (Pointing at him!) have to solve any problems and take action…”


And so it went.  His pupils dilated, weaving like he was about to fall over. I was laughing my ass off inside.   This was amazing. Like magic.


Well, after about five minutes, I brought him out of the trance, back to the room, tested to be sure he was cool, thanked him for his time…and we said good-night.




About a week later I got a call from “Harry’s” wife.   “Steve!” she said.  “What did you do?”

“Ummm…I just talked to him.  Why?”

“Well, he came home that night, grabbed me and kissed me and took me to the bedroom and…” I don’t blush a whole lot, but I certainly did during THAT conversation. Wow.


He hadn’t looked at pornography again. He was diving into projects he’d abandoned months ago.  He told her he loved her for the first time in years…


Holy crap.

Babbling thanks, she hung up.  So far as I know, he has not relapsed.




And I stopped practicing NLP after that.   What had happened  scared the living hell out of me.  Why?


Because, even though things had apparently worked out, I realized I was REALLY good at this.  And frankly…I knew I wasn’t honest enough  to have that kind of power.  I KNEW it. Knew that I would use that to manipulate people, justifying my actions at every turn, until it was all at the level of unconscious competence.

At which point it would be too late.

And that little bit of moral rot at my core (remember the giggle?) would hide deeply, and convince me that all was well.   I would be capable of twisting and warping my entire world, all the time convincing myself I was the Good Guy.

Thank GOD I’d seen that nasty little bastard inside me, and heard it giggle before it could hide.


I was treating Harry as a “thing”, playing him like a toy.  And even though the final result was good…the end did NOT justify the means. Unless I could respect him and love him and honor him at EVERY MOMENT, I could NOT trust myself to have the ability to dive into a human soul like that, and re-wire the works.


So I stepped away from NLP for years, until I healed more deeply, and could trust myself more.


And then, only then…did I begin coaching people again.   Once there was no giggle, only a deep and pervasive sense of profound humbleness and thanks that I could help another precious human being heal themselves. To step completely out of my ego and let “it” happen.The techniques are interesting. It is fun to be clever, or smart, or even brilliant.


But there is something more important.  To be GOOD.  To see human beings as extensions of yourself, not as machines to be fixed or puppets to be manipulated.  That other path is the road to hell, no matter what your intentions.


If you want to help the world, heal yourself first.   Diminish the need to lie to yourself about why your relationships, your body, your career  are what they are.  Love yourself, deeply, as you would your own most beloved child.  In accepting your own failings without excuse, you join with all imperfect, wonderful humanity.


And then…learn to extend that to a loved one. And then…learn to love everyone.  While protecting yourself, love them so deeply that you are sharing your light, not just using “technique.”


Tell them the story of how YOU changed, in a language they can understand.  Metaphor, parable, fantasy, fiction, autobiography or biography.  Tell the STORY of how change happened.  Be honest, not clever.


You can run out of clever.  You can never, ever, ever, run out of the truth.  Truth is revolutionary. Stories are the most powerful medicine we can give ourselves, our children, our world…so long as they are grounded in truth.


Break the Matrix.





“He bleeds too”


What is your empowering story?



Last Christmas, I gave myself the single best gift I’ve ever had: three hours of private instruction with a man who, for various cultural   and practical reasons, might well be the greatest martial arts instructor in history, Danny Inosanto. He was Steve Muhammad’s Kempo  instructor, Bruce Lee’s lead student, and considered the world’s greatest authority on the beautiful and devastating Filipino martial arts.  He’s eighty years old, travels the world teaching every weekend, and is still blur-fast and kinesthetically as perfect as a human body can be.  He moves more stiffly now than when I trained with him in the early 80’s, but when performing his beloved arts he moves like a teenager.  He is always training in something: currently Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Russian Systema, and Capoeira, I believe.


We worked sticks, knives, empty hands, push hands,  kicked the bags together, worked Capoeira footwork, talked Bruce Lee and training after fifty (a classic comment: “you can stay in shape as you get older, Steve…it just a little harder to motivate yourself every year”) and how I could continue to improve despite a busy life…specifically, daily training and taking frequent workshops.   He said that some of his very best students no longer attend weekly classes…but they work out at home, and come back to the school for intensive training a few times a year.




He is a master of masters.  No slightest question about it, and it is always fascinating to get close to such people.  In EVERY case, what I’ve seen is daily focused play, real love for the thing they’re doing, performed over decades combined with an encyclopedic knowledge of their field.   The only “talent” I see in common, ever, is the ability to maintain that focus and enthusiasm long after most people have given up and pretended they didn’t care.


This is why the concept of “talent” is such poison to me: I never see it lift people up.  Only to excuse why people quit: “I didn’t have the talent.”


But how do you do that?  Keep going over decades?  First, a clear outcome.  WHAT do you want.  Then, you have to have reasons to do it, and keep doing it, and keep doing it even after everyone else has gone home.   And that means you find something you LOVE and put everything you have into it. But…we are motivated by both PAIN and PLEASURE.  So the best of the best of the best will and do use both.


One of the things I do is to speak quietly and carefully to Masters, and discover what the core memories might be, the “Epiphany Bridges” that made the light bulb go off in their heads and realize that they had found a path to knowledge andpower which, pursued, would bring them joy in life.  “The purpose of life is to be happy” said the Dalai Lama.  Not just to “not hurt” or “not be afraid” but to be HAPPY.  FORGET “to do” lists until you are clear on your OUTCOMES and the emotional reasons you MUST have them.   Have enough “whys” and the “hows” take care of themselves.


So…what was I really about with Danny?  Why did I really want those three hours?  I wanted to know what motivated the master, that’s what.   (I’ve done this with Elon Musk and other ultra-performers, by the way.  Stories  for another time).


So…what is his core motivating memory?   He was in elementary school, and there was a bully who terrorized the playground.  Like everyone else, Danny was afraid of him. One day, this bully attacked a friend of his, and Danny jumped into it and got pounded.  The teachers pulled the two of them apart, and for a moment the bully was restrained and Danny was not.  Danny jumped in and punched him in the nose. Blood squirted and the bully howled.  As the teacher pulled Danny to the principle’s office, he thought to himself:  “he bleeds too!”


He bleeds too. That single image, of an apparently invulnerable bully who could be stopped, or hurt, by skill and courage and timing, has motivated Danny his entire life.    Wow.




Do you know the first time YOU got excited about the possibility of your chosen area of mastery? And if you insist you aren’t interested in mastery of anything…why not?   Why settle for “being good” or “being expert”?   Why not find the thing you love, put your energy behind it for a lifetime, and produce the results that would really make your “inner child” happy?  Because you can’t make money?  Money isn’t skill at your art…it is skill at marketing.  And a good marketer can market ANYTHING.   All that requires is 1) belief that you have something of value to offer the world and 2)lack of fear of rejection, 3) modeling successful marketers.  Develop these, and then decide what you want to do with your life, AND DO IT.



So…in your “Morning Ritual” you should have your “outcome” but also connect with the DRIVING EMOTIONS that give you power.    You can always tell when people do their job “for the money” as opposed to being fascinated and committed and passionate about the project.


If you want to make money, remember that money comes from sales and marketing, and sales is “a transfer of enthusiasm from one person to another.”  This is why people in business meetings so often say “we’re really excited about X…” because through practical experience they KNOW that they have to get excited in order to make things happen. Sometimes they’re just going through the motions, of course. But if YOU can be genuinely excited, you have a chance to infect THEM with that enthusiasm. And then there is no sales resistance, and the project can cook.




So…for me, three things are primary: family, writing, martial arts.  That means that the first thing when I wake up in the morning, I can remember the MOTIVATING FORCE OR IMAGE behind each of them. Tap into the emotions, the “why”.   Love and passion connect to the moment I realized that a lioness needs a lion.  T is a lioness.  If I want the fun and passion and contribution of being a worthy mate to her, I must be at my best.  I connect with yummy reasons to hold this energy.


Writing?  I remember the moment I realized I was born to be a writer, standing in front of an audience at Pepperdine University, having won a short story contest and reading it to the group, watching the Alumni smiling and applauding.


Martial Arts?   Remembering when I backed the worst bully I’d ever known down because I was willing to die and he wasn’t.  Stepping out into the middle of the street on Washington boulevard, inviting him to join me to continue the fight. And…he blinked.


The peace and power I felt, calm in the midst of danger, transformed my life.  The joy of holding the attention of these successful people transformed my life.  The memory of watching beautiful women walking with powerful men as hunting pairs transformed my life.


And there is another level.   If I rotate between these visions, these feelings, sometimes I can find a place inside me that resonates with all three.  I cannot quite tell you what it is–it is not a thing of words. But when I find that place IT IS HUGELY GENERATIVE.


THAT is the place I seek in morning meditation. In Tai Chi.  In writing. In connecting with my wife, or my son.


When I find THAT place I know I’ve hit something special, and when I tap that spring, it connects to everything else in my life.   It is amazing.


But it all starts with WHY DO YOU DO IT?


What is your “he bleeds too!”


Find that…and the door to mastery opens for you.





Making your own Family


One of the things that gets me excited to wake up in the morning is that I never know what people are going to be talking about on my pages.  What emails or texts I might get about one or another issue.   What will be a theme for the day?  How can I help people?


Well, today what came up is painful childhoods.  Abusive step-parents, bullying, neglect.  Painful stuff, damaging our self-worth and what I call “self-love.” Without it, we search for love outside ourselves.


For instance:  I have a student who has a girlfriend who is more sexually experienced than he is.

He won’t leave her, but thinks of her as slutty.  Wants to be the greatest lover she’s ever had, and is constantly repelled and angered by her descriptions of previous affairs and their…attributes.

He constantly asks what’s wrong with her.  My answer is that as far as he’s concerned, NOTHING is wrong with her.   If she has half a brain she knows he considers her “slutty” and if she has any sense at all, knows that he would throw that in her face in an argument. So it would be stupid to ever open her heart to him, risking real damage.  So she attacks him in his insecurity, so that he will either run away or, finally…grow the @#$$ up and take responsibility for his own emotions.   He is stuck in the “dark night of the soul” and cannot take my advice: withdraw from all sexual interactions until he is a healthier human being.


I have no idea if he’ll make it through. He has no faith in her, none in himself. Wants to skip the work that needs to be done.  Newsflash: you can’t do it.


Every time I hear about her bringing up her past experiences, I think: good for you, girl.   Keep those defenses up.  This is the wrong guy.




A family should be the place you can tell the truth. A place to heal. Where you can drop your defenses, your artifice, your masks.  We all wear them: our masks get us through life, but they are so, so heavy. If you can put them down, absorb emotional nutrients, rest and recover…you actually return to the fight STRONGER. But if you cannot put them down, ever?   They will break you.




And if you don’t have memories of a happy childhood?  If you don’t have a healthy birth family?  Well, that’s what friendships are for.


Make one.




There is a movie currently in the theaters, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2, which is all about a “family” of dysfunctional beings who, together, are massively stronger than they are as individuals.

I don’t want to tackle it because too many people haven’t seen it yet.  But I think we can discuss the first film profitably. (And speaking of profit, note that the subject of “family” looms large in both GUARDIANS and the “FAST AND FURIOUS” films, suggesting to me that there is an enormous hunger for simple human connection.   Understand this, feel this, learn how to express it…and you will empower your work…


And possibly your lives.)






O.K.  Every character has an arc in the first film:


Quill’s mother died and he was kidnapped by aliens on the same day.  Raised by an abusive father who trained him to be a thief and threatened him with death by cannibalism every day, he learns commitment and connection, self-sacrifice and the beginnings of love for others.   And in that, he finds self-respect and the beginning of transformation.


Gamora was  kidnapped by an alien who raised her and her adopted sister Nebula to be deadly, emotionless assassins.   When Quill, who is sexually attracted to her, actually commits an action of self-sacrifice her heart is touched: another being in the universe actually cares, for the first time in her life. It is the beginning of her transformation.


Drax the Destroyer is an empty hulk, filled with nothing but the commitment to kill in vengeance for the death of his family.  A friend with an autistic son considers Drax’s over-literal mind to be representative of a person on the Autism/Asperger spectrum.  Whether neurological or environmentally/experientially triggered (abuse, etc.) Drax has nothing but the wish to die killing, until he realizes that drive placed the lives of good  people at risk.  He expands from simple self-interest to the acceptance of other beings as real entities, not just shadows in his own internal tragic play.


Rocket Racoon is the product of an experiment that tore him apart endlessly and reconstructed him into a super-intelligent highly aggressive predator.  Bitter and utterly self-contained, he cares about nothing except his faithful follower Groot, who can express himself only in three words.  Groot, in essence, makes Rocket look downright communicative in comparison.


And Groot’s arc is inextricably intertwined with Rocket’s.  Although he can speak only three words, in some ways he is the most open, expressive, joyous, loyal and emotionally healthy member of the entire crew.  He offers a flower to a child.  He is capable of utterly selfless action: who didn’t tear up when he gave his life for his companions?  “We are Groot”.  And make no mistake, Groot DIED in that moment.  “Baby Groot” is a clone. He is not Groot.   And in the second film, they love him at least partially because he is a symbol of the sacrifice that saved them.  And that Sacrifice opened Rocket’s wounded heart, and made it inevitable that he step up to the plate, join hands with his companions, and create a circle of power capable of containing cosmic forces and besting the villain.


Through Groot’s sacrifice, they became a family, tentatively willing to accept responsibility for each other and try to move forward in their lives.


Those are their individual stories.  Now as a group:

ONCE UPON A TIME there were a group of misfit thieves and criminals who had been damaged and abandoned by the world.  Thrown together, they were forced to tolerate each other to defeat an evil larger than any of their small lives. Clever and courageous, they mastered and out-foxed every challenge until meeting one that was too big, only conquered through the mortal sacrifice of one who saw that they were all part of the same soul.  This sacrifice gave them the strength to move beyond their egos, to expand, to trust and hold each others’ hand in the face of death, and in doing that to not just win…but  earned the greatest reward any of them could have: a place in the universe, people to trust. A future, together.


They were heroes, the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, but more importantly…they were a family.



That was the first film. The second continues to explore the themes of love and family, and together, they’ll make about two billion dollars.  Because we’re all searching for connection.  And denied a healthy connection, we become bitter and selfish, stop believing it is even possible to make a connection with someone outside ourselves, and most horribly lose even the connection to our own being.


  1. We must love ourselves enough to be fiercely protective.  ALL the “Guardians” are strong as individuals.
  2. We must open ourselves to loving another.   It is love, and ONLY love that has the ability to open the floodgates of emotion.  Make us expand our ego walls.
  3. We must ask “who am I?” and “what is true?”  Both films are about the search for identity, and understanding. As we expand, we must seek such understanding to survive in the adult world, as well as accept ourselves and others.
  4. We must find our tribe.  People of similar values.  Believe what they DO, not what they SAY.  Behavior is truth.  Rocket Raccoon believed in love because he SAW it in action.
  5. Win.   By victory, you know your path is a valid one. When that victory brings love and joy to the world, and safety for children, you know it is a righteous one. And then, of course, you move on to the sequel.


The way out of the box is  love.  We have to shift our “story” to believe we are worthy, precious, as worthy as anything in the universe.   Until we do we cannot accept the love of others, cannot believe they see anything inside us worthy of sacrifice. “I’d never join any club that would have me as a member.”


We have to believe. We are as precious as the Nebulas.


We are all Starlords and Ladies.


We are Groot.





Be the hero in the adventure of your lifetime.