Go With the Flow

One of my teachers, the late, great Harley “Gunnie” Reagan, taught me about direct and indirect attention, and the different qualities of mind produced by each. I would be trying to master a throw, say a Tai-Otoshi and my opponent’s resistance would foil me every time.

“You’re trying to throw him,” Harley would say.

I would lay on the mat, sweating, and look up at him with irritation. “What was I supposed to do? Kiss him?”

“Whatever floats your boat, but if you want to learn judo, more listening and less smart-mouth.”

I shut up. He went on.

“You don’t want to throw your opponent. You want to perform Tai-Otoshi. Your opponent cooperates.”

“What if he pulls back?”

“Then you go with it and surrender to a higher intent—completing a flow. If he pulls back, help him. Get there first and flow into an Osoto-gari.” Roughly, the opposite throw. Intention: completing a flow.

The partner who fights the flow will be thrown cleanly. You can put your intent upon a particular expression of the flow, but attachment to it makes you vulnerable to resistance from the opponent. So… no opponent.

No throw. Just… flow.

Where the opponent stops the flow, a “throw” is created.

So where do I put my attention?

On the flow.

In writing, if you concentrate on being the best you can, the most honest that you can, over time you develop style and skill, and those enable you to communicate whatever is within your heart. And regardless of what the voices in your head tell you, if you simply speak the truth of your life with skill, you will rise to whatever level of success you are capable of achieving.

John D. MacDonald, bestselling creator of “Travis McGee”, wrote 800,000 words IN FOUR MONTHS, working eighty hours a week, without selling a single word.

Have YOU got what it takes to write a million words, and read ten million, without selling a word? Then dollars to donuts you have what it takes to fulfill your dreams of being a writer.

But you can’t focus on the fame. Or the money. Do that, and you’ll lose your sense of self, and that is all that makes you unique.

In relationships, the SOULMATE PROCESS suggests that to find the person your heart yearns for, you have to stop chasing after them. Be who you were meant to be, with sufficient amplitude and engagement with the world to send a strong mating signal, like a bird singing in the forest. Out of those who respond, you learn to recognize those singing on your channel, at your frequency.

Simple.

Terrifying if you aren’t actually attracted to your own music.

You CANNOT fake this, no matter how dearly you long to.

You can’t look directly at the sun. What you are seeking will come from your peripheral vision, not your foveal.

Concentrate on the throw, the fame, or the seductive chase and you will miss your excellence, lose your life, never experience the flow of simply being yourself and watching the world respond to you.

-Steve Barnes

Fear and Anger

It is interesting how people react to a simple notion: “Anger is a mask over fear.”  Having learned this about thirty years ago, and used it countless times since then to both understand myself, help clients and defuse potentially violent situations, I now consider it truth rather than opinion, a theory very well tested through practical experimentation and interaction with  human beings.

 

There is a further notion: most violence stems from anger.  Not all violence.   After all, nature is violent, depending on how you use the word.   A “violent storm.”  A “violent collision.”  The dictionary, let alone common usage gives us enough wiggle-room for language that you have to begin with the assumption of good will, of intent to communicate.  The attitude: “hmmm.  If that is true, what would it mean?   How can I test it?   Is it useful?” is a neutral attitude, looking for truth.

 

The attitude: “it cannot be true.  How can I disprove it?” suggests to me someone with something to defend.  To be blunt, someone for whom the basic idea is…uncomfortable.

 

Here’s a definition of fear snatched off the internet, congruent with my own usage:  “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.”  Some synonyms from the same source:  

terror, fright, fearfulness, horror, alarm, panic, agitation, trepidation,dread, consternation, dismay, distress.

 

But there is something very interesting if we go deeper.  Fear has emotional connotations, as well as different manifestations.  It often paralyzes or triggers “cowardly” behavior.  “Fleeing in anger” isn’t something we talk about a whole lot.

 

In other words, fear can freeze you or make you weak.  Anger could be seen as a mobilization of fear, a way to shift away from negative behaviors or connotations, and use the core emotion in a more productive fashion.  It can also, of course, be quite destructive.    

 

Because language is limiting, the way YOU use the word may not be the way I use it.  But if you want to know if I am correct, I would suggest you ask: “at the least, is this a useful lie?  Is it something that could explain my own behavior, or the behavior of others?  Does it point the way to a means of conflict resolution, or finding peace within my own heart?”

 

Again, practical experimentation suggests it does.  Quibbling over whether this or that physiologist agrees that the neural pathways are the same seems far less productive…unless one is afraid of his fear.  Thinks that it means something negative. And I know LOTS of guys like that.  Heck, I was one of them, tortured for decades by fear I thought meant “you can’t, you mustn’t, you’re weak, you’re a coward” and so forth.

 

Nope, it just meant I was afraid.  Period.  And once I got that stated simply, while it was still a lot to deal with it was hella better than dealing with the shame about my fear, and then my revulsion to my shame about my fear, and then my guilt about my revulsion about my shame about my fear…

 

An endless fun-house of mirrors, infinitely reflecting the emotion back to me in different forms, an entire army of fear-spectres to battle, rather than simply facing the core emotion.

###

 

If you want truth, and know that we are dealing with words which never totally communicate between human beings, what we want is to ask: how can I test this?  How can I determine if this is useful, and/or true?

 

I can go as deeply into this as you want, but here’s an example.   Want to understand much of the violence in society?   Easy.   Criminologist Lonnie Athens wrote a book “Why They Kill” in which he asks an allied question on the quantum level: what creates career violent criminals?

 

Rather than theorize about it, or speak with psychologists, he did something kinda unique: actually went to prisons and interviewed convicted, confessed murderers and muggers.  What a concept, right?  And after thousands of interviews, he boiled things down to a five-stage process.

 

  1. The person undergoes brutalization or “violent horrification.”  In other words, either THEY are hurt, or they witness damage done to people they empathize with.
  2. They rebel: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
  3. They begin to act out successfully.
  4. They find a reference group of like-minded people who reinforce their behavior: “atta boy!”
  5. They internalize the values and beliefs of this reference group.  “If anyone looks at you that way, kill them.  Otherwise you’re a pussy.”

 

According to Athens, standard penological interventions are effective for the first 1-4 steps. But by the time you get around 4-5, THERE IS NO KNOWN STANDARD INTERVENTION THAT REDUCES THE RECIDIVISM RATE.  Got that?

Nothing short of epiphany or some other unpredictable, non-systemic off-the-shelf intervention makes a damned bit of difference any more.

IF this is true, it has an obvious corollary to what I’m saying.   Step #1 is fear.  Fear of being hurt again, or identifying with others who are hurt and afraid.  Survival risk, either direct or “when they finish with that person, they’ll come for me.”  Of course, pure empathy does it as well.

 

Step #2 is a threshold where you “flip the switch”, turning fear to anger, which mobilizes the emotion to trigger action.

 

Step #3–if your actions are unsuccessful, you’ll do something else: run, hide, make deals, whatever.  If none of that works, depression often results, as does a wide range of self-destructive behavior.

 

Step #4 is REALLY interesting.  Because you can see this dynamic in lots of different tribal social contexts.  In my own life, this was a community of martial artists who reinforced the notion that I was capable of defending myself.

 

Step #5 is “the voices in your head.” What Hindus refer to as “the drunken monkey.”   And note that if your reference group told you “fear is for cowards” then the notion of being afraid is going to go very badly in your inner conversations.

 

Here’s a thought for you: #1:  EVERYONE feels alone and afraid. The only question is: what do you do with your loneliness and fear?

#2: What lie do people try to sell you about being lonely and afraid?

 

Using the dictionary rather than the endocrinological definitions of these terms, I can relate any angry behavior to some core fear: fear of death, of loss of status or resources or love or respect, fear of injury or re-injury, fear of future lack.   Sure, you can say I’m stretching in some cases, but the proof is in the question: DOES IT WORK?  IF you can dig in and find the root fear, and address it fully, what happens to the anger?  If it diminishes, isn’t that what matters?

 

As a thought experiment, try it with the following instances:

 

  1. A “men’s rights advocate” shooting or beating a woman.
  2. A white man shooting up a church.
  3. A black man climbing on a building and shooting cops.
  4. A crowd voting for a demagogue who promises to protect, defend, or return them to former glory.
  5. A recently fired employee who shoots up his office.
  6. Oppressed people destroying their own communities.
  7. Oppressors denying the grievances of an oppressed community.
  8. An abused child engaged in “cutting”, anorexic or other self-destructive behavior.
  9. A child falling behind in school who becomes violent in the home.
  10. A husband and wife screaming at each other about the bills.
  11. Terrorists killing themselves to blow up their enemies, or trigger fear by attacking “soft targets.”

 

Those afraid to look at their own issues will be the ones who object to this the most.  It humanizes “the enemy.”   They will say: “what should we do, coddle the terrorists/thugs/racists/killers/asshats?”

 

Thereby demonstrating a serious case of two-dimensional, dualistic thinking.  Because the answer would be both carrot AND stick, wouldn’t you think?  To punish/jail or “bring to justice” (don’t you love that euphemism?) those who transgress, especially those who have reached stages 4 and 5.

 

But…to stop the “brutalization and violent horrification” if possible. Ask if there are any legitimate grievances, and ease them…otherwise, all you are doing is stimulating the next generation of problems.  As a thought experiment, try relating this concept to:

 

  1. Anything YOU are angry about.
  2. Things that your spouse, friends, or children are angry about.
  3. Bosses, employees, customers and co-workers are angry about (I mean, what would your boss lose if you screw up?  His business?  His job?)
  4. Your political “opponents” are angry about.
  5. Any ethnic or racial group seems to be angry/violent about
  6. Any foreign nation/entity seems to be angry about.

 

I know few things that help to generate both compassion, understanding AND formulate strategies for reduction violence and conflict.  Because when fear diminishes, so does anger, and so does violence. All you have to do is dive into your own emotions, own them, forgive yourself, love yourself, and extend your humanity to others.

 

But remember that some small percentage of people are simply pure predators.  And that there are enough who have reached stages 4 and 5 that all you can do is protect yourself.

 

The rest?  The rest can be reached with love.

 

Namaste,

Steve

http://www.lifewrite.com

Every hand is needed

 

So…I’ve spent almost a year digging into certain social issues that seemed important to cope with, and found the non-dualistic solutions I was seeking.  I’m sure I’ll revisit the issues later, but it is important to explain why the digression was necessary.

 

After all, the point of my journey and teaching is awakening, and all of the chaos takes place within the dream world.  So…what’s the point?

 

Because the dream world, our consensus reality, is very very real to those living within it (as a “householder yogi” myself included, of course) and it sucks energy necessary to awaken.

 

Marching up the Chakras (used here not as literal “energy centers” but as metaphors for consciousness on a personal or social level)

 

  1. Survival.   When people or societies are afraid, it can disrupt the ability to function at any higher level.  Logic is scrambled, tribalisms increase.  Fear is a primary driver, as it is a warning that survival is threatened.  Often, this is an illusion, but a powerful one.
  2. Sex.  Secondary only to survival, which is why the “soulmate” process is so powerful. Our sexual attractions tell us things that our conscious minds don’t want to admit. Sex is probably the fastest baud-rate communication between human beings. And what we are attracted and repelled by speaks again, to our tribal tendencies (note the amount of time I’ve spent speaking of cinematic images of sexuality, and how happy I was that, finally, “Creed” crossed that 100 million domestic marker.   A good thing)
  3. Power.  These first three chakras make up the “Belly brain”, the home of fitness, athleticism, “gut instinct” and an overall sense of security.  No discipline deals with this better than martial arts.  They ARE the product as advertised, if you connect it with your heart space.   Once fear is dealt with (mostly by learning not to fear it) the heart center has a foundation.
  4. Emotion.  The idea that “love and fear compete for the same place in your heart” is powerful and healing.   That means that if you start from #1 and heal upward, the heart opens. If you begin with your heart, and connect with your body, you resolve old hurt and pain, and again have a foundation for real growth.  IT IS STRONGLY SUGGESTED THAT YOU BEGIN WITH THESE FOUR.  Hatha Yoga is the master of these.  I know of no discipline widely available to the general public that is more powerful.  This includes my beloved Tai Chi, as the quality of the teacher is far more important.   If you just stay on the “edge” of performance, Yoga teaches its own lessons.  Tai Chi is much trickier, but just as powerful IF you have a top-notch teacher.  I’ve seen yoga work with even mediocre teachers, if you supplement with your own study.

 

If you look at these first four, you will understand why they are foundational.   Fear disrupts them, love heals them.   The body is a “black bag” of emotional broken glass if you aren’t careful, difficult to process and treacherous to traverse, but in combination with the heart, the secret to actual growth and awakening.

 

The remaining levels: communication, intellect, and spirit, will follow naturally.   Most of the people who end up in the worse trouble are those who ignore this foundation and fill their heads with concepts.  

 

Remember the progression:

  1. Sleeping Child
  2. Sleeping Adult (in the dream, but responsible for her own actions and emotions, self-supporting)
  3. Awakened Adult (beginning to glimpse that the Matrix is not reality.  I can recommend this to anyone at all. It is doable, positive, and powerful)
  4. Awakened Adult with intermittent non-dualistic awareness (moving beyond the world of opposites, whether they be tribal, political, or whatever)

 

It is a BIG jump from there to:

5) Awakened Adult with SUSTAINED non-dualistic awareness. This is the last position that has positive results in the “real” world. BEYOND this point is a danger  zone.  You are as likely to be killed or shunned as exalted, and I cannot recommend that people seek it.   If you do, it is because you have no choice: you know who you are, the ones who say “I have to know.”   

6) #5 is the last position where language is really much use, so I won’t bother going further, except to say that this is the domain of those states of consciousness generally referred to as “enlightenment”.

##

Functioning in the world with real power is the domain of the Awakened Adult. But solving the problems of the world is the domain of those moving beyond dualistic awareness.  All politicized us-versus-them people are caught here.

 

But…here is the trick.   Thinking non-dualistically can show you the answer, but it requires the help of dualistic thinkers (the mass of humanity) to implement them. So…you have to respect and honor that thought pattern, and offer a path they can understand  and follow.

 

I recently found myself coaching again, and realized that things had changed.  That if someone wished to heal the fear and confusion that results from those lower levels (look at America right now.  So much fear on so many levels of the duality.  NONE of the problems are unsolvable if you simply step out of the illusions of “this OR that”–racial strife, political strife, national or cultural struggles, etc.)

 

The problems are caused by the “Or”. The answer is the “And”.  Of course, even that is dualistic, but that’s the limit of language.  Sigh.  With the acknowledgement that any conversation about this falls into that linguistic trap:

 

So the answer is seeing the core humanity that births the separation, and cleaving unto that.  Chosing love, which unites, rather than fear which divides.  Be kind to those mired in the dream, or dualism, or fear, but do not allow them to hurt you, or slow you down–they have no answers, only screams of rage.

 

Make tribe with those who will commit to that shared humanity. Even they will have doubts–we all do. But everything about how we got to this place in our country, or the world, is pretty clear if we accept universal humanity, and the corruptive power of fear and separation.  Everything from the demons within us to those between us.  The current violent headlines and the screaming talking heads.  It’s all clear. They are all metaphors for the war within our own hearts.

 

Martial arts is so wonderful because they DO allow you to be safe as you open your heart. But if you are already safe, I’d suggest yoga.  The “Morning Ritual” was designed to heal your body, open your heart and sharpen your mind all at the same time.  All if it DOES go together, but I would suggest that syntax.  Specifically, either heal your body, then open your heart, then correlate what you have learned into a system…

 

Or open your heart, heal mind and body at the same time…

 

But never, ever close your hear, ignore your body, and try to “understand” the world around you.  You will fall into paralyzing dualities, fear and hate-based screeds that rip our world apart.  And if you try to change the world based on this corrupted “understanding”…well, some of history’s greatest monsters were up to this, IMO.

 

Be part of the answer.  Be loving, but strong.  Embrace the weak and fearful, but do not let them slow you down. There is work to do, enough for any open hand.  We need all the awake, aware adults we can get.

 

Namaste,

Steve

http://www.lifewrite.com

A Question of Faith

https://theintercept.com/2016/07/18/republican-congressman-steve-king-sets-white-supremacist-tone-cleveland/

 

I said some time ago that those who think “race relations are worse than ever” simply haven’t been paying attention. All that is happening is that the flat rocks are being turned over, and the ugliness that has ALWAYS been there is crawling out. The rats are being pushed into a corner, and getting desperate.  Black people are finally able to speak clearly and forcefully about what their experience has been, without the sense of being the little orphan Oliver with eyes downcast holding his porridge bowl saying “Please, sir, I want some more.”

 

No, that’s not the tone. The tone is now “Explain to me why my children are not as precious and worthwhile as yours. And by the way, if you wish, we can have this conversation outside.”  That is VERY different from anything that has happened in the mainstream in the 400 years previous.  And certain people are quite uncomfortable about it.

 

Not a week ago, I actually had a reader ask “Well, what difference does it make if black people aren’t as smart?”  I had simply drawn a line in the sand, saying “There are two positions, and neither can be proven ultimately. They are part of an existential discussion: does essence precede existence?  Does existence precede essence?  Or “is it Nature or Nurture”?  Any   educated person will know that the the most likely answer is: “It’s a combination.”  But I think that in practical terms, everyone comes down harder on one side or the other.  In our current conversation, it translates to: “is the playing field level, in which case blacks just don’t quite have what it takes?  Or are they equal, but the playing field has been terribly skewed?”  Those would be the two basic positions, and I submit that the Conservative position sides more with “nature” (level playing field, unequal players) and the Liberal position more with “nurture” (equal players, unequal playing field.)

 

Can you see the fantastic difference, why it matters so much?  If you are surrounded by people controlling the legal system, the economic system, the political system by force of numbers, if every time you have to deal with them they ASSUME you are competent, then it is up to you to screw that up. If they believe you are relatively INCOMPETENT, or less competent, then in every interaction you have to prove yourself.

 

Don’t think this happens?  It happened to me in FIRST GRADE, when the teachers broke us up into reading groups based on race, putting the white and Asian kids in the fast group, the black and brown kids in the slow group. I didn’t realize what had happened until they heard me read…and took me over to the white group.

 

Holy mother of God. I “got it” in that moment.  At what, six years old?   I knew that the world would judge me slow unless I proved myself at every moment, in every interaction.  I had to be careful of every word, every action, watching and measuring myself.  That additional level of care slows you down, like speaking in a foreign language.  It gives a clear advantage to those who don’t have to jump through that hoop.

 

And that is assuming good will. Do you really believe every human being is coming from a position of “good will”?  What percentage of people do YOU believe are assholes?   Ten percent? Five percent? What happens when the “asshole” circle and the “Nature” circle overlap?  Think that could be problematic?

 

I know what happens when the “I’ve had enough” circle and the “Nature” circle overlap.  You get people who believe The Other is The Enemy.  Inhuman.  Dangerous. You get the church shooter in South Carolina.  You get the sniper in Dallas.  

 

This notion, that our basic human existence on a tribal level is a matter of “better” or “worse”, “more or less human or capable or worthwhile” is one of the most toxic creations of humanity.   My friend the late science fiction writer Octavia Butler said that the thing she worried most about with human beings was:

 

  1. Our tendency to be hierarchical.
  2. Our tendency to place ourselves higher on that hierarchy.

 

And what is worse?  The people who believe it is “Nature” have no answers. They see the world burning. They are filled with fear and guilt and anger.  All because of a decision THEY made to have faith in a position that cannot be ultimately proven.   If they are right, Liberals have wasted resources.   But if they are wrong…they have destroyed the world.

 

When Steve King said what he did, that diversity in the Republican party didn’t matter because no one has contributed more to Western Civilization than white people, he was coming close, quite close, to saying that white people have contributed MORE to the world than anyone else. And that is perilously close to saying they are simply better.  If we asked him the test question: “Under the same historical circumstances, would white people have suffered as much, for as long, and complained about it as loudly?” I think we can safely say that he could not answer a resounding “yes.”  That he may be a good and decent man, but he is siding with monsters.

 

IS THERE AN ANSWER?

 

Yes, but it requires an acknowledgement that we need a Leap of Faith.  This is, according to the Hero’s Journey pattern popularized by Joseph Campbell, the way out of the Dark Night of the Soul.  And it is simple: faith in the universality of the human family.  That without saying to yourself “in the eyes of God” or “in the eyes of the Law” but privately thinking: “well, blacks aren’t as smart” or “whites are more evil.”   You accept all human tribes as equal to yours, but traveling through different territory and therefore expressing their essence differently.

What next?  Simple:  love yourself. Forgive yourself for not being perfect. Know that at every moment of your life you’ve done the best you can with the resources you had.   And extend that love and compassion to others.

 

Do this, and you can release all guilt about the past, or fear about the future.  That’s all it takes.  You needn’t approve of reparations or Affirmative Action. I know most people feel like they are barely holding on, and the idea of “some people” getting “special treatment” even if they were historically screwed over royally, is anathema.

 

So I don’t care how far to the Right you are, I really don’t.  An attitude of “yeah, you really did get screwed over. And my ancestors may have benefitted from it. But I have my own field to plow, and you’re not taking resources from my children’s mouths. But I tell you what: I will never claim that you kicked  yourself INTO that hole, but I would have had just as hard a time crawling out of it.   It’s up to each of us to plow our own field.”   That is a perfectly honorable attitude.  You can be my friend.

 

You could go further, of course: “And furthermore, I will call out people who claim whites would have done better, and not let them piss on you as you work on climbing out.   Any dysfunction we see is BOTH cause and effect, and I won’t forget that–or allow others to.”   You know what?  You’ve taken another step.  You are treating others the way you would want them to treat you, and you can be a GOOD friend.  You are a comrade.

 

But if you take the position that “I see myself in your eyes.  We are all in this together, and I believe that if I extend a hand to you, you will extend one back to me in the future.Or to my children.  Or your grandchildren will extend the hand to mine.”   Do this, and you are family.   You are tribe.

 

The police chief in Wichita was confronted with the reality of a Black Lives Matter protest in his city, and instead of telling himself the lie that these people were not sincere, that they were not afraid and therefore angry, he offered them a cookout.  A chance to sit down and communicate in a relaxed environment.  HE ASSUMED THEY WERE HUMAN, like him, that if people can communicate they can find commonality, see that we all eat, laugh, love, fear, and simply want a good life for our children.   And that those who see that commonality are the ONLY ones who can solve this problems.  

 

Those without faith will burn, and try to take the world with them.  

 

Don’t waste your time arguing with the people on either side of the political divide who do not believe in the universality of Man.  They will burn out your heart, even if they are sincere. And…among them lurk the Smiling Monsters, the ghouls who WANT the violence, and are just waiting for the armies to retreat to camp so they can come down and feast on the dead.

 

Rep. Steve King staked out his position, but like his famous namesake, he speaks of horror.  Have faith.  Either way you are simply making a choice.  But only one of them provides a future for any of us.

 

Namaste,

Steve

http://www.lifewrite.com

Demons with Glass Eyes

(a classic post from 2013)

“How Can I learn to trust again?”

At the end of the SOULMATE teleconference call we took a few questions (sorry that I couldn’t get to all of them.  There was just so much to say!) and one was from a lady whose voice was choked with emotion.

She had been hurt, betrayed, and was in a totally understandable position: preferring to be alone than with the wrong person.

First of all, that is a perfect place to begin!   It is VERY important to withdraw from the dating scene and marshall your energies for introspection.

Here’s the simple truth: you can trust other people to the precise degree that you can trust your own judgement.

The reason is that most relationships are based on “you don’t call me on my b.s. And I won’t call you on yours.”  In other words, because of guilt, blame, shame and a battered self-image, we build fantasies about ourselves, false ego shells to protect us from the fear that, if people really knew us, they would dislike us.

And what happens?  You naturally attract others who also wear masks.   And there are two basic outcomes of that.  We’ll use the gigantic over-simplification of “good and bad people” to illustrate:

1) “Good” people.  Basically good, decent people, who have a damaged self image or feel that they cannot present their “real” selves.  So…you fall in love with their mask.   The trouble is that, under pressure, masks collapse and then you’re dealing with the real person, with very different flaws and failings than those you bargained for.   Sometimes, this revelation can be the beginning of something new and healthy.  But sometimes it can be an utter tragedy, destroying families.  If only they’d been honest from the start, they might have found someone complementary to their issues, and a healthy bond could have formed.

2) “Bad” people.   There are predators in the world, people who prey on the weak and overly-trusting.  These people thrive on slight-of-mouth and various crazy-making, “gaslighting” patterns.  They want you to pay attention to what they say, rather than what they do.  Don’t pay attention to the track-record of human wreckage they leave behind them: “I’ve changed” or “I won’t treat YOU that way…”

Right.  Yes, people deserve a second chance.  But there’s no reason it has to be with YOU.  These people, unaware that they have souls, seek to devour those belonging to anyone foolish enough to trust them.

In truth, both “good” and “bad” people are just running from their own fears and pain, with the exception of a very small percentage, who are basically addicted to the animal hunger for the hunt and the kill.  And sometimes…the pain and terror attending thereto.  Oh, yes, there are demons  with glass eyes who drink tears.  Yours.

You have to learn to know who they are.    To sniff them out, and know whether those masks conceal a wounded heart or a werewolf’s gleaming teeth.

But…how?

1) you have to take responsibility for your relationship history. YOU CHOSE ALL OF THEM.  Remember that “respons-ibility” is not guilt, blame, or shame.  It is “the ability to respond.”  In other words, you commit to never making those mistakes again. And the only way to do that is to admit them, inspect them, come to useful conclusions about why and how you made them, devise tactics and strategies to prevent those mis-steps in the future.

2) You must love yourself, deeply and without reservation. That doesn’t mean accepting your b.s., any more than you’d take it from your kids.   It means that you believe you are a precious soul.  Only with that kind of conviction can you look at your flaws without flinching, without fearing what they might “mean” about your worth.   And you will have to look deeply.

3) You must commit to truth.   “Do not Think Dishonestly”.   When you look deeply enough at your relationship history, your body, and your career…and ask yourself what strengths and weaknesses, fears and loves, talents and faults, habits and aversions created the effects you see, it can be painful.   But…you also develop a deep instinct about the gap between what people say and what they show.  The hair on the back of your neck will stand up when people tell stories about “why they did X or Y.”   When they smile with crocodile teeth.

4) You must treat your heart as if you are your own most beloved child.  We will do things for our children (or children we love) that we will not do for ourselves.   SOMEONE must stand as guardian at the gates of your heart, and say “you shall not pass!” or at the very least, “your credentials, please!”

If your own parents were not protective of you, you have to find a way to become this protective of yourself.    Your heart and sexuality might be considered playgrounds, where it is good to drop masks and intentions and just play and be yourself.    Children on playgrounds are so open and friendly, making connection instantly, sharing everything.

And this is why parents and monitors need to be there: both to keep the games friendly, and to keep predators at bay.  IF and only IF the adults are on guard are the children safe to do what children are supposed to do: dream and play, love and frolic, grow and learn.

Our hearts yearn to give everything, to believe that THIS one is “the One”, someone with whom we can share our dreams and lives and hearts and passions.

But if you don’t learn to distinguish truth from falsehood, don’t learn to value yourself enough to lock the gate, don’t believe you are worth fighting for, you will be fanged and clawed into the worst kind of cynical rejection of love and faith.  NO ONE is as cynical as the wounded romantic.

So…before you gain so much emotional scar tissue that you can no longer open your heart, love yourself ruthlessly.    Tell the truth. Look deeply.

And…if necessary..withdraw from the dating game until you’ve developed these attributes.  How can you tell if you need to withdraw?

If the thought of withdrawing makes you feel lonely…then yes, I’m talking to you.  Being alone is one thing, and it is a lost art form for many.  But if you cannot feel the love and joy in your heart without hallucinating it originates in someone else, you cannot form a healthy adult relationship.

Your relationships will either be co-dependent…or you will attract predators.  And if you’d wish neither on your own beloved child, you should damned well reject it for yourself.

Namaste,
Steve

http://www.lifewrite.com

 

Time Distortion: The Mental Shutter

 

(Another in a series of articles about psychological time distortion in the martial arts)

Human technology is an extension of our limbs and senses: telephones extend voice, computers are our attempt to recreate our brains, telescopes and microscopes are super-eyes.

As analogues, then, I might be permitted to look at an invention to try to understand the mechanism and implications of Tachypsychia, especially as it exists in the martial arts.

Twenty-five years ago, while studying judo and jiu jitsu with Harley “Swiftdeer” Reagan, he spoke of the human aura, which he envisioned as being similar to an amoebic field filled with floating organelles, surrounding the human body. One part of this was what he called “the Octagonal Mirror.”    Swift’s teaching was that the Octagonal Mirror was directly related to consciousness and time sense, and that the faster you took “pictures” of the reality you were experiencing, the “slower” things seemed to happen.  This would be similar to a motion picture camera: overcrank the film, you get more frames per second, and when you played it back at normal speed, everything seemed slow.  Conversely, if you “undercranked” and took FEWER frames per second, when you played it back, things looked sped-up.  So far so good, right?

This was as good an explanation of the basic phenomenon as I’d heard.   

I tucked that tidbit away for over a decade, until I was introduced to the work of Scott Sonnon.  A VERY creatively inclined martial artist who had trained in the former Soviet Union and been introduced to their concepts of performance, I ordered a few of his products to check him out (I’d been told that he moved like a hero in one of my novels! HAD to check that out. And, yep, his movement was just superbly fluid and powerful) and while the videos were interesting, it was an audio called the “Flow State Performance Spiral” that really caught my attention.  I listened to it about ten times, thunderstruck by the implications.  Briefly, he took the “Octagonal Mirror” concept of consciousness and went full circle with it.  

You see, there is a very well commented-upon phenomenon, where a master and a student are sparring. The student is moving frantically, and the master seems to be moving slowly—but the student cannot touch the master and the master is mopping the floor with the student.   Very cool “snatch the pebble from my hand” style stuff, right?  I’ve had a touch of this personally, when someone watching me move with a student said that “It looked like he was fighting, and you were dancing.”   I suspect that’s edging in on the same territory.

But what Scott said was that you have both external and internal sensory input.  Paying attention to what is happening OUTSIDE you is the Octagonal mirror thingie.  Paying attention to what is INSIDE of you: your emotional responses, pains, physical positions, etc, is not helping you much in this specific sense.  If you have 10 units of attention, and all ten of them are focused on “what is happening” that is a good thing. If eight of them are focused on “oh, wow, that hurt!  I’m getting my ass kicked!  My legs are out of position!” you only have TWO units of attention, or say that you are taking “pictures” at only two frames per second, so the world looks “fast” to you.

So…think about this. If you are sparring with someone and can stay ‘externally focused’ in this sense, all ten units of attention focused on what is happening…while you are specifically hurting him, distracting him, frightening him, forcing him to worry about his breathing, position and so on, you are forcing him to become “internally” focused, using say eight units of attention on what is happening inside his skin and between his ears.  That only gives him two “units of attention” to fight back.

You have ten units. He has two. That means that, in this specific sense, you are processing five times the external input, leading to a serious problem: a relative psychological time five times as efficient and potentially effective.  The result: you seem to have all the time in the world, he is thrashing with all his speed, but you are brushing off his attacks like nothing, but nailing him with everything you do.

You have all the time in the world.

Now, this might be touched on in the “OODA Loop” concept in jet fighter pilot strategy.

Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.  As I understand it, the idea is that the faster plane and pilot will act first, forcing his opponent to react to what has happened, and while the opponent is reacting, you are performing another action.  If you can stay “ahead” of him in that sense, All of his attention is on what you are doing to him, all of yours is on what you are doing to him as well, leaving little of his attention to concentrate on what he might be able to do to you.

Another attention differential, perhaps?   Another piece of the puzzle?  I honestly don’t know.  But some thoughts arise about how these states might apply, IF Tai Chi was designed to teach and implant Tachypsychia:

Relaxation would be key.   Tension creates narrow focus, tunnel vision.  Relaxation leads to soft, wide focus, taking in more information per second.  Tai Chi’s health benefits come from a few basic physiological effects. Balance, proprioception, joint mobility and relaxation are certainly among them.

What if a syntax of practice went like this?

  1. Meditate to achieve a very specific mental state in which time becomes more elastic.
  2. Begin to move very gently (the Tai Chi form) seeking the same state of “elastic time” calm.
  3. When you can integrate the complex movement and physical strain of the form (say, with a low stance) while maintaining that same mental state, you’ve got something interesting.
  4. Now…push hands.  Increase the stress by working with another person.  Still got it?  Good.  Move on.
  5. Now…increase the intensity of push hands.   Perhaps learn a two-man set while maintaining the same internal state, the same soft-focus.  Increase intensity until there is some risk of being hurt.   Learn to relax anyway.   Still good?
  6. Increase the intensity: spar.  Work with weapons.  Perform before an audience, or your master’s master who flew in from Hong Kong.  Can you still maintain that same calm, centered place? Still take in 8-10 units of data?
  7. How about you structure your responses so that you are striking the opponent “dis-assembling” their physical alignment, impinging their breathing, causing muscle tension?   Causing them to “go internal” and freak out, get tense and “un-plastic.”  Now you have something really interesting: you are capable of moving with speed and power, while simultaneously (and if you have structured your practice properly, almost automatically) driving them “down the vortex” of what Scott called the “Flow State Performance Spiral.”

 

This thoughts make sense to me, and they make sense of things dozens of different masters have said or written of over the centuries.    I would think the applications and possible experiments would be obvious, but one would be Slow Sparring.  Relaxed. Wide focused.  Flow with it. Only increase speed when you can do so while remaining relaxed.

 

That’s a lot of fun, too.  You know? I’ve been hit full-power in the face as many times as I’m interested in in this lifetime.   Flowing, though?  Playing with the positions while working on breath and balance and relaxation?  I could do that an hour a day for the rest of my life and be a happy guy.  THAT is what I’m going to concentrate on with my students from now on. If they want to go hard, there are schools everywhere that will oblige ‘em.  Go to it!  But this…this new investigation calls to me.  I think there is something there.

 

I hope you do, too.

 

Namaste,

Steve

Love is the path

Love is probably the core reality of my life. Twice, I’ve been willing to give up everything external that mattered to me, for love of my family. My marriage to my college sweetheart Toni took me through the first major journey in life, gave me my daughter, taught me who I was and was not. That we were able to recognize we ultimately wanted different paths, and were able to untangle without ripping each others’ guts out—and remain family—was one of the very best things in my life.

Nothing matures you like a relationship. Learning the lessons from my first marriage, vowing to heal the wounds that led to its ending, and preparing myself to meet the perfect partner for the next phase of my life required more courage, honesty, commitment and surrender than I could have believed.

All it takes to get everything you need is everything you’ve got.

The Truth I live by is that you can either grow from direct impact with reality, or from the expansion of your heart. So long as the FIRST person you protect is YOU (otherwise you will be vulnerable to predators) you begin with love, expand outward to extend the sense of “self” to family and partner… and then to those in the next largest “circle” (Neighbors? Cousins? Associates?) then out again and again… until you embrace the entire world.

The key is to take those early steps with integrity, and with your guard up enough to protect your heart.

How to KEEP that love? Basically—continue being as sensitive, caring and dynamic as you were during the courting period. No one ever left a healthy relationship because the partner made them feel too special, loved, and desired.

How to heal a partner within a relationship? Ultimately, all you can do is heal yourself. Show the way. If they can change, they see the path, or “a” path, to wholeness. But your primary responsibility is not to give yourself away, but to create a healthy home for your own heart, and any children you may have brought into the world.

-Steve Barnes

Tai Chi and time distortion

 

I want to start thinking seriously about something I’ve been musing about for decades.   If there is a “superpower” linked to the martial arts, it would be the elusive quality known as tachypsychia, or psychological time distortion.  The  advantage  of being able to think clearly while the world seems to slow down around you is obvious.  A few questions come to mind:

 

  1. Does it exist?  There are countless apocryphal stories about it, throughout history and in arenas such as jet fighter combat, martial arts, sports, and high-intensity events such as car accidents: everything seemed to slow to a crawl.  Senses grow more acute, the stitching on a baseball can be clearly seen as it hurtles toward the plate.  I would go so far as to say that the majority of people involved in such events have a story about it.
  2. I have several such events myself.  One involving watching a rock sail toward my head in elementary school. Another dealing with a traffic accident on I-5 during a snowstorm in Oregon.  And several events during sparring.  
  3. While the majority psychological opinion seems to support its existence, there are studies that claim this is all hallucination.   I choose to believe my own experience, and that of countless others I’ve discussed the phenomenon with over the years.  From this point forward, we proceed on the assumption that it is real.
  4. The biggest question I have is: if it is as useful as one would think…why is it so hard to reproduce, or train for, and why haven’t we evolved more of it?  Why can’t we turn it on and off at will?
  5. An answer presents itself, one suggested by a very curious comment I heard attributed to Morihei Ueshiba, creator of Aikido.  Supposedly, his students asked him to demonstrate a specific ability to move among them without being seen or touched.  He seemed to do so, vanishing from one position and appearing in another (if this doesn’t sound like a specific Biblical story about Christ passing through a crowd of people trying to grab him, I don’t know what does).  He supposedly appeared on a landing above them. When they stopped being appropriately astonished, they asked why he didn’t do this more often, and he replied that to do it took a week off his life.
  6. This story could conceivably be explained by a phenomenon similar to tachypsychia, applied not to super speed or some such, but to the ability to move through people’s blind spots, which would require abnormal perception.
  7. What IS tachypsychia? Certainly not actually slowing down the external world like Dr. Strange.  Nor becoming “the Flash”.    The easiest choice would be a speeding up of perceptions, the mental “shutter” taking “more frames per second” like a sped-up camera producing slow-motion film.  That would certainly help someone move with abnormal facility–not that you are moving fast, but you have time to see where you can move without being seen.  Perhaps.
  8. At any rate, if his comment is a clue, here’s a theory as to the dangers: speeding up your mental perceptions per second (mpps) causes your brain to sprint.  Imagine excreting extra norepinephrine or whatever, or your internal timing suddenly revving up.  If you “sprint” physically you increase your risk of sprains and pulls without proper warm-up and fitness.  Unexpected exertions can cause strokes and so forth in the unfit. Is it plausible that this mental capacity, while valuable, also has enough risks that it is not a good idea to tap into it except in genuinely life-threatening situations? That those who do “burn themselves out” somehow?  That evolution therefore put it out of conscious reach for most?  I’ve heard stories of people who gained conscious control of their heartbeat…and then couldn’t put it back on autopilot. That every year a few meditators are found in full lotus, just…dead.   Maybe just stories. But it is a fascinating thought.  
  9. That seems plausible enough to form questions in my mind, and as a SF writer, to make a speculation I don’t have to totally support in reality.  Then, I’ll try to work backwards from it and see if it makes sense. And then, if it still does…try to determine how such a thing might be approached safely and reliably.  Here goes the speculation:
  10. Tai Chi Chuan is one strange martial art.  Considered “The Grand Ultimate” by tradition, I have often asked myself, and my teachers, “why?” And gotten strange, oblique answers, most of which made me think they didn’t know either.  But what if Tai Chi Chuan (and, I’m sure, some other martial disciplines) was/were designed specifically to promote Tachypsychia?  What sense would that make? And if true, how? And…there would be other arts in other cultures that approached the same peak. What path do they take?   Can we find anything useful in asking these questions?   And if so, where are the loose threads that would enable you to crack that code?   Just for the sake of fun, I’m going to assume this is true, and see what we can extract about the how and why of it.

Namaste
Steve

Message to my younger self: Lifewriting

I cannot nail down the “single most important” realizations of my life, but I can point to moments when a light went on in my head.   And knowing how confused and afraid I was as a child, how uncertain I was that I’d ever be able to find a life of meaning, if I could send a message back to my younger self, some of these moments would be among them.

 

The entire “Lifewriting” concept was just like this.   I was teaching a “Writer’s Toolbox” for Linda Venus at UCLA about 25 years ago.  Good class, dealing with the psychological and emotional, tactical and strategic tools and attitudes that enable you to leverage your skills and abilities to maximize your odds of success as a writer.  We were half-way through the second day, and a student raised his hand.

 

“Mr. Barnes,” he said. “You’ve given us all kinds of great tools about flow state management, and fear, and brainstorming and other stuff, but I just don’t think I’m going to be able to use it.”

“Why not?”

“Well,” he said, “my job takes so much of my time, my wife needs me to be more engaged at home, and my kids don’t understand what I’m trying to do…”

(and by the way…when people spend more time describing why they CAN’T do something than brainstorming ways to accomplish it, it is a fair bet that their breaker switch is set to “fail” in that arena.)

I listened to him carefully.  I’ve spoken of this moment hundreds of times, but am still not quite certain what happened. All I know is that I’d once heard a claim that “from time to time life gives you a cubic inch of opportunity.  Either you grab it or its gone forever.”

 

Well, life gave me one of mine at that moment.   I don’t know where it came from, but I said:

 

“Well, if you were a character in a story you were writing, and you knew that at the end of that story the character got everything they wanted, what would you have him do next?”

 

The room went dead quiet.  I could almost see the steam come flooding out of his ears. And then slowly, he began to say: “well…I could take my lunch to work, and eat at my desk instead of going out.   That would get me some time.  And it would save money, which would make my wife happy, and I bet that if I swapped chores with her at home, I could create some more time. And if I helped my kids see how much fun it would be to have a dad who was a published writer, I bet I could enroll them in the process too…”

 

And I was gobsmacked. Here was a guy who had been nothing but obstacles not ninety seconds earlier, and now he was Mr. Possibility.

 

I asked the same question of others in the room, and the result was the same: pure creative problem solving.  My mind was buzzing when I got home, and asked Toni (my wife at the time) if she thought something worth investigating had happened, and she agreed.

 

I spent the next week researching psychology, goal setting, and problem solving trying to get a clue, and finally dipped into Joseph Campbell’s HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES.  Here, I came across a quote that went something like this: “cultural stories are depersonalized personal dreams, and personal dreams are the personalized cultural stories.”  

 

What?  There was a connection between the stories we watched on the screen, or read in books, and what was going on in our lives?  Seems like child’s play now, but I was stunned.

 

And the next thought was: why?  And the answer was: what if story was the combined wisdom of the elders of the tribe, describing events.  That’s the way it would have started, you know.  People describing what had happened in the day (“this is how we hunted the zebra”) as a real thing, before anyone twisted the story into something fantastical, or tried to create an origin myth. And those who told stories best held the attention better, which allowed the information to translate most efficiently and effectively, creating better hunters.

 

In other words, storytelling is a SURVIVAL SKILL. It allows us to organize information in a pattern that we emotionally identify with, and therefore remember and imprint more deeply.

 

There are many interpretations of the inter-cultural pattern that Campbell extracted from countless stories ancient and modern, and I tweaked it to fit my own purposes.  And the following ten-step pattern emerged, which I”m going to relate to the film made by a Campbellian admirer, George Lucas, STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE.  Note that these are suggested steps–one might extract others.  This is art, not math.

 

  1. The hero is confronted with a challenge (“come with me, Luke.  Learn the Ways of the Force”
  2. The hero rejects the challenge (usually because of fear or lack of belief it is a worthy path.  “I promised Uncle Owen I’d work on the moisture evaporators”)
  3. The hero is allowed to or forced to accept the challenge (Aunt and Uncle slaughtered.  “Teach me to be a Jedi like my father”)
  4. The hero sets out on the Road of Trials. (Mos Eisley Cantina, Alderaan’s wreckage, the Death Star, etc.)
  5. Along the path he/she meets allies and gains powers (Princess Leia, Chewbacca, Han, etc.  Light Sabers, The Force, being a leader, etc.)
  6. Initial confrontation with evil, leading to defeat (the death of Obi-Wan)
  7. The Dark Night of the Soul (attack on Death Star.   Other ships being destroyed, Rebel base about to be lasered)
  8. The Leap of Faith (always faith in one of three things: self, companions, or Higher Power.  “Trust your feelings, Luke”)
  9. Confront Evil, and succeed.  Death Star blown up.
  10. Student becomes the teacher (or movement to the higher level, return to the village with the elixir, etc.    Han and Luke given medals, which represent acknowledgement of extraordinary behavior to be emulated.  )

 

Any time you organize events into this pattern, people will recognize it as a story.  To make a GOOD story you have to understand the emotional changes triggered by every step…and then jazz with it.  You don’t just play them all in order like hitting each of the 88 keys of a piano in order with the precise same intensity.   You hit them, repeat them, stagger them, change the tempo, expand and contract, play them backwards or inside out…the more sophisticated the audience, the more you can minimalize your presentation of the steps and they will fill in the gaps for themselves, and in fact enjoy your omission or inversion of a critical step.

 

I would say that there is no story that reaches any kind of social awareness that I cannot put into some version of this pattern, even if much of the pattern is only “suggested”, in the same way that if you know geometry if you give me three points I can draw the rest of the circle.

 

###

 

The point is that if this pattern grew out of countless billions of human experiences over thousands of years, then if you can identify where you are on the pattern YOU ALREADY KNOW what is coming next!

 

  1. You have to recognize that something must change.
  2. Deal with the fear and emotional obstructions
  3. Make a commitment to change
  4. Take consistent action
  5. Gather resources and allies to fill the “gap” between your current status and the abilities you will need to solve the problem (and you can figure out what you’ll need by modeling the behaviors and attitudes and strategies of others who have succeeded)
  6. Prepare for failure.  It is INEVITABLE along a path of significant growth.
  7. Prepare for depression and the feeling of defeat. It is INEVITABLE.
  8. Find something to have faith in, something deeper and larger than your ego.
  9. If you take the previous steps, you maximize your change of success. What will you do then?  How will you take that opportunity and launch yourself to the next level?
  10. Share what you have learned with others.  As individuals, humans aren’t much smarter than chimps.   What really sets us apart is our ability to network and pass on complex instructions from one generation to the next. We preserve more information than we lose.   Multiplied over billions of human beings this has made a staggering difference. An culture cut off from this information flow becomes stuck in the past.

 

This pattern is almost “cheating”, taking the long view when every day your nose is stuck against the grind stone.

 

What would I have said to my younger self?  Well…as a kid, I wanted three things that all seemed impossible:

  1. To be a successful writer
  2. To be a martial artist
  3. To have a family to love and protect

 

I’d never met a successful writer, and in fact almost everyone I knew tried to tell me I couldn’t do it.   I was small, weak, shy and fearful. The notion of being a fighter seemed like purest fantasy.  And girls made it very very clear to me that I wasn’t attractive enough, not powerful and confident enough to be attractive to them.  I had no father in the home to show me the way.

 

Everything I wanted seemed totally out of reach.   But if I had consciously understood this pattern, the way ahead would have been clear.   I’ll go into specifics soon…but if you were to look at your own goals in body, career, and emotions, can you see how to adapt this pattern?  Because if you organize your resources along this pattern, you can get fantastic leverage over yourself.  Your goal setting, discipline, fear management, team-building, prayer and meditation, teaching and learning…all of it, arranged in a syntax that countless elders have used throughout history saying to the youngsters of the tribe:

 

“This is what your life will be, young man, young woman.”  Come with us, and we will teach you to awaken, and enter the adult world.”

 

This pattern may be the single most powerful discovery of my life.  And now it is yours.

 

Namaste,

Steve

If you would like support in applying these concepts to your life, please try a month of LIFEWRITING PREMIUM at http://www.lifewrite.com

Nine Thoughts on Mastery

In a discussion concerning the “10,000 Hours” standard for excellence, the following post appeared in the discussion:

“many times I was better at things after getting a handle on what was going on than people who’d been doing it for years. But I get lazy and don’t try to improve on that innate ability, I’m never going to be an expert at the thing.”

(I’m going to assume the person meant “IF I get lazy…”)

This touches on so many issues about excellence, life paths, emotional focus, and so forth that I wanted to re-visit this entire area.  I am hugely grateful to teachers, friends and role models such as Steve Muhammad, George Leonard, Dawn Callan, Mushtaq Ali Al Ansari, Larry Niven, and  Harley Reagan for components of the following observations:

1) “Mastery” is here defined as unconscious control of the “basics” or elementary components of the skill, such that you can, under pressure, spontaneously create self-expressive actions.

2) Because an expert generally develops his capacity to criticize his work FASTER than his ability to flow and create, it is important to suspend judgement at times and just let it happen.  His work will never be perfect, and the self-critical faculty can be DEVASTATING, creating word stoppage (for instance: “writer’s block”).

3) If we define “Mastery” as a verb as well as a noun, there can be great advantage.    Consider a path of daily action, daily commitment.  A lifetime commitment to this path is a commitment to “Mastery.”  You are a “Master” when you have absorbed your basics, and commit to practicing daily (or multiple times a week) for the rest of your life.

4) This doesn’t mean that you are the best.    Or even speak specifically to some objective standard of excellence.  There will ALWAYS be people further along the path.  But you know what?  They are the same distance from the horizon that you are, and probably excoriate themselves for flaws in their work that you can’t even see.  Get the joke, and enjoy the ride.

5) Some people have greater “natural” skill…or better teachers and opportunities…or better “timing” in terms of the doors of learning, performance and perception that open and close at different times in their lives.   Every martial arts student knows about the “born black belt” who walks in the school with athleticism and attitude that are just absurd, and whips through the curriculum at mach speed.   If you let this discourage you, you will never reach YOUR excellence, which is your only task.

6) If YOU are one of those who learn (initially) at Mach speed, don’t let it get to your head.  Sooner or later you will hit the performance wall, and progress will start coming more slowly.  Further, if you let your initial success go to your head, you will slack off on practice, and eventually be out-performed by the “tortoises” in the world who simply plod their way to victory.  The reason so few people reach true excellence is that most don’t have the emotional juice to keep going when they hit this plateau.

7) At some point you will transform.  If you work at any discipline deeply enough, honestly enough, you will learn new things about the world, and yourself.   The ego will resist this transformation: it means ego-death.    It will never give you direct warning that this is what is happening. Rather, it will distract you with “boredom”, repel you with “fear”, entice you with other opportunities, convince you that you never really wanted it in the first place.

IT IS 100% PREDICTABLE that you will be challenged in this way at some point in your journey.  Get ready for it.

8) In other words, a “Master” isn’t better than someone else.  They are better than they used to be, have absorbed the fundamentals of their art or discipline so that they can execute without thought (opening the doorway to emotional expression), accept the fears and doubts that stop others, and have embraced their discipline for life.

9) I personally have seen these aspects in every discipline I have committed to: writer, teacher, husband, father, martial artist, yogi.

The same stuff. The same traps. One of the reasons it is critical to commit to multiple arenas of discipline is so that you can learn the ego traps, see them from multiple directions, and begin to recognize your demons no matter what reasonable guise they may appear in.

It is my belief that we should all aspire to mastery in some arena of our lives, to choose a mountain to climb and take at least one more step every day.  One more step along the path.

And although there will be countless others ahead of you, the others walking the same road will likely bid you welcome, and wish you well.

So long as you commit to doing the same for those who follow you.

Namaste,

Steve