Faith is Fire

“Faith is seeing light with your heart when all your eyes see is darkness.” ~ Anonymous

The eighth step of the Hero’s Journey is “the Leap of Faith”.  It is the way through the “Dark Night of the Soul”, the inevitable “gap” between where you are and where you need to be.  The Dark Night is the result of pushing yourself beyond ordinary limits.  “The only way you know how far you can go is by going too far” as the saying goes. So the performer, the person committed to excellence or growth, MUST be prepared to deal with this…or life will frighten them into retreat.

Those who lift weights are familiar with the concept of training to muscle________.    That’s right, failure.  Failure is the way we tell our minds or bodies that we must grow stronger…IF we are focused and emotionalized, and IF we have FAITH that we can and should pursue our goals.

It’s hard. The fear can be overwhelming.  And the antidote for fear…is faith.

Some are turned off by the word, because of religious implications.  But the dictionary definition of Faith is usually something like “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” And what “someones or somethings” might those be? Need they be supernatural entities?  Hardly.  Here are the three:

1) Faith in yourself. That deep within you there is more strength and wisdom than you commonly express or experience.

2) Faith in your companions.   Your allies, partners, spouse, family. That there are people who will pick you up when you are down…or who believe in you, such that you can trust their opinions and regard or your capacities even when you lose confidence.

3) Faith in a higher power.   This is where “God” concepts come in.   But you could also say nature, the Universe, Universal Mind, any number of other expressions that there is something larger than we are, and that we are a part of it.

When I began my writing career, I modeled two men: Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury.   Combining their advice about writing I came up with the following statement:

I will write a story a week, or a story every other week.  I will put them in the mail and keep them in the mail until they sell, and not re-write except to editorial request.”

I started this program in the mid 70’s, beginning with great enthusiasm and energy.  And then…the rejections began. One after another after another.  And years passed.  And the voices of every person who had ever doubted me, my mother who had torn my stories up and was TERRIFIED that my artistic aspirations would self-destruct as did my father’s, the teachers who mocked me, and the entire culture which gave me not a single example of success in this field that mirrored my ethnicity…

Slowly, my confidence eroded.  Fear began creeping in. What if I can’t?  What if I am not good enough..?

What if they’re right about me?

Sleepless nights.  One of the few saving graces was the woman in my life, Toni Young, who believed in me.  Encouraged me.  Read and enjoyed my stories, and told me I could do it.  Loved me when I was down.

Had FAITH in me.  Bless her.

And one day, I found a way to have faith in myself.  The fourth principle of the Hero’s Journey is the “Road of Trials”, the path you have to traverse to become good enough to face your obstacles and win the day.   “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  But…how MANY steps? How long do you keep trying?  Keep going?  I’d burned my bridges behind me…had I been one of the world’s great fools?

All right.  I would define my road.  I set an arbitrary number: ONE HUNDRED STORIES.  I would write and submit ONE HUNDRED STORIES over the next what…two years?  Four years?  ONE HUNDRED STORIES, starting the count right then, before I allowed the doubting voices in my head any strength over me at all.

And I began.  Now, when I got rejection slips, they had a different meaning: they meant that I was one of the few with the courage to keep getting back to the plate and taking a swing.  They represented the millions of steps I was willing to take to walk the Thousand Mile Road.

Five stories.  Ten.  Fifteen.  I was writing like a demon, humming as I did, eager to get those rejections.  As Tananarive’s teacher said to her: “A REAL writer papers his walls with rejection slips.”  I was a REAL writer!  Not published, not yet, but real!!

Twenty Stories. This was fun!  And then…

At story twenty-three…

I was accepted.  A story called “Trick or Treat”, about a man who gets into an escalating war of nerves with the neighborhood kids every Halloween.  A nasty little piece of work.  Not only that, but I managed to get a copy of it to my idol, Ray Bradbury (Toni created the accompanying illustrations, the sweetheart!) and Ray sent me back a letter telling me he loved the story and encouraging me to go for a career.

OMG!   A real writer, a famous writer, a GREAT writer had said he valued my work?  I cannot tell you what it meant. He thought I had something.  He had FAITH in me!

That was the accelerant I needed, and I never looked back. 

Years later, I was taking a class in writing at UCLA extension from Robert Kirsch, the literary editor of the L.A. Times. Most of the other students were doing literary work, and I was turning out very odd pieces of work, including that story about the compulsive gambler who hocked his pacemaker.  Kirsch didn’t know what to make of that story, and asked if he could show it to “a friend.”  I said sure.

And about five weeks later, I got a letter…from Ray Bradbury.  Telling me he loved it, and encouraging me.  I can’t tell you how much that meant.

Years passed.   I was actually deep in my career, but beginning to fight a creeping sense that I had “sold out” by writing commercial fiction, books and scripts that were written to keep my doors open and a roof over my family’s head while I struggled to find my voice.   I was asked by U.C.L.A.  To create a science fiction symposium, nine weeks I believe, with writers like Octavia Butler, Greg Benford, Larry Niven, Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, and…Ray Bradbury.   I picked Ray up at his house, and took him to dinner before the conference. And while we were talking, I poured my heart out to him, wondering if I had lost my way as an artist.

“Well…” he asked thoughtfully.  “Have you published?”

“Oh yes,” I said, and detailed stories and a dozen books and television scripts and…and he was laughing, gently, deeply, musically.

“Oh, my goodness,” he said, twinkling, “you will have no trouble at all.”

Sigh.   I felt that fear fly out of my mouth like a little bird, because I had faith that HIS faith meant something powerful and positive.

Years passed.   I was asked to host a symposium for the Planetary Society in Pasadena.  Ray was one of the guests, and I got to stand on the stage and tell the crowd my story of what he meant to me.  Ray came up on stage and gave me one of the great hugs of my life.   Wow.  What a moment.

Years passed. Late in 2011 I was told that Ray was very ill, that there was to be a dinner honoring him at the Universal Sheraton, and would I be willing to speak there?  Of course. And so I did, gushing out all he had meant to me as he sat, frail in his wheelchair, watching me with a tiny smile. I cried my eyes out.   He hugged me, for the last time, and I left, sobbing all the way home.

And a few weeks later I recieved my last letter from this great man, thanking me for coming to his “little party”, saying he was very touched by what I’d said, and that “some of your tears are my own.”

A few months later, on June 5 of 2012, Ray passed away.  He touched countless readers, but I’m not sure how many people know how many WRITERS he lifted up with his light.

I was, and am one of them.  He had faith in me. Saw something in a frightened kid with outsized dreams. And because of that faith…I believed in myself.

Faith is fire.   Pass it on.



Passion is power

Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart.”—Rumi

Two weeks ago, I found myself in Los Angeles, driving past the spot where my life changed.  It is on Washington Boulevard, a little west of Crenshaw.   Now as then a nice neighborhood, with a church, well maintained lawns, pleasant white fences.  No evidence that once a long long time ago a boy was utterly humiliated, and from that humiliation created a new life.

I’d been beaten up countless times, but one day when I was at Mt. Vernon Jr. High school was the final straw.  A bully named Rudy, his brother and their friends followed me home along that street, hitting me, spitting on me, cursing at me and challenging me to fight an impossible fight.  Rudy had plagued me since elementary school, pulling out a pair of brass knuckles (!) on me in fifth grade to separate me from my lunch money.

And this day, he decided that I had wronged him, specifically had narked on him to the Vice Principle, and that he was going to beat the truth out of me. 

I couldn’t fight him: I’d never won a fight in my life, and even if I did, I’d have to fight his bigger brother. And if I won THAT fight, I’d have to fight his friends.   Two of them?  Three?  My memory isn’t clear on that.  But it was impossible.  I could do nothing. But with every punch and slap, something was coming apart inside me, some sense of personhood.  Agency. Worth.  They were destroying that young boy, until, trapped between impossible alternatives:

Act?  Be destroyed.  Don’t act?  Be destroyed.

Something snapped inside me.  I put my books down on the ground, and walked out into the street.  Washington Boulevard was the busiest street in that entire area, and I stood in the middle of the double yellow lines, cars and trucks whizzing past me on both sides, and looked at Rudy as if staring at him through a long, long tunnel.   And said to him in a voice that was not my own:

“Come out here and do that.”   He looked at me, and I looked at him, and there was a moment of genuine truth. No games. No play. No social roles.

If he’d come out there, I was going to push him in front of a car and kill him.  And…he knew it, knew that he’d pushed me too far, and that I was ready to die, and ready to take him with me. 

He blinked first.  “Aw, man,” he said, “that nigger’s crazy.”  And he and his friends laughed, and walked on.   

And…he never bothered me again.

I knew on that day that I had found something I’d never known inside myself, and prayed that just maybe this was the space that was discussed in writings on the martial arts, and the various warrior paths of countless cultures throughout history.  And swore right then and there to master it, to find that Way and walk it.   I could NOT go back to being the boy who was so afraid that he let a thug nearly destroy him.

It would be impossible to detail all the pain, and disappointment, fear and shame, self-contempt and emotional turmoil that path brought me.  In addition, though, it also brought joy, self-confidence, friendship, discipline, clarity and energy beyond belief.   I wanted to quit a thousand times, and kept going a thousand and one.

I had a WHITE HOT DESIRE to be me. Just…be myself.  Own my own life. Be able to speak my truth, open my heart.  I was such a friendly, loving, studious little bookworm. And the world would not leave me alone.  There was no tribe to protect me.  I couldn’t even tell my mother what I was going through.  It felt like death. And then…it felt WORSE than death, until death became preferable.

And that is what made life possible.   A desire so deep you are willing to sacrifice, risk EVERYTHING to achieve it, cannot leave you in defeat: you win, or you die.

That is where you must begin.  To be so connected to your desires, your heart, that you are consumed.  This can be difficult, because life does all it can to dampen those flames.

I had a BURNING DESIRE to find love, and was gifted by life with two wonderful women, Toni my first wife and one of the best friends I’ve ever had, and Tananarive, my soul mate.

I had a BURNING DESIRE to have a writing career, and soldiered through every fear and disappointment, knocked on every door, and wrote until my fingers were bloody to create my life.  Am I proud of everything I’ve done?   Fulfilled every dream?  Every CHILDHOOD dream, yes.  And now have new, more adult dreams. But out of the three million words and thirty novels I’ve published, I feel that ten of them actually accomplished what I wanted, spoke my truth, and rose to the level I aspired to.  Not bad at all.

I had a BURNING DESIRE to master the martial arts.   Definitions differ, of course.  But the finest karate man I’ve ever known, a master of masters, champion, street-fighter extraordinaire and tamer of tigers for generations, still a badass at 77, promoted me to one of the highest ranks in his entire system.   Mastery?   I don’t know…but if his definition is correct: “unconscious competence in basics such that you can create spontaneously under pressure” then I suppose so.  I like the notion that mastery is a verb not a noun, a vector, not a position. And that once you have your basic vocabulary, and have committed to the path for a lifetime, you are on the “Path of Mastery” as much as anyone else, even if they are far ahead of you. And the Masters I’ve admired seem to concur. They are just students.  The term “master” is for the benefit of students who need to believe that there is a goal at the end of the discipline and pain.

Doubt will always be a part of the path. And fear. And pain. And failure.  But…if you begin with desire, then the Way itself is the end point. The actions you take on a daily basis ARE the reward.  And you have simultaneously maximized your chances of winning the external rewards as well.

Begin with desire. What do you REALLY want?  I say it is either to express something about yourself, or to create some change in the world.   When you connect these two things, you express or discover something about yourself and the “wake”, the external evidence, the observable result of that expression or discovery is accomplishment observable by others.

But the real reward?  Being yourself.  THAT is what that boy promised to himself that day on Washington Boulevard.

I will be myself.  I will die before I let anyone take “me” away from me, ever again.

From time to time I get discouraged, feel that my goals are out of reach.  And I remember that boy, willing to risk everything just to be an honest expression of himself.  And that is all the power I need.

He didn’t let me down.   And by God, I won’t let him down, either.



Everything begins somewhere

Back in the late 70’s I was writing my butt off, but not publishing anything much.   This was discouraging to me, because I believed in goal setting, had set my goals and burned my bridges behind me by dropping out of college, wrote and wrote and submitted and submitted…

Maybe this “goal setting” stuff didn’t work!

And then one day I got a terrible joke: my goal had been to be a writer. And I WAS one. I just wasn’t a PUBLISHED writer.

Damn specificity!

So I changed my goal: “I am a published writer…”

And almost as soon as I change it, I did get published. And…paid in contributor’s copies.

Not good enough.  Back to the drawing board: “I am published and paid for my writing…”

And…got paid .2 cents per word.  Arrrgh!

All right.  Changed my goal again.  “I support myself with my writing…”

And did.  Just barely.  I mean starvation wages, but I did it…

This was absurd. I could stair-step my way up.  Or I could create larger goals, and the problem there was that long periods would pass where it seemed that nothing was happening.  The urge to dig up the seeds and see if they were sprouting was overwhelming.  But if you do that, often you kill the sprouts.

The problem was that I was thrashing, milling, didn’t know where or what to do because I knew no one who had ever actually sold any writing, no one who actually made their living at it.

I had the desire. The faith, the “auto-suggestion”.  I didn’t have the Specialized Knowledge.

That was when I went looking for a writer who was on the “other side of that line.”    I remember asking my friend Otis Allred at Pepperdine University where “real” writers might be found, and he mentioned that Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle attended Thursday meetings at the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society.   

Larry Niven…hmmm…I knew that name.

I went home and looked in my book collection, and found some Niven, specifically a short story collection called “All the Myriad Ways.”  The titular story was a multiple time-track story that was simply brilliant.  And that was what I needed: the ability to look at someone and HONESTLY tell them I admire them. It is best to think and behave and speak as if people can read your mind.

So armed with that, I sallied out to Burbank and searched out Larry.  I’d met him once before and had a brief conversation with him in an art show, but knew he’d never remember me. When he arrived, I said: “Hello, Mr. Niven.  My name is Steven Barnes, and I’m a writer.”

He took a puff on his pipe (he smoked at that time) and said: “O.K.  Tell me a story.”

I was gobsmacked, but luckily I’d just mailed off a story about a compulsive gambler who hocks his pacemaker, and fumbled the details out.  He was sufficiently impressed to continue the conversation.  I later learned that from the way I’d come on to him, I had about ten seconds to prove I wasn’t an asshole.

We talked more, and I asked him if he would be kind enough to read one of my stories. He agreed, and I gave him an envelope that had three stories in it…

And that was the beginning.


If you’ve been following my musings on Think And Grow Rich, or the “M.A.G.I.C. Formula” you will recognize a number of principles in what I did, and why it worked.

But the most important ones are that I knew what I wanted, acted, measured my results and knew I wasn’t getting what I wanted, and didn’t lose faith.   Found someone on the other side of the issue and offered him genuine value (honest praise and appreciation for his story once we were engaged in conversation) and then made a polite request.  I had done my homework, and was already good enough to offer him some work that would not embarrass me.  And then I was in enough control of my emotions, had enough confidence to carry this all off without vomiting with fear.

Was I scared?  Hell yes.   But anyone who knew me at the time knows that I was a cocky little bastard.  Had to be: everything in the world told me I couldn’t have, be, or do what I so desperately desired. Only ego sustained me.

In time, I outgrew that ego shell, and it became a strait-jacket I had to shred to grow.  And let me tell you, if you don’t break your ego shells, either life will break them…or they will crush your dreams.

But that’s another story.

This story was about the beginning of my career, the moment at which I did something right, something honest, something in alignment with my dreams and hopes and goals.   

Most of the successful people I’ve known can speak of a teacher, a mentor, a lecture, a book, some specific person who or event which opened the door to a different level of functioning and happiness.   If YOU are stuck, you may need nothing more than clarifying your goals, and finding someone who has clarity on an arena in which you are confused.   Sit them down for an hour: offer them dinner, or honest respect, or in some cases even pay them (what in the heck do you think Life Coaches are doing?) for their time, and you can learn in minutes what might otherwise have taken you years of fumbling.

And then once you’ve learned and accomplished…leave a trail of bread crumbs for others.   Build the bridge for others to cross. That’s how it gets done.



War Dogs (2016)

I thought “War Dogs” was amusing and disturbing in equal measures. They did a better job than “Wolf of Wall Street” for helping you understand why the actions of these two low-rent arms dealers was not just dishonest but damaging and wrong. “Wolf” basically only showed you all the terrific fun DiCaprio had making tons of money, and never showed us the negative consequences or who any of it was hurting. “War Dogs” could have done better, but at least our protagonists were rather obviously less attractive and appealing,  (Jonah Hill is no DiCaprio by any stretch of the imagination)   and the situations they got into were less amusing and inviting. But it did enjoy walking a moral edge, and ends on one of those “what would YOU do?” situations.

The best line in the movie was in the coming attractions (although it certainly takes on a deeper meaning in context): Bradley Cooper’s uber-arms dealer saying: “I’m not a bad man. But in certain situations I have to ask myself: what would a bad man do?” That’s a great line, it really is. I’d probably give it a “B”.

Flaws in TAGR

It is valuable to ask what flaws might exist in this work.  In no way is TAGR “perfect”…it is, rather, the best of its type ever written, which is quite enough.

But it is also fair to ask what changes an individual might make in any text. Those changes wouldn’t necessarily make the text BETTER, but at least it would be more complete or useful in that one person’s opinion.   Here are some thoughts:

1) The biggest single issue I have personally is that it doesn’t say much about the protection of money once you have it.   The book “Richest Man In Babylon” fills this gap nicely, specifically the recommendation to save 10% of everything you earn for retirement or passing to the next generation. A FABULOUS suggestion, which creates an entire cascade of positive effects.   Man oh man, if I’d done this when I started my career, life would have been HUGELY more stable.  Arguably the largest material flaw of my entire existence.

2) It is incredibly simple considering the amount of information it contains…but still very complicated.    It is possible that some of the aspects of Mind could have been confined in fewer chapters.  Maybe.

3) Some of the book is rather charmingly out of date. I mean, it was written before WW2, and there are scientific, social and psychological theories and are rather quaint, and in some instances, just flat wrong.   This gives room for people to discount the very real and valuable information that is timeless.

4) It can seem overly positive, without admitting that luck and innate capacity play as large a part as they do.  On the other hand, the “Mastermind” can indeed compensate for much, and except in extreme cases, “luck” does favor the prepared mind…and the bold.  This is a fine line.  Ultimately, I think I have to say that we get far, far more urging to limit our dreams than we do to go for it.  If I had to fail to one side or the other, I suppose it is better to be too optimistic.

5) It is unfortunate that the book was written when it was, and the vast majority of its examples are white males.  This can make it difficult to “translate” some of the concepts for POC and women.  In addition, there are quite a few VERY male-centric comments and theories, which may present problems as well. But you know what?  I’ve known dozens of women who adore the book, and not one of them has complained much about this, although they do bring it up humorously. There are a few unfortunate racial comments as well, but frankly I find Hill to have been remarkably “enlightened” about race…for his time.  All in all, far better for it to have been written too early than too late.

6) I wonder what he would have made of some of the more advanced tools: NLP, Eriksonian Hypnosis, Transactional Analysis, Behavioral Modification and other things, as well as tools of meditation from Asian  and other cultures.  Hill’s book seeks to help people align their inner and outer worlds to maximize their efficiency and effectiveness.  And did it so well that virtually every other “success” book can be traced back to it one way or another.  But there ARE better techniques than emotionalized repetition of words and visualizations.  Or…maybe they are merely refinements.  Really, his techniques work.

Overall, what do I think?

1) Nothing can promise you success, just as no driving course can guarantee you won’t have an accident, and no martial art guarantee you won’t lose a fight.  But I cannot imagine anyone using even 10% of the information in this book and not improving their results.  And someone using 90% of it…?

2) Honestly, I’ve never met a successful person who did not deliberately or accidentally, consciously or unconsciously, use the techniques in this book, display the attitudes, hold the beliefs, take the actions in some form.   Not a single one.  In fact, I’ll go far enough to say that you cannot point out a successful individual who does NOT use the principles, and would have a very difficult time finding an unsuccessful individual who uses, say as much as 25% of what is contained in these pages.


How does this book relate to social change?  Again, applying the “Five Fold” method (oh, I’ll find a trick acronym to help us remember the steps eventually.  Don’t have it yet though.)

1) Love yourself.  You have to do this to combat fear, convince yourself you are worthy of greater accomplishment, free yourself from needing to get the approval of others.  You are as worth fighting for as your own helpless, beloved child would be.  ANY lesser willingness to give it “everything” is a sign of negative implantation.    In addition, if you BEGIN with the feeling of love and connection, you simply enjoy the process of life far more deeply than those who can only feel “good” if they accomplish.   Don’t “accomplish to be happy” but rather “happily accomplish.”   Any time I council someone in despair or fear about the state of the world, wondering how we will ever survive and heal, I remind them to BE THE CHANGE THEY WISH TO SEE IN THE WORLD.  It starts with them. How can they expect their community, or America to heal if THEY cannot? And the antidote for fear…is love.

2) Expand your sense of “self” to include others.  This is the beginning of understanding. The Khoisan “Num” belief, that we are “One soul looking out through many eyes” is a beautiful statement of this.  And it allows us to begin the “Soul Mate” process where you find someone traveling your road, at your speed, and bond with them to create a life partnership or family.  The family has ALWAYS been the primary building block of society. When the family is strong, society is strong. And the opposite is true as well.   Being a strong individual with a strong marriage/partnership is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself…or the world.

3) Understand the flow of human history without guilt, blame, or shame.   In American history, this means  that what happened to black people was not a matter of special evil on the part of whites, and the way blacks responded to that damage was not indicative of incapacity on their part. Europe didn’t “take” Africa because the individuals were superior or inferior, but because accidents of history and geography allowed Europeans to leverage their capacities in amazing and wonderful and sometimes tragic ways.  As you forgive yourself and others, you need to understand animal behavior, the formation of human societies, the flow and development of technology and information systems such that you can release the feelings of inferiority or superiority that cripple your ability to just…see human beings.


What I call the “Southern Matrix” of racism and self-justification is about rationalizing the need for cheap human labor and self-excuse of the violations and abominations related to the institution which evolved to support that need.  Further, the belief systems (racial inferiority) that supported it, and the whole amazing rafts of bullshit to justify the history that followed.  Ugh.  Continued to this day.    Massive amounts of fear and guilt and denial.  And on the other side, anger and hatred on the part of those who suffered…along with a toxic mixture of superiority and inferiority complexes.  SO many black people are secretly afraid that whites are correct in considering them inferior.  Just tragic.  Free yourself. IMO, all that is needed to rid yourself of being intimidated by anyone, ever, is to free yourself from the sense that anyone should be intimidated by you.   

4) Identify your tribe.  Find your “mastermind” among those who believe in human equality, especially those who pass the first three “gates” of perception.  Those who are “awakened adults” or who wish to become awakened: they can be led.  But those asleep dreaming they are awake? Still caught within the illusions of pain and fear?  Build a better world for them to awaken to, but let them sleep. And of course, learn to identify the monsters.  Avoid them when possible, but be prepared to deal with them head-on if necessary. The children are not safe if no one will tread on the snakes. Offer them peace, and if they cannot accept it, and continue to attack, defend yourself.  Most are cowards and will back down.  Those who will not, and are strong enough to hurt you?  There are more of us than there are of Them.  Form alliances.  Make sure you have people to watch your back.  I sure as hell do, and I treasure them.

5) SUCCEED.  Massively as you can, according to your goals and dreams, in alignment with your deepest values. Nothing is as attractive or convincing as success.  If you can radiate “aliveness” and joy…are a healthy animal…have a passionate love relationship and are living your dream people will want to know what you’re doing.  Such people have “charisma.” They are congruent, and can stand before a crowd and speak honestly and openly and spontaneously about their experiences, and inspire thousands.  BE THAT PERSON.  Even if you choose a quiet existence, you show by your very presence that IT IS POSSIBLE TO WIN AND STILL BE A GOOD PERSON. People are desperate to know this.  DESPERATE.  They are so afraid that you have to cheat, steal, lie, or prostitute yourself to accomplish.  To “sell out” to succeed.   That you have to become something you are not.

No.  You have to become what you truly ARE.  This is what you learn if you take step #1, and ONLY if you have consciously or unconsciously taken this step.

So we travel the five steps, each of which could be a lifetime study. And we have juxtaposed it against the thirteen steps of the greatest secular self-improvement book ever written.    I ask you to ask questions, or challenge me on any of these points. Make me prove or extend my thesis. Show me what I’m not considering.  Ask for specific means to utilize these ideas.

Here’s my first suggestion: use the M.A.G.I.C. Formula in connection with a “Morning Ritual” of motion, thought, and emotion:

Magic equals

Action, constant and passionate

Gratitude for the blessings in your life

Intentions, clear and balanced, and

Conviction that you Can and Should pursue your goals successfully.

Again, by grafting these thoughts onto TAGR, I can think of no better way to help individuals or society, in alignment with what I have experienced to be true in life.   And those of you who agree?

You are my tribe, and I love you dearly.



TAGR #14: The Six Basic Fears

There are six basic fears, with some combination of which every human suffers at one tune or another. Most people are fortunate if they do not suffer from the entire six. Named in the order of their most common appearance, they are:—

The fear of POVERTY

The fear of CRITICISM

The fear of ILL HEALTH


The fear of OLD AGE
The fear of DEATH”

So now we come to the last chapter of this amazing book, where Napoleon Hill lays out the success secrets he extracted from the study and direct observation of five hundred of the most successful men in American history.    If you were to try to extract the core meaning from this book, you could do far worse than the following quote:


What blocks us, more than anything else? Fear.  Fear makes us refuse to admit we have dreams, keeps us from studying those who have achieved them with a mind to modeling, stops us from committing, stifles imagination, prevents us from focusing and organizing, blocks the flow of ideas from conscious to unconscious and in general screws everything up…if you let it.

We’ve talked about ways to banish fear, and ways to live with the fear you have. Even to use fear as a motivator (“put your fear behind you, your love in front of you, and run like hell!”)

But one way or another, you are going to need to deal with this…and so will a community.  Let’s look at these six and how they relate to both, shall we?

1) Fear of poverty.  That fear can prevent you from taking pleasure in your life, and taking risks.  If you are not wealthy, and fear poverty, you can easily create or accept negative beliefs about your condition that justify your current status but prevent you from moving forward.  If you think “they” are stopping you, you might easily hallucinate all of the pain or injury you will encounter if you step out of your social role.  And considering the history of achievers being slapped down by systemized racism, this isn’t an illusion.  It might be out of date, but anyone who says you have no barriers to accomplishment just aren’t looking at how important role models are in performance.

2) Fear of criticism.   Again, if your family or community believes you cannot succeed because of systemic issues, you can get isolated, rejected, or slapped down if you stand up too tall. I was told point blank that “black people don’t write” by BLACK people.  Rejected by attractive women because they thought I was wasting my intelligence.  That was just ugly painful.

3) Fear of ill health.   This can make us seek security, cause fear of leaving a job with good insurance.   The mind can cripple your physical dynamism, which is closely related to optimism and creative energy.  I was driving down in the Crenshaw district in Los Angeles recently, and didn’t see a single grocery store.  Nice big Krispy Creme, however.   There are very real economic barriers that create this situation, and you pretend there aren’t at your own risk.

4) Fear of Loss of Love.   Your love partner is a hugely powerful influence on you, and if their mind is limited, they can poison your dreams. You need someone who can dream with you, or THEIR fears will enter YOUR mind.  NO ONE HAS MORE INFLUENCE ON YOU THAN THE PERSON YOU SLEEP WITH.   Be very very careful.  The “I will withhold sex if you don’t agree with me” message is both consciously and unconsciously present in MOST relationships IMO.  Its a tough one, and only if you love yourself enough that you don’t need love from others to be whole can you rise above this.   Only someone unafraid of being alone can really have a healthy non-co-dependent relationship with another adult.

5) The fear of Old Age.  Fear that opportunity has passed you by, and that it is too late to pursue your dreams. What are your role models of aging?  Are they still dynamic and optimistic?  Or setting into their dotage, and filled with regret and pain?  “I’m too young” and “I’m too old” are both common reasons to “not try.”   

6) The fear of Death.  Well, there you have it. Most of these are some version of fear of death.  Fear of social rejection expels you from the tribe.  Fear of loss of love is fear of genetic extinction, and loss of primary partner.  Poverty brings death and disease.  Criticism denies resources and companionship.

Old age is death’s next door neighbor.   

I think that you are best advised to deal with this one directly. To look at all the ways that people let their fear of death interfere with their lives and dreams, and then deal with it directly.  This subject could be a lifetime study, but frankly Epicurus’s quote made massive sense to me when I was a kid:

Why should I fear death?
If I am, then death is not.
If Death is, then I am not.
Why should I fear that which can only exist when I do not?

In other words, there either IS or IS NOT something after death.   Work through this in your mind until you can deal with either concept, or that fear will sneak up on you.  Religion is a bulwark for many. As are charitable or artistic works, families, and so forth. Find your own way, imagining your last moments and allowing the emotions which arise to simply arise.  Don’t let them dwell in the darkness.

This is hard work, harder than most people imagine. I’m not at all sure you can vanquish fear on this level, but you can make your peace with it, this I know for certain.  And you can make your fear of death motivate you to adventure, accomplishment, calculated risk, refusal to be have or do less than your absolute best in the time you have.

That you can do.

We’re going to go deeper into these principles, but the application of fear of death has to be addressed directly in relation to race relations.

Slaves who displayed too much independence were beaten, broken, or killed.  Fear of death as the result of disobedience or independent thought was a constant companion.  After emancipation, blacks who acted equal to white people were broken or killed all too often.  Those who believe “Black Lives Matter” protesters do not actually believe there is differential systemic violence on racial grounds are, IMO, simply ignorant.  But there are others who KNOW that this violence exists, and are simply lying because it fits their agenda.  These are monsters, and you know who you are.

And I would say that we now have the very first generation that has actually proclaimed themselves totally equal, and are willing to stand up and dare you to say they are not.  There will be violence against them, but so what?  Everyone dies.  And if you have the Warrior energy in your heart it is better to die not merely on your feet…but meeting force with force.

I’ve had threats directed at me, direct and indirect, physical and digital and financial, much of my life.  Just in the last couple of  years, since I started being more direct about these issues, I’ve had white people tell me I would “reap the whirlwind” (!), warn me about how tough and dangerous white people are, martial art won’t stop bullets, and on and on.

Yawn.  Wow. I could die.  Not much of a surprise to someone who has lost both parents and about half the people he grew up with,  y’know?  Try something else.  Better yet, save your breath.   “We won’t approve of you, love you, support you, buy your books, yada yada yada” if I continue to say things that “make them feel uncomfortable.”   Well, I’m sorry you feel uncomfortable, but YOU made yourself feel that way, using my words to hurt yourself.  All I can say is that if that is really how you feel?  If you’d been born black you would absolutely DETEST white people.  I know that attitude, those thought patterns, and boy oh boy when someone with those weaknesses is actually born into a disadvantaged position it destroys them.

The people who would do well with having been born black? IMO those with the strength and compassion to see the world as it is, to preserve their sense of self while simultaneously extending compassion to others.

If you are overcome with fear merely by the discussion of history, even though I say again and again and again, in hundreds of thousands or MILLIONS of words, that I consider humanity a unified family, with no superiority or inferiority on either side, and that our differences in behavior were caused by happenstance of history…

You are a weakling. A coward. And while I am sorry for your discomfort, I have zero interest in catering to it.  Life is too short, and there is too much to do.  But…I love you anyway.  It’s not your fault.  You’re doing the best you can with the resources you have.

But man oh man, if I were you I’d fall on my knees every night and give fervent thanks that I was born white.  Seriously.  You dodged a bullet.



Principle #13: The Sixth Sense

The sixth sense defies description! It cannot be described to a person who has not mastered the other principles of this philosophy, because such a person has no knowledge, and no experience with which the sixth sense may be compared. Under- standing of the sixth sense comes only by meditation through mind development from within. The sixth sense probably is the medium of contact between the finite mind of man and Infinite Intelligence, and for this reason, it is a mixture of both the mental and the spiritual. It is believed to be the point at which the mind of man contacts the Universal Mind.”–Napoleon Hill

The last formal principle of “Think And Grow Rich” is that of “The Sixth Sense” which is said to resemble a “guardian angel” that warns of danger and sensitizes one to opportunity.  It seems to be a cumulative result of applying the other principles, but the one practice that Hill stresses in this chapter is what might be called an “Imaginary Council”, basically studying the biographies of famous people until you can imagine actual conversations with them, and bringing them into a nightly imaginary “council meeting” where they advise you and provide models of excellence.

Models.  I’ve encountered similar patterns of learning by imitation in practices like Deep Trance Identification, “Hero Circles” and so forth.    Hill commented that the imaginings went so deep that he became afraid for his sanity, and certainly afraid to tell others what he had been doing.  TAGR represented his first willingness to share this practice.

It might be interesting at his point to ask a very serious question: does his method work? And the most natural extension of this; did it work for Napoleon Hill?


I have a habit of deliberately searching out negative comments about people I admire, or goods and services I enjoy and use.   And “Napoleon Hill Fraud” is a fun search term.  Try it.   One thing that comes up repeatedly is that he had a number of businesses that went bust, was broke at times, and apparently wasn’t the best husband he could have been.

And on this evidence, there are a couple of sites that claim he was a failure.

Well…that’s kind of fun, considering that TAGR alone sold over twenty million copies, and he wrote about forty more, many of which sold well, as well as endless articles, lectures, and courses based on the same research. He also performed success coaching, and unless he gave his time away for free, it is impossible to imagine that someone with a twenty million book platform couldn’t make all the money he wanted advising people on the contents of his books.

He died with a net worth of about a million dollars in 1970. Not bad at all, really.   I like what I see in that biography: he may not have been brilliant enough to match the performance of his role models, but to the degree that they functioned as his Master Mind, and role models, he did just fine.


This is a great moment to speak in a kind of Meta way about what he did.  It was what NLP refers to as “Modeling” and the entire book Think and Grow Rich is filled with the Mental Syntax, Belief Systems, and Behaviors of successful men.

The idea is this: if you want to bake a cake, you can experiment with different proportions of sugar, flour, water, eggs, milk, heat, and so forth, and after years of mess, you’ll come up with something edible.

Or…you can buy cook books and follow them…or even buy packages of cake mix and use them.  These are both “modeling” as well, and it works. This is pretty much the formal education approach.

But IMO the very best approach would be to sample a LOT of cakes until you find one you love. Then find the cook, and induce them to let you follow them around the kitchen for a day as they work their magic.   You learn their ingredient, the order in which they combine them, the model and make of the oven, the temperature at which you cook and the time you leave it in, the humidity of the kitchen, and so forth.   To the degree that you can accurately determine what they did AND THEN DO THE SAME THING, you will get the same results. In a single afternoon, you can learn to make a cake it took someone twenty years to create.

THAT is the power of modeling.    You can do it unconsciously (by sort of “dreaming” about the person) or deliberately by analyzing their actions, vividly imagining them in different circumstances, having real and/or imaginary conversations with them, and so on and so on.

Remember what Lonnie Athens said about career criminals?What creates them?

1) Brutalization or violent horrification.   Pain to himself or someone he empathizes with (seeing his mother beaten, for instance)

2) “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.”

3) Acting out with increasing success.

4) Finding a group of peers/role models who support his values.

5) Internalizing their voices.

Remember that by the time you get to step 5 there is no known form of rehabilitation that can change them?

Let’s turn that inside out.   Assuming that this is the process of DEEP PROGRAMMING, and can be used positively as well as negatively.

1) Motivation by extreme emotion.  A BURNING DESIRE for excellence, wealth, whatever, created by an overload of positive or negative emotions, sufficient to overcome inertia.

2) Making a DECISION and “burning your bridges behind you.

3) Taking MASSIVE ACTION at the same time that you are learning the rules of engagement, and creating a map of reality you constantly work to improve.

4) Find role models and mentors, and people with whom to Mastermind.  Learn their behaviors and thoughts, and brainstorm with them.  DO NOT NEGLECT THIS STEP.  It is the ONLY known way to compensate for lack of resources or mental capacity.

5) Internalize their attitudes until you can “hear their voices” in your head advising you.

First of all, does it become clearer why your daily associations, your friends, and especially your intimate connections can have a killer influence on your life? Why those who can communicate with you while you are in a highly emotionalized state are accessing and programming your unconscious mind?


We’ve looked at this from the personal perspective. Shall we expand it to the social?  Let’s.

You can apply this methodology to any group performance, but I’m focusing on one group whose history and status I understand best: black Americans.

1) Motivation by extreme emotion.  Well, 250 years of slavery followed by another century of Jim Crow and Segregation.   What was the group called “African slaves” programmed for: survival.  The primary tool of survival?  Obedience and mindless work.  Put this in conflict with the natural human drive to succeed, grow, thrive.  Now ask yourself how much fear it takes to crush that instinct.  THAT is what was programmed in, along with beliefs that suggest the very best you could ever hope for was simple freedom.  Not excellence. Not kicking ass. Not “being the best.”  Just survival, and maybe one day freedom. DARE to hope for equality one day. Average all this out, and you get a pretty nasty picture: if you have negatives, the only way to balance at “Average” is to have equal and opposite Superiority Complex.   If you only go from Negative to “Equal” you have to end in the negative. The average of -10 and “Zero” is minus Five, get it?

2) “I’m mad as hell”.   There have been waves of this through our history, and every time attempts were made to crush it. There was NEVER a time when the perpetrators admitted to the abuse.   Slavery was a good thing, Jim Crow was caused by Northern Interference, “our Nigras were happy until those Commie agitators came down here”, “you have equality now, shut up and be satisfied” and “you have a black President, what more do you want?”   Every previous generation, EVERY ONE, was in the position of little Orphan Oliver going to an overseer gruel bowl in hand saying “please sir, I want some more.”

If you want to know where the terror and violence is coming from, just look at the fear on both sides: fear from blacks finally hoping to dream that they can be as egotistically self-confident as white folks. Fear of white folks that they have finally, FINALLY lost control of the narrative.  That rather than “please sir, I want some more” you have a generation saying “excuse me.  I’d like you to explain why my children should expect one whit less from life than yours. And if you like, we can have this conversation outside.”

Oh, yeah.  It’s getting really interesting.  Be too nice, and people think they can dole out the gruel a spoonful at a time. Get too mad, and they’ll pretend not to understand that they would have been just as pissed off. Pretend that white people don’t riot, scream, thrash, act irrationally and violently when the system seems not to support them.  Pretend that one out of 43 men serving as President being black means all is well.   Want to know what standard I’d accept, rather than that outlier?   Try percentage in the Senate.  We’re 13 percent of the population.  We’re about 2 percent of the Senate.  I’m waiting.

3) Action.  Want to know how to chain an elephant? Start when it is a baby, with a heavy chain. It will try and try and try, and finally give up. And then when it is large enough to pull a tree out of the ground, you can keep it tied with a slender rope. There is a wonderful scene at the end of Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” where several slaves are sitting in a jail cart. The door is open.  They don’t know what to do.

350 years of “if you dare to look a white man in the eye, you’ll be killed” leaves a mark, even if the actual frequency of killings diminished over the years.   THOSE SCARS GO DEEP. The natural drive to succeed and achieve turns on itself, becomes self-loathing, or a belief in “milk and honey on the other side.” This world will not be fair.  Hope for the next.

Or perhaps, just perhaps…those white folks are right about us. Maybe we really aren’t quite as good…

It is sad that there is so much guilt about the massive amount of cultural brain-washing and operant conditioning that went on for 350 years that many folks can’t even consider the implications.  “It can’t be that bad.  Surely its no worse than immigration…” and so forth.

And the sad one: “Steve, when you make me look at these things, it hurts. It triggers massive discomfort and shame. Please stop.”

All I can say is that you would NEVER have survived being black in America.  And while I’m sorry about your pain, the only way out is honesty.  Be honest, stop defending the actions of your ancestors, and you need carry not an ounce of guilt. You can even enjoy your advantage…just stop pretending you don’t have it.

And for black folks: the damage within our community can ONLY be cured by us.  Yeah, we didn’t dig our way into this hole, but we have to climb out.  Its not a matter of what is “fair” or “unfair.”  It just “is.”

And now, for the first time, we have role models of success to every level of accomplishment.  NOW you really can model the way to get anywhere you want. The door is open. Don’t be the elephant, programmed by what happened in the past, to our ancestors.  Those same ancestors are watching to see what we will do. Will be appreciate their sacrifice?  Can we be as strong as they were?

I’d often wondered why my beloved karate instructor Steve Muhammad could be so strong, arguably the best and strongest human being I’ve ever had the chance to observe at close range over time.  And he was raised by his grandparents in Mississippi…WHO HAD BEEN SLAVES.  All the bullshit burned out of them.  Stripped to their essentials, but somehow managing to survive.  THAT is reality.   Anyone with THAT strength combined with 21st century opportunity will kick ASS.

Act.  Learn what is true.

4) Create associations and role models.   Seek out successful people.   Surround yourself with ambition and hope.  Study endlessly.  Close your mind tightly against negative thoughts.  Remember: YOU are the hope and the dream of the slave.  It is YOUR turn.  YOUR world now.

5) Internalize their positive lessons.   Be very, very careful who you let into that circle.  You will be highly emotionalized, and they will imprint. And when you are imprinted, it is hugely difficult to un-program

And relate it to the Fivefold Path:

1) Love yourself. Ruthlessly.  With discipline and forgiveness.  Dare to dream

2) Love others.  Create relationships and Masterminds, but be careful to choose wisely. Love everyone, but don’t let everyone hook their bloodstream to yours.  Sick people deserve love too…but you have no obligation to let them infect you.  Don’t get down in the water with a drowning person if you cannot swim. Get your feet on dry land and throw them a life preserver.

3) Understand the flow of human behavior and history without guilt, blame, or shame.  CRITICAL, whether you are black or white. The history of race in America is one of Mankind’s ugliest, palest experiences. But you cannot move on without seeing the truth, and it it cripples you with guilt, you will sabotage your own efforts.

4) Build tribe, let the children sleep and avoid (or step on!) snakes.    You don’t need total agreement to take action. However, respect the rights and humanity even of those you disagree with.  Even if they attack you.  Don’t let them infect you with their fear.  Circle your wagons.

5) SUCCEED.  Nothing, NOTHING attracts attention like success.  The purpose of life, according to the Dalai Lama, is to be happy. Works for me. Show the world that you are happy, whole, successful.  At the VERY least you’ve had a great life. At best, you open the path to the future.

Wow.  O.K., there are additional chapters, but these have been the 13 steps.  Any questions before we dive further in?



#12: The Brain

Operation of your mental “broadcasting” station is a comparatively simple procedure. You have but three principles to bear in mind, and to apply, when you wish to use your broadcasting station—the SUBCONSCIOUS MIND, CREATIVE IMAGINATION, and AUTO-SUGGESTION. The stimuli through which you put these three principles into action have been described—the procedure begins with DESIRE.”—Napoleon Hill

You definitely have to squint a bit to figure out what bits of TAGR can be ignored as out of date and which ones need to be interpreted a bit broadly.  Trying to imagine Hill sitting with Thomas Edison or Henry Ford, trying to understand the workings of the human mind in the light of early 20th century technology or scientific theory, is a fascinating exercise. 

I suspect that there are people seriously interested in extracting its wisdom, and others looking for ways to invalidate it, so that they don’t have to take responsibility for their success.  Whatever the truth, multiple chapters are looking at the same mental phenomenon from different directions. 

Here is  a pretty clear statement of his thesis: “The subconscious mind is the “sending station” of the brain, through which vibrations of thought are broadcast. The Creative Imagination is the “receiving set,” through which the vibrations of thought are picked up from the ether.”

The “Sending station” then is the way you communicate with “infinite intelligence” (depending on your belief systems, this could be anything from the Akashic Records to your own deep mind).   In other words: you radiate your goals to the world.  Words and images emotionalized with passion.

You need to take action according to carefully designed plans, and those plans will be influenced by intuitive flashes.  And how does he suggest we receive these flashes?  Through meditation, focused creative thought, Mastermind brainstorming and so forth.   Clear goals, high emotions, action, and quietly focusing on the parts of the project you DO know something about.

I can testify that this works: every novel I’ve ever written was a matter of writing notes on the aspects I knew about, then doing all I can with those things, while constantly studying and thinking about the project. Every time I look at the story from a different direction, new aspects of it are revealed to me. 

To this end, I’ll use all manner of different tools to organize: index cards, Post-It notes, wall-sized sheets of graph paper, white boards, outliners, mind-mapping…whatever.  And every time I set down what is known in a different way, some aspect of the unknown becomes clear.

Every time.

And the same is true with other goals, always.

Clear goals.  High emotions.  Mastermind partnerships, quiet contemplation.  A beautiful combination.


Let’s tie this back down with the concept of social change.  Be sure your goals are in alignment with BOTH your cherished childhood dreams AND the values you will hold dear at the end of your life.  Simply studying the final words and thoughts of dying people will reveal that none of them wish they’d spent more time at the office. They wish they had contributed more, loved more, expressed themselves more, danced in the rain, refused to let fear stop them, made the world a better place.  THOSE values. The real stuff.

All you need to have a wonderful life is to conduct your adult activities in alignment with BOTH your childhood dreams and deathbed values.

Let’s look at how we can line up these aspects more effectively.  Try seven questions:

1) Can you see how your goal enhances your chances of survival?  Reduces physical pain or discomfort?

2) How will your goal enhance your sex life?

3) How will your goal increase your personal power and wealth?

4) How will your goal increase your ability to give and receive love?

5) How will your goal enhance your ability to honestly and fearlessly express yourself?

6)How will your goal expand your education and understanding of life?

7) What is the spiritual dimension of your goal?  How will it benefit the world after you are gone?

If you can find a way to “thread all these moving needles” you have something very special, the ability to tap more deeply into your native abilities, satisfy your needs, benefit the world, let loose the power of passion, and have great fun in the process of living your life.

You can express your goals in a way that unites every emotional and mental capacity, thereby stimulating your problem-solving abilities to hit heights you may have rarely experienced. And those goals will simultaneously benefit you, your family, your community, the nation, and the world.

Sounds like a pretty good deal to me!



Two paths, one mountain

There are two healthy approaches to life I commonly see: to master the “game” of life in such a way as to plant a seed for further growth, or to nurture the spiritual self by properly attending to the things of this world. Both are roads up the same wonderful mountain. The largest mistakes I see, on the other hand, are to treat this life as if there is nothing else, or to aim at a spiritual life while ignoring the material one. Both lead to equal and opposite disasters.