What Are You Really Saying?


Watched the Gillette ad again. In it, ethnically diverse men are challenged to avoid and prevent toxic behavior. I thought it was interesting, but not for a fraction of a moment did I see any behavior I wanted to defend, or anything that had not happened to someone I knew personally. Seemed no different really from encouraging people to brush their teeth twice a day or to remember that “buzzed driving is drunk driving.” If it ain’t you, why are you angry?

In terms of race, all my adult life, I’ve complained about negative or lethal film and television images when there are no balancing images. There was nothing innately wrong with “Amos n Andy” that wasn’t also problematic with “Abbot and Costello.” The difference is that you also had John Wayne, and Marcus Welby M.D. and countless scientists, statesmen and heroes of A & C’s skin tone to balance them. When I complained, I was told I was hallucinating, exaggerating, being too sensitive.

Now, watching SOME guys complaining about the Gilette ad, I’m hearing that negative images are an attack EVEN WHEN THERE ARE COUNTLESS BALANCING IMAGES.

Really? Are THOSE the rules? If that’s what you think…was I being lied to before? Basically just told to “shut up and play the game” that was actually rigged against me? Really?

I’m listening. Because if that’s the way you really feel? You wouldn’t have survived a DAY in my skin.





One Step A Day

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

About twenty-five years ago I was teaching writing at UCLA, and noticed something. The most common complaint from the students was lack of time in their lives.  Man, it came up again and again. Everything: work, play, family, rest, eating…EVERYTHING got in the way.


So one week, feeling very sneaky, before I started teaching I started talking about television shows.  I talked about my favorite show, and what had happened that week, relating it to our writing lessons. The conversation zipped along, and we spoke of character, plot, theme, and other stuff, all related to our favorite shows. I did this until EVERYONE in the class was in on the conversation.


And then I dropped the bomb:


“Everyone in this class watched at least three hours of television last week.  Everyone in this class.   That means every single one of you had time to write.  Now: let’s look at the lies you tell yourself to keep yourself from your dreams.”


They were embarrassed, angry, and startled…but the conversation that followed was the best, and most useful we’d ever had.




Why do we do that to ourselves? Why deny ourselves the success, love, aliveness we could have? Inevitably, the biggest block is NOT something outside of ourselves, it is something IN US.  Man, I could go on and on about this, but the simple truth is that we are our own worst enemies.   NO ONE could possibly sabotage ourselves as much as we sabotage ourselves.


Want to see it in action?   REMOVE ALL LOGICAL OBSTACLES.


This is the power of “write one sentence a day.”  If you use this as not just a productive tool but a diagnostic, the world is yours.


  1. Commit to write one sentence a day on your project.  EVERY DAY.   Do whatever it takes to convince yourself that this is a positive, necessary thing. Commit to it for 30 days.
  2. NO ONE doesn’t have time to write a single sentence in a day.  No one.   If you don’t do it, you have broken your promise to yourself. The problem is then NOT your work, your kids, your time.  Your problem is that you cannot trust yourself to keep your word. Note that if you can’t…then no one else should trust you, either.   You are SCREWED.   As harsh as this sounds, it is the beginning of truth, and truth is the doorway to wisdom.
  3. Ask yourself: why? Why didn’t you keep a promise so apparently simple?  It will ALWAYS boil down to some internal beliefs, values conflicts, or emotional storms.    Voices in your head.
  4. If you are honest enough, you will identify the SAME emotional storms stopping your in other arenas of life.  What keeps you from writing a sentence a day stops you from losing weight, managing money, or finding a healthy relationship–first with yourself, and then with a significant other.
  5. Once you see how this same set of lies, this same confusion and lack of focus stops you EVERYWHERE you are stuck, you should be able to tap into real grief and pain.
  6. If you also have a clear vision of what you intend to accomplish, you have a “fork in the road”–one route leading to pain, the other to pleasure.   INCREASE THE PAIN.  CLARIFY THE HAPPY VISION.
  7. How will you know when you “hurt” enough about the negatives, and feel wonder and joy about your vision?  WHEN YOU TAKE POSITIVE ACTION.  When you DO that simple sentence a day.
  8. Keep track: are you doing your sentence? Yes? No?  If yes, GREAT!   It will naturally expand to more sentences.   We’ll explain why another time.   If not…start the loop over again. What is stopping you NOW?
  9. Continue this process until you can rely upon yourself to write that single sentence. Every day. Day after day.  That’s the key, you know: not “genius” except the capacity to discipline yourself day after day to take another step along the Thousand Mile Road.


Write With Passion!



The Tao of Gymnastics


Life can be viewed many different ways.   A “journey” as in “The Hero’s Journey”.


The movement between levels of existence, as with the “Chakras”.


A search for dynamic balance, as with Body, Mind, and Spirit.


All of these are actually different ways of looking at the precise same thing: the answer to the question: how shall we live?   What is it to be human?


“Who Am I?” and “What is True?”


ANY time you find a human being who is alive on all three or four basic levels (I evolve “body, mind, spirit” to “body, career, art, and relationships”) it is valuable to study them. Model them.


To model them, ask about three things: their use of mind, emotions, and physiology.


  1. What is their theory of life? What syntax do they use, what “order” to their actions? What are their strategies and philosophies?
  2. What are their emotions?   How do they FEEL about life, and about their arena of expertise?
  3. How do they use their body?  Their posture, breathing, movement patterns, facial expressions?  Their consistent behaviors?


Anything that you are that makes any difference at all will manifest in one of these areas.  By imitating the externals, you will begin to feel what they feel, see what they see, and think the way they think.


I want you to think about these things, as you watch video of a young lady named Katelyn Ohashi.  She is a beautiful meld of intelligence, poise, raw energy, sensuality, focus and animal ALIVENESS.    No one capable of what she does would have much trouble getting through almost any human experience imaginable: that level of fearlessness, energy and focus cannot be denied.


This is a fully alive human being. She makes me proud to be a mammal.


A question for you: what would you need to bring to the table to be able to partner with such a woman?  How much beauty and power would YOU have to put on the table?   To understand her? Support her?   Nurture her and allow her to nurture you?  To be a sensual match for an energy like THIS?   If you feel the call of her energy, let yourself admit that, on some core level, you would want to walk the Earth with this level of courage and commitment.


And then…find the way, every day, to become a little more like her, or like the partner she would need to thrive in this world.   Hard to imagine how you could go wrong.  Don’t we all really want this level of being?






“Replicas” (2019)

“Replicas” (2019)


In this woebegotten (is that a word? If not, I just made it up)  SF misfire, Keanu Reeves plays a scientist working on a “transfer of consciousness” program for a mysterious biotech firm.    He and his family suffer a tragic car accident, and he decides to “save” them by cloning their bodies and…


Well, you know the rest.  Every beat telegraphed, plot holes big enough to swallow an IMAX screen, and howler dialogue.  (“We cloned people today!”) it isn’t quite bad enough to be good, and just good enough to keep you from walking out of the theater and demanding your money back.   The very definition of “dumped in January”.


What went wrong here?  There really was a decent idea in there somewhere, something about whether the information in our minds is who we are. Is there a soul?   Does the mind need a body?


Although the screenplay is credited to Chad St. John, either he is a heck of a schizophrenic writer, or this was developed to death. It just stinks of “too many hands in the soup”, with telegraphed action beats and “emotional” scenes late in the movie that seem to be motivated by…


Oh, to heck with it.    Hollywood Reporter’s review was especially scathing for you non-Keanu Reeves fans:   “If there were any doubts about Reeve’s acting ability, they’re erased by his managing to get through the endlessly silly proceedings with a straight face.”  Whoa.




A conceptual thread that snakes its way in about half way through is the notion that consciousness must be tethered to the physical body, that untethered there is a kind of insanity that creeps in.   This is a fine notion, and there is so much that could be done with it.  I bull my way through a first draft looking for threads like that, things that my unconscious mind throws out.   Reading the first draft I search for notions like that, never quite sure what “the boys in the basement” will throw up at me.


Once you find it, you might form a thesis-antithesis link:


“The mind and body inextricably connected”  might be one statement.  “The mind is capable of operating like a brain in a box” might be the other.


The scenes then alternate between characters or situations expressing one notion or the other, winding them tighter and tighter until you come to your climax, in which either body-mind is essential, or proven irrelevant.


That’s one way.  In real life, I’d look at that question by examining the results gained by people on either side of the question.  Who is healthier? More successful?  Happier?  People who believe in the body-mind connection?  People who see themselves more as brains in boxes, with maybe a little genital action to spice things up?


Everyone will have their own approach to deciding “what is true?” in such things.  As long as they are happy with the results, I wish ’em well.


But…by my standards, the people who consider mind and body linked seem better off. The other group seems to have more physical and psychological dysfunction, by quite a margin.


If your values are similar to mine, you will probably come to the same conclusions.




The breath is your ideal link, a perfect starting point.   Breathing is the doorway to the unconscious mind.  As the ONLY physiological process that is both voluntary and autonomic, every profound spiritual discipline on the planet seems to incorporate “breath work” into the process.


The Lifewriting Instinctive Designation of Energy and Attention (I.D.E.A.) process is about matching that attention to the “curve” of necessary energy. Not too much, not too little.   The key is to combine emotion, focus and physicality all at the same moment.


Here’s a way to approach it:


During movement, FOCUS ON THE “EXHALATION” PART OF THE BREATHING.  Look at how a step, lift, kick or punch creates a contraction of the diaphragmatic muscles, creating an exhalation.    Exhale and then relax with the next movement.   Air pressure will fill the lungs.


With a sit-up its obvious: exhale as you crunch. Relax as you go back down.  The relaxation creates a partial vacuum, and air pressure gives you the oxygen you need.   You can do this with Tai Chi, or even yoga (if you “pulse” a little during holding phases.)


The point is to spend 10-20 minutes concentrating on the flow of your breathing into your body.  Doing this improves the core mental skill: focus.


It also refines the emotions (emotions are created by a combination of focus, internal dialogue, and physical motion)


And of course it strengthens the connection between mind and body.  This makes any physical exercise both more efficient and more generatively powerful.


The nice thing is that you can do it anywhere. In the middle of a meeting, while driving, falling asleep or waking up.


Hey, even while watching a stinker of a movie!



Steven Barnes


Trivial Pursuit

I was at home with my family, chillin’. The telephone rang. It was an old friend from college, Otis, someone I’d not seen much in a couple of years. His voice sounded terrible, stressed to the max.

I’m homeless, Steve” he said. “I’ve been sleeping in my storage unit, and the facility kicked me out. I need help.”

I drove into Pasadena to pick him up. Otis looked terrible, shamed, frightened. I fed him, and put him up in a transient hotel for a week while I figured out how to help him, eventually hooking him up with social services, and helping him find a job and apartment.

It was so sad. I’d remembered him back in college, smiling and laughing with the rest of us. “We’re all geniuses” he would say. “Not me,” I’d think, but would smile along. He seemed to have knowledge about EVERYTHING. It really was amazing. A walking encyclopedia. Playing against him at Trivial Pursuit was an exercise in futility.

I remembered the first time I saw a flaw in that bravado. It was the moment I realized that he knew everything about everything, except anything that could actually do him good. “Trivial Pursuit” was made for people like Otis. Vast amounts of data without any real organization focused on advancing his life.


A reader recently said: “The older I get the more I realize how much more there is to learn.”

I answered that that was because here will always be more to learn, I find it more valuable to ask what are the most IMPORTANT things to learn, and go deep on those. And seek the most important things about those. You either head toward infinite masses of data, or a few key truths.

It’s using the Pareto Principle that asks what the most important 20% of any process might be. 80% of your time is spent with 20% of your friends, 80% of your money comes from 20% of your customers, 80% of your results come from 20% of your behaviors, and so forth.

There are an infinite number of things to do and learn in the world. How can you decide?

  1. Start with your ultimate goal(s). The Dalai Lama said that the meaning of life is to seek joy. As a simple statement, that’s hard to beat. Let’s say that you start there. It is beautiful because we don’t ever really want “things”. We want the emotional states we believe having those things or experiences will give us.
  2. Ask what you need to have sustained joy. Drugs won’t do it. Neither will short-term relationships or unethical behavior. Chart a path that day after day moves you away from pain and toward pleasure, in a manner aligned with your values. For most of humanity? This means the path of “Adulting”: mastery of the physical body, exchanging legal goods and services with your community in a manner that allows you to support yourself and a family, a loving relationship with another adult, and some activity that expresses your emotions deeply.
  3. Each of THESE arenas then has “ultimate goals” but they will tend to be more tethered to daily life, be less general than “find joy.”
  4. The most important of these might be the “making a living” thing, as money enables the time to take care of your body, the ability to build a nest, and the free time to practice your hobby. NOTE: the luckiest people in the world are those who manage to make their hobby their profession. That is rare and a very delicate balance.
  5. If you know how much money you need to make to be safe and comfortable, you then have to develop the products or services that enable that. What will they be? NOTE: if you don’t have a salable skill, might I suggest that the most critical skill might well be marketing and sales? Once you have true expertise there, you can make a living selling ANYTHING. All you have to do is find someone with a skill you admire, whose wares are in alignment with your values, and partner with them.
  6. Whatever you decide to do, study people who have done it well before you. If possible, choose people who started from a position similar to yours. DON’T BE TOO RIGID ABOUT THIS. Taken to an extreme, there is NO ONE who has ever been in precisely your position. Rigid people take this to mean that they cannot model anyone, and have to make it all up on their own. Trust me: you don’t have enough time in life to reinvent every wheel.
  7. Your initial plans, therefore, should be to take the early steps that lead to the skills that give you the options to eventually become what you want. Small steps. Baby steps. But constant steps, week after week, month after month, year after year. Always keeping your eyes on the “prize” of a happy, joyful, healthy life.

To do these things, you need to be sure that some solid proportion of your time is spent answering questions in those four major arenas:

  1. How can I support myself , and contribute to my society with joy and dignity?
  2. How can I find and nurture love with another adult human being, one of mutual support and passion?
  3. How can I nurture health, energy, and aliveness in my physical body? Be the mirror of the kind of body I am attracted to?
  4. How can I continue to express and explore my true nature, in a joyful and positive way?

It might take you sixty seconds a day to check in on these and ask if you are heading in the right direction. If not, course-correct. While random information is fun, if you don’t have the ability to avoid pain and seek pleasure in these four arenas, you are engaged in a Trivial Pursuit.


Years passed. Unfortunately, not too many. Otis’ health collapsed. He was fortunate enough to have friends who helped get him into a facility. I remember the last time I saw him. He was the same funny guy, but there was something…a lot different. It wasn’t just the shrunken body. It was the realization that he’d run out of dancing room. There were no more masks to wear. He’d never had a family, a job of real adult responsibility, never had a body of health and vitality. I had never really been able to help him. It wasn’t my responsibility: each of us owns our own lives and makes our own choices. But…it still hurt.

He smiled at me, a tear in his eye. Dammit, we loved each other. But I wondered: did he really love himself? He’d never given himself a chance. Or had he? There was so much about him I didn’t know, even after all of these years. And now..it was too late.


A month or so later, I heard that Otis was dead. The story was over. I could only hope that, in ways I might not be able to understand, his life had brought him joy.

Not “Trivial Pursuit” joy…but real joy. I didn’t know. And I never will.




The Still Small Voice…that lies

The person withering in their death bed was a pale shadow of their former self. Once, they had been golden, and brilliant and a magnet for lovers, one of the most respected individuals in their field, living in a magnificent house surrounded by honors and wealth.

I was honored to be considered a friend intimate enough to be there at that critical moment. Elderly now, this amazing human being was drained and tired and felt spent.

“I wonder if anything I’ve done matters” they said. “If I ever did anything at all. If anyone will remember me.”

I felt so warm and loving toward them. Once upon a time, I’d have been shocked. How could they, with all the honors and wealth and accomplishment and fame, have any doubt at all they mattered..?


Because the very drive that made them excellent is a voice that says: “better. Better. It’s not good enough. Better. Better.”

Every martial artist knows this. The better you get, the more flaws in your performance you can see. Better. Better.

Every writer knows it. Every writer has read at least 10X as much as they’ve written, so that their editing/evaluating self is ALWAYS stronger than the performing self. Better. Better.

Every parent knows it. We just want to be the best for our kids. We love them so much our hearts ache, and are terrified that we might let them down. Better. Better.

Every lover knows it. Our sweethearts mean the world to us. Every day, I thank God that Tananarive trusted me with her heart, and re-commit to being the very best for her. Better. Better.


We need that voice. It drives us through complacency. Screw “being better than other people.” Focus on being better than you were yesterday. Do that, and almost incidentally, you’ll out-perform most folks. Or better still, focus on using the largest percentage of whatever capacity you have: THAT can be improved daily, until the moment you die.

To protect ourselves from The Voice, and from the chorus of nay-sayers, we develop healthy ego walls, the “Yes I can!” sense. At its healthiest, this is the Buddha Baby “Earth Below, Heaven Above, no one in the world like me!” energy, that howl that announces a new life and presence.

Watch out! I’m here!

But when our energy flags, it is hard to maintain this, and the doubt seeps in, like sewage backing into a weak stream. It is inevitable that this happen. Only the very strongest, purest, most focused can resist it.

But for most of our lives, the answer is simply to take pride in the fact that every day you get up and try again.

Writing is re-writing. Fill the blank page.

Parenting isn’t hard…it is just “daily.”

“You can stay fit as you get older…it just takes a little more to motivate yourself every year.”

The thousand mile road. How do you motivate yourself? By focusing on the outcome. The thing you want.

And WHY you want it. And those reasons must ultimately connect with your core sense of being, and the love you have for the child you were when you began the journey of life. That child’s dreams can so easily feed into your current adult life. ANY honorable profession can be an expression of your love of service, self-expression, or simply providing for those you love. As soon as you are doing things for such reasons, you need to find a way to embrace the journey, such that the days, the efforts, the moments have value in and of themselves: no one is promised tomorrow.

Should you have gone further? Done more? That urgent voice is valuable: BUT NOT IF IT DENIES HOW FAR YOU’VE COME.

No matter how far and how fast you run, you are always the same distance from the horizon. This is why you have to BOTH keep moving…and pause and enjoy the territory around you. “Stop and smell the roses.”

Some are blessed to find grace in their lives just by the process of living. Others much specifically practice mindfulness, centeredness, connecting with their hearts and deep selves.

Loving yourself, deeply, knowing that at every moment of your life you have done the best you could with the resources you had…is valuable beyond words. Speaking as lovingly (but firmly!) to yourself as you would your own most beloved child. Or beloved spouse.

This is why the first two steps of the Five Steps for awakened living are so critical: Love yourself, and Love One Other Person.

They are the beginning of living a healthy life as an Awakened Adult human being, the doorway to BOTH performing highly AND having a deep acceptance that there is no destination. Just…the journey.



(If you would like to explore the implications of seeking a healthy life, with healthy intimate relationships, please join us for the FREE web course in February: www.soulmateprocess.com)

“The Oath” (2018)

In Ike (“Mad TV”) Barinholz’s savage (and somewhat uneven) comedy (he writes and directs) an extended family Thanksgiving is ripped apart by the varying reactions to a controversial White House policy demanding loyalty above and beyond the call of duty.  Funny and frightening, depending on your politics you might have been more comfortable had it been released during a different administration…or you might think it perfect right @#$$ now.




There is a scene where the secret police…ur…the “protection committee” branch of Homeland Security…force their way into Ike’s house and ask a series of leading, increasingly disturbing questions, leading to a “request” that he accompany them for a little drive. This, after citizens, political figures, and Hollywood personalities (amusingly, Seth Rogen) have been “disappeared”.  The scene spirals out of control, the family, some of whom have signed the “Oath”, growing more and more hysterical as the chaos they have seen on television reaches into their lives.


Why not sign the silly Oath, right?  It has nothing at all to do with them, their lives, their children.   Just do it, you idiot.  Ike sticks to his guns: no, he won’t. And as things get REALLY ugly, skirting out of even “dark comedy” territory, the question of “who is being reasonable?  Who is causing this problem?” could be legitimately debated by rational people.


After all…the Homeland Security people are just trying to help, right?  Just trying to make things better, right?  They know what we need better than we do.  They must.  They are the Government.




When you are a child, it is critical to have parents who understand the path of maturation, because you sure as hell don’t.   There will be times when what they say will seem totally contrary to your instincts and desires.  But if they love you, and know you will grow up to replace them and their generation, and have the wisdom that comes from observing and living their lives…they will lay out a series of challenges that make you a better, stronger human being. An adult, at least as smart and capable as they ever were. That’s what parents do.


But as an adult, there are few things more dangerous than someone who believes they know what is good for you better than you do.    That’s how you get re-education camps.   Justifications for slavery or even rape.   Torturing you to death to save your soul.  Anyone who thinks either side of the political spectrum has a monopoly on this has an agenda.


Be very, very careful.



A reader wrote to me about being on a convention panel where things got contentious.


“You were so very kind, and I always love what you have to say. I don’t want to ask you to do my emotional labor, I’ve got that one on lockdown ;), but would it be okay to ask you how you stay so compassionate in a world that feels like it’s going mad? It feels like there’s so much being said, some clashing even among our own (for example, lots of conflicting “DO THIS” and “DON’T DO THIS” within one group alone, as is common in queer or disabled circles)  that it feels hard to find footing. How do you do it? Does it worry you at all?”


Let’s relate this to the five-step process for creating social change, as it also relates powerfully to self care (and even finding your Soulmate!)


  1. Love yourself
  2. Love one other person
  3. Understand History without guilt, blame, or shame
  4. Avoid Trolls.  Instead, nurture your tribe
  5. Win with integrity.



“how you stay so compassionate in a world that feels like it’s going mad?”


I love myself, and I see myself in others.   Most violence stems from anger, which stems from fear.  Love and strength are the antidote for fear, and therefore if I love myself I will want to feel safe, which motivates me to find and nurture my own strength. That strength is then available to extend to others.



“It feels like there’s so much being said, some clashing even among our own (for example, lots of conflicting “DO THIS” and “DON’T DO THIS” within one group alone, as is common in queer or disabled circles)  that it feels hard to find footing. How do you do it?”


We can never be 100% certain of anything. And yet, we have to take action. If we wait until we have approval or agreement from everyone, even everyone on “our own side” we are not just paralyze, we are easily manipulated by others.   The core philosophical questions are: “who am I?” and “what is true?”


If you spend time, daily, sorting through these things, you come to conclusions. Those conclusions will NEVER match with what everyone else says.  Never.  Get over it.


And the people who are the most dangerous will be those who want to correct you “for your own good.”   Why?  Because they can sound so plausible.  They feel they are on the side of Good and Righteousness.   They attract followers that those who are honest about their greed and desire for power.   When you face these people, it requires strength and courage…not just to oppose them, but to oppose friends, family, and neighbors who are swayed by the logic without looking at the deeper implications.  People who have no deep sense of who they are, or what is true, and are willing to be filled up by anyone with a convincing spiel.


“I don’t know who I am” the child says.  “Tell me.”


Adults must do better, or the children are not safe.


The first two of the “Five Steps” awaken the powers that enable us to go deep, shed the ego shells, find courage beyond our ordinary selves.  It is why a healthy relationship with your own heart, your own “inner child” and a significant other are so important: they take us out of the ordinary world, to a place where you have the courage and clarity, the independence from outside demands, to think and feel for yourself.


You WILL be attacked and questioned and reviled.   The “Sleepers” want to have a nice dream, and if you awaken, they feel uncomfortable. The “Snakes” want you to stay asleep so that they can control you.  But the “Monsters” want you asleep so they can suck your blood.


Be careful.


“How do you do it?”


How? By starting every day by centering myself, meditating. By performing a Daily Ritual of motion, emotion, and focus.  Every day.   Six days a week.


“Who am I?” “What is true?”


There is no one on this planet who knows who I am better than I do. And anyone who says they do is AUTOMATICALLY either asleep, dreaming that they are awake…or in the snake/monster category.


Automatically.  Instantly.  And I can watch them with interest, as I would a predator seen through a sheet of glass. And if the glass breaks..?


That’s where the strength comes in.






“Inception” (2010)



A woman stands on a ledge, ready to jump.  Her husband pleads with her to go back inside the hotel room, but she is obsessed with the notion that this is a dream world, and that her only way back to her life is to commit “suicide” and “wake up” back in her “real” life.


The husband watches in horror. There is nothing he can do to stop her when she smiles at him…and jumps to her death.  He is overcome with shattering guilt…because HE is the one who gave her the poisonous notion that our world is a dream.


An idea, planted deeply, was the seed of her destruction.




Rewatched “Inception” the other day.  Terrific movie in many ways. Wow.  Visually on the “Matrix” level, with greater emotional depth and connection.    And some of the notions are fascinating: how do we know what is “real”?   Who is to say dream-world With some really fascinating ideas. One of them is that it is dangerous to implant an idea in someone’s mind, because if it goes deep enough, it will define their existence.


More on that later.   But after a recent conversation with someone I concluded was a “Snake” and not a “Sleeper”, I thought there were a number of  “Inception”-esque aspects to the conversation, which in the aggregate, made me realize I was not investing my time and energy well.


  1. Toxic ego.  Trying to get you to believe they are a superior individual by listing accomplishments and so forth.
  2. Gaslighting.  Trying to get you to trust their perceptions more than your own.
  3. Honor games.  They expect you to believe they are being honest, but are quick to question your honesty
  4. Rule Makers.   Define rules for “winning” and declare themselves victors of a conversation even though there are no established rules or neutral judges.
  5. Gang-fighters.  They bring their posse, all jumping into the conversation and then slapping themselves on the back about how clever they are.



It really is strange.  Perhaps the nastiest one, for me, is when I make the mistake of assuming someone is conversing honorably and philosophically, with an intent to gain clarity and determine truth. To communicate.  I’ll put up with a lot in such an instance.  Sometimes more than I should.  But about the time they hit a couple of these points, I realize there is some “Inception” going on. That I’ve accepted an idea not originating from my own mind and perceptions. That I extended more “benefit of the doubt” than was extended in return, and that the actual point of the discussion is not “truth” but “winning.”   That’s politics, not philosophy.


Danger Zones


There are special times that we are more vulnerable to “Inception”.  Be careful.


  1. In the grip of a powerful emotion.   Love and fear can make us VERY vulnerable to a predator’s psychological manipulation.
  2. Sex.   The things people say to you while you are sexually aroused become associated with the powerful sensations.  A wife or husband can make or break their spouse with pillow talk.
  3. Other intense positive sensations.
  4. Pain and intense negative sensations.   Pain is a survival sensation, telling you to PAY ATTENTION.
  5. Fatigue.  When you are deeply tired, the psychological barriers lower.   This is optimal programming time, and cults use it ruthlessly, keeping members up for more than 24 hours while chanting, or listening to propaganda.
  6. Hunger.  A negative emotion, but worth looking at on its own.
  7. Isolation.   Solitary confinement can break down ego walls
  8. Group activities. Similarly, when we are part of a large group,  it is easy to be swayed.


How do you protect yourself?


There are two core philosophical questions: “Who Am I?” and “What is True?”    When these are the core of your daily inquiry, you penetrate to deeper and more primal answers, begin to pierce the illusions.   Whether through meditation, journaling, or processes like “Spiritual Autolysis” we peel back the layers to get to core survival wiring, core being.


A person who knows who they are is not troubled by verbal insult…unless it is true.    They develop ways of error-checking their reality, and dialectic doesn’t sway them.   They don’t need approval from others, so anger (unless accompanied by the actual threat of violence) doesn’t move them.


“I yam what I yam” Popeye said.

“It is what it is” the philosopher says, and his sense of the world, grounded in thousands of hours of inquiry, simply cannot be shaken by lies or distortions.


This is the work that enables us to pass through life with courage and commitment. And enables us to love ferociously.  It is a means to that quality of “Awake, Aware Adulthood.”


Accept no substitute.





“Gaslight” (1944)

An emotionally fragile woman marries a dominating husband. Slowly, day by day, she becomes more convinced that there is something wrong. That he has sinister designs. But he is slowly dismantling her belief that her own perceptions are accurate. Day by day, night by night, she begins to lose touch with reality. Question her mind. Is she insane?

She apparently hallucinates. Remembers things that never happened, and forget things that have. If she trusts her husband, she cannot trust her mind. If she can trust her mind…she is living with a maniac. Torn, frightened, confused, increasingly lost in a world of delusion, she is on the road to destruction.

The instant you stop trusting yourself, the instant someone can intimidate, wheedle, guilt-trip, blackmail or bribe you into losing trust in your perceptions, they have destroyed your adult mind, and have access to your “child wiring.”

And then…God help you.


This is what abusers do. They get you to question your own perceptions of reality. What you experience is not true. I know truth, and can present studies, statistics, experts to support my position. Ignore what you have seen and heard. Trust me, not your own sense.

Buy into that, and they can “program” you to believe anything that is good for them.

How do you develop this? You can do it two ways:

  1. You can start by opening your heart, to hear your own voice and feel that flow of emotion. Then you must measure the results of following your heart in the real world, the PHYSICAL world.
  2. You can commit to rooting yourself in your body. Mastering a physical skill, getting fit, losing weight, connecting with that animal reality. Then…evaluate the results you get from following that animal instinct.

In both cases, you go see if following those instincts take you away from pain and toward pleasure. Are the results and actions in alignment with your values? Take you toward your goals?

AFTER you have connected with heart and body, THEN integrate the mind. Do NOT trust your mind without anchoring experience in your body and emotions.

Get that? Either open your heart and connect it with your body, OR awaken your body and then open your heart. The mind, untethered to your physical reality, will deceive you. Some of the most unfortunate people I know are very intelligent people with no physical connection. They build delusion palaces and can convince themselves of anything.

BEHAVIOR IS TRUTH. Whether knowing if you are deceiving yourself, if your theories are accurate, or if you are in the hands of an abuser. WHAT THEY DO IS FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHAT THEY SAY.

And only if you have experience in trusting your animal instincts, guiding them with your human heart, can you trust that your intellect is not simply “gaming” you. Your ego not simply protecting itself by lying to you.

Do this, and you will start identifying the “still small voice” of your true self. And once you have found that voice, it is very, very difficult for people to “gaslight” you ever again.

  1. Open your heard by sitting quietly and listening to your heartbeat for 10–20 minutes a day. “Anahata Meditation” is powerful and safe. Journal the emotions that come up afterwards.
  2. Use the “Ancient Child” visualization to connect with the deep self. Powerful and effective.

Loving and trusting yourself is the core of being an awake, aware, adult human being. There is no substitute for owning your own life and being.




(for your free copy of the “Ancient Child” meditation, join us for an exploration of the “Soulmate” concept, coming up in February. http://www.soulmateprocess.com)

A Shudder Original: “Horror Noire”


HORROR NOIRE is a 90-minute documentary on black horror, on the SHUDDER horror streaming network starting Feb. 7. (Here’s more info and a link to the trailer: https://birthmoviesdeath.com/2019/01/07/horror-noire-a-history-of-black-horror-documentary?fbclid=IwAR2I0CzspNZVq9lxhULXqDgx6z0WUVcbeVesp1qCUynFfmHjhhTQeQWQ-gU)

My baby Tananarive Due, being famous as is her natural place in the universe, is a co-executive producer and one of the featured interviews. Wonderful. She shines here, as she does in her novels and award-winning short stories, her UCLA “The Sunken Place” master class, or in our online Afrofuturism and Black Horror webinar courses.

There are some who ask: why does there need to be a category of “black movies”? Why not just “movies”? Why? Because people are not honest and awake. If they were, the world would look different. If you cannot believe there has been de facto segregation and promotion of differential worth in the image systems of film, you haven’t been following me.

One measure was the ability of black men to have sex in movies that are accepted by the general public. This was measured by domestic box office in excess of 100 million. The very first movie to do it was CREED in 2016. The second was CREED II in 2018. Give me a few non-Rocky examples, and I’ll close the door on that one. (BTW…about 20% of movies that earn over 100 million have love scenes, so you can stuff whatever you were about to say about the limitations of PG-13. I’ve heard it.) That’s Second Chakra “group and personal reproduction” stuff.

But a more subtle problem is the promotion of values considering survival, which is “First Chakra” stuff, the base of Maslow’s hierarchy. And boy oh boy, does talking about this ever poke the bear.

The Sacrificial Negro trope is one experts discuss in Tananarive’s documentary, “Horror Noire.” Over the last few days I’ve been called a racist, and criticized for not being thrilled that the only black characters in BIRD BOX died protecting white genetics. It is fascinating how resistant people are to hearing what I’ve said. Even supporters think I’m saying that “black people die sacrificially in all movies” or “there are no movies in which black people survive” or something.

NO. Here is what I’m saying:

  1. A character is defined as someone with at least one line of dialogue.
  2. There are dozens of American movies (69 at last count) I’ve listed where all black characters, or all black men, die.
  3. There are NO American films in which all white characters die, if ANYONE else survives. Not one.
  4. It is almost laughable how difficult it is for people to grasp this, so used are they to being central to the story. “What about Django Unchained?” they’ll ask, with a drop-the-mic voice. I mean, WTF? And entire TOWN survives. LOTS of secondary characters with dialogue. But the fact that all the CENTRAL characters die blinds them.
  5. I have had people accuse me of denigrating the concept of sacrifice. No, I don’t. But it’s “tragedy of the commons” time when you promote the notion that X’s should be honored to go extinct for Y’s, when Y’s NEVER return the “honor.”
  6. No single film is responsible for this. ANY individual film can be explained away. You have to look at the PATTERN to get it.
  7. And yes, I consider the images we support in films to reflect our values. From this perspective, yes there is a connection with the concerns of BLM. I see Trayvon Martin and Rodney King in there, as well as patterns of incarceration and discrimination.
  8. It isn’t unique to America, or white people. ALL people tend to have mythologies that place them as central to the narrative, and to the universe. “God made us first and loves us best” is pretty typical. If you’re watching a Japanese giant monster movie, you’d better believe the Japanese will be the heroes who save the day. Nothing wrong with that. But if you have a multi-racial, multi-ethnic culture, unless you are willing to be HONEST about this, you are encouraging those minorities to believe in a fiction, when the system is actually stacked against them. ADMITTING that the system is stacked destroys the myth of “the commons” and the level playing field. So the game is to tilt the field, and simultaneously swear its level, blaming them for their damage. If honest, this would be bad enough. But this is gaslighting. It is your creepy uncle molesting you and saying you asked for it. It is evil.
  9. No, this isn’t a conscious conspiracy. It is the result of human tribalism, most of which operates on an unconscious level. No one is being asked to do anything: not stop doing this in films, not boycott or anything else. Just…tell the truth. Wake up. And make your choices based upon your values. But stop lying about it. That’s enough.
  10. To repeat: I don’t consider this to be some problem white people have. I consider there to be nothing special about white people at all, neither positive or negative. It is just one of the downsides of human perception, multiplied across numerical and cultural advantage. I’ve written two novels (LION’S BLOOD and ZULU HEART) laying out clearly my belief that people are just people, but history is a bitch.

I have laid out that thesis dozens of times, and people still “don’t get it,” still misquote and misunderstand. Either it is impossibly complex, or there is unconscious motivation not to understand. “It is difficult to awaken someone who profits by remaining asleep” is a saying. A nastier version of that is “You can’t wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.” I’m willing to assume this is mostly unconscious.

But if I try to explain why, say THE UNFORGIVEN or THE GREEN MILE (film version) are problematic, it can be difficult. Even harder explaining why INFINITY WAR, which flirted with this trope but didn’t’ quite seal the deal, hurt to watch. And the conclusion: the situation will change not when black people educate white people, but when there is diversity BEHIND the cameras. That changes the images. A generation after that, those images become totally standard, nothing special, and people will wonder why there was ever resistance.

So “Afrofuturism” and “Horror Noire” are simply filling in those gaps. And the people who complain most are, in my experience, those who gave George Zimmerman a pass and mock “SJWs”. That’s fine. They can be good neighbors.

What they cannot be is brothers and sisters. Family.

And…why Horror Noire? Because horror allows us to vent our fear so that we can live productive lives. And a movie like “Get Out” asks questions we’ve never seen in our culture, that allow the venting of emotional poison as well as triggering new conversations: what do we need to trust each other? Can anyone be trusted? That fear is there. And walking out of that movie you had white people and black people standing around the water cooler talking about things they had never said before.

And that is healthy for everyone.

So…in another generation or so, movies like BLACK PANTHER and SORRY TO BOTHER YOU won’t be revolutionary. They’ll just be…movies. But we’re not there yet. And celebrating the courage, and creativity, and vision, and honesty of these artists, separate from the “color blind” (as if anyone can really be that. “I don’t see race” some say. And then in the next breath, ask “why do black people X or Y,” which is simple self-delusion) approaches to film evaluation is a valuable thing. And a community celebrating its visionaries is universal human behavior.

At least we’re being honest about it. And honesty is the first step, always.


Steven Barnes