I never know what I’ll write about every day. Just wait to see what is needed. This morning, I received this note (information redacted and altered to protect identity):
I have a question which requires some set-up – “context,” as you say – but I know you are a busy man, with many, many people clamoring for your time and attention, so I’ll try to keep things concise.
I love your Lifewriting program concept. It makes perfect sense to me. But the answers it has provided me (“What is true?” “Who am I?”) are not what I expected.
Some background on me: I am (in his fifties). For my entire life, I have been active in movement (A description of his movement background). (I picked up some meditation techniques along the way, naturally.) Anything I thought sounded interesting and challenging. But a few years ago, I became a father, first to a daughter , then to a son. Aside from a day a week, for short spurts here and there, I have been unable to create time to work out on any consistent basis since. (It’s more complex than that, of course, but broad strokes for brevity.)
I work three days a week; the rest of the time I am a stay-at-home dad. I seldom get more than six hours of sleep in a night (a luxurious seven at most), and that even more rarely undisturbed by one or the other or both of my kids. My wife is the primary bread-winner; as such she works long hours and needs my assistance in caring for the kids and in keeping the housework dealt with (in itself a full-time job).
I have dreamed of being a writer since I was a child. I wrote my first real short story in middle school, but I’ve never had any real discipline about writing, and though I would take the occasional stab at a blank page, even keeping at it for a while, I have never really produced anything. Then I found your program – but again, I now have no available time to write. (This message itself has been written in fits and starts.) [STORIES CAN BE WRITTEN THAT WAY TOO]
I have tried your Ancient Child meditation, but taking even a few moments to meditate (even just to focus on my heartbeat or breathing) usually just results in me falling asleep. [THEN DO IT STANDING UP]
I tried writing just a sentence a day, but that pace gave my inner editor and critic far too much freedom and my inner child not nearly enough. [THEN SPECIFICALLY AIM YOUR MEDITATION AT LISTENING TO YOUR “CHILD’S” VOICE, AND LEARNING TO IGNORE YOUR CRITIC. IT WILL TAKE TIME. WEEKS, MONTHS. GOT SOMETHING BETTER TO DO?]
I read your story of how you came up with the Lifewriting idea, and I thought, I’ll try that! Like your student, I just couldn’t find time enough in my life – for working out, for meditating, for writing, for sleep. I have struggled, I have juggled, I have fretted and tried different schedules. Nothing worked. So, if I had a character in a story who had my problems, what solution would I write for him? Maybe he could just learn to thrive on three-to-four hours of sleep a night? [NO. THIS IS BASICALLY AN ILLUSION] Maybe he could quit his job and ask his wife to shoulder the family’s entire financial burden, so that he could carve out some time to write – hoping for a statistically unlikely success, and knowing that barring an out-of-the-gate best seller (and maybe even then) it would be many years before he would make enough money at writing to begin to offset the loss of his income – if ever?
[NO, FOR MULTIPLE REASONS. IT WOULD LIKELY DESTROY YOUR MARRIAGE]
Maybe he could just listen to all the helpful advice telling him that he would eventually have free time again to follow his own goals and dreams – someday? [NO, YOU NEED A DAILY RITUAL THAT TAKES YOU AT LEAST ONE STEP TOWARD YOUR DREAMS EVERY DAY]
That last is an unsatisfactory solution, I think you’ll agree. Every other answer I came up with would work just fine for a fictional character, but was impracticable in my own real life. Which makes sense, really; if the character is me, and has all the same problems and limitations I have, then if I could come up with a workable solution for him, I would already have done so for me. [THE PROBLEM IS THAT YOU HAVE YOUR BRAKES ON. YOU STOP YOURSELF. THE GOOD NEWS IS THAT YOU ARE THE ONE WHO CAN DECIDE TO TAKE THEM OFF. YOU JUST NEED SO MANY REASONS TO DO IT THAT YOUR FEARS PALE IN COMPARISON]
So maybe (the realization landed like a thunderbolt) your formula works in reverse: If I simply didn’t have the imagination necessary to solve my own problem, then maybe I really didn’t have what it takes to be a writer?
That led to a different question: If I wasn’t cut out to be a writer, did the Lifewriting formula hold any further value for me? I looked at the Hero’s Journey as it applied to my life – and I had another epiphany: Like most people (as your program acknowledges), I have always cast myself as the hero in my own life story. I had always tried to pursue a life-path and goals which would make me worthy of that self-image. But on re-examining my life through the lens of the Hero’s Journey, I realized that at two crucial points in my life, I had been presented with a Leap of Faith – and I had turned and walked away from the challenge. The last time (in particular) had led inexorably to the life I now live, in which I no longer have time or energy to do any of the things I used to love, nor to find and pursue new goals and dreams.
[THIS IS ALL “DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL” STUFF, YOUR DEMONS CHEWING ON YOUR DREAMS. THEY HAVE TO KEEP YOU TIRED AND SCATTERED, OR YOU’D HAVE THE ENERGY TO KILL OR CONQUER THEM]
So I’m not the hero of my own story anymore, either. (The protagonist, sure, but not a hero.) [NO, YOU ARE–YOU HAVE JUST FALLEN INTO AN ILLUSION OF DESPAIR. IT HAPPENS TO HEROS.]
So my question, Steven, is this: What can your program teach someone who has discovered that he is neither a writer, nor the Hero of his own Journey? Can it help me to find new goals and dreams? Can it help me to find ways to make them happen? [YOU ARE A WRITER. YOU JUST WROTE! WHAT YOU LACK IS CLARITY, AND YOU’VE BECOME AFRAID OF TELLING YOURSELF THE TRUTH. THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE.]
Let’s take it to story time, because controlling your story is the secret to controlling your emotions, and your life.
Once upon a time there was a boy who had dreams of being a warrior, a writer, a lover. Life happened to him, and he found himself no longer practicing is martial arts, no longer writing or working at anything that really mattered to him, and struggling not to resent the family he loves…and who loves him.
One night he had a dream that his house was on fire. He watched it burn, and as it did, he grew old. His wife and children died in that fire, and although he cried, he could not help them.
Watched everything he ever wanted to be and have and do burn and burn until he turned and wandered away, an old old man, crying and fearful as the end approached, knowing that he had never owned his life.
And woke up screaming and shaking…realizing that it was just a dream, and that the Universe had given him a wonderful gift: a glimpse of what lay ahead for him if he didn’t DECIDE, COMMIT to own his own life. To believe that his love was stronger than his fear.
He had to rekindle his belief in himself, remember that the little boy inside him was still looking out at the world through the eyes of a fifty-something man, judging him. “Don’t you love me, Daddy?” That little boy said. “Why don’t you listen to me? I’m so sad.”
And he committed to connecting with that child, daily. He couldn’t do it through ordinary meditation: he was so tired that he fell asleep. But that sleep also helped him avoid admitting how unhappy he was. But he had no time! (his brain screamed at him).
The way through the Dark Night was faith. “My ego is lying to me,” he said. “It would rather kill me in slow-motion than have me find my power again, and kill my false self image.”
So he decided to become the hero again. And knew it would take time: you don’t rewire fifty years of habits in a week or a month.
He would give it a year. He would choose the minimum amount necessary to make change.
- He would AIM at meditating twenty minutes a day. If he couldn’t do it seated, he would do a walking meditation, or a tai chi/yoga style. But he would connect. But it was hard to find that time, and he wasn’t sure if it was an illusion or reality. So he said: I WILL SIT QUIETLY FOR SIXTY SECONDS FIVE TIMES A DAY, ONCE EVERY THREE HOURS AND LISTEN TO MY HEARTBEAT. EVERY DAY. FOR A YEAR.
- He would reclaim his body, using a system that requires an hour a week–like the FIVE TIBETANS. Every day. EVERY DAY. Starting with five minutes, three repetitions of each.
- He would reclaim his writing, by writing at least a sentence every day.
- Every day, EVERY DAY, he would learn one new tool, secret, or attitude to save time and make his actions more efficient and effective. Google is your friend.
- And he would journal what came up for him. The fears, the resentments, the guilt, the shame. ALL OF IT. Every excuse and lie he told himself. And commit to putting all of it into his stories. Because what has stopped him from moving forward is also the life he created. His wonderful wife and children are NOT obstacles. They are allies. His life has done precisely what he was programmed to do. If he changed his programming, he would change his life, and his results.
He would do this for HIMSELF, but know also that he was fighting for the life of his family. For his children. For his wife. For that boy inside him.
He had to know WHAT he wanted: to reclaim his life. To be the hero of his own story, however that is appropriate in the life he has created.
He had to know WHY he wanted it. And here, he needed to create a list of REASONS to be happy, and in alignment with his values and dreams.
All you need to have a wonderful life is to live in alignment with BOTH your childhood dreams and the ultimate values you will hold on your deathbed. To align both with those things we must do as adults to protect our families and make our way in the world.
Every day: five minutes of meditation. Five minutes of Tibetans. One sentence of a story. And one new trick to save time. That time gets invested in his life. That’s his “Machine.”
- Five minutes of meditation, one minute at a time, one every three hours. Connect with and visualize the inner child, and listen for his voice.
- Five minutes of Tibetans. And while doing them, he visualized his intentions, and what he has to be GRATEFUL for in his life.
- One sentence of a story about a man who reclaims his power and transforms his life.
- Find one new secret to save one minute a day, every day, by becoming more efficient and effective.
- Commit to this for one year.
He tried it, and it worked…for a while. And then he hit the wall. He broke his promise to himself. Perversely, his life got busy. A child got sick. He became depressed and distracted.
But this time, because he knew the HERO’S JOURNEY, he KNEW this would happen, and had planned for it. He had journaled about a dozen previous times he’d broken promises to himself, and found at least three ways to get back on track:
- He wrote a letter to himself, to be read only in the future, using his left-hand (he was right handed). This letter was from his “child” self, expressing love and pride and hope.
- He imagined that he was coaching his own son and daughter through their OWN dark night.
- He remembers the wonderful woman who shares his life, who is out hunting and gathering, and needs desperately to feel precious when she comes home. To be able to be vulnerable, somewhere. That both men and women need to feel both powerful and vulnerable, in different and complementary measures. If he reclaims his power, and can love and nurture her and celebrate their lives together, the benefits are incalculable. YOU ARE A MATED PAIR. You should be dancing in each other’s hearts.
Every day. Every day. Every day he moved, focused, meditated. The minimum investment being five minutes (stopping to breathe and focus every three hours). And one sentence of a story. THAT WAS HIS MINIMUM. He would work up from there to add more.
He would NOT sacrifice sleep. Instead, he would consider sleep a precious luxury, and as he became more efficient and effective he also sought ways to make his six to seven hours deeper and more restorative, so that his dreams would help him solve problems, so that he would find more time and energy, so that he would have less poisonous stress that killed his sleep…in a positive spiral.
One year. A commitment to reclaim his life, his dreams, to fight for his family. He knew that, despite that awful dream, he would run into a burning building to save his son and daughter and wife.
He remembered the dream: the house was burning. HIS house. And he was the one who would put it out. No matter how many times he fell down. He would get back up. And get back up.
And when he finished that first story, he’d send it in, and the little boy inside him would laugh with joy. And then he’d go on to the next story. And the next. And when he managed to add another Tibetan, he would feel deep satisfaction for the re-connection with his sacred body. And when he comforted and loved his wife, he would know that this was the life HE had chosen.
And that he would, one day, be able to say to his children: “you will have dreams. And you will build a life day by day. And you will lose your way at times, and lose faith and hope and passion and even joy. But it is NEVER too late. Healing starts with a decision: I WILL OWN MY LIFE. And you will begin by taking five minutes a day…”
And they will listen. Because they knew that their father was telling them true. He was, and would always be, a hero to them.