Climbing out of the Dark Night, five minutes at a time

(Note: There has been a massive “Yes!” response to my question: shall I refine and present the “Five Minute Life Hacks” concept?   Almost ten years ago I created the 101 Program, and mostly gave it away to hundreds of people, who then shared their experiences. Now I’m revising it into an integrated program. My daily notes will address this, adding to the material already there. The first week’s material is already in place, to be offered FREE very soon.)


When Tananarive needed to move the family to Atlanta, I agonized, but didn’t hesitate. The life plan I’d developed from childhood had been shattered, but I knew that the most important thing to me, by far, was my family.  They needed me.  That was more important than my pain. And that love savedme.


LOVE was a reality higher and deeper than everything else combined, so I went.But I was swimming in fear, anger, resentment…knocked totally off balance, without a clear vision of how I’d accomplish anything. Anything at all.


My writing career felt in tatters after almost 20 years of side-trips (Ten years in the NW, a 6-year period back in L.A. struggling to put the Hollywood stuff back together, and just when I finally was getting work, and scored an agent…Atlanta).  All felt lost.


I kept up as brave a front as I could, but nothing was working.  My contacts faded, opportunities died, I felt as if I had no friends to connect to, there was real pain in my marriage, and that dream of conquering Hollywood, of building my career to something stable and wonderful just…died.


I remember the day I was curled up on the floor in fetal position, crying, unable to see how I was even going to survive. My ego was shattered.


But I knew something: this seemed to happen to me about every seven years.  The entire structure of my life, which had once protected me, became a prison, and when the walls started to crack it felt like death.  Hadn’t Swift Deer warned me about those seven year cycles..?


Clinging desperately to the possibility that this was the beginning of something GOOD, that on the other side of this agony was something worth the pain, I began to look at it all in terms of the Hero’s Journey.


This was the Dark Night of the Soul, step “Seven” of the path.  I knew this place.  I’d been in this place. And I knew the way through this place.


GIVE UP HOPE THAT I’M SMART ENOUGH TO “FIGURE IT OUT.” Give up the utter egotism of believing that if I can’t see the answer there IS no answer.


Find faith.  In myself (“I’ve been here before”), in my companions (“My teachers had faith in me. My family needs me.  Tananarive is a good and righteous woman who loves me.”) and in the Divine (“God would not give me a dream I can hold continuously in my heart unless there is a way to accomplish it.)


Faith.   I HAVE NEVER BEEN FAILED BY ALL THREE.  Never.  So long as I took continuous action, one step at a time, I had always found my way through the fog.   How long did it take..?


Well, it took me seventeen years to earn my first black belt, so much pain and fear was I working through.  That’s a LOT of faith.   THAT’S how strong I am, dammit.


You can kill me, but you cannot stop me.


All right…but how did I make it real?  What do I DO?




The “M.A.G.I.C.” formula came out of this abject desperation.   I searched and searched for an answer, finally looking into that popular piece of fluff-philosophy “The Secret”.  Yeah, right: if you want something enough, think about it enough, it will come to you.


You can sit on the couch “wanting” a bucket of chicken but you’ll starve waiting for it unless you at least pick up the damned phone.

Book irritated the hell out of me.


But…there was a speck of truth in there.   I’d sensed it and experienced it, but couldn’t quite wrap my mind around how it worked.    Somehow, sometimes, things DID just happen. Coincidence?  NO.   I sensed a pattern, but I couldn’t quite grip it.  There was something there.


And in my desperation, I sought out the book “The Science of Getting Rich” by Wallace D. Wattles, said to be one of the sources of ‘The Secret” and read it….


It was only about 80 pages long, and I read it in an hour.  And then I read it again.  And again.


And…I was stunned.




The contents just…disappeared into some black hole in my brain, and I was TERRIFIED. What the hell was going on?


Then I remembered something that had happened to me back when I went through the “est” training. You know, the two weekends where they don’t let you go to the bathroom?  Yeah, that one, back in the 1970s.


So…it’s about midnight,  and I’m packed in a hotel ballroom with hundreds of exhausted people. The trainer, irritatingly chipper and alert, brings up a topic: “Money.”  And I watched a whole chunk of the room fall asleep.  Don’t blame ’em, I thought.


Then at about 1am, he changed the subject: “Sex”. And a whole chunk of the audience woke up…and another chunk went to sleep.  I could see it, like a wave washing through the group.  And I was suddenly wide awake in a new way. I wasn’t listening to the conversation.  I was watching the audience. And something hit me. A question: “what if the people `dropping out’ were people who were uncomfortable with that subject?  What if we avoid, delete, the information we aren’t ready for?”




If that was true…then I wouldn’t let myself absorb the information, especially if it conflicted with some core belief I was clinging to.


I HAD to understand what was in that book.  So…I used a technique I learned from Miss Nowacki, my high school biology teacher.  Read a page, and synopsize it.   Do that through the entire selection.  Then…synopsize the synopsizes.  And synopsize that. And that.  Until you boil it down to its minimum structured meaning.


Somewhere along the way, you’ll drill the meaning into your head.


So I did that.  It took me a couple of days, but I finally had it boiled down to just five words.    After experimenting with those five words for a few years, my dear friend and Tai Chi assistant instructor KinShan suggested that I phrase them as follows:




Magic = Action X Gratitude X Intention X Conviction.


And when I looked at this, and my intuition told me that I had indeed extracted the meaning from this little book that had inspired so many millions, I understood two things:


  1. Why I hadn’t been able to absorb and understand that book.
  2. Where “The Secret” had gone wrong.


Do you see it?   If not, let me ask you a question: what was the significance of this being a multiplicative as opposed to an additive equation?


Think about it before you move forward.  See it?   If not, I’ll give you a hint:


Give each term (Action, Gratitude, Intention, Conviction) a numerical value from 0-9, representing your level of each.

Get it yet?





Take no action?  Zero.

Feel no gratitude for your life?  Zero.

Have no Faith you CAN and SHOULD do it, that the efforts will bring you more pleasure than pain..?


Holy crap.  If I was right, then “The Secret” blew it because it was cool on intention, positive vibes and focus…but had no emphasis on ACTION.




In other words, by the most perverse twist imaginable, if I wanted to get OUT of Atlanta (after our obligations there were fulfilled) I had to be GRATEFUL TO BE THERE.


No.   NOOOOOOO!  It couldn’t be. And yet…and yet…


What the hell did I have to lose except my self-righteousness and anger?   So I decided to try it. And the first step was “Action.” What action could I take, every day, that would lead me one step at a time to my destination?


I remembered my plan to “write a story a week, or every other week.”  And even though I hadn’t formalized that, I was writing a minimum of about a page a day.  And knew that writing ANYTHING every day was keeping a tiny vent open in my mind, connecting conscious and unconscious minds in a way that kept me on track no matter what.  That is the origin of the “One Sentence A Day” notion.


What was the minimum, the absolute minimum, action I could take on a daily basis?


THAT question led to the discovery of The Daily Ritual.


What was the minimum? there were dozens of different books, articles, websites and such talking about “Daily Rituals” of body, mind, spirit, or emotions.   People said “10-20 minutes” but over time I realized that just five minutes made a massive difference IF YOU ACTUALLY DID IT.  Five minutes done regularly was better than an hour you did once a month.   That if I got smart, I could fold so many things into that five minutes that I couldn’t say, even on my worst days, that I wasn’t making progress.


I believe it was Earl Nightengale who said that “Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal.”


All right.  I could do five minutes.  On my most depressed and desperate days I could do five minutes.  The Tony Robbins version of the “Daily Ritual” was:


  1. Move your body dynamically and positively
  2. Focus your mind on your long and short-term goals
  3. Use Affirmations to SPEAK ALOUD your positive commitment, gratitude, and goals AS IF the future goals are as “real” as past accomplishments.


I chose Tai Chi for my movement.   I clarified my goals, and remembered all I had to feel grateful for.


And was certain that Action, Gratitude, Intention, and Conviction (Faith) were all part of the process.  EVERY DAY, at least six days a week, for at least five minutes. Usually ten.


I simply committed to doing it.    No matter what.


And…it saved my marriage, my career, and my life.  So long as I did Morning Ritual,  I impacted the other 23 hours and 55 minutes of the day.  It was amazing:


  1. I got more done
  2. I had more fun doing it, because I saw how today’s actions, no matter how small, fit into my lifetime goals
  3. I was working on my Tai Chi, which deepened my body-mind connection beautifully
  4. When I integrated the “Five minute miracle” breathing patterns (sixty seconds of diaphragmatic breathing every three hours) it referenced back to the Tai Chi, so that they reinforced each other.
  5. By associating with past positive emotions, I put the lie to the voices in my head saying “all is lost” because I knew something: I COULD FEEL GOOD ANYTIME I WANTED.  If I “felt bad”?  I was being self-indulgent. I was being a needy, wounded, abandoned Child (as Swift Deer used to say)  rather than a warrior.
  6. I was answering the question: Who Am I?  What is True?  What was true was that I could feel good WHENEVER I WANTED TO. Who I was was someone committed to being happy, and healthy, and a good father to my son and a good husband to the wonderful woman who trusted that I understood her desperate, honorable need to hospice her mother.  THAT man.   Not the man-baby curled on the ground.   An adult of the species, dammit.  If you’re having sex, you’d better be a ##$%% adult.  That’s my rule.
  7. And I could be that man, if I could beg, borrow, or steal five minutes a day.
  8. How long would it take? I said I’d do this, daily, for three months.  Three months where I committed to spending five minutes a day.
  9. And it worked, dammit.  It just flat WORKED.
  10. So that’s what I’m asking for you.  A minimum of five minutes a day for 101 days.  As much more time as you can. But five minutes.  101 Days.   I say that your life is worth it.


What do you say?







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