On Politics, Philosophy, and Lifewriting

I grew up feeling that society had laid traps for me everywhere, such that pursuing any life path was going to be like pogo-sticking through a mine field.   My answer: get the clearest, most accurate maps of the minefield (live, society, human nature) that I could, and plan accordingly.  “What is true?” was critical, and I made the mistake of thinking that everyone did this.


I still remember the day I realized I was wrong.  I was in a conversation with a very politicized gentleman  (call him “Fred”) who I greatly respected. Fred made a claim during an argument. I refuted the claim with a solid piece of data, a clear and irrefutable disproof of his position. He rolled with it, and began talking about why this instance was  an outlier, using specific information of his own


And I realized: “Huh.  He knew he was wrong when he said “X is never Y.”  Could have said “X is usually not Y” or “There are only a few exceptions to the rule that X is not Y.”  Instead, even though he KNEW that what he was saying was wrong…he made the statement.


I thought back over other conversations and suddenly realized something: this was a pattern.   A TACTIC.  In other words, he was betting that I didn’t have specific information to refute his assertion.


He was hoping I was ignorant.  Withholding information that invalidated his argument.


Remember the statement: “Philosophy is asking `what is true’.”  Politics is asking “how can I win.”


He wasn’t interested in truth.  He was interested in winning.  There’s a real difference, and it is essential to know it: “Am I dealing with a philosopher?  Or a politicized individual?”   Each has uses, there is no question.




Personally, I’m far more interested in the first question “what is true?” So I will actually offer opponents information they don’t currently have, if it helps their position.  Give people a chance to re-formulate a clumsy statement (there are few things more time-wasting than refuting a statement and then having someone claim: “well, I didn’t REALLY mean that. I meant THIS…”)  I’ve done that, often stating something informally, assuming that the person I’m talking with realizes that I’m speaking informally, and having them attack “people do X” with “not ALL people…”


It’s not unfair of them to do that. It’s just more formal.  I can play that game, and enjoy it, find it very valuable. But once you demand formal statements, you can’t then get lazy with your language, folks.  Sauce for the goose.




Politics is useful.  It is the art of compromise, but also swaying mass opinion to accomplish a goal.  Compromise is often “hold your nose and vote” for something because while it has things you don’t believe in, it also accomplishes something you care about.  Creating a “big tent” of people voting in the same direction, so that you can reach your goal.   The “Devil’s bargain” can often be necessary to do important things.


Swaying mass opinion often means manipulating emotions, simplifying concepts, deleting information, pushing “best case” or even “wishful thinking” scenarios.  People call this stuff “lying” and sometimes it is. But the line is fuzzy.


What was I supposed to do?  Consider Fred a liar?  He hadn’t lied, precisely.  Because in informal conversation “No X is Y” is understood to mean “X is rarely Y.”  He assumed I didn’t know…so in a sense he was taking advantage in order to win an argument, so he could move on to the next step in the logic chain: “And SINCE no X is Y, THIS is what we must do.”


This is toxic, because you’ve swallowed a poison pill, trusted that he is right, rather than examining “why is X rarely Y?” or even “is it TRUE that X is not Y?”  which might hare the conversation into a direction Fred didn’t want. Fred wanted to win.


When you see this: people changing the conversation, setting up Straw Men (changing your statement and then attacking their change), deleting information, broadening the conversation so that it includes data you’d have to have THEIR expertise to check, and so on…you can be pretty sure its time to ask: “are they interested in winning?  Or truth?”


I don’t get mad.  In fact, what I tend to do is silently thank them. They remind me that there is more than one way of looking at the world.


Note: being a philosopher who knows what is “true” but doesn’t know how to communicate it to affect change can be useless. But being politicized without having a means of sussing out what the truth is dangerous as hell.   How do you determine what is true?  Because another politicized person said so?   How do you know where you are on the reality map?  Or know when you are, at base, using a faith-based argument (untestable in the real world, so all you have is postulations or stacks of data, denying that you are weighting that data according to your world view, which is always ultimately emotionalized and faith-based, even if that faith is “my senses can be trusted. The integrity and wisdom of the people gathering and interpreting the data can be trusted” you are in trouble.


Different approaches, which when combined are precious.

This is rocky at times, because each sort of person can be convinced that theirs is the only approach, so I can piss off either side.  But when I REMEMBER this I save massive amounts of time. You recognize loaded questions and deliberate side-tracks.  Hell, if I had a CLIENT and I asked them a question, and they answered everything BUT that question?  Asked me questions that led in another direction?


Bingo. There is something powerful hidden under the original question, if only I’m smart and strong enough to keep focus.  Made me a better coach, and a better person.  Recognizing your OWN bullshit is more important than recognizing it in others.


Apply this to Lifewriting?  Well…in writing, how about crafting an argument or conflict between two people, one political and the other philosophical?  All you’d need to do to make that a comedy…or tragedy…is exaggerate their obsession with their individual approach.


And in life?   Note where and when in movies and books characters sort out one or the other way.  Those who never introspect, and those paralyzed by introspection.  And decide, for yourself, how you will error-check and influence.


What is true? What do we do about it?


Different questions with different results and processes.  Don’t confuse them.






Diversity and Appropriation

I must hear some version of this a dozen times a month:

“I am plain vanilla white American. But I want to tell stories that have never been told before, without stealing.  And I also don’t want people to hate me.”


So…what we have here is someone who wants to write about a wider range of humanity than what he generally sees onscreen in in print.  But he also wants to be respectful of the concept called “cultural appropriation.”  This is admirable, and I can see how people get lost.  While I cannot offer an absolute answer, I can discuss my own perspective here, briefly, and in greater detail on tonight’s LIFEWRITING LIVE (6pm Pacific).

I wondered the same thing.  In my early writing career, questions of writing white people, or women, or gay people, or foreigners, or those of different psychological or political persuasions was daunting.   I’d been hurt by negative or condescending portrayals. But even worse by exclusion. What to do?


  1. My life would be poorer if it were not for writers writing across cultural, racial, and gender lines. That being the simple truth, I would never discourage people from trying.
  2. You will never make everyone happy. What you can do is be true to yourself and your world view. Do that, and it is my experience that reasonable people will honor your efforts.
  3. You probably don’t have anything to teach black people about being black. But you can certainly teach us about how white people see us, which is valuable. And you can educate white people who have put less thought into it than you have.
  4. “Cultural appropriation” is a genuine concern. It is also one of the only ways that humanity progresses: I do something, you copy it making little changes, if those changes improve the results I copy your changes.   Memetic evolution. But…I’ve seen situations where actual members of a group were excluded, while the excluders play games with the symbols and rituals and art forms of the excluded.   I find this destructive and self-serving in the extreme.   There will never be total agreement on “how much is too much” so all we can do is try to treat others as we ourselves would wish to be treated.
  5. The ONLY time I would not encourage people to write “the other” is if they do not offer them equal humanity.  In other words, if your secret belief is that (for instance) black people are inferior, I’m not gonna spend my time and energy encouraging you to promote that view. Nor are you likely to be long-term successful in concealing that attitude.  For instance, note the following logic chain:


  1. BLM has no legitimate concern. There is no systemic racism.
  2. There are clear differences in performance/results between racial groups.  Infant mortality, life span, incarceration, education levels, inherited wealth, etc.
  3. If there is no difference in the systemic context, the other logical conclusion is that the people themselves are not equal.
  4. If you side-step and say it is “culture” then you are just kicking the ball down the road: either that culture was imposed from outside (systemic racism) or it arose spontaneously from within.  The question that reveals this is: “under the same historical circumstances, would white people have suffered as much for as long?”  Anything other than an enthusiastic “yes” should be interpreted as a belief in inequality.


That logic chain doesn’t say such a belief is “wrong.”  It says that once you deny a difference in context, you are de facto promoting a difference in content.  That 99% of the time, that is the dichotomy, and pretending otherwise is disingenuous.


Ultimately, we cannot perform the multi-generational experiments necessary to test either position to a solid conclusion. All you can do is amass data, and decide which pile you have more faith in.    It is up to you which path you take.


But if you, like me, choose faith in equality, then you have to stand by it.  That means you can’t say “black people are equal, except that white people are evil.”  Nope.  If you don’t see the contradiction there, you’ve got a problem, and if you are white, that problem is one of self-loathing.


No, you have to take a view of humanity that embraces–or rejects–all of us.


Personally, I’d choose embracing.  Loving humanity, and considering us basically equal.  Those who share THAT POV are my closest brothers and sisters.  I adore seeing what they have to express about how human being interact, the meaning of history, the ethical structure of the universe.  Love it.


How to do this?  We’ll take a tiny fragment out of the overall LIFEWRITING program and show how it applies here, tonight at 6pm PST on LIFEWRITING LIVE!




What if you aren’t an expert?

I’m jet-lagged from Dragoncon, but happy.  Did something I’ve never done before (Marshalled a parade), helped people with martial arts and writing issues, furthered my own writing, spread the news about the different products and services I offer, and saw old friends and made new ones.


This is all good.  On the way back, I picked up some emails from a  student who got into the “Earn 100k a Year in 25 Hours a week” program (www.diamondhour.com)  and asked some good questions.  Most centrally: what do you do if you are a generalist rather than an expert in a specific arena?


(Identifying facts redacted)

“Tommy” said:  I’m not a hypnotherapist, or a neuro-linguist, or a life-coach, or a published writer, or a martial arts master. I am a jack-of-many-skills; in my life I have found many different studies which have given me joy, but I pursued them only my out of own interest, and none of them to a point where I can convincingly (or legitimately) claim to be knowledgable enough to presume to charge someone $100/hour to learn it from me.

I’m not sure how useful the rest of the program will be, unless I figure out what it is of value that I have to offer potential clients…


I’m sure I could help people, and I think I’d actually be a decent teacher. I fully intend to complete the program…and who knows, “my thing” might materialize somewhere in there…


Tell me, Steve, did you open your first martial arts class/school without your teacher’s blessing and support? If so, I’d really like to hear about your experience. If not, was it due to a lack of confidence on your part? Or were there other considerations? That is the sort of problem I’m struggling with, at least in part.




O.K…I’m a little groggy, so bear with me as I scan these and offer some thoughts.


  1. The question isn’t what you are not. The question is what you ARE.
  2. Tommy says that he has followed paths that bring him pleasure.   He needs to grasp that lots of people don’t even have THAT piece of the puzzle.  They literally don’t understand that joy is a thing worthy of focus.
  3. The primary starting point I’ve used is to focus on “what do you have to teach yourself, a decade or two ago.”  If you’ve been going in a circle, then yes, you need to break that before you might have something to offer in terms of growth.  That gives you a specific assignment: to find the way to break that cycle of sameness. Once you do…you have something to contribute.
  4. If you don’t think there are others who are generalists rather than having focused their energy in a specific arena, you’re nuts.  It is a VERY common life position.   A hundred hours of research into this very common issue, and suddenly you are an expert.  It sounds like Tommy is perfectly set up to help people find their life path, or make peace with being generalists.
  5. Specifically then: is it good to be a generalist? Then help people with that path. Is it a mistake? Then first seek the way out of that trap, then lead others.
  6. Yes, I started my first martial arts class without a teacher’s blessing.    But I had been teaching in the school: senior students commonly teach beginners.  The primary question was: do I know things I didn’t used to know?  Are they valuable? Would I pay to know them? Yes?   Then teach it.
  7. And what if you don’t?  Then, again, you are saying that you need to change, focus, grow.  What has stopped you in the past?  This question is critical, because people who don’t feel they are good at anything are often intelligent, creative people afraid to enter the adult world.  Healing this wound can make a massive difference. Seek the resources necessary to gain clarity.
  8. What would I do with a client who came to me with this problem?
    1. Find the thing they love most, and teach them to organize and market it.  You can market ANYTHING if you learn how.
    2. If they have so little self-confidence that they really feel they’ve never learned anything of value, I’d go straight into this delusion.  And…it inevitably is.  They lack belief in themselves, not skills.
    3. If they have a bunch of different skills, and none of them pop up as obvious favorites, then sort by the one easiest to market.  Look for the one that has the largest number of Google searches, or users groups.
    4. Get that?  Choose either the thing you love, or the thing that has best profit potential, or the one that the most other people are interested in.  If fear comes up, or you lack clarity, then you must focus there.   You can even bootstrap yourself, specifically looking at the decision process you have applied to smaller arenas, and learning to apply them to the bigger questions. The process itself is something you can sell, and about 10 hours of Googling on making decisions and finding a life path will set you in a direction. The instant you are at least 10 hours ahead of another person, you have something to teach.  So long as you CONTINUE to study and dig, you will remain ahead of them.
    5. The most important thing is that self-confidence. Belief in yourself.  If you think you’ve wasted your time, ask why that happened. Dig. Dig. Find the clue (it will be fear of some kind) and you have something to offer others.



In other words, your very confusion is a potential gold mine.   What you must have is conviction that the younger version of you has something to learn from who you are today.  Lost weight? Found love?  Improved your grades? Raised kids?   Mastered being a stay-at-home dad?


Embrace it.    Trust me…there are people with serious confusion about thing upon which you have clarity.


And that is where you have value to offer.





The Power of Story

“Lifewriting” is seeing yourself as a character in a story you are writing, the story of your own life.   Arguably the most important insight I’ve ever found, and an organizing principle for everything I’m doing.  I offer an example of its power.




Like everyone else, I thought that my experiences and thoughts were me.  But when Tananarive’s mother was dying, and we had to move the family back to Atlanta, I discovered that I wasn’t nearly as balanced and centered as I’d hoped.   All my life, I’d been focused on a particular set of goals: relationship, writing, martial arts.  With the publishing industry in chaos, I was trusting in Hollywood to fill in the gaps, and had focused for six years to climb slowly and steadily back to the career position I’d had before spending ten years in the NW due to ANOTHER family issue.  Sigh.


And…in Atlanta, for the first time in my life, I lost faith in my ability to create my dreams. I saw no way out, no way to build a network of associations.   Six years earlier, I’d been told that Ageism in Hollywood had killed my ability to climb the ladder, and I’d shut my mind to that information and bulled ahead.   But by the time I got back from Atlanta, in what…three-four years?  I’d be TEN YEARS OLDER than that.


I was screwed.  And it broke me.  My stomach churned with acid, and my head felt like it was full of lead.  I felt paralyzed with terror, as if I was going to be executed in an hour.    I didn’t know who I was any more, because I wasn’t on the life path I’d created when I was a kid.   I was off the map, and lost.  I  curled up on the floor, sobbing, not having any idea what I was going to do next.


Broken.  All I could do was continue, one day at a time, to support my son and my wife.  But I was dead inside.  For months I was in this state, slogging from one task to another with no sense of joy or purpose beyond survival.


And then one day I asked a critical question:  IF ONE OF MY STUDENTS HAD COME TO ME WITH THIS PROBLEM, WHAT WOULD I SAY?


I knew.  I’d tell them to envision their life as a story they were telling, and that that story had a happy ending. This was just the down-turn at the end of the second act.   Maybe even the first act.   The drastic situation that forces the character to shed illusions and dig deeper than they ever have. The doorway to victory, disguised as failure.


What does the Hero do?  Accept the challenge. And then?  Take action, gathering resources and allies.


Back to basics, Barnes.  Given enough resources, the right resources, there was victory here, somewhere.  Start digging.


THINK AND GROW RICH was always a good one, and re-reading it helped a bit, but only on the surface.    Somehow I came back across THE SECRET, and it irritated me as much as ever: the notion that if you want something badly enough it will come to you, which seemed to be the message most people got from that book, struck me as pure infantile b.s.


But I wondered why it had been so successful, other than wish fulfillment. And in researching, came across the fact that it was largely based on an earlier book called THE SCIENCE OF GETTING RICH, by Wallace D. Wattles.   This book is only about seventy pages long, and I ordered a digital copy and immediately read it.


And…COULDN’T REMEMBER A SINGLE WORD.   Not one.  My mind had blanked out.  So…I read it again. And again.  AND STILL COULDN’T REMEMBER ANYTHING I’D READ.


I was gobsmacked.   This wasn’t an accident, or some random brainfart.  I knew this pattern: THERE WAS SOMETHING IN THIS BOOK THAT I DIDN’T’ WANT TO HEAR.


Holy crap.   I decided on a tactic. I’d re-read one page at a time, and write a sentence synopsizing that page before I went to the next.  Did this for all seventy-odd pages, ending up with a couple of pages of notes.


Went over those notes, and boiled THOSE down.  And then boiled THOSE down.  And over and over.  Took me days.  But when I was finished I had the root of the M.A.G.I.C. equation:


MAGIC = Action X Gratitude X Intention X Conviction.


I stared at that, and turned it over and over in my mind, and realized precisely, exactly, why my mind didn’t want to understand.  Can you see it?




All right.   Let me give you a hint: why is this a multiplicative rather than an additive equation?




No more stalling.   Let’s give each of these qualities: Action, Gratitude, Intention, and Conviction, a numerical value from 0-9, representing your level of engagement with each level.

Are you taking Action daily toward your outcome?

Do you feel Gratitude for what you already have?

Do you have clear Intentions (Outcomes) expressed in achievable stages?

Do you have Conviction that you CAN and SHOULD accomplish your intentions?


Well…if you have a “zero” in ANY of those four categories, the entire equation equals ZERO.   BOOM.




If that isn’t obscene, I don’t know what is. I WANTED my pain.  It seemed to define me. I didn’t WANT to let go of my resentment and anger and fear.   Didn’t they protect me?


No.They didn’t.  What protects you is ATTENTION. But it doesn’t have to be negative.  Not at all.  Doesn’t even have to be emotionalized.   Most people DO need negative emotions to take drastic action…but it isn’t NECESSARY.  Every martial discipline I’d ever studied said it clearly: the most effective survival actions are carried out with surgical precision and dispassion connected with a berserker’s total abandon OR even better,  a spiritual commitment to aligning with the forces of nature.


In order to leave, I had to be content to stay.   Oh my dear God.  It felt like death.  The pain was like my mother’s death, repeated monthly.  And…I had to be grateful.


So…I forced myself to make a list of the things I was grateful for.


My son was healthy.

Tananarive and I loved each other.

I had been able to heal my relationship with her mother.


I could SEE and FEEL the knot within my heart start to loosen.


The house was beautiful.

My family was safe.

I…I realized that Steve Muhammad had retired to Atlanta, so that I was able to finally get to know him as a human being not just a lethal icon.


Because of that, I finally had a working definition of Mastery that will serve me the rest of my life.


My heart opened further. And as the stress tunnel widened, I began to see more things, things that had eluded me all my life, because I’d been so focused on the DOING that I forgot to grok the BEING of it.


A gift beyond price, that set me free to grasping the center of my being, the source of all action and motivation, such that I can trigger it at will.  What would I have paid for that, earlier in my life?  That self-knowledge?


The answer: anything at all.


The greatest pain of my life. Pain is a message.  Get the message, and you can release the negative emotions–and much of the pain itself, which is primarily there to get your attention.




I have used this process with countless goals since this time, and so long as I remain clear on my ultimate outcome (Intention), take consistent, measured Action, feel deep and sincere Gratitude for where I am NOW and all the blessings of my past, and have total Faith that I have the ability to create my dreams (Conviction)–it has never failed me.


And I don’t believe it ever will.  How can it?  The meaning of life, the ultimate purpose, is to seek joy.  If I flood myself with Gratitude every morning, then I’ve already won.



Its almost cheating, isn’t it?  But hey…I like a rigged game.





Slaying the Dragon

Over the last couple of days, we had a chance to look at two different people: one who saved his life, and one who lost his life.  One woke up to the fact that he had to take new actions, the other became mired in his self-justifications and toxic self-image, and rode that avalanche all the way to the bottom, and literal death.


The differences are stark.


  1. You have to have a clear view of something worth having, or something worth avoiding.  CLEAR.  If you stay in a fugue state, believing that today’s actions don’t influence tomorrow’s destiny, you are screwed.
  2. You have to examine the behaviors that, carried out day by day, will take you to a better place.  Really, this isn’t that hard.  DOING it is hard.  But if you want to write a novel, you have to write.  IF you want to lose weight, you have to find a way to get caloric input below caloric output.  If you want to have a better relationship, you have to learn to love yourself, and extend that love to someone who plays by rules you appreciate, who is going in your direction at your pace.  If you want to improve your finances, you have to get expenditures below income.   IT IS SIMPLE. That does NOT mean it is “easy”.  But if you complicate the situation, there is a real chance that some part of you is sabotaging the process.
  3. You have to ask what your self-image would have to be to be consistent with these behaviors.   WHO WOULD YOU HAVE TO BE?

Otis always put off the big changes.  There would be time. Or they weren’t necessary. Or they were impossible.  OR…or…


What would I advise if I could do this over?  If I could start our relationship from Day One?


Well…at the beginning, I wouldn’t be able to do much.  But about the third time he asked me to save him, I would have leverage.  He would be willing to hear.  And I would simply show him that his behaviors were not aligned with his desires.  How would I know this?


Primarily by looking at the Chakras.  And assuming that, regardless of his protests, he wanted health,  sex, love, power, honest self-expression, a contributing  relationship with his community, expressed in the production of legal goods and services.  When you can see this “train” disrupted, start with the first block, the one closest to survival (obesity) or the one closest to his heart space (love.)


Stay OUT of his head.   Don’t pay attention to the justifications, beliefs, values except as examination of what needs to change. Someone, somewhere, somehow, POISONED HIM against his own most basic urges. Tragedy. The equivalent of child abuse, perhaps on a social level, or on a family level.  OR WORSE.  But…I don’t know. And I don’t need to know. Otis didn’t need to understand himself. He needed to be happy and healthy.   The two CAN have connection, but don’t HAVE to.


When the work is done on an unconscious level, you can simply wake up one day and realize that for the last six months, you’ve done what you needed to do every day.  Are a different person.   Maybe THEN you’ll understand “why”…but maybe not.


You don’t need to know where a dragon came from, or the life cycle or history of dragons, or even the name of the dragon, to slay it.


So…what are the things I would have had him do differently?


  1. Clearly define the most important daily and weekly goals in body, career, finance, and relationships.  Those that would lead him to love, health, and success.
  2. Break them down to five-minute daily chunks.
  3. Perform a daily ritual similar to the “Morning M.A.G.I.C.” program, raising his emotions, focusing on the daily pieces, feeling gratitude for his life and anchoring in confidence that he CAN and SHOULD change.


Then…all I’d have to do is keep track of whether he did the Morning M.A.G.I.C. or not.  If he did?   His behaviors would automatically shift toward the positive and productive.  That fine Reticular Activating Mechanism of his, so great at storing up trivial information, would have begun seeking VALUABLE information.  With his pain behind him and his love in front of him, taking just one tiny step a day, he would have climbed out of his pit.

If he had a problem?  Increase the intensity of the physical action AND his verbal affirmations, until they overpower his negative voices. I could have walked beside him on a track as he chanted, led him with my own energy, and helped implant the habit of checking at the end of the day to see if he did those five-minute chunks.  Yeah.  Be his Daddy, until he caught fire and could parent himself.  Sigh.


And…I wouldn’t have to have stood at his death bed, watching that “how did I get here?” expression on his face, trying so hard to focus our conversations on good memories, because there was no more future to fight for.


Every day is a chance to decide which path you will follow.  Every action another opportunity to define yourself.


Please.  Don’t wait until you have no more time.  Fight for your life, your dreams, your heart EVERY DAY as if a dragon is breathing down your neck.


Because…it is, you know.






Memories of a friend

I had a dear friend named Otis.  Met him in college.  Funny, very smart, wide-ranging general knowledge, and no apparent knowledge of how to care for his body, whether a matter of hygiene, exercise, or carrying himself to satisfy his sexual needs with integrity.   He lived the life of the mind, ignoring the signals from his body.


Life gave him  a few wake-up calls,  including the collapse of his finances, such that he had to live in an abandoned apartment behind my house, running an extension cord for electricity.  He had always had a mythology that he couldn’t lose weight, was limiting his eating, did plenty of walking exercise but it was  you know, just genetic.


But when his finances collapsed, he didn’t just get a wake-up call, he got new resources: I stepped in, bought his way onto the Carnation diet plan, and wonder of wonders, the weight started coming right off. Bang.  No problem at all.


He’d had a massive interruption to his ordinary habits, was forced onto an honest path, and got the results.   But…the new results didn’t match his self-image.  He saw himself as a sedentary thinker, and one of his few physical pleasures was mindless eating.


You can guess what happened: the instant he found a job, and had extra money to spend on food, the weight went right back on.  Same body. Different habits.  An unchanging belief: “I can’t lose weight” regardless of the actual evidence.   WHY that belief was so entrenched…I do not know. Never knew. Suspect that it had something to do with his early home-life, and remember that his brothers seemed to take glee in the fact that he was semi-homeless.


Our early lives matter.  Our internal representations matter.  The “what is true” and “who am I?” of his existence didn’t’ match reality, and he wasn’t able to adjust, even when the evidence was right in front of him.


And eventually…Otis died. His body collapsed.  I remember the Hawaiian Huna notion that our bodies are like black bags, where we store our unprocessed emotions.  Otis’ was like a garbage dump.   I wish I’d had the tools to help him. During those months he lived with me, I had an opportunity, BUT DIDN’T HAVE THE TOOLS.  Didn’t understand. But I used it to motivate myself: I swore I would learn, grow, clarify my vision.  Have the courage to look into myself, my own heart, enough to see why I lie to myself, break promises, act from fear and pain, numb myself to reality.   The deeper I go, the easier it is to see the same patterns in others.


But first, you have to do it for yourself.




If there are four core areas: body, relationships, career, and money, then we have a clear indication of the things we must do every day, every week, to heal and make progress.  If we ignore one arena, it is reasonable to assume there is emotional resistance.  What would I have done today?


I wouldn’t bother trying to understand the specifics of his early home life.  That’s not relevant compared to simply doing, every day, what he needed to do. You can spend decades in analysis and still not get your life.  But while you can do the right things without understanding the “why” of the negative behavior, if you can both do AND understand you will progress more easily, as well as be better at helping others.  Otis had to have:


  1. Disassociation with his body.
  2. Enough negative emotions to force him into fugue states rather than deal with his life.
  3. Lack the self-love to fight for his dreams
  4. Craved women above his level of energy and integration.  He needed to either raise that level…or change his standards.  To his credit, he never became an Incel idiot and blame them.
  5. Never held a job that any high school kid couldn’t have done–never became a real adult human male in that sense.   There was no point in his life when he could have supported another person, let alone two.


Body a wreck. Finances a wreck. Relationships mostly…not, and never a long-term committed one. Career…non.  Jobs, sure.   But nothing that connected his passion and his capacities in a way to serve his community while expressing his heart.


I watched him on his deathbed, finally understanding that life was not a dress rehearsal, with no time left to make any changes. Did he know how this life happened to him?  I don’t know.  It got too painful to discuss it, as there seemed no more point to it.  Our time together was mostly filled with focus on happy things. Movies we’d seen. People we knew. Places we’d gone.  I just wanted him to be as happy as possible.  It was too late for him.


Don’t let it be too late for you.  Now, this week, TODAY, commit to fighting for your dreams, for that little child within you.   Decide what outcomes in all four arenas will bring you happiness, and find role models of people who can have them. Look at their beliefs, and behaviors. And if yours are different?


LOOK CLOSELY. Dig in with “Who am I?” and “Is it true?” and see if you can invalidate them.  What you don’t know won’t hurt you. What hurts you is what you DO know that ain’t so.


And…create a map of daily behaviors that will take you where you need to go.   And the beliefs and emotions that would motivate those behaviors.  And then create a daily ritual that will implant and educe those beliefs and emotions EVERY SINGLE DAY, such that you can measure success just in those behaviors.  Did you do your ritual this morning? Yes?   Aces.


Didn’t?  Why not? What stopped you?  What needs to change?   Every day you have another chance to get it right.


Otis…and yes, that was his name…was a beloved friend. A sweetheart who never hurt anyone. A man of skills and intelligence.  And…never got any of his most basic adult dreams.  One day at a time, he walked down the wrong path, and it hurt like hell to watch it. And…the only way I can deal with that pain, and the pain of others I’ve lost along the way, is to do all I can to point out a path that leads to health, happiness, and success.  I no longer care much what you think of me, compared to how much I want you to love and respect and believe in and support YOURSELF.


If you don’t have you, you’re lost.






Clawing Out of the Pit

OMG!   Reader Edward Morris spoke of clawing his way out of a depression that almost ended his life.  And he was kind, and honest, and courageous enough to give us full particulars.  I want to give his response, and then analyze it in terms of the worldview LIFEWRITING supports:


Edward Morris First, I did all the wrong things. I was with someone who was exploiting a disabled person and cheating on me and kind of a drug addict and just real evil. I listened to her and tried to follow that path. That did not end well. The smartest thing I did was ditch her, no matter how much it hurt. After that, I realized that even with the new full-blown case of M.S., I could take charge of my life simple things first. Exercise. Diet. Sleep. Not claiming perfection or signaling virtue. But the things that really got me moving were the challenges. I began challenging myself. Volunteering as a literacy tutor. Marching at Pride with no godsdamn crutches. Bringing back my spoken word show. Attending other reads and performing at them no matter how much pain I was in. Doing things I would whine at doing, like going across town to get a bite to eat instead of my usual haunts. Fighting the M.S. and using that to fight the depression. Finding the thing I could not do, whether it was writing- or IRL related… and waiting until I was so angry and hopeless and curled up in a ball…that I could do nothing else. My ex, who let depression rule her life and used it as a flail to scourge everyone else, did not understand how I did this.(I did it sometimes before, but turned it up all the way when she was gone.) It’s simple. That’s where it goes. That’s what you do. You just have to want it badly enough, and structure your life such that there is no other Troy to burn. Again, either that or have someone in your life, a counselor or a loved one, who can help you steer. I have ZILLIONS of loved ones. In the process I describe…I began giving them a chance. Asking them for help. Knowing that some might not understand all…but all might understand some. Cycling them out. Climbing that particular stairway too. This is turning into a damn book, and I am surprised, but you get the idea. Thank you for allowing me to share this.”


“The linchpin I forgot to mention… my kid. We were estranged until she turned 18. We got in touch last year during this process. Lydia has been a ray of light, and quite the battery for everything I mentioned. It behooved me to add that part.”



THIS is exactly what the game really is. I want to analyze this statement, but am excited enough that I won’t try to do some neat and structured essay.

  1. “The smartest thing I did was ditch her.” The fastest way to change your life is to change your reference group.   Drowning people will drag down the life guard.
  2. “Exercise.  Diet. Sleep.”   Improper balance of these elements ALWAYS leads to problems. Properly balancing them increases energy, which facilitates reprogramming and perhaps more importantly…belief in possibility.
  3. “Volunteering as a literacy tutor.”  Took his attention off himself and onto CONTRIBUTION.  Wow.  Genius.
  4. “Not claiming perfection or virtue signalling.”   Poor people will criticize those trying to claw their way from poverty, claiming it is impossible, or they are becoming corrupt by trying (“money is the root of all evil.”) Conversely, people who are damaged in some way will often try to stop you from excelling by accusing you of “thinking you are better.”   If you succeed, or try, you see, you are huting them. So stop trying.  Here’s the trick: on some level, they are PRAYING that you will succeed, and inspire them to do the same. They will test you and attack you, just like a child will test her parents by whining and tantrums. They don’t want to defeat you. They want you to show them there is really a way out of the trap.  Understand that those attacks are fear, are their own internal voices.   Be strong, and loving. Attacks are defenses.
  5. Challenging himself.  That is breaking his old patterns.  Becoming someone new. Shifting his identity.  If he is a “depressed person” and DEFINES himself that way, it is like someone who defines himself as an obese person, a poor person, a solitary person, etc. You literally HAVE to struggle to overcome a self-image and the self-image will always win in the end.
  6. “You have to want it badly enough.”   Another pure truth. You HAVE to find the part of yourself that wants it.  Connecting with your survival drive will do it.  Believe you don’t have one?  Have someone hold your face in a tub of water.  No matter who you are, even if you are suicidal–YOU WILL FIGHT.  That drive is a “live wire”, the “third rail”, the “machine language” of your nervous system.   If you cannot find the motivation to change, something has corrupted your connection to this force.  One of the reasons the “Ancient Child” works so well is that most of us will do more for an innocent child than we will for ourselves.
  7. “I have ZILLIONS of loved ones”.  Think about this from the M.A.G.I.C. perspective: gratitude for those who loved you can fuel your efforts. Emotion is created by the way you use your body, the language you use, and where you focus.  If you focus on your blessings and triumphs (and EVERYONE has them.  Don’t embarrass yourself by lying and saying you’ve never achieved anything, all right?).
  8. “Asking them for help.”   What is it on the hero’s journey?  What gets you through the Dark Night of the Soul?  Faith. In your inner capacities, in a higher power, or in the support of your allies.
  9. “The linchpin I forgot to mention… my kid”  About fifteen years ago, I paid almost five thousand dollars to spend two days with a life coach of some renown.  He discovered that all he needed to do to raise my energy was think of my daughter Nicki. Just THINK of her.  Our love for our children can motivate us to miracles. Usually we can only harness this for the kids…but you can do it for yourself as well.


I see so much wisdom here, so many wonderful things. I hope that he codifies his approach, shares it, and listens to the feedback from successful students to strengthen his concepts.  A mind and heart that can do this can save lives.


Medical depression should be addressed with the aid of a medical professional. But CHANGE THOSE BEHAVIORS and see if it doesn’t give you additional power.


NOTE: when in the depths of depression, it can be impossible to do anything at all. But here’s the trick: people rarely STAY there. They cycle up and down.  The trick then, is when you are “up” to realize YOU WILL BE DOWN AGAIN. And to put new behaviors, beliefs, actions into place THEN.  Don’t wait. Create a daily pattern that will sustain you when the darkness cycles around again.   IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT.  NO GUILT, BLAME, OR SHAME .  But…it IS your responsibility. And you must understand the difference.







A Life of Integrity

Living a life of integrity is hard work. Following the path of spiritual growth is hard work. Awakening and staying mindful in each moment requires constant honesty. It’s exhausting (though sometimes also exhilarating), but it expands through all your relations and creates a lasting legacy. The benefits of integrity and wisdom compound over time.

—Franz Metcalf and BJ Gallagher, “Mindful Work

Watch The Grass, But Be The Wind

I asked readers what their most important task was in the last week, and whether they accomplished it.  Ross Murker, who is working with my company in the marketing department, had some great replies:

Ross:   Sat with some decisions – got a PERFECTLY timed aimed and angled metaphorical kick to my spiritual backside, and started actually DOING more things; re-engaging with Commuter University, practicing and testing marketing stuff, finishing items I said I’d do in more timely fashion…

Steve:  Have you listened to the talk on making 100k in 25 hours a week? (WWW.DIAMONDHOUR.COM)   Are you implementing? There are specific, no-bullshit steps you can take. If you can define them and aren’t doing them, you can then look at WHY you aren’t, and begin to acquire those skills or heal those wounds.


Ross Murker I have, and am actually doing week 1, will listen to and start to implement week 2 tomorrow. Listened to a webinar about decisions done by the Blanchards (Og Mandino website), and they *nailed* me all the way around. Poppin’ loose like a baby tooth currently, a little blood and discomfort, but *wiggling*!




So…the real goal is happiness.  Money doesn’t really buy happiness at the highest levels, but it does remove certain  impediments to living joyously and freely.  So we have an internal, almost ineffable state (joy) that has a relation to an external, measurable VERY ‘effable process (making money.)


The “100k in 25 hours a week” thing is part of my effort to clearly define paths of action for those who want to use the externals to measure the internals.  Body, Relationships, Career, and Money being the most critical areas–handle those, and the rest is pretty easy.


If you can tighten your focus to: “what do I need to do this week to create my dreams?” in each area, and then “what do I need to do TODAY to create my dreams?”   Defining small enough chunks that taking that first step doesn’t intimidate you, IF you have defined those goals in balance, all you have to do it take one step a day, and that day flat-out rocks.


Imagine: every Sunday you sit down and decide what the most important thing for you to accomplish in each of those arenas.


Then every morning make a list of the four most important things to accomplish that day. Make them small enough that you can absolutely do it.

  1. One sentence (writing)
  2. Tai Chi with Morning Ritual (body/emotions/focus)
  3. Five minutes with Jason (Relationships)
  4. Check finances on Mint (Money)


If you check at the end of the day and you didn’t do these tiny steps IT IS EMOTIONAL, not logistical.


You then know that you need to connect with your survival drive, and your sense of loving yourself.   Failure to take a mini-step is evidence of emotional obstruction or values conflicts.     Focus in on the Morning Ritual (for instance–and look for other resources as well).  As the obstructions are removed, you will accomplish more and more every day. As you accomplish more, you will gain self-respect and confidence and start taking on more and bigger outcomes, as well as develop your own Reality Maps showing shortcuts to success.


Positive feedback. Ascending spirals of success and growth.


And once you have succeeded at anything, you know more about how to succeed at anything else. And…you will have something you can use to help others.   And if you are trying to make money, you can SELL that information ethically, using the techniques in that free talk.


Bingo.  The inner and the outer, connected.    The material results are the bending of the grass. Your soul, your spirit, your self-love and commitment to change the world and express yourself is the wind.

Be the wind.

But watch the grass.





“Fractal” goal setting

LIFEWRITING is about taking a totally new approach to approaching your existence:  being the hero in the adventure of your lifetime.  What if no one is coming to rescue you?  You’ll never heal your relationships with dead people, it is too late to go back and create a new past.

What if we are all there is? This moment all we have?  Well…we’d better stop waiting for that ship to come in and by God ROW OUT TO MEET IT.

Lifewriting is different from any other writing focus, because it is for people willing to “judo” their lives and careers: want to be a writer? Great!  Write about characters dealing with your own existential issues, fears, hopes, and dreams. And as you solve their problems…you solve your own.  And whatever you have learned to solve problems in your PAST…becomes fodder for creativity in your stories.   Create the link between the inner and outer world, and then kick butt.


The Lifewriting group is our proving ground, where we can cluster people who see their lives and careers as process can gather and support each other.


“You guys are wonderful! ALL of your suggestions are fabulous. I’ve been sleepwriting today and I LOVE it!”–Yvette R. Murray

“I LOVE that term `sleepwriting'”

“I think your lovely wife coined that phrase. But it’s been amazing. Thanks for the suggestion. ALL of your suggestions are awesome.”

“Bless you. We love writers SO much, and are building a tribe of conscious artists who want to transform their lives and the world!”


I love waking up and having a conversation like that.   Let me unpack it a bit.

  1. I want to know, every day: who can I help?  How can I help…and have fun in the process?  Oh, cool!  Yvette is having a good writing experience, she’s excited.   Whatever she is doing to express excellence in writing on ONE level is about writing…but on another deals with all of life.  If I can help people become excellent in ONE arena, I can show EVERYONE how to be excellent in all arenas, by applying the same notion. Happy, healthy people open their hearts and become loving. If they are grounded, they are strong enough to be safe, and THAT leads to expanding their sense of self, and embracing the world.
  2. “Sleepwriting.”  T uses this term to mean the process of mulling over story issues while falling asleep, waking up, or even in dreams.    Step back a bit: writing is problem solving.   You are simply addressing a particular set of problems dealing with word choice, structure, character, plot, research, on and on and on. Problems.  Some can be solved in sixty seconds, some take weeks of research or months of planning (it took me about three YEARS to crack the structural problems in “TWELVE DAYS”.   It is taking about a year to crack the structure of “TRAVELER”, my current novel.)


To a huge degree, intelligence is problem solving.  WISDOM is knowing which problems to solve.  I say to solve the problem “How can I live a balanced, healthy, successful, joyful life?” is a damned fine problem.   My own version of this demands balance of body, mind, emotions, and finances. Spirit is implicit in those.  The beautiful thing about this is: what if there IS no spiritual dimension?  You end up “only” getting health, energy, success, happiness, love, and money.  Aww shucks, that SUCKS so hard, doesn’t it?


Anyway, given that…what is “sleepwriting” and how can you use it?


“Sleepwriting” would be using the “Hypnogogic” state, that place between sleep and waking you experience first thing every morning, and last thing as you go to sleep at night.  It is the place where you can manipulate dreams and fantasies (I…well, I love generating certain fantasies that kinda get my motor running in the morning, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.)


This is a moment when you have connection between the conscious and unconscious minds.  And the unconscious mind is VASTLY smarter than the conscious, which is like a bucket compared to the Pacific.  If you can formulate your problems clearly, and fantasize about them before you go to bed, and tell yourself you want a solution in the morning, you will often find that when you wake up, you actually have a solution!


I’ve done this countless times with stories.  For instance, I’m working on logistics for a script that takes place in 1870.  I need a context where black and white men would mingle on relatively equal terms in a very specific way.  Well…based on research, New Orleans had Creole cat houses where this happened.  But…that’s SOUTH of where I want to set this section of the story.   I’m in Missouri, dammit.


I went to bed at night with my mind zig-zagging between locales, not seeing any elegant way to do it. Dammit, was I going to have to lose energy in my story by changing locations?  Or sacrifice an important interaction?  My brain was buzzing.


WHAT did I want?  A great script, that will sell quickly and be PRODUCED.   The current idea is excellent.   A structural issue has arisen. So…I want to solve that problem, one way or another!


WHY?  To tell a great story with high entertainment value and a kickass subtext.  Joy, contribution (“why can’t I see this movie TONIGHT?” people have said when I pitched it), money, improving skill, playing for position.


HOW?   Focus on the problem, go over the “known knowns”, define the “known unknowns”, ask my unconscious for an answer, and go to sleep.   Turn the problem over and over in a playful way as I spiral down into sleep.


What happened?   When I woke up in the morning, it hit me in the face that the answer was right in front of me all the time.   No, I won’t say what it was. But I will say that when Mohammad can’t go to the mountain, sometimes the mountain can come to Mohammad.  Ahem.




You can do this with ANY problem.

Question: how can I have a happy life?

Answer: make my living doing something I love.


QUESTION: What do I love that I can earn money with?

Answer: Writing and teaching.


Question: What writing project sounds both fun and potentially profitable?

Answer: There is this idea called MISSISSIPPI SHUFFLE…


Question: What is the best way to write it, one day at a time?

Answer: define characters, themes, scenes, conflicts…whatever I know, “low hanging fruit” style, using the Hero’s Journey to organize structure loosely.  What do my main characters want?


Question: How can I create an interaction between two characters in a position of relative social equality, to give them a chance to size each other up?

Answer: (After research) such interactions took place in New Orleans.


Question: How can I manage the logistics so that the story functions directly, not in a zig-zag of repeated imagery?

Answer: Well, I’ll keep that to myself.



Can you see how the big “what?” (living a happy life) motivates “why” on every level? That cracking every problem generates joy?


Its all “vertically aligned” with my core identity and goals.  “Fractal goal setting” would be a way of looking at this.    And once you learn to do it with storytelling…what is there to stop you from doing it with your body, your relationships, your finances?  NOTHING.  Focus is focus. Skill is skill.   “Master one thing, master ten thousand things.”


Or as Jerry said to me long ago:   “Once you master anything, you know how to master anything else.”


Beautifully said.  Starting with your ultimate goal (Joy) back up to the things that bring you this, and be sure they relate to your deepest values. Then move to the long-term material goals that support this, and then the medium goals, then short term. What do you need to accomplish THIS WEEK, and then what are the most important 1-5 things you have to accomplish TODAY?


Then…do that thing.  Most important for writing?  Solve this one problem. How?  “Sleepwriting.”


This stuff all fits together, people.    Neat and clean and one step at a time.