A student practices techniques. A master embodies principles

The above quote came from Jeffrey Finder, via Mushtaq Ali Al Ansari, and triggered thoughts.

The implication would be, therefore, that the path to “mastery” (a verb, not a noun. A process, not a position.  Any skill you can perform under stress with smooth breathing is something you have “mastered”) is to relate the skill to the smallest number of component skills, and find a way to explore those skills with every moment of your life.

I’m exploring this idea, but have some suggestions, starting with the “one sentence a day” concept.  Let me extract some stuff from it.

  1. “The Way Is In Training”, and other of Musashi’s Principles imply that to achieve mastery, you must practice the skills every day.  If you don’t do it every day, you have no real commitment to mastering it.
  2. Getting ready to spend a single moment involved in something is probably about 90% of the way to spending an hour at it.   An hour a day practicing anything will make you excellent in three years.   A master in 30.  This assumes you have the right role models, and are maintaining sensory acuity, and so forth.  So your “one sentence”, over time,  is a doorway to superb performance.
  3. When you sit down to write, watch your physical “frame”: posture, breathing, relaxation.  Practice going into “visual” or “flow”. Once you find that switch, learn to flick it at will.
  4. When you find the physical and mental components that “switch” your writing on, find them in a common activity–like walking.  When walking, how would you breath, stand, hold your face that is similar to what produces that single sentence? What kind of awareness, mood, mental or emotional focus? When you find a common root that produces APPROPRIATE results in both, practice this with every step. When you sit.  Drive.   Play with your dog.  
  5. Take the “Five Minute Miracle” to the next level.  Once an hour, for sixty seconds, “check in” to see if you are maintaining optimal relaxed focus.  
  6. Every day learn something.   Improve something. And have fun.    Apply this to writing that sentence. And also to sitting and standing and walking.  
  7. Coach Scott Sonnon had a notion called “Perpetual Exercise”–every step you practiced the same breathing you use during intense exercise.  Masters in every field I’ve known have a little part of their brain that is ALWAYS thinking about karate, or writing, or drawing, or music, or yoga, or whatever.  A little humming engine in the back of their head ALWAYS doing asana, or kata, or gathering input, or singing, or dancing.    Or: they find the core aspects of these things, somehow, in everything they do.   I suspect this is the fastest, most reliable path to true excellence.  What would “perpetual writing” me?  And what would “perpetual relaxed awareness” be if this quality can be identified as leading to ease and consistency in “flipping that switch”?
  8. Because this can lead to obsession, and obsession leads to imbalance, and imbalance can destroy your life…the safest thing to become obsessed about is BALANCE. While no doubt it is possible to abuse even this, I’ve not met such a person yet.  Body, Mind, Emotions, Finances would be mine.  Yours needs to be AT LEAST the first three.  
  9. Add more balls only when you can juggle three scarves! One Sentence, Three Tibetans, Five Minute Miracle would be a fabulous opening salvo against your demons.    Takes less than ten minutes TOTAL to actually shine the light on the emotions you have suppressed for decades.   Don’t get over complicated!  When you can do this, slowly expand.  When you “break down” retreat to a prior level, examine your foundations, and begin again.  
  10. Have fun with it.  Take your time. A little walking every day is hella healthier and more sensible than  a marathon once a month.



If you don’t have you, you have nothing at all

I recently spoke with a client who has a new relationship, with a woman he adores.    His sweetheart (“Gloria”) has some negative patterns, and the client (“Tommy”) recently erupted with anger in public when he discovered that she had not fulfilled an obligation.  And in private, she is not performing her chores around the house, wanting to be waited upon. This makes Tommy furious.

My words to him:

  1. You have to separate out two very different things.  A: Gloria’s behavior. B: your reactions.


2) Ask: what is going on?  What is going on is that Gloria does not keep her word. Goes unconscious.  Why?   There are probably emotional issues (it’s FUN to be a kid and be waited on!) but there seem to be physical issues as well: Gloria has low blood sugar, and when she doesn’t eat, she loses mental efficiency and emotional balance.   

And with Tommy?  He gets angry because he is fearful.  Fearful of what?  That if he puts his foot down, Gloria will leave him.  And that would be devastating. Why?  Because he doesn’t trust himself to provide for his emotional needs.  From the “Ancient Child” perspective, his child does not trust his adult.

3) How do you get leverage?   Tommy can only directly affect himself.   If he cannot control his own emotions, it is a fool’s errand to think he can help Gloria with hers.   The ONLY thing for Tommy to do is take care of Tommy. This means not needing Gloria.  Paradoxically, this increases the chances of his relationship with Gloria working successfully, because the “neediness” is gone.   No fear means no anger.

Now, for “Gloria” the first step is to get clear agreement about what her tasks are.  Start with a ‘talking stick’ perhaps, and then write out a contract.  If low blood sugar is the problem, then Gloria must drink a protein smoothie every morning (for instance) and again at 3pm, to provide smooth blood sugar levels.  And THEN if things keep going wrong, we know it is a different problem (perhaps–check with the doctor, of course).  I’m betting that the problem is emotional.  Without knowing more, I’d bet Gloria does not exercise, and treats her body like a garbage bag. That is a common result of abuse and neglect in childhood.    But removing the “presenting problem” (low blood sugar) removes the excuse so you can dig deeper.

But that’s just off the top of my head about Gloria. Tommy, as I said, needs to deal with Tommy.  That’s ALL he can deal with directly.  So here are some thoughts. They have not jelled into a full program as yet, but are pertinent to the idea that is is our twisted values, beliefs and fears that stop us from evolving.

  1. Anger is fear.   In this case, fear of loss of relationship, or fear of being “walked on” or “let down” in some critical arena. Like finances, for instance.  That is SERIOUS, and triggers more divorces than cheating.
  2. You must know that you only need you. You can WANT other people, but since you ultimately die alone, if you “need” others the terror is unceasing, and colors everything in your life. Deal with this, and you are free to enjoy your life, and love fully without fear of loss.
  3. From the “Ancient Child” perspective, what you must do is convince the “child” within you that your “adult” loves him, and can be trusted to protect–or die trying.  PERIOD.   No ifs, ands or buts.  If you hear ANY waffling in your mind when you make this statement, you have performed a diagnostic: those are the demons you must face down.
  4. If you learn the lesson, you can release the negative emotions.  In other words, the only reason the negative emotions persist is that some part of you thinks they are protecting you.    “I need to be angry, fearful, or I won’t protect myself.”  That  is true if you are asleep.  The truth is that you perform an action separate from any emotion ordinarily associated with it.  Sex without love or pleasure?  Sure, people do it every day.   Killing without anger?  Sure.  Professional soldiers must either do this, or damage themselves.  If you are afraid of dogs, and in therapy uncover a forgotten memory of being bitten, the instant you are CONVINCED that you have the adult ability to protect yourself from dogs, you no longer need the fear, and it is far easier (not automatic) to release it.
  5. When we feel a powerful emotion, we associate that emotion with whatever is proximal.   So if we feel love, we can become convinced that the person we are with is responsible for the feeling. This is childhood wiring, and if you never question it, on that level you remain a child.   The sense that we NEED others makes us desperate and fearful and manipulative and controlling. Which kills the very love we seek.  Paradox.
  6. The way out of this is to start by loving yourself enough to fill your own void.  To commit to your own happiness…and then extending that love to others.
  7. Compassion and empathy for others does NOT mean taking shit from them.   Being in a sexual relationship with someone you allow to remain a ‘child’ emotionally is…well, I think you get the point.

Love yourself.   Swear to protect your heart.  Then extend your humanity to others until you can see yourself shining out of their eyes.

When you accept this syntax, you can deal with their issues as information rather than personal attacks. You don’t slide down the “stress tunnel”.  And from there, you are as efficient and effective as you are capable of being.   

And that child inside you will be safe, and loved, no matter what happens externally. And that is all you really need.



Writers: No time, no energy…no hope? No way!

I received the following note from a student yesterday.  I removed identifying characteristics.  Hopefully.


Steven and Tananarive:

Well, apparently I’ve chosen the wrong time in my life to seek to improve it, and myself.

Time is my enemy. Monday through Thursday, while my wife is at work, I’m the stay-at-home dad of a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter and a not-quite-four-month-old son. Friday thru Sunday, I work a day-job at a local hospital. The one thing of which I have vanishingly little is free time; the kids and household responsibilities take up most of my waking hours, when I’m not at work. As a fifty-year-old cancer survivor, sleep is (as I know you’ll agree, Steve) very important for my well-being, but I almost never get enough.

I had to de-activate my Facebook account because, being my only outlet, means of self-expression, and source of social interaction I could cram into my few free moments, it had become a constant distraction, and an excellent procrastinatory tool; my housework and childcare began to suffer as a result. For me to return to Facebook, even for the worthwhile reason of interacting with my fellow Lifewriters would be akin to a new-to-the-wagon alcoholic taking a lucrative job in a bar. Is not doing so going to irreparably damage any benefit I might derive from this program?

Watch a movie? I can’t even get through a half-hour sitcom without missing salient plot points.

I know there are people who manage to be a parent, work a job, and have a life besides. Some – like you two – even find time and the means to stay in shape, pursue a martial art, and even follow their bliss and maybe create something. I don’t know how they/you do it, and I am impressed and envious.

The only time variable over which I have any real control in order to find “free” time is my sleep – and as I mentioned, I already don’t get enough of that. This is why I failed at the Ancient Child program (Nope! Can’t even find a half-hour, on a daily basis, dependably. Meditate? Well, when I manage to find the time to try, at least I get a short nap…) and why I am already failing at this writing workshop.

I know this sounds like a bunch of excuses, and it is – but as far as I can tell, they’re also obstacles I can’t seem to overcome or circumvent. Any suggestions? How the hell did you manage to keep training, working and writing, when your kids were small?

— “Mark”


O.K.  Mark.

Here’s what I see

  1. Lack of time (Dad duties, part time job)
  2. Energy (cancer survivor (healing takes energy!), lack of sleep.
  3. Stress (lack of sleep, mortal fear, feeling your life is slipping away from you)
  4. Organization (Sucked into FB, unable to find the time/energy/focus to invest on writing.
  5. Focus. Cannot watch a ½ television show and follow the plot.

So if we look at the “Machine” concept: you have to have a certain number of plates spinning at the same time to move forward.    If that feels cold and mechanical, try the “Garden”: you need to plant and water the seeds, fertilize them, make sure they get sunshine.

So let’s apply the “Diamond Hour” concept to this, aimed at the creation of a “Garden” that will blossom into writing.  What is the Garden/Machine?

  1. Read 10k a day
  2. Write 1k a day
  3. Finish a story a week/every other week
  4. Put them in the mail
  5. Keep them in the mail until they sell
  6. Continue the process until you have finished 100 stories.

Obviously, it is possible to “cut this down” to smaller proportions. This pattern will take you to 100 stories in 2-4 years.   You can write faster or slower, of course–it is up to you.  (Question: did your “inner voices” see the answer or the problem?)

The “Diamond Hour” starts with the “Five Minute Miracle”, breathing deep, low and slow for 60 seconds every three hours.   EVERYONE HAS FIVE MINUTES A DAY.  IF YOU HEAR A VOICE IN YOUR HEAD SAYING YOU DO NOT, YOU HAVE JUST FOUND THE VOICE LYING TO YOU.

So start there.  “Stairstep” your way up.

This five minutes will quash stress, increase focus and balance, and help you see how your internal voices lie and sabotage you.

Can you move to 10-20 minutes?  Then add a “Morning Ritual” of motion, emotion, and focus.  While walking (for instance)   Doing Five Tibetans or Joint rotations, focus on the positive, move walk and smile, find your faith and confidence that YOU CAN DO IT.   If you can move, talk, and focus your mind for five-20 minutes, you can set up your entire day.

THEN:   You will write one sentence a day. Just one, minimum.  IF YOU DON’T, IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH TIME.

WHEN YOU CAN ADD ANOTHER 10-20 MINUTES, You go from a sentence to 1000 words 3x a week.  Monday, Wednesday, Friday.  Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday you edit.

This plan will allow you to start with five minutes a day, and by fighting your way to an hour max, you can write 150k words a year–more than enough.
You might need to negotiate with your wife for 1 hour a day that belongs to you.  30 minutes?  15?  How low is the threshold before you KNOW you are dealing with something internal, rather than anything to do with external circumstances?

Sleep?  If you aren’t getting 7-9 hours a night, this is a core issue.  If this is absolutely untenable, then start by getting the BEST quality of sleep you can.  The “Pzizz” app for iPhone and Android is a terrific aid in this.

Are you eating meals designed for health or emotional comfort?   The “Ancient Child” exercise is so critical because it is clear that you can do things for your children that you are reluctant to do for yourself.   So if you fought your way to 40 minutes a day, you could:

10 minutes heartbeat meditation and Ancient Child (focus, self-love)

10 minutes Five Tibetans, while performing Morning Ritual (focus, energy, health)

20 minutes rough draft or editing.

WHILE COMMUTING: Listen to books on tape to get your input.

Total time: 60 minutes a day, with only 40 minutes “rescued” from your other duties.  This can be scaled down and down and down…but if you are doing less than 5 minutes, you know what to think, right?

What you need to think is: What fear is stopping me?  How and why am I sabotaging myself?   Why am I committed to breaking this negative pattern?

If you ever made a list of the 100 reasons you HAVE to be a writer, you’d never have another problem.


You could also adjust the writing time to 15 minutes, and add 5 minutes of goal-setting.  Writing your goals every day is one of the most powerful things you can do–it is like looking at a map while on a long drive.


In other words, you are ADDING PLEASURE to the concept of doing what needs to be done.

IF you have clarity on your goal, are doing your meditation (and only if!) and have made contact with your “Ancient Child” and filled yourself with love (Heartbeat meditation) THEN you can add PAIN to the question “what will happen if I DONT take these actions?”

And so long as you know what needs to be done, the more pleasure you anchor to doing it, and pain to NOT doing it, the easier it gets to motivate yourself.


Remember the “Secret Formula”?  GOALS X FAITH X ACTION X GRATITUDE = RESULTS.

If you can start to see how this can all link together, starting with FIVE MINUTES A DAY, you are beginning to wake up.

See how this works?  But start with five minutes.  Find out what is really going on.  If you CANNOT do five minutes, the problem is within you, not outside you.  

I would suggest that your next story is about a man in your life situation who learns to take his life back, while being a better husband and father than he has ever been…with real joy.  THAT story is the one which, written with honesty and power, could save lives.

Write with passion!


Announcing the inaugural Tai Chi/Morning Ritual workshop, Saturday October 3rd

If you are willing to do what others won’t, you can have what others don’t


The Inaugural “Firedance” Tai Chi/ Morning Ritual  workshop

I first began learning Tai Chi in about 1984, studying with Hawkins Cheung (classmate of the amazing Bruce Lee.  His “core art” is Wing Chun, but he took private lessons with the son of the originator) and have practiced and taught it ever since.

Teaching at SF and writing workshops, I only had 2-3 hours MAX to try to convey the value of this beautiful art.  Considering that people can generally only absorb about one move per hour, it usually takes a YEAR to learn the form. And the form isn’t even the most valuable part of the art!  Arrgh!

So…I began to “cheat”.  Find ways to give more value in less time.    And a central question was: what are the core values of Tai Chi?  Why is it the most popular movement and meditation system in the world?

It can be learned by anyone, at any skill or age level.

It can be used for health, meditation, fitness, relaxation, enhancing coordination, flexibility, balance, and much more.

It CAN be used to enhance self-defense–but need not be, and generally is not.  (Using it for self defense demands a harsher, faster training against resistant opponents with a motivation to hit you!)

It requires no equipment, little space, and small amounts of time.

It is a life-time discipline. From 9 to 109, it has something to offer!

How in the world, though, could I convey (at least) a year’s worth of training in a few hours? Was it even possible?

I decided to take the challenge.

For   fifty years, I’ve studied disciplines such as martial arts, yoga, NLP, hypnosis, Pancultural Shamanism, and more.  The almost “magical” secrets that exist in the world, hidden within swaths of cultural mythology, are mind-boggling.

The challenge was finding a way to “deconstruct” everything in the Tai Chi universe and re-assemble it to provide value as fast as possible.  And over the years, have heard back from students that even a few sessions, spread out over years, have changed their lives for the better.

Why?  Because my approach, which I call “Firedance,” connects body, mind, spirit and emotions all at the same time.  We are creatures who live in all of these domains, and by aligning the inner and outer worlds align, and using techniques and approaches pulled from a variety of disciplines, it is possible to accomplish more…much more…than traditional teaching allows.

Countless students have said to me: This was terrific!  Do you have a school?  Where can I learn more?   

Well…anyone loves hearing compliments like that, but I’m fully involved in my writing career and family, and can’t afford the time and energy to maintain a brick-and-mortar facility.   I CAN teach some of these things online, but the most basic teachings are sort of like “tuning forks” vibrating in tune with each other–the person who “has it” has to actually be there, able to make subtle corrections to the way you breathe and move.   It’s a lot like a fire passing from one torch to another.

What could I do, darn it?  Because following a recent promotion from my beloved karate instructor, I now have the responsibility…and permission…to pass on what I have learned in the arts.     And my goal, my passion, my commitment is to create


Together, I honestly believe we change the world for the better.  But how?

It occurred to me that what IS possible is to teach one-day seminars.   I could fly into a city, take one day and cram it FULL of life-changing value.   I know I can do that.  And THAT could be the foundation of a body-mind workshop unlike anything ever presented.

But I need a test group, first.    


So…On October 3rd, I’m going to do a smaller workshop, lasting 4-5 hours, from 10 am to 3pm in the San Fernando Valley.  I will work with a group of 20-30 people, and in that period I’m going give them a program that can change their lives in just 100 Days. In the process we will learn, together, what is the “difference that makes the difference”, the “critical path” to awakening from your dream…or nightmare…of low energy, crushed hopes, poor health, negative emotions and non-existent focus.

The purpose of the workshop is nothing less than taking control of your life, from the root (body) up to your heart, and head.   Body, mind and spirit, all working in unity.


If you engage your BODY first, everything else MUST come along. You can read a book, attend a lecture, listen to an MP3 and it can remain all “head stuff”. There is no “trickle down.”

But if you start with the ROOT, the flowering can be sublime.

Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan will be the framework.  NO EXPERIENCE NEEDED.  ALL LEVELS WELCOME, of any style or no style at all.  All fitness levels accommodated.

If you are a beginner, you will probably remember 4-5 movements—but have an online resource to learn all 108 if you wish. But…it is not necessary, because you will learn an exercise that provides about 80% of the value of Tai Chi, can be learned in an hour, and performed in just minutes a day.

We will use other movement arts to support this: The Five Tibetans, the Five Minute Miracle (Be Breathed), and others to create a simple complete fitness system anyone can perform, every day for the rest of your life.

You will learn, create and refine your “Morning Ritual”–the 10-20 minutes of movement, affirmation, and visualization to align all goals and emotions for your day.  POWERFUL BEYOND BELIEF!

You will learn the “Ancient Child” meditation for emotional healing, focus, and connecting with your inner wisdom.

We will use exercises and concepts from Tai Chi, including “Push Hands”, the two-person energy drill that teaches you to relax under pressure (and opens the door to self-defense applications, although those will not be a part of this workshop) and Chi Gung, the “energy system” that brings Tai Chi to life.

You’ll learn the secret of shifting your emotions ON DEMAND.  Crush (non-medical) depression forever!

And much much more.

We’re going to change the way you breathe, move, think and feel–in four-five hours.   If you will commit to performing your “morning ritual” for 10-20 minutes a day for just 100 days, YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE.  Crush procrastination.   Be the positive force for change in your world you were born to be. And here’s a hint: even your “failures” will be successes!


Saturday October 3rd, 10am-3pm (½ hour lunch break–bring your lunch, a towel or mat, drinking water, and a journal for notes)

6012 Tyrone Ave, Van Nuys

CA 91401


You will leave the workshop with a customized program to heal and accelerate your life.  IF you will commit to actually using it for 100 days (do your best!  that’s all we ask), investing a minimum of ten minutes a day…we will welcome you to the workshop for a token payment, enough to cover the cost of the facility and pay for my Sushi afterwards!  (Well, a LITTLE more than that, but you get my meaning!)

FIFTY BUCKS for the general public

THIRTY BUCKS for members of the LASFS fan community (I love you!), Active service members, students and those with special needs.

That’s it.  Seriously.   One time only, because you are helping me test and refine.  You will be the first group.

Together we can change the world.

With Gratitude,

Steven Barnes

P.S. — (and again, if you want to learn more about that recent promotion, you can read HERE.  Frankly, I’m a little shy!)

P.P.S.–some twenty-five years ago I recorded a “Firedance Tai Chi” video of the entire form.   If you’re interested, HERE IT IS


I have hinted about this, but it has taken me eight months to actually decide to openly speak of it. Last December, Sijo Steve Muhammad gave me one of the greatest honors of my life, something I never dreamed of receiving. All I ever wanted was to stop letting fear control me…and then of understanding just a little of the martial sciences that had called me since childhood. I can only humbly believe that this honor is a statement of what my commitment must be for the rest of my life: to share the body-mind sciences with which so many wonderful men and women have entrusted me. Announcement about how I plan to do that will be seen tomorrow, and heard on the Lifewriting radio show Saturday. Sigh. Well, I guess I’ve stalled long enough…here it is.


“You can’t buy me, but you can rent me”–Harlan Ellison

“Let your combat stance be your everyday stance. And your everyday stance be your combat stance”–Musashi Miyamoto, A BOOK OF FIVE RINGS.

I attended Cliff Stewart’s WAR (Within Arms Reach) seminar yesterday, and had a wonderful time. A principle-based martial science, designed to shift a student’s perceptions of combat, it always draws people of disparate backgrounds and levels. No one wears a belt, and that’s my favorite training environment.   

Over the course of our working out, two of my training partners repeatedly commented on “my footwork.”

It was so fast and fluid and efficient, they said.   They’d seen me at other seminars, and had wanted to work with me.  I had such understanding, they said.

I confess to being slightly confused.   I had used no “footwork” in response to blows.  I moved, this way or that, maintaining a sense of connection.  

But that sense flowed from decades, tens of thousands of hours, of practicing footwork.   It gets more and more complicated…and then it gets simple.

The same thing is true with writing, being in (or acquiring) a relationship, managing money.  It is all sooooo complicated.  You do it and do it and do it…and then one day it gets simple again.    Only you are at a higher level.  The universe doesn’t cheat. If you practice moving, breathing, thinking, feeling, focusing, performing according to an emotional, intellectual, physical template cleaner and higher than your current level, you will run into every resistance that your mind and body and spirit have to throw at you…

And then one day you are puttering along in your usual way, and outsiders will tell you you are special.   It’s so fascinating. Even more so when you realize that once you have mastered ANYTHING, you understand how to master anything else, if you think deeply enough.

And since everyone reading this has mastered something, if you are honest enough, clear enough, you already have the road to mastering the other basics.

Dealing with fear and frustration

Focused effort over time

Modeling excellence

Forgiving yourself for “failure”

Having fun in the process.

And by deliberately balancing your efforts between all major aspects of life (for me, a minimum of body, mind/career, spirit/emotions, finances.  In general, a minimum of body, career, and relationship) you CANNOT make progress without actually learning about yourself deeply.  Seek a sense of love, enough to take adult responsibility for your life, actions, and emotions.  Then…extend that sense to those around you, while maintaining your center.

And oh, did I say that you don’t take shit from anyone?  You don’t sell yourself out?  As Harlan Ellison once said: “You can’t buy me, but you can rent me.”

Yeah.  That.   And if you do this, you will begin to work and think, and move more efficiently and effectively, as well as constantly find the way more purely to the center of your being.  Which means that, when stress hits–and it most assuredly will–you will compress toward that center.  Heat and pressure make diamonds.  If they don’t crush you.

What this means is that, when you take responsibility for your life, everything you do teaches you more about who you are, and what is true in the world. And that is the path to growth.

Rephrase: everything you do impacts everything you are, and vice versa.  Every breath, step, act, emotion moves in the same direction.  EVERYTHING is a meditation, an awareness exercise, an experiment in being.

“Wow. Great footwork.”  Umm…I was just walking.  But do you, can you, remember when “just” walking seemed like a miracle to you?  Something unattainable?  An observable miracle, an impossible dream you were willing to pursue again and again and again, even if you fell down, even if it hurt, even if they laughed, no matter what, no matter how long it took?

And once you had it, did the other babies look at you with stars in their eyes saying “how did you do that!  I want to do that!” even if their lips could not?

And when did your wonder at that accomplishment turn to ash?  Because if you can find that fire, keep it alive, remember how it destroys all obstacles in its wake…

You begin to live a very different life.



http://www dot

The bumps on the road are stepping stones

Something very special happens when you take responsibility for your life and personal evolution, and set goals in all three major arenas: body, mind, and spirit/emotions.

It is IMPOSSIBLE to keep all three arenas going simultaneously without boring deeply into your true self.  Your problems, issues, and obstacles will manifest somewhere along the way.  By noticing the patterns of avoidance, you will begin to use “failures” as X-rays that peer inside you, or “mirrors” that let you examine the back of your own head.

I had a client who was over a hundred pounds overweight.   We noticed that every time he started a new weight-loss regimen, it was successful for the first twenty pounds.  Then…his work would explode.  Either something particularly good or extremely bad would happen. The stress would knock him off center as he rushed to take advantage of the opportunity, or patch the leak.   Why?  Because from his internal values, his work was more important than his health, so his ego, unwilling to change (fear of death) knew that it could use that aspect of his life to distract him from the discipline necessary to dig deeper.

Why?   Fear.   What kind of fear?   I can think of multiple possibilities:

  1. Fear of being physically smaller (being attacked or unnoticed)
  2. Fear of releasing trapped emotions (anger, fear)
  3. Fear of being more attractive (found this one more often with women.  Literally: “if I’m skinny, men will be attracted to me.   I will be hurt/vulnerable/cheat on my spouse/ etc.)
  4. Fear of being more attractive II: (I resent my spouse and will withhold my sensuality/sexuality from them)

Those are off the top of my head.   You can probably think of a dozen more.  And there are similar negatives that emerge concerning finance, love, career. And unless you see them, you are stumbling around in a dark room filled with sharp objects.  Even worse, you are numb to the pain, and cannot feel the damage until it is too late to staunch the wounds.

The answer?   

  1. Start with loving yourself.   BEGIN there.   Know that everything else flows from this.
  2. Ask “who am I?”   In other words: how has this love manifested in the world? The deepest level is love, but our experiences shape us into both healthy and unhealthy expressions.
  3. When we find a pattern of broken self-promises, it is a matter of conflicted values and beliefs, emotional obstructions or concealed secondary benefits.  By grounding yourself in love, you find your power and strength. By asking ‘who am I?’ you clarify your value, which will lead to your goals and actions.   What you DO is who you ARE in the world.  If your actions do not reflect your values, and will not lead to your goals, you get a schematic, a road map of your inner world–warts and all.
  4. Forgive yourself for not being perfect.  None of us are.  Never met a human being who aligned 100% with their goals, values, beliefs, emotions and actions.  And I’ve known some extraordinary people.  What we DO see is high efficiency and effectiveness–but not perfection.
  5. Commit to taking small actions every day that will teach you who and what you are, and what the world is.  And then gather the allies and knowledge necessary to slowly, slowly move you in the directions of your goals.
  6. Have fun along the way.    EVERY DAY you should learn something, improve something, enjoy something.  Aim at changing 1% a week, minimum.   Care about all three areas of your life minimum (for me, its four–body, mind, spirit/emotions, finances) and watch the static and “chop” arising from Kshir Sagar  halahala (my Hindu is nonexistent, but this is roughly the translation of the term “ocean of poisoned milk”, the vomiting up of our damage, fears and the “demons” within us. This ocean can be purified by daily discipline, asana, devotion, prayer, etc.)
  7. Remember that the obstacles appear because you are progressing. The ego thinks it is you. Shed a false shell, manifest a purer, truer self and the old shell “dies”.   It will try to slow you by using fear, lust, pleasure, or pain. Whatever works. It has a different recipe for every human being, and a different menu every day.  Only by watching your patterns over time will you start seeing what is happening, and stop thinking you are dealing with totally different things every time.  LOOK FOR THE DEEP PATTERNS.
  8. Positive emotions are rooted in love.  You can be distracted in this fashion.  Dig deep: love of what?  Your very finest nature?  Does this love make you stronger? Are you proud of it?  Would you proclaim it from the rooftops, or do you need to hide it in the shadows?  Are you in a context where you can righteously proclaim your love and true self?
  9. Negative emotions are rooted in fear.  You can be distracted in this fashion.  Dig deep?  Fear of what?   Change?  Death?   Rejection?  Loss?  Fear is a survival drive–is it reasonable to be afraid of this? Does this fear stop you from being a loving Steven Barnes and wife Tananarive Due on beach.person?
  10. As you “churn” the poisoned ocean, you will create floating islands of butter.   Hah!  That just slipped out, but I like it.   Climb up on the butter, sit quietly, and contemplate your life. This is meditation or journaling, some sense of centered flow in the midst of the constant action. Rest.  Restoration.  Sleep deeply.  Love fully. Laugh like a jackass.  Let it go.  And then…when you are connected to love, can clearly see your goal on the horizon, are deeply rested, have aligned your values, beliefs, and emotions…

Get back in there and start swimming.



Taking the long way around to get back home…

I’ve taken a long detour from my central cause: the investigation of that state called “enlightenment” and its preliminary stages: awakened adulthood and non-dualistic thought.  Politics is specifically dualistic, and immediately triggers emotions that throw you off this path.    Still, it would have been cowardly of me not to take the time to see if the methods and approaches taught by great men and women for personal development could apply to the social sphere.   Preliminary evidence says “yes”, and the rules I evolved and suggested for discussing intractable subjects are my expression of this.  Namely, if you are dealing with a subject that seems intractable, raises the passions, and on which it is critical to find enough consensus to move forward (I tried it multiple times, and watched the same patterns of discussion pop up: racial violence, gun control, climate change and abortion).  The method was to

  1. Differentiate between when you discuss “what” and “how.”   Different discussions, and those who want to continue to discuss the “what” of it are not necessarily going to fit in a discussion of “how.”
  2. Only those capable of discussing while maintaining a sense of respect and shared humanity should be in the discussion at all. With race, racists white or black cannot be in the “how” portion, if you are extending this basic principle and operating from an assumption of equality.  If you believe men get to tell women who they are, or straights get to decide this for gays, or whites would have coped with slavery and Jim Crow better, or blacks wouldn’t have behaved as abominably and been in as deep, self-serving denial about it…you can’t be in the discussion.  To enter the discussion, they must make an open, clear declaration of belief in equality, or whatever your most basic premises might be.
  3. Language must be clarified.   One of the problems with Abortion, for instance, is that the question “when does human life begin” has no universal answer.  And without resolving this, people are literally using the same words to describe very different things.
  4. Violence stems from anger which stems from fear.  Understand and deal with the underlying fear, and the anger and violence disappear.   The Fergusen riots were a perfect example.   To say the rioters were mistaken in their beliefs and attitudes is a perfectly reasonable statement.  To suggest that THEY did not believe that they were under threat is, IMO, contemptuous and denial at a lethal level.  To fail to understand that people on BOTH sides of the gun control debate believe their position makes the world a safer place makes it impossible to move the conversation forward.
  5. You have to grasp that being smart enough to see a problem doesn’t mean you are wise enough to solve it.  Just because you can’t see an answer doesn’t mean there isn’t one. A corollary:  because a problem hasn’t been solved in your lifetime doesn’t mean it won’t be.  In nature, I don’t know of a wound that heals in less time than it took to inflict overall.
  6. All of us are smarter than any of us.   The power of civil discussion and communication is astounding.  In some ways, all human beings have accomplished is a matter of sharing what we know, and trying infinite variations until an  answer is found.  What is intractable to one generation becomes child’s play to another.
  7. You can complain about something three times before you must a) offer your solution or b) propose your theory of where the problem originated.   This has multiple motivations.  The surface motivation is to force people to participate in positive brainstorming, and stop focusing on the problem.  The deeper motivation may be more important:
  8. Beware of sleeping children and smiling monsters.   “You can’t wake up someone who is pretending to be asleep” applies here.  As does:  ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” But this also happens when people cannot see an answer to a problem that scares them: they will put their fingers in their ears and yell “Nah nah nah.”  Similar to overweight people not stepping on the scale, or people with money problems not balancing their checkbook.  Mothers ignoring signs that stepdad is diddling the children.    If you don’t see it, it isn’t real.  If its real, and painful, and you see no answer, then better to remain in denial, right?  Wrong.    The term “Sleeping Children” applies to good people who delete information because there would be guilt, pain, fear, or loss of status/resources if they admitted it.
  9. The “Smiling Monsters” are another matter. They are people who are actively lying.  They are in your conversation to sabotage it. Slow you down or stop you. Or even worse, are simply there to cause chaos and enjoy the smell of blood: deliberate Trolls. These are the lowest.  But if you ask either “sleeping children” or “smiling monsters” to offer their solutions, or their belief in the origins of the issue, to this date, I’ve not caught one able to slip past that mark. Why?  Again, I have to reference this to race, the area I’ve considered most deeply in the political arena.    If you say: “those people are dysfunctional” you might be 100% correct.  But…what is the answer, and what the cause?  If you believe that whites would have dealt with slavery and its aftermath with less damage, dysfunction or complaint you are very clearly suggesting they are superior. Make no mistake about that.  You might be correct or incorrect about that–that’s a different discussion.  What you CANNOT do is take a place at the table when people are asking the question: “given that we believe human groups are basically equal, how do we level the playing field?”   And if you lie about your beliefs in order to disrupt that discussion, you are a Smiling Monster.  There are predators in the world, and I consider you one of them.
  10. You have to remember that you might be wrong. You really might.  But that doesn’t mean you have to allow dissenting voices at every step of the discussion.   As I’ve said, if you see your children screaming and drowning in the lake, it is the wrong time to debate whether water is wet.  You must act, and if it turns out you are deluded, you will have to deal with the consequences. So… the actions you take must be taken with love and respect, and within the laws unless you are 100% prepared to accept punishment for what you have done, placing your faith in a higher justice.  But LOVE is critical.
  11. Love then, is the starting place: enough love for yourself to want the best.  To also be willing to fight for what you believe, to defend yourself, to be willing to die for a cause larger than you.  But also to see the humanity in those who oppose you.  Yes, I use the term “smiling monster.”   And that may seem in conflict with the insistence on seeing humanity in all.   It is not: it is the use of a term that creates a very specific response. There are people you cannot argue with, cannot reason with, who will know your children are drowning, but try to engage you in a discussion of whether water is wet, then cluck and say “I didn’t know. So sorry” when you haul their sopping bodies out of the depths.  There are villains who will take your money or your life without any concern for anything you might say or do–for the sheer pleasure of it. And if you mistake them for a person who can be reasoned with, you will die.
  12. The ultimate warrior position is: I’m ready to die, and I’m ready to take you with me.    The power of this is astounding BUT YOU CANNOT BLUFF.   This is the value of performing the internal work of asking “who am I?” and “what is true?” until you reach a singularity, and move beyond it.  It is terrifying to the ego. But on the other side is freedom such as you cannot believe. To be willing to die to achieve a goal is a power position most never experience. To combine this with love and compassion, a willingness to discuss with anyone willing to extend their own humanity to you, to be unmoved in the face of insult and accusation but open to calm criticism connects your inner world with the outer world. This approach proceeds from the same spiritual point every great religion and spiritual teacher has been directing us to: all is one. The same that scientists have pointed toward: all human beings are the same under the skin. That physicists have stated: all reality began with all matter and energy bound into a single point which expanded with impossible speed 13.7 billion years ago, differentiating into everything we see in the natural universe, and resulting in human beings obsessed with their differences rather than marveling over their Oneness.
  13. We have the same basic drives and needs.  Even the Smiling Monsters are…and if you had infinite time to work with them, you could connect them with their love, softness, and sense of the divine as well.  You don’t have infinite time: your children are drowning.   Get in the water, throw me a life preserver, or get the @#$$ out of the way.
  14. One of my friends and mentors, Tim Piering said: “the key to accomplishment is clear goals with a written plan for accomplishment, and the ability to take action despite the voices in your head.”  There are ALWAYS dissenting voices in your head, always reasons to doubt an action: but if you wait until every voice in your head agrees, you accomplish nothing.   The “Mastermind” principle says that to create a “supermind” you have to find one person who agrees to work with you in a spirit of harmony.   You can add ONE more person at a time, if they agree 100% to participate in a spirit of harmony: agreement is more powerful than numbers.   In other words, the principles I’m stating here are not really about people “out there.” They are about you as an individual, you and your partners in a venture, or all of us as a society: those who can sit at the table and have a civil discussion will control the future of our country and our world.

And now, hopefully, I’ve connected the inner world and the outer, taking the political plane into account, something I never did before. And having done that, I can return to a discussion of personal growth, having laid the foundation for anyone, anywhere, to see the macro in the micro, see how the world of voices in their heads and the world of external action, relationship and politics are all connected.

Parts of YOU are asleep.

YOU have Monsters in your head that lie and feed your fear.

The external and internal are the same. The world lies before you and within you.   Do the work.



Movies That Saved My Life: “All That Jazz” (1979)

MOVIES THAT CHANGED MY LIFE:   “All That Jazz” (1979)

Spoiler Warning!  We’re taking this film apart!



HERO CONFRONTED WITH CHALLENGE: Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) is challenged to create the greatest choreographic achievement of his life.

REJECTS THE CHALLENGE:  He does not see that this is a false challenge: the real challenge is to raise his daughter, love his sweetheart, and protect his health from a self-destructive lifestyle (drugs, smoking, meaningless sex)

ACCEPTS THE CHALLENGE:  He does not accept the correct challenge!   He chooses falsely, and the rest of the film is a spiral into death while chasing a dream (the death-dream is “played” by a transcendent Jessica Lange)

ROAD OF TRIALS: He must convince the investors to trust his approach.  Cajole the most extreme and amazing performances from his dancers.  Work obsessively balancing the musical with a movie he is editing (which provides perfect counter-point and subtext to his self-destructive actions), pushing himself insanely hard.

ALLIES AND POWERS.  His ex-wife, daughter and girlfriend are all allies. The daughter represents his future and pure love.  His ex-wife loves and admires him, and he can see that she is deluded about her ability to play a much younger woman, but cannot see how this applies to himself–he is pushing himself like a much younger man.  His girlfriend genuinely loves him and would like a life with him, but cannot break through his ego shell.  Powers?  Oh, man, is this ever a brilliant human being!  He can dance, direct, edit, write, and is magnetic to the people around him.  A real leader. He has everything…except his own heart and soul.

CONFRONT EVIL-DEFEAT:   His health collapses just as he has created his ultimate masterpiece, the “Air Rotica” sequence.

DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL: His play will be taken away from him, or even closed so that investors can reap the insurance (shades of “The Producers”!)  And oh, by the way, one minor problem: he is going to die if he doesn’t change drastically.

LEAP OF FAITH: He totally blows it.  He has no faith that he, as a human being, has value separate from his ability to perform.  He must be his ego-shell, his image…or he is nothing.

CONFRONT EVIL-VICTORIOUS:  Again, he is off the rails.   Spirals into death, finally finding union with the creative death-muse he has pursued his entire life.

STUDENT BECOMES THE TEACHER:  Well, he certain taught at least ONE viewer…


The movie “All That Jazz” saved my life.   The fictionalized story of Bob Fosse, choreographer extraordinaire, was a dazzling descent into self-destructive excess: sex, drugs, and musical theater as addictions.  And the “Gideon” character was brilliant.

I wanted brilliance.  Was obsessed with the notion that unless I could find a way to be extraordinary, the world would chew me up and spit me out.   And I walked out of that theater confused, afraid, and determined.

What a conundrum, dilemma, Gordian Knot, whatever.  The belief that I had to be excellent to survive was deep, and I could not easily invalidate it.

And the easiest way to become excellent is to focus obsessively on one subject until you have absorbed the basics at the level of unconscious competence (“mastery” being the ability to express skills in flow, under pressure).

But…that focus throws you out of balance. And when you are out of balance, you neglect important aspects of your life…which can destroy the very thing you are trying to protect.


Round and round it went.  Weeks.  The scenes from that movie hammered me.   He was excellent.    He had everything.


Oh, crap.

And then, I got one of the ten most important insights of my life: if excellence is safety, and obsession is the fastest way to excellence, and obsession creates imbalance, and imbalance is dangerous…then the only thing it was relatively safe to become obsessive about IS BALANCE ITSELF.

I looked at that in multiple directions.  Obsession about balance could of course create problems itself–paralysis, for instance, because you can never be perfectly balanced.  But it seemed to me that I could get CLOSER to 100% with this concept, without self-destruction.

So the question was: how to define balance?  For decades I used the simple, classic answer: Body, Mind, Spirit.  Defining the worldly measure of those things to be: health and fitness, career, and relationship.  Those who have known me for a while know that I made a little error there that cost me dearly, and had to modify that to add another category: finances.  SAVING and INVESTING the money I made.   The animal equivalent: saving your nuts for winter.

That movie, ultimately, saved me.  I can easily see how I could have burned myself out trying to “succeed” if I hadn’t had love and health to fall back on, because there is NO way to succeed without failing at times.  None. And if you don’t have other things going on in your life, cannot let the love of your family (or your God, or your own deep self) touch and heal you, you need the money, the roar of the crowd, and will chase after it and destroy yourself in the process.

Yeah.  “All That Jazz” was simply wonderful.




Does It Work?

I recently was working with a married couple who were dealing with a long-term problem.    She felt unloved, he felt disrespected.   The issue seemed to be one of communication, so I used the “talking stick” technique, where she held a totem object (in this case a pen) and made a short statement.  He had to repeat her statement back until she agreed he understood. Then he took the “talking stick” and made a short statement, and SHE had to repeat it back until he agreed that she “got it.”  And back and forth.

What was immediately apparent is that each of them would distort the other’s thoughts and words, literally couldn’t hear what each other was saying, so intent were they on establishing or defending their own positions.

Instead of repeating what she said, he tended to speak of its impact on him.  Instead of repeating what HE said, she tended to explain why she was right to do or think what she did.

In both cases, once I peeled away all of the distortion, what existed was a pair of wounded children. She was looking for security, he was looking for acknowledgement.  Absent a sense of security, she had to “take control” which impinged upon his sense of autonomy and shut him down.    Absent a sense of being heard and respected, he retreated emotionally and could no longer give her the affection she needed.

And in both cases, it was  a simple matter of each of them not supplying their own core emotional needs, leading them to making fear and insecurity and resentment-based demands on each other, causing the shut down and attacks that created the problems.

It took less than an hour to disentangle the emotions, just by showing them how their male-female and adult-child dynamics had been totally snarled, and where the loose threads were.

The rest, of course, was up to them.

Afterwards, they were ecstatic: apparently they’d worked with some top-flight therapists, and hadn’t gotten those kinds of results (he felt heard and appreciated!  She felt loved!)

The truth is that what happened here is just a model of what you, or anyone else can do if you have  a working, effective model of inter and intra-personal communication.  Human beings are a balance of male-female and child-adult aspects.   These are not “real” like kidneys or livers, but ways to look at our dynamics.   Creative-destructive, emotional-intellectual, passive-active.

Divide these up any way you want, as long as when you test it, you get the results you seek. Frankly, I find that most people divide up in a pretty “traditional” fashion. Whether you consider that nature or nurture is between you and you.  I don’t care.  What I care is: is it useful?

If you are going to be all you can be, you will need to have some way of moving through the layers of your own personality.  Best case is to work at this every day.  What are YOUR theories of the way we are designed, spiritually, psychologically, or whatever.    Can you apply it to accomplish within your own life?  Understand the people around you?  Help them reach greater efficiency?

If so, you are heading in the right direction.  Does it match academic or political/social models?  Yes?  No?   What do you think about that?  Does it help you create a healthy relationship with another human being?

Do the people who promote your favorite models of human being themselves express health and dynamism?  Love and healing?  Have they lasting intimate relationships?  Yes? No?  Do you believe this is an indication of their understanding?

The best study of reality is what works, not what someone can form an elegant rhetorical defense of.     DOES IT WORK?

And of course with the human heart, there is at least one more thing: IS IT KIND?


Those are the things I look for, in understanding myself, sorting through the vast ocean of conflicting data and philosophies.   What are yours?