Thanksgiving as a key to life

It occurred to me that holidays over the next couple of months give us a lovely opportunity to look at that “Secret Formula” equation in a different way.  Due to the communicative property, we can change things from my usual formulation:


To GRATITUDE X FAITH X GOALS X ACTION = RESULTS and it works precisely the same.

THANKSGIVING is gratitude.  A time for contemplating all that we have to be happy about in life.  For me, it is family, health, all of the wonderful mentors and students life has brought me, the amazing experiences I’ve had.  Watching “Steve Jobs” yesterday, it opens with a clip of Arthur C. Clarke lecturing about the future of computers, against a backdrop of an entire room of IBM punchcard machines. I laughed because the laptop I was working on has far more computing power (heck, my Iphone does) but felt a very special warmth because I actually sat and had a private lunch with Sir Arthur at Larry Niven’s house, long long ago.  What a wonderful memory!

FAITH is Christmas.   Now, personally, I’m a Christian, and this holiday stems from a celebration of the birth of Christ, and revolves around the meaning of this in the Christian tradition. But it is also a cultural holiday, a time that most of us can tap into memories of joy and peace and possibility, of believing in flying reindeer and jolly fat men shimmying down chimneys and bringing toys to every home in the world.  Magic.  Faith in things unseen, and with the stress so many of us feel right now at this time in the world, a little Peace On Earth Good Will Toward Men action is pretty healing.

GOALS is New Years.  How many of us set New Years Resolutions?  The end of a year and the beginning of another year opens our eyes to the passage of time, the need to shake off the dust, open our eyes and choose to live in closer accord to our hopes and dreams and values.

ACTION of course, is what is necessary to bring our goals to life. Constant action.  And you WILL take action if you have Gratitude for where you are now (this vanquishes fear) and Faith that you CAN and SHOULD pursue and achieve your goals.  Action. Every day.   Do this, while modeling success and being prepared to be flexible about your approach, and you maximize your chances of external achievement…and are 100% guaranteed to win.  Why?  Because ultimately, all we want is to be happy, and when you BEGIN your day with gratitude, you are a winner, no matter what happens the rest of the day.  But guess what?  You have also maximized your chance of actually performing at your very best, because joy and love are an even more powerful motivation than fear and anger.   The last time you fell in love, didn’t it feel like you could fly?


You can feel like that every day.   So tomorrow…before you slip into a Tryptophan coma, think of all you have to give thanks for.  EVERYONE has things, even if they were in your past. Find them and hold onto them. Just as an incident of childhood abuse can poison an entire life, a single act of kindness or joyful memory can light the rest of your life, if you hold it close in your heart.


HAPPY HOLIDAYS, whichever you celebrate, and however you celebrate them.



(p.s…I also considered suggesting Valentine’s Day for “Action”, because if you get your sweetie the right gift…oh, never mind.  That’s naughty, and with Christmas right around the corner, I’d rather be nice!)

Fear, every damned day.

I recently asked an old friend what they found most interesting about me. Her reply was “you have no fear.” I laughed.

Oh, yeah. I have fear. A LOT of it. The difference between who I am now and who I used to be is that I’m not afraid of my fear. I used to think that it meant that I shouldn’t, or I mustn’t, or that I was small and weak and stupid. It means none of those things. It is just my mind and body telling me that there is a challenge I must act upon or prepare for. Fight, or flight, or proof of concept. A chance to be what I really am, and burn away the imperfections or tear away the masks. If I use that adrenaline to train with, study with, drive my mental or physical actions, fear turns into power.

For instance…I used to be afraid of sparring, an actual phobic response resulting from childhood abuse. I had no advisors to help me, no father or brother or uncles to tell me that EVERYONE feels fear, so it turned on me like a snake, and made every martial arts class hell. But what I learned to do, finally was put up a heavy bag, imagined myself getting the @#$$ humiliatingly beaten out of me in front of my friends and family. And then…hit that bag. Beat it until I was exhausted, and tears streamed down my face, and the sick feeling in my stomach turned into rage. And then keep going until that rage turned into pure energy, into technique, into stimulus and response, the pure survival drive older than thought, or complex emotion. And then, when sweat and tears were indistinguishable, I would curl up next to the bag and cry some more, until there were no more tears. And then take a shower and try to wring more tears out of myself, aching for the little boy inside me who was so hurt, felt so abandoned, wondered if he was so hideous and weak that no one wanted to be his daddy, no one wanted to protect him and help him. And swear to that boy that “Daddy is home”.  Imagine him cowering behind me, knowing that I would die to protect him afraid or not, weak or not, that I would bring 100% of who I am and what I am.

And you know what?  That is all that little boy inside me needed to know, and when I stood up, sobbing in the shower, he told me he loved me with all his heart. And his love and energy joined with my willingness to die to protect him, and gave me more than courage.  It gave me faith. Faith that the world doesn’t ask more than we can give.  It often asks for more than our egos can handle, but when we love something larger than that ego, we find everything that we need.


The martial arts are where I learned that lesson, one painful day at a time. But I’ve found it also in my writing, and in my family life.  All based on the willingness to do whatever it takes to protect that little boy inside me.

We love each other like crazy. Jason and Nicki are, in many ways, just  externalizations of that, a way of testing the reality of that commitment.  As is my adoration of Tananarive or my sister Joyce, or my dear first wife Toni, or my nieces and nephews, and my extended family and closest friends…and students and clients and business associates and neighbors, an expanding circle of love and connection going out to the world.

Every single day I connect with that boy inside me, the one who began this journey. And the old man I will be on my deathbed.   When I face a challenge, as we all do, every day, I expose my heart to the elements and feel that fear, tell myself the truth.  I AM AFRAID.  AND THE FEAR MEANS THAT I AM ALIVE, AND GROWING.  I must work.  Must love.  Must prepare–the challenge is coming.  I must be willing to stand and roar I AM HERE!

Do my very best. And if I do…if I honestly do the best I can, then win lose or draw, that little boy will hold me, and hug me, and love me, and say: “you did your best, Daddy.  What do you always tell me?  Just do my best.  That’s what you did.  For me.  I will love you forever.”

And when it comes right down to it…that’s all I need.



How do we know our meditations have become “real”?

I recently posted that meditation is useless if you do not take that peace into the world.  What does that mean, and what is the way to accomplish this?

Perhaps a negative example is the best way to explain: you have a meditator, or someone who does beautiful peaceful Tai Chi, or lovely strong deep yoga.  But someone cuts them off on the freeway and they scream curses.  Their child acts out, and they fly into a rage.  They get in a Facebook argument and gush abuse and anger.  Their boss criticizes them, and they quake as if faced by a starving tiger.

Their meditation is still floating on the surface.    Unless you can take that same peace and not react with fear and anger when presented by life stress, they are not yet penetrating the ego shell and connecting with something deeper than their self-image.

  1. Cut off on the freeway.  What does that mean?  That you will be late?  That the other driver disrespected you?  That the other driver put you at risk by cutting lanes?   IDENTIFY THE FEAR.   Did reacting with anger make any of this better?  Have you increased your safety?   Is this action a symbol for other stresses and frustrations in your life, and are you venting from the safety of your rolling fortress?
  2. Your child is acting out.  Who is the adult here?   Are you incensed that your authority has been threatened?   Afraid that you cannot control your child and therefore she is at greater risk?  Is this a direct concern, or symbolic of disrespect in other arenas of your life?  What are you afraid of?
  3. You are having a political argument on Facebook.  How often do highly politicized people change their minds about something in a Facebook argument?  Why are you so invested?  What difference does it make?   How can you rail against the “gridlock” in Washington, when your precise behavior, writ large, is the same kind of ego-dance?   If you do not exemplify the kind of rational, calm discourse that leads to compromise or clarity, on what basis can you criticize our leaders?  If you are so invested in a zero-value conversation–one which ultimately impacts NOTHING, what in the world would you be like if something would actually be on the line?   “Be the change you wish to see.”
  4. If your boss is angry at you, why is she angry?  What is she afraid of?  That your perceived incompetence will cost her her own job?   Is she struggling at home and taking it out on you?  If you lose your job, do you really have no confidence that you will be able to find another?  If so, shouldn’t you invest your energy and time in developing that confidence and self-knowledge?   If you don’t, you will be in fear every single day of your life.   If there is 20% unemployment, why are you so certain that 80% of the population is better than you at marketing themselves?   If you were totally certain you could survive if you lost your job, would you still be afraid?  Upset?   

When you meditate, most of us will deal with mental chatter and “garbage” for the first fifteen minutes, until you reach a “flow.”  Imagine this like shrinking your ego until, like the submarine in “Fantastic Voyage” you can float through the gaps between the obstacles and fears, navigating in the clear spaces.   If there isn’t enough space, if you can’t stop bumping into the disappointments and emotional tangles, you simply haven’t shrunk your ego enough.   You are attached to a particular picture of life, of yourself.  

We are upset when our reality doesn’t match our picture of the way things “ought to be.”

We believe the world revolves around us.  Or conversely, that the world is out to get us.  The reality is between the two: the world is just what it is, and cares about us about as much as you care about an individual cell in your body.

That driver who cut us off on the freeway?  You could have said: “wow.  He must be in a terrible hurry to drive so poorly.  I hope he gets home safe.”

That raging child?  You could say: “his hormones are chaos.  He is filled with fear about an awkward body, a maze of conflicting new rules, confusion about the world and all its violence and sexuality.   I must be calm, so that he can FEEL that calm is possible.”

That Facebook thread?  You could believe that you are a microcosm of our nation, our world.  If you can see the humanity in the other side, see that their anger is fear, you can either communicate better, or at the very least not take it personally.  At all. Hell, they don’t know you. They’re screaming at photons.  How much fear does it take to shut down that much forebrain?  

Your boss is a human being. If YOU were the boss, your employees would say much the same things about you that employees everywhere think about bosses.  And you would start thinking much the same thing about them that bosses typically think. And if you are stuck with a genuinely monstrous boss?  People change jobs every day. Why precisely do you have less confidence in yourself than they have?  What decisions could you make differently that would lead, in a year, to you having more flexibility in options?

In other words: what can YOU do to take responsibility for your life, your actions, your emotions, that lead to more and better choices?   I promise you that if you have the resources and capacity to be reading these words, someone somewhere has had fewer resources than you, and done better.

But you might have to give up your IMAGE of yourself, your MAP of the way you wanted life to be.  And get down to the basics of what you are programmed to seek in life: survival, sex, shelter, love, honest expression and understanding.   Owning your life.  The APPEARANCE of those things is quite secondary.  In most cases, it is like being attached to a red Subaru, and ignoring the fact that someone is offering you a green Toyota…and then claiming you have no transportation.

We make choices, based upon our values, which are based on our beliefs, which are anchored in our emotions, which originate in our sense of “what is true?” and “who am I?”

Meditation seeks to calm us, to dive deeper than the easy answers, down below the chatter, to the original manufacturer specifications: survival, sex, shelter, love.   Not the trivial socially-programmed ego-driven manifestations of these things, but down to where we can examine our choices and decide for ourselves: is this true?  Who am I?

And we know that we have accessed truth not when we find peace sitting cross-legged in a cave, but when we are cut off on the freeway…when our children challenge us…when we are in arguments with strangers…and when our employment is threatened…and our breathing does not change. Nor our posture.   Nor our inner calm. And we can ask: “what do they fear?” rather than “I am attacked!”

If you can maintain calm confidence, compassion, and adult awareness at those times, THEN you are starting to touch something real. To “wake up.”   That is where the rubber meets the road.

Otherwise, it’s like playing video games and thinking that makes you a combat vet, or martial arts master, or race-car driver.   

Start with the surface “games”, yes…but take it into the world.  That is the real test.   



Thoughts on the Firedance Workshop

So the aftermath of the first Firedance Tai Chi workshop is a lot of thinking.  For years, I taught various self-improvement skills in the “Lifewriting” workshop, but despite being very happy with the results, knew I wasn’t providing as much value as I could. Why?  Too much of it was information, and stayed in people’s heads.

My guru Sri Chinmoy said that you can evolve as a human being “from the heart out, or from the root up, but never, ever from the head down.”

An expression of this idea is “the instructions for getting out of the box are written on the outside of the box.”    This is the reason why some very smart people think that being smart is a disadvantage: they can talk themselves into knots. What they don’t grasp is that using your intelligence to solve problems that are anchored into our survival emotions can be like doing isometrics, pitting one hand against the other: strong people are strong enough to lock themselves tight.  And so are weak people. And average people.   That’s just the way it is.

The very worst people to try to help are therapists. Their defenses are fantastic, and they know all the tricks to stop themselves, and justify it to themselves.   Everything they say makes perfect sense…to them.

The key is to short-circuit their justifications and rationalizations. To look instead at their results.  And you have to look at all three arenas:

  1. their careers (are they joyous?  Successful?  Doing something they’d do as a hobby?)
  2. Their relationships (do they love themselves? Have a passionate, committed relationship with someone they adore who adores them?)
  3. Their bodies (are they attractive by their own standards? Have enough energy to work all week and party on the weekend?)

All three of these things are simply human versions of basic animal skills (hunting/gathering, efficient fight/flight, ability to find a mate). The ability to achieve them is problem solving.  While not everyone wants all three, frankly, I automatically assume that we all do, because the number of people who will lie about it is far higher than the number of people who actually don’t want money, a partner, and a healthy lean body.   And those who really don’t? They don’t react emotionally (with anger, or resentment, or fear) when you say they do, any more than you would react with fear if I said: “you’re a Martian!   I can see your antennae!  A Martian!”  You’d either laugh at me, or pity me. But fear?  Anger?  Nope.

Of these three arenas, the only one you can affect by yourself, the only one you can affect every moment, and has the advantage of objective reality, is your body.   

In the vast majority of cases, your body is the result of behaviors carried out on a daily level over years and decades.  Those behaviors are the result of beliefs and values and positive/negative emotions.   Your daily rituals of action result directly in results. The usage of your body affects your emotions in a beautiful feedback loop: negative emotions weigh your body down, but using your body properly leads to positive emotions.  Which means that an intersession on this level affects EVERYTHING.  Just as negative emotions (fear, grief, guilt, abuse, rejection, sadness, etc.) anchors itself in your body, proper use of your body begins to “process” this emotion.  

You were not born with the negatives.  In fact, EVERYONE was given love and protection in infancy, or you would not be alive.  Re-connecting with this, even if the rest of your life was ghastly, can be phenomenally healing, and the beginning of a new life.

So…how to begin?  Based upon fifty years of yoga, 45 years of martial arts, and 30 years of teaching, the conclusion I come to is that you want to simultaneously work the emotions and body.

  1. Learn to breathe properly.  Deep diaphragmatic belly breathing.  Go to a yoga, tai chi, martial arts, chi gung (or singing instructor!) and learn it.
  2. Every hour on the hour, breathe deep and slow for sixty seconds.  MINIMUM is once every three hours.  Set the timer on your smart phone!
  3. Every day that you eat, you should move. Your ancestors did!   Perfection would be one minute of motion per year of age.   This could be walking, dancing, yoga, any number of things–preferably most of it is something you find fun.    MINIMUM is five minutes of joint mobility work.
  4. “Listen” to your heartbeat for 10-20 minutes a day.  The cascade of positive effects could fill a library.
  5. Tai Chi teaches breathing, balance, focus, joint mobility.  It is also a beautiful cultural art, the “seed” of martial motion, and hella fun.

So I had a choice: start with teaching “self improvement” stuff and beg people to move their bodies…or start with those who already know they need to move their bodies, and build the emotional and intellectual factors atop that foundation.

I’m taking the latter route.

The 4 ½ hours I had to work with people on Saturday was a beginning.  I’ll be gathering notes and requests from them, seeing what worked and what needs to be changed, and the next workshop will be a full day, probably in the Northwest where I have two assistant instructors to help me be sure everyone is taken care of.  And as I understand more deeply, I hope to grow to the point where we can take over a hotel ball room, 200 people moving together with grace and joy and power, helping each other, supporting each other as we explore ourselves, loving ourselves enough to accept a healthful discipline…as you would demand it of your own most beloved child.

ANYONE who ever told you you were less worthy of love than a newborn child, or less worthy and important than a star, had an agenda. It is your job, as an adult, to decide if you agree.

And if you don’t..?

The door is open, friends. Walk through it.



(If you would like to join the Firedance Tai Chi mailing list, learn more, join in the conversation, and be informed when there is a workshop in your area–or help request and arrange one, please go to and sign up!)

Is Anger Fear? Try this experiment and see for yourself…

I’ve had very smart people offer very reasonable arguments against the idea that Anger is a mask over fear.   Fear can paralyze or motivate flight.  Anger mobilizes us to action, sometimes righteous action, one of the best things in life.

So the only question is: what would be a good test of the theory? I would say such a test wouldn’t be found in logic or argumentation at all. If it is true, it is a map of reality that is useful.

So I simply propose a test for anyone who wants to see whether I’m right. It is this: the next time you are dealing with someone who is angry, ask: “what if this anger is fear? What might they be afraid of? How can I reduce or eliminate either the source of the fear, or show them there is nothing to fear?” A corollary: faith and gratitude are antidotes for fear. If the corollary is true, and you can help the person find a way to feel gratitude for the situation, or have faith that all will be well, does the anger fade? If either of these are true, then regardless of the theories you have, the map is useful. And in my mind, the best study of reality is: “does it work?” I don’t believe this because I heard it, or because it makes sense logically. I believe it because I’ve experienced it working countless times, even in life-threatening situations. And I invite anyone interested to actually perform the experiment and see for themselves. If they aren’t willing to do so, fine. But frankly, I’d have to wonder why not.


1) Your boss is screaming at you. What is he afraid of?  That you are an incompetent employee who will bring his company down, or make him look bad enough to get fired?  Is he thinking of ruin, debt, embarrassment?    If you can find a way to reassure him that these things will not happen, what happens to the anger?

2) Your spouse is furious with you when you are late for a date.  What are they afraid of?  Loss of love?  That you disrespect them? That you are having an affair?  Fear of abandonment and cuckolding is a common human experience.  Egos are fragile, and often we armor ourselves to the rest of the world, but our spouses have the power to destroy us with a glance or reproachful word.  What can you do or say…what is THIER “love language”, not yours, to assure them that they are precious and lovable and desired.  What happens to the anger?

3) Your child is furious that you won’t buy them a toy.  What are they afraid of?   Powerlessness? That you don’t love them?  That their status among other children will  be diminished because they don’t have the “in” toy?  What can you do to reduce or eliminate that fear?   Give them a road to power (an allowance, etc.) Hug and hold them?  Help them remember an alternate route to status?


Now, when someone is right in the middle of the anger, you often cannot reason with them. If they are angry enough, you might have to deal with a physical confrontation, right then and there, and trying to talk them down is absolutely the wrong tactic (a “pattern interrupt” can work great here. If you can make them laugh, distract their attention or get them to focus, even for a moment, on something positive, change their physiology in some way…you can interrupt the spiral of anger, gaining a moment in which you can change their focus to something they feel grateful for…which can lead to a sense of peace and love, which diminishes the fear, which dissolves the anger.

Not everyone can be reasoned with, and EVERYBODY hits states where they are beyond reason.  Having empathy for their process and humanity does NOT mean making yourself a vulnerable target.  It means that, if you are forced to deal with someone who is so angry they have become violent, after the immediate danger is past, YOU have the responsibility to ask “What is true?” about what just happened.  And that takes you to “Who am I?”  and to “What kind of fear would motivate ME to this behavior?”  And if you are honest, I believe that you will find times in your own life when, yes, you were angry and aggressive because you were afraid, either for yourself, someone you loved, or someone you empathized with.


So…if you want to know if this is real, if it is true…try the experiment.   If it works, it works, even if it conflicts with your current beliefs.  If it doesn’t, it doesn’t, regardless of mine.



Celebrate International Tai Chi day with Steven Barnes!

Celebrate   “International Tai Chi Day” with Steven Barnes!


This Saturday is “International Tai Chi Day” and I want to celebrate it by not only telling you how to improve your form, or learn the form even if you have no teacher, but how to master the art of “doing Tai Chi without doing Tai Chi”.  Seriously.   11am pst, Saturday the 25th on my new podcast, STEVEN BARNES’ LIFEWRITING.  Join us!

World Tai Chi Day this Saturday!

World Tai Chi Day is coming this Saturday.  Thought I’d reflect on that, just a bit.  I first studied Wu Style Tai Chi about thirty five years ago, under Hawkins Cheung, who learned it directly from the son of the founder.   Hawkins is a senior Wing Chun practitioner who learned directly from Yip Man, and his approach to learning Tai Chi’s combat applications was deliciously simple: he attacked his teacher every lesson.  And out of the bruises and bumps, he learned. That’s pretty serious.


I was studying Kali with Danny Inosanto at the time I met Hawkins, and befriended Hawkins, and decided that this was a rare opportunity to learn, and shifted over (they shared a school at the time) and for the next three years, there I was 2-3 times a week, practicing every day.  It takes about a year to learn the complete 108 movements (you learn about one move per class) and I really wanted it.


You see, the Tai Chi form is NOT “Tai Chi.” It is…the form.  Learning it is like building a bucket.  What you want is what goes IN the bucket, the specific feelings, perceptions, sensitivities, balances, and internal-external connections that you can only learn actually touching hands with a teacher.  In this it is much like the sexual magic work of the Quodoshka I studied in the Deer Tribe.  The theory was great, but without the Firewomen I actually worked with, it would have been impossible to advance.


Without Push-Hands and actual combatives practice, I would have had nothing but the external form.  Now…don’t get me wrong. The reason Tai Chi is the most popular martial art in the world is that even if you don’t Push Hands, even if you don’t have the slightest interest in the martial applications (which, btw, are very Silat-like), it still has much to offer.


The benefits of Tai Chi are very similar to the benefits of joint mobility drills.  And that means HEALTH, which is far more important than mere “fitness”.  In fact, health contains within it the roots of generalized “fitness.”   They are circles that overlap but are not concentric.   Fitness is “how much, how far, how fast, how many.)   How far can you run in X time.  How much can you lift, how high can you jump, etc. etc.  There is no “generalized fitness” really–it is all specific to some activity you desire to perform.  (That said, there are definitely activities like FlowFit or TacFit that provide such a beautiful mixture of fitness qualities that they come pretty close to “generalized fitness.)


Health is a different thing.   How do you feel when you wake up in the morning?  How well did you sleep?  What’s your mood?  How does your body feel, in general?  Like a healthy animal?  Do you stretch, twist, and move spontaneously during the day?  Animals do.     Appetite for food, rest, sex and exercise?  Is the “kid” inside you still alive and well?    Can you move your body in such a way as to process negative emotions and trigger positive ones at will?  How often do you get sick?  What is your overall energy level?   How is your balance?


Two weeks ago I was with an older friend.  He misjudged a step and fell.   Without thinking, I reached out to steady him.  I was wearing a heavy backpack, and could not control my own balance perfectly, and in slow-motion, we fell to the ground.  I positioned myself under him to cushion him, collapsing with control, trying to find something, some way to break our fall, thinking in that syrupy fast-motion you experience under stress if you stay calm.   Could find nothing to hold onto, but managed to get my left arm under me to act as a brake.  My right knee was twisting fiercely as he fell atop me. We reached the ground safely.


He said I saved him.  I could feel it in my knee–the stress had twisted it a little out of true.   I still feel it a little, two weeks later.  But…we were both fine.     That wasn’t “fitness”.  How in the world do you train for something like that?  It was just “health.”  Tai Chi contributed the following things:


  • Relaxed perception.
  • Instant reactions.   
  • Balance
  • Lower body strength
  • Flexible tendons (otherwise I’d have torn my knee out, I kid you not)
  • Coordination (for a few seconds, our two bodies became one, with my mind in control of both)
  • Proper breathing under stress.  Controls fear, connects the entire body, allows instinct and tactical mind to operate simultaneously.
  • Spinal flexibility.
  • Relaxation under stress.  Critical to be able to fall safely.


There is more, including things I never consciously knew I was learning.   Many of these qualities can be gained simply through patterned motion and daily connection with your body (processing toxic emotions, removing “sensory motor amnesia”).  They are available if you will just begin to move, and give yourself the gift of connecting your animal and human selves.


The Tai Chi Form I recorded twenty-five years ago, available free on Youtube, can teach many of these things, and I will answer any questions I can about any issues you have in connection with it.  PLEASE, if you have no daily discipline, begin to integrate some practice.  I call Tai Chi a “perfect template”, one of those exercises which, if mastered, convey wonderful, broad-based benefits beyond conscious competence.

Happy World Tai Chi Day!

Steven Barnes

www.lifewritingworkshop dot com

Steven Barnes and wife Tananarive Due on beach.

Eye of the Storm, Eye of the Tiger

  1. ###


Sixteen years ago a fine young black belt looked at me in despair and asked: “when am I going to stop being afraid?”


I was dumbfounded. I had no answer.   Four months later, he committed suicide.


Every human being is responsible for his own fate, his own destiny.  I’m not egotistical enough to think that his life, or death, was about me, or what I could or could not do.  Did or did not know.   But I swore that I would never, ever be gob-smacked by a question like that.  That I knew that many teachers had opened doors for me, taught me things that were so powerful they were like “magic”, without which I don’t believe I would have survived.  Certainly, I could never have thrived as I have.  And that to honor them I would be prepared to offer help to anyone, anytime, anyplace, even if I only had five minutes to talk to them.


It took me years to figure out the answer, but it is encoded in the “Five Minute Miracle” program, the first step for any student or client I have now.




That’s it.  That’s the whole thing.  Simple, and profound.  Here, off the top of my head, are a dozen different reasons this works, and how to use it as the foundation of your new life.


  1. Everyone has five minutes.  You might lie to yourself and say you don’t have twenty minutes to meditate, but if you can’t take five minutes, it has NOTHING to do with how busy you are.  Everything to do with your emotions, beliefs, and self-destructive patterns.  It is a perfect diagnostic.
  2. Stress does not hurt you unless it becomes “strain”.  And the “strain” point is signaled by physical changes.  No changes, no strain. The “canary in the coal mine” is your breathing.  When your stress overloads, you breath fast, shallow, and high in your chest.  Deliberately slow this down, and you enter the eye of the storm.
  3. You are interrupting your negative pattern.  Before you can begin a new pattern, you have to interrupt the old one.
  4. You can “load” your breathing technique.   Go to a yoga, Tai Chi, Chi Gung or other breathing instructor, and get specific instruction on deepening and improving your breathing. There is infinite depth to this technique.  The only limit is you.
  5. Any proper motion propagates throughout other aspects of your life.
  6. Attention and focus propagate throughout other aspects of your life.
  7. Proper breathing releases energy for a variety of reasons.
  8. Proper breathing vanquishes fear (or more precisely, puts it in its proper place: “oh!  There’s fear again. That’s nice.)
  9. Stress/strain creates tunnel vision.  Triggers the fight/flight response.   When you enter that threat tunnel, the world seems like a dangerous, terrible, deteriorating place.  You wouldn’t see an answer or resource if it was dangling right in front of you.
  10. It is a perfect doorway to a full meditation practice: once you prove you can take five minutes, getting to 20 minutes is easy.
  11. If you can stay calm in the midst of turmoil, you impart calm to others, like a tuning fork.    People will find you mysteriously more attractive, and want to be around you. And this can be the foundation of personal, romantic, and business relationships that can change your life.
  12. You can do it any where, any time, right in public or while you’re driving or walking down the street or in a meeting…and no one needs to know.  Or you can lock the door and lay on the floor and do it with a book balanced on your tummy (watch it go up and down!)


That’s just the top of my head.    You can totally change your life by taking this first step, anchoring the habit into your life and then expanding to Heartbeat Meditation, then anchoring that and expanding to other healthy daily habits.


The choice is yours.  100% free.   Doable by anyone, almost any  time.   Stress, properly managed, triggers growth.   Strain cripples. The choice is yours.


Steven Barnes

Coaching and the “Ancient Child”

Recently, one of my coaching clients came to me with a set of interwoven complaints:

Fear manifesting in (occassional) suicidal thoughts
Lack of love
Family stress–a son in law bit his head off in a recent phone conversation, vomiting up so much anger that my client was shaking for DAYS.
A feeling of total rejection by his parents–nothing was ever good enough.

A few years ago I wouldn’t have known how to help him, but since that time my Sufi friend Mushtaq helped me identify elements of my internal world I hadn’t consciously realized were in play (that’s what happens: good teachers will draw your conscious attention to certain things while they are slipping in other stuff behind your back! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain…)

And what I saw was that all of these things, ALL of them could be connected in the “Ancient Child” pattern.

Overweight. A matter of balancing nutrition and movement. Unless there are serious health issues, The “Child” self naturally plays and moves: a motionless baby will be identified as pathological by any pediatrician. By the time we’re teenaged or adult, sitting passively for work or entertainment is “normal”. Connecting with our basic animal drives demands a body that can hunt or gather and avoid or fight off predators. The modern world is unnatural. But how to discipline yourself to deliberately deny yourself tasty treats, or deliberately seek out exercise? This is like getting Jason to do his homework: I have to love him so much I don’t give a @#$$ if he likes me or not. I don’t need his approval. I’m the god damned daddy.
Stress isn’t the real problem. STRAIN is the problem–the degree to which stress “warps you out of true.” Another name for stress is fear. Love is the antidote for fear. Feeling connected to the source of love in your life makes it possible to face unbelievable challenge…and laugh at it. Because your sense of divine identity isn’t connected to the result, or what people think about the result. That “look Ma! No hands!” sense that results from KNOWING you are adored.

Fear. See #2

Lack of romantic love. See #3. When we love ourselves, deeply, and accept where we are in life knowing that we’ve done the very best we can, we will love and accept someone at our own level–we see their essence, don’t covet those at higher levels of integration, and won’t accept those at lower. This is the essence of the “Soulmate Process”–we are attracted to people at our level and above. We attract those at our level and below. It isn’t really complicated, but it is painful if we lie to ourselves.

Family stress. Learning that “stress versus strain” thing, and the “love versus fear” thing will open the door to understanding outbursts far better. “Anger is a mask over fear” makes it specific. When people vomit up anger at us, you just ask yourself “what are they afraid of?” In order to do this, you have to be honest with yourself about the fact that this is why YOU react this way. The ability to do THAT depends upon loving yourself enough to admit to negative behaviors without falling into guilt, blame, and shame.

Now…anger feeds anger. When you don’t react to anger with anger, you can see truth more clearly (why a warrior wants to remain emotionally neutral) and the “opponents” anger has nothing to feed on. The spiral of emotional or physical violence is disrupted in the same way that fire dies down if you deny it oxygen or fuel.

And if you are not merely neutral, but actually LOVING? The anger can stop dead, as your centered heart-felt adult responses calms their frightened child responses.
It’s like a raging child. If the adult gets angry (frightened) the child is in danger, leading to more fear and anger. Watching children and parents get locked into this pattern is tragic. I’m not pointing the finger: I notice myself getting into it with Jason when I’m tired or off-balance.

But the point is that if you BEGIN by loving yourself, without question, you don’t need the approval of others. When they withhold it, it’s just information, not some condemnation of your essence. You can just observe. It will drive them crazy at first (they expect to be able to control you, as they are controlled by others)…but then it is calming. Calm is infectious, just like violence)

In this case, after a single Ancient Child session, my Client spoke to his in-law with calm and love…and recieved it in return. Now, that wasn’t the certain outcome, but even if more emotional bile had splashed, it could have been taken as impassively as watching a sick, hallucinating person vomit on your shoes. You don’t take that as a measure of your self-worth. It is a symptom of their illness, not your worth. Disgust perhaps (fear for your shoes!) but not anger, if you are balanced.

If you get the information, you can release the emotion.

Rejection by parents? See #3! Once you are an adult, you become your own mother, your own father. You either learn how to give yourself the love you need, or remain in a web of co-dependency forever. The easiest way to escape the sense of inferiority is to give up the need to feel superior. You are no less than the stars, and no more than an ant. You just…are. And in being so are as divine as anything or anyone who has ever walked the earth or existed in the universe. But no more so than anything else. If you can handle that, you are free.
The “Ancient Child” is sophisticated simplicity. Hugely powerful if you will apply it regularly. The external world you see is an expression of your inner world. Once you stop trying to beat the world, and just work to align inner and outer existence, you step into a different realm. And that world is a world of magic.


TAGR #7: Procrastination

TAGR #7: Mastery of Procrastination

“Perfectionism is Procrastination masquerading as quality control.”–Steven Barnes

“Analysis of several hundred people who had accumulated fortunes well
beyond the million dollar mark, disclosed the fact that every one of
them had the habit of REACHING DECISIONS PROMPTLY, and of
changing these decisions SLOWLY, if, and when they were changed.
People who fail to accumulate money, without exception, have the
habit of reaching decisions, IF AT ALL, very slowly, and of changing
these decisions quickly and often.”–Napoleon Hill

Adjust the previous numbers for serious inflation, and the implications are stunning. You know whether or not you procrastinate. Consider this to be ANYTHING that stops you from completing projects, being rewarded for them, and creating the next project.

In writing: what is “writer’s block” is anything that stops you from writing, insufficient or excessive re-writing, submitting, and continuing on to your next project. Insufficient or excessive research, willingness to accept valuable input, In other words, ANYTHING that stops you from fulfilling your potential for quality and success.

In fitness: this is anything that stops you from moving your body daily, keeping track of your eating daily. Recording and evaluating your results, building support teams, and anything else that moves you in the desired direction.

In mental development, this means studying your occupation to see where you can improve, getting better role models. building rapport with your co-workers, developing a better mental attitude. Taking personal responsibility. Dividing the work into bite-sized chunks that can be completed by the end of the day.

In finances, this means balancing your checkbook, writing your goals daily, and saving 10% of your income for long term investment. I mean this money is NEVER to be spent–you will pass this to the next generation.

You must define the long and short term steps to your goals, break them into chunks, and track whether or not you are doing it. Procrastination is fear, and the first step to mastering fear is to acknowledge it exists.

Remember: you cannot live a life so small and inconsequential that death won’t notice you.