The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Conducting Light

I’ll say this again: your ability to succeed in life will be in direct proportion to your ability to maintain flow state under pressure.  Last week on “Commander In chief” there was a bit about how potential contributors to a presidential campaign wanted to watch the President dealing with an emergency.  This week on “24” a weasel of a president claimed that he had acted under “duress” in an emergency, excusing felonious behavior.

One often hears that grand excuse: “I was under stress” or “I  was drunk” or “I was tired” supposedly excusing bad behavior.  Don’t you understand?  The reason that you   meditate, or work out, or pray, or whatever else you do to center yourself is SPECIFICALLY so that, under pressure, you remain balanced and can perform with grace.

All military training, all martial arts training, is centered around this idea.  And if you would have a career in the arts, what in the world do you  think is going to happen to you when the contract comes due? When you know that a publishing company is betting thousands, or a movie company betting millions, on your performance?  Will you fold?  If you can’t confidently say “I will perform with grace under pressure” why in the world should they trust you with their money?

All that there is is structure and flow.  Structure is the component aspects of your skill.  Flow is the ability to express and creatively recombine these aspects.  The Tao of performance is the ability to play Jazz with your chosen skill while the house is burning down around you. 

Of course, some of you will immediately note that such laser focus can itself be dysfunctional.  Of course.  I deliberately chose an extreme metaphor to evoke that response from you.  And now I ask: what part of you was it that gave that knee-jerk response?  Was it the best and strongest part? Or a part that wants an excuse to remain at the level of mediocrity, and is afraid of its own excellence?  Only you can answer that.

Meanwhile, I watch people who are good, caring folks writing me about how they can help their friends, their loved ones, their communities.  HELP YOURSELF FIRST.  To bring light to the people you love, FIRST CONDUCT THE LIGHT INTO YOUR OWN WORLD, and THEN channel it outward to your family and community.  Jerry Pournelle said to me once that if I wanted to save drowning people, first get my own feet on dry ground, and then throw them a line.  Despite our drastically different ways of looking at certain social issues, I love that man.  The truth in that image is stark and clear.

Unhappy with the direction of the country?  FIX YOURSELF FIRST.  Don’t blame your friends, family, leaders, or world for being the same human being you are, with the same limitations, prejudices, and inabilities to cope with stress. 

Balance yourself.  Seek out the darkness within your own psyche.  Look at the lies you tell yourself about your career, your relationships, your body…and fix them.  Remember, all you are seeing in the external world is a reflection of who and what you are.  If it frightens you…it should.  If it gladdens you…it should.

The choice is up to you.

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