The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, November 09, 2007

Racist Rehab, and magic

Listening to "Dog" the Bounty Hunter on CNN (via Sirius Radio, while driving in Florida: I write this from a motel room on my MacBook) I was disgusted at the softballs Larry threw: asking Dog about the use of the word "Nigger" and allowing him to say, in effect, "its just a term I use sometime..." and not a reflection of any actual attitudes. Really? Didn't Larry listen to the tape? If he had, he would have noticed the line about if Dog's DAUGHTER had brought home a "nigger" she'd be thrown out of the house. Nice. THAT is the context of Dog's tirade. And King let him slide completely.
Not that there wouldn't have been satisfying answers: "Nigger" refers to a particular TYPE of black person, like "Trailer Trash" relates to a particular TYPE of white person. Yeah, right. But I might have had reasonable doubt. More honest: most of us have tribal attitudes, and they come out under stress.
Lately we've had a flood of celebrities who have stepped across the racial/ethnic line: Mel Gibson, Don Imus, Michael Richards, and now Dwayne Chapman. Jesse Jackson's infamous "Hiemie Town" comes to mind. Yuck. Caught on tape, they go public, cry and beg forgiveness, and seek counseling. You want to know the truth? Dog's groveling actually moved me. He was watching the opportunity of a lifetime slip away, and understood, at the deepest level, that the society he needs no longer accepts that kind of behavior in public. Or in private IF they find out about it. And here is where "Political Correctness" can be a very useful thing. Act courageous, and you become courageous. Act loving, and you learn to love. Not always, but often enough for me to approve of acting in a positive way even when you can't manage positive feelings. So I found myself feeling that I wouldn't mind Chapman getting his show back in a while--his public humiliation isn't a bad role model for social behavior. These feelings aren't unique--they are human. And we have to learn to get along together and create a context in which our children believe their elders and role models won't accept hateful behavior and rhetoric--it's a little like hiding your cigarette smoking from your kids. Probably not as good as being a non-smoker, but better than smoking in front of them in many ways.
So...Tananarive suggested (with about 80% seriousness) that we open a clinic called "Racist Rehab" where we specialize in helping celebrities heal from their hateful tirades. Encounter sessions, consciousness raising, you know the drill. I'm still not totally sure how serious she was, but she keeps saying it with a straight face. Racist Rehab. Has a nice ring, doesn't it?
But then, why shouldn't we merely lie to each other, and ourselves, about our feelings? Because it keeps us asleep. It keeps us children. The first of Musashi’s Principles is:

Do not think Dishonestly.

There are many ways to interpret this, and it opens up into many different arenas. Among them are: Do Not Lie to others. Do not lie to yourself. Do not bear false witness. Do not lay felonious plans. Do not deceive yourself. Keep your word.

Keeping your word is the key to so very much. If you can keep your word to yourself, all of the worry about procrastination, lack of motivation, etc. goes right out the window. You do it because you said you would, WHEN you said you would, in the manner you said you would. Period. If you can’t do this, you can’t keep your word. Period.

And you know what? It leaks from one arena of your life to another. Sometimes, life just sucks, no doubt about it. And all you have is your commitment to yourself. Hey, why not pick up that wallet the guy dropped and just keep it? Because you define yourself as a different kind of person.

Why not cheat on your spouse? No one will find out…
Because you said you wouldn’t. Period.
Why finish that book or script? It isn’t working, you’re bored, you’ve got other things to do…
Because you said you would. Period.
Our inner demons will strike at us through any open portal. If you can set goals in all three arenas, and know that you will do Whatever It Takes to achieve all three of them, you have gained a skill that most people can only dream of. It is independent of mood or circumstance. Trust me, we all want to quit sometime.

Does this mean you can’t discover that your commitment was foolish, and shouldn’t be followed at all? Certainly, but that should be a real “sometime thing.” If you find that it recurs, you have a problem: lack of judgment. And lack of judgment is generally lack of clarity. We’re back to the need to clean up your reality map. See clearly, and it is far easier to make accurate predictions and set realistic plans.
I was at Chapel Hill, and a lady asked me about fear and writer’s block. I gave her a slightly flip answer…and then looked at her eyes. She had said she’d traveled hundreds of miles to speak to me, and suddenly my ego-shit went out the window (I love when that happens!) and I was in that “Real” space I get thrown into more and more often these days. So I told her I was going to take her seriously, and give her some magic. Taught her the Fear Removal exercise. A gentleman who had done me the honor of challenging everything I say (I love that, too) had been hovering around, and asked if I had any fear.

I said hell, yes. Ah hah! He said. Then the technique doesn’t work? Sure, it does. But I only use it on fears that are irrational, and that inhibit my ability to accomplish the things that are in alignment with my core values. Why not on everything? He asked. Because it’s not fun, son. It hurts a bit. It’s worth it if you are removing the block to love, or health, or success. But do it on my fear of…I don’t know, say asking strange women to dance. I stil have a bit of shyness left over from my geeky childhood, and have no interest in removing it. It’s kinda cute, reminds me of where I came from.

He kept grinding in at me (good for him!) and I mentioned that the technique often has to be repeated, if the fear creeps back: it isn’t permanent. Ah-hah! He said. Then it’s not Magic, is it..?
And here I realized that I’m living in a completely different world than this gentleman. He got his concept of magic from novels and movies: wave a wand, and presto! An elephant disappears from the living room, in denial of all rules of physics. The universe doesn’t ripple at all, and Mandrake does it again.
Wow. Cool.

Having been around shamans who played very seriously with these things, I am of the opinion that the approach to magic in life has steps that go something like this.
1) First, Clarke’s law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Magic is not a violation of the laws of nature, any more than airplanes violate the law of gravity. It may seem so to the ignorant, but it ain’t so.
2) Second, one must have a genuinely profound map of reality, integrated at the level of unconscious competence.
3) Set goals and then take actions. Note the gap between the results and your intentions. Learn all you can about the reasons for the failures and successes, keeping both conscious and unconscious channels open.
4) Begin to differentiate between your needs and desires. “You can’t always get what you want,” the song goes. But we generally get what we need. We’re evolved to get our NEEDS from the environment. Otherwise, we wouldn’t survive, and our ancestors wouldn't have, either. Peeling away the inessential, until we are in alignment with life. Needless to say, doing this in a consumer culture requires both strength and clarity. Most will prefer to remain asleep, trust me.
5) Once your survival needs are in alignment with nature (you have these things at the level of unconscious competence), use prayer, ceremony, meditation, etc. to make your goals, actions, and values all in alignment: you do what you say you’ll do, and you aren’t fighting yourself in the process. In the beginning, it can be hell to achieve this. It is worth the fight.
6) When your inner and outer realities are in alignment, and your reality map is accurate, a bizarre thing happens: you stop wanting anything you cannot have. You don’t set goals that are out of reach. You understand your abilities, and the context of life, so well that your desires never materialize fully unless you have the tools and resources to bring them into existence. You are, in essence, playing with a loaded deck. You say you want to do something, and it happens. To the uninitiated, it looks like magic, while to you, well…its just the way the universe works. Nothing special about it at all.
But do you see the hard, brutally honest work it takes to get there? You have to genuinely calibrate your perceptions, and most people would rather do ANYTHING than expose themselves to truth. It is really sad to watch, when the way to truth is fairly clearly marked: just overlay all major world religions, extract the core teachings, and do THAT stuff with all your heart. Read between the lines. Ignore the teachings of people whose actions are out of alignment with their words. Keep your word to yourself, until truth becomes easier than lying. Somewhere along that path, you’ll notice that you are living a non-ordinary life.
But ego still rises up. At the L.A. Screenwriting Expo, I did a great talk, in pure flow state. After it was over, someone asked me questions, and I answered them from my ego-mind. The first, and I mean FIRST thing I did was make an uncomplimentary comparison between my teaching and other instructors at the Expo. Jeeze, man—that shit just doesn’t go away, and you have to be very very careful. I think that one of the reasons I love teaching so much is that it throws me onto my deeper resources. I am out of my ego, out of caring about myself, and concentrated on the truth, and on service, and on the integrity of the connection between student and teacher. Teaching for me is a matter of knowledge, pleasure, AND honor—the only things worth living for. It is my highest state, I think. I get further out during meditation or sex, but I can sustain the teaching state for days at a time, a kind of esoteric Viagra to be sure, and I don’t have to consult my doctor if I get a mental erection lasting more than four hours.


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I think the problem of racism is more serious than we used to think. Please, people, we should do something to prevent any quarrels and arguments.

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