The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Ending a 4x7, and a Student's excellent concerns

I may have finally completed designing my workout program. Hell, I've only been working at it for twenty years. But a couple of pieces fell into place last week...and I really like what happened. But I'm also at the end of a 4x7 cycle, bordering "Overtrained", and need to take four days off before beginning the next cycle. So...I'll talk more about what I'm doing in a few weeks. In general, though, I push one day and recover the next. I use Yoga for recovery, and like that just fine.
One of my students wrote me this morning. She is about to enter the PhD program at a major university, but is dealing with some emotional issues that could taint the experience. I chose to remove her identifying comments and address the concerns publicly. Here goes...

(From the Student)

I'm writing because I realize that unless I create and become whatever I aspire or vision, then my life/world in XX will be much the same here: constant depression (in spite of all the accolades and presentations and blessings I receive), loneliness, despair, and abysmally low self concept and image. In fact, I imagine leaving the cold comfort familiarity and being around people who at the very least LOOK like me may exacerbate my struggle... whew. Yeah, this whole PhD is MORE than a notion.

That being said, I have 2 questions for you:

1) How do I make/hold myself accountable for my own progress ?

I have started innumerable "self help" therapies and regiments...but i rarely stick with them for more than a week. maybe 2. I begin to see the sunshine and I head for the hills...invariably the storm clouds come again...

Because i've become so isolated from EVERYONE, I realize that I can't depend on anyone to help me through this process. There's no one who's going to call on me and see if I'm following through. The responsibility falls completely and squarely on ME to monitor and check my progress....

2) What does forgive and forget LOOK like?

my mother, who i've been estranged from for my entire adult life and even before lives in XX (near the school). She learned third hand that I'd be attending XX, a 10 minute walk from her apartment. Although we rarely if ever speak, she emailed and expressed her anger and hurt (which I understood) that I hadn't told her. She's a wonderful woman, but a severely addicted alcoholic. This does nothing to help us repair our relationship, but a part of me feels that maybe i should just show up and kidnap her, forcing or staging an intervention and get her into treatment. The reason we don't talk is because she is a monstrously guilty (and guilt inducing) and self-deprecating person when she drinks, which is whenever she's not at work. I keep saying I've forgiven everything, yet I have no desire to be around her or to talk to her, even though i KNOW it must hurt her.... She says that when she's ready to stop drinking she will... I don't know.

Well, I know this was a lot...any suggestions as far as readings, web sites, or just advice would be great. I think i'll also peruse Dar Kush, I bet I can find some relevant wisdom and suggestions there...


S.--First let me express my respect for your honesty and insight. I will answer to the best of my abilities. Remember that Dar Kush is, in general, a venting of my own conscious or unconscious "stuff" and an examination of the interaction of the Chakras and the Hero's Journey. I speak from that perspective, and as long as you agree to accept my limitations as a given, I will comment on what I see in your situation.
1) How do you make yourself accountable for your progress? First, BY SAYING SO. Start with the declaration, said out loud and perhaps written on a banner and placed in your bedroom or office: "If it's to be, it's up to me." Other strong statements are "I'll do WHATEVER IT TAKES" or "1% a Week". Such statements, written, spoken, and considered daily, help to balance the negative voices in our heads.
2) Aim at health in all three aspects: body, mind, spirit. What does this look like? An energizing physical regimen, something that gets you sweating and re-aligns the spine and joints. A combination of hill walking and yoga could work fine. Intensity and recovery. That's the cycle you're looking for. Weight workout one day, stretch the next. Push, and check in to see how you feel. In terms of mind, a daily examination of your goals, and the benefits you will gain by reaching them. In terms of spirit, I strongly suggest a meditation/prayer program.
3) The Hero's Journey suggests that the Dark Night of the Soul is an absolutely unavoidable part of the process of moving from one level of life to another. In other words, it is COMPLETELY predictable that you will get distracted, depressed, angry, sad, whatever. The way through this is either
a) belief in yourself
b) trusted friends
c) prayer

I would suggest working on all three. If you are isolated, drop us a line here at Dar Kush, or over on the message board. We care, sweetie.
How can you check your progress? If you miss meditation or exercise sessions, you can bet that your demons are creeping on you. Watch yourself get too "busy" or "tired" or "distracted" to take care of yourself. Remember, the process starts with as little as Five Minutes a Day...five 60-second breathing/meditation breaks. ANYONE who says they don't have time for this is just lying. It's utter bullshit. This is one of the ways you can tell if your distractions are real: if you do the Five Minutes, but not more...MAYBE you're just really busy. But if you miss the Five Minutes...YOUR DEMONS ARE WINNING. It is time to ask for help.

Self-Image is a tough one, and it is best peeled back a layer at a time. Maxwell Maltz's wonderful "Psycho-Cybernetics" deals with the difficulty of change when your self-image is negative. Visualization exercises can help here. I like to sit upright, first thing in the morning, and feel my heartbeat. When I have that anchored strongly, I visualize the RESULTS I desire in all three major areas of life. Then I see myself where I currently am in all three arenas, and visualize a path of light leading from where I am to where I want to go. If the thread of light is strong and bright, cool! If it is dark and cloudy...I need more work.
2) What does "Forgive and Forget" look like? It looks like bullshit. Forgive, yes. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. To understand and love yourself is to understand and love all other beings. To go beyond the Self is to see that we all arise from the same ocean of life. But to Forget is very different. If someone is sick, they can sneeze on you and infect you. Nothing personal...but you're still dead. Your mother is damaged, sweetie. Alcohol creates literal changes in brain structure. Imagine that your Mom is still her original pure and loving spirit. But "the flesh" filters her message, creates static, so that she is like a radio station broadcasting on bad equipment. The lady in the studio is trying to communicate, but her microphone, amplifier, antenna, etc. are screwed up. Worse, there is a storm creating interference. Even worse, your own equipment has some bugs. Small wonder that communication is difficult.

She loves you, but cannot help hurting you. She is stuck in a dark and frightening place: if she could do better, she would.
The MOST important thing you can do for her is HAVE A GOOD LIFE. Excel. Contribute to the world. REGARDLESS OF ANYTHING SHE EVER SAYS, she loves you more than life itself, and if she believes that her own weaknesses have harmed you, she will HATE herself. She needs to see you succeed, to know that she created something good in the world, that she was able, in even the smallest way, to shelter you from the demons that chew at her. If you can do this, walk in your beauty and power, you are giving her the greatest gift possible: HOPE.

Do not try to save her. Save yourself, and love yourself...and then love your mom. Without question. Without compromise. If she screams and yells and says terrible things, it's all a jumbled version of the following six words: "I love you, and I'm terrified." EVERYTHING negative she says is some translation of these six words. Never take it personally, any more than a cancer victim vomiting on your shoes. She's sick, not evil, and not "right."

You are a loving, brilliant, lovely young lady: I know, I had the honor of having you in the Path workshop. You are dedicated to making the world a better place, and to fighting with the demons within. That makes you a fellow traveler, darling. I love you, I really do. Because I love myself, and I see you in me, and myself in you. Our struggles are the same.

So, to close this:
1) Declare yourself an adult. You are responsible for your life. Write and re-write this, or find other ways of expressing it. Write it on a 3x5 card and carry it with you. Look at it every morning. Think about it during meditation.
2) Spend 5 minutes a day MINIMUM breathing and thinking about your goals in all three arenas. One minute every three hours.
3) Work your way up to a "Golden Hour" of planning, meditation, exercise, visualization. But NEVER fall below five minutes.
4) Accept that you will fail and fall on your face, and that despair will rise to gnash at you. This is totally normal, and is actually a sign that you're heading in the right direction. Want to never fail? Play tic-tac-toe with a three year old: you'll win or draw every time. Want to play in the big leagues? Better put on your shoulder pads. Line up your resources. Get ready for bruises. That's just the way life is. If you can make contact with the part of yourself that enjoys a good, tough can get through life with a sense of humor and perspective. If there is any part of yourself that thinks that life is supposed to be "easy" or "fair"'re in trouble. Life isn't fair. It isn't unfair. It just is. Life doesn't give a shit about your hopes and dreams--and that's the GOOD news. That means that the world will not go out of its way to stop you from being happy.
5) Heartbeat meditation can be a great way of making contact with the pure and loving spirit within you. Because the heartbeat is autonomic, you can nurture a sense of wonder at the little machine beating away millions of times a year to keep you alive. It is a little miracle. And when you relax enough, you can feel it from your scalp to your toes. The rhythm of life, hammering away.
6) Address change at the rate of about 1% per week. Just find one little way to be happier, healthier, more forgiving, more loving, more efficient...every week. It adds up fast.
7) Don't forget that we're here. The community at Dar Kush has been excellent at discussing volatile, intimate, and difficult subjects with compassion, open eyes, and humanity. Never hesitate to bring your concerns to us. You'll never be turned away.



Anonymous said...

whew. thank you Steve. (I keep annoying folk who wonder: Who is this GURU/BABA/TEACHER you claim of yours??!! lol). I've printed your response and will follow your advice to the letter. This time around, NO bootlegging, shortcuts, instant healing, or reconfiguring the Path in the way that only an "addict" can.

A little more context : I caught myself envisioning this "new me and new life I'll create WHEN i GET there..." The insanity of waiting struck me. CLEARLY I need to create that life HERE before I leave... Terror at the notion of FINALLY showing and proving: walking the walk, sincerely and dilligently implementing the lessons I've learned. (Many of which have come from your example, experience, and wisdom (layed out in your writing both here and in books) over LITERALLY 10 years...)

OH! In my mail, I made a CRITICAL typo: It's not the people who LOOK like me that will exacerbate the anxiety and depression, but rather, being thrown into a situation where the vast majority WON'T and DON'T LOOK like me.

rivers as ever...

s :)

Veronica said...

Wow Steve, very powerful. Though the details may vary, we can all relate to these feelings and challenges at one point or another in our own lives.

I too will print this an use it as I chart my own path to the life I envision.

Thanks to you and your student for sharing this with us.

Anonymous said...

Hey guys. This is a little off the subject, but I just watched this video and think it's quite worth it.


Dan Moran said...

Scott, thanks -- I'd heard about that piece, but I'd never bothered to watch it. That was really cool. I hope I can go out with that kind of grace. (My dad managed it, so I have hopes.)

Steve -- that was an inspiring answer. And not knowing what you know about the woman you're answering, I won't make this about her.

You wrote: Do not try to save her. Save yourself, and love yourself...and then love your mom. Without question. Without compromise. If she screams and yells and says terrible things, it's all a jumbled version of the following six words: "I love you, and I'm terrified." EVERYTHING negative she says is some translation of these six words.

... maybe for this woman. But just because there's a genetic relationship to a given individual, doesn't mean that I Love You is really any part of what's going on. A sufficiently toxic relationship, you can walk away from (if you can -- people under 18 may not be able to, and adults may not easily be able to) ... you can walk away from and never look back. When an individual means you harm, there's no point in diagnosing why, or how it happened; get away, save yourself, get healthy.

I'm not really talking about myself here, but I am talking about my family. My maternal grandmother was a downright wicked human being -- my own mother didn't really heal as a person until after she'd died. I could name a few more examples within my immediate circle of relatives, but but that'll suffice to make the point. It doesn't matter to me that 'X' is in pain ... if 'X' means you harm, no matter how screwed up and convoluted their reasons might be ... get away, if you possibly can. I've known a lot of people (mostly women, and I won't analyze that, merely observe it) who've had really bad wiring in this area. Blood really doesn't imply obligation, at least not from children to adults.


I'm up to 3 times a week yoga at this point. I'm enjoying it though I'm not sure I'm getting the widely touted benefits yet -- only been at it a few months, and perhaps it takes longer than that. (My joints still hurt, in any event.) You mentioned a while back that there were time shaving hints you had -- I'm starting a long stretch soon where my time will be very tight, and if you've got suggestions, now would be a good time....

Dan Moran said...

No, Dan, I don't think we can be a color-blind society. But I think we can reach the point where the disadvantages are minor enough to be irritations rather than impediments. (In other words, FUNCTIONALLY color blind.) Good lord willing and the river don't rise, we're on our way to that now. Other than that, the only thing we could do is have everyone look the which case we'd divide up over religion and politics.

OK ... functionally color blind is what I meant by this.

I'm curious -- has becoming a father again (of a son, and being aware of how hard it's been for black males in our society) made you more aware of racial issues? It's been ten years now since I inherited my three oldest, and nine since my oldest biological child was born, and it's made me concerned about the future in ways that never bothered me before. I'm aware that I've had benefits in my life as a result of being born white (though they may have been counterbalanced by being poor). Let's say more aware of my benefits than most white people are, probably; I think it was easier for me to get out of poverty than the black friends and girlfriends I had when I was younger.

We're at a point today where the only publicly acceptable form of discrimination at this point is against white men -- and since the advantages of being a white man have much outweighed the very modest disadvantages of being a white man, I'd have to be a pretty whiny bastard to focus on the downside instead of the upside....

But I do worry about my own kids, and their kids, as you worry about yours. I don't want white (or male) privilege for them; they're bright and hard working and a fair shake is all they need in life.

I think another generation of race-based affirmative action, while problematic, isn't unjust in context ... but I think two more probably would be. Trying to find some way to provide the same help where needed -- I'm a big fan of need-based affirmative action -- seems like a necessity to me, going forward. It may be harder to be rich and black than to be rich and white, but it's not as hard as being a poor person of any color.

LaVeda H. Mason said...

The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know.

I do a lot of lurking here; mostly because this is what I need to be learning now...

Are the forums only for formal students? Or can anyone jump in?

Steven Barnes said...

Anyone can jump into the forums. Dan, you should come over and we can talk yoga. It's all in learning how to interpret your body's feedback. Then taking that knowledge into the other arenas of your life. The easiest connection is through the breathing. Remember--if stress doesn't become strain, the only thing your body and mind can do is become stronger.
Dan, there are people too damaged to heal or be around. Why they are that way we can disagree upon. I choose to believe that we come from love, and that primary emotion is distorted by fear. I can't "prove" this point of view, but my life makes sense if I take this position.
Your race question is a good one--I'll post on it soon.

Mike Ralls said...

Interesting interview with the guy who wrote the book the movie 21 was based off of about the race issue;

"Q: Some of the characters in the book were who were Asian were changed to white in the movie. How do you feel about this?

A: That whole issue has been blown way out of proportion on the Web.

In reality, the main character was Jeff Ma, who was Chinese. He asked me to change his identity so he was not recognizable. Jeff was also a consultant on the film 21, was on set for much of the shoot, and was thrilled with the casting of Jim Sturgess to play him.

As for the rest of the team I wrote about, half were white, two were Asian, and one was of mixed race. The makeup of the characters in the book and the movie reflects this."

Dan Moran said...

I'll come on by the forums.

My iPhone has a really useful autocomplete function ... For DarKush, it offered "darky" when I went to type the url in by hand....

Steven Barnes said...

Mike: changing the character's identity so it isn't recognizable...necessitated a change to a white guy. Right. With only a billion Chinese in the world, so unless we made the character white, everyone would know exactly who we were talking about. Wow. Why didn't I think of that?
Read between the lines. Any individual instance means NOTHING. It is the overview that matters. There is ALWAYS a good reason why a black or Asian character doesn't get laid in a movie. It is NEVER racism. Only when you step back and look at the larger pattern do you see it. Do you believe, in any way, that if that lead character had been white, that he would have been changed to Chinese? Dream on.

Anonymous said...

The term color blind society has been used a fair amount in these posts and now the term functionally color blind has been used. I would really be interested in what these terms mean to different people. I have kind of a gut feel what it means to me, but I would have to do some thinking before I could define it explicitly in words.

Marty S

Anonymous said...

My mother was a good mom for the first eight or nine years of my life. She (along with my dad) read to me and taught me to love books. She did some other good things for me too. She then became particularly skillful at a new role as a self-pitying drunk and seriously psychologically abusive parent. It was not my fault - I was a child. I appreciate what she gave me when I was very young, but she stopped being that good person. She became a bitter, angry, cruel person. I have neither seen nor spoken to her for well over 20 years. There is no reason to. I do not deserve more abuse and pain from her. I have a wonderful marriage and good relationships with people, including my remarried father and his wife and my half-brothers. Don't take any blame for avoiding a person whose responsibility it was to love and nurture you but who instead betrayed and hurt you. Sometimes we feel like it was our fault, and that maybe our actions could still fix things, but when someone decides that they love the bottle , cowardice and self-pity more than they love their child, they have made their own choice.


Steven Barnes said...

Marco--well said. I don't blame people for avoiding painful parents. I do honor people who can go above and beyond, however.
"Color Blind" would mean not noticing a person's color or ethnicity. The more realistic definition is that you notice the color, but it doesn't factor into your judgement. "Functionally Color Blind" society would be one in which, for all practical purposes, no one is inhibited in their life options due to race. This wouldn't mean that "prejudice is dead" but rather that racial prejudice has about as much impact on the lives of (for instance) black people as, say (to reference Dan Moran's comment) prejudice against white males influences THEIR income/inherited wealth, life expectancy, education stats or incarceration rates. Give me these four areas, and I'll be happy.

Anonymous said...

i've spent 22 years somewhere between "ignoring and not speaking to her" and "rising above it". Frankly, it is EXHAUSTING. I'd like to choose a proverbial side if only to free up some mental space. TI ERD (that's an emphatic tired, lol) of allowing the waves to toss me capriciously to and fro. (insert big sigh) Thanks for the food ya'll...i'd never heard of Randy Pausch. Good stuff.


Steven Barnes said...


Hmmm. How do I say this? Neither rise above, nor ignore. Concentrate on your own center: your health/fitness, your career/education, your connection with your own heartspace. You have a lifetime of work right there. If you find that, for your own reasons, you want to see her, GREAT! If not, GREAT.
And NEVER underestimate the value of a good hard sweaty workout. In fact, you could use the "Spider Technique" on both fear and guilt anchored to your relationship, once you've developed aerobic capacity.