The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The greatest compliment of my life

I may have just received one of the greatest compliments of my life. Need to think about this. We were doing our morning ritual, and after the 8-count "Om" (the target is ten, but as a reward, if he does it perfectly, I let us stop at 8 and make a little joke of the last number) he asked if he could tell me something.

"I wish there was another of you, Daddy" he said. "That you still knew all the things you know, and could be here doing the things you do, but that there was another, little version."

"And what would you do with the other one?" I asked.

He touched his chest. "Put him in here, inside me, to help me."

Tears stung my eyes. "That's what we're building," I whispered to him, laying my hand over his heart. "We're building a little me, right inside you, to be with you always. Always. Even when I'm gone."

And we hugged.

I swear to God: life just doesn't get any better than that. Please, please, if you have a child who needs deeper connection with calm and centeredness, the ritual I created to compensate for my boy's ADD can seem like a miracle at times. ANYONE with a special need and financial issues can get a free copy. Please go to and get yours today, or forward this to someone with need.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lurkers, Sulkers, and Critics

Lurkers, Sulkers, and Critics

We've all had that experience in a class, mastermind group or writing circle: someone in the discussion considers themselves to be in competition with you. They tear you down, criticize, snark, sabotage, try to create alliances against you, sulk, and loud-talk you.

In certain contexts, a competitor can make you stronger, faster, better, smarter. But in a Mastermind group, it is essential that every single person be in alignment for...wait for benefit and welfare.

One of the most important aspects of a Mastermind meeting is the "Hot Seat," where every member takes a turn reading their work, discussing their plants, asking for help. Then every member of the group offers insight, support, ideas, and encouragement. Again, the best analogy for a "mastermind" is a "superbrain." You start with a single "lobe" of your brain, make certain that it is operating at the highest possible efficiency, then add ONE new person (lobe). The communication must flow smoothly and in coordination across the nerve bundles. If, and only if, that communication is smooth you may seek ONE more person ("lobe") and repeat the process. Smooth cooperation and communication is the MOST important thing--a person of superb ability who is not aligned with you can destroy the entire thing.

So, then, new people can be added if:

1) They agree to 100% of the rules of your mastermind.
2) They can meet with the other members at least once per week, or agree to post on the board, exchange emails, Skype, phone, or however you have agreed to communicate.
3) If you are in a business that actually DOE have direct competition, you may not want to have a competitor join the group. You can have two plumbing supply businesses on the same block, but unless they can find a way to function in synergy, they probably can't both be in the same Mastermind.
4) There are people who just naturally try to dominate and "rank" others, show off, brag, boast and cut others down. REGARDLESS OF THEIR RESOURCES OR STATUS, do NOT let such a person into your group.
5)If people will not both share with and support the others in the group, they cannot join your group. No "lurkers" who listen without contributing.

Remember--this is not a coffee klatch, or a bunch of buddies. This is a weekly meeting to support each other, to move forward toward goals and dreams, not to "feel good" or "relax" unless that has a DIRECT influence on our goals. Be very very careful of time wasters, negatives, whiners, lurkers, and of course, eternal competitors. Whether in terms of personal traits, relationship glitches or mastermind goofs...they can destroy your dreams.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Swiss watches, beating hearts

"A story is a Swiss watch timed to a beating heart." One of my favorite sayings about storytelling, and it relates to the aspects of writing that are mechanical as opposed to those that embrace chaos. (And yes, the heartbeat is not some metronome--it flutters around rhythmically, which is one of the reasons that exercise that includes variation is healthiest and most productive:

Well, I had originally intended this saying as a metaphor, but it's delightful to know that I was technically accurate as well. Well...the truth is that even when it comes to the mechanistic aspects of story, once you learn the basics you create art by adjusting and sliding those basics around to manipulate emotions, theme, and meaning. Oh, and rhythm and tempo.

But after a conversation with one of my favorite students yesterday, I thought I would emphasize one aspect (knowing that this student will read this: yes! I mean YOU!): by the end of the first act, you need to have established place, characters, tone and the basic dilemma your character needs to solve by the end of the piece.

Now, the "first act" is of course an artificial construct, but so long as you remember that, it is useful. Generally, that "first act climax" appears about 20-30% of the way into your story. In it, you meet the lead character, introduce the status quo in his world, and then throw him out of balance. The story then cannot conclude until the balance, or a new balance, is restored to his inner and outer world. I personally like stories where the balance is dynamic, where after great trial your character will rise to a new level of integration and understanding. But the higher you want them to go, the deeper the depth of pain and despair they have to go through before they get there, which means that the problem you whack them with has to be their worst nightmare.

1) "What is the worst thing that can happen, and how could it turn into the very best?" Or:
2) "What is the best thing that could happen, and how could it turn into the very worst?"

In fiction:

1) Casablanca. Rick's old love walks into his cafe, ripping his guts out. But by the end, he will come to understand himself, his woman, and his place in the world with exquisite clarity, and embrace his true destiny.

2) Chinatown. Jake Gittes finds an opportunity to bring down one of the "big boys" he has fought against his entire career. But by the end, his own hubris and ego will have destroyed everyone who trusted him, and his own false self image.

In life:

1) Again and again in my own life, disasters have been opportunities to grow. I recall my brother Patric Young's expression when things get tough: "thank you God, for giving me another chance to find out who I really am."

2) Early in my career, I was given opportunities for which I was not yet prepared. My ego swelled, but it was definitely a "pride goeth before a fall" and the defeat was crushing.

However...(and have you already intuited the joke?) life is in cycles. A story may be "and they lived happily ever after." But life is up and down and up and down...moving through or along different levels of performance and existence, either up or down the scale of integration and experience. With fiction, you can simulate this by showing different aspects of a character's life: some up, some down. If you want a powerfully positive feeling, you simply coordinate "ups" for their relationship, self-image and external circumstances all at the same time. A powerful down? Simultaneous crash-and-burn in multiple arenas.

But that all has to be set up with that first act climax. This cannot quite be taught, but it can be learned. Your best bet is to look at a dozen of your favorite movies or books, classics, and ask yourself what is the world-shattering event that takes place about 20% of the way into the story. Then ask yourself what is the emotional charge at the climax. Study the relation between them, and come up with your own theory about how it works. Test that theory in your writing, and note the reactions from your readers.

And in your own life: note cycles of up and down and up in career, relationships, and physical health. Journal about what you observe. The connections between what you see in life, and in fiction, will mostly twine together on an unconscious level. But it will be critical to developing your own theories and both fantasy and fact.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Mastermind and Spirit

I love the "Mastermind" concept for so many different reasons, and think it a wonderful window in on the process of "Self Directed Human Evolution."

1) The most important level: alignment with Self (Heartbeat Meditation can be wonderful here)
2) Second Level: grounding in physical reality. (I.D.E.A.---development of instinctive action and intuition through feedback from balanced goals)
2) Third level: Alignment with the Divine. In truth, there are ways I consider this more important than #1 or #2, but the problem is that without first connecting with your own heart, and without having some way to error-check with the world As It Is, you will be vulnerable to persuasion from outside yourself. For instance: what if you are a Christian? But there are hundreds of translations of the Bible, hundreds of denominations major and minor, and thousands and thousands of churches. Each is at least slightly different, and sometimes SERIOUSLY different on what some consider core issues. Combined there are hundreds of millions of members, each of whom has a slightly different interpretation of what "Christianity" means. No one, repeat NO ONE can obey every single rule, law, and principle in the Bible, every dictate from every pulpit, every judgement by every member. Everyone edits, prioritizes, picks and chooses, and then justifies their choices. It is fascinating to watch the process. The sad thing is when people are unaware that they do this.

Unless you have a "conscience", can hear the "still small voice" within your heart, how will you know what path is best for you?
Unless you observe your results in the external world, how will you know whether you are in alignment with the rhythms and tides of natural law?

I had an extensive conversation with a devout Christian recently, talking about the difference between prayer and meditation. I tried to avoid facile comments like "prayer is you talking to God. Meditation is God talking to you." Rather, I discussed the view that meditation is a tool for placing your consciousness on whatever "frequency" of the consciousness spectrum that is appropriate for a given task, or for overall generative growth. Raising or lowering stress, "white" or "black" dot meditation, whatever. Seeing consciousness as a spectrum from near-sleeping to hyperactive...and that is looking at things as a linear, two-dimensional spectrum, and that is trivial and woefully incomplete. Imagine "tuning" your mind to whatever part of the spectrum you need to write, exercise, make love, sleep, have patience with a screaming child, spar, defend yourself from a knife attack...each has unique combinations of focus and release, external and internal attention.
An infinite spectrum. What I told my friend was that she should discuss this with her priest or spiritual counselor, tell him that she wishes to reduce stress, and doesn't wish to violate any of the principles of her religion. There are many forms of, and teachings concerning "Christian Meditation" and I suggest that she seek one out. It is, I believe, safest to find your Truth within whatever path you were given before you reach the age of puberty--certain perceptional doors slam shut pretty hard at that time, and it takes dynamite to open them back up.

I will coach people about certain things, but the safety of their soul ain't one of them. But until she has come to some conclusions I will go so far as to recommend "Heartbeat Meditation", the safest powerful meditation I know of, as non-sectarian as you can get, a practice which is "spiritual" or "religious" or simply a "relaxation response" with no spiritual content at all. It's up to you.

I gave Jason the third of Musashi's Principles today: "Become acquainted with every art." For a martial artist, this is obvious: throwing, punching, locking, weapons, tactics, and so forth. In general, however, this would be music, dance, writing, art, etc.--the ways human beings find of expressing their inner world verbally and non-verbally. I placed my hand on his chest and said, "every bird in the forest has his own song. Unique to that bird. You have to find YOUR own song. The things that are unique to you. A unique combination of your heart, your mind, your physical energies."

First principle: Do not think dishonestly. This means to have an accurate map of the universe. To seek to know what is true. This is primary. But we must ask: how do we do this? How do we learn what is true?

Second principle: The Way is in Training. Whatever you wish to do with your life, aim at being the very best you can possibly be. We know what is important to people by what they spend their time doing. For me, this is my family, writing and teaching, and movement arts. This is who I am, and I don't try to be anything else. But if you go deeply enough into the specific, you emerge in the Universal.

Third principle: Become Acquainted with Every Art. The interesting thing about arts is that there is almost never an objective measure of success or quality. No way to simply develop a linear capacity and master it. It isn't how far you hit the ball--it is how loud the crowd roars in response. The vagaries of this can drive artists insane. We need the "mastermind" of a public response in order to know if we are on the right path, but if you invest your ego there, you'll be inauthentic at best, torn to pieces at worse. It is SO hard. You have to care passionately...and not give a damn. Be "in the world, but not of the world."

Jason is just beginning his path in life. I am beyond the half-way point, the point at which it is critical that I empty myself out and prepare for death. I have to give him everything I have, everything he needs that I can offer, or I've failed my task as a father.

Today, we sat in Seiza position (I sit cross-legged, so that our eyes are level), holding each other's gaze, holding each others' hands. One breath at a time, he counts, and we Om. And about three breaths in, I feel the hard edges of reality fall away, begin to enter the Flow Tunnel. My office disappears. Time disappears. Only Jason and I exist. And then...we are gone, and It is there. A truth. A melding. So long as he holds my eyes, and his hands are soft in mine, I can take him with me.

I cannot teach him the most important things in life, but as one of his primary "Mastermind" partners, what I can do is create a context in which he can learn and experience them for himself. That is my commitment. Finding his center, his heart, is one of his primary tasks. Then...learning how to set and achieve balanced goals, that he may discover I.D.E.A. for himself, in his own time. extend his truth into the external world, to learn to master the internal/external feedback from other human beings that will allow him to create relationships, and Mastermind groups, to accomplish the things he cannot do alone.

Spirit? Well...if you master body, mind, and relationships you have given roots to the living garden of your heart. The plants will grow as high as they can. If you have the capacity and drive to awaken, to become Adult, and to connect with spirit, then you will, and as safely as such a momentus thing is possible.

But if least he'll have a good dream. His actions will be in integrity with his values, hopes, and dreams. And he won't walk alone. And in many ways, that's the most anyone outside him can ever provide.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Your Significant Other--the second Mastermind

After you begin the process of aligning your internal world, it makes sense to look at the next level of building the "Mastermind." Remember basic definitions:
1) A master mind is two or more people aligned in a spirit of harmony, cooperating to reach individual or group goals.

One of the most critical aspects of this sentence is the phrase SPIRIT OF HARMONY. In other words, you are better off with two people in harmony than a hundred people who squabble. There is no better example of this than in an exploration of that most basic "Mastermind" partnership, the human pair-bonded mating. Whether "married" or not, the basic human unit has been the foundation of society since before there were humans. The reproductive core of this relationship makes it central to our understanding of human nature, even if the pair bond obviously extends to couples who have no interest in children, are beyond the age of children, same-sex couples, and so forth.

But there is something very special about a pairing you are committed to, where you can't simply walk away. And it is very different with another autonomous adult than with a child or a pet. Your relationship with your primary significant other is a mirror for who YOU are. Your intelligence, energy, focus, creativity, self-love, joy...all of these things go "on the table" when seeking relationships.

Now, if you are celibate, or have made a conscious choice to avoid human romantic or sexual relationships for philosophical or religious reasons, this doesn't apply to you. But I see people lying to themselves all the time--they have a string of failed relationships, and instead of asking what they would need to do to heal themselves to attract and hold a better level of human partner, they say there are "no good men" or "no good women" or they are just too good for the world, etc. It's actually rather sad.

I would estimate that less than 1% of people really WANT to be alone. For the rest of us, the search for love, the desire to have another human being to share our passion, our travails and triumphs, is a very real thing. And that person should, ideally, be someone who can share our values and dreams, who is courageous enough to call us on our b.s. (this often doesn't happen--because then, of course, they would be called on THEIR b.s. In a dysfunctional relationship, the first person to tell the truth opens the door to dissolution). There is nothing more important than this primary partnership--except your integrity within yourself.

Just a few questions to consider in this arena:
1) Look at your past failed relationships. What didn't you see in the other person that you would have seen had you not been myopic with fear or lust?
2) Look at the best relationship you've ever had. What did you do right in this instance that you had not done before, (or if the relationship has ended badly, since.)
3) If you are seeking a new relationship, are you clear upon your values and needs? Are you the equivalent of what you are seeking? How would you need to change, or grow to manifest or mirror the qualities you want in a partner?

Understanding our romantic relationships is a foundation for understanding EVERY other kind of relationship. The reverse is not always true.


Monday, October 15, 2012

The Inner Mastermind

"The mastermind is the only known means of overcoming a lack of ability."--Napoleon Hill.

A critical concept, whether we look at an individual, a couple, or a crowd. Whether the goals are internal or external, whether they are artistic, commercial or spiritual.

This is so critical that I want to concentrate my thoughts here for a while. The primary definition of a "Mastermind" is: two or more people working together in a spirit of perfect harmony to support shared or separate goals.

Let's relate it simply to the first basic levels:  An individual.

The Eriksonian "Parts Party" is designed to create alignment between the different aspects of our personality. Basically, imagine a garden party, attended by different aspects of your inner world. Then what you do is "introduce" different, conflicting aspects. Ambition? Meet Fear. Intimacy? Meet Freedom. Then the conflicting parts are allowed to "discuss" their needs and goals, so that they can stop pulling in opposite directions.

A perfect example. Years ago, my darling daughter Nicki was supposed to perform in a singing recital hosted by Sue Henshaw, vocal coach extraordinaire. The Saturday morning rolled around, and when it was time for her to do her final rehearsal, she froze. Just froze. I mean terror. Couldn't practice. Didn't want to go to the recital, and yet simultaneously she wanted desperately. Nicki has wanted to act and sing since childhood, so there was definitely a war going on inside her.

The first thing that I did was put her on the treadmill and see if getting her blood pumping while singing and chanting affirmations would help her. Ordinarily, a powerful technique, but it didn't help at all. I tried talking to her, role-playing, some other things...nothing worked.

Finally, frustrated and running out of time, I asked if I could try something a little different. I had her lay down on the living room couch, and coaxed her into a relaxed state with visualizations of peaceful gardens. Then I had her imagine she was walking into the aforementioned garden party. And there, she encountered different aspects of her personality. I had her visualize her Ambition, her Love of Music, but also her Fear and Anxiety.

And here was where Daddy had to bow out. I knew that some aspects of the psyche simply don't communicate with outsiders, no matter how trusted and beloved. So the next step was to do a couple of things.

1) Set up a signal system. I believe it was "lift your right forefinger if the answer is yes. Lift your left forefinger if the answer is "no."

2) I just asked if these different parts would speak to each other and try to work things out. Right finger raised.

3) I asked if she would raise her right finger when she was finished, and ready to return to awareness.

So then Daddy had to sit back and wait. I watched her closed eyes. There was rapid REM-style eye movement going on, which I interpreted as communication and integration between the different parts of her personality.

Then after about five minutes (we were watching the clock--less than an hour left until the concert!) she raised that right finger, and I brought her back to normal consciousness. She opened her eyes, shook her head...then jumped up and said: "let's practice!"

She belted out her song (A sassy number called "Your Feet's Too Big", I believe) with total confidence. Tananarive, our piano player, had seen the whole thing and was totally flabberghasted, acting as if she'd accidentally married a witch doctor. We went to the recital, and Nicki performed with perfect confidence, voice clear, flirting with the was great.

All because she had achieved some sort of detente with her internal community. Her "internal mastermind". I have no idea what those "parts" said to each other. In all honesty, I don't believe I asked. Didn't need to.

The point is that ANY problem related to behavior can plausibly be traced to competing beliefs, goals, or values. Imagine a dog sled with the dogs pulling in opposite directions. You'll freeze on the tundra. It is critical that some part of you take control, lead the way, compromise, bribe, blackmail, seduce or wrestle the conflicting parts of your personality into cooperation, so that you all your emotions, mental attributes and energies are flowing in the same direction.

So a question for today:
1) In your mental arena, what are your greatest conflicts? (For instance: ambition versus shyness)
2) In your physical arena, what is your greatest conflict? (For instance, belief that physical fitness is superficial)
3) In your relationship arena, what is your greatest conflict? (For instance, desire for intimacy versus fear of betrayal
4) In your financial arena, what is your greatest conflict? (For instance, Adult versus Child selves.)

Just writing out the answers begins the process of internal dialog.
Have a great party!


Friday, October 12, 2012

The Power of Passion

Met with Lloyd De Jongh of the "Piper" knife system last night. Really interesting. I'd heard about it for years, and was present when Stevan Plinck, one of the world's great Silat Serak players, and one of the most solidly competent martial artists I've ever met, saw his first 3rd-generation, grainy video of the staccato, lightning-fast icepick grip technique.

HERE'S a video I shot in the room:

Let's just say that Stevan was impressed quite favorably, and basically opined that he'd rather stick his hands into a buzzsaw than attempt to deal with such technique with empty hands. Based more on rhythm and attitude than "technique", it feels different, odd in some ways I'll address later. It was especially fascinating when he made it clear that what he and his co-creator (Lloyd considers himself #2 in the system) did was simply try to formalize the knife fighting in the South African ghettos they grew up in, prisons and so forth. Definitely a mongrel in terms of "who brought what" but with a flavor that some of my African martial arts friends would recognize. But...very, very, abrupt and lethal. He was generous with his time and knowledge. As many of the honestly dangerous people I've known tend to be, a genuine sweetheart.

Lloyd is a born story-teller, and I could have listened to him, and moved with him all night. One of the things that he was insistent upon is that point about emotional content and rhythm as primary considerations. All else comes out of this. I decided to take him at his word, and examine the implications of that in relation to other disciplines. Assuming that you have the basic components of your skill at the level of unconscious competence, then directing your focus, then raising your energy with emotion. What is the emotional content of Piper? I don't want to phrase this poorly...let's say that it is more...shall we say carnivorous than I have previously encountered? Make of that what you will.

When you have tremendous focus, and intent (and this art is apparently distilled from the techniques and attitudes of extraordinarily dangerous non-theorists. I remember a book called "Street Fighting: The American Martial Art." Its cover was the image of someone being "curbed": being forced to "bite the curb" and then have his head stomped on from behind. It is, plain and simple, a book on how to mug and ambush people. I remember the back cover "about the author" blurb: "having been arrested on numerous occasions for battery and aggrevated assault, the author's credentials are a matter of public record." Brrrrr.

Well, when you collect the techniques and attitudes of people who are actually "in the trenches" in almost any discipline, along with whatever technical mastery they may have, what you find is EMOTIONAL DIRECTION. The ability to raise and channel the appropriate emotion for the task. Emotion overcomes lethargy and controls fear. Emotion keeps you practicing during the long, boring latency period when it feels that nothing is happening. In relationships, the ability to control and communicate emotions makes the difference between passion and dying embers.

In writing, I START with an emotional urge, back off to devise structure (intellect) and begin the process of writing, which may take a year. During much of that period, I am slogging through first drafts, and it is rarely fun. But toward the end, when things start coming back together...the emotion reappears, I remember why I wanted this project, and excitement builds again. It is a beautiful experience.

Heck, I pull myself out of bed at ungodly hours of the morning not because it's fun, but because the moments when Jason and I are in harmony, and he is happy with his life and feeling confident fills me with love and hope for the entire human race. Letting myself feel that emotional flow, and remember it in pale times, keeps me going.

For Lloyd, riding that emotional flow demands sequestration or radical integration. It is an emotional content few human beings want to experience, or ever experience, outside of a life and death confrontation. It is touching the part of yourself that...well, that enjoys hurting another human being. That is dangerous as hell, one of the principle reasons that ethics and moral teachings are such a core aspect of any martial art. They tell you, over and over again, the rules of ethical engagement because they know that karate or judo or silat or anything else will never make you a fighter. You have to find the part of yourself willing to die for what you believe in, that is ALREADY a fighter (all humans have it), and then teach that part to express itself through the movement system.

The same is true of writing. No course can make you a writer. But there is a part of you that is ALREADY a storyteller. Make contact with that part, and educate it.

One part of you is ALREADY a lover and nurturer. Find it. Connect with it.

One part of you is ALREADY anything that you want to be in life. A spark. If you didn't have it, you would never have had the urge to achieve the goal. We are all things: lover, warrior, healer, storyteller, teacher. We contain multitudes.

I seriously thank Lloyd De Jongh for another reminder of the power of passion. In the crunch, passion will rip technique to pieces, if technique is not very, very careful indeed.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Raising Emergy

Raising Energy

All other things being equal, no single goal will do more for improving the overall quality of your life than simply "I will double my energy level."

Now, it is difficult to quantify a statement like this, but it operates as a vector. Let's take a look at two different things:
1) Why to increase energy
2) How to increase energy.

All right. "Why" first. Let's define it. According to Wikipedia, "In physics, energy (Ancient Greek: ἐνέργεια energeia "activity, operation"[1]) is an indirectly observed quantity that is often understood as the ability of a physical system to do work on other physical systems.[2][3] Since work is defined as a force acting through a distance (a length of space), energy is always equivalent to the ability to exert pulls or pushes against the basic forces of nature, along a path of a certain length."

Applying this idea to the motivating force that drives our mental and physical lives, it is clear that when we have "a lot" of energy all of our actions are facilitated, and when we have "little" energy everything in life becomes more difficult. Now, having energy is a separate matter from exerting it efficiently or effectively...but those are subsequent to actually having plenty of that quality children seem to have in abundance, and that we seem to have less and less of, on average, after the age of about 35.

A) Why increase energy?

1) it is almost impossible to change habit patterns when your energy is low.
2) "Fatigue makes cowards of us all"--low energy leads to states of fear and depression.
3) Energy makes it possible to generate ideas, leading to enhanced problem solving capacity
4) Energy in general makes life more enjoyable
5) ...enables you to accomplish more in a day, or in an hour
6) ...can be refined to produce clearer and more elevated perspectives on life, which are often considered "spiritual" values.
7) Projects to those around you as confidence and charisma, increasing your attractiveness. Ths is critical both in interpersonal relationships and building mastermind groups.
8) Increases sex drive, which both enhances health, improves our relationships, and is...well, just a lot of fun.
9) The ability to withstand failures, and begin again and again if necessary.
10) Our energy lifts up those around us. If you want to help your loved ones change and thrive, be a beacon of love, light, and energy. They will tend to resonate to your energy, just as depression can be contagious, so can optimism and passion.

Ten Ways to Improve energy.

There are so many, but I'll cluster them according to four different categories: Physical, Mental, Intellectual, and Spiritual. Within those, the most important core areas are Exercise, Diet, Rest, and Motivation. Each could be a lifetime discipline (and I discuss some of the factors in the 101 PROGRAM)

1) Improve the physical machine. This includes revving up the cellular energy mechanisms, achieving an ideal body composition (anything you carry that doesn't enhance performance in some way detracts from it), decreasing tension, improving posture, etc. Exercise needs to have joint recovery, stretching, strenghening, and balancing the body. And in general...break a sweat every day. Every day you eat, you should move your butt.

2) Dietary patterns. Quantity of food, quality of food, timing of meals. So much. As a general rule, you should eat today to recover from yesterday and prepare for tomorrow. If you simply pay more attention to how you feel the day after your meal, and experiment, you'll solve much of this for yourself. There is no single diet that works for everyone, all the time, in every situation. But if you put less attention on how it tastes, how you respond emotionally, how you feel an hour later...and more attention onto that 24 hour delay, over the course of months and years of attention and journaling you'll work it out.

3) Rest. Quality and quantity of sleep. I am always saddened when talking to people who lack energy, feel depressed, ache, fight with obesity and so forth...who talk about how they get 5-6 hours of sleep a night. Or less. This is one of the most basic and simple "fixes". When in doubt, get 7-8 hours of sleep a night.

4) Focus. The key to motivation is to have multiple reasons to accomplish something. Most people who have a difficult time maintaining a diet, stopping smoking, finishing a book or whatever don't have many reason to do it. One or two reasons, usually. What these people need is to get CRYSTAL clear on what they want, and have dozens of reasons for why they want to do it.

 Think about it: "merely" concentrating on generating or sophisticating energy can affect every aspect of your life, all aspects of performance, enhance all relationships and change depression to optimism.

1) In whatever way you define the terms, how would you evaluate your physical energy? Emotion? Intellectual? Spiritual? Sexual?

2) How would you evaluate your physical training program? The quality and quantity of your sleep? The quality of your diet? The clarity and specificity of your goals and plans?

Just 1/2 hour going over these questions in your journal can reveal "leaks" in your performance, leaks that could be simple to prevent, but hard to fix if ignored for too long.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Walking the tightrope

"Learn to treat pleasure and pain as things equivalent
Then profit and loss, victory and defeat;
Then gird thyself for battle
Thus wilt thou bring no evil on thyself."
--The Bhagavad-Gita

Okay, here's a joke:

A young psychiatrist leaves his office at the end of the day, disheveled and beaten. He gets in his building's elevator, and in there is another psychiatrist, the most successful doctor in the building, an older gentleman, still crisp and unwrinkled by the day. The kid can't help himself.
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Sure," the older man replies.
The kid gulps. "How do you do it?"
"Do what?"
"Listen to all the stories every day, and not be crushed by it? Stories of pain, and shredded hopes, and broken dreams. Of abuse, and shattered marriages and lost love, and suicidal thoughts and soul-withering grief? How can you do it?"

The old man smiled, and answered: "who listens?"

Years ago, I encountered the concept of the "Householder Yogi"--one who follows a spiritual path while simultaneously maintaining a career and/or supporting a family. It resonated. But considering that caring for family deals with the most basic chakra levels, while spirit is the 7th--and therefore outside the envelope of the physical body--it can be difficult to reconcile them.

One of the reasons I love the equation "Goals X Faith X Action X Gratitude=Results" is that it embraces both "attracting" success and "stalking" it. Look at these two approaches as "female" and "male" aspects, and it becomes obvious that you have to combine the two to have a maximum chance of achieving goals or living a happy life.

Many of the requirements of raising a family have nothing to do with what you "want" (changing diapers, for instance) and everything to do with what is necessary. And yet, to perform at the highest levels of the "necessary" you have to engage as if you derive pleasure from it. In fact, ideally, you DO derive pleasure from it. With the aforementioned diapers...anyone who has ever had a constipated child has learned to rejoice in a full diaper. It means a healthy baby, something so shockingly important the emotions can overwhelm if you are not prepared.

To do the best in worldly things, one has to do them for the sheer love of doing them, without attachments to the results. But simultaneously keeping the results in mind. Tricky balancing act.

You have to simultaneously care and not care at all. Engage and remain disengage. Do your best and not give a damn about the results.

Isn't this exactly what I tell Jason before he takes the soccer field? I care about his practice. I care about him giving 100%. I care about his sportsmanship, and support of his team, and that he learn something every time he plays. I don't much care whether they win or lose out there. But in contradiction to that, I honestly believe that if he does those things...he'll win his butt off.

Does that seem hypocritical? To tell him not to care about winning, while simultaneously asking him to care deeply about the things which his daddy believes will lead to victory? Maybe. I know that I wonder about that some time. But I also know that that attitude applies deeply to my attitudes about writing (do my very best, work hard, be unattached to sales or reviews), relationships (seek to give all I can, want the very best for any friend or lover I've ever had...including wish them to leave me if that is better for them), or fitness (do my best every day, but understand that I cannot control all the factors that influence my results).

Do your best, every day. Constant action leading to your goals, with faith, and gratitude for results yet to be attained. And remain unattached to the results.

Or as Rudyard Kipling said in "If":

"If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken
And stoop and build 'em up with worn out tools..."

If you can do the myriad things Kipling suggests, you can be in the world, but not of it. 
Or as I say to Jason:
You'll be a man, my son.


Friday, October 05, 2012

Upgrade your brain

Open your head, upgrade your brain!

Ever had this happen to you: your computer begins to slow down to the point that it just isn't fun to use any more? Slows down like a slug on opium? Well, that was happening to me. I tried an "optimizing" program, and it worked...for about 48 hours, then everything slowed back down. I emptied caches and deleted unneccesary programs tried everything.

Then I talked to an expert, who explained the dance between processor, hard drive, and memory.   He explained that I simply had too little memory, and that my computer was having to struggle and re-purpose it, like a host at a dinner party trying to serve 100 guests with only  20 plates. I mean, 1 gigabyte SOUNDS good. Sounds great in fact (it's THREE HUNDRED AND FIFTY THOUSAND times more memory than the computers that took us to the moon!) but with the current high-graphics programs, its just not enough. Not even close.

So...I ordered 4 gig of memory off the internet (about forty bucks). It came three days later. Searched the internet for instructions on how to put it in. The first set of instructions weren't good, in fact they described the chips backwards. The second set of instructions, on Youtube, were perfect. I opened my machine, popped in the chips, and booted up. WOW! Lightning fast, and better than the day I brought this puppy home from the store. I'm in love again. All cursing apologized for.

Now...what can we make of this? First of all, it is important to understand the actual way you create performance in your life. With my computer, it was a dance between processor, memory, and hard drive. In your life, it is a dance between physical energy, emotional intensity, and mental clarity.

You have to study the lives of people who have achieved what you want, and gain perspective on where YOU need to improve to align yourself with this positive pattern. Sometimes you need an "expert" for this, and sometimes not.

But I can promise you that if you are performing below expectations or desired levels, if you ask yourself:

1) Is my physical energy at its peak efficiency? Am I taking constant, directed action daily?
2) Are my emotions aligned with my intentions? Do I have permission to succeed? Do I have fears, anxieties or angers connected with my actions or goals?
3) Is my mind as clear and focused as possible? Do I have clearly designed goals, and plans for their attainment? Are my goals aligned with BOTH my childhood dreams and ultimate values?

If the answer to ANY of those questions is "no" it defines the work you have ahead. Sometimes it takes only a tiny change to get back your old "zip". I love my "new" computer.

You'll love your "new" you.


Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Driving With Your Brakes On

I was looking into the 101 Program this morning, and as often happens, free associated with its content. the "Five Tibetans" ( , one of the very first concepts introduced, is a hyper-simple, quick and efficient whole-body fitness regimen. More importantly, because it is to be performed daily, it is a great diagnostic for your body-mind connection, and degree of unconsciousness.

 But it isn't fool proof. One of my students, a lady who was tremendously angry with her husband, confessed to wanting to punish him by making her body unattractive. But at the same time, she was concerned about back pain and loss of energy that resulted from a serious weight gain. I suggested the Tibetans, and a few weeks later she reported that she had hurt herself. How? The first Tibetans says that you hold your arms level with the ground and spin in a circle.
 She interpreted this as "keep your feet in the same place and corkscrew your body until you twist your back."
 Ouch. I don't believe she didn't understand. You could give those instructions to a thousand people--and I have--and not one of them would do something as unfortunate as that. She's smarter than that. She sabotaged herself.
 Goals demand that you have your values, beliefs, and emotional anchors all aligned. This lady had equal and opposite "pulls" on her unconscious: "keep extra fat" and "lose weight" operating at the same time.
 I think we've all seen this before. In writing: people who deliberately follow pathways their mentors have told them will cause failure (like writing huge novels without ever having published a short story. You can burn up YEARS with this one.)

 In relationships: following old, negative patterns of behavior, or refusing to pay attention to indications that a prospective partner is pure poison. (Prospective partner is pure poison. Say that five times fast!)
 In finances: skipping your Quicken sessions, or refusing to balance your checkbook. Not answering creditors' calls. Continuing to spend money on consumer items that depreciate instantly.
 In other words, you know what you should do, you are afraid to do it, so you take actions that look kinda sorta like forward progress, but are actually designed to create the illusion "I'm trying! I'm writing/exercising/working/dating but the world just isn't cooperating!"
 Until you are certain that your unconscious supports your external goals, you are operating with your brakes on, and the results can be dreadful...
 Lying to yourself and others.
 Breaking promises to yourself and others.
 Distorting incoming or ourgoing information.
 "Forgetting" important details of your process.
 Vague, unfocussed fears and negative emotions.

 Any and all of these can be symptoms of "fighting" internally, competing beliefs and emotions. And they can sabotage your life.

 1) Where do you recognize the above behaviors in your own life?
 2) Where have you seen them in other people?
 3) Where have you seen them create dysfunction within organizations or political bodies (conflicting goals leading to gridlock)

 Much to think of here...


Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The inner child, and smoking

One of my FaceBook friends recently celebrated his fifth anniversary as a non-smoker.    I asked what his method was, and he said the following:

FB: “I’m glad you asked. It's kinda personal but I'm not shy. I knew from personal experience about a psycho-personality model commonly referred to as the "inner child," which works for me though others may identify with other terms like "higher" and "lower" selves.

STEVE:  Different imagery produces different associations, and relates to different aspects of our internal territory.   Male/female, animal/spiritual, child/elder are just some of the possible splits.  The smart thing is to work with different symbols and see which ones, in which syntax, have power.

FB  Anyway, that's a deep discussion/digression. Bottom line is that after trying many times to quit, I reached a point where I could almost see that "inner child" part of me that needed to rebel, to be pacified, to do what he wanted.

STEVE: Note the similarity between this and people who have difficulty finishing, say, a short story.  Or can’t decide which of several different projects to pursue.   Or have a difficult time disciplining themselves to endure an unpleasant “now” in exchange for a blissful tomorrow.  This could easily be seen as a “war” between the child who wants to watch cartoons, and the adult who pushes the completion of homework.

FB:    And so I had an inner dialog. Literally. I (the adult "I" who is more or less in charge) made him a deal. I said, "We both know this smoking is killing us, right? It's time to put it behind us. It's Sept. 5th. Let's agree to smoke like a chimney if you want until the end of the month. No restrictions, no judgment. And come Oct. 1st we put it down and don't look back. Deal?"

STEVE:   I’ve noticed that if I say: “Jason, it’s time for bed” he might flip out.  But if I say: “in two minutes it will be bedtime” he has time to make whatever internal shifts he needs, and can adjust far more easily.   “Stop now” produces no results.  “I will count to three…” is about ten times as effective.  Why?  Not sure.  But it works, and that’s all that really matters.

FB:  And I actually felt "him" acquiesce. It felt like I was at peace with this decision, instead of fearful like before. I didn't think much about it during September 2007, except to occasionally remind my inner kid when I lit up that we had a deal. And then the 1st came. And that was that. Never looked back. Very little withdrawal issues. Very little urge for a few weeks I guess and then none.That's it in a nutshell.”

Again, this is a lovely version of the “Parts Party” theory of internal communication.  Version of this can be found in every meditative discipline I’ve experienced, many psychotherapeutic models, and in the spontaneously devised methods of successful people—when they can describe their internal process.  I strongly suspect that even people who CANNOT describe those internal processes are doing something similar.

Much, much to study and extract here!