The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, February 20, 2006

Darkness and Light


I want to thank those of you who offered your kind thoughts over the last week.  You’ve noticed that things have been a bit darker than usual.  There are always problematic elements in our lives, but I didn’t want you thinking that that stuff is swamping my existence.  Here is specifically what is going on:

In preparation for teaching the Path workshop in Portland in April (and another one in Los Angeles in June) I have to go as deeply into myself as I possibly can.  One way of conceptualizing this is that the levels in which I operate elegantly are like “clean” rooms, and those which still give me trouble (moving up Maslow’s Hierarchy) are like “dirty” rooms stacked above them.  I have to get into them and clean them out.

My morning meditations are like running the aquarium filter on the fishtank of my soul.  It can seem that there is endless silt and muck, but past experience tells me that if I continue to have faith, if I stay with my heartbeat, if I look for the light in my mirror-image, if I see the light extending out to my family and friends and the world, flexing and changing the light through different genders and stages of live…that the muck begins to dissolve.  That I catch glimpses of light, of clarity, of God, if you will.  And I come back from the experience (which may take weeks or months) expanded.  My world is larger, more beautiful. 

But it takes work.  I wanted to share some of that—we are so afraid that the depression and fear within us represent unsurpassable barriers.  No.  They can be dissolved with enough light, focus, commitment, faith, love.  But lord God, Billy Bob, it takes work.
So last week (and doubtless this week as well), I’ve been dealing with demons.  My friend “Mike” is in terrible trouble.  I must find the light within me, and also let him mirror my dark aspects, to see if there are things that I have neglected.  I am troubled about some contractual things in my career.  I must use that frustration to motivate me to find answers.  I am troubled by images in Hollywood—not merely because they are movie image, but because I believe those images are beloved by America, and that they reveal some of the remaining work to do in race relations—work that we would all like so very much to put behind us, to believe needs no longer be attended to.

This stuff threatens me because it affects my ability to work, because it influences the world my son and daughter will inherit. I must face it, so that they will be less damaged by it than I was.

But…if I cannot maintain my balance there, how can I ask White men not to flinch when they see black male faces?  This is an amygdalic response, something quite pre-conscious: the tendency for people of one race to have an AUTOMATIC fear and anxiety response when shown images of those of another race.  It has been proven again and again in psychological tests, and the bigger the visual gap, the stronger the response. And in an unhappy coincidence, Sub-Saharan blacks and Nordic whites don’t look much alike—a huge amygdalic response.  By an unhappier one, the ancestors of those blacks are outnumbered ten to one by the whites, and that tiny flash of fear and anxiety has a massive effect when multiplied across millions of judges, cops, landlords, employers, banker, jurors, and real estate agents. 

But if I cannot control my response to the perceived threat, I cannot expect whites to learn the same delicate trick.  So I expose myself, I take the hits, I experiment with maintaining balance rather than pretend I don’t feel it…and it ain’t easy.  And I write about it here, in case my own internal struggles would be of value to anyone out there.
This weekend my northwest Silat instructor, the wonderful Stevan Plinck, taught a workshop down here at the school of JKD maven Bud Thompson.  I’ve known Bud almost thirty years, and we talked martial arts, and the old days training under Danny Inosanto, and I helped Steve teach the workshop.  It was a wonderful experience, and reminded me how long the road is, and how far I’ve come.

Yesterday, I taught my Flow class, and found a new way of sequencing physical and emotional flow to create a very powerful cleansing state I’ll be able to use in the Path workshop (  This morning, I had the best, and cleanest meditation I’ve had in weeks. 

I’m coming through this particular stretch of bad internal road.  It’s just the stuff that there is to be done.  There is no end to it.  The Way is in training.  I’m in this for the long haul, folks.  Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down…but I’m always moving forward and sitting still.  That’s just the way it is, and you know?  In the final analysis, I guess that’s perfect.

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