The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Root or Heart?

One thing is often said of me: "Steve advises X because X has worked for him." And I don't believe this is true. My position is that I advise X, whatever X may be, because

1) I have heard countless people say that they didn't care about X, only to have them admit later that they were me or to themselves.

2) I have watched lack of X destroy the dreams or lives of countless people, directly or indirectly.

For instance, to someone who is unphysical, it might seem that I am "obsessed" with exercise and health. This is interesting, considering that 90% of my time is spent in emotional, intellectual or literary pursuits. As a result, I interpret this as merely being hyper-sensitiv to a damaged area in their own lives. My obsession is with balance, and however someone else is IM-balanced, that is where I will irritate them. I can live with that.


A reader said that reading my words about relationships makes her think of suicide. First, I take that very seriously, and suggest professional counseling, as well as a circle of loving friends.

But second, and more importantly, you must love yourself. There are two safe ways to approach growth: from the root up, and the heart outward. Either works beautifully, although they ard a bit different. What does NOT work well is "from the head down"--building an intellectual model of the world and then trying to force the world to fit our model. As I've said, I think that Communism originated this way: "wouldn't it be a good idea" even if there are no role models for its success. I consider Libertarianism to be pretty much the sam thing. But I digress.

Heart or root? Safest above all might be to ground oneself from the root up. In other words,

1) Gain survival skills.

2) Learn to ethically satisfy your sexual needs and desires.

3) Learn to create a healthy hunter-gatherer body. Provide sufficient safety and security to raise a family (the ability is crucial, even if you decide against actually having one).

4) Learn to love and be loved, and deeply love yourself.

That pattern works just fine. The gentler one, and a pattern that works beautifully if you have an economic safety net, is to work outwards from the heart center:

1) Love yourself, and extend that love outwards to your primary partner and family, and from there to your community and the world.

2) Learn to express power in a loving, balanced way--not using or dominating, but protecting. Simultaneously, learn to speak your truth in the world. Love your body enough to discipline it healthfully.

3) Combine love with sexual heat. And develop a map of the world that explains history and current events (including politics) from a loving, balanced place, without needing to denigrate those who disagree with you.

4) Radiate love into your daily survival/career plans and actions. Live your life in the awareness of your own inevitable death, and strive to make the world a better place for your family and community, with values that will survive you.


Either of these patterns work, and work damned well. I personally used the second, heart-centered approach--there were simply too many obstacles to creating the career I desired, and would have experienced too much fear--and therefore anger--had I tried the route of direct growth. I had to learn to love my "enemies." Took years, but I made it. And if I can, so can anyone else.


Reluctant Lawyer said...

"Steve advises X because X has worked for him."

What's wrong with that as a starting position? While I think your reasons for advising X are better, I think the above position will work and makes sense as a persuasive starting point. You can always tell someone, hey, try this for 30 days, it worked for me.

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

"I had to learn to love my "enemies.""

I take the position advocated most vocally by Christopher Hitchens and REJECT "Love Thine Enemy". Love and relationships must be reciprocal, i.e. tit for tat. By loving true enemies, we risk condoning their violations and encouraging further and more grievous wrongs to ourselves or others. Ill will and indignation by contrast demonstrate to foes and the community whit large that some actions are unacceptable and bear unpleasant consequences. Appeasement is bad policy both individually and collectively.

Having disavowed extending forgiveness carte blanche, I do think its vital that vindictiveness not completely poison the psyche and turn us into Captain Ahabs. Hate thine enemy, but CONTROL it, shelve it. Don't stew in anger, or displace it onto innocents.

Marty S said...

"Steve advises X because X has worked for him" was not meant as a criticism. When I was raising my children my advise to them included 1)what worked for me,

2) what didn't work for me,

3)that neither of the above may be true for you and you need to find what works and doesn't work for you.

With respect to the weight discussion. With a BMI of just over 30, by that standard I am border line obese. Now if this is because I have an underlying problem in my life, my question has to be what is this problem. Its not in the area of relationship, because in a couple of weeks I will be happily married for 43 years. Its not financial/success, because I have been retired for nine years so my career success seeking days are over and while I would like a bigger nest egg than I have, I am well enough off that I have been able to take one travel vacation a year and see some of the world. So maybe I'm lying to myself, but I don't know what underlying psychological problem might be causing my weight problem.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Steve, what was going on wasn't exactly that I was thinking of suicide. It's that I have a problem with a very persistent self-hating internal monologue, and some of your advice is very likely to set it off.

It's the "only people who have at least two of lean body, good sexual relationship, satisfying way of making a decent living" are worthy of having their ideas taken seriously" aspect.

It's possible that what you actually meant was that you were only willing to take people who had that much together seriously if they said something racist, and the rest was my vulnerability to self-hatred.

At this point, I'm addressing the monologue as a breathing pattern. It's helped in the short run. So have some other things (the Tibetans shut it down for about 2 days).

Part of what's hard is that you say "start by setting ambitious goals", and my mind just shuts down if I try. So I'm getting told "here's all this great stuff, and here's how you get it-- anyone can do it". Except that I can't.

I suspect I took damage a good bit younger than you did, and may need a different system.

Weirdly enough, writing about this is something of an exercise in truth and possibly the use of power. When I wrote that comment, the self-hatred was very bad, and I was thinking that maybe telling the truth would knock something loose in a useful way.

Maybe it will. Anyway, here's what "gave up on relationships" means.
Until I was in my 30s, I couldn't see what the point was in relationships. Around then, I noticed that some of my friends were actually happier from being in relationships.

However, I didn't pursue anything along those lines. Some men were attracted to me, and some of them I liked (they're still in my life), but I thought that what I was supposed to do was endure sexual advances and see if I could get myself to like it-- as proof I was normal, I guess.

Fortunately, I wasn't able to put up with enough to force myself into actual sex. I'm pretty sure it was fortunate, since I have a romantic notion that actual desire should be involved.

In my early 40s, it became clear that I was in love with a man who'd been interested in me for some time. He got cancer. The relationship wasn't yet established at my end, and even though an ex-girlfriend of his wanted to hand him over to me, I didn't want it to happen (it took me a long time to acknowledge that), and let her take care of him till the end, about two years later.

On the one hand, this seems like revolting wimping out at my end, and on the other, I can't imagine myself doing anything else.

Anyway, I'm 56 now. Obviously an utter loser in the beauty for power trade. To be fair, you've pulled back on that one, but it did activate a lot of self-attack at my end.

One thing that thinking about all this had made me realize is both how strong my belief that I'm too fucked up for relationships is, and how utterly irrational it is, too.

The irrationality is that there's no content-- no specific sort of fucked-upness, and no event that caused me to have the belief. I'm inclined to think that it's a result of having an emotionally abusive mother who very much wanted me to love her, and which I couldn't do and wasn't willing (able?) to fake.

I'm not sure where to go from this, but the work I've been doing for 30 years on getting more connected to my body had gradually paid off in more emotional connection to myself and other people, so it may help.

Unknown said...

but I thought that what I was supposed to do was endure sexual advances and see if I could get myself to like it-- as proof I was normal, I guess.

Fortunately, I wasn't able to put up with enough to force myself into actual sex.

I can actually relate to this part of what you wrote, Nancy, a little (even though I have had relationships I enjoyed). When I was young, there were a lot more men sexually interested in me than there were men I was sexually interested in, and there tended to be long intervals where the two sets didn't match. A couple of times, I tried going along with sexual advances of men I wasn't interested in to see whether I might come to like it. It didn't work. As far as I was concerned, Celie in The Color Purple was right when she said that if you kiss a frog, he's still a frog. And I'm forever glad that a) I didn't try this too many times, and b) the degree to which I was willing to take this stopped short of sexual intercourse. Better to hold out for someone I actually want.

Steven Barnes said...

I've never said you have a weight problem. I've never seen you move, stand, sit, and know nothing of your energy level. Your relationship history sounds SUPERB. I use a general diagnostic tool as a starting point, and then modify it as I get to know the person. The fact is that we can be comfortably cushioned, and it means nothing psychologically. I begin to suspect something is wrong when the additional mass would make another human being...say, above 50 pounds of extra weight my eyebrow goes up.