The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, January 25, 2010


I was accused of thinking I'm enlightened recently, and I wanted to clarify a couple of terms that I use. Remember that my definitions might not be exactly what some particular teacher uses, and that's fine. The terms are Adult, Awake, and Enlightened.

Adult: a person who takes complete responsibility for their emotions and actions. To be recognized as a "successful" "Adult," it would be nice to make enough money to support yourself and two other people. Preferably, own your own home.

Awake: a person aware that their actions and perceptions are creating their reality. They may not have control of the "machine language" of genetically or socially encoded survival/tribal memes that determine behavior, but they are aware it is powerfully influencing them. It is totally possible to be brilliantly intelligent and Asleep. Science fiction conventions have a high percentage of such people, for instance. The trick is that your conscious mind can only crunch the data it receives. And it is only likely to crunch the data to which it has assigned positive emotional significance, or at the very least, to which there is NOT negative significance. This helps to explain why so many brilliant people are broke, lonely, and have garbage pails for bodies. They think their behavior is determined by logic, where in reality their behavior is determined by emotion, and it is simply too painful to look at the truth--so their intellect is basically kept busy re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. This is tragic: I know many, many people who are FAR smarter than me who simply cannot make their lives work because they are, in the words of the old parable, searching where the light is, rather than where they dropped their keys.

Enlightenment. Understand something, please: I'm not enlightened, and know this. What I am is intermittently or restlessly "Awake." But in my moments of "Awakeness" I can clearly recognize those further along the path than I. And have also encountered a few beings of such clarity that they were not functioning totally on our level of reality (believe as much of that as you care to: what you think of me is really none of my business). And the consensus of these teachers and awake, aware individuals, throughout time and across cultural lines, has a remarkable parallax. And what they say corresponds with what I glimpse in my very clearest, focused, out-of-my-own-bullshit moments. And it is this: Enlightenment is a non-dualistic (not THIS, not THAT. And yes, I'm perfectly aware of the paradox of saying that a non-dualistic state is other than something else. Limitations of language, people), sustained state of egoless perception. The Awake "glimpse" this truth and can visit there in their best moments. The Enlightened LIVE there and can visit back with us if they choose. It is the state of awareness that ordinarily is available at the moment of death. The Awake attempt to enter this state before death, hence the Sufi expression to "die before you die."

What most people refer to as "Enlightenment" is really only being Awake. Most people who claim to want "Enlightenment" would be terrified if it actually approached. Moses cannot enter the promised land. The ego that wishes "Enlightenment" cannot have it. Cannot survive it. So it will side-track most seekers into philosophical and spiritual paths that create positive behaviors, good feelings, "psychic" sensations, suddhis (powers that accompany spiritual growth) and so forth. This is all well and good, and is the most most people really want.

This is as close as I can come linguistically. It is possible to take a student closer to the edge through various programmed experiences, but the aspirant must generally choose to step across the line herself. On the other hand, it is possible to begin certain spiritual/psychological processes that unravel the ego cocoon you've been weaving since birth. If done in balance, the experience is glorious, an unfolding of meaning, and a revelation of the secret of life. If done out of balance, it is absolutely terrifying, and people who die in fear experience this.

My greatest goal at this point of my life is to have a good death. That requires that I live a certain way, and give the "silk" that composes my ego cocoon back to the world. It is truly a Thousand-Mile Road, and DAMN it is fascinating.

Hope that clears things up. I stand by it, and if it sounds like bullshit, cool--this path most definitely is not for you. I hope you find your own Way, I really do. I've found mine, and it is an incredible sense to be on the downside of the "Gathering" hill. To know I have all the theoretical data I need, and that life itself will lead me the rest of the way. What a feeling.


Anonymous said...

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I have visited a site
Much to our regret I have very little found out about it.
You can probably tell to me a good site about beginners exercise program.
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suzanne said...

hey steve
been a lot of spammers here recently!
like the anon above

for anyone interested
in being Awake
I strongly recommend
Nicholas Mosley's novels
(if you can call them that:
they are novel
but not really like "novels")
Catastrophe Practice is a series of interlocking books
staring with Hopeful Monsters
then, in order
Imago Bird
Catastrophe Practice

mprobably not like
the fiction
most folks here are accustomed to reading
but stunningly insightful

Steve Perry said...

The truth waits for eyes unclouded by longing ...

Unknown said...


"It is totally possible to be brilliantly intelligent and Asleep. Science fiction conventions have a high percentage of such people, for instance."

This statement gave me pause. It strikes me as a rather sweeping and unfair conclusion, unless, that is, you took a poll. What is a "high percentage" and how is it that you know the lack of awakeness in this category of people. You go on to describe results of nonawakeness.

I really don't care if this is your opinion of most of your fans, but there is a good chance that these individuals, especially your fans, might visit your blog, where they will learn that you label their lives tragic and refer to their bodies as garbage pails. Perhaps you could voice this particular type of opinion with those who are likely to share it and not with those who might be hurt.

I've never been to a convention, but I have always loved science fiction. I practice Buddhism, which teaches compassion above all. It also teaches nonattachment to things and outcomes, including the perfect body, perfect income, and so forth. I have written something of my circumstances to you elsewhere, and I am sorry that you likely consider my life tragic, but I am full of laughter and hope.

(BTW,it's "...FAR smarter than I.")

Marty S said...

Since the title of this post is definitions I'll give three definitions from one older person's point of view.

1) Physical Fitness: Not being dead or in a nursing home.

2) A Great Relationship: My partner not being dead or in a nursing home.

3) Financially Successful: Not running out of money before my partner and I are both dead.

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

".. I'll give three definitions from one older person's point of view.."

These appear to be "minimal" definitions,i.e. the bare essentials to avoid incapacity, separation, or destitution. IMHO, progress and fulfillment demand "maximal" definitions.

1.Physical Fitness: Building maximum strength and stamina and a seductive physique.

2.A Great Relationship: Romantic partners who revel in each other emotionally, sexually, intellectually.

3.Financially Successful: To be so prosperous AND prudent in managing funds that fears of shortage or destitution are banished, and to able able to use the resulting disposable income for personal enrichment.

Advancing years should not dictate making due. Old or young, the goal should be excellence.

Anonymous said...


I've been to more SF cons than I can remember. Steve is right. And he is not referring to solitary SF readers, but habitual con-goers. There is clearly a much higher than average number of fans (or, fen, if you prefer the popular jargon of fandom) than in the wider U.S. population who are grossly obese, usually with incredibly poor diets, and terribly out of touch with their own bodies. A lack of basic hygiene is also not at all unusual with such fen. Poor grooming skills often accompanies such a package.

An exceptionally large number of fen also live so inside their own heads and/or hold on to so much emotional damage that they can't be successful in romance - I used to be more than bit like that, by the way, but many fen beat me by light-years in that area of disfunction. There is also a massive overlap between the fen who are badly out of touch with their bodies and those who lack the ability to honestly connect with others (and themselves) on an emotional level.

I love cons, and go to at least one a year, but the problem is there in our community. I usually avoid the ice cream socials and other events that highlight an easy opportunity for gluttony, because watching lots of grossly fat people destroying themselves by inches is painful. Especially when so many fen limp in on canes or arrive at such events in motorized wheelchairs - and make sure to eat second, and thirds if they can get them. It is even more difficult to watch this because I have fought so hard to overcome my own baggage. By your own admission, you have never been to any of these cons. I know exactly what Steve is talking about.


Evan Robinson said...

My concern with the definition of awake as "aware that their actions and perceptions are creating their reality" is that it sounds suspiciously like "everything bad that happens to you is your own fault".

I've run into that attitude a lot among the more fluffy-bunny neopagans, and the idea that (for example) a 16 year old girl who was forcibly abducted from the local mall and raped "created her own reality" is more than a little bit creepy.

I can live with the idea that she has some control (I will question whether she has total control) over her response to her environment.

If you honestly think that people create their own realities (even some limited subset of Awakened people), I suggest an experiment: Create a reality in which you (the Awakened) can levitate. In public. Verified by a competent scientist and a competent magician.

Steven Barnes said...

For home exercise, I would suggest starting with the FIVE TIBETANS--Google the term. Once you have basic fitness, I strongly suggest Coach Sonnon's material, available at

Steven Barnes said...

Jan: unfair I may seem, but it is from my POV accurate reportage that people who spend their lives immersed in fantasy are more likely than average to be avoiding real life. I've been around the field for forty years, and have the right to an informed opinion. There is simply a HUGE amount of damage there. Sweet, smart, good people...with serious wounds. I kept my mouth shut for years, and watched people die. I won't do that any more. Anyone who wants a way out of that box can find it, but they have to be willing to look at the truth.

Unknown said...

I really appreciate your taking the time to give such a detailed yet sensitive (no words such as "garbage pail," for instance) description of SF cons you have attended. Even though I am not terribly surprised, the extent of the problem, both in individuals and as a group, causes me great dismay. I am happy to know that you yourself are doing well.

After reading Marco's post, considering just how many cons you have no doubt attended,and especially considering your intense interest in body-mind-spirit integration, I can certainly underststand your distress over what you see there. It must be very difficult and you do have my sympathy.

Sorry for the crack about grammar.

Steven Barnes said...

Evan: I am responsible for what I said, not other comments by other people that are somewhat similar. As for the rape...this one is hard, but I will tell you what Dawn Callan, one of the most powerful women, and finest teachers of martial wisdom I have ever known said to me. Responsibility is the ability to respond. The hardest thing she had to do to help women heal is teach them to take RESPONSIBILITY for their lives. Not guilt, blame, or shame. But to have the belief that they can prevent such horror from happening again. There are two extremes: "I can't control anything" and "I can control everything." The middle ground is "I can control my own perceptions and reactions. My actions have a powerful effect on my existence. I become what I think about." I have known countless people who have turned their lives around with this attitude. It is the door to power. Remember: NOT guilt, blame, or shame. If these things are tangled up, it is the responsibility of a mature, adult individual to untangle it.

Steven Barnes said...

By the way: by "garbage bags" I mean that they dump their negative, unprocessed emotions into their bodies and seal it away. To lose that weight they would have to deal with the pain, and that often feels like death. I will NOT be a party to denial about this. Regardless of what people say, I will keep pointing the way to the door. Period.

Evan Robinson said...


Excellent clarification. As I tried to say, I'm OK with the idea that one can control (or at least largely control -- I draw the line at some biochemical imbalances that I believe require pharmaceutical assistance, whether natural or manmade) one's response to external events. My problem was with the idea that one can fully control external events.

Anonymous said...

We teach best what we most need to learn.

Steven Barnes said...

The question of whether we are literally creating our reality is more metaphysical than I want discussions on this blog to get, really. Dealing with the practical "Tonal" world is hard enough. I CAN say that it is possible to reach a point where you can create whatever you the simple expedient of being wise enough not to want anything you can't create.

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