The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Plot and Character and You

For decades, I’d looked at story primarily as the dance between character and plot (by the way, as the result of endless conversation with Tananarive, I’ve modified this to be character, plot and language—but that’s another discussion).

The old argument regarding which is primary (most writer programs at University level seem to believe it is character and thematics.   Aristotle seems to have believed plot was more primary) seems to me a trick question.

In this perspective, character IS plot, and plot IS character.  In other words, you have a situation: terrorists take over Nakatomi Plaza.  When you drop a specific character into that situation, with a specific set of needs, drives, and capacities, he shapes the situation, producing the plot of “Die Hard.”  Conversely, the situation forces John McClain through greater and greater pressures, stripping away his ego identity, forcing him to tap deeper resources, and removing all illusions, revealing him as a deadly warrior who is 100% willing to die to rescue his estranged wife.

Plot, in other words, is what a character does in a given situation.   Drop another character into Nakatomi Plaza, and you get another plot.   Drop the same character into a different situation, and different aspects of their psychology are revealed.

So again: plot equals character, character equals plot.    They only look different to someone stuck in one mode or the other.  The truth is that once you grasp this, you can start with any aspect of plot or story and end up with the whole shebang.  This is similar to what happens in geometry, where once you understand a circle, if I give you three points, or a single degree of arc, you can describe the rest of the circle.

If you have nothing but a line of dialogue: who said it?  Under what situation?   What was the subtext?
If you have nothing but a character action: who did it?  In what circumstance? To accomplish what?  What was her conscious intent?  Unconscious intent?  How did they align/misalign?  What were her wants?  Needs?   How do they align/misalign?

If you have a thought of a basic character: what situation will force this character to reveal themselves totally?  What will crush them?  What will strip them of all illusion?  What will force them to grow to the next level of their lives?

If you think of a basic   situation: what would be the perfect human perspective from which to view these events? Who has the knowledge to describe what is happening so that the reader will understand? Who has the resources to survive this?  For whom would such a situation be their worst nightmare?    How could it turn into the best thing that ever happened to them?

For whom would this situation be their fondest dream?  How could it turn into their worst nightmare?
Once you grasp the unity of these aspects, you can glimpse a 360-degree revolving dynamic sphere of “story” as the attempt to snatch a glimmer of meaning from the chaos of life.  This is one of the things that makes storytelling a sacred profession.   

The perspective also allows you to gain the perspective necessary to make sense of life itself.  It was incredibly valuable in my own journey: once I saw it in my novels, I began to see it in the PROCESS of writing novels and teleplays.  And then…I started seeing it in the living of life itself.  Everywhere.  Not “directly” through conscious thought or foveal vision, but more inferentially, unconsciously, and through “peripheral” emotional vision.   It is similar to the way that Shamans see the world, and allowed me a language to begin to communicate with people hella more experienced in formal meditative and philosophical disciplines.

It really was true: know one thing, know ten thousand things.  Study a grain of sand deeply enough, and you emerge at the Big Bang.  Master anything, and you know how to master anything else.
Go deeply enough into the things that fascinate you, and you end up looking at the back of your own head.

And if THAT doesn’t blow your mind, nothing will.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"It's not my problem..."

A lady friend, “Janet”, has been without a serious relationship for the twenty-plus years I’ve known her.  Never been married.   Janet recently began to date a gentleman in his 60’s (as she is) who she was concerned about—apparently his sex drive is quite low.

They are going away together for a weekend, and she again repeated a complaint that he was not…hmmm…well, “male” enough in terms of being aggressive, initiative, sexual.  They’re “working things out” she said, but it’s frustrating.

I suggested that they might want to go into counseling together.  Janet rejected the idea: “I’m not the one with the problem” she said.


There are at least two reasons why I think this statement is tone-deaf and dishonest.

1) If she is attempting to work out a relationship with him, then their sexual interactions involve both of them.  A coach or therapist can give specific “prescriptions” to two people for games, conversations, communications, environments and so forth that would be very difficult to give to a single person, who then has to go and negotiate the instructions with his/her partner.

2) She’s not with this guy by coincidence.  Or by someone else’s choice.   This is her choice, the best she can do with the resources and options she has.  In other words, he is a mirror.    She isn’t able to extend her femininity to attract a man with more masculine force than this one has (at least, not one without serious drawbacks in other arenas).  Relationships are a chance to see ourselves in a mirror, and if we accept that, we get to grow.

If Janet doesn’t see this, and use this as an opportunity to see herself…if she cannot see herself as energetic twin with the man who is trying to love her, I fear that this, like all her other relationships, will end in ashes, and she will go on.  And the tragedy is that I don’t believe she REALLY doesn’t think it has anything to do with her.

Rather, she is too afraid to look at who she really is.  Afraid that if she looks deeply she will find something so hideous and broken that she will lose hope.  Better to live in the illusion that “it’s someone else.”

She is not my client, she is my friend.  So there are things I don’t say.  I was not invited.
But if she did ask,  her answer is to love herself so deeply that it overflows, and then be generous with the overflow.  With the advantage of already being filled with love, she could afford to go to couples counseling whether or not she was serving him…or them…or herself. 

And from that position, I honestly believe, she has a chance.

As it is…all I can do is love her, and hope for the best. 

But frankly…that’s not a lot of hope.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Ten Secrets of Hatha Yoga

If I had to choose a single discipline to have the most positive effect in every arena of my life, it would be Yoga.  Now, the sneaky thing of course is that the term “yoga” covers a variety of linked disciplines, from the meditative to the physical to the social, so I’ve got most of what I need to be an awake, aware human being handled.  If I had to choose one major division, it would be Hatha yoga, the science of posture…because while you can enter here and tie all the other aspects together, if you enter at the more esoteric aspects, it is quite possible to remain ignorant of, and neglectful toward, your body. 

Seen it many times.

The number of different aspects that can all link here include health, fitness, ethics, psychology, stress management, social theory, epistemology, and philosophy. Good stuff! 

But of course, it is possible to fall into traps with yoga, as with anything else. Injury, obsession, imbalance, rigidly dualistic thought, “dreaming that you are awake” and more area all possible negative side effects.  Here are some thoughts based on my own fifty years of experience.  (BTW—that experience was not all high quality.  I first practiced yoga from watching “Yoga For Health” with Richard Hittleman on television, at the age of about eight.   Other books and videos followed. I didn’t start taking actual classes until my twenties, became more serious in my 30’s, and  finally attended a yoga teacher’s training in my 40’s.)

So.  Ten thoughts on Hatha Yoga.

1) The quality of yoga is the quality of your attention, NOT the depth or amplitude of your postures, which are mere gymnastics. 

2) You must learn the difference between intensity and pain.  It is GOOD to take a yoga pose to the point of intensity, where you are challenged.  But never let pain go above a “3” on a scale of 1-10.

3) Don’t compare yourself to other people in the class.  That mega-flexible teenager next to you might be a cheerleader thinking about her boyfriend as she ties herself in a knot.   If your total focus and relaxation takes your head one inch closer to your knees…you’re doing fine.

4) Hatha yoga is a breathing exercise more than anything else.  Imagine the thread of your breath as a smooth and constant thing.  Now…tie that thread in a knot, but maintain the smooth breath.  If the breath gets “hitchy” or you start holding or forcing your breath, YOU ARE TOO DEEP.  I don’t care what the teacher says.  The teacher is not inside your body.  You are an adult, responsible for your own experience.  Never, ever, break the thread of a smooth (if intense) breath.  If you do that, you will never hurt yourself.

5) Stress is not the problem in life.   STRAIN is the problem.  And “strain” is basically the result of a stress load beyond the body/mind’s capacity for compensation and integration.  Luckily, before you slip into strain,  yourself, your breathing will get shallow, fast, and interrupted.  Which means that you can use it as the “canary in the coal mine”—learn to pay attention to your breathing, and you can always tell if you are losing your internal balance.    Learn to shift your breathing back to the low, slow, smooth breath taught in yoga, and you can take ANY life situation and “roll” with it.

6) There are three aspects to any physical performance: breath, motion, and structure (posture).    Each is created by the interaction of the other two.    Let your attention rotate between these three as you move within and between postures.

7) Hatha Yoga is a perfect way to compensate for athletic activity.  Unlike athletic activities, Yoga is primarily about focus and relaxation, not performance.  Performance is a secondary side effect, not the essential point.   On the other hand, the term “yoga” merely means “to unite”, so any activity done with body-mind awareness can be a “yoga”.  However…many activities, (say, running) require compensatory motion after you finish, or they will distort your body.   Yoga is self-compensatory.

8) If a student doesn’t have a physical practice, and doesn’t have access to a teacher, I suggest that they investigate the Five Tibetans, which is probably the best movement system that can be learned from a book.  It is not complete.  To make it more complete, I’d say add the “Joint Mobility” drills Scott Sonnon has on YouTube.  Together…not at all a bad substitute for a yoga practice.

9) If you focus, you will find that over time your body releases more power, grace, flexibility and so forth.  This means you’ll have to go “deeper” to find the same “edge”.  This is where progression originates.  Yoga is not “for flexible people.”   Flexibility…and strength, and balance, are side-effects of practicing yoga.  You’re mistaking the bending grass for the wind.

10)  Here’s the best part.  Combine the breathing you learn that produces relaxed focus and power with the “Five Minute Miracle” technique.  In other words, every 3-4 hours stop and practice sixty seconds of yoga breathing.   The greatest stress-buster in the world, and a major route to taking what you learn in yoga OUT of the classroom and into your life.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Core Transformation

Friday I spoke of NLP, and why I backed away from it: it was pure power, and at that point in my life I didn’t trust myself with it.    A very specific technique allowed me to see the full humanistic capacity of the art, however, and that was a turning point.  My meditative life saved me from an existence defined by fear.   I HAVE to align spiritual and emotional values before I proceed, in any arena of life.  That is a cast-iron principle, and every damned time I've violated it, I screw up and suffer.

Dan Pinal, an old friend of mine, pointed out a book called “Core Transformations” by Connirae Andreas and NLP Comprehensive in Colorado.  He said it had helped him considerably, and I should look into it.  I did.

The basic theory of the book is that everything we do in life, everything, is an attempt to get closer to God.  I stripped out the religious overtones in that, and made the assumption that what they meant was a deep and abiding sense of peace, fulfillment, acceptance, love, and connection.  Arguably, the sensations experienced in the womb by an unborn child.  Certainly the emotions experienced by any baby that survives infancy—children who are never nurtured wither and die.  Period.

No matter how badly abused or neglected a child was later, even to the point that they have no positive conscious memories, so far as I know every study suggests this is true.  At some point we were all loved and cared for…or we die.

So it would seem that what Core Transformations was trying to do was hook us back into that feeling.   Did this make sense to me as a generative practice?

Heck, yeah.   Remember the “Secret Formula”?   GOALS X FAITH X ACTION X GRATITUDE = RESULTS.
As I’ve said, the significance of the multiplicative rather than additive function is critical: if you “zero” in any category, it cancels out everything else.  The idea is to have clear goals, believe you can and should achieve them, take massive action, and…begin with the emotion you think you’ll get at the end.   Begin with a sense of confidence, joy, gratitude.  Start your day with those emotions…and then instead of working to be happy down the road, be happy while you work.  The implication is that not only does this make your work better by taking your emotional brakes off, but it attracts assistance (easier to draw flies with honey, etc.). 

And most importantly…tomorrow is promised to no one.    Why put off the pleasure of living?
The bizarre thing about this “formula” is that if you set your plan so that you need no luck, no or little outside cooperation, take total responsibility for your results and then work your $%^^ off…with absolutely perverse precision, THAT is when “luck” avalanches on you.   It is stunning to watch…except that it happens while you’re not watching.  Life is tricky like that.

So with this in mind, would Core Transformations make sense in other ways?   I thought so.  Sri Chinmoy said that you can awaken the “kundalini” evolutionary process from the heart out, or body “up” but never from the head “down.” Meaning that a healed heart has a generative effect on every other aspect of your life.

Cool.  Seeing that I had a theoretical basis for proceeding, I looked deeper.  Obtained an audiotape of Andreas performing her technique on, I believe, an inmate in a prison.

Now, the hypnotic induction is important because it allows people to relax and drop some of their armor and defensive attack: remember that anger is a mask over fear.  So with the subject in a relaxed state, a series of questions began.

The man had (if I remember correctly—it’s been over twenty years) mugged and killed an old lady.  The questioning, roughly, went like this:

“Why did you kill that old lady?”
“She wouldn’t let go of her purse.”
“And why did you want her purse?”
“To get her money.”
“And if you had all the money you wanted, what then?”
(A pause, then…)
“I’d be able to get the shit I want.”
“And if you had all the things you want, what then?”
(A pause, then…)
“I’d rule, man.   No one would bug me, and everyone would respect me.”
“And if you had all the respect you wanted, what then?”
(A pause, then…)
“I’d have the women and the friends, and nothing could touch me.”
“And if you felt totally safe, and had all the friends and women you wanted, what then?”
(A longer pause.  The voice changed, slowed a bit.)
“I’d…be happy.”
“And if you felt totally happy, what then?”
(Another long pause.  Voice slows and softens.)
“I’d be able to drop my guard a little.  Stop pushing so hard all the time.”
“And if you were safe to let your guard down, and you didn’t have to push so hard…if you were safe and loved and respected just as you are, without doing anything…what then?”
(Long pause.  There was something in his voice almost like a muffled sob)
“I’d just be able to let people in.  I’m a good guy. People would like me if they knew me.”
“And if you could let people in.  If people knew you were a good guy, what then?”
(Long pause)
“I wouldn’t feel so lonely.”
(Now the voice has changed massively.  The inmate is deeply kinesthetic)
“And if you didn’t feel lonely.  If you felt connection as deeply as you’ve ever wanted or needed it, what then?”
(A deep, sighing breath.  An exhale, like someone venting something held in stasis for a long long time.”
“I could just…be, man.  Just be.”
“And if you could just be, what then?”
“I’d…I’d…just be.”

The voice is now soft. Childlike.  Tears in the voice.  A thread of joy.  It was stunning, in comparison to the hard, cold voice that began.

Next, Andreas amplified that joyous feeling, and walked him through his life carrying it with him.  Now, I don’t actually know for sure what happened to this man afterward. In fact, because prisoners are so good at giving authority figures what they want, I couldn’t be sure the whole thing wasn’t a con game.
But I could try it myself, on myself.   I did, in an hour-long session, and found the heart-space connection remarkable, no matter what negative behavior I began with.

Then I started working with friends and test subjects, and every time, I got the same result.  Now, I didn’t know how to anchor the emotion in, and future-pace.  Nor did I know how to help the clients set up rituals for daily conditioning of the state.  But even without that, the transformations were remarkable.  I mean, an hour of work changed them for at least a week.

When I began to add the other aspects, I got even more powerful results.  I began to integrate Core Transformation into the other conscious and unconscious work, as a foundational model, a belief pattern I operate from when working with clients, friends, or whatever: whatever we do, we do to try to move away from pain and toward pleasure. And whatever pleasures we seek are substitutes for the genuine, deep connection we once felt in childhood.  Infancy.  The womb.

I’ve walked that path of personal drill-down.  And also meditated deeply and spiritually, for decades. And in terms of the “connect” there is no qualitative or quantitative difference I can detect.  We are what we are, beings created from and nurtured by love, stretching back to the beginning of life.  We spend our entire lives seeking that peace, joy, and acceptance we once received just for being here.

And if we can find a way to take action with joy, rather than take action seeking joy, it transforms our existence.

“Well begun is half done.”   “Begin with the end in mind.”

Give yourself the gift of the emotions most people believe they can only experience after accomplishing, or with the approval of others. 

Pleasure is in the body.   Love is in the heart.  Joy is in the spirit.   “Pleasure” is a poor substitute for what you truly seek.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Why I stopped NLP-ing

I use NLP in my coaching, but have mentioned that it scared me back in the day, and that I voluntarily decided to stop its use until I matured a bit more.   That comment raised some eyebrows, and I decided to explain.

Neuro Linguistic Programming is a VERY powerful set of tools.   It can be used for self-improvement, therapy, sales, sports performance, or seduction.  I studied it back in the 80’s, and got really, really good.  Then something happened that suggested I was so good at it that I could affect people on basic levels that scared me.  Now, I’m not saying I should have been scared, or that someone else should have been.  Just reporting honestly.   I then “backed away” from NLP because I saw that it was power without a moral center, an investigation of how human beings communicate with themselves and others, mostly on an unconscious level.  Later, I found a little corner of the NLP world that DID have a moral core, and was able to approach it again.  Again, this is about my perceptions, MY values, and not whether anyone else could or should practice this stuff.

I first knew that there was an issue when I attended a self-improvement seminar by a major NLP guru, and watched him drop whole sections of the audience into trance and give them embedded hypnotic commands to buy his products.   Scary. 

But my personal epiphany came when I used it to talk a guy out of committing suicide without him ever knowing what I’d done.  That was power.  And as Uncle Ben (he of Spiderman, not Converted Rice) said: “with great power comes great responsibility” and I wasn’t feeling hugely responsible back then.


The incident happened thirty years ago,  when the wife of a friend called me in a tizzy.  Call her Maude, and the husband “Mark”.  She was crying. “Steve, my marriage to Mark is in trouble.  He’s in trouble.”   I asked her to explain.  Mark had grown increasingly distant.  Hadn’t touched her sexually in a year (and for the record, she was GORGEOUS) and just watched porn on his computer.

And now he’d begun talking about suicide.  She was legitimately terrified.   Now, these were “social” friends, in that I worked with the guy.  HAD worked with him.  We’d been to their house for dinner, but it wasn’t like we were close.  This was one of the moments in my life when I realized that people told me stuff that was just unreal.  I mean: why me?  What did she expect me to do?

But…something inside me liked the idea that I might be able to help.   She said he wouldn’t go to a therapist, and was a powder-keg.   For whatever reason, I accepted the challenge.

I spent an hour thinking about it, and realized that no frontal assault was gonna work. In fact, I’d been forbidden even to mention to Mark that Maude had talked to me!   Hmmm.

I got sneaky.   Called Mark and, with a heavy voice, said I had some problems, and no one to talk to about them.  Because of some life experience he’d had, I thought he might be perfect.  He was flattered, and agreed to meet me for dinner.

At the restaurant the next day, I played someone on the edge of depression.  Hinted at suicide.   Now, before I did that, I “gained rapport”—matched his speech patterns, body language, breathing rate and depth.  Crossed my arms the same way he did, without being obvious about it.

Then…I slowly began to lead him into trance, using language, rhythmic speech patterns, and deepening my breathing.  When two people have rapport, the one with the deepest congruence and greatest flexibility will start controlling the engagement.

One secret to hypnosis is that it is a projection of an internal state within the hypnotist.  So all I had to do was enter the state of focused calm I wished “Mark” to enter, and the rapport communicated it to him.  Because he was unaware of what was happening, he went heavy, and hard, and it was all I could do not to laugh as I made him sway side to side or cross and uncross his arms.    Powerful stuff!

Now the game really started.  I convinced him I was deeply depressed, and got him to advise me on how to get out of it. (I hope I don’t have to explain how appropriate it is to have a client tell YOU what their recipe for an internal state or change).  He suggested I think of the good things in my life (if you want to change your mood, either change what you focus on, or how you use your body.  He was suggesting a change in focus.  Great.)

So…I began to weave the trance a little deeper.  “Are you telling me,” I asked, and when I said “you” I pointed to myself.  And when I said “me” I pointed to him, very subtly.    “Am feeling depressed, I should think about all the great things in my life?”

He kind of blinked and nodded.  

“And maybe the next time I’m driving down the street” (and remember, every time I used a pronoun, I pointed to the opposite person!) “and I see a red light, it means to STOP thinking negatively.  And when I see a green light, it means to GO FOR IT, enjoy life, embrace the journey?”

He was swaying, blinking, doing everything but falling face-down into his soup bowl.  I mean he was GONE, and didn’t even realize it.

Now, I don’t and never did know the precise issues that had deviled “Mark.” But I do know that if you have a positive attitude and can take a long view, that it is easiest to devise generative solutions.
Anyway, I future tested the implanted ideas (got him to visualize these changes in his future),  and then closed the trance, tested to be sure he was completely “back” and thanked him deeply for the advice (!).
And drove home, wondering what the hell I thought I’d been doing.

Well…the next day I got a call from his wife.  “Steve!” she shrieked.  “What in the world did you do?”

“Ummm…what’s wrong?”  I held my breath, anticipating disaster. Oh, God…

“Wrong?” she said.  “Nothing!   Mark came home last night more filled with energy and enthusiasm than I’ve seen in a year!   He grabbed me, threw me on the bed and made love to me like a madman!”  She went on, raving about how he had changed…like magic.

And a month later she said the change had held.  That he was still optimistic, and horny as a teenager.  
Well, DAMN.  I thought about this, and realized that I was more than good at this. I was friggin’ wizard.  And that scared me.  To be honest, I haven’t been the most responsible, caring person my whole life.  And the power to do what I had done frightened me, because I saw the potential for abuse.    This is, again, NOT a condemnation of NLP.  It is only a comment about my own fear of myself.  Period.

So…I stepped away from Neuro Linguistic Programming, thinking that I had to grow up a bit.  Center myself more.  And would return to it later.

Which, in time,  I have.  


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Health versus Fitness...and you

A major part of my awakening process happened when I learned techniques for mental or emotional growth…and recognized a parallel to something I’d learned in martial arts, Tai Chi, or yoga.  The cross-reference between emotional and physiological experiences was mind-blowing, and helped me find a “center” that cannot be taught from a book or lecture…you have to actually experience it.

There are faster ways to “get” this than the decades of training I went through, and one of them is the Five Tibetans, which I’ve discussed many times.  While not a complete exercise system (they don’t really touch aerobic capacity, nor do they take you through all six “degrees of freedom”) they are seriously excellent, scalable (at the beginning you do no more than three reps), require little time, no equipment, can be learned from a book (in fact, ALL there really is as “authority” is a book, the “Eye of Revelation” written by a mystery man named Peter Kelder and published in 1939) and provide a pretty darned solid base for fitness/health.  Seek it out—we’ll discuss it more later.  Here’s an article on them, and you can find plenty of free resources on the Web.
But one thing I wanted to discuss is the place that the “family” of exercises like the Tibetans, yoga, chi gong, joint recovery and so forth occupies.    Basically, they are “health” activities, not strictly “fitness” activities. 

Just recently a friend and advanced martial artist passed away.   In conversation with one of his students, I was dismayed that they were confused about how this could have happened.  He was so strong and skilled!  How could he die like that..?

I wanted to shake her.  The teacher  chain-smoked, ate for pleasure rather than health, kept bizarre night-owl hours, and practiced his martial art at an intensity that would cripple a teen-ager, let alone a man in his later years.   It was only a matter of time.

Fit?  Sure.  Healthy?  Not at all, and if you don’t understand the difference, you are in trouble.
“Fit” means the ability to perform.  Usually to throw something of X weight Y distance. Or to repeat a movement Y times with Z weight.  Or jump so high.  Or run so fast for so long.   It is the external “yang”world of quantifiable activity.  And BECAUSE it is quantifiable, people flock to it.

“Health” is far subtler.  While there are certainly medical markers, most of it is far more subjective.   How do you feel when you wake up in the morning?  How do your joints feel?  Your back?  Is your mood high and positive and balanced?   Do you face life with a sense of optimism?  To get a touch “woo-woo”, does your “chi flow” smoothly through your body and life?  Sleep well and deeply? Have a joyous, spontaneous and powerful sexual expression?  Experience orgasm deeply and fully?  How’s your posture?   Skin tone? 

Most of these are subjective.    Fitness and health are different things that overlap.  But it is possible to be very “fit” or even a champion athlete but suffer degenerative disks, deteriorated joints, liver damage from performance drug use, chronic pain or headaches, a bad back, sleep disruption, violent mood swings, frequent colds and flus, and more.

But MAN!  They can fight, or run, or lift, or tie their bodies into knots like nobody’s business. 
I’ll never forget “Jimmy” the young black belt who asked me: “when will I stop being afraid?  When will I stop feeling like a fraud?”

God knows I wish I had known then what I know now.   When, about six months later I heard he’d shot himself, I realized the depths of his pain and anguish, and cursed that I hadn’t listened more deeply.  Wished I’d had greater wisdom, and pledged to find the answer I WOULD have given him, had I been a wiser person.

The problem with “Jimmy” was that he had put martial skills AROUND his pain and fear, like armor, like a shell.    But although people might “oohh!” and “ahh!” as he performed martial ballet, inside he was unchanged.   If he hadn’t been so wounded, then over time the “shell” would be absorbed into his “bones” shifting his core identity by anchoring performance to honest perception, allowing him to express more powerfully the more authentically he behaved and the more calmly he thought and felt.  That feedback loop is incredibly powerful, and has worked for thousands of years: first the outer world changes, and then the inner.

“Jimmy” didn’t have time for that.   Athletes who seek approval, or riches, or scholarships, or community, or self-expression by tearing their bodies apart in their teens have time to learn and grow and evolve.  But if you work out in the same way in your 30’s or 40’s, you may be asking for trouble.
Coach Scott Sonnon’s “Performance Pyramid” is a beautiful model: you start with health, then atop that put “fitness”, THEN skill, and then competition.   I like to add another foundational aspect: mental/emotional health.

So: mental/emotional health is your foundation.   Exercises like heartbeat meditation, the “Ancient Child”, the “glitter in water” technique, dream journaling and so forth.

Then: physical health.    This is stretching, joint recovery, daily motion (like walking) and enough weight-bearing exercise to stimulate basic muscle tone.

If you choose a discipline like yoga, the Tibetans, or Tai Chi, it is possible for this to shade into the realm of “fitness” in an elegant way, and nothing more is “necessary.”

But if you want to perform in a sport it may be a good idea to add “fitness” activities: how far, how fast, how many, how long, how heavy, etc.  If you don’t add fitness, and create a foundation of health, you “weekend athletes” will tear your bodies to pieces, and call it “age.”  No, it’s ignorance.

Once emotional health, physical health, and fitness are in place, you should acquire skill—efficiency and effectiveness in motion.  This is very important in any activity, but especially those where you must perform under stress or resistance (grappling), encounter random variables (hiking, rock climbing) or attempt to generate force against an obstacle (racquet sports).    All of these things create wear and tear, and the only solution is committing to higher and higher levels of flow and efficiency.  Sports where you translate rotary to linear momentum create sheering forces on the joints that lead to surgery down the road. Be careful!

Now then…if you have all of these pieces: psychological health, physical health, fitness, and skill…THEN you enter the realm of performance and competition.

This may sound like a lot, but if you choose your activities with care, and really think it through.   Health and basic fitness can be acquired in about an hour a week if you are very sly about it (say…by combining Five Tibetans and a basic breathing meditation, plus dream journaling).    More advanced fitness can be gained in another hour a week (say by integrating/adding three TacFit sessions)

The smarter you are, the more educated you are, the most honest you are about the fact that you aren’t a teenager any more, and the more disciplined and focused you are…the less time it takes and the more “bang” you get for your buck.

So…there you are, a critical piece of the body-mind question.   “Jimmy” was missing the first piece: psychological/emotional health.    If I’d known then what I know now, I could have zeroed in and given him specific recommendations. True, he might still have been unable to cope…he might still have ended up destroying himself…

But I believe he would have had a fighting chance.


Monday, October 14, 2013

The Genius of Milton Erickson

I want to go through every basic pattern I’ve used or taught in connection with my own life, creating characters and situations in fiction, or coaching clients.  It’s all connected.  The very first breakthrough, and something I’ve spoken of often enough that I don’t think I need to go back through it right now (although if there are requests, I will) is the structure created by cross-referencing the Hero’s Journey (generally in the way I use it: a ten-step perspective on the deep structure of world myth, which simply relates to the process of dealing with any challenge in life) and the yogic Chakras, which is generally (there are other interpretations) a seven-step model of human growth or consciousness, on either an individual or cultural level.  
Those were the X and Y axis, and I could sense the presence of a “Z” that made a dynamic sphere of interaction.  Couldn’t quite label it, but could feel it.    But I could see that if I looked at the Hero’s Journey as a spiral, it became the route between the different “levels” of the Chakras, and the Chakras mapped over beautifully with Maslow hierarchy of human needs.  
They pop up elsewhere.    The hypnotic skills of Milton Erickson are legendary.   I’ve seen and done things using his patterns that were so powerful they were almost frightening.  Stories of this phenomenal man, his ability to create therapeutic interventions that were shatteringly powerful, gloriously subtle, and subversively generative (a client would come to him to stop biting his fingernails, and months later his entire family would be transformed.  Spooky) are so far-out that if I hadn’t had them verified from a dozen different sources, and seen the power first hand, I wouldn’t believe them.   Skepticism is absolutely justified when dealing with images and claims at this level.
I had occasion to speak to the man who originally taught me Ericksonian hypnosis a few months ago, and asked a question I’d not thought of before: why, exactly, was Erickson so efficient and effective at creating healthy change?
And the answer brought me right back to the Chakras.  Paraphrased, the answer was that Milton had a simple belief he applied consistently: that 90% of human beings wanted about 90% of the following things:
1) to mature to become a self supporting adult human being. 
2) To find joy in the “hunting and gathering” of daily occupation.  To satisfy sexual needs with ethics and without guilt. 
3) To have a healthy, vibrant physicality.
4) To find love, marry, and have children. 
5) To live a life of joy, growth, health, and contribution. 
6)To age gracefully
6) To die at peace.
Most people, he believed, wanted most of that.  He simply assumed that if people were not functioning along that path, they had a “knot” in the natural flow of their lives, and helped them un-knot it, freeing up the energy they needed to continue their evolutionary process.  That expanded health would then affect their entire family or social structure. 
One reason that this was so successful, of course, is that no one who had their act totally together would show up asking for help in the first place. Was he generally correct?    I don’t know, but so long as you keep an open mind to the probability that not everyone will fit into this pattern, it seems fairly safe to assume that the majority of people want the majority of these things, and let an orange flag raise when multiple arenas are non-optimal.
(By the way, one of my greatest teachers suggested that you can begin this healing/growth process from the “core survival” level up, or the “love” level “out.”  But NOT from the head level down.  In other words, don’t create a map of reality and then try to fit reality into that box.   Begin either with your actual interactions with the world on a pain-pleasure basis, or with the emotional heart-space connections with family and friends.  Either of those leads to growth, whereas being head-heavy can lead to a disastrous overly-intellectual attempt to mould the world into a form consistent with your presuppositions and prejudices.   Your ego will invalidate anything that doesn’t support your beliefs.    It gets ugly)
 If you look at the Chakras as a path of evolution (survival, sex, power, emotion, communication, intellect, spirit) we can see six thousand years of yogic psychology agreeing with Erickson.    And Maslow’s hierarchy (physiological, safety, love/belonging/self-esteem/self-actualization) would seem to be a different window in on the same process.
This suggests that, for instance, in writing a story you can simply wound a character on one of these levels, and then confront them with the challenges they need to grow and heal.
In personal life, you can look at the “weak link” in this chain and by strengthening it, begin to positively affect everything above it.
And in coaching, raising children, or teaching you can simply look at this basic pattern and assume they want CHOICE on each of these levels, and give them the resources to have it.  They may well choose not to have children (for instance)…but I can think of no reason a person wouldn’t want to be emotionally healthy and financially secure enough to raise and protect them if he wanted to.   At the least, a person genuinely secure in their decision not to have a relationship, or to accept poverty, or weigh 300 pounds will simply smile gently at any suggestion that they secretly wish to change.  What they WON’T do is react with  anger, or resentment—those can be safely assumed to be evidence that the person is acting out of fear rather than love or self-actualization.
So I would suggest looking at that chain.    If you function beautifully on all those levels, fantastic.   If not, and you hear yourself saying: “Nah, I don’t want that” then fine.  But if you feel a flash of emotion, especially anger, you may want to look more closely.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Nurturing the "Ancient Child"

As I sort out the next phase of my life, one of the things I’m going to is review all the component pieces of the puzzle, relating them to the three major aspects of my life: relationships, career, physical health.  Because of the way I taught myself to write and live, each of these tools has been tested in my personal life, in coaching and teaching, and as means of constructing characters in novels and screenplays.

The “Ancient Child” is a metaphor, a way of looking at the relationship between different aspects of our personality.  While the result of decades of practice, teaching and research, the structure is very simple: visualize the “chakras” arrayed along the spine.   The “child” self is down at the 1st chakra (survival) the adult is in your heart, the “elder” is above the crown.   These positions are flexible: when I want the “child” in my heart I just change my perspective so that I’m looking down from above the heart, straight down to the root, and there the little rascal is, waving at me.

Science fiction giant Harlan Ellison defined success as “to bring into existence, in adult terms, your childhood dreams.”  That’s fabulous.   Combine that with the fact that countless hospice workers have reported that the things people aspire to upon their deathbeds are deep, clear values.  The life-views or values most often embraced include: Love, forgiveness contribution, self-expression, spiritual growth connection, adventure, and regret for not living fearlessly.  

By the way: making this connection does NOT lead to “childish” behavior.   The child may be self-centered, emotional, grasping, and inexperienced, but the “adult” aspect of your personality is now there for guidance.   Connecting heart, body, and mind gives you complete control of the system, perhaps for the first time in your life.  Love someone?  Fine, but don’t form a relationship unless they can also be a business partner and support your values.  Love that fattening food?  Great, but the “adult”part of you has to know where that road will lead in five years: have a “cheat day” once a week, but if you give in to the tantrums every day, you are in serious trouble.

Work at a job that deadens your soul?  Either find a way to love what you do, or begin NOW to plan your escape to a job where you can do what you love.  It is your “adult” self’s job to protect your heart, protect your dreams, “parent” that kid inside you with what I call “ruthless compassion.”   Be a dragon, a gorgon, an amazon, an absolute rabid tiger in protection of your most precious essence.  But…when you have “vetted” a person or situation as healthy for you…that protective icon can just melt and play with spontaneous joy.  There’s nothing like playing in the sandbox with other “kids” who have “parents” strong enough to keep watch.   
So the simple, simple version is that if we live our adult lives in alignment with BOTH our childhood dreams and our ultimate “deathbed” values, we will act with power and authority, move toward love and away from fear, seek connection without codependence, nurture and love ourselves deeply enough to have love to offer others, express ourselves, and hold every moment as precious and irreplaceable.   

We seek creativity, select health over mere performance, seek “flow” (those moments when ego dissolves and we submerge ourselves in an ecstatic or immersive experience or relationship), choose relationships that challenge and nurture us…it goes on and on.  Tolerate fools less gladly, while having compassion for human weakness.   Insist on honesty from the people around us, and offer it…with love and ruthless compassion.

To treat ourselves as we would our most beloved child.  That’s a core, central principle.   Would you want your own beloved child to take this job?   Associate with this person?  Eat this meal? Cling to this emotion?  Accept or deny this experience?

On your deathbed, will this grudge seem worth holding?  Did this phobia really protect you?   Was this experience really worth spending precious hours/days/years that can never be recovered?

Here are three exercises that can help you zero in, make this connection:

1) Sit quietly, listening to/feeling your heartbeat.

2) Visualize yourself looking at yourself in the mirror.   See the light within the image.  Even if only a spark, condense it into a human form: even as little as a single fertilized cell.  An embryo.   A fetus.   A one year old.   A six year old.  WHATEVER YOU CAN MANAGE.  This represents your sense of the undamaged portion of your Self.

3) With your non-dominant hand, write a letter from your “child” self TO your “adult” self.  Let it flow.  That child is looking at who you are now.   Be prepared to hear what she has to say.

4) With your dominant hand, write a letter from your adult to your “child” self.  What do you wish you could reach back and say?  What teachings, lessons, encouragements, resources would you offer to that younger self?  What apologies?   Commitments?   That “younger” self needs to be connected to your heart, or you will seek approval from others, in inappropriate ways (have a rotten relationship history?  I GUARANTEE you that you have a disconnect on this level!  Fix it, and you will automatically cease seeking love, sex, pleasure, “happiness” with inappropriate partners.)

There is more…much more.  Contact me if you need more personalized guidance.  But in all honesty, THIS WILL GET YOU STARTED!   These are the steps that will “root” you in your life and heart, give you control over your energies, and set you on the path to generative healing and Awakened Adulthood.  Without this connection, you can earn a fortune, win marathons, and be loved by millions and still feel suicidally empty.  WITH this connection, you are free to accomplish simply as an expression of who and what you really are—to begin and live your days with joy and gratitude.

A fast measure of this is: can you look in the mirror, and without a hint of irony smile, see the child you were and say with warmth and joy: “I love you.  You’ve done absolutely the best you could with the resources you have, and I am so proud.”

And…perhaps even hear the answering voice of love and approval.  We play all manner of ugly fantasy games with ourselves.  Any hesitation to play a positive game is a disconnect from that simple “what if?” capacity all children have, the ability to shift roles, the dynamic perceptual flexibility that once allowed us to dream of being astronauts, or cowboys, or actresses, or singers, or…

We still have those abilities.  We DO NOT NEED TO “GAIN” THEM.  All we need is to learn to take the brakes off.  To “chip away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.”  To disassociate with past failures and disappointments.  To extract the lessons from our experiences, but cast off the pain and fear.

To commit to bringing into existence, in an adult fashion, our childhood dreams.  Love yourselves, deeply and without reservation.  Then…send the overflow out into the world, to nurture and support and heal.  The world needs so much healing, and the healing must begin with you.   You do not know the world.  You know your view of the world.  To change what you see, change yourself first.