The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, March 28, 2014

How To Pick Up Girls!

There is a story about two monks walking in the woods.  They come to a stream.  A beautiful woman asks them if they will help her across.  They are of a sect forbidden contact with women, so the younger monk is shocked when the older one picks up the woman and carries her across, then sets her down on the far bank.

The two walk on for several miles, and then the young monk explodes: “I can’t believe you picked up that woman!” he says.
The older monk smiles mildly.  “I put her down on the river bank.  I can’t believe you’re still carrying her.”
We always do the very best we can with the resources we have. Today you have different resources than you had yesterday. A critical  distinction is between "responsibility" and guilt, blame, or shame. Response-Ability is literally "the ability to respond." Without that, you are adrift, your agency destroyed by negative emotion.  No one who has ever been born is better than you.  The only “cost” for living in this reality is giving up the notion that you are better than anyone else.   The only cost for forgiving yourself enough to drop your baggage and evolve is forgiving those who have damaged you.   

Forgiving is NOT forgetting.  It is NOT allowing them to hurt you again.
You don’t forgive others for their benefit, but for yours.  The only reason you cannot is fear that if you don’t, you will be hurt again.  That means there is no actual deep trust for your own soul and being.    Start with love.    Abandon the need to be better than others.  You are enough in and of yourself, without comparisons to others.  All comparisons to others are within the “dream” of life, not the reality.  It is fine to play such games, but they must not be mistaken for reality.   One of my mentors once said, “you can enjoy playing Monopoly, but don’t make the mistake of thinking you can live on Boardwalk or Park Place.”

Love yourself.  Forgive--but don’t take any shit, either.     Seek truth, taking balanced goals within the “dream” of life, and notice the results without being attached to them.   Remember: At every moment of your life, you’ve done the best you could with the resources you had.

And so has everyone else.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

What Is The Meaning of Life?

While I don’t think it can really quite be put into words, the  Dali Lama came as close as anyone I’ve seen when he  said:  “The meaning of life is happiness.”  

There is, of course, no such thing as a simple, fool-proof philosophical statement because, as we all know, fools are so ingenious.  Tell some one “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” some wise-acre will say, “well, what about a masochist?  Huh?   Ever think of that?”

Well, let’s actually be kinder than that.  The questioner might well be a philosopher’s greatest ally--so long as the questions are honest, and not purely a rhetorical game, filled with fictional straw men who believe this or that that real human beings can’t believe without massive internal inconsistency.  Cheap thrills.   Freshman philosophy 101.

Say “the meaning of life is happiness” and the same Ally will say: “well, should we just do anything that makes us happy?   Should we just smoke dope all day long?  Get laid every chance we get?  What kind of idiot works a job, if the purpose of life is happiness?”

And that is useful, opening a valid and critical expansion on the basic concept, a discussion of short versus long-term pleasure, child versus adult dynamics, reality maps and reality, values versus expedience, physical as opposed to existential pleasure.   Individual as opposed to group welfare.    Ego and expanded identity.  Balance and obsession.  Big “Self” and little “self.”      Great discussions. All-day, life-long, multi-generational discussions.  Good stuff!  But they must ultimately relate to the Two Biggies:   “who am I?” and “what is true?”    Follow these questions until you find an unlanguageable place where they are two versions of the same question...and you’ve found the door.   Now all you have to do is figure out if it’s marked “push” or “pull”.   Heh heh.   

Anyway, the question “what is happiness?”  Is a critical one to ask, so that you can begin with the meanings that actually touch your heart.   Then...keep asking, until you get to the answer that aligns with your values, is short AND long term, honors BOTH your “inner child” and “inner elder” personalities, allows you to function in the adult world with joy and contribution (and financial success) and resolves the riddle of “do what you love, or love what you do.”

Here’s a thought to begin the discussion:
“The Buddhists believe happiness is the inner calm that comes from meditation.  The Jews believe that we are here to change the world.   My own work suggests that happiness comes from harmonious relationships and giving to others. ”--Cloe Madanes.

What is happiness to you?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Coaching yourself--Child's story

When I coach someone, I ask them to create a "child's story"--their life story told in simple language, from birth to today. I do this to understand how they hold together all the beliefs and suppositions that create their current lives. Then I shake it up so that they get to reinterpret it all in light of what they now know about themselves and the world. It is remarkable how much disempowering b.s. follows us from the weakest and most vulnerable period of our lives. Or how sad it is that we abandon the hopes and dreams of that same precious period. It is never too late to correct those errors. Never.

Write YOUR Child’s Story (max 500 words.  In language a child could understand: “once upon a time there was a boy who...”--your story of how you became the person you are.

What is implied within it about your beliefs, values, and emotional charges?

Which of these would you want your own most precious beloved child adapt into her own life?

Harlan Ellison said: “success is bringing into existence, in an adult fashion, your childhood dreams.”  

Do you agree?

If so, how can you take a step toward that goal today?

Monday, March 24, 2014


I’ve written all kinds of different ways. Sometimes the technique is driven by a strategy, sometimes a philosophy, sometimes just personal amusement--following the energy.
But in general, I either start with an idea, flesh it out, and ask what character would be perfect to interact with and witness these events.  Or I start with a character and ask what would be the worst thing that could happen to them...and how it could turn out to be the best.  The two ideas interact.

Computer word-processors and programs like Scrivener offer the chance to write non-linearly, in an approach I consider closer to the actual way our brains organize story: sometimes time-bound, sometimes emotionally driven. Sometimes subjective-character, sometimes objective-plot.  Back and forth, viewing the story from one perspective or another, depending on mood and moment.  Every time you look at the relation of plot and character a different way, different things are revealed. This is why, once you have a basic knowledge of structure (especially one with infinite depth) you can just put in what you know on a given day, and not worry about the fact that it all looks so naked and unconvincing from a distance.

I call this the “Polaroid” technique. Rather than begin at the beginning and work my way through, I just ask: what do I know?  And put that in where it seems to go, do all I can on a given day, and then come back and look at it again tomorrow.  And always, ALWAYS, new facts have been revealed, new relations established, new perspectives leap to mind.  Always.  Not once, ever, if I have emptied myself out on day 1, does the project look or feel the same on day 2.  Never.

Do all you can, every day, and trust that tomorrow brings new potentials.     This relates to growth and change in other arenas as well.  What triggers muscle growth?

1) Stress
2) Nutrition
3) Rest.

Exercise, eat, rest.  All in proper balance.  The result?  Muscle growth.   How about learning?   Perform, study, sleep.   Dream-time (or rest-time) allows re-organization of material committed to the conscious mind, and new solutions arise in dreams, or while you’re showering, or taking a pleasant walk or run.


1)  Experience life, giving all you have to your family and community.  Plumb the deepest depths of your mind in meditation.
2) Study the philosophical, spiritual or religious texts that call to your heart.  Read the biographies of the men and women who inspire you.
3) Sleep or recreate.

As is true in all disciplines, most of the time you cannot perceive growth directly on a daily level.    Most of it is under the surface, slow, and will only pop up and surprise you when others who haven’t seen you for a time comment on how much you’ve changed.   This may be why intermittent reinforcement works better for training skills--we don’t get regular steady feedback day by day, we get nothing...nothing...nothing..ah!  A little improvement...nothing...POW!  Improvement in some arena we hadn’t even been watching!   Nothing...nothing...POW!  

If we follow that pattern: give it all you and “feed” ourselves.  Recreate and rest.

Now, the above formulas aren’t quite “magic formulas” in some chemical or mathematical sense.   But if you will experiment with them in all three major arenas, you will develop your own versions of them, and by moving through mental, emotional, and kinesthetic symbol systems you’ll go beyond language to understanding, and will “know” on a deeper level. That “knowing” will then become a great starting point to sort through every lesson about life, success, or excellence you’ve ever learned, and you’ll understand what the Masters have been saying at a much deeper level.

And will also have discovered a perfect justification for napping, and that’s always a good thing.


Friday, March 21, 2014

The Furnace, Not the Sparks

Last night at a dinner gathering, a lady told me
that she was exploring Kundalini yoga, and I
asked her why.  She said that she wanted to
discover the “real” her, and to learn about
advanced powers of mind.  She had invited
me to comment, so while I usually keep my
mouth shut about such things, I decided to
share some thoughts.

Thirty years ago, the “Faces of Science Fiction”
book profiled me, and I offered a thought on
creativity I learned from one of my early teachers:
 the primary creative act is the work itself.  
That is the art.  Books, screenplays, poems,
whatever are not “art” in that sense--they
are “objects of art”, by-products of artistic
process, “sparks flung out of the furnace of
creation.”   We must concentrate on the
feast itself, not look backwards or sideways
at the trail of bread-crumbs we leave behind.
Pay too much attention to the results, and
you shift the objects from peripheral to
foveal focus, and fall into the dream rather
than lucidly moving through it, creating as
you go.

The same is true in the realm of the physical.  
The body  you have  is nothing but the result
of living, eating, feeling, moving and thinking
in certain patterns.  Align action, emotion,
and intellect in one way and you produce
one result.  In another way, we get another
result.   But the results are interesting,
but secondary to the process.  Pay too
much attention to the results, and you
can become frozen in place.

I say this because according to Sri Chinmoy,
the “siddhis” or powers attributed to disciplines
like Kundalini yoga are the same thing.  
All sorts of bizarre synchronistic phenomena
routinely happen to meditators.  They
are great fun, but I’m not interested in
debating whether they are “psychic” or
not.  Why?  Because you shouldn’t pay
much attention to them in the first place.  
Your attention needs to be on the twin
questions: who am I?  What is true?

Do that, and the rest follows beautifully.  
Try to “develop powers” and at the least,
you are distracted by the shiny toys.  At
the worst?  Well, every fairy-tale and
supernatural story about evil wizards
is nothing but a metaphor for the corruptive
power of the Chase.  All world cultures
have these stories.  I doubt that is an accident.

Don’t chase after the finished product.
Just be who you are, every day, in
every moment, and from the corners
of your eyes notice if the results are
in alignment with your values.  If not,
shift behaviors.  If so, motor on.  

Enjoy the view.  Life is short:  have fun!


(p.s.--I currently have room for two
coaching clients in my schedule.  If
you are interested, FIRST please visit
look at “Steven Barnes’ Life Coaching”
to understand how this is handled.   
Then...get in touch and let me know how I can help!)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Cold, Hard "Math" of it

I am convinced that if there is a conflict between emotional needs/filters and intellectual/objective reality, the capacity to perceive objective reality suffers.   The mechanism would seem to be complicating the subject until there is no longer an objective measurement available to the “common sense” part of the personality.  Oh,’s all too complicated to figure out…

I know that in each of the major arenas, there are very simple (or relatively simple) measures that people who struggle in those arenas often seem to have a difficult time accepting.  These ideas are the bedrock of mastering the “dream” of consensus reality, and any concept of awakening roots quite strongly within them.  Without them, you risk mistaking delusion for “spiritual advancement.”

If you accept the following ideas, which range from the emotional/spiritual (difficult to quantify) to the bedrock of physics and mathematics, my approach to reality will work for you.  If you don’t, it won’t.  And I would suggest you simply consider me deluded.  Seriously.

Pretty simple.   Ultimately, we can’t be certain of what reality is: we may, after all, be nothing but brains in boxes.  But the following notions seem to be internally and externally consistent enough to explain so much of our lives that I find it FAR more useful to accept than reject them.

By the way: I’ve never met a human being who did not struggle in at least one of these areas.  Never.  NOT A SINGLE ONE, myself most certainly included. This is tough, ugly stuff.  We go from the most emotional/least objective to the most mathematical/most capable of individual control.

1) Relationships. The “Beauty-Power” access. The more power a woman desires in a potential mate, the more beauty (however that is measured in her cultural niche) she has to trade for it.  The more beauty a man desires in a potential mate, the more power (however that is measured in his cultural niche) he has to trade for it.

Application: not interested in the people who are attracted to you?   Change your standards: either for the people you are willing to accept, or your own behaviors affecting power and beauty.  If you don’t, it is a recipe for pain.

2) Balancing the budget.   If you spend more money than you make, you go into debt.    You have to control both ends of the money equation, or you are screwed.  Period. If you find yourself reluctant to balance your checkbook, you are probably dealing with pain and delusion  in this arena.  (While this is math, we often have little direct control on exactly when and how we are pain. The time lag between cause and effect can be devastating.  If your career does not position you close to the “money flow” or if excellence does not correlate to amount of remuneration, you will have to employ creative thinking, big time.  And you will have to be ruthless about demanding that the world pay you what you earn...or moving to another arena where you can do so.)

Application: sick of your current financial situation?   Bring in more money and spend less.  Whatever you do, however you have to do it, no one has ever changed their finances in any other way than changing the balance of this equation.

And the most basic arena, the one that requires the least cooperation from other human beings (and if you grasp the difficulty people have here in this arena, the problems in the others become clearer thereby:)

3)   If you take in fewer calories than you burn up, you lose weight.   Sure, “not all calories are equal.”  Sure, emotional, social, physiological, metabolic, and other factors make things harder.  There is no “moral” dimension to the struggle.  Weight is not directly correlative to health.   I don’t believe in “lazy” people.   Health, and injury can make it terrible.  Social pressures are ghastly.      Yes, you can eat and exercise exactly as you did twenty years ago, or before you had that baby or changed that job, and gain weight.  No, it isn’t fair that your friend/neighbor/sister can eat the exact way you do, and still stay skinny.   Yes, it takes seven hours of jogging to burn a single pound of fat.    NO I’M NOT SAYING IT IS EASY.  Sure, if you eat healthier food, you may want to eat less of it, leading to a better physical situation. All of these things are true.  But it is also true that if you take in fewer calories than you burn lose weight.  No exceptions (I’ve actually had people say bizarre things like: “what if you eat rocks?  Rocks have no calories, but you’ll be heavier…”  Can you see the massive avoidance involved in saying something like this?).  All of these things are true.   But if you try to avoid the reality of the first sentence in this paragraph, you will get lost in a vast, twisty maze of   exercise theories, conflicting opinions about nature and nurture, fad diets, and more.   All your roads have to lead to this one reality, OR YOUR EFFORTS WILL NOT WORK.  There is not an animal on this planet whose body disobeys the laws of physics.

Application: find some way to change the balance of the calories you take in and burn up.    Usually, the answer lies in better knowledge, changed behaviors and healed emotions.   Even bariatric surgery just seeks to limit intake.  Everyone who has ever lost weight has found a way to change this balance.   


No, I’m not saying these things are easy. The tangle of damaged emotions around these three issues are killer.  The cavalcade of people and opinions that will distract you from the simplest realities here are legion.    The support for infinite complexity (it’s just too complicated to understand!) are endless.

But if...and I mean IF, you can accept these three ideas, you gain a way to look at your own concepts, your reality map, your beliefs and emotions and actions that will teach you things about yourself most people don’t want to know.  If you accept responsibility in all three arenas at the same time, you have “safety rails” around the most critical aspects of your life, and you will be able to push HARD without damaging yourself, and in the process make real, generative progress toward self-knowledge.

In each of these three the reality is simple.  NOT “EASY”, “SIMPLE”.   If you want to be happy, either change your standards, or change your behaviors, whatever it takes.  If you have a wound in one of these three arenas? Hey, join the human race: you’re like the rest of us. Take a deep breath and re-adjust your grip on the wheel.

But if you have wounds in two or (God forbid!) all three?   You are in trouble.   You are careening down a mountain road, asleep, your inner child screaming in the back-seat for you to WAKE UP, DAMMIT! can simply believe it is all just too complicated. I say it is killingly simple...but HARD and often PAINFUL.  There is a difference.  


Monday, March 17, 2014

Core of the Diamond Hour

The “Diamond Hour” concept asks us to ask what can be accomplished in less than an hour of focused time a day.  The most important things I recommend are generative.  In other words, following the Chakras if you EITHER increase love (beginning with yourself) OR decrease fear, you will automatically evolve to more complex and “altruistic” levels of human connection.

Is this true? Let’s take the first case: the theory is that if you start by increasing love, the rest of our humanity flowers.

Let’s say you begin with the Heartbeat Meditation.  You connect with the sense of love within you.  ALL children were nurtured at some point in their lives--otherwise they die.  Period.  Make contact with that sense of caring and worth, and you have a foundation.

Now...visualize your child self, the oldest version you can “reach” prior to any damage that occurred to you in your life.  For me, that’s six years old.    Now...create a “love connection” between your current self, and that child.  YOU are now that child’s “parent.”   Got it?    When that child is filled with love, and trusts the connection (it may take weeks, or months of daily effort, depending on you) she will automatically seek companions, connection.  She is GENETICALLY as well as socially and psychologically programmed to do this--you need have no fear at all.  Once damage has been healed, we seek mates and tribe.

The best way to have healthy, happy long-term sexual and social relationships is to play fair.  It is like a salesman who travels through the same territory once every year.  You CAN’T cheat people and come back time after time.  Doesn’t work nearly as well as fair trade.  So simple fear (of loneliness and starvation/isolation) and greed (of lack of trading partners) will actually end up driving healthy behavior over the long term.  All children begin as totally selfish little entities, and most of them grow out of it once they figure this out.

Now, we have love, survival, sex, and tribe all aligned to produce a safe environment.   Once you have this foundation, it is possible to begin to ask questions about self-expression, “truth”, higher levels of growth and consciousness, and “awakening.”

But remember that the most basic drives will short-circuit ALL of this stuff.  This is why civilization is so incredibly important.  We often hate lawyers, but I think what we’re REALLY afraid of is the fact that without the  law, we’d be killing each other in the street to resolve our issues.  We must feel safe to be free to love.

So the “Diamond Hour” begins by combining Self-love (not the kind that is vulnerable to exploitation) with healthy stress response (the “Five Minute Miracle”).  Proper breathing and heartbeat meditation.  Once you have this, add your balanced goals and begin to progress toward them.  Observe and chronicle the results.  Within a year, you’ll know yourself as few human beings ever dare to do.   Journal the results.  You have begun the process of awakening, in a fashion that is safe, efficient, effective...and a surprising amount of genuine fun.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Why don't more of us evolve..?

On the Milton Erickson post yesterday, basically suggesting that Maslow’s Hierarchy (or the Yogic Chakras) detail what 99% of people want in the world, the following comment:
This begs the question: why don't we see more of it? I do not disagree with the premise -- it matches my personal experience -- but I do not understand why so few people achieve this state.”
The answer?    It’s like asking why so few people achieve mastery in any field.  It takes either stupendous luck, or fantastic drive and intent.

Let’s look at it from a Chakra perspective.
1) Survival.  We are born into a family that provides our survival needs (otherwise we simply wouldn’t survive).  The primary drive for most human beings throughout most history is BECOME GRANDPARENTS.  Every one of us is descended from thousands of generations of people who did this, so we can take it as a foundational building block.   This means hunt, gather, fight, breathe...all the basic “stuff” on an animal level.  Fear-based.  In order to survive in the basic family we must assume the behaviors and values of those into whose care we have fallen.  That means we are wide-open to imprintation for the first twelve years or so. We learn what kept our parents and grandparents alive.  Not how to be happy, or fulfilled, or whatever--unless first, most basically, we have the instructions on how to BECOME GRANDPARENTS down pat.   

2) Sex.   Have lots and lots of sex.  But not with your brothers and sisters.   Why keep kids from watching sex in movies?  Why are there greater prohibitions than there are for violence?  Well...this will be debated, and I can only offer a thought.  And here it is: a relatively small number of people will kill other human beings.  But we’re ALL gonna get laid.  We feel that in our marrow.  It is not “whether” but “when.”  And prior to the creation of effective birth control, pregnancy followed sex like night followed day.  There is also this oddness that it seems (to me) that sex as one of the primary drivers of human motivation (esp. for young men) the more “hoops” you make dudes jump through, the more you are harnessing this insanely powerful force for social “good.”   What do we want those young men to do?  Work, educate themselves, amass power, turn the social wheels, go out and protect the tribe.  Gee, what do we want young men to do in conservative sex-negative societies before they get access to sex?  Get jobs, demonstrate stability, meet the parents, learn to present themselves politely, etc.  It looks to me that we evolved from countless generations of human beings who were socially programmed to be damned conflicted about their sex drives--to want it, but not to have direct access to it, to limit production of children, prevent incest (hey, your brothers and sisters are RIGHT THERE after all.  I mean…) and use that driving force to power society rather than lay in the sun sipping coconut milk and screwing our brains out.   I’d bet that a sociologist could do a great study of “advanced” technological societies and find an inverse ratio between easy availability of sex and level of complexity and industrial development.  Not an absolute relationship, and once you get birth control this would start breaking down, but the reasons for all the scrambled messages and tortured emotions makes pretty good sense, and gives us a basis for starting to unscramble in the years ahead.  But please, let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water--even if unwanted pregnancy isn’t an issue, even if incest doesn’t produce as many mongoloid offspring as the legends would have us believe...I see ZERO advantage to removing the “no sex” zone from homes in childhood, and can see a lot of very, very bad shit arising from a situation where older brothers and sisters have social permission to pressure younger ones for sex.  Remember Chakra #1?  We NEED our family’s approval.  The potential for abuse is simply staggering.   

3) Power.  Third Chakra is individual autonomy.  Physical force and mastery.  Control of our environment.  And ability to create relationships and partnerships with others to increase our stability and safety.  Separation from our parents.   The creation of our own new homes.   Think about it: we have to develop massive ties and open neurology to learn what we need to survive: and then we have to control and direct our sex drives to balance between individual and social needs...and then we have to sunder those ties and achieve escape velocity to leave home.   Again, how many social and psychological rules have we absorbed by the age of 18 or 19, or whenever we leave home?  And how much chaos does the programmed “teen rebellion” phase cause?   

Man, oh man.  Just these first three levels, which EVERYONE has to pass in order to BECOME A GRANDPARENT by any healthy social standard, sets up so many rules we must obey TOTALLY at one point, and then break  to move from the child to the parent level, boggles the mind.  It is so much, so confusing.

Then...look at the difference between the “emergent” characteristics of rules from the personal to the family to the social to the institutional to the political levels...all of this stuff exists in embryonic form on the playyard and in chimp behavior, but becomes more complicated as we add sexual maturity, additional social memes, and future-pacing (if we don’t deal with this today, we’ll have to deal with it in twenty years…”nits make lice” so to speak…) and you can see how core, basic instructions: BECOME A GRANDPARENT turn into the ball of confusion we see as the adult world.  Racial prejudice.  Homophobia.   Raping the environment.  Sexism (controlled females, expended males) and on and on.

We’re moving beyond these levels s the Trifecta of industrialization, birth control and non-linear instant communication really kicks in, and it’s gonna be fascinating to watch.  You can already see the panic as the old hierarchical way of doing things is getting kicked to the curb.   There will be additional fear by those who grew up before 1950, or cleave strongly to those ways of thinking.  They are GOOD ways of thinking.  NECESSARY ways of thinking, because if you follow them you will BECOME A GRANDPARENT.  But...we are shifting, more rapidly than ever before in human history.  We have the chance to think about more than survival.  We get to think about self-expression, love, accurate reality maps, personal satisfaction on the deepest level...being awake, aware human beings, with more of us hewing to true life paths rather than simply obeying animal drives.   We have the chance to explore our humanity.

But we must never throw out the baby with the bathwater. And those on the left, pushing for the future, must remember that those on the right are NOT crazy, as those on the Right must realize us Lefties aren’t suicidal culture lemmings.   There is a leading edge, the flowering and there is the root.   We have to move forward without losing the knowledge of a hundred million life-ways that did not lead to BECOMING A GRANDPARENT.

The fact is, that we simply don’t need everyone to become a grandparent any more.  If we ever actually, absolutely did.   But it behooves us to understand that the conflicting rules and laws that scramble and limit us aren’t the result of evil...they are the result of fear (although they can certainly LEAD to evil.)  We’re just little bits of protoplasm with our eyes on heaven.  Babies dreaming of being adults.  Animals yearning to be angels.

And oh yeah, in the circus of life, every one of us is a clown.    I can hear the calliope music, can’t you?