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Life Arts   

The Magic of Balance

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Message Steven Barnes
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Who has not watched intelligent, educated, good-hearted people unable to create the lives they desired, who eventually give up, consumed with despair and anger? They flail like gorillas on roller skates, with great strength, but no leverage at all.

Why does this happen? One possible answer is that they had theories, models for everything around them in life, but no way to check the accuracy of their ideas. They failed to grasp that EVERYONE deletes information from their conscious input. It is simply impossible to take in all the data that streams past our senses. Note the recent experiments proving that those self-identified with either the political Right or Left can see the flaws in the other party's arguments, but not in their own. This is typical of religious or gender bias as well. Men and women, Christian and Moslem, Believer and Atheist"all are vulnerable to this tendency.

If we are to be successful salesmen, artists, leaders, teachers, or simply human beings, we must have a cosmology""a world view. But we must also have an epistemology""an understanding of the way we gather information, and a method to determine if our methods of gathering or correlation or extrapolation are accurate. Since experimentation with the outside world is often beyond us, the only laboratory we have to test our ideas is our own lives: our bodies, our careers, our relationships. To be certain, some aspects of these are beyond us as well, but we have infinitely greater control here than we have of events in the outside world, let alone events on the level of international politics. How can we address our customers' needs if we don't really understand human strength and frailty? How can a novelist create realistic characters if he indulges in massive self-deception? How can a parent or teacher help raise a child to maturity without actually maturing herself?

How, in other words, can we be certain that we actually know what we think we know? Consider the possibility that we can increase the accuracy of our thoughts through examining our interactions with the three major aspects of our own lives: our bodies, our careers, and our relationships.

1) Body. Our bodies are created by our daily behaviors. They obey the laws of physics: the balance between calories in and calories out must be maintained. But our emotions get in the way. Yes, some people have slower metabolisms than others. Perfectly true. But that is simply a fact, much like the reality that some are born into poverty. While it is more difficult for those with disadvantages to reach success, there are countless examples of those who have done so, and if you wish to be happy in life, you should study what they did, and keep your mind tightly closed to the nay-sayers. You have NO obligation to match some culturally determined standard of beauty, but you SHOULD feel healthy, have the energy you desire, and match your own values. How can you know if you do? Strip down in front of a mirror. Do you find your own body attractive? If not, you have work to do""either physically, or emotionally. Probably both!

2) Career. We have to balance income with expenditure. It is possible to be happy (or content, or at peace) in any life situation. If you are miserable at work, then it is your responsibility to either make change, or to change your own attitude. We've all known people who waste their entire lives blaming their jobs, when it is their own lack of courage and emotional/creative flexibility that keeps them locked into a joyless existence. Our money flow is based upon many things, including the degree of service we provide for our communities, the self-respect that motivates us to demand what we are worth, and the intelligence and discipline with which we manage our finances. Creativity, empathy, determination, energy, honesty, risk-taking"all of these things factor in. One can either make more money, or develop the ability to find greater satisfaction within the current financial level. But without the ability to find peace and satisfaction here, much of the joy of life will elude you.

3) Relationships. The savage truth is that, in relationships, you can have anything you can afford. The coin is passion, health, intelligence, self-respect, and confidence. Men and women get into terrible trouble because they are attracted to people more attractive than themselves, and can't be honest about it. Women complain that men want beauty, while men complain that women want power. Get over it. We're wired up that way genetically, although the specific symbols of beauty and power vary across culture and time. The sooner you stop complaining about this immutable fact, the faster you'll be able to make decisions about the level of beauty or power you are willing (or able) to manifest in your own life to get what you want. And no, it isn't fair. No one said life is fair. But each gender seems to think that the other side has rigged the game to its advantage. In fact, the less successful a man or woman is in this arena, the less likely they are to grasp a central truth: if women were men, they'd behave like men. If men were women, they'd behave like women. Stop finger pointing, and get into the game!

In each of these three arenas, there are painful truths we must face: human beings are wise, and good, and strong, and spiritual. Unfortunately we are also lazy, dishonest, confused, and childishly wish the world would simply recognize our genius and follow our advice. Why should the world, our customers, our audience, our children, listen to us when we cannot communicate honestly with ourselves?

In the creation of fictional characters, often all one has to do is create a flaw in one of these three arenas, and then create a plot situation that will teach the character a lesson they need to heal. In the world of advertising, almost all products are sold with an appeal to one of these three areas: sex, power, or health. Fail to understand how human beings are driven by these needs: or how almost EVERYONE fails to balance in all three of them, and you will miss a primary motivation in human history. If we cannot understand or effectively communicate with our own psyches. What hope have we to effectively understand one another?

Mastery is a road, not a location. We needn't be millionaires with bodybuilder physiques married to movie stars with in order to progress toward clarity and power. But we must take responsibility. We must admit that we want health, and happiness, and love. And move with both discipline and joy toward a future we can cherish. What we learn along that road is the Truth of what we are. And the truth will set you free.
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Steven Barnes is a NY Times bestselling author, personal performance coach, and martial artist. He has lectured on creativity and human consciousness at UCLA, Mensa, and the Smithsonian Institute. Steve created the Lifewriting system of (more...)

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