Every Breath A Prayer

Steven Barnes
6 min readJan 11, 2021


“The decisive question is, do you hate false-self more than you fear no-self?” — “Jed McKenna”

I don’t know who “McKenna” really is, but his early work on Enlightenment strikes me as as valid as I’ve seen in print. There is nothing so terrifying to the ego as learning it has wrongly represented Self and Reality. People commonly kill to protect their illusions. My own mother arguably lost her will to live after an ego-shattering event.

The Sufis have an expression: to “die before you die.” That Enlightenment is the state of awareness that comes at the moment of death, and the Seeker simply attempts to reach that state prior to the end of life.

The Soul, the essence of the human, is not the Ego self, the shell of protection and identity that results from contact with the external world…and other egos. When people claim that there are people who cannot learn, change, grow…who are stuck in various states of fear and anger, they are not speaking of the True Self, but rather this shell.

But they don’t understand the irony. It is their own ego that seeks to change the other person’s mind. Saying in essence, “my ego cannot change THEIR ego.” When the real truth is that the essence of that person IS your own essence. The duality itself is the symptom that they are functioning at precisely the wrong level to facilitate evolution in others.

What IS the answer? The closest language can come to expressing it is to be like a tuning fork. To “vibrate” at the level you wish to entrain others. But it isn’t until you engage without hope, or desire, or need to have an effect that you actually GAIN the capacity to affect.

Why? Because everyone wants to be happy. But as we live, we gain egos that interact with the world to help us avoid pain and gain pleasure. We learn to please others to manipulate them into doing the things we wish them to do, or stop them from hurting us. We place the locus of our joy in others.

This makes sense as a helpless child. But for an awakened, adult human being this is a roadblock. Joy comes not from the acts of others, but from being in a state of alignment with our own natures. First, to surrender to the processes of hunting, gathering, and mating that drive our biology. Then, to learn to connect our higher ambitions to our sense of ethics, morality, self-expression, growth, and contribution…our emotional and mental aspects. And then finally, addressing…

Steven Barnes

Steven Barnes is a NY Times bestselling author, ecstatic husband and father, and holder of black belts in three martial arts. www.lifewritingpodcast.com.