“The only way to feel truly “whole” in this physical life on earth anyway, is when your inner self is aligned with that outer self. “— Shannon Hernandez


A fabulous article “I Don’t Work Out To Look Good” about the power of controlling your body through your actions, the way those actions and habits express who and what we are, and the way we are seen by the world.

There are few things more frustrating for people than feeling that our external circumstances don’t reflect our inner essence. But to the degree that those external circumstances are controlled or influenced by our actions, they DO reveal us. Actions are controlled by our values and emotions. We know what is important to people by what they spend their time on. We know their wisdom by their capacity to select the most important things to do and be at any moment. All creatures move away from pain toward pleasure IF THEY CAN SEE A WAY TO DO IT, so when we see people in pain we know that there are physical or emotional or conceptual obstructions.

They may be good people. But they are lost. We’ve all been lost at times, and there is no finger pointing desired here. But if you start with the assumption that we have almost unlimited raw capacity, and compare that with our results in life measured through physicality, career expression, and joyful bonded relationships — just basic animal stuff — we see that the phrase “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” implies that our primary sins are against ourselves, and our own potential.

And so much of that “sin” is the internalization of negative images and words by people who could not love us as we deserved to be loved.

Every action, every word, every bite of food, every step we take, every dollar we spend, every interaction with our chosen peer group, every goal and effort to bring those goals into existence tells us who we are. And the results tell the world who we are, however embarrassing that may be, however much we might want to tell the world: “don’t pay attention to what I do, listen to who I feel I am, deep inside!”

And as long as we are willing to look past the externals of others, we can find love. But how many of us do that? How many don’t respond to the external accomplishments of others, but want them to ignore our own?

That…is dishonest. We judge, but we hope not to be judged. And the gap will kill your heart.

More than any other external factor WE ARE WHAT WE DO. Behavior is truth. We deserve love and respect, yes. But asking people to ignore the behaviors that define our existence is asking them to accept a lie for the sake of love. And once you start lying, it is hard to stop. And the worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves.

Every day is another chance to make your emotions, values, beliefs, and actions all express your essence. If you don’t think your essence is one of love and light, then you simply haven’t gone deeply enough. You are still stuck in the layer of internalized pain and fear. That’s good survival stuff, and will keep you alive. But an evolved adult human being has to internalize the habits that promote survival, and go on to the next question: what is a joyous expression of life? The “who am I?” once discovered begins to expand into “who are we?” like an individual mushroom sprout centering all the way down to the mycelial mass and realizing those other sprouts, so evidently separate things, are actually a part of us.

Selfishness is not the problem. A limited definition of “self” is the problem. Children need to define themselves as individuals separate from the world, the “Who am I?” differentiating from the objects and beings around them. This hits its peak in the teen years, when often the values of the parents are rejected as the kid prepares for escape velocity. Some never effectively launch, and collapse back into Mommy’s basement, literally or figuratively. They either are subsumed under their parent’s value structure, or mindlessly reject what they were given…and wonder why their lives don’t work.

The mature “accept what is useful and reject the rest.” Their “who am I?” isn’t just “I’m not YOU!” and they learn to see their parents as human beings doing the best they could with what they had. And forgive themselves for not being perfect. And extend that love and understanding to others, while remaining ferociously protective of their own essence.

They know that their actions do indeed express their values and emotions, know that they do indeed judge others by whatever values they hold dear, and that it is only reasonable for them to be judged in turn. Loved, but evaluated. Respected, but filtered: we don’t have infinite time and energy to give to everyone who wants it. We HAVE to prioritize and make choices. And only the child-mind wants to be held as precious even if we have kept our true human treasure locked deep in our hearts, never healed our wounds, never risen to our potential, never sorted through the billion things said about us and done to us along the path of life, selecting those precious gems that reflect our actual being.

Who are we? We are, more than any other external factor, what we do.

And if you don’t watch what people do, you are meat for any abusive gas-lighting predator that comes along. When you ask people to ignore your actions, you are asking them to become vulnerable to con artists.

Respect them. Respect yourself. Learn to embrace your truth.

Find out who you are. Realize that the meaning of life is to seek joy. Align your values, beliefs, and behaviors to express that, both short and long term. Accept the short-term stresses that lead to long-term happiness and contribution. Be who you were born to be.

And…you don’t have to be perfect. Instead, you have to perfect. A verb, not an adjective. Be on the road of continual growth and evolution. And once you see that path clearly, you will see your brothers and sisters on that path. And if you love yourself, you will be able to love those walking at your pace, as far from their horizons as you are from yours. And those ahead of you on the path? Better integrated in body or career or emotions? You will grasp that they had different resources, or have been willing to pay different prices for what they needed to complete themselves.

When I met my wife Tananarive, I saw an amazing woman with vast heart, great intellect, and a slammin’ body. Unless I could match her, unless I was walking the same path, at the same speed, we could not be mates, and if I could not, I would not want her to slow down or pretend I was something I was not. I would have not just let her go, but sought to be the wind beneath her wings, and pray that she would fly as far and as high as she could, and find a man who could fly with her. I might feel grief that I had never gone deeply enough into myself, never dealt with my fear, never rid myself of sufficient sloth to make that journey with her…but would not have resented it for a moment. Fly free, little bird, I would have said, and taken pleasure in watching her soar…from a distance.

We have one life, and if we love someone we want them to be the most they can be, be as happy and fulfilled as they can be before the fall of night. And that means that they must know who their companions are, see them clearly, and know that they can travel together.

I would rather have the pain of “could have been” than the pain of “I hurt the one I loved. She hobbled herself to stay connected to me.” I will not do that. Not if I truly love.

So…work every day to make your inside and outside match. And to know that the deepest depths of your being are love and sheer animal survival wiring. And to the degree that you can embrace that energy and passion…you will be in your essence, the realest “you” you are capable of being. So busy living that you don’t spend much time thinking about the end. But according to those who have approached that end…you’ll be able to grin and say “damn. What a ride.”





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

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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.