What is “Real?”

A writer (or a singer or dancer or songwriter or filmmaker) searches for his or her voice. Hemingway. Quentin Tarantino. Beyonce. But what is voice? And what makes it “real?”

There’s an exercise, a guided meditation that a friend might take you through.

Meryl Streep in “The Deer Hunter”

It starts with the question, “Who are you?” You’re lying down, eyes closed, relaxed. Your friend asks you, “Are you your name?” Silently (or maybe with a nod) you answer, “No.”

Your friend says, “Release it.” 

And you release your name. That’s not who you are.

The exercise continues through, “Are you the place where you live, i.e. a Texan, an Irishwoman?” and on through nationality, gender, age. 

You release these too.

Are you your personal history? Your family? Your sexual orientation? Your traumas? Your joys? Your dreams?

            No.

            Release them.

            Are you your body?

            No. 

            Are you your religion?

            No.

At each juncture, when you think deeply and answer with absolute honesty, you find yourself saying no. “No, I’m not this. No, I’m not that.”

You release each one.

Meryl Streep in “Silkwood”

Yet “you” remain.  

Where do you wind up finally? For me, I was floating in space, without a body, without a name, without a country or a family. I wasn’t even an Earthling. 

What was I?

What remained, for me, was a consciousness. That hadn’t altered. I was a consciousness that saw things through a very specific lens. My sense of humor remained. My curiosity remained. My specific, idiosyncratic appreciation of beauty and awareness and intellectual expression remained.

What form did that consciousness take?

For me, it was a vibration. I was a frequency. I could almost see it, like a wave on an oscilloscope. 

In “The Bridges of Madison County”

That frequency was unique to me, as every other being’s frequency was unique to it.

            Now, said my friend who was guiding me through this exercise, “You’re floating in space. Can you hear the cosmic Om? The sound vibration that undergirds all creation?”

            I could.

            “Okay,” he said. “Now make your vibration harmonize with that sound.”

That’s the voice. That’s the answer to “Who are you?”

An actress over the course of her career may play dozens of roles. In each she’ll be different. Meryl Streep as Linda in The Deer Hunter, as Karen Silkwood in Silkwood, as Francesca in The Bridges of Madison County, as Karen Blxen in Out of Africa. Each role is different, each “voice” is unique. Yet in each the actress remains the same, doesn’t she?

Ms. Streep is being true to something. But what? How can it be “true” if it changes from role to role (and even evolves as her chronological age advances?)

In “Out of Africa”

If we were viewing this from a Buddhist perspective, we might say that Meryl Streep the actress actually has no personal identity. Personal identity, we might declare, is an illusion. The actress is adapting role-to-role and assuming the personality of the character she is playing.

But that wouldn’t be true, would it? There IS an identity that is Meryl Streep, even Meryl-Streep-the-chameleon-actress who adapts to each new professional challenge.

A case could be made that those individuals who stand out in their professional or spiritual fields (and whom you and I can’t help but admire) are those who have found that vibration that is unique to them … and who operate out of it exclusively.

Think of a singer. A quarterback. A writer. The great ones sing and play and compose out of an epicenter, a consciousness, a point of view, don’t they? A unique epicenter and consciousness and point of view that is theirs and no one else’s.

Is that artifice?

The way Edith Piaf sings. Or Yo-Yo Ma plays. Or Bob Dylan writes.

I will make a yes/no case. 

Yes, it’s artifice in that it has risen into awareness and the artist, recognizing it the way a hunter recognizes a bird on the wing, has seized upon it and made it his or her signature.

But no, it’s not artifice in the sense of being artificial. There was a moment, I would suggest, when that voice rose out of Edith Piaf like a cry out of a she-wolf. Without intention or artifice or contrivance.

I would venture further that that moment was one of agony and surrender and self-annihilation (in the best sense), perhaps heartbreaking, perhaps ecstatic. We’ll never know. Edith herself may not have known.

No one has said it better than Henry Miller:

I didn’t dare to think of anything then except the “facts.” To get beneath the facts I would have had to be an artist, and one doesn’t become an artist overnight. First you have to be crushed, to have your conflicting points of view annihilated. You have to be wiped out as a human being in order to be born again an individual. You have to be carbonized and mineralized in order to work upwards from the last common denominator of the self. You have to get beyond pity in order to feel from the very roots of your being.

DO THE WORK

Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

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THE AUTHENTIC SWING

A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.

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NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T

Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.

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TURNING PRO

Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"

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"PUT YOUR ASS WHERE YOUR HEART WANTS TO BE"

Available for pre-order in paperback, ebook, and audiobook.

39 Comments

  1. Peter Brockwell on July 20, 2022 at 3:21 am

    Holy cow. Wow. What a pure and beautiful post. I must compose a suitable comment!
    Back later!
    Peter

    • Brian Nelson on July 20, 2022 at 5:54 am

      Peter,
      I agree 100%. I’m wiped out and it is only 0540 here..only had a sip of coffee and I’m like, “Holy Sheeeeit! Steve went deep! Gotta process some of this!”

      I actually exhaled a heavy breath when I finished reading.
      bsn

      • Melissa Weber on July 20, 2022 at 2:10 pm

        Me too! I took a deep breath and said WOW.
        Now what?

        • Kelly on August 16, 2022 at 10:53 pm

          Feel!

  2. Tolis Alexopoulos on July 20, 2022 at 5:31 am

    Thank you so much dear Steve. And thank you for your new book “Put your Ass where your Heart wants to Be” which I just finished.

    I want to write so many things for the post but my heart tells me to write about your new book instead, and I will listen.

    I believe that it is a 100% worthy successor to The War of Art. Which fulfills me.

    It is hard because it is hard to follow the great principles that you had to go through for your whole life to acquire. My heart jammed even from the first thoughts about going where one must go, where the other dream workers like him or her are.

    It is beautiful because you vocalize it like a flowing river and the river’s bottom is the unique and unparalleled sand-field of wisdom and experience, full out.

    From the first listen -I got it in audio form- some fast-but-deep clicks happened to me. I needed them.

    I feel so lucky that you started writing an autobiographical book. And the way you think about it is the way I think about my book: that all is in vain, surface leveled and trash. No one will read them, they will throw them to the wastebasket. Especially that chaotic and even extremely difficult to comprehend thing I’m creating here.

    I feel I longed for this audio book, that it came exactly for me. I feel gratitude, thanks. I am happy to have been a commenter to many of its chapters.

    I am sad for everything I haven’t done well and as I should, concerning my soul’s calling.

    I am sorry for my addictions and my lack of control.

    So let’s put our ass where our heart wants to be. I still have time and I am so lucky about that.

    My friends and guests here, please don’t deprive your selves from this concentrated and to the point work. Don’t loose not one hour. We are at war and it depends only upon us. Move without thought.

  3. Jackie on July 20, 2022 at 6:13 am

    Do I dare share? Yes, because I know the experience to be the truest of truth. Even though I risk the question of my sanity, here goes. Some years ago I was faced with my mortality. What should’ve been the worst time in my life became the most extraordinary. I’ve tried many times to communicate my experience, unsuccessfully. So I will be brief.
    Steve came to a place of revelation by meditation. What I experienced kind of slammed into me and stuck around for a few days. Words fail the magnificent, incredible, ??? feeling ??? that came over me, in me??? A total absence of fear in what should’ve been the most fearful time- connectedness to everything-empty but full???-so much more, so much.
    I spent and continue to spend time exploring and trying to understand the experience and to recover those feelings. The ten thousand things around us gets in the way. I struggle. I fail. I recover. I try again.
    There’s so much garbage that must be sorted, disposed of, and let go. Meditation helps. Those few brief days shared possibilities beyond the me (ego). The struggle for purpose without ego self interference continues…
    I appreciate Steve for making us dig deep. I also appreciate the supportive, judgment-free community created here. Have a productive week all.

    • Brian Nelson on July 20, 2022 at 6:24 am

      Holy shit Jackie. That is beautiful. I love the counter-intuitiveness of your experience. This would be one of the conversations I’d love to have around a campfire, drinking coffee with bark in it from stirring it with a twig.

      I really appreciate your honesty about the difficulty getting back to that place. I cannot manage my days by eating mushrooms all the time to feel connected. I do remember that initial insight when I was a 16 year old kid just partying it up and gobbled some mushrooms. The world exploded. I understood everything for a moment. It was so beautiful, all the connection, everything was a dance…

      There is an element of faith in returning to our material world and acting as if–even though all the evidence is pointed against such connectedness. Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing.
      bsn

      • Jackie on July 20, 2022 at 6:45 am

        Thanks Brian, What you said about an element of faith in returning to our material world hit it. It was an experience of being someplace else at the same time as being here. Nature is where I connect with that feeling if I can brush off the rest of the world. Have a good run.

    • Katie m. Berggren on July 20, 2022 at 9:08 am

      just wow.

  4. Brian Nelson on July 20, 2022 at 6:18 am

    So I must be kinda slow when it comes to important things. I’m the guy who listens and sings along to favorite songs for 20+ years and then one day–“AAAHHH! THAT’S WHAT Bono meant…”

    As this just happened to me the other day with another song (Chocolate by Snow Patrol)–there is a line, “On my knees I think clearer…”

    I wanted to reach out to Dea who frequents this lounge–and say, “Hey! Hey! Hey! Dea! Dea! Hey! Hey! Hey! Have you heard this song?!?!?! I think he’s saying just what you were saying!!!” in a very animated, excitable child-like exuberance-I get that way at times..

    I guess I get excited when I finally understand something. The reward of curiosity.

    So today’s post…I’ve read the Bhagavad Gita. Listened to Legend of Bagger Vance a half dozen times (there is something about that story I simply love–makes me cry every single damn time, even though I know what’s gonna happen)–Bagger interrogates Junuh with a similar line of questions.

    I’ve never really gotten it–I’m not sure if I do now either, but it helped that Steve boiled down his understanding of a frequency. I can meditate on that for a very long time. I REALLY like the idea of hearing a frequency below that, and aligning, harmonizing, resonating with that deeper frequency. Good counsel.

    I cannot help wondering if the artists that create such powerful music, novels, art that take me 20-30 years to finally understand if they even knew what they were trying to say when they wrote it? That may be what Steve refers to as coming from the higher plane or from the Muse–maybe it just spilled out on the page mysterious to them as it is to me for decades.

    What a way to start the day. Whew. I better go run and let this marinate.
    bsn

  5. Sam Luna on July 20, 2022 at 7:48 am

    Today’s post really resonated with me. The Meryl Streep example took me back to acting school in Chicago. I never became a professional actor, but what I learned there has served me well as a writer. One concept that was drilled into our heads was from Stanislavski, who said that the person you are is a thousand times more interesting than the best character you could ever play. Because there is no “character,” there is only you, and little black dots on a piece of paper. And that’s what we spent 4 years trying to figure out. Who am I in relation to the written word?

  6. Brian Nelson on July 20, 2022 at 8:39 am

    Come back from run thinking there are going to be a lot of discussion…

    Here’s how I think this went down.

    Us: Well, Steve just published another book–maybe it will be something about begin again today–maybe something light.

    Steve: I’m gonna drop a hydrogen bomb.

    Us: Uhhhhhhhh…I am going to need to think about that for the next 15 years or so….
    bsn

  7. Steve Fiano on July 20, 2022 at 8:57 am

    It seems that more often then not, the authentic artist self is the last stop. Questions like “what is selling right now ?, what is hot right now ?, what is trending right now ?” These might be mere stops on the journey to ultimate destination – our unique epicenter.
    When I started writing and arranging songs in 2017, I told myself in no uncertain terms “write and play YOU, not Dickey Betts, not Duane Allman, not Keith Richards. (Sidebar – I’d love to play like any of these virtuosos) They do sneak in a few steps removed as any influence can, but, adhere to my voice – the only one like it.

    • Katie m. Berggren on July 20, 2022 at 9:12 am

      Steve F., as a painter, I feel this. I’ve been painting as a steady practice for 20 years, and am weirded out by the more recent ‘advice’ to artists to ‘find what is hot, trending, best-selling’ and copy it. It feels like such a deviation from what an artist’s path should be. Some subtle influence here and there, sure, but finding YOUR own voice is something that I really hope budding artists will eventually work towards.

  8. Gwen Abitz on July 20, 2022 at 9:07 am

    LOVE THIS ONE MIND AS MANY within all the Comments. One Mind As Many is the Posterity, Passion and Potential of New Thought. I had never heard of New Thought and yet they are holding their 107 Annual INTA World Congress (International New Thought Alliance) this week in Chicago. I hadn’t even heard of New Thought Network Media being on You Tube. What has become REAL for me is listening to the Live Stream of their Evening Events with different speakers. I am LIKE, OK what is being said makes a lot of sense I am getting to know myself a little better. Oh so this is who I am. Steve’s Post could not have come at a better time.

  9. Bing on July 20, 2022 at 9:16 am

    Boy is this a juicy one. I’m sure there will be at least 60 comments today. I have only a few minutes and have to do this quickly. I love every word that Steve shared. It seems we have to unlearn everything the world has taught us, that would be the crushing part. Like little children we need to laugh and scream with joy. The universe is a friggin blast. God is good. I watched a Utube thing on Miles Davis last night. Long story short he would come out on the stage and create the music as he played. All the other musicians were doing the same thing. That’s courage! I want to play every second with fearless courage also, like Miles.
    Thanks for letting me share.

  10. Gerry Lantz on July 20, 2022 at 9:37 am

    3 Reflections
    If ever I needed inspiration and motivation to get back to “just sitting” and breathing, this is it. “Zen Mind. Beginner’s Mind” by Suzuki was my initial guide. I recommend it to all.

    Years ago in NYC during my career in advertising, I took yoga classes as a gift to me, a break from craziness that made my body and soul feel good–outside of work, family, the commute, etc.. The yoga teacher flattened me when she said in the middle of shavasana at the end of class: “You are not your thoughts.” That set me back on my pins! I had to “think” about that!

    Writing is an act of discovery. When that has happened to me while writing (only once so far), I wept. I embraced a truth about me that would not have surfaced otherwise–and a leash on me became untethered.

    Thanks Steve for the reminder and the kick in the pants to embrace me again–unburdened by things and goals and worries. Comments so far have been inspiring. Good group.

  11. Lyn on July 20, 2022 at 9:38 am

    Awesome! So many people do not realize they aren’t their body, etc. Awareness, pure consciousness and yet uniquely individual. That’s who we really are. Love this post! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  12. York on July 20, 2022 at 10:06 am

    Steve,

    You have a knock for impeccable timing.

    Needed this.

    Thanks!
    York

  13. Derek on July 20, 2022 at 10:14 am

    When I was down in Santa Monica pre covid, I wanted to treat myself to a nice meal having spent days at the AFM pitching myself and my work. One night I saw this elegant lady get out of a nice car and go into this small drab building on the corner. I followed her in, and was amazed to be in a beautiful restaurant, it was my taste, like I had designed it myself. I was reassured immediately by my own sense of self.

    Today’s post, this Writers Wednesday blog, gave me the same feeling.

    Om.

    and thank you.

  14. Sri on July 20, 2022 at 10:16 am

    Wondering
    How after ” You have to be carbonized and mineralized in order to work upwards from the last common denominator of the self.”
    what that journey looks like.

  15. Jason Wittman on July 20, 2022 at 11:29 am

    Steve,
    That exercise you just walked us through is near perfect for getting one prepared to enter the “Zone” where performance streams from the deep recesses of the Inner Mind where it connects to that Greater Source. I would think that the next instruction would be to open your eyes and pick up the pen (substitute keyboard, instrument, etc.) and let the creative process happen devoid of conscious thought. Just let pure thought and knowledge flow out through one’s hands.

    As a counselor and life coach, I have used similar techniques to assist folks to easily get into that Zone where everything flows easily, and writer’s block is a strange concept. Both my autographical novel and my recently published non-fiction prescriptions for living book were written utilizing automatic writing where I have trained myself to let my conscious Outer Mind just drift away and let my Inner Mind creatively get the work done.

  16. Joe Jansen on July 20, 2022 at 1:37 pm

    Great stuff. Jackie, thanks for sharing that very personal account.

    We have these personas that we don like a suit. You’re one person at work. Another person to your friends. One who can get on the floor and relate to a child. One who can fight for her life or the lives of others.

    I appreciate the metaphor of actors playing their roles. I’ve had the thought that these lives are akin to going to a movie multiplex and standing at the marquee. Shall we see a drama? A romantic comedy? A war film or a horror pic? We pick the story we want to experience, go in and choose our seats. The lights go down. We laugh real laughter and recoil at carnage and weep real tears for lost love.

    Agreed that being in a state of ego dissolution puts us in closer proximity to “true reality” (whatever that is) than we are when in our “normal waking” states of consciousness.

    Joseph Campbell on “the sound of aum”:
    https://youtu.be/5nX1AvKipqg

    Kind of a hodge-podge, but I’m on the move.

  17. Jackie on July 20, 2022 at 1:42 pm

    Sharing was not easy today. I do what I always do when venturing outside the comfort zone, retreat into nature or go golfing. Today was golf. The driver was an extension of my being. Hit every fairway and tied the hubby’s score. It was a good day in the zone.

  18. Giampiero on July 20, 2022 at 1:50 pm

    Dear Steven,

    Thanks for this vivid image of the ‘void’ that is our reality, with is beyond the possibility of the mind’s comprehension.

    Thanks for your words of pure love and compassion in describing the Eastern and Western ancient teachings –Mystical Marriage- about life, death and the experience of our True Self.

    Thanks for the profound imaginal vision of the Alchemical path: rubbed, albedo, nigredo.

    Thanks for letting arise your shaman and magician soul and transforming it into a gift for your readers.

    May the Clear Light of the Nine Void Universes be with your soul.

    With gratitude, from Chapel Hill, NC, US.

    Giampiero I. Sadhu

  19. Lin Keeling on July 20, 2022 at 3:51 pm

    Had to process this one a while before weighing in. Jackie thank you for sharing your experience with us. I know how hard it is to lift that veil of protection!

    I can reach this state when I am weaving and all conscious thought is suspended. It’s just me and the colors and the feel of the threads. Sometimes I can get there easily, and sometimes I can’t get there at all, but I can still touch the edges of it. And I started thinking about Enlightenment. Before Enlightenment: Chop Wood, Carry Water After Enlightenment: Chop Wood Carry Water. Which on the surface sounds like “well, if nothing changes why seek Enlightenment?” But the experience of chopping wood and carrying water has to be affected by the experience of Enlightenment, of touching the Universal Om with our essence. The question then becomes how do we integrate that experience with the noise, confusion and pain of life? Can we do that? I’ve been trying to figure that one out for a while now and maybe it can’t be done. But like Jackie, I keep trying;

    • Jackie on July 21, 2022 at 4:05 am

      Lin, please, if your questions are ever answered, do share. My brain gets so tired of seeking at times. Thanks so much for the note of support.

      • Lin Keeling on July 21, 2022 at 1:09 pm

        If I ever figure it out, this is the first place I’ll come, Jackie! and I agree with Brian, your post about the Speedo guy was hilarious.

  20. Free Rodriguez on July 20, 2022 at 3:59 pm

    That butterfly on the cover though…

  21. Joe on July 20, 2022 at 4:09 pm

    And Steve! Congrats on the book launch. Got mine!

    • Brian Nelson on July 20, 2022 at 4:52 pm

      Joe,
      Ditto! Already consumed. Still digesting. The beauty of audible and 1.5-2 x speeds. I’m a fast talker and a fast listener.
      bsn

  22. Our Site on July 20, 2022 at 7:46 pm

    Thank you, Steve! This is a great article you have here, keep it up!

  23. Mike on July 23, 2022 at 10:38 am

    Steven – thank you so much for this post.

    Steven/All – Is there a name for this meditation/technique? I want to find someone that can guide me through the whole process. Is it simply Who Are You? Or Who Am I? Meditation?

    I would love to get into a float/sensory deprivation tank and have this guidance playing!

    • Joe on July 25, 2022 at 9:43 am

      Mike… I use the Waking Up app (from Sam Harris). Here’s a link to a complimentary month: https://dynamic.wakingup.com/shareOpenAccess/SC211D0BC

      (Links are unique… if anyone else would like a link to try for a month, let me know and I can generated a link for you.)

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  25. Annata Even on August 9, 2022 at 9:34 pm

    This is a very difficult question to answer. Not many people really understand this concept, myself included. Thank you for your post fnf

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