Category Archives: Writing

“Let ‘Em Be a Hero (How to Not Win an Argument)”

When a conversation starts to shift into an argument or debate, everything falls apart. We dig into our stances and protect our opinions. We begin to establish that THEY are our OPPONENT. They need to understand some truth that we understand better. We may know that we are right and it may feel like we are being helpful, but to our conversation partner, we are simply the opponent. We think we are seeking a remedy, but we are actually seeking to win. We tell ourselves that we are listening, but I challenge you to look at yourself in those moments. Have you let go of the desire to change their opinion? Have you put your reality aside for a moment and made room for the teeny-tiny possibility that they may be correct? At the very least, that their truth may be valid – considering the experiences and information that they are working from?
It is hard to truly listen to ideas that you disagree with without feeling judgement or making mental notes of counter arguments.
This is true with massive political issues and insignificant domestic ones.
Whether we are talking about institutional racism or dirty dishes in the sink, the issues quickly become secondary once we fall into “battle mode.”
I don’t mean the issues are unimportant. But in the context of human interactions and relationships, the subject of the disagreement can be totally overshadowed by the style of communication.
It is easy to slip in overt or subtle insults. Directly or passively.
“Of course a racist would see it that way!”
“Your mom always cleaned up after you, so it makes sense that you wouldn’t know how to properly clean the kitchen.”
Once that happens, the claws are out and we defend ourselves against the attack…or go on the attack ourselves.
At this point, it is best to just walk away. No progress will happen. Neither side is going to say, “Hmmm, now that you mentioned my stupidity, I see your point. You’re right!”
Here are 2 techniques to avoid getting to the point of no return.
#1 “Tell me about the monster?”
Imagine that you are in a sci fi movie and your conversation partner just walked in and said, “there is a 6 headed monster outside and he turned the sky green!” Last time you checked there was blue sky outside and no monster. But, for the sake of argument (and just in case there is a bloodthirsty beast outside), why not try to understand what they are talking about?
Do so with compassion. The believe they have just seen a monster! Be a kind ear without falling into the temptation to respond or rebuke. “Wow. That sounds terrifying. If that is what is out there, we are in trouble.” Giving the person a voice allows you to be closer, even if you disagree with their premise. “Help me to understand what you are saying.” If they trust that you will listen, they may listen to you at a later time. But fight the urge to argue in the moment and give the impression that you were just waiting for your chance to talk.
(NOTE: this is not a technique to win an argument. It is a way to stay connected with people so you can continue to respect and value one another’s perspectives.)
#2: Let them be the hero.
When we start to fall onto different sides of an issue, you can look at it in a couple ways:
1) You are wrong / You are hurting me.
2) I believe this / I feel pain.
The first route instantly turns your partner into the bad guy*.
“Why can’t you just do the dishes!? I can’t believe you can live with such filth in the sink!”
Even if you use kind words and a calm demeanor, you have still cast them in the role of “offender.”
However, if you say, “I’m finding myself really bothered by the dishes in the sink. Could you help me keep the kitchen cleaner so I can let go of this anxiety I’m feeling?”
This route is casting yourself as the princess and allows them to be the hero. This isn’t “their” problem or their fault. It is simply *a* problem that they could alleviate and bring you joy. It feels shitty to have to prove that you are not a bad guy. It feels great to be a good guy.
These techniques are ideal when you are conversing with someone you care about. They can be used any time, but some venues (like anonymous internet conversations) make it more difficult to connect with your conversation partner.
I ain’t gonna lie. It is hard to pull back from the momentum that pulls us into arguments. But how many hours do we want to spend in debate that goes nowhere? Or more likely (and much worse) actually pushes us apart?
The “other side” are not racists, snowflakes, idiots, sheep, lazy, disrespectful, etc.. They are people dealing with the same basic fears and desires that you are. If you try to love that person instead of defeat them, you can transcend the war entirely, and pave the way to a harmonic future.
*I’m using the phrase “bad guy” and “good guy” to imply a 2 dimensional villain or hero. It does not designate gender. Like The Electric Company’s “Hey You Guys!” was a call to everyone. If this is insensitive, shoot me a note.

Authenticity. Create. Focus. Own. Honor.

(click to hear me tell this story out loud)

On New Year’s Day, I was soaking in a heated pool with friends.
Sharon suggested a game. “What single word would you choose to be your mantra for 2017?”

David said, “Authenticity.”
I couldn’t help but smile. I met him a year ago and have watched as his life has transformed. Witnessed his courage as he made tough life choices in the pursuit of his truth. Now in the middle of divorce and uncertainty, he has a childlike glow about him. “I feel like I just woke up from a 15 year coma,” he said with wide eyes. “I’m having the best life of my life,” he told me all night long.

Edward ’s word was, “Create.”
Earlier, Edward had shared with me his feelings going into 2017. He had a fire and excitement that was contagious. The landscape is ripe he told me. “There has never been a better time for courageous creative expression!” he stated fiercely. His sentiment was echoed by a number of people throughout the night. It was such a good perspective for me to hear. So much energy had been spent lamenting 2016 that it was hard to avoid an element of dread as we begin the new year. But there is great fertility in chaos. Rather than walk into 2017 timidly, we should charge boldly make our voices heard.

Sharon shared, “Focus.”
“With so much inspiration and so many ideas pulling my attention, I find myself struggling to finish projects,” she explained. Everyone in our circle smiled and nodded. She also shared insights from a recent TED talk about how social media can affect brain receptors in the same way that drugs do. The world of 2017 is bursting with bright shiny things, dark prickly things, and a billion avenues of wonder. Without restraint, discipline, and focus we can never develop our skills, projects, and ideas to their potential.

Madison said “Own.”
“I am taking on a lot in 2017, and I need to own it. When I get to a place of doubt, I will remember that I can do it. I am enough.” Among so many friends, it is easy to remember. But on the dark and lonely nights our selves can feel much smaller. It can be easy to question our paths. I have an ego voice that taunts me at times with, “Who are YOU to write that book? Who are YOU to think you have something worthy to share?” I have to remind myself that I am the best me there has ever been. If I am trying to be a pro bowler, then “who are you?!” is a valid question. But if I pursue my truth, it is impossible to fail. I am the perfect person. I am the only person who can. I am enough.

When the game was introduced, the word “Surrender” immediately popped in my head. It has been my “go to” mantra for some time. When in doubt, surrender. Trust the flow. Trust my heart. Trust the universe. “Float more, fear less.”
But as each person shared, I was inspired deeper. Was there a word that would better serve me for 2017, specifically?

All of their words resonated deeply with me. Authenticity. Create. Focus. Own.
Pursue my truth.
Express from that truth.
Be committed to that expression.
Know that I am the perfect vehicle for that expression.

After sitting with these words, I have changed my word for 2017. (Oh, “Surrender” is still my primary. My life partner and rock. But we have an open relationship. I am poly-syllabic.)

My word for 2017 is “Honor.”

I will honor myself. I will honor my talents. I will honor the gift of this life.
I will honor my potential enough to be disciplined.
I will honor the divine enough to fully express my truth.
I will honor the opportunities of my privilege for the greater good.
I will honor my body temple enough to embrace healthy practices.
I will honor the gifts of my open heart, kind eyes, thriving body, and truthful words to do what I am meant to do: Spread Love.


What is your word for 2017?

A Once Mighty Orange Tree


In my parents’ backyard, there was a magnificent orange tree. When I was a kid it was a barren seedling. But it grew to 10 feet tall and bushy with lush, healthy branches. Every year it would fill the yard with fragrant blossoms and then produce hundreds of big, juicy fruits.

Every visit to my parents would end with them handing me a bag or two of citrus. You never had to worry about scurvy in my house.

Then, two years ago, the tree got sick. It developed some fungus that traveled up its trunk and branches. The leaves became sparse, displaying a sickly web of sticks and thorns.

But it was still alive.

And the next summer it, once again, produced tons of fruit.

But the oranges were different. They were significantly smaller, and packed with seeds.

It was as if the tree knew it was dying.

It knew that it’s days of producing fruit were numbered.

Whereas it originally tried to produce the most delicious and appetizing fruit possible, now it was focussed on survival.

How can I preserve my bloodline?

So it made seed creation it’s number one focus. Changing the very structure of its fruit to address the situation.

“My time on this earth is almost done… go forth, children, and multiply!”

Jesse Gros posted today, “What’s the earth’s vision for our planet? We know the people’s vision… we are living it.” But what is the Earth’s vision?

I thought of that dying tree.

I wonder how many other places this biological reaction is happening?

What other shifts are occurring because of environmental distress?

Is the spreading of plant medicines from jungles through the industrialized world the planet’s immune system kicking in? Could shamans and ancient wisdom be traveling through the world like white blood cells? In Ayahuasca ceremonies and mushroom trips, is the planet healing unhealthy patterns and re-programming its cancerous human cells?

As sickness threatens the planet, could the explosion of conscious awakenings be Gaia’s attempt to “make more seeds?” So that even if this tree gets so sick that it can no longer produce fruit, the seeds will travel beyond the time and space of that specific tree. And the seeds of human consciousness will not be bound to the time and space of this sick planet in this specific dimension.

Or maybe I should just quiet my mind and savor the juicy, sweet magnificence of an orange.

Politics, Burning Man & Gifting

Originally printed in Bliss Babe Magazine

As exciting as it may be to live in a democracy, few things can dim one’s spirit like an election cycle. The news is filled with fear, water cooler convo’s regurgitate angry soundbites, and online comments reek of righteous indignation.

It brings out the worst in people. It forces us to pick teams and magnifies our differences. Amidst all the anger and divisiveness, it can feel like the world is beyond repair.

But when I calm down, I remember that my job is not to fix the darkness in the world. My job is to shine my light.

This can feel like a selfish pursuit, but I promise, it is not. Read on.

I had a transformative experiences 18 years ago when I first attended Burning Man. I experienced a Gift Economy where people freely give things to one another — not because they will get something in return, but because it feels good to make someone else happy. (This is different from “barter” where goods and services are still exchanged in same traditional transaction format of our monetary commerce system.) Over the years, Gifting at Burning Man became a deep passion and a profound part of who I am.

But one week of rose-colored glasses isn’t enough to tint your worldview for the entire year. You need to look for opportunities to Gift everywhere.

That is why I started looking for ways to Gift year-round.

Everything changed when I started seeing everyone around me as an opportunity to make myself happier. How? By making *them* happier. Even in tiny ways: Holding a door open, being a good listener, or giving a dollar to the person in front of me at the store who couldn’t afford their second item.

These tiny acts of kindness have rippling events. Not only to they change the way you see yourself in the world, but they transform the worldview of everyone who witnessed it. The person you helped now knows that there are open-hearted people in the world. The other people waiting in line now have an example — a role model saying it is okay to be kind.

And often this is what the world needs. Simply permission to be the kind and giving people we want to be. This is why those “pay-it forward” chains continue for so long at Starbucks. When people pay for coffee for the person behind them. People *want* to be better…but they also don’t want to be suckers. They don’t want to be taken advantage of.

But I would argue that it is impossible to be taken advantage of. Even if your kind act does not set off a chain of ripples, it still confirms that YOU ARE AN AGENT OF LOVE. It is who you are in the world. And when you act in this way, you start to attract kind and loving people into your life. When you start to see yourself as a helper…as one who gifts…you can’t help but act differently in the world. You will do kind acts because it makes you feel better. And as you act selfishly, the ripples of your actions will make the world a better place.

Best of all, when you can see your fellow humans from this perspective, it doesn’t matter what their political views are. There is no “us” and “them.” Just millions of opportunities to make yourself happier.

So as the election season (thankfully) comes to a close, remember that a daily campaign of kindness is the real winning ticket.

I’m John Halcyon Styn and I approve this message.

This article originally appeared in Bliss Babe magazine.
Photos by Eric Schwabel.

Truth(?) In a Bottle

I was sick and overheated most of the weekend, but I could still deeply appreciate Lightning in a Bottle. The grounds were sprawling and magnificent. The stages were gorgeous and awe-inspiring art was everywhere. People were happy, friendly and beautiful.

Even the shopping, the “oh-so-insidious” presence of commerce — was inspiring. The food & clothing vendors were all examples of people & companies trying to practice conscious capitalism. Much more than mere money-centric traditional transactions, it actually felt good to purchase from a leather craftsperson or to buy an organic meal from a fair trade food truck.

And there was so much to learn, as well. So much yoga, cooking classes, workshops and lectures that it took significant effort to sort through the schedule. As impressed as I was with everything, there was one critical suggestion I wanted to make. (NOTE: This is a personal observation influenced by my own preference in learning formats. It could also just be sour grapes from my desire to speak at LiB and repeatedly rejected applications.)

An example of ONE stage on ONE day

I wish there was a little more context surrounding the more fringe workshops and lectures. Some of the subject matter was rather extreme, delving into the far-edges of spiritual and pseudo-scientific beliefs. I admire that LiB gives a venue to topics like Flat Earth and Alien Abduction, even if those ideas do not resonate with my current worldview. But I worry when these ideas are presented without criticism.

I imagined a young person in their early 20’s (as the majority of the crowd seemed to be.) I pictured them discovering LiB and how liberating the experience would be. How amazing to experience the deep community love and connection — perhaps for the first time. I pictured someone experiencing psychedelics for the first time and having their head cracked open. It would feel like they were finally experiencing what life is all about. Meeting people and experiencing art & music within the safe container of LiB would be a life changing gift. But I also pictured those young minds listening to a lecture filled with ideas that some would argue were conspiracy theories. Since the teacher on stage was vetted by and endorsed by the Do-Lab, critical thought and discernment would be turned way down within the safe container of LiB.

I am not saying that a cracked-open mind should not be exposed to alternative perspectives, only that it should be clear that they ARE alternative perspectives.To accept these ideas without critique could cause damage to a person’s psyche. And I wish the very concept of critical thinking was a bigger focus of the educational tracts. Alien abduction/brainwashing presented as truth is no less troublesome than Mormonism or Scientology presented as truth.

My Senior year of college, I got some wonderful advice from my advisor Fred Rabinowitz. He saw that I was becoming interested in Humanistic Psychology and was investigating some paranormal and alternative spirituality programs of study. He encouraged me to continue, but warned me that once you cross the line into counter-culture thinking, not everyone is to be trusted. There is powerful truth in the modalities yet to be embraced by the mainstream, but not everyone who is spreading “truth” outside the realm of science is doing so with clarity or good intentions. I watched one packed presentation of alien abduction, reptiles among us, chemtrail manipulation and DNA alteration. I found it disturbing and the speaker fascinating. But in the end it did not resonate fully with me. I am not denying the speaker’s experience. But with a world filled with hundreds of spiritual frameworks and countless gods, angels, demons and deities — it is clear to me that the limitations of a human mind requires us to use mythology and stories to make sense of the unknowable.

I have friends who talk to angels. I have friends who talk to Jesus. I have friends who talk to the spirits of plant medicines. I believe them all. And I question them all. I have no doubt their experiences are real. And deep confidence that our mental stories and sensory limitations shape the way we perceive reality.

Amazing work by Miles Toland by the Temple Stage

I became unsettled as I listened to the narrative of a sinister plot by aliens and illuminati. I am a 45 year old life-long seeker. I have read countless books and heard hundreds of hours of spiritual talks. I was grateful that I had such a strong foundation so that I could process the dark ideas without being overwhelmed. But I was worried about the young minds, naive and open. Like fertile petri dishes susceptible to any new idea that might take hold.

I do not mean to discourage alternate thought or breaking down the status quo worldview. Heck, my life purpose is about doing inquiry on our external scripts and questioning established realities. But the important compliment to that process is tuning in to one’s inner truth. One’s inner truth can be informed by alternate teachers and ideas, but it is not progress to go from blindly accepting a status quo idea to blindly accepting an alternative idea.

One of the huge errors of a beginner seeker is to make the mistake of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” If I tell you that US History is filled with lies and manipulation, that doesn’t mean that the next information that I tell you is true.

It is healthy to process all ideas through a filter of doubt…or at least a recognition of the source’s perspective. Truth is personal understanding, not a concrete absolute. At best, we have a temporary understanding of the currently accessible data. It can be soothing to hear a charismatic teacher define right and wrong with confidence. But the deepest danger of any belief is in unquestioning fanaticism.

Charles Eisenstein began his talk with the Maori quote: “There are no facts, only stories.” I wish every talk began that way.

Go Down Swinging

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When I was 9 years old, my baseball coach was Coach C.

Coach C. was intimidating.

He was big, strong, deep-voiced and had a handshake that said, “I’m in control here.”

(Or, if he was in a playful mood, he would snap his hand away and brush his hair just as you extended your hand. Thus “leave you hanging.” An even harsher demonstrating of “I’m in control.”)

He was the dad of friends of mine. But he was different than my dad. Coach C. worked with his hands. He built stuff. He repaired things. And he played college baseball when he was younger.

I was intimidated by Coach C. I think everyone was.

His grown son once shared, “I never understood the saying, ‘don’t cry over spilt milk.’ In my house, if you spilled milk, there’s a good chance you’d be crying when dad was done with you.”

Coach C. definitely knew baseball, but he was gruff. And he had all sorts of rules that I found to be maddening. One of them was about watching your third strike. If you were batting, and you watched your 3rd strike without swinging at it, you had to clean up the bats at the end of the game. This seemed crazy to me. “Good eye! Good eye!” was one of the most common things we would shout from the dugout. Why would we be punished for practicing discernment?!

I can remember cleaning up bats after one game and just SEETHING with anger at the coach. And from then on, whenever the count was at 2 strikes, I would blindly swing at the next pitch…out of SPITE.

It took me many years to appreciate Coach C’s rule.

He wasn’t trying to teach some skill in baseball.

He wasn’t trying to educate us on some aspect of sports strategy.

He wasn’t even trying to win the game.

He was trying to teach us about life.

To SWING at opportunities.

To take risks.


That it is better to get knocked down on the field than to watch from the sidelines.

Life is about ACTIVELY giving it your best shot, not PASSIVELY waiting for the optimal opportunity.

There is no shame in striking out.

And there is little glory in getting walked.

Don’t spend your whole life waiting.

Thank you, Coach C.