The Threat of Heaven and the Promise of Hell

“So Rob, tell me; are you a God-fearing man?”

Almost twenty years ago in Nashville, I was having lunch with one of my rep agencies.  There were about eight of us.  When my salad came, I began to eat it while conversing with the group.  As their salads came, they waited for everyone to get theirs and when they did, they all bowed their heads, while one of the guys said a prayer, blessing the food.  Out of respect, I paused and remained quiet.  Cool?

Mmm, not for that guy.  This “man of God” had a bit of a superiority complex.  A self-righteousness that gave him a higher human status than others.  Pretty common.  You know this guy.  He’s on your HOA board, always the one talking at school events, and he’s letting eight cars go in front of him, because he’s being “nice”, while holding up an entire line of traffic that has a green light.  Yeah, that guy.

He knows better than you.  He’s smarter too.  He’s a parent; your parent; everyone’s parent.  He talks at you, not with you.  He’s fucking annoying.

Back to the salad.  Just before he took his first bite, he asks across the table with ultimate smugness, “So Rob, tell me; are you a God-fearing man?”  Yep, the table is silent and all eyes on me.  I simply responded, “I have no reason to fear God.”

Nice try. And what a shitty thing to do.  I dropped them as an agency and life went on happily ever after.  I have no room for that kind of shit in this life and no amount of business is worth it.  I don’t think God’s a fan of it either.

I don’t need the threat of heaven or the promise of hell to be a good person.

If we’re practicing good behavior, because of the promise of a prize or punishment after death, then that goodness isn’t genuine.  It’s not real.  It’s deceptive and it’s value is shit.  Authenticity is important.

True goodness comes from within; from the heart, or soul.  As it goes, I think the vast majority of us are good or genuinely want to be.  And good people do “bad” things and vice versa, given the dynamics of a situation, circumstances, and variables in real time, multiplied by how many people are involved, each with their various levels of influence, philosophy, beliefs, education, background, life experience, hormones, current mood and a myriad of other things.  But, in the grand scheme of things, general goodness is a genuinely inherent trait.  But with 8-billion people, we’re gonna have some bad ones and we treat them accordingly.

But, viewing God as a punisher to be feared, so that we keep ourselves in line?  I thought that was the Devil’s job.  Am I getting this backwards?  I can’t keep up.

Hey, my theories are just as weird as the next guy’s beliefs, but I don’t believe mine are right and anyone else is wrong.  Because, we don’t know.  No one does.  And if your beliefs and way of being doesn’t purposefully infringe upon others; mad respect.  And I’m not so insecure to try to get you to believe what I believe, to make me feel righteous.  And I’m certainly not going to go out of my way to try to make anyone feel inferior because they didn’t praise God before eating a bowl of salad.

I don’t believe in the personification of “God”.  I don’t do religion. Each one has THE answers, when no one knows shit. I’m more of a seeker.  If God is great, then what is greater than the entire universe?  So … yeah, I guess I lean towards Pantheism as a concept.  If we’re truly made in His (sorry ladies; I didn’t write the book) image, then we are the universe, made up of the same elements as ancient stars, some 4.5 billion years old: carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen atoms as well as other heavy elements.  And it’s not just humans.  No, it’s other animals as well.  Even the earth itself.  We are energy, experiencing existence, as we have before and will continue to do so, again and again.

What is us will once again and always be the Universe.  Thank God.

As I sit here, I’m becoming aware of the music playing in the background: Ronnie James Dio is singing Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath, “The lover of life’s not a sinner.  The ending is just a beginner.  The closer you get to the meaning, the sooner you’ll know that you’re dreaming.  So it’s on and on and on.  It goes on and on and on …”

Thank you for sharing your energy and being a part of who I am.  Peace.

Stop Focusing on the Wrong Shit

What if B.B. King had to pass a written, standardized advanced mathematics exam to be legally allowed to play guitar commercially?  Crazy, right?

What if Eddie Van Halen had to be able to write and decipher advanced music theory, such as in the photo above, in order for him to play and make music?  Well, we’d never know who David Lee Roth is and that would be quite a tragedy.

There was a TV show around 2005, called Tommy Lee Goes to College.  One of my favorite drummers of all time and he’s actually pretty good.  In one episode, he’s practicing with the drum corps of the school’s marching band and cannot get in the rhythm.  It was so difficult and frustrating for him to get in sync with everyone else, because it’s not what he does.  Just imagine, if he had to pass a standardized written and practical exam to be able to continue as the drummer for Motley Crue.

Insane?

How about this? Our college entrance exams place a huge focus on mathematics (Algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus, and so on) and because of this, many students are not accepted, due to low math scores. In his book, The Math Myth, Andrew Hacker notes that of those who do go to college, nearly half leave without a degree; “Failure to pass mandated mathematics courses is the chief academic reason they don’t finish.”

In another study, it was found that the brains of advanced mathematicians activate a network involving bilateral intraparietal, dorsal prefrontal, and inferior temporal regions of the brain, while most of us mere mortals don’t work that way, no matter how hard we study!

There’s a chapter in Hacker’s book entitled, “Does Your Dermatologist Use Calculus?” in which he notes that many top medical schools require applicants to have taken calculus even though doctors never need it anywhere in their entire careers. We could be losing great doctors.

Hacker also notes that engineers and scientists rarely need the math they are required to master.  Now the fun part …

The United States is currently ranked somewhere between 36th and 41st in the world in Mathematics. Singapore, China, and Japan take the top rankings. Because of this, the US government is and has been pushing advanced mathematics through our public schools, college entrance exams, and universities.

However, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization, the United States is ranked 4th in innovation. Switzerland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom are 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. Not Singapore, China, or Japan. In fact, Singapore is 6th, China (Hong Kong) comes in at 14th, and Japan in 16th.

What’s up with that?

In an effort to catch up with the world leaders in subject matter that doesn’t convert to reality, we’re stifling our production of potentially great field specific leaders.

As you can see, innovation, invention, entrepreneurial spirit, and getting things done in reality and seeing projects through to fruition doesn’t take advanced math. It takes desire, passion, soul, work, ingenuity, creative thinking, people skills, communication, flexibility, belief, sacrifice, risk, practice, trial/error/success, feel, intuition, and everything that makes us human.

Whether we’re a yoga instructor, musician, public speaker, professor, doctor, app developer, or painter, the receiver of our work, our art, our science, our expertise is a human.

Stop focusing on the wrong shit!

Using What We’re Good at For Good

Through a series of unfortunate events, surviving two decades in a violent, volatile, crime-ridden neighborhood and one particular incident where I had two guns pressed into my head, I realized something: what is taught and practiced in a dojo, doesn’t really translate to the street.

Reality isn’t so neatly packaged.

For 17 years after the gun thing, I sought out, researched, practiced, studied, read, and trained with some of the scariest, most intelligently dangerous people on the planet.  I formulated a program and taught private clients how to survive violent confrontations.

No.  Not fairy tale “self-defense”.  Real life violence is ugly, brutal, bloody, injurious, fast, painful, unexpected, and mentally, psychologically, and emotionally incomprehensible in real time.  I taught violence.  I taught war.

It’s a dark atmosphere and teaching this, living in that realm, can take its toll.  But, I was good at it; good at delivering knowledge, wisdom, insight, and instruction in such a way that they got it.  They felt it, adopted it, and embraced it for real.

One of my clients, an Air Force Intelligence Specialist wrote this on my behalf; “I spent one month under the instruction of Rob Wilson prior to a tour overseas.  I would personally recommend attending his instruction to anyone seeking to learn reality-based personal defense as effectively as possible.”

The day before he left, he asked me, “What brought you to teach war?”  Hmm.  I wasn’t expecting that.  After some quick mental inventory, I replied, “It’s because I love peace.”

And he said, “Then why don’t you teach peace?”  And he left.  Mic … dropped.

There’s a line in the movie, Hotel Artemis, where Nice (that’s her name), a highly sought-after female assassin says, “You can’t pick what you’re good at.  This is what I do.”

There are guys out there, some whom I learned from, who make their living teaching tactical violence.  It’s who they are and I’m so happy they exist.  Not great at parties, but when evil happens, they’re your best friend.

For me though, my client’s question punched me in the chest.  I love peace, but I was living in the yang.  I felt it and people around me started to feel it too.  If I love peace, why not live in the yin?  And so, here I am.

There’s a thin line between war and peace, love and hate, yin and yang.  Actually, the line is only perception.  There is no physical line, but a sharp transition between the darkness and the light in a continuous swirl, with a bit of one inside the other.  You know the symbol.

Back to Hotel Artemis: When Acapulco, played by Charlie Day, offered to hire Nice to use her dark skills to protect him, she replied, “That’s not what I do”.  What a shame.  Maybe we can’t pick what we’re good at, but we can use what we’re good at for good.

Namaste.

What Happened to the Old Bearded Man on the Mountain?

Dr. Michio Kaku, one of the most popular, well-known theoretical physicists of our time has a radio talk show in which he interviews other scientists. And the first question he asks every guest is about why they became scientists. What sparked their interest and the question is this; “What happened … when you were a kid?” And they always say the same thing, starting with “When I was ten years old …”

That’s always when the magic happened (as he says); around ten years old.

I remember having a conversation with my mom somewhere around that age and she asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Hmm.  Now, this was the ‘70s and everybody was Kung Fu Fighting.  You know; funky China men from funky China town?  I was fascinated by the old, bearded martial artist in those badly dubbed Hong Kong, Kung Fu movies.

So without thinking, I answered her; “I will be a bearded man who lives on a mountain and people will come to me to help them find their way.”  And … I was not a smart kid.

Now, my mother was old-school.  And old, by the way.  My parents had me late in life.  She looked at me; coffee in one hand, cigarette in the other, and laughed, but not at me.  She laughed as if she knew I knew this and her laugh was an acknowledgement of what her ten-year-old just said.  A brief laugh, followed by, “You probably will, won’t you.”

Maybe.

I’ve always been a seeker, not a knower.  I would annoy elders, teachers, professors, monks, masters, clergy, and yogis with questions.  I’ve read close to 600 non-fiction books on a wide array of subject matter.  I think, ponder, research, wonder, practice, observe, train, experiment, daydream, experience, travel, and write.  An accumulation of various degrees, certificates, awards, accomplishments, and titles over the past half-century.

So far though … no epiphany.

No religious experience.

I didn’t have a breakthrough; nor a breakdown, for that matter.

I didn’t bump my head and wake up with mystic insight.

I haven’t found enlightenment, nor did I see the proverbial “light”.

Nothing like that.

As a species, we’re pretty uncomfortable with not knowing.  So, we tend make up answers and believe.  Done.  I get it.  There’s comfort in certainty.  Order and control as well.

But, I’ve always been a seeker and I love this journey.  So far, I’m finding that the more I “know”, the more I don’t know.  And I’m comfortable with that.

I wonder though: who the hell is going to see an old bearded man who doesn’t know shit?

Photo by Kyle Johnson on Unsplash.

How to Be a Yogi Without Being a Chump

“I try. I try to be a righteous man. I try to give love all over the world. But I’m tired of being used!” – Charles Bradley: Ain’t It a Sin

Such passion that you know came from a hard-earned life.  The Screaming Eagle of Soul passed away just two years ago and way too early.  May he rest in peace.

He continues, “Sometimes this world can do me wrong. Keep to the path, won’t go astray.”  Even after life has beaten him down, industry thieves stole from him, as he tried to make his way as Charles Bradley and not some knock-off of James Brown, he’s still trying to be a righteous man!  Not easy sometimes, in this world.

As he performs this song, you can see the real anguish on his face.  The years of blood, sweat, tears, hard times, tragedy, and taking shit are all pouring out in the lyrics.  He’s trying hard to continue to walk a righteous path, but the frustration is coming to a head.

And then … “If you ain’t gonna do me right … I might just do you in. Ain’t it a sin.”

Yep; there it is.

In an interview with Mojo Magazine, Bradley said, “Everybody was thinking I was being very aggressive, but I was saying ‘don’t do me wrong, I won’t do you wrong. We all gotta make things right.”

Damn straight.

Most of us have an inherent goodness within us and we want to live a peaceful life, giving love and being loved.  But, then there are other humans that seem to go out of their way to make that shit almost impossible.

So, here’s the thing; throwing up an Anjali Mudra (prayer hands) gesture is bullshit, if it doesn’t come from the soul.  Namaste, bitch! Right?  We don’t need to do that.  Peace, forgiveness and seeing past a person’s transgressions is inner strength and understanding. Very yogi-like.  But there are times and people who don’t deserve that and neither does our soul.

There comes a point sometimes, where trying to be a righteous person and being a fool cross paths.  Part of nurturing our soul is keeping it from being a chump.  Our soul is our house.  Mi casa es su casa, but if you kick my door in, you will not be greeted peacefully.

Ain’t it a sin?

We cannot be righteous towards others, if we’re not righteous to ourselves.  Hang on; Mr. Bradley is still singing … “I try to find a certain style, to keep my soul from runnin’ wild.”

Seriously, go to Spotify, iTunes, wherever you get your music and get that song right now.

Namaste.  Sincerely.

The Case for Care in the Face of Sympathy

I come from a rough neighborhood; that’s no secret.  Where I grew up, people were gruff, rough, and tough.  In fact, here’s a typical greeting; and seriously, no bullshit, verbatim: “Joe!  How the hell are you, you fat fucking bastard?  Life treating you good or what?”

Realness.  You know this guy cares about Joe; asking him how he is with a not so subtle reminder that he should probably eat less pizza and start walking more.  And, to get on ancestry dot-com to find his father, because all bastards should know who their dad is.

Ah, I miss that.  No fake, pretentious, politically correct, empty, hoping I’m better than you are, kind of shit greeting: “Oh, hey Joe.  Good to see you.”  No it’s not.  Shit, I hope he doesn’t talk to me.  How long does it take to make a latte?  Come on!

Yep.  The atmosphere just got a bit shittier.

Down south, you could be on the side of the road in the rain, changing a flat tire and people will drive by and say, “Oh, bless his heart.”  Useless.  Meanwhile, in Philly, they’ll pull over and help you change that tire, cursing you the whole time, for getting them wet.

How about this from Anthony Jeselnik?  I think this really hits the nail on the head.  He says, “People see some horrible tragedy in the world and they run to the internet.  They run to their social media; facebook, twitter, whatever they got, and they all write down the exact same thing: ‘My thoughts and prayers …’.  Do you know what that’s worth?  Fucking nothing.  Your’e not giving your time, your money, or even your compassion.  All you’re doing is saying, “Don’t forget about me today.”

Funny, but there’s a good bit of truth to that.  I get it though.  When there’s nothing you can actually do, you want to offer some words of sympathy.  However, put some thought into it, instead of some canned bullshit words.

Now, at this point in my life, I’m about 50% removed from inner city Philly, so I’ve come to understand that most people are fragile, easily offended, and will gossip about you to anyone who will listen about how bad of person you are, because you use “Fuck” as a noun, adjective, verb, adverb, and pronoun and anywhere else it’ll fit.  Everyone has some kind of an accent.  Cursing and sarcasm is part of mine.  But, in many places, it scares the shit out of people, so I try to curb the accent a bit.  I fail, a lot.

But!  But, I cannot bring myself to say empty things, like “Prayers”.  Ugh!  No, I’ll say things like this: “I’ll mow your lawn, you can stay at my house, I’ll pick up your groceries, I’m on my way over with bourbon, I’ll walk your dog, take your trash out, change your tire, pick up your kids from practice, give you money, and sit with you at the hospital.”

The weird thing is … I often get silence or a blank stare as if people don’t recognize honest sincerity and care.  Remember Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality, when Stan (William Shatner) asks, “What is the one most important thing our society needs?”  And she responds with what is truly important to her, “That would be harsher punishment for parole violators, Stan.”  Crickets.  To break the awkward silence, she finally says, “And … world peace.”  To which, everyone cheers.

We’ve taken the care out of care and replaced it with, “Hugs”, “Prayers”, “world peace”, and “Bless your heart”.  Sympathy with no actual help.

It’s like, if I say “Bless his heart”, I’m excused from all guilt of not doing anything.  It’s like saying four hail Mary’s or something.  Not sure how that works, but I’ve heard things.

Sometimes we can’t help or simply don’t want to and we shouldn’t feel guilty about it.  It is what it is.  We’re not obligated to the universe in any way.  Sometimes we help and sometimes, we don’t feel like getting wet or putting our lives in danger or on hold to help someone.  It’s okay.  We’re human.  No worries.

But please, instead of “hugs”, say something real or nothing at all.  And please don’t hit the “like” button.  My fucking dog just died, dumbass.  He was an ugly, fat fucking bastard, but we loved him.

With all sincerity, Namaste.

Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

Some People Just Want the Address

In the 110th episode of Seinfeld, entitled “The Understudy”, J. Peterman is sitting in a restaurant with Elaine and asks, “That Shirt.  Where did you get it?

Elaine, not missing a beat, Oh, this innocent looking shirt has something which isn’t innocent at all. Touchability! Heavy, silky Italian cotton, with a fine almost terrycloth like feeling. Five button placket, relaxed fit, innocence and mayhem at once.”

Peterman responds, “That’s NOT bad!”

Sure, Mr. Peterman asked where she got the shirt, but why?  If Elaine just named a store, that would’ve been that.  But, she recognized and responded to his interest, not his question.  He hired her on the spot and it wasn’t even an interview.

Peterman’s character is based on an actual clothing company of the same name. The following is taken directly from the J. Peterman website about just one of the many articles of clothing they sell: “Thomas Jefferson disliked stuffy people, stuffy houses, stuffy societies. So he changed a few things. Law. Gardening. Government. Architecture.  Of the thousand castles, mansions, chateaux you can walk through today, only Monticello, only Jefferson’s own mansion, makes you feel so comfortable you want to live in it.  I think you will feel the same about his 18th-century shirt. Classic. Simple. Livable.”

It’s a damn shirt!  But, I want one.

We’re human and we respond to the “why”.  The what and how comes after our limbic system is lit up with interest.  Once that is fed, our neo cortex is ready to process intel.  It doesn’t quite work the other way around.

Imagine this instead: “That Shirt.  Where did you get it?”  “Dillards.  It was on sale.”

Interest destroyed.

How about this?  “You practice yoga?  Where?”

It’s not about the address.  Not yet.  It’s about what the place feels like, instinctively and intuitively:  “Want to hug it out with the universe?  This is the place. You instantly feel the energy of this ancient science and the comfort of acceptance.  Inner and outer strength, flexibility, peace, and wellbeing, harmonized with breath, focus, wisdom, and effort.  Yes; this is your journey.  The one you’ve been looking for.”     

Whatever the conversation, if someone shows passionate interest, don’t slam the door with rote information.  Take them on a journey.  Give them the story, the “why”, the soul.

But, then … some people just want the address.

Photo by DeMorris Byrd on Unsplash