An Absolute Doorway to the Soul

“The cold is an absolute doorway to the soul.” – Wim Hof, The Ice Man

I’ve run four Tough Mudders and five other obstacle course races.  Why do people do this?  Everyone has their reasons, but for me, when I’m in the freezing ice-water, crawling through claustrophobic pipes half filled with water, jumping off platforms into more cold water, crawling through mud, getting electrocuted, and pushing my brain and body through 12 miles of that shit, it’s a vacation!  A vacation from the mundane and the rigmarole of distraction throughout our daily lives.  The chatter, the multi-tasking, the dishes, dinner, laundry, phone, news, work, the lawn, traffic, and wait … what’s for lunch?  All that goes away and you’re there, completely engaged with the universe.

I’ve trained and worked with MMA fighters and many will say this about being in the octagon: When you’re in there, everything else goes away. It’s not office politics or life drama.  For that short period of time, you’re there; completely.  All that outside noise is gone.  It’s liberating and refreshing.

As for training with Wim Hof, it’s not something I’ve done.  Not yet.  Maybe not at all; I haven’t made up my mind.  I’ve read his books and follow the method on his website.  I love the breathing and concentration part.  I hate the freezing cold water part.  So, we’ll see.  But as he says, when you’re in that cold water, all you can focus on is survival.  Your mind, body, and soul are all engaged in the same place and it’s an amazing thing to experience.

So, if we don’t want to get our face kicked in, get hypothermia in a lake near the north pole, or use our body as the bottom of a twenty-foot tall human ladder, while eating someone’s muddy Adidas, what can we do to get this same feeling?

Binge watch Game of Thrones?  Stranger Things?  Billions?  No, that’s not it.  But yes, watch these shows.  It’s not yoga, but not everything needs to be.  Sometimes it just feels good to see what The North is going to do next.

Run a 5k?  A half-marathon?  A whole marathon?  An ultra- … wait; no, just stop.  I’m not running that far.  Ever.  After two miles, my brain strobe-lights content due to the boredom.  I’m everywhere, but “there”.  Ugh, running sucks!  But, for those people who immerse into the run, it’s their yoga.  The breath, the rhythm, the trance.

The gym?  Yeah, because wearing earbuds with our face in a cell phone between sets, sitting on a machine, surrounded by TVs is total focus, right?  No.  But, there are some people who lose the world around them, during that squat and for them, that is their yoga.  The focus, the technique, the effort.

Yoga means union.  Union with the universe, where our brain, body, spirit and focus all come together as one with our environment.  Whatever our yoga is, it should be an absolute doorway to the soul.  For me, it’s yoga.

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

 

Trust: What’s the Matter?

Trust is not something that can be earned.  It is only given or lost.

In the movie, A League of Their Own, there’s a scene at the train station where Jon Lovitz is waiting for two dairy farm workers, played by Gina Davis and Lori Petty, to get on the train.  They’re reluctant to board and so Lovitz’s character says, “See, the way it works is, the train moves, not the station.”

The train moves, not the station!  That one gets me every time.

It kind of works the same way with trust, if trust is the train and the person is the station.  The train can only be let go (given) to go where it has the potential to go.  That’s what its built to do.

Maybe the train goes off the rails.  Maybe it breaks down.  Maybe.  But, mostly it takes everyone where they need to go.  To do that, it must be let go from the station.  Trust must be given.

If the train had to be inspected, over and over again; checked and re-checked as if having to prove its worthiness and never actually let go from the station, because no matter what it does while sitting there ever earns actual trust, it goes nowhere and does no one any good.  And the train deteriorates.

The train would never be able to become what it needs to be, do what it was meant to do, without being given trust.  It can’t prove a damn thing sitting at the station, one way or the other.

When someone says, “you have to earn my trust”, it means they don’t trust you.  It does.  I mean you either do or you don’t and if we haven’t “earned” it yet (as if it would happen sometime in the future), it doesn’t exist now.  So, no trust.

We either give someone our trust or we don’t and if we don’t, we don’t trust them.  It’s just the way the math works.  And that’s okay, depending on the circumstances.  There are things to consider, of course.  But that train (employee, partner, spouse, friend, etc) will never perform at its greatest potential if not trusted to leave the station.

Like most things, we can’t give trust if we don’t have it.  If we don’t trust ourselves, how can we trust others?  We can’t give something we don’t have.  Maybe we need to be honest with ourselves.  If someone broke our trust, it hurts; emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, physically, and even financially.  But, that was that person, not everyone else.  And when someone breaks our trust, especially in the worst ways, the real damage is on them.  I know it doesn’t seem that way and maybe they don’t even feel it.  But, their soul does.  It’s just a bad train.

And let’s not confuse trust for competency.  That train will not take me to the door step of my destination.  It doesn’t do that.  My trust is that it will do what it does; stay on the rails and take me to my destination station.  Nothing more, nothing less.  I’ll need an Uber to take me from the station and hmm, let’s see; get into a stranger’s personal car …

But we do it every day, don’t we?  It’s a matter of trust.  Trust that is given.

Photo by gavin_s_wilson on Instagram.

A Joyful Explosion of Humanity

Right around this time every year, I’m riveted, mesmerized, and lost for about three hours in front of my television.  No … not that show.  Not that one either.

This show is an eclectic mix of genres, backgrounds, and styles, mixing together like a well-blended cocktail of only the best unrelated ingredients served in a chalice that is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

It tastes refreshing and makes you feel good.

The atmosphere is one of love, respect, and positivity.  It’s a nullification of boundaries, lines, divisiveness, hate, ethnicity, religious beliefs, politics, and human drama; which is all based on bullshit, as far as I can tell.

Is it the soulful words in acceptance speeches?  Is it the introduction speeches, because they’re written and given by a fellow artist who just happens to be a big fan of whom they’re speaking of?  It’s not just some presenter and a teleprompter, you know.  In Brian May’s speech, when he was inducting Def Leppard, he said, I wouldn’t let anyone else do this. He’s a fan and a friend.

Is it the music?  Yeah, I turn that shit up to eleven.

But, that’s not what captivates me.  Actually it’s all of that, along with an appreciation of the artistry, talent, skill, effort, writing, sacrifice, tragedy, triumph, risk, and the drive to keep going, producing beautiful music in the face of all adversity.

No, that’s not quite it either.

It’s what I see that could be.  I see Janelle Monae genuinely enthralled by the performance of Def Leppard; dancing and smiling.  It’s when I see Stevie Nicks hanging on every word of Janet Jackson’s acceptance speech.  I see an audience full of highly accomplished artists, all in their own right, cheering for one-another with appreciation and respect.

That time when Tom Petty, Jeff Lynn, George Harrison’s son, and Prince all played together, performing “While my Guitar Gently Weeps”.  Or when Bono, Mick Jagger, Fergie, Will-I-AM, and The Edge all performed “Gimme Shelter” together.  Harry Styles performing with Stevie Nicks.  Brian May, Susanna Hoffs, Steve Van Zandt, and Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople (what?!) performing together, “All the Young Dudes.”

Yes!  It truly is a joyful explosion of humanity.

It’s like Robin Williams once said about music; “… a harmonic connection between all living beings, everywhere, even the stars.”

Photo by Israel Palacio on Unsplash

That One Time, On Barney Miller

When I was a kid, one of my Dad’s favorite TV shows, was Barney Miller.  My dad was a hard-working kind of guy.  Old school.  He came home dirty every night and times were tough.  But, when he watched Barney Miller, he would laugh.  So, I watched with him.  I liked seeing my dad laugh.

But, one particular episode left me thinking for the rest of that evening.  It’s where detective Chano accidently shoots and kills a kid and he’s left devastated.  His Captain, Barney Miller comes to his apartment to visit him and talk.  As Captain Miller is leaving, he stops and says to Chano, “Did you ever wonder why, the sperm whale, which is one of the largest mammals on the face of the earth, has a throat about that size (with one hand, he makes a circle with his fingers and thumb)?”

Chano replies, “Yeah, I always did wonder; why is that?”

And Captain Miller says, “Because that’s the way it is.  And there ain’t anything you can do about it.”

It’s funny how certain things resonate with even a kid of my age, at the time.  And obviously, that scene is still with me today.  At first, I felt betrayed; like, this show is supposed to be funny, not tragedy and drama.  You’re supposed to make my dad laugh.  What are you doing?!  But, the next episode was funny again, so we all moved on.

Back to Chano though: We tend to torture ourselves with what should be or could’ve been, longing for a reality that doesn’t exist.  We’re complicated emotional beings with empathy and a soul, but at the same time, we’re logical.  Simply saying, “… that’s the way it is”, is a logical approach, but it’s not very comforting.  It’s not comforting, because of its closed-ended finality with a zero percent chance of hope.

But, hope can be a form of torture as well.

Dealing with tragedy is a process and even if we successfully pass through all five stages of grief, including acceptance, it’s never actually over.  Captain Miller’s logic was to skip over denial, anger, bargaining, and depression to acknowledge reality; “that’s the way it is.  And there ain’t anything you can do about it.”  Get your shit together and move on.

I understand Captain Miller’s approach.  If I see a nail sticking out, I grab a hammer and bam!  The nail isn’t sticking out anymore.  Fixed.  That’s how most guys function.  We want to fix things, so that we can move on.

But, why was that nail sticking out in the first place?  “What?!  Do you want the wall to tell me about its feelings and its relationship with the nail?”  Sort of; yeah.  Because, nails don’t just push out of a wall for no reason.  A plumbing pipe shifted inside the wall, pushing the nail forward and when it was hammered back in, it punctured the pipe and now there are bigger problems.  Oops.

Anecdotally, we’ve all been there, done that.

“Did you ever wonder why humans have a yin and yang brain, where the limbic system operates on emotion and instinct, yet the neo cortex is all about logic and calculation?”

“Yeah, why is that?”

“Because that’s the way it is.  And the best we can do is learn how to operate both systems in harmony.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m still working on that.

World Peace?

Can we save the planet?  No.  It’s a damn planet!  If the sun eventually wants to engulf the earth, there’s nothing we can do about it.  It was here before us and it will be here after us.  So, when we talk about saving the planet, we’re really talking about saving ourselves.  It’s about optimizing our living conditions on this rock and improving that quality far into the future.

But if you watch any movie ever made about the future, it’s a grim setting.  Post-apocalyptic landscapes, famine, poisoned waters, poisoned air, death and destruction.  Maybe zombies or Skynet takes over.  You never see a movie where the future is bliss and beautiful for us humans.  No, we don’t like stories like that, do we.

Save this country?  From what?  That other country?  Those other 194 countries?  That’s a lot of countries, each with its own politics, religions, and philosophies, and beliefs. Territory, power, control, and … money.  It always comes down to money.

Save ourselves?  From what?  Well … ourselves for starters.  We can be our own worst enemy, personally and communally.  We have turmoil and drama within our own selves, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and psychologically.  How can we trust others, when we don’t trust ourselves?

Besides, we humans get bored easily and our first go-to is conflict.  It’s in our DNA.  As the T-800 said to John Connor in Terminator 2, “It’s in your nature to destroy yourselves.”  So, how the hell can we even entertain the idea of world peace?

We never hear about the FBI taking down a notorious peace dealer.  You know? The bust happens on a shipping dock at 2:00am.  Two black vehicles.  A duffle bag full of bliss and self-acceptance is exchanged for cold hard cash when the feds burst from the shadows to arrest these illegal peace dealers.  No.  This is not a thing.  But, weapons of war?  There’s money in that.

When we say “World Peace”, we’re really talking about the collective peaceful interaction of almost eight-billion people, throughout 195 countries, and according to some estimates, over 4,200 religions.  Even those religions and religious leaders fight among themselves, in terms of their beliefs, rules, philosophies, and approach.

So … is world peace even possible?  Yes, but not probable.  The math is against us and so are we.

However, I think we can make the math work in our favor if each of us can get out of our own way.  I know; it’s a big ask, but we gotta start somewhere and that somewhere is inner peace.  Without that first, there’s no shot at outer peace and we can just forget about world peace.

Hey, I’m not a hold-hands-in-a-circle while chanting kind of guy.  It makes my “spidey-senses” tingle and I just want to run.  Still working on that.  No; yoga is a personal journey inward, where we reacquaint our soul with peace. From the time we were born, we’re inundated with social division, war, hatred, and negativity, because that’s what sells.  It’s nearly impossible not to get caught up in it.  It’s sold to us and force-fed to us.  Eat it!  Now, pick a side!

World peace isn’t about a one-world religion or no religion at all.  It can’t be.  It’s not about one giant country.  It’s not about one set of beliefs, laws, or language.  It’s not about a single, all-encompassing culture.  That’s impossible, nor should be even try.  What a miserable existence it would be if eight billion of us where all the same.  Ugh.

But, with everything considered, if each of us could find inner peace; peace within ourselves, then our outward interaction would be so much more peaceful and positive.  We’d be more conscientious.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m not delusional.  The sheer math and close proximity to each other, multiplied by circumstance, equals friction.  Things will naturally heat up, but the lubricant is inner peace.

The world has a fever and the only prescription is more Yoga.  Or … cowbell; whatever.

Peace, peeps.  And get on that mat.

Photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash

Am I No Yogi?

“If your goal is to become a yoga teacher, five-and-a-half months are good enough. If your goal is to become a yogi, it may happen in five-and-a-half seconds, or it may not happen in five-and-a-half lifetimes, because it is not of the physical nature. It depends on how an individual being allows it to happen.” – Sadhguru

Just this past weekend, I graduated from Yoga teacher training and I’m now an RYT with Yoga Alliance.  It was an amazing experience with incredible people!  And Sadhguru is spot-on; it was five-and-a-half months.  But does that make me a Yogi?  Hmm …

What does it mean to be a Yogi?

Is it practicing and performing poses and breathing deeply?  Is this Yoga?  Well, if the effort and action (hatha and karma) of performing asana brings us closer to synchronization with the energy of the universe, then yes.  Because Yoga means union.  Union with the universe and all things that are, including all of us humans.

But to be a Yogi, it’s about living the way, not just knowing it.  No easy task, because our reality is dynamic with its infinite number of variables and circumstances, multiplied by about eight billion humans, all with our own baggage of shit and opinions.

But, we do our best to be Yoga, living the eight limbs: non-violence, truth, non-stealing, moderation, non-attachment.  It’s cleanliness, contentment, discipline, self-study, and surrender to a higher power.  And yes; it is the postures and a lot of breathing.  It’s withdrawing from the external world through the senses.  It’s concentration, meditation, and … bliss.

Sadhguru goes on to say, “Even if you are not like that (Yogi-like) 24 hours of the day, at least a few moments in a day you should be a yogi. If you keep it alive, things that you do not understand, things that you have never experienced, will happen to you. That means you are allowing another dimension to function.”

I know, I know, it sounds quite mystical and if you know me, I’m not one for mysticism.  In all my years of training and teaching martial arts, my mission was to clear the fog of mysticism with down to earth language that everybody could easily understand (there’s a song in there somewhere).  So to be clear, being a registered yoga teacher does not necessarily make one a Yogi.

Knowing and teaching the knowledge is merely academic.  Being able to do a one-handed hand stand with our legs in a pretzel is quite impressive, but that’s not Yoga.  The practice of living and being Yoga is true yoginess, no matter our acrobatic prowess.

So … am I a Yogi?  All things considered, yes.  But don’t tell anyone.  I have a reputation to maintain.

Namaste.

Photo by Hans Vivek on Unsplash

Kung Fu in 5 Easy Steps

“I know Kung Fu”, said Neo (The Matrix).  Wouldn’t it be great if we could just “jack-in” and upload knowledge directly into our brains?  Is it upload or download?  I don’t know.  But, a four-year degree is completed in an hour with no effort.  Martial Artist, Yogi, or pianist.  Just sit back and relax.  Hmm.

The technology for jacking-in like Neo doesn’t exist yet.  Or … does it?  I can’t keep the timeline right.  In the meantime, here are five easy steps to becoming a Kung Fu master:

Step 1: Don’t train in Kung Fu.  It takes way too long.  Lots of work too and you could get hurt.

Step 2: Watch Ip Man I and II.  Three sucked.  And, maybe some Kung Fu YouTube videos.  It’s pretty much the same as earning a black belt.

Step 3: Do some calisthenics and stretching at least once a week.  Not a requirement.  Just a suggestion.

Step 4: Subscribe to Kung Fu magazine to make sure you’re aware of the most up to date way to do a front kick.  It’s always changing.

Step 5: Buy a black belt online. Now you’re official. And don’t forget to put that Kung Fu sticker on your car window, so everyone knows.

Congratulations!

Neo was right.  He did know Kung Fu.  But, knowing isn’t being.  Being takes more than just knowledge.

It takes hard work and time.  Actually, that’s the literal translation of Kung Fu. It takes heart and soul.  It’s passion, belief, diligence, perseverance, feel, discipline, practice, and immersion. We must embrace the philosophy and approach.  It has to be in us if we’re to effectively employ it outwardly.

‘Ever hear a really good blues guitarist do his thing?  Yeah, it’s like that.

The knowing of Kung Fu is not Kung Fu.  We must be it.

Photo by Charlein Gracia on Unsplash