I Can’t Swim the Lake if I’m Chained to the Dock

There was a time in my life when the people around me encouraged me to, just sign up for welfare.  Imagine that!  This was the atmosphere I grew up in.  It was not a nice neighborhood. I have a library full of “excuses” I could legitimately claim, but this is not an origin story, so I’ll leave it at that.  But, I was literally told to embrace all my excuses and to accept it. Welfare!  That was the advice.  So, should I drop out of high school now, or …

Then there was join our church, join our group, become a union member, join our street gang (no bullshit), join this or that; come with us.

I’ve always had something in me that said, “Fuck your group.”

If I’m chained to the dock, I can’t swim the lake.  Sure, the dock might save me from drowning, but I don’t want to be chained to the damn thing.

Those chains tell us what we can or can’t do; what we can eat and when, what we think, and what we wear.  How did they come up with these rules?  Chains that say, we’re poor and “underprivileged”, so accept it; this is our lot in life.  The chains of the dock say, there’s safety in our group, but here are all the rules you have to live by in order to be one of us.

I’m not a great swimmer; literally and metaphorically.  But, I’m swimming.  Freely.  It’s not easy at first.  In fact, I almost drowned a few times.  And when I was drowning, that’s when they really wanted me to quit, join the group, and chain myself to that dock.  Meanwhile, they think you’re and idiot for even trying.  Then they gossip about you and you realize your relationship with those people; friends, neighbors, and family as well, will be left at the dock.  I’m feeling lighter already and I’m really getting the hang of this swimming thing.

When we lose all the excuses, we gain all the power.

I don’t like chains; chains of that club, organization, mindset, and that thought process that wants us to believe that because we were born and raised behind the eight ball, that is where we’ll stay.

No chains for me.  I like my freedom.

I’m on my tenth president. Some had multiple terms.  You do the math.  Wait … don’t.  In that time, war, peace, scandals, assassination attempts, republican, democrat, conservative, liberal, effective, useless, uniting, divisive, morals, adulterers, and conspiracies, both real and theoretical.

Nothing …

Not politics, not the president –

Not that time the company I was working for closed its doors unexpectedly, when I had a young family with a mortgage and car payments –

Not that time we invested $40,000 into a business venture and lost it all in a matter of weeks (ramen noodles for everyone!) –

Not that time when either of my parents died and had to deal with Medicare, Medicaid, insurance, the banks, attorneys, and everything else –

Not that time I had two guns pressed into my skull –

Not all the nights I went to sleep to the sound of gunshots, screams, sirens, broken glass, and the elevated train –

Not that time I was hit by a car –

Not that time I got jumped and beaten in the projects, got attacked by a gang leader, got laughed at, failed ninth grade, broke my back, went bald, and … a million other things.

Nothing.  Not anything ever made me want to be chained to that dock, even when the swimming got hard.

Freedom and power.  Swimming isn’t easy.  But, it’s not that hard either.

Photo by Tj Holowaychuck on Unsplash

 

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.

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.

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

We Live in the Empty Space

A house is not useful in its walls, roof, and floors.  It is only valuable for the empty space it creates.

The purpose of a doorway isn’t about its frame or arch, however grand or rudimentary it may be.  No; the doorway is a passage from one place to another.  It’s value is in the possibilities it provides.  Without the doorway’s empty space, it’s just a wall.

Without silence, there is no music.  Without pause, there is no dialogue.  Without the emptiness on a page, there are no words.  Without Ozzy, there is no Black Sabbath.  Just sayin’.

The application of a cup is not in its material or its shape.  It’s about what it can hold.  The value is in the empty space and the quality of what fills it.  It’s about who and what is in the room and what takes place there.  It’s not about the brick and mortar of the corporate building, a dojo, or a studio, but the atmosphere, culture, philosophy, and approach therein.  An art gallery is nothing without the art inside.

While the tangible can increase the monetary value of the space it creates, it cannot elevate the quality of whom or what fills it.  Oak over pine.  Leather instead of cloth.  Stone and marble; not plywood and stucco.  Craftsmanship and design also play their part.  Given the choice, most of us prefer high quality tangibles.  Nothing wrong with that.  I’ll take a Bentley over a Chevy any day.  But … who’s driving?

We have a weird relationship with empty space, don’t we?  Even when it comes to time, we want to fill it with busyness.  Even when it’s quiet, we put on some music.  And it’s Depeche Mode telling us to “Enjoy the Silence”.  That’s … not confusing at all.

Instead of focusing on doing, we should learn to embrace and enjoy being.  We need to ‘sway through the crowd to an empty space.  Thank you, David Bowie.  Now that there’s room, “Let’s Dance”.

The empty space is where creativity happens, relationships are made, deals are done, music is created and played, conversations take place, poems are written, and thought manifests into ideas, solutions, and maybe even enlightenment.

It’s where we learn, eat, sleep, relax, read, watch, listen, breathe (metaphorically too), dance, play, gather (not too many), work, and laugh.  It’s where we move.

Life is lived in the empty space.

Photo by Jez_Timms on Unsplash

 

Life: Let’s Not Be So Guess-So About It

“Walk on the road.  Walk right side, safe.  Walk left side, safe.  Walk middle; sooner or later, get squished just like grape.  Here, karate same thing.  Either you karate do yes, or karate do no.  You karate do guess-so, squish, just like grape.  Understand?”  Mr. Miyagi; circa 1984.

This is true everywhere in our lives, right?  We get up from the couch to go to the kitchen to do whatever, but our mind is on a completely different subject and we slam our shin into the coffee table.  Squish, like grape.  When we’re not fully present, we burn ourselves while grilling, spill our drink, and forget to get off at our exit.  Sometimes  we end up in a room and forget why we went there.  Relax, we’re not losing our memory; we were never fully engaged in the first place.

While we like to think we can multi-task, there are a number of recent studies showing that we actually suck at it.  Our brains just don’t work that way and things go sideways.  But, we continue to try at our own peril.

To get the most out of an experience, keep our shins intact, and actually complete a project that doesn’t need to be redone due to errors, we need to be there completely.  Or, at least the greater majority of our brain does.

We should never do karate guess-so, which is why we need to center ourselves.  At the beginning of Hapkido class, before physical warm-up, we practice Ki breathing.  Ki, in Korean or Japanese, is like Qi or Chi in Chinese.  Hapkido, Aikido, Qigong, Tai Chi.  Ki is the universal energy that binds all things.  It is our life force; our breath.  In yoga, it is Prana.  And pranayama is the controlling of the breath.

At the beginning of yoga class, we take a few minutes to center ourselves by focusing on our breath.  It switches our brain from the strobe-light effect to just on, while getting our brain ready for the practice to come.

To balance on one foot or to hold a twisted pose takes concentration, effort, and attentiveness; complete presence in the here and now.  These poses (asana), along with controlled breath, brings the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical aspects of our being into a state of harmony.

When performing Ye Ma Fen Zong in Tai Chi, Osotogari in Hapkido, Vrikasana in yoga, or the infamous crane technique in Miyagido Karate, that physical task demands our full mental focus.  This brings a stillness to the mind, allowing our consciousness to expand and access a higher state of awareness.  Strength, flexibility, and other health benefits come as byproducts of the practice.  Bonus!

Wait: A higher state of awareness?  Expanding our consciousness?  Am I getting smarter?  Uh …

Does it always work?  No.  “What was that move John Wick did to that guy?”  “What are we doing this weekend?”  “Ooh, frozen yogurt sounds good.”  And … it goes on.  This happens in martial arts as well.  It happens in basketball, driving down the highway, and playing poker.  “Why did I go all in with a Jack-Seven off-suit?!”  Well, at least now you’re out of the game, giving you freedom to think about that crap you were thinking about when poker was getting in the way, right?  Jack-Seven off-suit gets you squished, like grape.

Guess-so is okay, when its okay.  But when life matters, let’s not be so guess-so about it.  Squished grapes aren’t bad either.  I like a nice red blend.

Photo by Tianshu Liu on Unsplash

What Do We Do When Passion is Half Dead?

Half-life is a term commonly used in the world of nuclear physics and pharmaceuticals; the time required for a quantity to reduce to half its initial value.  And from there, it’s all downhill at an exponential rate.

But what about that doughnut.  Yesterday it was fresh, last night it was edible, but today its dried wood.  Other perishables like thoughts, emotions, and leftovers have a half-life as well.  I was going to use milk as an example, but that just seems to die the day after the expiration date.  It’s good, good, good, then bloody horrific.  No half-life on milk.

Passion has a half-life.  It’s an intense and barely controllable emotion.  It burns like a new star; a sun engulfing our thoughts, responsibilities, and our lives with heat and light.  Nothing escapes uncompromised.

Some advice from Ben Franklin; “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.”  Just sayin’.

But then … the fuel begins to run out, the core contracts, and things begin to cool.  Now what?  What do we do about this?  Can we do anything?  Should we do anything?  Passionately speaking.

There are so many articles, books, and blogs on how to stay passionate, but they use words like dedication, work, perseverance, and goal-setting.  What?!  Logical advice to fix and emotional problem?  That’s like flipping the light switch on the wall to get water from the faucet.

Other advice from these same sources, address dwindling passion in terms of you as if you are the problem.  No shit!  Of course we’re the problem and its natural.  Even skydiving can get mundane and routine after the one-thousandth jump.  Nothing has changed with the activity.  Everything is exactly the same as day one, except us.

But our passion didn’t die, it just changed.  And this isn’t such a bad thing, because now we’re able to think a bit clearer, see the road in front of us, and make better decisions.  Oh shit, our neo cortex is communicating with our limbic system!  Love and logic, passion and responsibility, excitement and rationality; cats and dogs living together.  What is going on!?  Well, if we turn on the light switch, we can see the faucet.

Balanced intelligence.

So you’re not all over each other like it’s your third date (Hey, I’m old school; shut up).  But now, five years into marriage, the passion is still there, but its not searing your eyebrows off.  It’s changed for the better.  Seriously, have you seen anyone without eyebrows?  Eww.

When the adrenaline rush, hormonal overload, and nitrous oxide injection taper off, we’re able to drive better, control the vehicle, and relax into the experience.  Hey, are these seats Corinthian leather?

Whatever the passion, a relationship, a car, skydiving, yoga, martial arts, a new job, or playing an instrument; they all start out pretty hot, but when things begin to cool, we think we lost our passion.  No, the passion didn’t die, it’s just reshaping itself.  For some of us, we recognize the goodness in that.

And yes … stars burn out.  It happens.  That milk aint’ coming back.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash.