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.

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

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

 

Why Do We Grasp for Dead People’s Possessions?

I never understood why, when someone dies, people flock to the scene to claim possession of the trinkets of the deceased.  I just don’t get it.

I remember when my grandmother died and four people were fighting for her punch bowl.  A fucking punch bowl!  When the hell are you ever going to need a punch bowl?  Is there a Happy Days-themed prom you’re expecting to have at your house?

“Oh, it’s a family heirloom.”  From the old English, “loom”, meaning tool.  And heir, of course meaning, the next family member to lay rightful claim to that “tool”.  A punch bowl.

I’ve heard the argument that “it’s” something to remember them by.  Um, if you need a tool to remember them, then I’m guessing they didn’t mean much to you in life and if that’s the case, why do you want to remember them now?  By the way, Walmart sells punch bowls. I don’t know why, but they do.

For many years, following my father’s passing, his brother believed that my dad threw away their mother’s pocket bible.  Maybe he did.  No one knows.  No one.  He couldn’t let go of this.  Still hasn’t.

Maybe two or three times a year, we’d talk for a few minutes on the phone and no matter what the conversation was about, he’d have to mention it.  “Your dad threw away your grandmother’s pocket bible.”

Okay, so what do you want me to do about that?  It was always an accusatory tone and it got old very quickly.  He was blaming my deceased dad for something he may not have even done.  My uncle wanted that pocket bible as if his life wouldn’t be truly complete without it.  He’d never find contentment without fulfilling this attachment.

No Santosha without Aparigraha.  Just sayin’.  

It’s just a book!  A very small, mass-manufactured version of the bible by some now-defunct corporate publisher.  It’s nothing.  God, however anyone wants to define “God”, is NOT in that book.  My grandmother is not in that book.  It’s just words on cheap paper.  He’s clinging to this object as if it’s some kind of talisman.

And then, this happened.

A few weeks back, I was cleaning out our garage and came across a box of old photos from my parents.  As I was going through it, I found a pocket bible.  On the back, inside cover, was my grandmother’s maiden name and signed by her.  “I found it!”  I put it in a cinch bag with a note to my uncle and mailed it to the other side of the country.

And … nothing.  No call.  No message.  Two weeks went by.  No response whatsoever.

Out of concern and to make sure it arrived, my wife called him.  Yep, he got it.  He was quick, because he was busy, but said, “That’s not the bible.  Bob (my dad) threw away the one I’m talking about.”

Okay then.  And that was pretty much the end of the conversation.  No thanks for the thought or anything like that.  Not that I need thanks or appreciation to validate what I did, but still.  You know what I mean.  Maybe acknowledgment; I don’t know.

So, I don’t do the anger thing.  Maybe I’m weird, but I don’t hold grudges or get angry with things like this.  Grudges are heavy, weighing like sandbags on our shoulders.  I don’t want to be hunched over when I’m 100.

I do get disappointed though.  Hey, I’m human.  But, this wasn’t even disappointment for me.  It was a realization about my “relationship” with my uncle.  There really isn’t one.  He doesn’t know me, nor I him, really.

While I don’t misplace value in inanimate objects, like a punch bowl or pocket bible, I do value people and the relationships I have with them.  My fathers efforts, hard work, tolerance, wisdom, and guidance he provided on my behalf is what I value.  I can never forget that.  Possessing his microwave isn’t going to keep him with me.  Like, every time I make popcorn, I would feel his presence.  No, I sold his microwave to help pay for hospice.

Anyways, the value my uncle places in this book and the negativity associated with its mysterious disappearance, permeated whatever little contact we had.  Ugh.

And for that reason, I’m out.  Sometimes, you just have to give the microwave away, because its too heavy to keep moving around.  Besides, I make my popcorn on the stove top.

Peace.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I See Human Beings

My apologies.  I know I’m taking a risk here, but I posted this the other day and then I took it down.  I’m torn.  I want to leave the past in the past and so I thought I’d put it out there and let it go, but then I thought, by putting it out there, it regains energy.  I had a great conversation with a wise person, who told me its okay to put it out there, let it go, and be done with it.  So, here it is again.  I will not take it down. Namaste.  

Charles Bukowski once said, “I walked around the block twice, passed 200 people and failed to see a human being.”

The block I grew up on was pretty bad.  I walked around it countless times.  I witnessed and experienced things I shouldn’t have at an early age.  At any age, really.  I greeted the prostitutes on the corner as I walked by, witnessed horrible violence and incredible kindness.  A bloody lifeless body on my sidewalk and a two-year old boy innocently playing with a toy truck.  I went to sleep to the cacophony of gun shots, sirens, the elevated train, people yelling and screaming, and … a dog barking.  You get used it.

I learned street diplomacy in my single digits, got into and out of violent confrontations and maintained a delicate relationship between decent people and the criminal element.

Mentally, physically, and psychologically processing that stuff has its effects.  For so many, the atmosphere becomes them and I completely understand.  The pressure to align with this group or that group, because standing alone is dangerous.  So is aligning with a group.  Catch 22.  What does it mean to be a man?  As a young teenager, successfully navigating that atmosphere was next to impossible.

Due to the surrounding violence, my dad enrolled me in martial arts when I was twelve.  Real martial arts.  Not kiddie karate.  Blood, pain, injury, and a bit of Zen.  I could have gotten three of those on the streets at no cost.  Actually, I did.  Something I asked my dad was … “Can’t we just move, instead?”  But that wasn’t in the cards.

That neighborhood heightened my sense of awareness and information processing speed.  My decision making skills are quick and quite decisive.  I learned to read situations, verbal exchanges, tone, demeanor, mood, movement, and things that just don’t feel right. I don’t recommend it.

And the martial arts?  That militaristic dojo taught me how to embrace the suck, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and focus.  It helped me to see myself.  And because of that, it helped me to see the human beings.

Back to the Bukowski quote.  I saw the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful on that block.  I saw the humans.  All of them.  A person.  A life.  I think that’s what helped me navigate those streets.  I genuinely saw the person and they saw that I saw them and so … they saw me.  Some didn’t, no matter what.  That’s just the way it goes and that relationship got handled differently.

Whatever, whenever, and wherever the block; literal or metaphorical, seeing the human beings helps a lot.  It can hurt sometimes too.  But, the alternative is just going through the motions.  No feeling to it.  No soul.

I know what Bukowski was trying to say and I get it.  Life, atmosphere, circumstances, and shitty people can cause us to lose our faith in fellow humans; jaded, frustrated, guarded, and disheartened.  It happens and we all have our days, but we can’t live there.  That would be a miserable existence.  No joy.  No peace.

I see human beings, but I first had to truly see myself.

Photo by Fredy Martinez 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.