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

 

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

It’s Never Too Late to Restart

Even after I got my first black belt, I could not do a side split.  My friends and fellow martial artists could, but not this guy.  It was the 80’s and Jean Claude was doing all kinds of Van-Dammage.  He made it a thing.  Damn you, Jean Claude!

I tried all kinds of things, including a torture device created from the same technology that made William Wallace taller.  That is, until it broke him.  Freedom!  Still, I cranked the gears, while my groin shouted obscenities at me.

It didn’t work.

I tried PNF; or, proprioceptive muscular facilitation, which is just a complicated way to say torture.  I tried dynamic stretching and even went full Russian in my training program.  Thanks Pavel, but still no split.

Then, someone suggested yoga, to which I responded, “Pffshhhh.  Right.  What’s next; ballet?”

But then, Raquel Welch launched her “Total Beauty and Fitness” video on VHS.  The commercials showed her doing yoga, so I thought, “Hmm, Raquel Welch in a onesy, doing yoga like exercises in my living room?”  Now that put a bustle in my hedgerow!  I purchased the video and to be quite honest, Raquel or not, it wasn’t very good.  And after falling over several times, trying to do Warrior 3 like the Raq, that tape never saw the inside of a VCR again.

Years turned into decades, while I trained in Judo, Aikido, and Hapkido, but still no side split.  Actually, it lost its importance and I let it go.  But then, five years ago, I began training in yoga at a real school.  Hmm; no Raquel Welch.  Weird.  Anyways, I got to experience some really talented instructors and in witnessing they’re body maneuverability, the spark was reignited.

While greater flexibility in my muscles, improved joint mobility, and some increased strength came as byproducts of the doing of yoga, there’s no specific focus on side splits.  No … splitasana.  However, this improvement of range of motion also improved my outlook and attitude on many things, including a possible splitasana.

After all the science, torture devices, and doing weird things to improve flexibility and range of motion, it comes down this: there is no magic pill.  No such thing as 6-minute abs or straddling two folding chairs in two weeks.  It’s like Bruce Lee said, “The best way to learn how to fight is to fight.”

In any venture, achievement comes from the doing.  Keep doing.  Be consistent.  Love the process and want the goal.  I found Jujimufu on YouTube and his side splits are legendary.  How did he do it?  By practicing side splits.  That’s it.  Every day.  So much time wasted on vudu, when reality was right there.

Success is in the process.  And … it’s never too late to restart.

 

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.

Why is Reality a Hard Sell? 3 Questions

While I was studying athletic training at Temple University, one of my mother’s friends came up to me and asked, “Hey Rob, what can I do to get rid of this?”, flicking her triceps fat, while eating a donut.  Hmm.  Very attractive.  As I got into the real answer, she interrupted me with, “No, I just want to get rid of this”.  Again, with the flicking of the fat.

She wanted the result; the destination without the journey. I couldn’t help her, because well … I’m not a warlock.  And even if I was able to do magic, there was much more to it than flabby triceps.  She would have looked very odd.  Funny though.

The thing is … there’s very little value in the result without the journey.  Fantasy is a cheap sell and after its purchased, whatever little value it had, is quickly diminished.

Three questions:

Why is the buying and selling of the fantasy so easy?

Because, reality is not easy.  It’s hard to sell hard.

The fantasy is wearing $90 yoga pants at the mall, while drinking a smoothie with a wrist full of mala beads.  It’s taking a selfie at the top of Mount Everest.  It’s six-minute abs, how to become a millionaire in three easy steps, and a guaranteed black belt with payment in full.  Easy money.

Why is reality such a hard sell?

Because its packaged wrong; focusing on the destination, instead of the journey.

Sell the journey, not the destination and package difficulty as something desirable.  The real rewards are in the climb, even if we don’t reach the summit.  Through effort, pain, strife, focus, determination, introspection, practice, training, breathing, and going inside ourselves, seeing who we are, we’re rewarded with some very rare knowledge.  We gained wisdom, we didn’t die, we’re fitter and more flexible, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  And as a byproduct; yeah, maybe we summited.  Maybe we became a martial artist, became a yogi, and even uncovered those abs.

Should either one be sold at all?

No.

When the value of the journey is presented well enough, people will buy.  No one likes to be sold, but we all love to buy.

Buying reality takes acknowledgment of the truth.  The truth of what is.  Reality is freedom, self-awareness, and empowering.  It can hurt and it can abolish pain. It can bring us through the sadness to true happiness.  Its not always easy, but the rewards are real.  It’s an amazing place, but it’s not for everyone.

Don’t try to sell everyone.  But, for those who are ready to take the journey, let them buy.

Photo by Michael Clarke on Unsplash