05 March 2006


Some years ago I picked up a copy of What Is Enlightenment? magazine because the cover gave me a good laugh. It started with the provocative name of the magazine itself, which I think is pretty wry for asking the hard question so directly. But what really got me laughing—and thinking—was that it had a picture of Jack La Lanne and Mr X, another guy whom you'd recognize from TV as also having a kind of uncanny enthusiasm. The cover asked: Are they enlightened?

Jack La Lanne, enlightened?

He's not exactly what you think of when you think "enlightened," but he's sure got some kind of juice. He's someone whom I would call a Great American, a whimsical way of saying that he's living a good life, a life of integrity, and doing his own very unique something to make the world a little bit better. (I stole the expression from MKB, and it's often useful.)

But "enlightened"? Well, in every interview I've ever seen with him, he repeats this little rap about his life ...

Leaving a hot bed and a hot woman and going into a cold gym at five or six in the morning takes dedication. But I'd rather take a beating. You get out of the bed in the morning tired with aches and pains, but this body works for me. It's my slave. I take care of it. I just kick my butt and get it out of bed, and the next thing I know a couple of hours have passed, and I look in the mirror and say, "Jack, you've done it again!"
... which reflects a kind of relentless dedication mixed with relentless happiness that may not be "enlightenment," but is at least a cousin to it.

But actually I'm not so much interested in Jack La Lanne today as Mr X, the other guy on that magazine cover, who has some surprisingly interesting things to say. Please don't click the links just yet; I want to keep you in suspense about who Mr X is while I quote him at length.

Instead, follow this link to the quotes ....

So there's a thing that Mr X said in his interview with What is Enlightenment? that really struck me.

We have a unique situation in life. Here's how life works in my estimation. It's a very simple game. You do a poor job at something, what kinds of rewards do you get?

Interviewer: Very few.

You do a poor job, you get nothing. You get pain. When you do a really poor job consistently in life, your relationship leaves you. When you do a poor job at work consistently, unless you work for the government, your job is over. You get right-sized, you get downsized, right? You're out of here. You do a poor job on your kids, they end up in jail. Now, most people in life won't settle for "poor." Their standard is "good." If you imagine a set of stairs and you're at the base level, where one step down is maybe a poor job and "good" might be ten stairs up, that's a big jump to "good." So when you do a good job in life, what kind of rewards do you get?

Good rewards.

No, you get poor rewards. Every day people stop me on the street and they say, "[Mr X], I know you're an expert in this field and I just wondered if you could answer a question." They're usually very emotional. And they'll say, "I'm a good husband. How come my wife left me?" or, "I'm a good wife. How come my husband left me?" or, "I'm a good parent. How come my kid is on cocaine?" And the hardest thing in the world is explaining to them that this is how life works. You do a good job, you get poor rewards. That's how it really is. And the best study of life is the study of how it is, not how you think it should be. You could say, "Gravity makes no sense and I'm going to avoid it. I don't like it." But if you jump off a cliff, you're going to pay the price. There are certain laws that just can't be beat. They're part of the way we are formed, of what we are a part of, the system we're a part of.

" So, most achievers in life, whether they be spiritual achievers, business achievers, parent achievers, people who really are going for the best, they say, "I want to be excellent. I don't want to settle for good. I've got a much higher standard." But if the standard is excellence, here's what happens. You get good rewards. You're going to say, "Wait a second. I went from ten stories up to twenty stories up! I'm one of the very best men. I pray every day. I read the Bible. I read the Koran. I meditate. I'm doing my mantra, I'm doing my kriyas [yogic practices], I'm speaking in tongues, I'm eating the perfect diet. I'm doing this stuff. How come I don't have enlightenment yet, damn it?" It's because you're excellent. And I've got news for you. You're never going to get it as long as you're excellent. You know what you're going to get? Good rewards. You'll have a great life. You'll feel a great sense of spiritual connection. You'll probably have a great sense of gratitude. That's what you get when your standard is excellence. But the ultimate level is outstanding. And the thing about that is that although it's only a quarter-inch above excellence, very few people ever go there. When you are outstanding, when you stand out from all the rest in your standards for yourself, not by competing with others but in your standards for yourself, you get all the rewards, all the love, all the impact, all the everything, not just from society but from yourself, because you know you've never settled for less than you can be.


I got to thinking about Mr X because, via Monkeyboy's linkblog, I learned this other story about him.

At one point, he asked everyone in the audience to raise their hand if they had failed to achieve a major goal at some point in their life. All hands go up. Why did you fail? Answers come from the audience:
  • Time
  • Money
  • Lack of Resources
  • The Supreme Court (it was Al Gore in the front row!)
The room bursts into a roar of laughter, and then [Mr X] continues. "People blame their failure on a lack of resources, but really, it's a lack of resourcefulness."

He then walks over and looks Al Gore squarely in the eyes. "If you showed the same passion and energy as we saw last night during the Presidential debates, you would have beaten that guy."

The room roared even louder with applause, Gore included. It was a thought that many people had, but may not have dared to express directly. When Al Gore spoke about his true passion, global warming and the environment, he came alive at TED, and seemed like a totally different person.

After the talk, Al Gore gave him a big hug.

Who is Mr X, this wise and witty guru of Rotary Club Neitzheism? Now follow those links to find out. You'll laugh.

Enlightened? Again, he's got something, no doubt. I suspect that my readers who think about spiritual work, will, and Will—you know who you are—were probably chuckling a bit over what he had to say. I'm not so sure I'd go for "enlightened," but I think I'm ready to say he's a Great American. Who'da thunk?

1 comment:

Reya Mellicker said...

Mr. Rogers was enlightened, fully enlightened. May he RIP.