#56: A Religious Experience [Podcast]

Welcome to Episode #56 of the Fight for a Happy Life podcast, “A Religious Experience.”

You never know when you might have a religious experience… or when you might be the cause of one!

Join Ando in a discussion all about martial arts and reading signs from the universe.

To LISTEN to, “A Religious Experience,” you can either:

A Religious Experience poster

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A Religious Experience


Today on Fight for a Happy Life, a religious experience.

Hello and welcome to episode #56 of Fight for a Happy Life, the show that believes a little martial arts makes life a whole lot better. Ando here and it’s another sunny day in Los Angeles. Not that it matters.

Is there really such a thing as “bad weather”? I mean, rain or shine, you’re alive, right? I’ve always been mystified by people who get upset by the rain, or clouds, or a snowstorm. The people who use dark skies as an excuse to sulk around or hide under the blankets.

Come on! Is your happiness really so fragile that a little mist in the air crushes your fighting spirit?

If you can’t handle a few raindrops, you have no chance against a few punches!

So, no excuses. Hot or cold, rain or shine, if you can feel, and hear, and see…if you still have the power to fight and make changes to your life… then smile. Win or lose, grab your happiness, get out of bed, and keep fighting.

Was that hokey? A little overwrought, perhaps? Well, heads up, because there’s more of that coming. You see, I had an experience the other day that felt somewhat spiritual—religious, even. I’m going to share it with you right now. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

[02:04]  It was one of those days. Yes, I have them, too. Those days when you just feel lost. Not because of the weather—no, no—just… because.

Maybe it was because my wife and I were driving up into the mountains to go skiing… and I don’t ski. I need my legs to make a living, so while she skis, I sit in the parking lot. Which is actually fine by me. I enjoy my alone time. I need my alone time!

I train, answer emails, shoot a video, record a podcast, work on the website… almost everything I love to do requires being alone. The problem is when I finally get some alone time, I don’t know what to do first. It’s overwhelming.

My list of projects is endless. I’ll never get it all done before I die, which means I have to prioritize. Which leads to confusion. Which leads to doubt. Which leads to frustration. Which leads to depression. And once I get depressed, I wonder if I’m just wasting my time.

It’s one thing to have a mission—in my case, spreading the benefits of the martial arts to as many people as possible—but executing is something else.

So, feeling frustrated and lost, I gave up. Instead of working, I took a swig of coffee and marched off into the woods to take a hike.

When it doubt, I work out!

As luck would have it, there was a trailhead right at the edge of the parking lot, so within minutes, I was huffing and puffing alone in the woods.

Now, let me tell you—when I’m alone in the woods, I’m a big kid. A big, crazy kid. I jump on rocks, swing on trees, charge up hills… I have fun. I’ll take crazy Kung Fu calisthenics in the woods over skiing any day. But on this day, it wasn’t enough. I still felt depressed.

I knew I was hiding. I should be back in the car, working on something… but what? And why? And was it really worth it?

After two hours of this cold-weather soul-searching, I found myself standing in a clearing, catching my breath. It was perfectly quiet except for my wheezing and the whistle of a slight breeze across the mountain. That’s when I noticed the faint curl of a cloud starting to form in the sky.

Angel CloudIt was barely visible. But slowly and steadily it grew into four or five wisps of curly white. It was mesmerizing. It floated above my head like an angel.

That’s right—I said an angel. It only lived for 15 or 20 seconds… then the angel cloud thinned and disappeared.

As I stared up into the empty blue sky, I was struck by the thought that I’m the only human being to have ever seen that cloud. I mean, it’s possible there was another lost soul hiding a few tree stumps down, but I don’t think so.

Anyway, as romanticized as it sounds, I felt privileged to have had that experience. It felt as if the universe had created it just for me. My imagination stirred.

Maybe God was giving me a sign. Maybe he or she was saying everything is okay. That I’m okay.

See? I warned you this was going to be overwrought. Well, guess what? I haven’t even gotten to the crazy part yet. Here it is.

Glowing with a new sense of calm, I set off to continue my hike. Within ten steps—no joke!—I saw something scratched into the trail. In the dirt, with a stick, someone wrote, “John 3:16”.

That probably sounds familiar. You see that Bible reference on signs at sports events all the time. The quote, at least the King James version of it, reads as follows:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

John referenceWhat the hell? Is this a coincidence? A sign? Was I being anointed by God for a new mission? Did he want me to become a priest? He must know that I’m already married, so that didn’t seem likely.

I admit that I was freaked out for a minute, but eventually shook it off. It occurred to me how wild the imagination can be when you’re lost, cold, and hungry. So, I decided to hike up to the next ridge and then head back to the lodge to warm up and get some food.

Wait! Not so fast! Another ten steps and at my feet, to my amazement, another message had been scratched into the dirt.

I know this is hard to believe. That’s why I took pictures. If you want to see the messages as I saw them, you’ll find the photos included in the transcript for this show over on FightforaHappyL‪ife.com‬.

There turned out to be several messages scratched into the trail, spread out every 50 feet or so. They read—

(And a heart.)

Were these messages vague? Random? Hokey? Maybe. But they were exactly what I needed to hear.

[08:24]  Now, let me be clear—I am not a Bible guy. I was raised Roman Catholic, but I would say my spiritual life has grown to transcend traditional categories.

On the other hand, I am a religious guy. I’m loyal to the principles that I believe in. Which is why I absolutely consider the angel cloud and the dirt messages to be a religious experience. I wouldn’t say they changed my life, but they absolutely changed my day.

They made me feel that I was on the right path, literally and figuratively. That I should keep doing what I’m doing. That I should stick to my mission even if I felt overwhelmed sometimes. Message delivered and received.

As I walked back to the lodge with a little more pep in my step, I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone else had seen those words in the dirt?

I figured some hikers might not even notice them. It’s also possible that others found encouragement the same way I did. It’s also possible that one or two people might have viewed them as a miracle and embarked on a completely new path. Maybe someone did become a priest.

I couldn’t help but think about the story of St. Paul. The story goes that Saul, a persecutor of Christians in the early days, was knocked off his horse by a blinding vision of a resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus. He lost his sight for three days. Talk about a religious experience!

Saul, of course, went on to be known as Paul and spent the rest of his life working to spread Christianity far and wide.

Hmm. What if instead of a lightning bolt and a booming voice from the heavens, Saul had actually just seen a cloud momentarily curling into the shape of a cross? What if he simply saw the image of a fish scratched into the dirt on the road?

Is it possible that it was really just a small sign that, in his mind, meant a great deal? Who knows?

The point is you never know when your life can be changed. Whether you’re out looking for a sign or a sign finds you, any moment, any event, can be a religious experience, either fortifying your beliefs or transforming them.

That’s what makes getting up each day so interesting, don’t you think?

Now, I hope all this talk about religion isn’t making you uncomfortable. This is a show, after all, focused on the martial arts. But if you listen to this show, then you know that the topic of martial arts is not limited to just punching and kicking… martial arts is a way of life. At least it can be.

If you’re applying the principles of martial arts to your everyday life—your health, your business, your relationships—then doesn’t that make martial arts a religion of sorts? I’m not saying that martial arts should be your only source of wisdom about the universe or your place in it, but I do think it can fit comfortably alongside whatever else you believe in.

You can be a great martial artist and a devout disciple of your religion at the same time.

In fact, talk about religion is fairly common in martial arts circles, at least when it comes to the topic of cults. Both religion and martial arts can lead followers to dangerous extremes.

Beliefs become facts that are never to be questioned or challenged. Teachers become idols that are never to be doubted or contradicted. Students become zealots.

It’s completely understandable. When people are wandering in the cold, lost and confused, there is nothing more attractive than the warmth of an established system. Put on the uniform, get in line, and hit the gong.

When you’re looking for answers, you will find no shortage of churches and clubs willing to provide them. The trick is finding one that helps you without hurting you in the process.

I’ve been lucky. I found styles that allow questions and free-thinking. I found teachers who deflect my attention away from what they’ve accomplished and back on to what I’m trying to accomplish. I’ve avoided the cults. That’s why I feel very comfortable saying that, for me, training in the martial arts has been a religious experience.

My vulnerabilities have been revealed. My strengths have been verified. My character, my identity, my morality have all been challenged and changed. Thanks to the martial arts, I have found peace and my place in the universe.

I have found God as much as I have found myself on the mats.

[13:29]  Now, I don’t want you to think that I’ve been struck down by lightning in the middle of a class. I’ve also never had sparring tips chiseled into a stone tablet and dropped on my head. The truth is life doesn’t have to be dramatic or traumatic to spark change.

I can’t tell you how many times my life has taken a new direction just because of a passing comment, a small correction, or even just a look I got from somebody. In those ways, I have been influenced to some degree by everyone I’ve ever meet. Which brings me to the big point of this show.

I’ve said before that the world is your dojo. Everyone you meet is your teacher. But that works the other way, too. You can have an influence on everyone you meet on the mats or off. Especially today, in this age of communication.

When I was a kid, your main influences would be the people you went to school with and the kids who lived on your street. In the summer, I might only see my family and one or two friends all day, every day.

Nowadays, with the internet and social media, you can literally be influenced by thousands of people every day. And in turn, you have the power to influence thousands of people every day. I’m not saying you have to, but the potential is there like never before in human history.

Whether you choose to influence no one, someone, or everyone, I leave up to your judgement, but don’t ever think that what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, doesn’t affect the people around you.

You are a teacher whether you like it or not.

It’s actually a lovely thought, I think. Consider that what you are doing today might help someone you don’t even know in ways that you can’t even imagine. Your actions matter. Every time you share a smile, hold the door, make a donation, give blood, pick up a piece of trash, buy someone a cup of coffee, send a letter—anything, really—you are sending out a signal. You are creating a sign.

It reminds me of the famous line from Aesop’s fable, The Lion and the Mouse: “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

To be honest, I’m not even sure if it has to be act of kindness that makes a difference in someone’s life. Change can be sparked by cruelty just as easily as kindness, don’t you think? But I’m not going to advise you to go around being cruel to people in the hopes that it sparks positive change.

Stick to kindness. There’s no downside if you’re caught being kind. You won’t get beat up or arrested.

[16:27]  Now, just to play Devil’s advocate, let me say that I don’t believe everything you see or hear is a sign from the universe. Sometimes we see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear.

For example, in a previous podcast, I talked about buying my second car. It was black and had a turbo engine. It was my Batmobile. You may recall that during the test drive, I turned on the radio and Peter Gabriel’s Big Time was playing. I immediately thought, “It’s a sign!” Big Time is a song all about success. Moving up in life. Clearly, the universe was telling me to buy this car.

Did it matter that a few minutes later, smoke came pouring out of the hood, forcing me to pull over? Did it matter that I had to call the dealer and have the car towed back to the lot? No. I was so busy singing Big Time in my head that I not only bought that car, I paid the full sticker price!

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Hey, moron! Why didn’t you see the smoke as a sign from the universe?”

Good question. The universe was literally sending me a smoke signal and I didn’t see it. Even worse, I didn’t understand that Big Time isn’t a song celebrating success, it’s mocking greed! But none of that mattered because I wanted that car. I saw what I wanted to see and I heard what I wanted to hear.

So, no—everything is not a sign. But sometimes, if you’re listening to that little voice in your head, you’ll know which signs are meant for you.

I know—it’s not easy to hear that voice all the time. Your ego won’t shut up. Or maybe that’s just mine. Your fear, your habits, your desires—they all make a lot of noise.

So, take a hike. Find your clearing. Take a breath. I promise, you will hear the voice of your soul telling you what to do.

If it makes you feel better, I think it gets easier and easier to hear that voice, and see the signs that are meant for you, as you get older. I mean, if I took a test drive today and the car blew up and had to be towed back, I would just laugh and walk away. But the world was different when I was 19.

Correction—the world was the same, I was different.

My head was a much noisier place. My ego was a bully with a big mouth. It took more than a few punches to the head to shut him up.

[19:19]  Back to you. I hope you’ll take a minute or two to think about all of those little things that people have done for you over the years that meant more than they could have possibly imagined. Small signs that changed the course of your life.

A remark, a compliment, maybe even an insult. A helping hand, a piece of advice, a joke. Think of how many tiny nudges you’ve received to put you where you are today.

Fate wears many faces.

So, if you can’t thank all of your spirit guides personally, then at least thank the universe. In that spirit, if you’re the person who took the time to scratch those messages up on the trail in Big Bear, thank you. You made my day. And I hope the story you inspired will make someone else’s day. See how that works?

Once you’ve considered how many people have nudged you along, consider how many people you’ve nudged along. Of course, it’s impossible to ever know the full effect you have on other people, but at least consider what you’re doing in your life today to inspire or encourage someone.

You don’t have to plan it out. As I said, I think the effects of what we do is largely unknown. But rest assured, if you’re doing something, if you’re putting yourself out there at all, if you’re an active member of your community, whether that’s online or in-person or both, then there is no doubt that you have fans you don’t even know about. You’re changing lives in some measure. It’s only if you’re not participating in life that you have no chance of helping anyone.

Don’t misunderstand—I am not your judge. I’m not here to tell you that living one way is superior to another. But I would suggest that by simply being you, you inspire others to become more like you, good or bad.

In that way, perhaps there is no more significant action you can take to make the world a better place, then to simply live the best life you can.

Every time you’re kind, you inspire someone else to be kind. Every time you stand up for yourself, you inspire others to stand up for themselves. Every time you fight through adversity, you inspire others to keep fighting their own battles. So, be the teacher. Be the role model. Be you.

Is that too much pressure? Okay. How about this? You could also choose to become a role model of what people don’t want to become. Maybe you’d rather blow up your relationships, trash your body, give up on your dreams, and pass out drunk on a stack of pizza boxes every night.

Okay. Then you’ll serve the universe by being a warning tale to everyone who sees you. You’ll be the guy who parents use as an example to scare their kids.

“I said eat your vegetables, Johnny! Do you want end up like Greasy George living in that shack up the hill? High as a kite on paint fumes and sleeping on pizza boxes every night?”

Hey—if you’re willing to take one for the team by destroying yourself, then thank you for your service. I just hope you’re happy.

[22:44]  Let’s wrap this up. The message today is to take inspiration where you can and give inspiration where you can, even if you don’t know who’s giving it to you or who you’re helping move forward.

Even now, if you agree with what I’m saying, I don’t expect you to remember that I’m the one saying it. I don’t need the credit. I’m just another one of those people who says these kinds of things… and I’m okay with that.

I’m okay because I know I’ve learned a great deal from teachers that I’ll never know. Or remember. It all goes around.

So, if you want to change the world, live your life. Make your mark. Believe that you are inspiring others by just being you.

Scratch your message into the dirt with a smile because you never know who might see it. Who knows? Your small act of kindness might be a religious experience for someone coming down the road after you.

You, my friend, are a sign from the universe.

And off we go. Back on the road to success. If you liked today’s show, hey—why not nudge a friend and send them the link? You’ll either annoy them or change their life. Let me know how that goes!

Until next time, smiles up, my friend. Let your smile be your shield and your sword. Keep fighting for a happy life.