The Heroic Mike Tyson

Mythology tells us of the universal or shared characteristics of our life’s journey, sometimes called the hero’s journey. Whether we undertake this journey unconsciously or intentionally, and most of us do live our lives unconsciously, we begin our process of transformation with tests or challenges. If we are not contained in a profound context or story i.e., Simple Reality, we will probably not attain self-transformation or transcendence. In mythology these tests can be metaphorically represented by dragons, or in the case of Jonah, being swallowed by a whale.

During our quest we will probably find helpers, compassionate and or wise people, who will help us with our challenges. Those challenges are, of course, contained in our own false-self survival strategy. The dragons we face are our own delusions. The supreme ordeal of slaying or being slain by the dragon means that we will awaken to the reality, our true self, or fail to awaken and continue the nightmarish pursuit of wealth, pleasure and power.

Upon meeting the challenge or challenges, the hero is granted a boon or reward such as the gift of fire or in the case of the Jesus myth, salvation, to take back to the human community when he returns or is resurrected. These are metaphors of the only human attainment possible which is consciousness or the awareness of the present moment and the true experience of the gift of life.

We might not expect to find insights about Simple Reality in the life story or words of a professional prize fighter but there they are for anyone willing to listen. His words reflect a connection that he is developing with his own internal wisdom, a connection that we could all choose to make.

Mike Tyson, 44-year-old ex-heavyweight champion, just might surprise all of us. James Toback, who made a 2009 documentary about Tyson said, He’s quicker, smarter, sharper than almost anyone he’s talking to. (I am grateful to Daphne Merkin for her excellent article, which appeared in the March 20, 2011 edition of The New York Times Magazine. All italicized quotes were taken from that article.)

Mike Tyson first came to the attention of many of us who are not boxing fans in a 1988 Barbara Walters interview where his then wife, Robin Givens, described their marriage as “pure hell.” Or maybe it was in 1992 when he went to prison for the rape of Desiree Washington. His whole life he has been running from his suffering which began early and with intensity. He grew up in a tough Brooklyn neighborhood with a mother who was a promiscuous alcoholic. Many of us can relate to one aspect of his survival strategy, that of disassociating under extreme stress. That behavior Toback labeled as “click-outs.” According to Toback, he and Tyson shared experiences of temporary insanity…  Toback continues, No one gets him. You can’t get him if you haven’t been where he’s been. Oh! I think we can, Mr. Toback. I think we can.

We begin to get a sense of what our hero’s “challenges” or “tests” are and they are indeed formidable. He was for all intents and purposes an abandoned child left to develop his survival strategy in the context of the mean streets of Brooklyn. Many children facing those same challenges are devoured by the dragon of societal indifference. Luckily, for Tyson, he encountered “helpers,” chief among them Cus D’Amato.

Cus D’Amato, Tyson’s first trainer and manager, gave him a new context, provided a paradigm that, while not a P-A narrative, gave Tyson’s life a measure of security and meaning. He now had the opportunity to begin to develop self-reliance and healthier habits. Unfortunately, for him, our hero lost his mentor/helper before he had acquired the strengths, skills and awareness that would have made self-transformation possible. He was left alone to face the dragon of his old conditioning – wealth, drugs and fame.

His superstar status and the death of his mentor sent him back into the darkest influences of P-B. His self-destructive patterns, which had been refocused by D’Amato, came to the surface again, aided and abetted by the boxing promoter Don King, who successfully wooed Tyson in the wake of his split from Robin Givens. (Tyson filed a lawsuit against King in 1998, claiming that the promoter stole millions from him.) Once a money-making machine worth $400 million at his height, Tyson was reduced to filing for personal bankruptcy in 2003; he was $27 million in debt.

The only thing different about Tyson’s life and the life that the rest of us lead are the details. In P-B, we are all divorced from reality. He says he believes that celebrity made him “delusional.” Notice how he languages the solution to his delusional behavior. [He believes] that it has taken nothing less than a “paradigm shift” for him to come down to earth. He is not talking about P-A, but he is moving in the right direction with an intention that should inspire all of us who are trying to escape the influences of our own “Brooklyns.”

We can also relate to the refuge he found in the context of Oneness, in this case his awareness of his connection to nature. The first thing I ever loved in my life was a pigeon, Tyson says. It’s a constant with my sanity in a weird way. Tyson has been raising homing pigeons since he was a child in Brooklyn’s poorest neighborhoods. Most of us, I’m sure, have felt the grounding and healing influence of “mother nature.”

Another aspect of the P-B narrative that makes us all vulnerable is our identity, that is to say, who we think we are in that story. He [Tyson] seemed like a man in huge conflict with himself as well as with the forces around him—the media, the celebrity machine with its perks and dangers—in a way that suggested that he was both vulnerable to manipulation and leery of being manipulated. Who hasn’t had the experience of being manipulated by those who took advantage of our hunger for money, pleasure and power? “The biggest tough guy wants to be likable.” This desire comes from the affection and esteem energy center of the false self.

Creating a new identity for himself is of crucial importance in the transformation of Mike Tyson. “That’s not who I am anymore.” And there is indeed, something of the actor about Tyson, warming to his new role as a humbled rogue, a gentle giant with his delicate birds. But there is also a kind of heroism in his effort to construct a more accountable self, a reaching across the decades of excess back to the more disciplined days in the Catskills with Cus D’Amato.

In dealing with our false-self conditioning, we are relatively powerless without a practical strategy for coping with our habitual reactions. Unless our life has become a “meditation,” ready to choose response over reaction, it is only a matter of time before our old habits gain ascendancy. …he had just come through one of his bad spells…in which he feels alternately so low he wants to jump out the window and so angry that he wants to crack someone’s head open with a pipe. “They come on you,” he told me, “out of the blue.”

Everyone should read the book When Society Becomes an Addict by Anne Wilson Schaef. [Harper, 1987] and we would begin to realize that we are all immersed in an addictive system (P-B), a paradigm that has overpowered and mesmerized virtually all the inhabitants of the global village. Kiki Tyson (his current wife) has at least some inkling of this daunting challenge facing her husband. “It’s a struggle,” she says, speaking about his relapses post-rehab. “You’re always an addict and have to work at it. It’s easy for him to fall back in his own life. He surrounds himself with people who are sober and doesn’t go out to clubs.”

The realization seems to be emerging for Tyson that he must acquire the discipline that we know to be The Point of Power Practice and choosing response over his self-destructive conditioned reactions. Now, however, the focus is not on invincibility or greatness, but on the perhaps elusive goal of keeping his furies at bay and trying to master his unrulier impulses rather than letting them control him. It’s sure to be one hell of a match. And we are all in that ring.

Tyson and his wife Kiki seem to understand the importance of staying away from former environments and associates that would trigger old behaviors. …he and Kiki have [tried] to keep his habitat free of too much stimuli or pressure, the better to preserve his somewhat fragile equanimity. They have both worked to create solitude and simplicity as the foundation for a new context for Tyson’s new and more peaceful lifestyle. Coming from a tumultuous lifestyle it is not surprising that he has a little trouble with the third element of our formula for serenity, namely silence. Speaking of his suburban Las Vegas home environment he says, “It’s like a funeral home here.” I’m thinking, “better than occupying a coffin in one.”

Tyson seems to be coming to the realization that many of us are choosing to ignore. “This is what the deal is,” he said. “People just wait for you to grow up and do the right thing. They’re just waiting for you to participate in the improvement of your life as a human being. When are you going to do it?” When,  indeed!   

Oh, by the way if you’re wondering what Mike Tyson’s Promethean gift to humanity was, his creative, original boon to his fellow human beings? It was, of course, the same gift that all of us bring–the beatiful and perfect gift of ourselves–expressing in the context of Simple Reality. But then you knew that already.


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