Nation of Sin
by D.W. St. John
[Editor's Note: T-Nation has, among its members, a lot of good, if not great, writers. Unfortunately, they've never had a place on T-Nation to feature their work. No more. With the inception of the "Random Acts" area of the site, they now have a place where they can share their talent. The following is a great piece by D.W. St. John, a long-time member of the site. I think it's pretty damn good.]
"My favorite?" my Vixen asked me, "or the one I am most guilty of?"
"I like Lust," she said, "aided by Vanity, and followed by Gluttony. You?"
I considered for a moment. "Oh, I like 'em all," I said, "but yeah, Lust is the one that usually does me in."
We had been discussing the Deadly Sins, identifying our personal favorites of the Seven. The conversation had started out innocuously, meandering, as our conversations almost do, toward the subject of sex. This led, naturally enough, to talk of lust, and from there, unexpectedly, to the Seven Deadly Sins.
Afterwards, in a pensive mood, I pondered our conversation, and came to a remarkable conclusion: that while the citizens of T-Nation are probably among the most morally upright of all the denizens of the iron game, we are all of us, every one, living a life of sin. That in fact, all of us who pursue a lifestyle of fitness, health, and high performance, must necessarily commit the Seven Deadly Sins on a regular basis.
The Seven Deadly Sins were first introduced by Pope Gregory in the sixth century. They became popular around the fourteenth century as a sort of theological shorthand, an easily-memorizable list of offenses to remind the common people how they could easily earn a free ticket to Hell. The definitions of the Seven have changed a bit over the years, but here they are as they apply to the Testosterone Lifestyle.
Pride, the so-called original sin, is the sin for which the Devil got his due, and for which Adam and Eve were given the big boot out of the garden. "Pride goeth before the fall," the book of Proverbs tells us. Dante's Purgatorio informs us that all other sin originates from this, the hubris that lets one believe that he or she is like a god.
But why not? No other creature on this silly little rock is more like a god than you and I. No other creature has the same capacity for both creation and destruction, nor is as capable of conscious physical self-transformation. When a skinny, awkward teenager transforms himself or herself into a powerful, graceful, muscular athlete through little more than sheer will, hard work and decent nutrition, this is nothing short of godlike. And definitely something to be proud of.
Pride, of course, is sometimes called by the slightly nastier name Vanity, implying self-absorption, self-love, and an unquenchable thirst for attention. Do you know anybody like that?
But let's not judge Vanity too harshly. After all, if it weren't for that very vain impulse to take long hard looks in the mirror, and critically assess our bare asses, we might not be as motivated to work as assiduously at the gym.
Pride and Vanity form the powerful catalyst — a volatile solution of "damn I'm good" and "shit, I could be better" — that is crucial in starting and maintaining the transformation of mere men and women into gods.
Lust is the unnaturally strong desire for physical pleasure, most particularly sex. It leads otherwise morally upright men to ogle bimbos in bikinis on Venice Beach boardwalk, and leaf one-handedly through Victoria's Secret catalogs when their wives aren't around. It leads otherwise virtuous women to page breathlessly through trashy novels, and drool over muscular long-haired tattooed men wearing beads and friendship bracelets.
One does sometimes encounter those asexual few who claim to be immune from the sin of lust. They will tell you that they are offended rather than excited by the smooth bulges and curves of a naked human form; that talking about sex is inappropriate in a public internet forum, for example, and that in any case sex is, or should be, for procreation rather than pleasure. These folks fly in the face of millions of years of evolution (which they likely don't believe in), and they are probably lying anyway.
Lust is a powerful motivator. Ecological science tells us that it is one of the most powerful motivators for animal behavior, right up there with hunger. While I have no scientific evidence to support this, I believe that sex is fun for all species (not just for higher primates and marine mammals), and that the desire for this pleasure (and not merely the instinct to reproduce) is responsible for the sex drive of the animal kingdom.
Look at a dog's face when he's getting it on, whether with another dog, with your leg, or with furniture, and tell me whether that is the face of an animal that only fucks to procreate. No way. That is the face of lust, baby.
The word lust has a bad rap in the English language, but other Germanic languages give it a fairer shake. In German and Norwegian, for example, lust can mean simply a desire for something. You can lust for a boiled potato, or lust for a piece of toast with butter and jam, and nobody will cast aspersions on your character. Unless you have other plans for that potato besides eating it...
"I lust for a nice big knackwurst!"
Even in English, the word lust did not originally carry the pall of moral iniquity. To be lusty was to be passionate, healthy and strong, full of vigor and vitality. The very definition of a T-Man or Vixen.
Similarly, the word wanderlust (which comes to us via German) connotes simply a strong desire to see the world, and to experience new things. It has absolutely nothing to do with pursuing the lovely maidens of Bangkok and Manila (and especially not Prapat, North Sumatra).
In any case, a fierce lust for life is far preferable to a weak, apathetic existence, or worse yet, a pathetic wish for death. Far more attractive to the chicks, too...With the possible exception of goth chicks.
Ask yourself truthfully why you first started training: why you first decided to shed that extra blubber, or add a few pounds of muscle to your limbs and torso. All right, maybe it was for a sport, or to "feel better", or perhaps even on doctor's orders...but honestly now, wasn't it perhaps, even just a little, so that you could improve your chances of getting laid?
And now, even if you're married or otherwise spoken for, how does it feel when a really hot member of the opposite sex (or same sex, if that's your thing) is checking you out at the gym? Not just, you know, admiring your form on your front squats, but truly giving you the look?
Feels damn good, right? Like that little testosterone valve just opened up a bit wider. Like you'd like to do a few more extra sets, or maybe even could go for a new personal record, right? Lust is a good sin. It is my favorite sin. It can be highly motivating — and therefore highly anabolic — if properly utilized.
Gluttony is the consumption of more than one's fair share of food and drink, in excess of one's needs. Surely a glance at the bloated bellies at the beach, or groaning shopping carts at the supermarket, will confirm how widespread this sin is.
The school of thought that that criticizes gluttony preaches abstinence, temperance and moderation in all things. I am suspicious of these folks. I imagine them as pitiful, emaciated creatures meticulously counting their calories, limiting their animal protein intake, occasionally fretting that they may not be attaining the minimum daily requirement of riboflavin and dietary fiber.
I suppose I can't really fault moderate, temperate people for the lifestyle they have chosen, but they seem a bit dull, to say the least. Besides, if one's goal is to get big, a little gluttony is practically a requirement once in a while. Gluttony in moderation, so to speak.
Toward the end of my first serious bulking cycle, my coach Steve found plenty of ways to outwit my treacherously high metabolism. He would take me to the pizza parlor ten minutes before it opened, with strict instructions to remain there, stuffing my piehole with their all-you-can-eat lunch special, until the restaurant closed, the staff tossed me out, or I died, whichever came first.
I was never asked to leave, but I nearly passed out from nausea once when I went head-to-head with a sumo wrestler. Every time the big fatso got up for another slice, so did I. My small brag is that I was still there when he got up to leave, but I was sick as a dog after that. Never let anyone tell you different: the forty-seventh slice of pizza tastes nowhere near as good as the first.
Before bed I was ordered to whip up a rather nauseating pudding-like concoction containing half a dozen eggs, three bananas, a quart of milk and a loaf of whole-wheat bread, fried up in a big skillet and consumed, in its entirety, at 2:00 AM. This was considered a midnight snack, consumption of which in no way excused me from eating a heavy breakfast the next day.
Today I would just make a big bowl of Metabolic Drive pudding with heavy cream to gulp down in the early hours, but this was over a decade ago, and what the hell, it worked. I attained my goal, gaining over thirty-five pounds (most of it muscle) in six weeks.
Sure, from a perfectly physiological standpoint, I did not need to eat that much food. From an economic and even ethical standpoint I probably consumed in sinful excess of my needs. However, the end justified the meals in this case. Gluttony worked for me.
Greed is similar to gluttony, except it applies more to inedible things. It is the desire for more cash than you could possibly spend, and more stuff than you could possibly use or appreciate. It is the selfish desire to get more and have more, for the sake of the getting and the having, often at the expense of others.
The critics of greed generally take aim at the most conspicuous examples of conspicuous consumption. Bill Gates. Donald Trump. People who drive Hummers and Suburbans. Basically, anyone who has more, better, or bigger stuff than the critics do. That these folks are themselves probably guilty of the sin of Envy is beside the point, and is certainly never recognized by them.
As with Lust and Gluttony, it is the the excessive and unnatural desire for wealth and material goods which cause the haters to hate greed. But I have a problem with the words unnatural and excessive. What could be more natural than desiring the best? Who has the right to define what is excessive?
True, nobody needs a Cartier bracelet, or a Georgio Armani suit, or a Louis Vuitton handbag, or a Valkyrie Rune motorcycle, but we want these things, damn it. And our wanting these excellent things inspires engineers, craftsmen and artisans to produce them.
You can't tell me that anybody needs this motorcycle.
Similarly, nobody needs 18-inch biceps or 28-inch thighs. Nobody needs to look like a fitness model. Nobody needs to squat 400 or deadlift 700, or to have a shot at maybe doing the horizontal samba with Jessica Alba. But we want these things. So off to the gym we go.
Does anyone need to do the nasty with this woman? Not really.
I suppose that in an ideal world, as imagined by the greed haters, all human beings would be completely equal, living in perfect harmony. We would all have the same basic skills, the same meager possessions, the same scrawny physiques, low tastes and scant desires. We would all be living in caves and mud huts, growing millet and amaranth, raising goats and mouflon sheep.
What a fucking nightmare. Good thing that Greed makes us want to go out and get something better.
Sloth is, by definition, the easiest sin to commit. You don't have to do anything at all. Sloth is the father of procrastination, laziness and apathy. All of which seem at complete odds with success in business, in the gym, or in life in general. How, then, could anyone find anything positive to say about this sin?
By considering recovery day.
Steve said it well, a decade and a half ago. "Most people fail to make progress because of three mistakes: they don't train hard enough, they don't eat enough, and they don't recover enough."
When I was in college I knew a few gym rats who were in the gym all the time. Three, four hours a day, that's where they would be: in the gym, workin' out. Bench press, curls, tricep extensions and dips, maybe some cable pulldowns, calf raises and leg extensions when the mood hit, whenever you saw these guys, that is what they would be doing.
Don't get me wrong, they were not lazy. You could tell that they expended a huge amount of energy on their workouts, but I always wondered how much more progress they would have made had they compressed the same amount of exercise into the space of one hour, and took a few recovery days off during the week. Probably a lot more progress than they actually made, which was very little.
They had the Vanity thing going, judging by the amount of time they spent strutting and posing for the mirror. And to watch them checking out the sophomores in sports bras on the Stairmaster, you could tell they had Lust taken care of. However, a little Sloth once or twice a week would have worked wonders.
Envy is the mother of Vanity and Greed, and it nourishes both. Envy is that still small voice that reminds you that you're not quite as rich, good looking or handy with the ladies as the guy in the hot convertible over there.
This sometimes leads to Wrath...which in turn leads to you going over and cold-cocking that arrogant bastard, taking his women and driving off in his car. That might be fun, if slightly illegal.
Of course, it can also lead to a psychotic serial killer luring you to a deserted location and FedExing you a box, which isn't much fun for anyone. (If you haven't seen Seven, you have no idea what I'm talking about, but don't sweat it).
Note first of all that Envy is to be distinguished from jealousy, a destructive emotion that does nobody any good. While I may envy Brad Pitt for having wild jungle sex with Angelina Jolie at a $2000 per night resort in Kenya, it would be pointless for my Vixen to be jealous of this. Because she knows I'd really rather have wild jungle sex with her (really, baby, I swear!).
Wild. Jungle. Sex.
What envy does best is inform and refine our tastes and sensibilities. Unless you see someone really enjoying life, you'll never know for sure whether that's what you want as well. You may think that millet sounds pretty darn good.
But catch a glimpse of someone driving a sleek little silver BMW Z8 convertible up the coast toward his Malibu villa, a gorgeous young lady in the seat beside him, her long hair streaming behind her as the car roars up the road, and you may find that the mud hut and the sheep have lost some of their appeal. It's like the old World War I song, "how ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen Paree?" The answer is, you can't.
Or perhaps you'd prefer a sheep.
When I was ten, my friend's dad Big Joe took me to see a real hardcore gym in Fresno. This place had no chrome, no carpet, no girls in Spandex. No arm machines, no leg machines, no cappuccino machines. What this place did have was a lot of really heavy iron, and a lot of really big, mean-looking men lifting it. It looked and smelled like a prison weight room, which was probably because the previous gym of many of the guys there was a prison weight room.
Big Joe introduced me to his friends and showed me some basic exercises, hoping to convert me into an iron junkie. But for me, what really made me want to hit the heavy iron someday was seeing this big black dude out in the parking lot.
He probably wasn't really that big, maybe 190 or 200 pounds, but to a ten-year old punk like me he looked enormous. He had an Afro (this was still the seventies), was wearing a wife-beater T-shirt, and had the biggest pectoral muscles I had ever seen. This alone would have been impressive enough, but what amazed me was that his lats were just as well developed, and they jutted out just as protuberantly as his mighty pecs. I thought that was cool.
I looked down at my own little pipe cleaner arms and legs, and sunken ten-year old chest, and what I felt was not admiration for all of this man's hard work, nor amazement at his superlative muscular development. No, I envied that motherfucker. I wanted to look just like him when I grew up.
Well, you know, minus the Afro.
Envy lets us see who and what we want to be. It is an itch, which you can only scratch by becoming that which you envy.
Wrath is like vengeance: it is the prerogative of the gods. And like the desire for vengeance, it can be all-consuming, and destructive. Wrath, or unbridled anger, can burn up friendships and marriages, incite brutal murders and riots, start wars, even destroy entire countries.
It was wrath that leveled Carthage and set Troy ablaze, wrath that nearly brought the US and Soviet Union to a nuclear showdown over Cuba, wrath that plunged Los Angeles into a fiery riot after the Rodney King verdict, and wrath that brought down the Twin Towers on September 11th.
So what good could wrath do in the hands of men?
Well, for one thing, it sure can help your deadlift.
I had never pulled eight plates before. I had never even seen what a barbell looked like with four 45s on each side at least not one in my hands. I had gotten tantalizingly close, coming right up to the doorway of 400 pounds, but never quite making it inside. Steve said I could do it. I wasn't sure yet. I was twenty-two, and tipped the scales at 179 pounds.
I looked down at the bar lying in front of me, its eight plates indenting the black rubber pad. Steve stood three feet away on the other side of the bar, facing me. "I'll count to three," he said, "and when I clap my hands, you just grab the bar and stand up with it."
Just like that, huh? Okay.
One. Two. Three.
I bent down. I grasped the sharp knurling of the bar. I pulled. I strained. I groaned. The bar bowed a little. A half inch of daylight showed underneath the mass of iron. And then, with a mighty clunk, the plates impacted the floor as I relaxed my hold on the bar.
Steve's face was impassive. "What happened?" he asked.
I shook my head. "I couldn't lift it."
Steve took a half step forward. "No," he said quietly, "you didn'tlift it. There is a difference."
Suddenly, without warning or preamble, his hand swung around and clocked me on the side of the head.
I saw stars for a second or two, and when my vision cleared I saw Steve standing there with the most contemptuous look on his face.
At that moment I could have committed murder. I could have taken that fucker apart with my bare hands. Actually I couldn't have, because he was a black belt in about four different martial arts and outweighed me by fifty pounds, but I sure would have had I been able.
Steve then barked, "Pick it up! Pick that motherfucking bar up NOW!!"
I picked it up. Just like that.
Steve told me later that when he'd seen me looking at the bar before he clapped his hands, he wasn't sure I'd be able to make the lift. The expression on my face was one of fear and uncertainty rather than strength or confidence. But he said that as soon as he smacked me on the head, "I knew you'd do one of two things: you would either lift that bar, or you would come over it and take a swing at me. You're damn lucky you made the right choice."
I very rarely get angry these days, but I remember that episode clearly. And sometimes when a weight is "too heavy" or a problem is "too hard" or an adversary is "too tough", I'll remember how a little slap upside the head made me angry enough to lift 405 pounds for the first time. And maybe I'll visualize somebody who makes me angry. Used to be my boss, or that little loudmouth shit who always played Steely Dan CDs really loud in the office. Lately it's usually my ex. I just need to see their faces in my mind's eye and I'm usually good for another two sets and an extra twenty pounds. This is the power of Wrath.
And as a bonus, now when the Zen master asks me the famous koan, "what is the sound of one hand clapping," I can give him the answer.
"You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."
A life of sin? I never thought I would be recommending such a thing to my brothers and sisters at T-Nation. but I hope it's become clear to you, as it has to me, that even the deadliest of sins can become downright virtuous when committed with a heavy piece of iron in your hands.
Perhaps that's what being a "virtuous bad boy" is all about.
© 1998 — 2006 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.