As Real As It Gets
by Jerry Katz
Most books in the genre of spiritual awakening focus on the claims of the awakened state: “There is only consciousness (or God, love, awareness),” and so on. They invite the reader to see things as they are, not as they appear to be.
Sometimes an awakened author will speak about life before awakening, but not so often since it is seen as less than enlightened to appear as though attached to memories.
Rarely will the author reveal the shadow side that lurks after awakening: the unpretty impulses that continue to stir and surface.
However, Kenny Johnson tells it all. The Last Hustle is about life before awakening, awakening itself, and life after awakening. What is most valuable about this book is the distinction between the perception of things before awakening and that perception after.
Life before awakening was a loveless childhood, thieving, pimping, violence and years in prisons. With a firm grip on your arm he takes you into the bowels of places you would rather not go. But the grip is purposeful and you know where this journey is going.
His awakening itself was, like all awakenings, unique. It was prepared by remembered things spoken to him by his mother and aunt. It was developed by exposure in prisons to meditation, Yoga, Buddhism, the Black Israelites, and various conscious and intelligent men including a caring guard. It culminated in a connection with Gangaji and it — the awakening — happened when she visited his prison.
Life afterward was radically different:
“It is really humbling to come from the streets as one who brought destruction to everyone he met and now to find myself trying to bring as much love as possible to all whom I meet.”
“Just as I had come from the lineage of Iceberg Slim, The Magnificent Seven, Fillmore Slim, Minnesota Bob, and Sly Ryan, now I was in the lineage of Ramana, Papaji, and Gangaji.”
Though he would never return to crime after his final release from prison in 1997, Johnson still had to face episodes of anger, alcoholism, drug abuse, and their roots in poor self-esteem. He clearly shows that life after awakening includes directly looking at these arisings. Nor have shadow issues ceased in his life. He writes:
“I don’t know what a final awakening will mean for me, but I do know that Kenny Johnson is a far better and more content human being whose greatest desire now is to serve that awakening. He is no longer hustling and thieving, beating on women or giving the judicial system hell. He gets up each day and makes an intention to live a life of peace as best as he can and to try to guide others to do the same. Yet he’s also mindful and respectful that any moment he could re-experience all of the old anger, sadness, mistrust, delusion, and denial of the truth of his being.”
Often painful, often loving and spacious, The Last Hustle chronicles a full life and transmits a palpable sense that love is here and now and that it demands you face your life here and now. The Last Hustle is as real as spiritual books get.
Kenny Johnson has returned to prisons as an educator and spiritual guide through his organization This Sacred Space. His journey is highly worth experiencing.