Category Archives: Accidental Realism

Lone Wolf on Hogsback

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It was on an early May morning Frank and Vera Glass visited Barron Cannon, who they hadn’t seen much since the previous October when they ran into him picketing a vegan restaurant on the far west side of their Lakewood, Ohio, neighborhood. Faces peered through the plate glass windows. Passersby stopped to see what was going on.

They had dropped by several times since, but once winter got cold and crusty had not paid him a call, not that Vera minded, or even gave it a thought.

The first time they saw met encountered Barron they were attracted by the flashing lights of a black and white SUV at the eatery, and were greeted by the sight of a slender pony-tailed man in his 30s bearing a placard on a stick with a single word scrawled on it.

HYPOCRITES! In capital letters. In cold blood red crayon.

The two patrolmen who had been called to the scene by one of the outraged cooks were asking if he would refrain from protesting without a permit. Although he maintained he had more than enough reason, and cited his first amendment rights, he finally agreed to go home, and strode off, his picket sign jangling over his shoulder.

The exasperated cops drove away.

He was going their way, up West Clifton, and after falling into step with him, they were astonished to learn he was himself a vegan.

“Eating is an act of nourishing my body and soul,” he said. “I choose to do no harm.”

He did not eat animals, drink their milk, or wear their hides. He eschewed all animal products for any reason, at all. He didn’t snack on chocolate, slurp miso soup, or pour salad dressing on salads. He considered eating honey exploitive and avoided it.

“I don’t like people who eat animals,” he said, “and since that’s just about everybody, and since that is not changing anytime soon, that’s that, there they are, and here I am. At least I don’t have to live with them.”

As least as long as they weren’t his parents. Although he lived alone, he had to live with his folks.

“My parents are the worst,” he said. “They are always bringing chickens, pigs, ground beef, roasts, sausages, hot dogs and frozen fish home from the grocery. I see them in their kitchen every day, sticking forks into decomposing flesh and animal secretions. They chew on Slim Jim’s while they watch the news on TV.”

It turned out he lived in an orange yurt in the backyard of his parent’s house overlooking the Rocky River Reservation, about a mile-and-a-half south of Lake Erie. He had built the Mongolian tent himself. He didn’t have a job, a car, a refrigerator, a wife, or any pets.

“Don’t even get me started on pet slavery,” he said.

Vera gave him a sharp glance. They had two house cats, Mr. Moto and Sky King, who slept on their bed with them most nights. She didn’t think of them as slaves, and she was certain they didn’t think of themselves as slaves, either.

“Have we met before?” Frank asked as they turned down their side street and Barron continued his trek up Riverside Drive.

“I don’t think so,” said Barron.

A college graduate with a master’s degree in philosophy and a hundred thousand dollars in unpaid federal student debt, Barron was unqualified for nearly any and every job, even if he had been remotely interested in seeking employment.

He didn’t vote, although he enjoyed Donald Trunp’s antics whenever he heard about them, watch television, or take medicine.

“By FDA requirement,” he explained, “each and every pharmaceutical is tested on animals.”

He was a vegan purist, pursuing his ideals to their logical conclusion. Vera thought of his pursuit as a dead end, but didn’t say so.

Barron had few friends, other than several sketchy bicycle-riding hippies and a handful of retirees in the neighborhood for whom he did odd jobs for cash only. But he only worked for them if they didn’t have cars and agreed never to talk about their problems, especially their health problems.

“Insurance, HMO’s, meds, doctors, it’s all a racket,” he said.

Whenever they visited Barron they always walked, because if he knew they had driven to see him, he would refuse to see them.

“Can’t we just drive and park a block away?” Vera asked, reminding Frank of the nearly four-mile round-trip hike from their house.

Barron lived on an allowance his mom and dad begrudged him, shopped at a once-a-week local farmer’s market, and only recently had gotten his yurt connected to his parent’s power supply.

Unbeknownst to them he had gone on-line, rapidly read about what he considered a simple chore, dug a trench from the connection at the back of their house to his yurt, into which he put down and buried a concealed transmission wire.

“I found out we are on the nuclear power grid now, off the natural gas and coal, which I will tell you is a true blessing,” he said. “It gets dark and cold in this yurt in the middle of January.”

“I used to heat it with firewood from the park,” he added. “I had to collect it at night, otherwise the rangers gave me grief. I don’t think they liked me.”

He now heated his yurt with a 5000 BTU infrared quartz heater and LED’s were strung in a kind of loopy chandelier. He cooked on a Cuisinart 2-burner cast iron hot plate.

Barron had previously refused to employ or enjoy either electricity or natural gas, on the premise that both are petroleum products, in which are mixed innumerable marine organisms.

“That’s one of the things I can’t stand about those leaf-eaters at the restaurant, cooking their so-called vegan cuisine with gas made from the bodies of dead fish,” he said. “And the Guinness they serve on draft, it comes from kegs lined with gelatin. They’re too busy ringing up the cash register to even know what they’re doing.”

Vegetarians drew his ire, too, although he tolerated them.

“I can put up with vegetarians if I have to,” he said, which Frank reluctantly admitted to being when he quizzed them. Barron gave Frank a mirthless grin. “At least they’re only half lying to themselves.”

Vera, who described herself as an omnivore, on the side of free range and organic, aimed a bright smile at Barron, wisely keeping her eating habits to herself, gnashing her teeth at the same time.

As they approached Hogsback Lane looking over the Rocky River valley, they saw a sea of green treetops, always a welcome sight after a long winter. Barron’s yurt was on the backside of a sprawling backyard on the edge of the valley, where the long downhill of the road intersects Stinchcomb Hill, named after the founder of the park system. It is a bucolic spot in the middle of the big city.

Frank was loath to mention that William Stinchcomb had been a pork roast and beef tenderloin man in his day, as well as president of the Cleveland Automobile Club, so he didn’t mention it.

“Vegans are the worst, the whole lot of them,” said Barron.

“Show me a vegan who isn’t an elitist, or someone who spouts veganism who is not a do-gooder, or making mounds of money from it, explaining how it’s all one big happy equation, yoga and veganism, and new-age capitalism, and flying to their immersions in the Bahamas, and everywhere else around the globe for their holiday retreats, never mind the carbon footprint, and I’ll show you the real hypocrite who’s burning up the planet.”

Since Barron didn’t own a phone, or even a doorbell, they were glad to find him at home that morning, although Vera was less happy about it than Frank. Barron was laying out rows of seeds and tubers outside his yurt. They joined him, sitting down on canvas field chairs. He had opened the flap over the roof hole of the yurt. Vera poked her head inside, remarking how pleasant and breezy it was inside his house.

“Inside your tent, I mean,” she said.

“It’s a yurt,” he said.

It was round, orange, and circled by a necklace of large white stones, like what kids do at summer camps.

“Whatever,” Vera said under her breath.

Frank was nonplussed to see an Apple laptop on a small reading table.

“I keep up,” he said. “It’s not like I’m a caveman.”

He noticed a yoga mat rolled up.

“Where do you practice yoga?” asked Frank.

“Here in the backyard, every day, and sometimes at the studio across the Detroit bridge in Rocky River. The owner and I trade cleaning for classes.”

“That’s probably where I’ve seen you before,” said Frank.

“Maybe,” said Barron.

He led them to his new garden. He had dug up most of his mother’s backyard, dislodging her wild roses and rhododendrons, and was planting rows of root crops, including beets, onions, turnips, and potatoes. He was especially proud of his celery.

“I cover my celery with paper, boards, and loose soil. They will have a nutty flavor when I dig them up in December.”

“I don’t eat anything from factory farms,” he continued. “In fact, I am getting away from eating anything from any farms anymore, at all. Farms whether big or small are not good ideas. They make you a chattel to the supermarket. Freedom is the best idea.”

As they got ready to leave, Barron scooped handfuls of birdseed from a large barrel into a small brown paper bag and handed the bag to Frank. He was still unsure of Vera.

“You should take every chance to feed the birds and other animals you see outside your house,” he said. “Give them good food, organic food, not processed. It will make such a difference in their lives.”

On the driveway of his parent’s ranch-style house at the top of Hogsback, looking across the valley towards the Hilliard Road Bridge, Barron tapped the brim of his baseball cap in farewell.

“Be a real vegan. That’s the biggest thing any of us can do,” he said.

Frank and Vera walked the long way around to home, crossing the bridge, on the way to Rocky River. The 900-foot long concrete Hilliard Road Bridge wasn’t the first bridge on the spot. The earliest one was known as the “Swinging Bridge.” It was a rope bridge with wooden planks that was used by school children and Lakewood residents back then to cross the Rocky River. It hung thirty feet above the water and swayed in strong winds.

Vera was unusually quiet. She was a naturally gabby woman. Frank gave her a glance. As they passed a small eatery on Detroit Road, with outdoor seating, she suggested they stop for refreshments, since Barron hadn’t offered them any.

“Man, oh man, I know chocolate brownies have eggs in them,” said Vera, “and cappuccino has milk in it, and I know Barron would have a cow, but right now I think I need to sit down in the shade and enjoy myself for a few minutes, not thinking about that wise guy.”

They both agreed that the vegans they knew were ethical and compassionate, their lives complementing their health, humanitarian, and environmental concerns. They could not agree on whether Barron Cannon was a determined idealist, a mad ideologue, or simply lived in an alternate universe.

Or maybe he was just his own incarnation of everybody’s cranky uncle.

They had espresso and cappuccino, raisin scones and chocolate brownies, watched the sun slip in and out of the springtime clouds, and walked the rest of the way home in the late afternoon in a happy buzz state-of

Why Congress Should Outlaw Yoga in the United States

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“I’m all lost in the supermarket, I can no longer shop happily, I came here for their special offer, a guaranteed personality.”  The Clash

In the United States Congress is made up of two chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate, in Washington D. C. The chambers are filled by direct elections in the fifty states by the American voting public. Statutory law is proposed and created by Congress, with the White House as bully pulpit.

Many of those laws have been progressive, from the activism at the turn of the 20th century to the New Deal in the depths of the Great Depression to the Civil Rights bills of the 1960s.

Many of them have been regressive, such as the marriage and property laws of the 19th century, the Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930, among other protectionist laws, and just about everything the GOP has done in living memory, bad laws in lieu of good ideas.

Many of them have been bone-headed, from the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 to Prohibition to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the last based on glib lies eagerly believed.

Some of the laws Congress makes are homeland lifestyle laws. They are about America, about our allegiance and attachment to its ideals, interests, and traditions. They are about embracing a way of life. When they address the way we live now, they are about what makes life liberty and the pursuit of happiness a real way of life, not just foggy notions from long ago.

They are stale toast when they try to recreate the past.

The most recent attempts to fossilize American values are from the font of the Make America Great Again Wall of Shame Rantings of POTUS. The Big Man in the Oval Office is a race-baiting tax-dodging whore-monger atheist mouthing Christian platitudes, although it doesn’t seem to matter to his zany supporters. They rally around the red hats. It’s spooky Americanism in the Haunted White House.

Homeland legislation has often been the purview of the good old boys in love with the good old days. Their guiding principle is “In God We Trust” and God forbid anything change anytime soon. Even though change has accelerated by leaps and bounds in the past one hundred years, and even though Orange Julius can’t keep his mouth shut, the conservative order in the United States is not very much different today than it was one hundred years ago during the reign of Silent Cal.

Thank God Congress is coming back into session next month, the week of Labor Day. They may only work 138 days a year, but they have their work cut out for them. If the United States stands for anything, it stands for free enterprise. It stands for capitalism. It ultimately stands for consumerism. In the mid-1950s the President of the National Sales Executives had already blithely declared, “Capitalism is dead, consumerism is king.”

Even President Donald Trump, with his fast fast thumb on social media, and incredibly busy with issues such as body-shaming Senator Elizabeth Warren, trying to remember that Dayton, Ohio, is not Toledo, Ohio, and the mental health menace of Xbox, is cognizant of what really makes America great.

“The WTO is BROKEN. NO more!!! Today I directed the U.S. Trade Representative to take action so that countries stop CHEATING the system at the expense of the USA!”

Make America Great Again and Again!

“The fact that I have gone through a three-year vicious Witch Hunt, perpetrated by the Lamestream Media in Collusion with Crooked and the Democrat Party, there can be NO WAY, with the greatest Economy in U.S. history, that I can be losing to the Sleepy One.”

Make America Great Again and Again!

“My Approval Rating on Economy is at 52%, a 4 point jump. Shouldn’t this be at 100%? Best stock market, economy and unemployment numbers ever! Most people working within U.S. ever! Low interest rates, very low inflation! Country doing great!”

Make America Great Again and Again!

President Trump has embarked on one trade junket after another over the past year, and sent proposals to Congress, and taken to Twitter, going hard after Europe South America China with tariffs tariffs tariffs to protect American jobs workers businesses, humping the notion that the business of America is business. He has gotten on top of the bedrock of nationalism and shouted his message for all to hear, both prophet and salesman.

It is nearly incredible and just about impeachable that he hasn’t focused his tweeting laser eye on yoga.

There are many things that threaten the American economy, from unemployment to energy prices to fiscal crises to cyber-attacks to data fraud to extreme weather events to large-scale involuntary migration to illicit trade to asset bubbles.

If there is one thing that is a clear and present danger to the well-being of Main Street and Wall Street, it is yoga.

Although yoga pumps tens of billions of dollars into the economy, it is only one of the arms of the practice that is the spigot, and that is the physical aspect of it, from studios to mats ‘n’ stuff to groovy outfits, and ancillary products and services like seminars supplements physical therapies alternative regimens and R & R.

The danger yoga poses to the American economy lies in the rest of the arms of the practice, some of which are so antithetical to the American way of life as to be nearly treasonous. Even though the commodification of yoga is a done deal, even the body beautiful, the face of the myth of success, is on shaky ground, since one of the aspects of traditional yoga is acceptance of one’s body, to be at one with it, in all its imperfections.

The body can be improved upon, but it’s not a lump of clay in search of aesthetic perfection. At least, not if you exist outside the star-studded world of the stars and pro sports. Its objectification only serves the merchandiser, not necessarily the consumer.

Buyer beware!

Tom Brady, the star quarterback of the New England Patriots, makes about $40 million a year. His football fans far and wide are who ultimately fork over the $40 million. When it comes to being careful with the merchandise, Tom Brady pays all the attention in the world to his body. Practicing yoga is partly exercising the body, but the $40 million part of the practice is exercising the brain.

Practicing yoga is having a fan base on one, you.

Old-school yoga is the problem for the United States. If it ever gains a foothold it could be dangerous. If it got out of hand it could threaten the consumer society that makes America as great as it is. At the very least, Aparigraha – meaning non-covetousness – should be outlawed immediately. The consumer society is predicated on coveting a bigger house bigger car bigger clothes and the newest gadgets, never being satisfied. It’s a wild goose chase, but it’s what makes the world go around.

“There’s nothing I’d ever buy, but I love consumerism,” said Johnny Rotten of the punk band the Sex Pistols. “I like being there, in the shopping malls. It’s wacky.”

Buying into non-consumerism is throwing the flag into the mud and trampling on it. The American government has often intervened interfered intruded into life in the USA in order to advance and preserve what it considers the aims and ambitions of its people. The country may be doing great now, the economy is booming, but if the growth of yoga is left unchecked, and its precepts go invasive on native soil, it could cast a spell, causing a downward spiral in the economy.

The virtuous cycle is all about disposable income demanding more stuff and manufacturers ramping it up to meet the demand. Business spending on technology, productivity, and capital goods is a significant factor in sustaining the economy and raising the standard of living, but the mainstay is consumer spending. It is 70% of gross domestic product. It is the most important driving force of the economy.

When consumer spending drops off growth slows, prices fall, and deflation creeps in. If it goes on too long, and the economy steadily contracts, the result is hard times, recession and depression.

The ground rules of yoga are anathema to capitalism and consumerism. It’s not just Aparigraha, either. The eight-fold path is meant to lead to a purposeful and meaningful life, by way of truthfulness and continence, among other things. There is little in the way of truthfulness on Madison Avenue and almost no continence. Self-discipline and spiritual observances are a a big part of yoga. They ain’t a big part of going shopping. Samtosa is defined as contentment. If that concept ever got adopted, there would be hell to pay at the shopping mall.

In the United States, society is structured in such a way that many people are regarded and regard themselves as profit-generators. Everyone else is either helping or hindering you on the yellow brick road to Fort Knox. It is a selfish way of life, but a way of life that has led to the good life.

No one wants to go back to the Great Recession, much less the Great Depression, or any bust of any kind.

Yoga has been integrated into the fabric of life in the USA, but only the get up stand up part of it. The other parts don’t fit well. They fit so badly, indeed, that alarm bells are clanging coast to coast. Parents and school boards in Georgia, Alabama, and California have gotten yoga expelled from programs in their states.

Orange Julius and Senator “Moscow” Mitch McConnell and the rest of the GOP need to take a hard look at the Russian city of Nizhnevartovsk, where yoga in all its forms was banned in 2015, under the rubric of it being foreign and subversive. The owners of the city’s yoga studios received letters telling them to close up shop and “stop spreading new religious cults and movements.”  Classes at a stadium and public meeting hall were suspended. Schools and local physical culture centers were advised in no uncertain terms to cut out the asana and meditation practices of “an occult character.”

That’s the spirit, comrade!

President Donald Trump has torn more than one page out of the Russki playbook. Ronald Reagan said “Tear down the wall” in the 1980s, referring to the Berlin Wall. President Trump has rephrased the phrase, saying “Build the wall” in the 20-teens. It is time he includes the practice of yoga, and its foreign influences, to the blacklist where all the other foreigners his wall is designed to keep out of the homeland are listed in black and white.

Bad ideas are as bad as bad people. The Trump Wall is meant to keep bad people out of the USA. It needs to be built higher to keep out bad ideas. The ideas and beliefs that make up the practice of yoga are a menace to the zeitgeist of the USA in the 21st century.

Consumerism and affluence may be a corruption of the American Dream, but it’s all we’ve got. Yoga would have us believe it’s best to never buy anything you can’t carry in your tote, the tote your children are carrying. They think that’s the future, but there’s no future in that. Bigger is better in the USA. Loyalty and permanence are undermined by consumerism, but that’s the way it is.

Get to work, Congress. Do the right thing by the homeland. Yoga can go back to where it came from.

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Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.

 

 

Talk to the Fist ‘Cause the Face Ain’t Listening

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Attendance at church services in the United States has been steadily declining for more than sixty years. Today, scarcely one in four Americans go to church, at all. When they do go, they don’t go, since more and more of them are going to online rites by way of app. Churchome Global – the brainchild of celebrity pastor Judah Smith – has set everyone free to worship in their bathrobes, thumbing bright icons and releasing glowing hearts to float around their laptop screens.

Jonathan Edwards, the Colonial Christian preacher who declared we are all sinners in the hands of an angry God, is rolling over in his grave right now. “What the hell happened?” he cries out. “What happened to the Wrath of God?”

In Europe and Australia fewer than 20% say religion is relevant to them. The Japanese and Chinese barely even respond to the question. Only in the Middle East and Third World countries do more than less respondents believe religion is important in their lives.

The yoga project, on the other hand, has been growing by leaps and bounds the past half century in the United States, Europe, Australia, and even Russia, once the motherland of godless Communism, where it has ballooned to a billion-dollar-and-more industry. Even though India, the birthplace of the practice, remains a hotbed, the rest of the world, especially the Islamic World and the Third World, has kept its cool.

When bead-wearing hippies began doing yoga in the 1960s they were drawing on a vibrant yoga culture that had thrived in the USA in the early 20th century, but which by their time had run its course. In the 1940s and 1950s the practice was nothing if not holding down the fort, what there was of it.

In the next 50 years the fort would grow to an arsenal overflowing with blocks, straps, and yoga mats, until today almost 40 million Americans say they do yoga. Nine out of ten of everybody say they have heard of yoga, no doubt far more than have ever heard of Jonathan Edwards, or want to hear anything he ever had to say.

Older Americans, the kind of people who once filled pews, are more likely than most to be found on mats. The number of them over 50 tromping to studios has tripled in the past five years. They believe “yoga is good for you.” They do it for their aches and pains. They do it to smooth out the rough patches, to tamp down the stress, to slow their breathing. It’s a way of counting to ten. They do it because it makes their lives better.

Even though yoga is a good fit when it comes to improving health, from flexibility to cardiovascular fitness, from reducing stress and pain, from overall quality of body to overall quality of life, they might be fooling themselves that yoga in its overall aspects is compatible with the way we have structured our lives and fortunes in the modern world.

Yoga made a lot of sense when it washed up on the shores of America in the Progressive Era, during the progressivism of the New Deal, and when Flower Power was free and easy, but it is questionable whether it is or ever will be relevant in our own age of post-modern capitalism, an age long since devoted to the idea that nature is a commodity to be marketed and consumed, that consumption must be encouraged at all costs, that unrestrained competition is a free market fundamental, and accumulation of wealth is the best of all possible worlds.

Talk to the cold hard cash fist full of money ’cause the face ain’t listening.

When the Grand Coulee Dam was proposed in the 1930s, there were myriad problems, not the least of which was that there were long-standing Native Americans living on the land that would be flooded, there were no manufacturers who needed the power and barely any farmers who needed the water, and the salmon and steelhead that ran the river would end up being cut off from their spawning grounds. It was the mid-30s, too, the middle of the Great Depression, and money was tight.

But the power that would be generated, its promoters promised, and the irrigation created would stimulate a need for itself. It would, just like the cutting-edge economists of the day said, create its own demand. And it did. The fish ended up swimming with the fish.

Fifteen years ago, as we were rounding into the new millennium, the richest 10% of the world got 55% of the world’s income, according to the World Bank. The poorest 50% got about 6%. Since then the only thing that has changed is that wealth concentration, especially among older Westerners, has grown faster than poverty reduction.

Non-greed and non-possessiveness are markers and moral guidelines on the path of yoga practice. Nevertheless, who wants to give up their two cars in the garage, their flat screens and stainless steel, their expanding portfolios and growing non-limit line on their credit cards. The good life has become what you’ve got in this life, not what you might get by making a life meditating on the mat.

Cold hard cash can buy you a fine warm purebred puppy. It’s uncertain a king’s ransom can make him wag his tail. You can offer your dog $10 million dollars and he might or might not wag his tail. Offer him $50 million and he might or might not do the same thing. Pat him on the head and say “Let’s go for a walk” and you will get his tail wagging, for sure.

In the same way that one of yoga’s core principles is non-violence, one of the core principles of today’s world is funding armed forces. United States defense expenditures are projected to rise from $682 billion dollars to $1335 billion dollars in the next 25 years, China’s from $251 to $1270 billion, India’s from $117 to $654 billion, and Russia’s from $113 to $295 billion.

When you add nine zeros to a number, you are talking real money. The human brain has approximately 100 billion neurons. Putting a gun to your head puts every one of those neurons in mortal danger.

Every neuron in every brain is connected to ten thousand other neurons. The aim of yoga is to get all of them firing in unison, all on the same page, all together now. The aim of the world’s armed forces is to keep their hands steady on the butts of their guns.

It’s talk to the gunhand ‘cause the face ain’t listening.

The essential aims of military might and yoga practice aren’t on the same page, no matter that the same millions of people who do yoga also pay for and support their armed forces. Everyone rallies around the flag. Nobody wants their patriotism questioned, no matter what. Wrong may be wrong, no matter who says it, but when it comes to patriotism, it means supporting your government and country all the time, no matter what anybody says.

“A patriot is the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about,” said Mark Twain.

Yoga is about finding your own way to knowing what you are all about. It’s not about hollering it up. It’s not about getting on a soapbox, or taking the word of some blowhard on his soapbox. Patriots are enemies of the rest of the world. The practice of yoga is about becoming a compatriot to the rest of the world. You don’t necessarily have to love everybody else, but you don’t necessarily have to hate them, either.

If yoga is about letting go of judgment, it is a problematic undertaking today. The rise of social media has led to the rise of a judgmental culture. It has long been thought judgment is inherently genetic, along with free will and the ability to choose, although it is much more probable that it is a learned behavior. It’s a way of living that goes back a long way, back to when we had to protect ourselves from harm on a day-to-day basis.

It was talk to the fist ’cause the face ain’t listening.

Even though snap judgments are no longer necessary for survival, at least not most of the time, it has morphed into our social behavior. Yoga advocates empathy and compassion. Social media is as much about pigeon holing as it is about cross-culturalism. For every curious explorer there is an angry nationalist. The practice of yoga is about creating a purposeful existence. The practice of judgment is living in lockstep with prejudice and bigotry.

Yoga isn’t a religion, there aren’t any churches or cathedrals, there are no martyrs or jihads, no shrines or wailing walls, no holy men or holy books. It is, however, a spiritual practice. It wasn’t a bad fit a hundred years ago, but it’s awkward today. The best thing that could have happened to the business, stripping it of all its aspects except for the physical dimension, is what has happened, and is why it is as popular as it is in the modern world.

It flies in the face of reason to believe that yoga can make it in the new world, at least not old world old school old fashioned yoga. It has little to no chance of making it in the Amazon Wall Street White House Big Oil Big Banking Big Corporations Big Ego scheme of things. When you throw in Big Tech, it becomes a Big Scheme.

Almost all of the principles of yoga are at odds with the way we live today. Something had to give. What gave was the last five thousand years. What broke into the open the past fifty-or-so years is the yoga we know works, the yoga we need, and the yoga we deserve. “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you find, you get what you need,” the Rolling Stones sang at about the same time the 1960s Flower Children got yoga going in the USA.

The future of yoga was always uncertain because the future ain’t what it used to be. But, there’s no living life backwards. We all have to look ahead, because that’s where from here to eternity is. Maybe the memory of what yoga was, and might be, will be the key not to the past, but to what is in the future.

After all, no fist can stay clenched forever, not in the face of the Wrath of God, which might be forever, or just simply more than the Hand of Man, just like every face has to face up to what it really wants and needs when rafting down the big river of time space and your own backyard.

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Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.

 

 

 

(Black Mat) Back to the Flag

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“Anarchy is the only slight glimmer of hope.”  Mick Jagger

In the 21st century yoga has flipped over onto its head. It has gone the voice on a soapbox. It has gone bully pulpit. It’s gone do-gooder.

It has lost its mind.

After more than five millennia of minding its own business, it has lately been sticking its nose into everyone else’s business. The first of the eight limbs of yoga are about giving peace a chance, don’t steal the other guy’s stuff, truthfulness, the right use of energy, and self-reliance. There isn’t a word about consciously deliberately engaging with the wider world through good deeds.

Salvation through good works is a Judeo-Christian conceit, not a yoga concept. The Epistle of James makes it plain that “faith without works is dead.” That’s the profit in doing good. In the Jewish tradition, mitzvah means doing something kind charitable beneficial from religious duty. Even the Puritan work ethic is conceptualized as a duty that benefits both the man and his society as a whole.

In the beginning yoga was about looking up at the stars. Then it became suppressing the activities of body mind and will so that the self could realize its distinction from them and find liberation. Later it became a discipline that involved meditation, breath control, and bodily exercise postures for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Now it’s connect participate get involved.

“Yoga is something we do to connect and engage with the world,” says Kate Saal, a teacher and educator at One Flow Yoga in California.

When did that happen?

It happened when yoga sprang to life in the Land of Californiacs in the 1970s, but it happened more than ever in the new millennium when Seane Corn, Hala Khouri, and Suzanne Sterling dreamed up Off the Mat Into the World. It is marketed as a bridge between yoga and community action and a broader expression of service on the planet. The organization works tirelessly to “train leaders worldwide in social change.”

Although worldwide is everywhere, and everywhere is too much to handle, the activist Seane Corn believes everyone needs to start somewhere. “What are you doing for the people in your own backyard” she asks, getting you started. It’s not just hashtag activism, either. She means make things actually happen in real life.

Off the Mat Into the World is Karma Yoga writ large for the brave new world.

Karma Yoga is doing your duty, whether “as a homemaker, carpenter, or garbage collector, with no thought for one’s own fame, privilege, or financial reward, but simply as a dedication to the Lord,” says Harold Coward, a scholar of bioethics and religious studies.

It is the “disinterested action” idea found in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, as well as in yoga. However, in the yoga tradition, it is derived from the Bhagavad Gita, an epic poem composed for the benefit of the warrior class back in the day. Its goal was to get the troops back on the battlefield for the next day’s fighting. The reasoning was simple cunning brazen.

“Set firmly in yourself, do your work, not attached to anything. Remain even minded in success, and in failure. Even mindedness is true yoga,” says Krishna with a straight face.

It’s Uncle Sam, paws on the reins, in a golden chariot.

The truth often depends on a walk around the lake, or a good nap, not necessarily blood and guts, as gods and world leaders would have it. It isn’t always what’s right, either, no matter the medals on the chest of the madman at the front. The truth isn’t always the gospel truth.

The reason we have breakfast lunch dinner and practice on our own mats is so we don’t die of true yoga.

Yoga used to have its hand on the gospel plow. Now it’s full speed ahead, two hands on the steering wheel. Instead of making you a better person, it’s make the world a better place. The small portrait of the guy or gal on the mat has been replaced by “See the big picture!”

There’s the Purple Dot Yoga Project battling domestic violence. There’s the Yoga Bridge supporting those healing from cancer. There are the Yoga Gangsters who “utilize their thoughts, words, and actions to empower humanity.” It’s a tall order, but desperate times demand desperados.

Yoga supports many causes, giving back to the community, helping those who are less fortunate, such as the St. Jude Medical Center, Advance Housing, Ronald McDonald Charities, iFred, and Prevention Works. The practice has even offered a helping hand to the Council for Prostitution Alternatives.

Searching out alternatives, however, begs the question, why is it punishable to get paid for an act that is legal if done for free?

Off the Mat Into the World has expanded yoga from transforming ourselves to transforming our neighborhoods, nation states, and the world. “Rooted in compassion and connection,” they say, “we are called to awaken to suffering and take action in response, creating a peaceful, just, and connected global community.”

Although get up stand up is yoga, getting up and standing up for a just peaceful connected global community is not necessarily yoga practice, unless you say it is and go on missions of mercy no matter what. In the past fifty years-or-so yoga has been co-opted by corporations, the military, and western culture. The latest Johnny-on-the-spot is the Good Samaritan.

What yoga has to do with the global community is moot, open to debate. What yoga has to do with a person’s essential being is an open and shut case. Yoga is more in the way of an anarchic undertaking than a recipe book of groupthink or mother knows best. The practice is not a team game, no matter how many yoga studios and retreats get us all on the same page.

Even the Boy Scouts, paradoxically, believe the same, even though they gather in troops. “Character training is to put responsibility on the individual,” said Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the scouts. Individuals have to make the effort to define values and principles for themselves, apart from man-made authority and teamwork.

Anarchists, like yogis, at least the one who used to stare up at the stars in the sky, do not believe the collective needs of the group are head and shoulders ahead of their individual interests. When you’re one of the gang, you’re in a gang. Who needs gangsters? Playing the gangster game is the same as playing the society game, just with slightly different rules.

Although anarchy has long been regarded as mayhem, nihilism, and lawlessness by the forces of law and order, it is more the case that it is a belief in the absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a societal and political ideal. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines anarchy as “an absence of law.” That is even though, if there was ever an anarchist on the planet, Jesus was the one.

The brain wave of anarchy is that individuals aren’t made to widen the scope of society, but that society is made to widen the choice of individuals. Anarchism strives to dream up a society as efficient as possible, leaving it at that, so that society can provide individuals with the widest range of choices. Anarchy comes from the word anarchia, meaning the absence of government. Anarchists believe they don’t need policemen to make them behave.

In other words, good people don’t need laws, while bad people won’t obey them. Spend enough time on a yoga mat by yourself and you’ll become an anarchist sooner or later. If everybody got down dog there wouldn’t be any need for laws line-ups judges jails the end of the line.

The flaw of the Good Samaritan is that they, like the state, like its agents the agencies of government, like its enforcers the forces of law and order, like its arbiters the halls of justice, believe they know what is best for you. Anarchists, on the other hand, don’t stick their noses into other people’s business. They don’t make causes out of thinking they know what is best for one and all.

“God helps those who help themselves,” said the political theorist Algernon Sidney.

The same as anarchia, Sidney’s well-known phrase originated in ancient Greece, the first democracy. Athenian direct participation democracy had more in common with anarchy than any modern bourgeois democracy. It was bottom up. Today’s state is top down. Even our day-to-day sustenance is contrived as the result of trickle down. Everyone, even the rich, is trying to help you out, our leaders proclaim. Republicans and Democrats alike fight it out for the right to say the same thing.

Fight for your right to belong to the wrong party.

Yoga practice is a party of one. On the mat doesn’t have anything to do with anyone else, not your neighbor, not the brightly colored flag you wrap yourself in, and not the world.  When Off the Mat Into the World says it is getting off the mat, they mean exactly that, however much they don’t mean it. Socially conscious causes have nothing to do with yoga, which is a living current of consciousness within the individual self.

Just like yoga isn’t exercise, chaturanga and vinyasa and twisting and turning, it isn’t something you do for others, either, jetting off to third-world countries to eradicate malaria, or digging wells in sub-Saharan Africa. Yoga is who you are, or who you want to become, like the anarchist looking for freedom. It isn’t feeling good because you’ve done something, done good works, made the world a better place to live in.

It isn’t the narcissism of accomplishment. It’s about making you a better person from the inside out. It’s better to be self-made than letting somebody else cook you up.

Even though we all live out in the open, yoga is not about shifting the perspective of the world. It’s not about doing right. It’s about getting right with yourself.

It’s about focus strength stamina all together tilting at windmills toward an inner shift of perspective. It’s letting Krazy Kat Krishna go his own way. It’s missing the big picture, but hitting the bull’s-eye.

It’s not about standing on your head. It’s about standing on your own two feet.

 

 

 

 

Scene of the Crime

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As the 21st century has come unspooled unravelled gone daffy, yoga has increasingly taken on the look of the after in a before and after crime-scene photo. One hundred years ago it looked like a lot of class. Fifty years ago, it got a makeover and looked better than ever. Today it looks like something dolled up to be better seen from a distance of a hundred years.

Yoga used to have something to do with simplicity and self-discipline, non-attachment, and the spiritual life. Hatha practice and karma in the world were means to an end, steps on the way to an expanding awareness. It had more to do with what went on off the mat, especially in your head, than the asana postures done on it.

“It’s been less than fifty years since the first group yoga class happened, but in that short time the content of those classes has veered so far off course that it falls well outside of even the most open and generous definitions of yoga practice,” wrote American Yoga School founder James Brown in ‘The Colossal Failure of Modern Yoga’.

In many respects awareness isn’t what it’s about anymore. It’s about exercise classes with folks all doing the same thing. It’s about a little bit of ad hoc spirituality and a lot of anatomical science. It’s about whatever works for me, never mind the past fifty centuries.

Sometimes it seems like modern yoga can’t get any respect, especially since it’s gone the way of mass merchandising, sticker shock sticky mats neat-o clothes to match cutting dreams down to size, the butter and egg man Bikram Choudhury, and the bigness of big events at big venues.

However, if you’re flying out to Burning Man, don’t bother bringing yoga attire, since loincloths and hot pants are more appropriate at the 70,000-man-and-woman festival.

There isn’t anything simple about organizing thousands of yogis to flip up on their heads at the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland or Times Square in New York City. It takes organizational skills and business smarts to assemble sound systems, food trucks, and port-a-potty’s.

Om’s and namaste’s ain’t going to get it done.

While the postmodern world streams ahead, the shape of yoga tradition has shifted, so that a CGI vision of the practice has morphed the once flesh-and-blood story to the flat screen. The new yoga body and new yoga lifestyle have become the new Truman Show.

Once people came to the practice looking like they’d just climbed out of a wreck. They were hungry as schoolboys. Now they come in Lexus SUV’s. They’ve had their grass-fed beef brisket sandwich and kale salad and aren’t hungry, at least not in the same way.

Even meditation, which was once a quiet practice meant to make silence even more silent, has become a for-profit enterprise, sold as a balm for the wailings of the wealthy. They empty their heads for an hour-or-so, making like a church collection plate on a Wednesday morning, and once refreshed it’s back to business as usual.

There is a business branch office of yoga, known as Padmini Vidya, which is devoted to one purpose, which is making money. It’s the yoga of pleasure and prosperity. “It is said that people who rapidly amass enormous wealth must have been yogis in previous lives who devoted themselves single-mindedly to Padmini Vidya,” Linda Johnsen wrote in ‘Be Wealthy, Be Wise: Yoga’s Guide to Prosperity’.

Although it’s true that there’s always some good in everybody, there is often only a little in those who never have enough. There’s hardly ever any sympathy in their smiles, like they’ve never forgiven anyone for anything.

It’s as though yoga has become an ever-smaller rowboat bouncing around in a squall while cruise ships sail in their own tranquil seas. Some cruise lines, such as Radisson Seven Seas, offer yogic-centric voyages starting at $2,987.00 a person, double occupancy only and no refunds.

After stretching and sweating on the mat, the ship’s four restaurants, where waiters and wine stewards outnumber passengers two to one, are a gangplank to champagne buckets and plates of sea bass. “As a luxury yogi I would never neglect dinner, indulging in everything,” wrote John Capouya, author of Real Men Do Yoga, in Travel and Leisure.

The travel destination of yoga used to be the union of oneself with the true self, which is why the word yoga is defined as union. It wasn’t the largely non-union staffed Royal Carnival dropping anchor in the Bahamas. It wasn’t a luxury. It was a necessity.

But, what used to be one man’s meat and potatoes is now another man’s indulging in everything. The sense of yoga’s purpose can go dark under more than a tropical moon, subsumed by the tastiness of a hundred-foot-long buffet spread. Just like yoga, luxury is a state of mind, although bloat can be a problem.

Yoga was once something that meant everything to somebody. Now it means anything to everybody, so long as the teacher is groovy and the soundtrack is rocking, or mellow, as the case may be. The catch-all phrase “It’s All Yoga” has become commonplace to the extent that it has become meaningless.

It’s like reaching for a life preserver and grabbing liquid nothing.

“The problem is that it is framed within a paradigm of self-improvement,” said Ed Conley, a meditation teacher in Blackstone, Virginia. Before posture practice became the rage the subtle body, not the mechanical body, was the rage. The transformation of yoga to YogaWorks is the transformation of a series of small things leading to equilibrium to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Yoga once had a longing at the heart of it, a mystery no one lived long enough to educe or forget, a reckoning of the right stuff the man and woman on the mat tried to find for themselves. It wasn’t conjuring up a laundry list of getting from ineffective to effective, which can be just another way of losing your way slowly.

“It has become space and time without the black hole,” said Mr. Conley.

Back in the day yogis slept on beds of nails, walked barefoot on hot coals, and even endured being buried alive. They meditated on mountaintops. They were loner mendicants who might or might not have had a ministry. Joining up with them was like hitching a hayride with Frankenstein.

It was a hard-core commitment, not a stop on the side of the road for a soft cone. Yoga was a risky business practiced by dodgy people. It was impossible to discourage them. They didn’t give a damn what anybody said. Anything could happen.

Today’s state-of-the-art yogis are bendy charming plausible entrepreneurs flying in jet liners to retreats at sunny resorts and arriving at Estes Park in Caddy SUV’s. The practice they preach is like a never opened box of razors, gussied up and bloodless. The business has got the face of an angel and a heart of silver dollars

Lady Gaga performs what looks like yoga, tattooed and hairless, in the nude, videotapes the antics, and posts the bright and flashy for one and all.

The hole at the heart of yoga is that it has been buffed polished sparkled and turned into a commodity. It’s not about anybody anymore. It’s on the grocery shelf for everybody, a sensible product packaged by sensible people for sensible consumers.

Once upon a time it was Hanuman, a great big daring jump into a burning sky, but now it’s a dancing monkey at the beck and call of an organ grinder. Progress isn’t possible without change, although that doesn’t necessarily mean historical revisionism is the lens back to the future. Sometimes it’s best to get a second opinion of the fast forward dreams you’re trying to make come true.

“Teachers tell their students all about the magical things that happen when you do as they say,” said James Brown of American Yoga.

It’s meant to make you roll over on your back with your paws in the air while your belly gets rubbed. “Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters,” warned Bob Dylan.

The black hole at the heart of yoga is the self.

In the workaday world the biggest mistake you can make is thinking you know who you are. It uses up the future. In the yoga world the biggest mistake you can make is thinking you can’t find out who you are. It leaves you teetering between the nothing that isn’t there and the nothing that is.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali propose that the body mind senses are not the self. The reason is that the body, mind, and senses all change over time. Although everyone has aspects of their lives that change in the ebb and flow, what the Sutras call the guide, the inner voice, or the true self, is unchanging.

“The most important relationship you will ever have is your relationship with the self,“ wrote Kate Holcomb, founder of the Healing Yoga Foundation, in ‘How to See Your True Self’.

Yoga classes are full of relationships, with the receptionist, the teacher, and everyone else in the class. Anyone can create or re-create themselves in the yoga room. No one can find themselves. There’s always somebody else telling you what to do. There’s always mind chatter as you peek through your legs in down dog at the person behind you. There’s always somebody snoring in corpse pose.

The true self is a loner. It’s not a version of somebody else. “Be that self which one truly is,” said the existentialist Soren Kierkegaard. It’s when you’re alone that you look at things differently than other people. Who finds their true self when they’re mashed up in the mosh pit? Everyone needs to be left alone when they’re lonely. It’s only when someone is most solitary that they are most exceptional, most themselves.

Nobody is ever lonely in a yoga exercise class, or eating a pastina salad, for that matter, because they both require so much attention to detail. Yoga is about a fire in the belly, but you can’t fill yourself up until you empty yourself out. Everyone breathes in yoga classes, although there’s never a minute to catch your breath in class because it’s so busy.

No man or woman can be unmistakable, can be their clear-cut self, can go to a place they’ve never been, if they tag along with the crowd. It’s been said that the loneliest place to be is lost in a crowd, like a case of mistaken identity, another face in the House of Mirrors. It’s like being alone without being alone.

In the postmodern 21st century many people think the past is like the scene of a crime, that there’s nothing left to find there. What matters are now the next now and the one after that.  But, it always catches up with you, like shoes that are a half-size too small. Sometimes it’s called karma, which can be a pair of tight shoes, cement shoes.

There aren’t many places to find your body mind spirit in the world as we know it. A good place might be wherever you are, because no matter where you go, there you are. A better place might be yoga, since that’s what the practice has always been about. The best place is probably what the Yoga Sutras call the true self. If you’re not there you’re not anywhere, not really all in.

“When the agitations of the mind are under control,” according to Patanjali, “it has the power of becoming whatever form is presented, the knower, the act of knowing, and what is known.” There is no ghost in the machine. The way in which yoga has been sliced and diced in the past fifty years is not the answer, assuming there is one.

Which begs the question, what is the answer?

The answer is right there, somewhere in the noise hubbub industriousness, where you don’t have to answer to anybody. It’s not on a store shelf or on TV, or even in a yoga class. You don’t have to be the Arrow or Iron Fist to dig it up, either. All you have to do is be quiet enough to hear it, and never mind the honky-tonk.