Category Archives: Through the Looking Glass

Walking Tall

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“Waiting for an invitation to arrive, goin’ to a party where no one’s still alive.” Oingo Boingo  

Barron Cannon laughed and made loop de loops at the side of his head with his index finger.

“Agent Orange has a screw loose,” he said. “But, since he’s at the top, he can take his crazy visions and turn them into reality. He’s like a saint from the Dark Ages who ate a moldy loaf of rye and saw God. It makes you wonder, am I or they round the bend?” He made a fist, raised his thumb, extended two fingers parallel to each other, and blew on the fingers.

“Where there’s smoke there’s fire.”

Smoke signals and mirrors. Lipstick sour looks lapel flag pins and soapboxes in the halls of power. Men and women in ten thousand-dollar suits slowing down when they see a mirror.

We were sitting in the only place there are any chairs in Barron’s small neighborhood yoga studio, at the front by the windows facing the parking lot. The Quiet Mind is on Clifton Boulevard on the Lakewood side of the North Shore. Across the street is Cleveland, Ohio. He was drinking homemade Kombucha out of a travel mug and I was drinking Starbucks drive-thru coffee.

Barron had an Apple laptop in his lap. He was updating a Facebook post he had made offering yoga classes in return for turning in your guns. I chewed on my pencil. He was making like Wyatt Earp.

In 1881, when Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday were running things in Tombstone, you could bring your gun into town, but you couldn’t keep it while in town. You had to check it into the sheriff’s office. There was stricter gun control in the Wild West than there is today. Nowadays in Tombstone, Arizona, anyone can carry a Ruger semi-automatic pistol in a fancy holster on his rattlesnake belt. There is no Wyatt Earp anymore with a Colt Peacemaker telling you to stash your gun in the sheriff’s office for the duration.

Barron Cannon’s amnesty program was in response to the massacre of 26 churchgoers in a small Texas town on November 5th, on a suddenly not quiet Sunday morning. President Donald Trump, kowtowing to the gun lobby, said after the shooting, “I think that mental health is your problem here.”

“I mean, when I say a loose screw, he signed a bill that Congress, the Republicans, the lunatics running the asylum, earlier in the year voted through that made it easier for crazy people to buy guns legally. I should probably say mentally ill, but if you’re buying six-shooters for protection, you’re crazier than the mentally ill. The horse is out of the barn. It’s blasting time, AR-15’s all around!”

Barron was working both sides of the street, as is his wont, but he had a point. One of Donald Trump’s first reactions in the White House was to roll back an Obama-era law that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to buy firearms. He made it easier, no trouble, a piece of cake.

“It is the height of hypocrisy for President Trump – who called the latest tragic mass shooting ‘a mental health problem at the highest level’ – to have rolled back a rule specifically designed to prevent some gun violence deaths,” said Senator Richard Blumental of Connecticut.

“Blaming mental health is a tactic straight out of the gun lobby’s playbook,” said Peter Ambler, executive director of Giffords, the gun control group started by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in 2011, along with 18 other people, at a constituent meeting in Arizona.

“Maybe it’s more like crazy as a fox,” I said.

“The United States used to be a safe place, but not anymore. This year it ranked 114th on the Global Peace Index. It ranks lower every year. We’re edging towards Iraq and Syria. Maybe the Republicans are right. Maybe what we need are more not less guns.”

“Nope, wrong,” he said.

Barron Cannon can be abrupt high-hat holier-than-thou. He is not a sensitive, bias-free, politically correct man. Even though he has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Philosophy and is in his early 30s, he often behaves and speaks as though he grew up in the 1930s. He is as blunt barefaced austere as anybody from back in the Depression.

Barron Cannon is, however, hardly ever depressed. He says happiness doesn’t depend on the external, but rather on our mental attitude. The free flow yoga he teaches is as much about mental health as it is about physical health.

“The reason the United States is getting more dangerous is because there are more and more guns, not less,” he said. “Canada, Japan, and Australia are some of the safest places to live in the world, while here it’s every man for himself and God against all. Conservative Christians have more guns than anybody else.”

An American is 300 times more likely to be killed by a gun than a Japanese.

“There are hardly any guns in those countries,” he said. “All the guns are here.”

“They can’t all be here,” I said.

“Right you are, Jocko,” he said. My name isn’t Jocko, but Barron often fixes nicknames to people, like Shorty for a tall man and Train Track for someone wearing braces. His nickname for himself is Dazzy.

All of the White House men have had nicknames, from Father of the Country to Give ‘Em Hell Harry to No Drama Obama. Barron’s nickname for Donald Trump is Agent Orange.

“Not all the guns in the world are here, just most of them. There are fewer than 5% of the people on the planet here in the USA, but we have almost 50% of the guns in the world. Nobody messes with us. The Senate and the House, and now Trump World, they have their noses snagged in the NRA money clip. It stinks, but they can’t smell anything beyond the stench of fresh new one hundred dollar bills.”

A gun buyback program is a program to purchase privately owned guns, reducing how many guns there are in general among the general population. In 2003 and again in 2009 Brazil bought and destroyed more than a million guns. Firearm related mortality was reduced.

Gun amnesty programs involve handing in guns you shouldn’t have without being prosecuted for having them. In July 2017 Australia announced a national firearms amnesty. Anyone with an illegal firearm could turn it over to the police. Otherwise, they faced a quarter-million dollar fine. More than 50,000 guns were turned in.

In 1996 a gunman killed 35 tourists in Australia. It was the worst mass murder in the country’s history. By the end of the year, led by a conservative Prime Minister, sweeping gun control laws were put in place. A buyback resulted in more than 600,000 semi-automatic weapons being destroyed. There hasn’t been a mass shooting in Australia since.

In this country, more men, women, and children have been killed by gunfire in the past 50 years than have been killed on all the battlefields in all the wars America has ever fought. Gun control laws in the United States are, in general, laughable.

“I have a very strict gun control policy,” said Clint Eastwood, play acting being a bounty hunter dressed up as a rodeo clown in the caper movie “Pink Cadillac”.

“If there’s a gun around, I want to be in control of it.”

That is the state of gun control in the United States.

After the Las Vegas bloodbath on the night of October 1st in which 59 people were killed and more than 500 injured by a lone gunman with an army squad kettle of semi-automatic weapons fitted with bump stocks, Malcom Turnbull, the current Australian Prime Minister, said the politics of gun ownership in America was “almost beyond comprehension.”

He pointed out the intractable problem guns pose in the United States.

“There is a ferociously strong political lobby and the National Rifle Association, and millions of Americans who own guns and cherish their constitutional right to bear arms, But, of course, the right to bear arms was an 18th century concept, long before automatic weapons were even thought of, let alone invented.”

Americans are crazy about their guns. They often claim they need them for home security, which begs the question, how many enemies do they have? However, they rarely, if ever, go to home security trade shows and conventions. They go to gun trade shows and conventions, swap meets online purveyors private sellers, no background checks required. They love their guns.

What’s crazy is that after Sandy Hook, where 20 children and 6 teachers were killed in an elementary school, nothing changed, except that more guns have been sold in the past five years. It has become the new normal to massacre concertgoers, churchgoers, and kids going to school.

“Aren’t mass murderers crazy?” I asked.

“Nope, no matter what Agent Orange says,” said Barron Cannon. “It’s about one in five who are delusional or psychotic. Neither the Orlando nightclub shooter nor the Las Vegas killer had any apparent mental illnesses, unless you believe shooting people in and of itself is a mental illness. What they were was angry and disgruntled.”

“That’s not what the White House says,” I said.

“I know, but that’s what the Department of Justice says, which knows better than Agent Orange, who only knows blowhard bluster on Twitter. Most mass murderers are injustice collectors with gun collections. When you have a paranoid streak, that’s a personal problem. When you have a paranoid streak and a boatload of guns, then that becomes everybody’s problem. That’s what Agent Orange doesn’t want to talk about. ”

The NRA and gun enthusiasts are fond of saying guns don’t kill people, people kill people. They oppose regulations protecting American citizens from crazy malevolent gun violence. They never talk about Jayne Mansfield or Tylenol, since it would make everybody dizzy at NRA headquarters.

In 1967, when the Hollywood sexpot Jayne Mansfield rear-ended a tractor-trailer, ramming her car underneath it and dying as a result, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration immediately made it mandatory for all semi- truck trailers to be fitted with under-ride bars. In 1982, when 7 people in Chicago died from poisoned Tylenol, federal anti-tampering laws were immediately put in place. Bottles of everything medical have been hellishly hard to open ever since.

Between 1968 and 2015 the total deaths caused by firearms in the United States were 1,516,863. Getting shot is an immediate experience, since bullets travel on average 1,7000 MPH. Since 1968 it has gotten easier, not harder, to buy all the bigger badder faster-blasting guns you want. The pace of writing common sense gun laws has stayed at ZERO MPH.

“When it comes to guns everyone’s got their reason, the 2nd Amendment, target shooting, recreation, whatever that means, hunting, and personal protection,” said Barron. “The NRA and Agent Orange gush about the 2nd Amendment as an argument against gun control, but almost no one cares about that.”

The Gallup Poll consistently shows that about 5% of people who own guns cite the amendment as their reason.

“Personal safety is the reason most people own a gun,” he said.

The Gallup Poll has always shown that protecting themselves has been, by a wide margin, the number one reason people buy guns.

Whenever there is a mass murder, like the recent mass murders in Las Vegas and Texas, support for stricter gun laws spikes. After a month-or-so, even though more than 80% of Americans consider gun violence a big problem, interest fades until the next mass murder. In the meantime, Congress and the White House do nothing, except mouth platitudes about their thoughts and prayers being with the dead the wounded and their families.

They never actually get off their NRA-bought-and-paid-for bottoms and buy into 21st century gun control. “It’s time for Congress to get off its ass and do something,” said Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. The chances of that happening are close to ZERO.

“Sometimes the notion that American society is inherently violent is floated as a reason there’s so much gun violence,” said Barron. ”Or it’s video games or racism or poverty. Conservative Christians say Satan is to blame. Agent Orange and Congress spearhead the notion that only crazy people are mass murderers. They propagate it being a nut case problem, not a gun problem.”

He looked down at his laptop and finished editing his Facebook post. When Barron Cannon has a great notion it’s best to wait him out.

“That’s all wrong,” he said. “It’s essentially about the astronomical number of guns in this country. That’s the problem. The other problem is that no wise man ever took a handgun to a gunfight. The times change and technology changes. You always take bigger and better ordinance.”

The more guns the more shooting.

“Yemen and Serbia have the next-highest rate of gun ownership in the world, next to the United States,” said Barron. “The United States has the highest rate of mass shootings in the world. It’s Boot Hill all over again, writ large.”

In the United States the homicide rate is 33 per million people, greater than any other developed country in the world. In Canada it is 0.7 per million. You are 50 times more likely to be shot and killed on the American side of Niagara Falls than you are on the Canadian side.

When the front door opened both Barron Cannon and I looked up. The tall young man stopped in the doorway, the late morning light silhouetting him. He had a Glock “Safe Action” Sig Sauer stuffed into the waistband of his black Levi’s.

Ohio is an open carry state.

“What can we do for you, partner?” asked Barron.

“Are you the outfit that’s doing the gun amnesty?”

“Sure are.”

“Well, this is what I’ve got for you,” said the lanky stranger. He pointed down at the bulge in his pants.

“I can’t shoot straight, anyways.” He tugged the gun out of his waistband and handed it butt first to Barron. “It’s not loaded.”

“That’s neighborly of you.”

“So I get 20 yoga classes for it?”

“That’s right,” said Barron. He flipped open his laptop. “Let’s get you signed up.”

Afterwards, after we had delivered the Glock to the Lakewood Police Department, during lunch at Melt Bar and Grill up the street, over a whiskey on ice in a lowball glass that I insisted Barron buy me to settle my nerves, I asked him if he thought his gun amnesty program would make any difference.

“There’s no energy in death,” he said. “There’s only life energy. If the White House and Congress won’t pull the trigger on gun control, then what we need is more breath control. That’s where yoga comes in. You can learn to be breathless without getting the breath knocked out of you by a bullet.”

Mao Zedong, the Communist Chinese dictator, was notorious for saying, “In order to get rid of the gun it is necessary to take up the gun.”

“He’s long gone,” said Barron. “Good riddance to bad rubbish. I say it’s necessary to take up yoga.”

“I’ll drink to that,” I said.

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

 

 

Walk of Life

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“War is hell.”  William Tecumseh Sherman

Wars are armed conflicts. We have been marching off to them for the past 14,000 years. Since the rise of the nation-state as we know it tens of thousands of wars have been fought, costing more than 3.5 billion human lives. Other deaths, like those of horses, mules, and camels are incalculable.

The Confederate cavalryman J. O. Shelby had 24 horses shot out from under him in two-and-a-half years during the Civil War. He survived every warhorse he ever rode. General Shelby died of old age in 1897.

Nearly all people all societies all states have gone to war with one another. 95% of all known societies have either fought wars or fought wars constantly. In the past 14,000 years there have been only approximately 300 years of non-raising Cain.

“The condition of man is a condition of everyone against everyone,” said Thomas Hobbes some 400 years ago. When it comes time to taking care of business it’s about banging heads with iron and blood, no matter what century it is. “Force and fraud are in war cardinal virtues.” In other words, no one gives a hoot for the other man, woman, or child. It’s every Man for himself and God against all.

It’s every horse mule camel for himself, too.

All faiths beliefs persuasions have crossed swords, from Jews to Buddhists to Christians. The European Wars of Religion in the 16th and 17th centuries cost more than 15 million souls. Islam has been at it since just about Day 1. In Sri Lanka the Tamil Tigers and hard-line Buddhists have been fighting tooth and nail for several years.

They were and are fighting for their beliefs, their beliefs being a ball and chain. Non-violence can be a disaster when it doesn’t work. The only bigger disaster is violence when it works.

More than 230 million people died in the wars of the 20th century. “It was a beastly century,” said Margaret Drabble. It’s impossible to say how many were injured displaced disappeared. At the end of the day, at the end of the century, who’s to say who was right and who was wrong? Whoever is left is who says.

The verdict is still out on the 21st century.

In the 5,000-year history of yoga, however, there are no recorded battlefield deaths of any man or woman true-blue to the eight limbs of the practice. There are no war stories of getting off the mat and duking it out with someone across the street who doesn’t see it your way. Even though there is a standing pose called Warrior, there are no thrust and parry, no AK-47’s, no nuclear arsenal. There are no bronze memorials of stern men on horseback sword in hand in any yoga studio anywhere.

Wars are fought for many reasons, but those reasons can be boiled down to nationalism, revenge, and material gain, both economic and territorial. The wages of war are swinish dark bottomless. Yoga is practiced for one reason, uniting body spirit mind. The wages of yoga are breath light energy.

Going to war may be the easiest thing to explain and the hardest thing to do. “Battle is an orgy of disorder. There is only attack and attack and attack some more,” said George ‘Old Blood and Guts’ Patton, who commanded the U. S. Third Army during WW2. Yoga may be the hardest thing to explain and the easiest thing to do. “Just do,” said K. Pattabhi Jois, the man who originated Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.

General Patton often said battle was the “most magnificent” undertaking known to man. It can be one hell of an undertaking. A chest full of medals sparkles when you’re successful. Six feet of loose dirt covers up your failures.

“The real trouble with modern war is that it gives no one a chance to kill the right people,” said Ezra Pound.

Old Blood and Guts died in an automobile accident. The Army private chauffeuring his Cadillac limousine was uninjured. K. Pattabhi Jois died of natural causes. “He was fearless about combining the path of yoga with the path of the participant “ said David Life, the co-founder of Jivamukti Yoga.

Since yoga doesn’t self-identify with any nation-state, doesn’t live by the eye for an eye of the tiger, and isn’t interested in looting all your stuff, it doesn’t issue declarations and ultimatums. It doesn’t blow its stack, launching smart bombs, armed drones, and coming to your world soon, fully autonomous weapons systems.

Practicing yoga is practicing getting your hands on freedom, no matter how elusive it may be. It’s not about getting your hands on the other guy’s cargo, no matter how bright and shiny and phenomenal it is. More cargo more loot more territory means keeping your nose to the grindstone in order to keep it all in your corner of the world. Yoga means sloughing off the wet dream of more glory more prizes more pride in victory.

Freedom isn’t about riding the merry-go-round and grabbing grasping snatching at the brass ring. Hell, what would you do with it anyway?

The Totenkopf military hat features a human skull, mandible, and two crossed long bones. The black-clad Hussar cavalry of Frederick the Great were the first to wear them. The death-head hats scared the hell out of the other guys, making it clear what was at stake.

Even though the Dalai Lama has said, “Awareness of death is the very bedrock of the path,” death-head hats are never worn by anyone at any time anywhere in any yoga class.

If Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II had taken off his skull and crossbones hat in 1902, put his hair up into a bun, and gotten on a yoga mat instead of scowling all the time, he might not have walked off the plank right into WW1. But, he didn’t, and 12 years later it was Time for Trench Warfare. Since WW2 was a direct consequence of the War to End All Wars, maybe that wouldn’t have happened, either.

In 1938, just before the start of WW2, French biologist Jean Rostond said, “Kill one man, and you are a murderer. Kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror. Kill them all, and you are a god.”

What a difference a hat can make, not just in fashion, but in what determines the fate of birds on the wing, too. The last German Emperor abdicated in 1918, grew a beard, and spent the rest of his life chopping wood and hunting birds. He bagged tens of thousands of them in the next twenty years. The neighborhood flocks thought he was an avenging angel.

Only one man has ever returned Uncle Sam’s Medal of Honor.

Charlie Liteky, a combat chaplain, without a weapon, flak jacket, or helmet, dragged 23 wounded soldiers out of a Viet Cong ambush in 1967, evacuating them to safety. He later opposed the war, and other wars, such as the invasions of Iraq. “I think it’s more of a patriotic duty of citizens of this country to stand up and say that this is wrong, that this is immoral,” he said.

But, one man’s immorality is another man’s morality, especially if those men are Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. The three largest defense companies in the world are USA companies. “You fasten all the triggers, for the others to fire,” sang Bob Dylan in ‘Masters of War’.

The United States controls more than 50% of the global weaponry market. Yoga controls 100% of the global yoga mat market. Only you control whether the world that’s always trying to make you something else gets its way.

Violence is the bread and butter of war. Warfare is a dangerous world filled with rough men, and lately, rough women, too. It is a world where the end justifies the means. Ahimsa, or non-violence, is the bread and butter of yoga The practice does not abjure self-defense, but it doesn’t propagate violence as a means, no matter what the end might be.

Non-violence is the first article of the first limb of yoga. Ahimsa in action is not doing harm. It’s simple enough, but easier said than done. The first step is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Unless you’re a psychopath, the doing will be non-violent. The next step might be to not march in ideological lockstep with anybody’s army. It doesn’t matter if it’s President Trump or President Putin or President Xi Jinping. Their interests are not necessarily in your best interest.

It’s pointless to complain about the weather. War is a longtime turmoil as old as the weather, as old as our gods. “May God have mercy on my enemies, because I won’t,” said George Patton. Sometimes it seems like there is no resisting the winds of war. It would be like trying to win a hurricane. When the Junior Bush and Elder Cheney administration wanted to invade Iraq over nothing Iraq had done, there was no stopping it.

If it all sounds like a shell game, that’s because it is. The shells of rockets’ red glare, the litter of shells the damage done, and political military industrial hacks shelling out pipe dreams of heroism. When you’re dead as a doornail it doesn’t matter who won the war.

The side of the moon facing away from the earth is the far side, the flip side. It is the side facing out to the cosmos. The bright side is what makes some moonstruck, making them go crazy when there’s a full moon.

John Bell Hood was a General in the Civil War on the Confederate side. He was notoriously brave and aggressive, and a madman. His troops routinely suffered staggering losses staging frontal assaults they were routinely ordered into. During the Seven Days Battle in 1862 every single officer in his brigade was either killed or wounded. In 1863 at Gettysburg Hood’s left arm was severely injured and he lost use of it for the rest of his life. In 1864 at Chickamauga his right leg had to be amputated just below the hip.

For the rest of the Civil War he rode into battle with his left arm tied to his body and his body tied to the body of his horse. “He has body enough left,” one witness remarked, watching Johnny Reb lock horns with the Yankees again.

The macabre spectacle of the one-armed one-legged Hood, trailed by an orderly carrying his replacement cork leg, was not his alone. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers on both sides of the Civil War lost arms and legs. That’s the damage all wars do, civil or not so civil, lopping off limbs, scrambling brains, filling up cemeteries.

Yoga, on the other hand, is not only a practice intent on keeping your arms and legs attached to your body, it is a practice that conjures additional limbs to those willing to take up the mantle of the mat. The discipline in the classic sense is an eight-limb practice. The limbs are restraint, observance, posture, breath control, sense withdrawal, concentration, meditation, and samadhi, which means standing inside of.

The walk of life can be hard enough with two arms and two legs. It’s much harder when missing an arm or a leg, or both. It’s much easier with eight extra limbs.

“When we talk about war we’re talking about peace,” said President George W. Bush. In the world of doublespeak slavery is freedom and war is known as peace. In the world of yoga freedom is freedom and non-war is known as peace. No fooling. Only fools try to fool themselves.

The masters of war would have you believe that taking up the gun will solve all the problems of taking up the gun. “The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over,” said William Tecumseh Sherman. General Sherman is known for the Savannah Campaign of 1864, slashing through Georgia and South Carolina, innovating what is now known as scorched earth warfare. “Yoga is not easy!” said K. Pattabhi Jois. “But, it leads to freedom.” He is known for inspiring and influencing the way yoga is taught and practiced all over the world.

Warrior pose on the yoga mat is about fighting the good fight, not fighting the other guy. It’s about challenge strength fortitude.

Standing on one leg in a yoga class may be cruel and unusual punishment, but at least you’re standing. Not only that, the standing is getting you somewhere. Getting anywhere in the Fog of War is up for grabs, at best, and on a collision course with Hell, at worse.

When it comes to getting on the good side of the Pearly Gates, war doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

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

 

 

 

108 New Year’s Resolutions

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1) Find out what 108 means in yoga lore.

2) Be more awesome than last year.

3) Try something new on the mat.

4) Try something new off the mat.

5) Breathe mindfully.

6) Practice the 1st Limb of Yoga (yama).

7) Think more, in general.

8) Try doing less harm (ahimsa).

9) Count to 10.

10) Plant the seed of your resolve (sankalpa).

11) Remember resolutions aren’t a to-do list.

12) Try being truthful (satya).

13) Don’t commit to what you can’t do.

14) Practice what yoga preaches.

15) Do nothing for a week-or-so.

16) Eat fewer animals.

17) Eat more fruits.

18) Eat even more veggies.

19) Practice the 2nd Limb of Yoga (niyama).

20) Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity.

21) Don’t get stuck in the mud.

22) Walk on the water until you sink.

23) Try being honest about things (asteya).

24) Spend less money.

25) “Watch the parking meters.” Bob Dylan

26) Practice the 3rd Limb of Yoga (asana).

27) Lay in corpse pose after exercise (asana).

28) Try a new craft-style IPA.

29) Try a different new craft-style IPA.

30) Don’t spill any IPA on your resolutions list.

31) Try being aware of a higher reality (brahmacharya).

32) Wanderlust more.

33) Cut most people some slack.

34) Don’t cut some people any slack.

35) Practice the 4th Limb of Yoga (pranayama).

36) “Watch the river flow.” Bob Dylan

37) Volunteer or contribute to a cause.

38) Pick up where you left off.

39) Head back to the classroom.

40) Waste not, want not.

41) Try being less acquisitive (aparigraha).

42) Chuck the couch.

43) Go for a walk.

44) Go for a walk, again.

45) Walk the dog.

46) Try to stay cool and clean (saucha).

47) Pick one thing to stop doing all year.

48) Rid yourself of enemies.

49) Rid yourself of frenemies.

50) Stare out the window once in a while.

51) Start from now.

52) Try to find some contentment (santosha).

53) Be Buddhist, even if you’re not a Buddhist.

54) Watch out for the sociopaths!

55) Breathe mindfully, again.

56) Practice the 5th Limb of Yoga (pratyahara).

57) Shop locally.

58) Shop small.

59) Finish a chap-stick.

60) Take the stairs.

61) Take a month off from irony.

62) Take a different month off from sarcasm.

63) Try to be disciplined (tapas).

64) Watch out for downpressers.

65) Don’t be a downpresser.

66) Stay in the now.

67) Read a new translation of the Bhagavad Gita.

68) Vote in November 2016.

69) When at the polls keep firmly in mind some

politicians  are demagogues.

70) When at the polls recall what Mark Twain said about politicians.

71) In the event, vote for somebody.

72) Turn off the internet of everything.

73) Crack open a book about something.

74) Make some mistakes, gain some experience.

75) Stay in touch.

76) Build a shelf.

77) Practice the 6th Limb of Yoga (dharana).

78) Go out on a limb. That’s where the apples are.

79) Meditate.

80) Go more green, in general.

81) Groom a green thumb.

82) Plant a seed.

83) Plant a plant.

84) Plant a shrub.

85) Plant a tree.

86) “Keep a clean nose. Watch the plain clothes. You don’t need

a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” Bob Dylan

87) High five a stranger.

88) Read a sutra a day.

89) Try to be self-observant (svadhyaya).

90) Don’t follow leaders.

91) Practice the 7th Limb of Yoga (dhyana).

92) Rescue a cat.

93) Or, rescue a dog.

94) Make art, not war.

95) Turn off the television.

96) Go to a live theater.

97) Go to a live concert.

98) When necessary, make better bad decisions.

99) Practice the 8th Limb of Yoga (samadhi).

100) Look inward.

101) Set your intention.

102) Get all the good laughs you can.

103) Try to surrender to life (ishvara pranidhana).

104) Make an effort.

105) Never mind about resolutions if you don’t want to.

106) Breathe mindfully, one more time.

107) Remember to find out what significance 108 has in yoga lore.

108) Have an awesome 2016.

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

 

 

 

Blaze It and Bend It

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A long time ago, during the Age of Flower Children, when yoga was gaining traction in the United States, an Indian guru with a bushy beard, Sri Swami Satchidananda, was invited by the avant-garde psychedelic artist Peter Max to visit the country.

Three years later, accompanied by twenty-four young yogis, he was the opening speaker at Woodstock, the 1969 music arts and peace festival.

Drug use ran rampant among the estimated half million in attendance. “There were a lot of good trips at Woodstock,” said co-promoter Artie Kornfeld. “But, there were some bad ones, too.”

The festival’s P. A. system kept up a running commentary. “The brown acid that is circulating around, please be advised there is a warning on that.” Freak out tents dotted the muddy pastureland in upstate New York.

Although not a user himself, Sri Swami Satchidananda was tolerant of the hippie generation, and didn’t condemn their search for a higher consciousness. He did, however, offer yoga as an alternative to drugs. “My teacher always said, if you get high, you have to get low. He suggested getting off the pendulum, and living in balance. That’s yoga.”

Most of the old-school yoga masters were like that.

“If you have to be addicted to something, be addicted to doing sadhana daily,” said Yogi Bhajan, who introduced Kundalini Yoga in 1968. “You are not free by taking drugs. You’ll always be dragging your life.”

“Yoga is a light, which once lit, will never dim,” said B. K. S. Iyengar. “The better your practice, the brighter the flame. When you inhale you are taking the strength from God. When you exhale, it represents the service you are giving to the world.” He didn’t mean flaming up the bone, nor did he mean inhaling a puff of bhang. He meant a different kind of magic dragon.

But, that was then, and this is now.

When Yoga Journal moved to Boulder, Colorado, almost two years ago, and nearly forty-five years after Woodstock, it was probably inevitable they would sooner or later conflate goddess pose with ganja. That’s exactly what happened.

Colorado criminalized marijuana use in 1917. It decriminalized it in 2012. In 2014 Colorado’s marijuana market reached total sales of $700 million.

Yoga Journal jumped on the $700 million bandwagon with a market–friendly article by Mike Kessler about getting ready for yoga class by getting stoned, even though it involved some anxiety. “I’m way too stoned for yoga,” he wrote. “I mill among the strangers and try to figure out what to do first – take off my shoes or sign in.”

Like Cheech and Chong said, “Hey, things are tough all over.”

Sometimes it’s the smallest decisions that can change your life. When one is wasted – “It creates awareness, reveals the truth,” said Mr. Kessler, shifting gears – making decisions can become easier, or not. Mr. Kessler eventually took his shoes off and signed in.

“Class has only just begun and my weed-addled monkey-mind is swinging from tree to tree.” The class was 420 Remedy at Atwater Yoga in L. A., a class for yogis under the influence. Stephani Manger, the class teacher – “Warm and lovely,” said Mr. Kessler – came to the rescue, calming him down, reminding him to not try too hard.

420 Remedy is the brainchild of Liz McDonald, the yoga studio owner, who had an epiphany on a sunny beach in Brazil. “It was otherworldly. Mixing yoga and pot took me into the next dimension.”

“It can help break down inhibitions,“ said John Friend, the former Anusara Yoga kingpin.

Before the Age of Flower Children some of India’s sadhus, or holy men, smoked chillum pipes packed with ganja, hash, and tobacco. The purpose was to keep their minds focused and strengthen their energy for penance and meditation.

“The purpose has never been intoxication,” explained a contemporary sadhu, Sri Saraswati. “It is supposed to reduce sexual desire.”

Sadhus have been known to go naked in the dead of winter, which might explain things.

Bhang and ganja have long been smoked in India. It is associated with immortality. Four thousand years ago in the Atharva Veda, which is known as the veda of magical formulas, it was celebrated as a “sacred grass.” Fakirs, renowned for being able to tie themselves up into knots and even survive being buried alive, have for centuries fortified themselves with it. They believe it is a gift from God.

Like Willie Nelson said, “God put it here. What gives anyone the right to say God is wrong?”

The unholy crusade against drugs began in 1914 after the United States Opium Commissioner revealed Americans were consuming more habit-forming drugs per person than anywhere else in the world. Marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, among others, were legal then as long as they were accurately labeled with their contents and dosage.

After alcohol became a good thing again in 1933 President Roosevelt made it a point to praise the International Opium Convention and the race to criminalize drugs was on. In 1971, as he was winding down the War in Vietnam, President Nixon declared a new War on Drugs.

From 2001 to 2010 more than 8 million marijuana arrests were made nationwide. Ninety percent of those arrests were for possession. More people were arrested for possession of marijuana in 2011 than for all violent crimes combined.

Drug offenders locked up in federal and state prisons have increased 13-fold since First Lady Nancy Reagan said “Just Say NO” in 1982. Today the War on Drugs, all the criminalized drugs, costs about $51 billion a year, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.

The only people winning the War on Drugs are the drug gangs, bad men let loose in a nightmare. If it weren’t so horrible it would be horrible.

Using drugs is a personal choice, not a crime. No one of legal age should have to live up to the fears and expectations of self-appointed drug czars. The War on Drugs is a War on Personal Choice.

In 2001 Portugal decriminalized all drugs within its borders. Since then drug use of all kinds, from marijuana to heroin, has fallen. “There is no doubt that the phenomenon of addiction is in decline in Portugal,” said Joao Goulao of the Institute on Drugs and Drug Addiction.

In October 2015 more than 130 American police chiefs and prosecutors called for less incarceration. “You can’t arrest your way out of the problem,” said William Bratton, the police chief of NYC.

Decriminalizing all drugs may not be a cure, but it isn’t the disaster that the War on Drugs has been. At least, if and when Walgreens was doing the pushing, the drug gangs would end up on the losing side.

Wrapping up his 420 Remedy class Mr. Kessler summed up saying “my stoned-yoga experience turned out positive.” At Ganja Yoga in San Francisco instructor Dee Dussault describes the benefits of pot yoga as “trippy relaxation, pain-relief, sensuality, and the cultivation of inner peace.”

“Class went by in a snap,” said Jessica Misener of Ms. Dussault’s class. “I tend to get bored during yoga classes that are longer than an hour, but the second half of this one felt like it was only five minutes long. Thanks, cannabis!”

“I go more deeply into the asanas,” said Mark Smith, a novelist who has practiced yoga for more than 20 years, sometimes under the influence. “Part of the point of yoga is to relax the body. Marijuana helps a lot of people to do that.”

However, all the point of yoga, not just part of the point, aims at realizing who you are, not who you are on drugs. Who you are isn’t what kind of a house you live in, or what kind of a car you drive, or whether you prefer Golden Goat to Ghost Train Haze.

If those things are who you are, you don’t need yoga. You’ve already got everything you want. Your house, your car, and your Ghost Train are doing it for you. Yoga is different. You have to do it for yourself. It’s not about the gravy train. Yoga is about effort and self-awareness.

It isn’t about anyone’s hobbies or politics, whether they teach high school science or thrive on tech in San Francisco. It’s about the inner being beyond the externals. It’s about practicing with dedication, whether it’s asana or meditation or any of yoga’s other aspects, and cultivating detachment.

It’s not about cultivating the back forty with bhang.

“The real value of yoga is the opportunity it offers to know yourself,” said Kaitlin Quistgaard, former editor of Yoga Journal. “Alone on your mat, with your breath and a few poses, you get to see.”

Intense breathing with a bong at hand is one thing. Intense yoga breathing, which also triggers endorphins, is another thing. They are two different ways of breathing, of seeing. “I’m going to teach you how to get high on your breath,” said Yogi Bhajan.

Although using drugs is a personal choice and should not, for many reasons, be criminalized, there are consequences. Many studies, from the National Institutes of Health to the Journal of Psychiatry, have demonstrated that marijuana, depending on the dose, has a negative impact on cognition.

Using radioactive markers researchers at the University of Texas have shown that cocaine decreases blood flow to the prefrontal cortex of the brain, mimicking what happens to people who suffer a stroke.

The less said about heroin and methamphetamine, the better.

Just like drugs do, yoga changes the brain, but in a different way. Over time the brain learns to pay attention to the present moment and calm down.

Cognitive research at the University of Illinois has found that test scores improve after practicing yoga. A 12-week study by the National Institutes of Health demonstrated that Iyengar Yoga alters brain function, increasing cerebral blood flow.

“Yoga thickens the layers of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain associated with higher learning, and increases neuroplasticity, which helps us learn new things and change the way we do things,” explained Dr. Loren Fishman of the Columbia Medical School.

One of the legacies of the Age of Flower Children is the idea of looking beyond established thought, of pushing boundaries, and thinking for yourself. Widespread drug use and yoga both went mainstream with the advance of the counterculture, although one practice went to Ecstasy and the other practice on the path to a different kind of consciousness.

Knowledge is recognizing ripe tomatoes are a fruit. Wisdom is not putting one into a fruit salad. “The attaining of higher consciousness cannot simply be gained by the use of a drug,” says David Frawley of the American Institute of Vedic Studies.

Like Yogi Bhajan said, “Your brain will become feeble.“

Even though it’s often been pointed out you can’t fix stupid, you can fix out-of-body makers and markers of feeble, or at least change the revolving door of perception. A  good place to start might be to not blaze it anytime your noodle needs to stay stone cold sober, not everybody must get stoned, and just go cold turkey when going to yoga class.

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

 

 

 

Ask the Yogi

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I was busy on our front porch one rainy afternoon, sticking my thumb into our cat’s mouth and springing his fangs with my fingernail, something he never tires of, when my wife interrupted us.

“I’ve asked you to not do that,” she said impatiently. “You’re going to break his teeth and then we’ll have a toothless cat.”

“He likes it,” I said. “Besides, I think it strengthens his teeth.”

“Oh, never mind.” she said. “Look what came in the mail. It’s the yoga magazine and your friend Barron’s in it.”

She has called him my friend instead of our friend ever since he dug up his mother’s flower garden and replaced it with a root vegetable garden.

“Barron? What did he ever do to become newsworthy besides spend half the day on his mat exercising and meditating?”

“He hasn’t done anything, but he’s writing an advice column for them.”

I was so surprised I jumped out of my seat and the cat scattered pell-mell. I had been sending stories to the magazine for more than three years and been ignored, never even receiving a rejection letter.

“An advice column? What does Barron know about advice?”

“Honey, Barron is the kind of man who, when he asks if you want a piece of advice, it doesn’t matter what you say, because you’re going to get it anyway.”

I snatched the magazine from her hands. It was folded to the full-page column, and staring me in the face was a picture of Barron Cannon, standing on one leg in the middle of his parent’s backyard, where he lives in a yurt.

I fell back into my chair and began reading ‘Ask the Yogi.’

Dear Yogi Barron:

I enlisted in the army last month to defend our country and fight terrorists. I expected basic training to be hard, but I was ready for the challenge. Now I find out that yoga is going to be part of our fitness training. Our drill sergeant says it will keep us flexible instead of bulked up and meditation will keep us calm when things get nerve wracking. How can that be? Yoga is for chicks, isn’t it? I need to know the right way to hold my rifle, not the right way to touch my toes, and I need to shoot when I see the whites of their eyes, not get in touch with my third eye.

Signed, Dismayed in Fort Hood

Dear Dismayed:

Not to worry.

After Osama bin Laden was killed and thrown into the ocean, Gaiam Life, the leading yoga accessory manufacturer, issued a “special edition” yoga mat thanking Seal Team 6 for taking care of business. There are lots of yogis going heavy. Even the Dalai Lama says that if someone is going to shoot you, shoot back first. Many people are skeptical about the power of yoga, but not the Navy Seals. When interviewed they often mention how closely yoga training resembles their own. Some Seals have even set up fitness schools, blending yoga exercise with combat techniques. Since you’re just a grunt in boot camp, you’re not going to argue with the Seals about the power of yoga, are you, grasshopper?

Signed, Your Dutch Uncle

It sounded just like Barron Cannon; in other words, snippy and deific. It didn’t sound like a mass-market magazine that knows how to trim its sails.

And, what did he mean by ‘Your Dutch Uncle’?

I had to get to the bottom of how Barron Cannon, who lives off the grid, had gotten his scribbling onto the pages of a magazine with millions of subscribers as well as more advertising pages than pages of anything else.

I couldn’t understand how anyone like him, who, if he had stooped to be on Facebook would never get a like in his life, could possibly have gotten a corporation to pay him for his opinions. To say he was not only curmudgeonly and out of the touch with the yoga generation was understating the obvious.

It had stopped raining, so I rolled up the magazine, stuck it into my back pocket, and took a walk the two-or-so miles up Riverside Drive to Barron’s yurt on the heights of Hogsback Lane overlooking the Rocky River.

Barron and I were soon sitting on the edge of his parent’s backyard, on a pair of plastic Adirondack chairs he had scavenged somewhere, while he unrolled the magazine and admired his handiwork.

Dear Yogi Barron:

I have been married for 12 years and have three children. I love yoga, but my husband has never had any interest in it, so I have always gone to the studio without him. He enjoys sleeping, eating, and watching sports on TV. In the past year I have fallen for a man with two boys who also passionately practices yoga at my studio. He is very fond of me, too. His wife is ignorant and irresponsible. I think he would be a wonderful husband and a great father for my children. Should I take the plunge, leave my husband, and start a new life?

Signed, Troubled in Minneapolis

Dear Troubled:

Have you lost your mind?

First of all, do you realize there are five children involved in your so-called yoga romance? How do you think they are going to feel when not one but two families are broken up? Second, what does yoga have to do with cheating on your husband, besides breaking most of the principles by which it is practiced? There is more to yoga than standing on your head, which you seem to be doing quite well. There is no reason to be unhappy in love, certainly, but dump the yogi lothario and try helping your husband off the La-Z-Boy. Maybe there is a reason he is such a slug. Living to eat and watching sports 24/7 is living the zombie life. Get him off his butt, on his feet, and off to the studio with you. It might be the way to bring him back to life, and your marriage, too. When you help him you help yourself, as well; it might also bring you back to your senses.

Signed, Your Dutch Uncle

After Barron’s long-suffering mother had brought us coffee and scones, I came right to the point.

“How on earth did your words of wisdom make it into print?” I asked, incredulous.

“A word to the wise isn’t what I’m doing, since it’s usually people on the stupid side that need me the most,” he said.

“I would have thought offering advice about the day-to-day was beneath you.”

Barron Cannon has a PhD in philosophy. He lived off the grid because no sooner had he won his diploma than he realized politics had replaced philosophy in the modern world.

“It’s not really advice,” he said. “Advice is free, but since it’s in a magazine that people have to pay for, it’s more like counseling.”

“You don’t sound like the friendliest counselor in the world,” I pointed out.

“I’m not trying to be their friend, because no friendship could stand the strain of good advice for too long,” he said.

“Which is it, council or advice?”

“It’s both,” he said. “But don’t worry, I never give them my best council, or advice, or whatever you want to call it, because they wouldn’t follow it, anyway.”

Dear Yogi Barron:

I practice at a large yoga studio and often hear our various yoga teachers say things like “Live in the now” and “It’s all good, it’s all yoga”. But, what about learning from the past and planning for the future? And, it can’t all be good, can it? Some things have to be right and wrong. Don’t they?

Signed, Baffled in Boston

Dear Baffled:

It is obvious you don’t understand yoga, which is our most beloved Eastern philosophy because it is so accepting of SUV’s and Ayn Rand. It is also obvious you have not read the Bhagavad-Gita, one of yoga’s most important guidebooks.

In the book, which is a long poem from a long time ago, a warrior named Arjuna doesn’t want to go into battle, telling his chariot driver, who happens to be the god Krishna, that he doesn’t see the sense of it. He decries all the slaughter leading to nothing but disaster and ruin. Krishna has his own agenda, which is revealed later in the story, so I won’t ruin the surprise. Needless to say, he musters many top-down arguments to convince Arjuna he must go to war, among them the “be here now” argument and the “there is no evil” argument. It turns out it really is all in as Arjuna goes to war, after all.

The newest translation by Stephen Mitchell is the best and most accessible and I recommend you get and read it as soon as possible. All will be revealed.

Signed, Your Dutch Uncle

“If you’re sensible enough to give good advice you should be sensible enough to give no advice,” I said. “ So, what is it you’re trying to accomplish?”

“I say a good scare is better than good advice, so maybe I’m trying to throw a little scare into them,” he said.

“But, it benefits me, too. Living in mom’s backyard suits me, such as it is, but I’ve been thinking of a girlfriend, which means I need some ready cash. I’m getting paid for telling people the best thing they could do when falling is not land, and that’s a gift horse I’m willing to look in the mouth.”

When I heard the words girlfriend and money come out of Barron Cannon’s mouth I almost fell out of my chair for the second time that day.

Barron had been living a no expenses life since graduation. He had sold or given away almost everything he owned he didn’t consider essential. He lived off his root vegetable plot, some fruit trees, and a solar array. He practiced yoga and meditation, read only e-books on the Lakewood Library site, and went for long hikes in the Metro Park.

“Don’t look so shocked,” he said.

“Having a girlfriend doesn’t necessarily invalidate my criticism of the capitalist mode of production. I just need a few dollars to take her out to lunch.”

“Who is she?”

“I don’t know, yet. She brings a group of schoolchildren to the Nature Center every Friday.”

Dear Yogi Barron:

After I moved across town and changed yoga studios I noticed that more and more of my friends from my old studio fell to the wayside. I had two long-time friends who disappeared from my radar screen completely. My question is, do I just let these good friends slip away? Or do I try to save our friendships?

Signed, Confused in San Francisco

Dear Confused:

I don’t blame you for being confused. It is one of life’s most common problems, when all of a sudden you are not so close to friends anymore. Friendships enhance the quality of our lives. What to do? Give those old friends a call. Invite them over for dinner or go out on the town. Catch up with what they have been doing. When you visit with your friends you do something good for them and yourself.

Here is what the Buddha said about friends: “He gives what is hard to give. He does what is hard to do. He endures what is hard to endure. He reveals his secrets to you. He keeps your secrets. When misfortunes strike, he doesn’t abandon you. When you are down and out he doesn’t look down on you. A friend endowed with these seven qualities is worth associating with.”

I wish you the best of luck reconnecting with your friends. If it doesn’t work out, remember you can always make new friends at your new studio. The Buddha’s not around anymore, anyway. That’s what former friends are for in our modern age, aren’t they, fodder? It’s like seeing one of them in a crowd; you just want to look away.

I’ve heard it said, if you really want a best friend, buy a dog.

Signed, Your Dutch Uncle

“How is your column going?” I asked. “Is it doing some good?”

“I don’t know,” he said, “but I’m dealing with people for who the worst advice you could give them is be yourself.”

He leaned back in his chair, studying the sky.

“Good advice is always going to be ignored, but I just ignore that, so it doesn’t bother me. After all, I’m getting paid so there’s no reason to not pontificate. I try to stay aloof to whether or not anyone pays any attention to it, and I don’t persist in trying to set anyone right. After all, like Sophocles said, bad advice is hateful.”

Barron could never resist being pedantic.

“What is that business of signing yourself as someone’s Dutch uncle?”

“Firm, but benevolent, my boy, firm but benevolent,” he chuckled.

On my way home I reflected on the irony of my many hours researching articles that never got accepted, while Barron Cannon, an Occupy Marxist, simply spouted off, got into print, and got paid, as well. Once at home I searched out my wife, who was doing yesterday’s dishes, and asked her how I should resolve what I saw as an unfair state of things.

“Honey, if you’re asking for my advice that means you probably already know the answer, but wish you didn’t. Why don’t you go play with the cat? I’m sure it’ll come to you,” she said.

“Just don’t do that thing to his teeth.”

 

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Breath or Bullets

USARIEM

The Warrior Pose (Virabhadrasana), of which there are three variations, is an essential feature of many exercise sequences at yoga studios. The warrior pose of soldiers in combat is as varied as the difference between Roman legionnaires and drone operators.

The name of the yoga pose comes from Virabhandra, a hero in Indian mythology who carried a thousand cudgels and wore tiger skins. It is a vigorous standing posture often integrated into sun salutations and explained as being an inspiration for the spiritual warrior.

The warrior pose in the U. S. Army is usually a floor pose, practiced on the stomach, on one knee, or in a crouch. Instead of reaching through the arms with empty hands, the military variation keeps the arms close to the body and a strong grip on ones M4A1 carbine.

Yoga is traditionally a pathway toward enlightenment. “If your practice is moving you away from enlightenment, then you are not practicing yoga,” says Ganesh Das of Jivamukti Yoga. Those on the path commonly practice with that intention, not with the intention of setting gun sights on the whites of someone’s eyes.

But, some in the brave new world of 21st century yoga argue that it can and should be more than it has been, arguing that its energy should be devoted towards myriad forms of improvement, competing against one another to be the best in the class, even on the battlefield.

Although it is debatable whether yoga and conflict are compatible, it has recently been introduced to the American armed forces, described as “a powerful supplement to combat readiness training, making soldiers better prepared for challenges they’ll face in combat” in an article titled The US Army Strikes the Warrior Pose. Warriors at Ease, a Maryland-based company, is one of the first officially-recognized “yoga defense contractors”.

However, not everyone in the military agrees that today’s redefined yoga is appropriate for training troops. They contend that it coddles rather than toughens them.  “People have said you’re babying them,” says Mark Hertling, Deputy Commanding General for Initial Military Training. “You’ve got to drive them hard, and work them until it hurts.”

While it is the questionable whether yoga is appropriate training for the rigors of war, it is clear that the chain of command has not come to grips with some forms of yoga exercise. As a means of fitness training for soldiers it may exceed traditional push-ups and 2-mile marches, as attested by a post on the Runner’s World web site by a veteran long-distance runner.

“If I would have toughed it out the full 90 minutes at my first attempt at Bikram Yoga, I calculate I would have lost 22.5 pounds of body water weight. In other words, I would have died.”

The purpose of military might is to preserve security and provide defense, and to overcome perils to that security. The United States accomplishes this with a defense budget, in the fiscal year 2012, of more than $900 billion. It is almost $300 billion more than the next fourteen countries, including China and Russia, in the top fifteen for defense spending, combined.

Even setting aside the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, military spending has more than doubled since 2001. Defense accounts for approximately 20 percent of the entire federal budget, roughly the same as Social Security, and outstripping spending on transportation, education, and science, combined.

Americans spend almost $3000.00 per person on defense annually.

In the United States $6 billion a year is spent on yoga, primarily on hatha practices. Americans spend less than $19.00 per person on yoga annually.

The purpose of yoga is to unite the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of life. “It is to cultivate awareness, self-regulation, and higher consciousness in the individual,” according to David Surrenda, CEO of Kripalu Center in Massachusetts. Its goal is to cultivate a higher nature, not relying on Smith & Wesson.

Whether Americans are safer paying nearly $3000.00 a year for their military readiness or $19.00 a year for their spiritual readiness is a moot point.

Going toe-to-toe with the Pentagon the often-barefoot practice of yoga is at a decided disadvantage. The Pentagon is the world’s largest defense building. The National Capitol could fit into any one of its five wedge-shaped sections. With more than 23,000 employees it is virtually a city.

Not even Bikram World Headquarters in Los Angeles is remotely close to the size of the Pentagon.

More people practice yoga in America, approximately 16 million of them, than are in the armed forces, of which there are currently 3 million enlisted and reserve. But, the pool the Pentagon draws on is far larger than yoga’s mailing list. There are more than 22 million veterans in the United States, as well as 120,000,000 men and women classified as being fit for service.

Many people come to yoga for sun salutations and vinyasa. They fill out a waiver at a studio, stretch and sweat for an hour, and if all goes well come back the next day. Some weave it into the fabric of their lives, internalizing the practice and living by its eight-fold path as a way of achieving a meaningful existence.

In the armed forces all inductees must take the Oath of Enlistment, in which they  “solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies…so help me God.” The oath is traditionally performed standing in front of the stars and stripes, not in front of God.

If it came to a fight, yoga would be badly out-gunned by the Pentagon, which can muster thousands of ships, planes, and M1A2 Abrams tanks, the most electronically-sophisticated, and heavily-armored battle tank ever built anywhere in the world. The best yoga might do is muster a battalion-or-two of very experienced Warrior Pose yogis.

Ever since ground was broken for the Pentagon on September 11, 1941, the United States has been at war somewhere every day of every year ever since. But, for all the power the Pentagon can bring to bear, it begs the question of why its record on the battlefield since WW2 has largely been a patchwork of compromised victories.

Francis Beer, a political scientist at the University of Colorado, has estimated that more than 14,000 wars have taken place between 3500 BC and the late 20th century, resulting in more than 3.5 billion deaths. By his measure there have only been 300 years of relative peace in that 5500-year span.

Killing one man is a capital crime. Killing ten men is mass murder. Killing one hundred men is slaughter, beyond the pale of crime. But, killing a thousand men is called war and trumpeted as a triumph. Capital crimes are condemned while wars make for medals and parades.

“This the rulers of the earth all recognize,” wrote Mozi, a Chinese philosopher of the 5th century BC. “Yet, when it comes to the greatest crime – waging war on another state – they praise it! It is clear they do not know it is wrong. If they knew they were wrong, why should they wish to record them and have them handed down to posterity?”

All peoples and all states justify their wars.

The Roman Empire, the most ruthless in history, fought every one of its wars under the rubric of defense. The North fought the Civil War to preserve the  American Union while the South fought to preserve its honor and way of life. The Israelis fight for their homeland and the Palestinians fight for their homeland. The problem is that it is all the same homeland.

“Most Palestinians believe that the Intifada succeeded,” says Ami Ayalon, former director of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security system. “They believe that we understand only the language of force. Most Israelis believe that we won because Palestinians understand only the language of force.”

States make war for many reasons, among them self-defense, resource competition, border disputes, and international recognition. Institutions like the Pentagon are the fulcrum on which states depend in order to wield their power to make war.

“The state jealously guards the right to make war because this prerogative is a source of power,“ writes Mark Kurlansky in Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea.

People practice yoga for many reasons, among them physical health, mind-body unity, and what can be described as connecting to the whole. Practiced regularly it becomes the font of true power, not power at the end of a gun barrel.

“Yoga practice aims to reset our physical, mental, and emotional rhythms to their natural states, “ says Dinbandhu Sarley, former CEO of Kripalu Center. “We experience this resonance as a spiritual experience.”

Yoga boot camps are far different than army boot camps. There are no firing ranges or bayonet drills. The reason is that warfare is not a natural state, no matter mankind’s history of endless war. Most men and women are reluctant to kill others. That is why today’s all-volunteer U. S. Army is largely made up of the disadvantaged and unemployed.

In Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command on Future War, the chief U. S. Army combat historian of WW2, Samuel Marshall, revealed that only one in four combat soldiers ever fired their guns, while at most only 15 percent of available firepower was ever deployed. If it came to a fight with yoga, the Pentagon, even with all its firepower, might not have the advantage it seems if its soldiers won’t fire their guns.

One reason yoga might have an advantage is that the practice develops balance and strength in both body and mind. It is only with those attributes that ahimsa can be successfully pursued.

“Nonviolence must never come from weakness but from strength,” writes Mark Kurlansky. “Only the strongest and most disciplined people can hope to achieve it.”

Ahimsa is a guiding principle of yoga practice. Although all spiritual practices abjure violence, unlike Christianity, Islam, and even Buddhism, yoga has never been co-opted by the state, its nonviolent pose twisted to serve power politics.

Christians since St. Augustine have fought ‘just’ wars, even though Jesus was not on the side of war-makers, but rather on the side of peace-makers. Muslims declare jihad whenever they propose violence, even though the Quran never uses the term jihad for fighting in the name of Allah. Zen Buddhism and Japanese militarism were intertwined from the Meiji Restoration of the 19th century through WW2.

In a knock-down-drag-out fight between the Pentagon and yoga, only yoga would bring the power of its convictions to the fray. When the First Gulf War ended in the 1990s “Stormin’ Norman” Schwartzkopf, field commander of the Coalition Forces, declared, “God must have been on our side!”

What was on his side was a bevy of Cruise missiles, not God. God is not on the side of war-makers, no matter what the war-makers say. If he were, then it would be every man for himself and God against all.

Whether or not to go to war is a moral argument. Yoga’s pose is that nonviolence is a first principle, renouncing war. The state’s pose is that force of arms is its prerogative. Yoga denies that peace can be achieved through violence. The state accepts war because it believes without arms and armies it would be impotent. The state proposes that war is the way peace is won.

“I just want you to know,” explained President Bush, “that when we talk about war, we’re really talking about peace.”

But, violence does not resolve conflicts between people or their states. “Peace cannot be achieved through violence,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the first Americans to study Vedic texts. Violence almost always leads to more violence. Yoga postulates that peace can only be attained through dynamic compassion and understanding, which is why there has never been a single war waged by any yoga community.

“When you start to understand how karma works, you realize how you treat others determines how much suffering you experience,” says Sharron Gannon of Jivamukti Yoga.

The warrior pose battalions of yoga could conceivably be the most formidable foe the Pentagon has faced in a long time. Wars are ultimately fought to win hearts and minds. The hearts and minds of yogis may be stronger and more resilient than any weapon the Pentagon can wield.

If push came to shove between the Pentagon and yoga, the winning side would be the side with the prevailing point-of-view. The North Vietnamese did not prevail through force of arms in the 1960s and 1970s. The Pentagon would be battling an idea that like Gandhi’s idea for India’s independence struggle is almost impossible to defeat, so long as the idea sticks to its guns.

Yoga makes samadhi – union with the divine – not war. The Pentagon makes war, which leads to more war, and to the other definition of samadhi, which is a funerary monument. Yoga opens the heart. The Pentagon puts a bullet into it. “The more we sweat in peace the less we bleed in war,” says Vijaya Pandit of the U. N. Human Rights Commission.

The ultimate problem for the Pentagon is that it ignores the Bhagavad Gita, the most dangerous existing explication of yoga. If nothing else the Bhagavad Gita teaches one how to hold ones ground, which is what Warrior Pose is all about.

Although Navy Seals have pioneered practices like ‘Combat Yoga’, when the ka-booming starts the Seals Marines GI’s, sailors and airmen, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Fortress Pentagon might never know what hit them, as their world view goes up in mirage, which is, in the end, the seeing things as they really are, the ultimate goal of yoga practice.

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

 

 

 

The Godless Gita

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The “Bhagavad Gita,” a classic poem of 700 verses divided into eighteen books, composed in about 200 BC, is considered a monument to the human heart and spirit, testifying to man’s quest for truth and wisdom. It is often called “The Song of God.” It covers a wide range of topics, dilemmas, and themes, some vintage hallowed, some not so much among the angels.

In its own way, and in the same way, it rivals the “Iliad.” It sings of arms and the man. It is about volition judgment heroism redemption. It is about making yourself the man you mean to be, the man you must be to meet the world headfirst.

For more than two thousand years the canonic text, long ago subsumed into India’s national epic Mahabharta,” has been considered one of the ultimate instruction manuals for living a spiritual life, no matter that it is set in martial times. Vyasa is supposed to have written it, but that’s like saying Homer wrote the “Iliad” or God wrote the Bible.

It was written for a reason, but the reason can be faceted dimensional conflicting.

In modern times, like the Bible and the Quran, many of the insights of the “Bhagavad Gita” continue to address the problems of the 21st century, speaking to issues such as choice, duty, and purpose.

Many great men have extolled its virtues.

“When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and I see not one ray of hope on the horizon, I turn to the Bhagavad Gita and find a verse to comfort me,” said Mahatma Gandhi.

“When I read the Bhagavad Gita and reflect about how God created this universe, everything else seems so superfluous,” said Albert Einstein.

“It’s about the game of awakening, about the coming into Spirit,” said Ram Dass, the author of “Path to God: Living the Bhagavad Gita.”

In the world of yoga, the Gita is both bedrock and revelatory, because it is through Arjuna’s questions and Krishna’s answers – the mainstays of the text – that the underpinnings and practice of yoga are revealed. Although yoga has much to do with physical and mental well-being, in the “Bhagavad Gita” the original spiritual purpose of the practice, connecting one’s consciousness to the supreme consciousness, is the nexus of the poem.

Everything else is coincident to controlling one’s body, mind, and senses for the purpose of uniting with the divine.

The “Bhagavad Gita” is not without its problems, however, among them its epic warrior sub-text, its wild inconsistencies regarding non-attachment, and its top-down rationale for ordering human affairs.

One of the most vexing problems is how to take Krishna. Is he a spokesman for yoga’s most abiding and sublime motifs, such as vairagya and ahimsa? Vairagya, or non-attachment, and ahimsa, or non-violence, are two of the basic precepts alive and well in nearly all forms of yogic thought.

Or is he a monster who advocates war for his own unspeakable reasons, justifying fratricidal conflict with specious arguments about the meaninglessness of physical existence?

Is he the avatar of liberty, or is he Uncle Caesar, Uncle Napoleon, Uncle Sam on the recruiting poster?

The problem comes to a boil in Book 11.

As Book 10 ends Krishna declares that he is so vast and great that just a single fragment of him is enough to “support the entire universe.“ Despite this grand declaration, Arjuna responds that although he doesn’t doubt Krishna’s greatness and godliness, he would still like to see first-hand what it amounts to.

“I want to see for myself the splendor of your ultimate form.”

Krishna grants Arjuna divine sight for a few minutes so that he can transcend his mortal vision and see Krishna for what he really is. What follows in Book 11 are six omniscient narrative stanzas and seventeen stanzas spoken first-hand by Arjuna describing what he is seeing.

His eyewitness account makes up the salient stanzas, beginning with “I see all gods in your body.”

Krishna is described as being everything and everywhere, without beginning or end. At the same time, he is described as sitting on a lotus throne, wearing a crown, and bearing a mace and a discus.

The discus is a symbol of the knowledge of truth and the mace is a symbol of the power of knowledge. Krishna is everything, but at the same time is the King, or Lord. He knows what the truth is, being everywhere and everything, and as the King or Lord, wields the power of that knowledge.

Arjuna goes on to describe the angels and demons that gaze on Krishna in amazement, the chants the sages sing to him, and how the “innards” of mortals tremble at the sight of him. The image of guts going gutless is unsettling. Since Krishna is said to have “billion-fanged mouths blazing like the fires of doomsday” no one should be surprised at the bellyful of distress mortal men might feel at the sight of him.

The next lines are the crux of the problem.

They describe the opposing armies on the battlefield of Kuru, who are those of the Pandavas, led by the virtuous Arjuna, and those of the Kauravas, led by the one hundred sons of a blind king. They are both being swallowed up indiscriminately by the voracious Krishna, who Arjuna is seeing stripped down to his real greatness.

“Rushing headlong into your hideous, gaping, knife-fanged jaws. I see them with skulls crushed, their raw flesh stuck to your teeth,” Arjuna says.

“As the rivers in many torrents rush toward the ocean, all these warriors are pouring down into your blazing mouths. As moths rush into a flame and are burned in an instant, all beings plunge down your gullet and instantly are consumed.”

It is a godless Gita as Krishna goes about his grisly business.

The Hebrew god of the Old Testament is often described as angry and cruel. He has nothing on the Hindu god Krishna. Not once in the almost seven thousand sightings of the Christian divinity in the Old Testament is Yahweh ever described as having “gaping, knife-fanged jaws.”

If the “Bhagavad Gita” is a recruiting poster for Krishna’s promotion of the war, which is his often-stated and explicit intention throughout the poem, the slogan “I Want You” takes on a sinister double meaning.

Regardless of what side they stand on, all the warriors on the battlefield of Kuru are grist for the mill. All of Krishna’s reasoning, arguments, and commands are to one purpose, which is to get the detritus of war to pour down the craw of his rapacious mouth.

In the movie “King Kong”the big monkey tried to use Fay Wray as a toothpick. In Greek mythology Kronos, the Titan god of time, devoured his children for fear that they would one day overthrow him. In the “Bhagavad Gita” everything is grist for the mill.

Neither self-survival nor the niceties of gastronomy seem to motivate Krishna. He is the great maw that must be fed and sated, although from all accounts in the “Bhagavad Gita” it is doubtful that Krishna can ever be sated, given his enormous appetite and preoccupation with the eternal.

Krishna does not explain himself other than to say he is death, annihilating all things, the “shatterer of worlds.” He bluntly declares that both armies will perish with or without Arjuna, and echoing Homer again, specifically the “Illiad,” urges Arjuna to fight and win everlasting glory.

It is a harrowing picture.

Krishna then blandly advises Arjuna to not be frightened anymore and to see him as he was before. When he does, Arjuna is put at ease. It is an extraordinary turnaround after seeing the “shatterer of worlds” gobble up thousands of men like so many French fries.

Krishna explains the merits of living in the now for most of the Bhagavad Gita. At the end of Book 11 he has apparently succeeded. Arjuna says his “mind has regained its composure” and it is on to the next thing. There will be blood, and that’s that. He has moved forward from one now to the next now without any thought of consequences or repercussions. Every now is now the same as every other now.

In Book 1 Arjuna catalogued his many and valid reasons for not going to war, not including ahimsa, which is never mentioned. Be that as it may, Krishna has won the day. Arjuna says at the end of the poem, “I have no more doubts. I will act according to your command.”

Like a lamb going to slaughter he consents to Krishna driving his chariot back into the god-ordained fray. It is unclear how this decision to go to war on the battlefield of Kuru dovetails with uniting to the divine, the supposed purpose of Krishna’s yoga lessons.

The godless Gita gets it wrong when it goes recruiting poster, when Krishna goes the phantom of liberty.

George Orwell got it right in “1984” when he savaged the high and mighty self-righteous ruling class with the bitter epithet “Freedom is slavery, war is peace.”

The “Bhagavad Gita” ends with the poet Sanjaya, who is reciting the poem, saying that he has seen “splendor and virtue and spiritual wealth.” This may be an apt assessment, especially in Books 2 through 8, but it cannot be right when seen in the light of Book 11, in which Krishna reveals his true nature, which is self-serving and spiritually bankrupt, if not downright deadly.

Practicing non-attachment in order to apprehend the divine, as Krishna advises at the beginning of Book 7, may be the way to go when living the yogic life, but when Krishna adds the refrain that it requires “surrendering yourself to me,” it may be time to speed-dial the nearest dentist for custom-made cosmic orthodontic retainers to hold back the “knife-fanged jaws” of the ferocious god.

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