In a time before social media, if, in your life, you did something you weren’t proud of. Say perhaps over several years. Maybe you were a bully in school, maybe you made some bad mistakes in how you treated women or men and you came to realize at some point how wrong your behavior was. You might simply just move forward, never making those same mistakes again, perhaps even making sure you advocated to others the harms of certain behaviors because you once practiced them yourself.
What do we think about such a person? Is it enough to say lesson learned, they are now a force for good in the world and sharing their wisdom with others in hopes that patterns aren’t repeated?
We live now in a time where getting away from your past is not as easy as it once was. What if you had changed, became even enlightened, but somebody from your past decides that you are a charlatan because of a behavior you once espoused. What if you were an outspoken feminist, but suddenly someone mentioned that back in school you weren’t the feminist you are now, and that you are a fraud. You may have moved on, but the harm that you caused someone has left them hurt for years, and a number of other people are hurting to, because of who your past self was?
It feels like this call out culture we have on social media can be a vicious force. Socially isolating people from communities they are making positive impacts in, and in some cases losing credibility for their entire life as a result of it. And yet I also can’t help but feel some sympathy for victims of someone’s behavior. Seeing that they are becoming loved and admired for views they now espouse, but never having made amends to the people they hurt in their past. Thirty years ago this was hardly an issue, but now it is so easy to find people from your past and hold them accountable no matter how much they may have changed? Should the fact they have changed be enough to sate us, or should we bring them down as hard and fast as possible?
Maybe as we become enlightened as to the error of our ways, we should always be trying to make amends before we embark on a new crusade to enlighten others. Maybe that’s the better path if we want to make a more meaningful crusade for a better world? Maybe just trying to bury the past in the past is just being cowardly without facing up to it first and making amends with those we’ve hurt. Perhaps people shouldn’t be just allowed to move on without any consequences. Or this just us interested in hurting back instead of moving forward? Is it realistic to expect true apologies from those who have hurt us, or do we just have to find a way to move forward to and let be, what is?
Yoga. It sounds like a friendly word. Sounds a little like yogurt. Smooth and creamy. Maybe a little like a low mobility shriveled old alien spouting words of wisdom in Star Wars. Or Maybe it reminds you a little of Yogi Bear: that lovable cartoon animal that really just wanted picnic baskets. He didn’t want to ravage people, he was just hungry for a sandwich. So what harm could come from doing yoga? Plenty. It’s a horrible practice that should have been outlawed by the Geneva Convention. The non-threatening name only exacerbates the horror and trauma it causes. I shall now attempt to explain how this system of abuse works.
It begins by a suggestion from your wife that yoga will be beneficial to you and that it’s something you can do together. While I don’t blame my wife for the suffering endured, she is responsible for tending to my injuries afterwards. Anyway, what husband wouldn’t agree with that suggestion – so off to yoga I go. Keep in mind this suggestion has been made for a couple years before I finally relented. This is a great way to spend a Saturday morning if you aren’t a fan of sleeping or taking it easy on the weekend. I am not sure what every yoga studio looks like but the ones I have seen can be best described as follows. A big open space and as you walk in you feel comforted by its openness. It’s similar to one of those big empty warehouses the mob might ask you a few questions in with just a chair sitting at the center. Except there are no chairs. Off to the side the room is stocked with many implements of your future torture. Unlike in typical torture situations where the torturer has to at least expend some effort to get the equipment, you have to get it yourself. There is the razor thin mat, which gives you little protection from the floor, but prevents your feet and hands from sliding on the floor into a comfortable position which might save you from the pain you will have to experience. There are straps which you use to bind yourself with, there are blocks and pillows that you use to prop yourself up with (more will be explained later about how these will be used to weaken you psychologically).
The class is largely full of women. If you are a single man interested in women, you might think this is the place for you, but you’d be mistaken. The only way you can impress a woman here is through your ability to take pain. Some women might be impressed by that, but probably only the kind that want a man they can inflict pain on. Others might feel sorry for you and take pity. I submit that nothing helpful in that room, that can be used for the basis of building a meaningful romantic relationship. My suggestion is that you hone other skills and impress women elsewhere. And as I’ll soon explain, it’s unclear how many people here aren’t part of the grift that is yoga.
Your instructor is the true deceiver here and you will look at her and really think everything will be alright. She is friendly and welcoming. She doesn’t look overly imposing although a careful glance will see strong muscles safely tucked into her yoga pants. Of course, she need not be too formidable in appearance as the method of torture comes from what she tells you to do to yourself, not what she does to you directly. This is the brilliance of it all.
As the session begins the trap is sprung. Why? Because this is the beginning of the psychological manipulation to follow. You start by sitting and breathing. Her voice is calming as she tries to relax you so you become more pliable later. Often there is some music in the background played at the exact right volume to make you more compliant and ensure complete submission to her orders. So there I am sitting and breathing. Pretty easy stuff. I’m getting relaxed. I look around the room…I feel a sense of unity as we are all sitting and breathing and I am on par with the rest of the class at this activity so I’m feeling good about myself. But this peaceful feeling doesn’t last. It’s not long before you have to start doing poses. This by the way is also the beginning of many Hindi words that I’m pretty sure mean rather insidious things, but sound spiritual.
I got to do a cow. That was easy. I pretended like I had a really heavy udder. Then there was the cat. That was also not bad, except cats are ready to pounce and flee at a moment’s notice. This was only making me more stationary. Then there was the cobra. All I know is that if a mongoose found me it would be over quick. Then I am doing something called “a child”, which is not like my child at all who is energetic and obstinate. In this position you are more like a worshipper praising the teacher for the pleasure of being tortured. Then I’m told to take the strap and put it around my foot to hold my leg straight up in the air. I quickly notice how my leg doesn’t go straight up in the air. It is roughly at a 20 degree angle above the floor in order to remain straight. Everybody else in the room is like a fucking submarine and I begin to feel shame. I begin to wonder, is yoga really just part of the feminist agenda so we know what it feels like to constantly feel shame over our own bodies in a patriarchal system? As a feminist I quickly agree that yoga is for the betterment of society and continue. My hamstring already feels angry as the teacher calmly has me moving my leg to the left and right. Her language becomes a maze of confusion. “Turn to the right, but open your shoulders. Pin your hips to the floor as if you are breathing through your thigh.” I quickly notice that my thigh is completely without the requisite respiratory system and begin to worry. That worry is quickly forgotten as I am told to lose the strap and do a cobra again. Now it’s downward facing dog. You will, in this moment, realize that no dog would ever pose like this. My arms quiver under the weight of my body. “No”, she says, “the weight is supposed to mostly on your legs.” I quickly try to work out how this is humanly possible because hard as I try I can only make my hamstrings scream. I collapse on to my knees and look around as everyone looks like statues and my complete incompetence becomes glaring. I’m sweating as I glance up at the clock. Only 15 minutes have passed. Also why does my sweat smell worse in this environment?
As I alluded to earlier the extreme shame you experience is what makes you go along with the instructor. Every move you try to follow her on reminds you that you aren’t worthy. All the while she will say things like, “Lift your arm up straight so that it brushes your ear. Now drop your shoulder.” What? How do I drop my shoulder while lifting up my arm? And on and on it goes, “Open your shoulders, stretch your spine, drop your tailbone, turn your pinkies inward to work your triceps, reach out with your ring finger to feel it in your armpit, bend down to the left while lowering your right hip.” Basically the rule of thumb is that whatever direction they want you to move, you are supposed to, somehow, at the same time also move in the other direction. And I begin to realize that yoga is simply the art of tearing your own body apart as slowly and painfully as possible.
I am on the ground, left leg over right and told “turn to the left, but not to move my neck, and to keep my buttocks on the ground, and to reach behind me, turn my hand, open my shoulders, but now look back in the other direction, without using my neck, only my shoulders, also open up the sides of your body, push your ribs against your tailbone.” Somehow no time has passed since my last excruciating look at the clock. As I look around, illegally, using my neck, I am reminded once again that I am surrounded by flexible supple women who look like dancers and begin to realize that they are all part of the plan to torture you. The teacher beforehand selected them to make you look as pathetic as possible. And as you look over at the teacher, you can’t even feel aggression, which would be the normal way to get out of this situation, but shame weakens you. You are ready to tell her where the bomb is located, what the encryption code is, turn over your family to the authorities, but your tormentor doesn’t want any information and only wants you to experience pain. A 5’1″ sadist who somehow manages to say “namaste” with a smile on her face from the well of darkness that must be her soul. You want to run out of the room, but this would only add to the humiliation. Peppered throughout her tormenting instruction is “Don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.” Even though, minus the sitting and breathing, everything she’s asked you to do since makes you uncomfortable. If my comfort was her concern she would ask me to leave.
The final mockery comes with the warrior poses. As a man my instinct is to think that this is finally something I can sink my teeth in, but again she exposes the patriarchy for what it is. I look around and I see women who could very well be Amazonian soldiers ready to strike me with a deadly blow. I on the other hand feel like a Chihuahua who has less than confidently stood in front of Doberman Pincher, only to realize that not only do I have a sprained ankle, but I’ve also got spinach between my teeth when I try to growl. I listen to Yanni playing now. I hate Yanni. That bastard plays a note for 30 seconds while sipping a coffee, making millions and leads a pleasurable life, while his new age feeble “compositions” are now a soundtrack for my pain.
The best part of it all is that this was called “gentle yoga”. Imagine lying on the ground while a crane slowly in small increments lowers a 1 ton weight on to you. At first you are like it’s just touching me, now it’s a bit of a massage, and then “Oh my bones are being crushed and I will soon be flat as a pancake”. This is really the only way I can make sense of the use of the word “gentle”. Gentle and continuous pressure will still ruin your day.
After a length of time which can only be measured on the geologic time scale, the barefoot punisher allows you to relax and asks for you to reflect on what you did today. Afraid to relive the trauma I decide to think of the bagels I have at home and which flavor cream cheese I want. I do some more very competent breathing. She wishes us all happiness, and that we cause no harm, remorseless for the harm she caused me. I get up and put my torture implements away obediently, wipe down my mat, smelling the residue of my fear. As I leave, hips wobbling, the teacher smiles at me and I say “See you next week!”
From cool blue ice She melted into the serene rill below and swirled Her way down the slope. A cup dipped into the water and She felt Herself poured over a sun-beaten face, thick with sweat. Thoughts lost in introspection, the man let the water drip back into the stream. Continuing on Her journey She felt the leaves fall on Her and carried them down, down. Some slipped away from Her fluid grasp, and others joined Her. She came now to a bridge and looking up She saw the face of a woman who saw peace in the waters below. A single tear landed without a sound to join the gently flowing waters. Though no one could tell, She wept as well as She passed under the bridge downstream. Tall soft pine waving farewells in the breeze.
It was night when She first entered the sleeping city. Dark houses are filled with slow breaths and strange dreams while the occasional streetlight reveals nothing but strays contemplating their next meal. Further on a key slides in noiselessly and turns as a wayward teen sneaks back into their warm home, hoping not to be heard. While the ever vigilant and worried parent is blanketed with calm knowing their child is safe. As city center is reached, the dawn approaches and She turns into vapor as She wafts into the street, drifting and curling around corners. It is Sunday morning and only a few vehicles pass on towards churches whose bells call to worship. She sighs as hidden sins enter wooden doors and quietly sits in polished pews. A few people shuffle down deserted alleys, failing to recall clearly the boisterous activities of the night before. An old man with newspaper in hand opens a door and She follows warm smells of roasted beans for steaming brews and feels at home for a moment. She passes by a woman in her 40’s dressed in Sunday best, who slowly stirs her coffee feeling ignored and unknown while her husband stare into his phone to learn the minutia of teams and players in upcoming matches. She circles in behind the counter as a barista makes conversation with a young man, who is gripped in fear for how vulnerable and in love he is with her. He contemplates what to say, but never gets it right. And before the ventilation takes Her out into the streets again She passes by a manager thinking about his wife and young son at home who he had to leave on a Sunday morning to come in to work in a country that doesn’t rest as much as it should.
In the day’s heat She ascends above the growing bustle and looks down upon missed connections, lost opportunities, and people who have forgotten how to listen, to breathe in the air and be thankful. It cries to Her, or is it a song of continuous discord? She cannot tell. It deafens Her as She continues to rise and feels Herself condense back into cohesion. As the noise subsides She looks down again and sees fields of green and dives down like a giant tear to the spongy earth below. She is drawn to the roots of a tree and took asylum in the xylem as She flowed up trunk and out branch and waited. Each day She is fed to the growing fruit, incorporating Herself into the flesh.
The sky turns above and She hears Her benefactor hum a song of patience as Her branch becomes heavier with fruit. And each day a young girl comes to sit under the tree, hoping for better days. Hiding from the screaming of parents and breathing in the clean air to replace that dank smell of her father’s alcohol. And each day She hears the hope, the hiding, and the relief of the young girl sit under the tree. She hears Her kind slide down cheeks and get wiped away on pretty dress sleeves. She hears the slow decay of an untended farmhouse, and the façade of a mother pretending everything is alright. And then one day, with leaves fading from green to orange, the girl sits with head between knees, shutting out the world. The wishing to be whisked away is like a piercing scream into the sky. Ripeness hears Her call and She has no choice but to fall to the ground. Vibrant in Her redness, full of sugar and quenching juices. A thud that could be heard by no other, save someone sitting under the swooping branches, and the young girl’s head turns. A soft rumble reminds the girl she is hungry. And there was a meeting to never forget as she, but for a moment, loses all remembrance. Each bite slow and savored and She can hear the sound of laughter as She is consumed by the young girl. From the lattice of fruity flesh to the dendritic flow of blood. Through lung, to ventricle and atrium, the girl and She merge together as one.
Eyelids widen in the dead of night and She slips out through door in defiant trance. With divine strength she climbs stealthily into hills and then on to rocky slopes rising like a fog in a valley breeze. She is sustained by Her purpose alone and through 3 days and nights she climbs and climbs until white frozen ground is beneath Her bare feet. Soft snow shuffles and She listens between gusts of wind for the calling of Her home. As She gazes out at the wide world, the first of the sun’s rays dance of Her face, sweet peace is like a hymn from a jubilant choir in Her ears. She sits down on Her throne of ice and closes Her eyes in glacial contentment.
So is this the beginning of our descent into madness,
When we forget about goodness, pay more attention to badness?
Is society beyond repair, no fix, eternally broken,
As words of rage and hate are the only ones spoken?
The technology that was supposed to connect us,
Serve only as tool for leaders and corporations to dissect us,
The politicians we elect that someone else selects,
Sit in their suits and mansions immune to the effects
When it comes to true courage most haven’t the nerve,
Why don’t politicians also protect and serve,
In the hands of a few is unprecedented power,
But their indifference to us grows hour by hour,
I don’t want a world where my only hope,
Comes from focusing the lens on my telescope.
And yet it seems so obvious the answer is kindness,
Why can’t we all find a way to get behind this?
I know such a statement is just idealistic,
To reduce the problem like this is unrealistic,
I know there are hurts that people hold onto,
But I also know that hurting back is wrong too,
At some crucial point we’re going to have to say,
We need to come together, the other side isn’t going away,
And the notion of an “other side” seems irrational,
We’re all the same species local or international,
Raise people up in accordance to your means,
It’s not a matter of which way your politics leans,
Life is not defined by our categories and labels,
Simply move beyond the self whenever you’re able.
And maybe just maybe, unplug yourself,
Put your phone or remote upon the shelf,
Give a hug, hold a hand, make someone smile,
And see what in this world is really worthwhile.
I have always been interested in how the emotions we feel translate into behaviors actions. One of the things I have always wondered about is why feelings of hurt make us want to hurt others. Now I don’t want to over-generalize, but I think all of us, at some point in our lives, have felt hurt to the point that if we didn’t lash out at another person, we have really thought long and hard about it. I am not talking as much about physical pain here, although there certainly is an instinct to obviously fight back at times physically. I am talking more about feelings of hurt at the emotional level. Sometimes we have inflicted pain upon those closest to us and people we love. Such things never lessen the pain, and tend to only make it worse since we are, in general, compassionate beings who know that we’ve inflicted pain upon others. This usually just adds guilt in with the emotional pain we are already experiencing. The question becomes why do we think it, and why do we do it? As usual I don’t really have any answers, but will just explore some possibilities.
The first thing that comes to mind is that it is sort of a primitive survival mechanism. If you’ve ever felt really hurt by someone’s actions towards you, you know that it takes a toll on you physically. Our emotions are a product of the release of various hormones and other chemicals in our body, and so a certain emotional state can have a strong effect on our physical systems. Thus we can actually feel like we are in a fight for our life and the only way to win is by defeating the threat that has impacted us so strongly at the emotional level. This can also be done on a larger scale. Governments can (and have) play up threats to one’s existence and way of life, and dehumanize the enemy to rile up many people into an emotional state where they want to lash out at the threat. It seems clear that feeling threatened on an emotional level, by making it feel personal, making you feel fear, can incite one to fight back. The simplest answer is very often the right one, so perhaps feeling hurt simply makes us feel threatened so fighting back feels necessary to our survival.
Of course what it doesn’t explain is why we might inflict pain on those that we care about. When unknown
enemy or someone you don’t really care for who has hurt you or who you believe is hurting you, it almost makes sense to want to hurt them back. But if you’ve ever lashed out at your spouse or partner in anger, at your child (either physically or verbally), it almost seems counter-intuitive that this would ever be a solution to alleviating your own feelings of hurt. Sometimes those that we lash out at, aren’t even the ones that have hurt us, and so it seems even more strange that we should have such behavior. On a more personal level, it seems to me that in my life when I experience a lot of hurt I often feel like I’m in the dark. Perhaps that is not necessarily the best analogy, but what I’m getting at is that the solution for making oneself feel better is not clear. So perhaps that’s why I equate it to being in the dark, because when you are in the dark it is difficult to find a way out. Depending on the depth of the pain we may start to panic and fear sets in, so we get desperate. We want the pain to end, and get out of that darkness so bad that we claw, and scramble, and we try to move quickly. But like any fast movement in the dark we don’t know what we are grabbing at, we don’t know what we are reaching for and we hit all sorts of things along the way, hurting others and ourselves. Flailing in the dark is never going to be best solution over keeping calm and thinking our way out of that dark palce.
Delving deeper I wonder if there isn’t something uniquely human about this quality that goes beyond some
sort of animalistic behavior and is perhaps darker, even if it isn’t necessarily malicious. When I’ve felt really hurt by someone, it’s easy feel like you don’t matter to them. Just like I said it is counter-intuitive to hurt people we care about, so when you feel hurt by someone who cares about you, it’s easy to arrive at the conclusion that they don’t care about you anymore; that they are indifferent. I think apathy is one of the toughest emotions to have to deal with. When you feel like nobody is paying attention to you, it’s easy to get depressed, and more often than not we react in a way that tries to get us noticed. Usually in not the most healthy way either. The feelings of hurt may have us thinking that the world is so indifferent to us that our existence does not matter. Many suicide attempts are simply cries for help from people that do not feel “noticed”. In some way I think we’d rather somebody hated us than were indifferent to us. And so it seems sometimes lashing out at someone may simply be a mechanism for being noticed. If someone is angry at you, it means you matter. It means that they can at least feel some emotion for you even if it is a negative one. To reach that point though it is truly sad, because what we usually want is love and compassion, and when we become so desperate that the opposite becomes the next best thing, perhaps then we truly are in the dark.
The real problem is that I don’t know a good way out of this behavior. There are all sorts of clichés and memes, and self-help books that tell us that harming others is never a bona fide way of alleviating our feelings of hurt, but nevertheless we seem to drift towards hurting others who hurt us. Most of the time we just hurt people in a moment and then we quickly realize what we’ve done and apologize. Sometimes we feel justified in hurting others for the short-term satisfaction it brings, even though it doesn’t end our suffering over the long-term. When I look at war torn countries, where so many people have lost loved ones, and you wonder how can they alleviate the hurt that they feel without continuing a cycle of violence and feelings of hatred? I wonder if this just isn’t a darker part of who we are, and the only thing we can really do for ourselves is to be aware of it, and hope that in the moment we can focus on what will eventually lead to true happiness in the long-term instead of just hurting others, especially those we care about, even if they’ve inflicted pain on us. Maybe they are just as in the dark as we are.