Recently I wonder,
Why don’t more of us just spend our days crying?
I’m just so tired of being outraged,
But the things people do to each other.
It’s enough to really make you question: What’s it all for?
I’m also tired, of being tired.
But what right do I have to complain?
The very essence of life is survive,
And there are some strong people out there,
Who have been at the receiving end
Of senseless and unimaginable cruelty,
And there is a toughness there that often goes unnoticed
The toughness to choose to stand on this Earth another day
To try and move through each moment
While painful memories gnaw at them
Trying to drag them back down into a hole of despair.
And people have the gall to criticize safe spaces,
You can’t really know what another person’s been through,
Yeah you may be tougher, but so what,
Life isn’t all about toughness,
Toughness is just the cost of life,
It ain’t none of the flavor.
And everybody…I mean everybody has their safe spaces
Just for some people their safe space is in their head,
Manifesting into a black and white world,
Full of a few simple rules that will keep them alive,
Those rules are the fiction they cling to,
Just to feel safe while they rail angrily at everybody,
Word to the wise,
None of us are safe.
The only real rules are in physics,
And it’s like a chess board.
The set up looks ordered and tidy,
But the universe isn’t the set up, it’s the game.
We don’t know how the game will play out,
And it might amaze you to know,
There are more possible moves in a game of chess,
Than electrons in the universe, And somehow the universe has chess in it.
One thing makes me feel better and also worries me,
Is that from the perspective of the universe we are all idiots
The universe is behaving exactly as it should
We are too,
There are so many mysteries about us to discover
And the universe has us in it
So many people think they understand
The nature of the universe
The nature of us
What happened to humility?
You may think now that this should all come back to a single unifying point,
So that the strands of what I said could clump together,
Maybe a hammer that swings down and crushes life.
But that’s not this universe.
The last time we were one thing,
The last time we were all the same,
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 billion years
We were hurled off into space and change began
Branching into smaller and smaller strands,
Moment by moment,
And we’re all unique and we’re all beautiful
We’re all kinds of freaks of nature,
And that’s how we’re all equal
And maybe accepting and loving that thought,
Is all we can really hope for.
And then I ask myself,
Is all this self-indulgent pondering of the grandeur of the universe,
Just a way to make myself feel better?
Maybe it keeps me strong to take on the world,
Maybe it’s my safe space
But if we all have a safe space
The best we can do is try to move that space
Into something, bigger and more elastic
With lots of blurred edges
Because learning never stops
And change, is our only certainty
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!”
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.
Over my recent vacation to Canada to introduce our new baby to family we had one of those frightening moments. He was sitting next to me on the sofa as I was watching him play with a toy. Thus far he had been a pretty stationary baby. He was starting to move more and I was paying more attention to him so he didn’t fall. My aunt asked me a question and I turned my head and just like that I hear people yell out and I turned my head back to see him dive onto the floor, landing head first, his head bending backwards. I picked up quickly and held him close, his cry was different. My wife then grabbed him from me, not because she was mad at me (I think) but just her own motherly need to hold him. I was on the verge of tears. My head was swimming with thoughts that I had broken his spine and he’d be paralyzed or that I had caused some other brain damage…perhaps even fatal. Thankfully he was fine, although if he gets a B in math class I’m sure I’ll feel responsible.
In reflection I thought about how quickly such horrible tragedies can happen. What if the fall had been a bit harder? Hit a different part of the head? At times, life seems to be a matter of fractions of seconds and millimeters (inches for my American friends). It made me think about some recent stories I read about parents who have lost their children. Earlier this year a bookcase killed a 3 year old girl as she tried to climb it and it tipped over killing her. These kinds of things happen often enough now that we should be more aware, but there are literally a lot of possible dangers out there and I am not sure it’s possible to prepare for every one of them. Very recently, footage at a London train station showed a baby carriage blowing onto the tracks as the parents stopped to help someone with their bags. Fortunately the mother was able to get the carriage off the tracks in time, but the stroller literally gets turned by the gust of wind caused by the approaching train and quickly ends up on the tracks. There is nothing remarkably different about these two events other than some fortune in spotting the trouble before it was too late. I am sure there are many more parents who have been fortunate that a similar accident has not killed the child only injured them. Or perhaps they caught the impending accident in time by catching something before it fell or moving the child out of harm’s way. Perhaps when the child was a little younger and lighter, or the bookcase a little heavier they saw it teeter a bit and said “Hey, I should secure that.” The positive outcome is most often the outcome. Children can take more bumps and bruises than we think, and tears are often temporary. No child dies from crying no matter how much we don’t want to see those tears. But we simply can’t predict or foresee all possible dangers.
These two incidents and the one I experienced are good examples of how habit influences our lives. We often get used to routine and what we consider as usual that we don’t take into account the unexpected. After 7 months of my son not trying to roll off the couch you come to sort of expect that it won’t happen, even if that seems stupid in hindsight. I am sure the parents who lost their daughter to the falling shelves, never thought she would try to climb it, or never had seen her try before. I’m sure all of us who are regular train travelers are well aware of the gust of wind that rushes ahead of a train, especially in an enclosed station. How many of us might think about how that wind might push a stroller?
The routine can even lead to more unfathomable mistakes. Such as not realizing your child is in the car seat behind you and leaving them in a hot car for hours. If you are a parent or just a compassionate person it takes just a second to imagine what the infant must have gone through. There is no way your mind can take you through that slow death. You will hit a wall before it gets really terrible and all you know is that unspeakable darkness comes after.
These incidents unfortunately also end up serving as a reminder of the lack of compassion that is so visible in society today. The comments that people make to these parents are truly horrifying. Scores of “perfect parents” who think they’ve done everything right and would never make the mistakes these parents did. These perfect parents are calling for the gallows instead of realizing that the person you are criticizing is in a massive amount of pain. If it could be displayed as a physical wound it would be a chest wound to the heart with the patient ending up in the intensive care unit in critical condition. And how “perfect” are these parents anyway? Have these parents never had their kid fall? Driven over the speed limit with their kid? Driven in a busy city with their kid? Have they never lost their kid in a crowd? Have their kid’s sweaty hand slip from their grip in a dangerous situation? Did they never have to watch their kid after having a couple of drinks, perhaps affecting their judgment or reaction time? There are more possibly dangerous scenarios than I can list, and the fact that nothing ever happened to them during that time is the only reason they are not one of these tragic stories.
Now don’t get me wrong. There are terrible parents out there. There are parents who do unspeakably horrible things to their children, or who are just irresponsible and are neglectful to their children causing them great harm, mentally, physically, and sometimes fatally. It is actually the harm to children that led me away from the idea of their being a loving deity out there, but perhaps that is a post for another time. The point is that the death of a child is always a horrible thing regardless of how it happens and so it is understandable that we would get angry. That feeling, however, does not give us the right to lash out at other people in pain. We all make mistakes, and many of them go unnoticed because nothing bad ever comes close to happening while we are making them. You want to get angry, direct that energy into something useful; education, better safety standards, helping others.
These perfect parents, even if it were possible often sound like the kind of parent who hovers over their kid, never letting them play just because they might get a bruised knee and keeping them so far from danger that they are more likely to get brought down by the simplest things in their adult life because they’ve never had to cope on their own. And here’s the rub – as parents we must walk that thin line between protecting our children and giving our children the freedom to overcome their own obstacles in life. Children need to face fear, and they need to solve their own problems and make mistakes while doing it. Children also need their parents to be good people, and not just good guardians. The London couple helping out somebody with their baggage is a great act of kindness that kids need to see. If you think that you are a positive individual who is a good role model for your children then part of you must continue to be the person you’ve always been. Kids may take over your life, but you are not your kids. You have your own identity and, again, if you value yourself then part of being a good parent is just being what you think is a good human being (good luck in getting an agreement on that anytime soon).
Finally, I want to quickly express my concern for the trend in wanting to criminalize every parent for these mistakes. All the details of the case rarely get reported and unless you are intimately involved in the case you really don’t know the truth. Furthermore, even though many parents do not face criminal charges thankfully for these horrific mistakes, some do simply because they don’t have what society considers having a “good character”. Maybe you occasionally do some marijuana, maybe you flirt a little with other girls or had an affair. Maybe you just aren’t a rich white person.
All I can tell you is that had my son truly been severely injured or killed in his fall, I can guarantee you that no prison would have walls stronger than the one I would have built for myself. Nothing you could say would be harsher than what I would be telling myself. I will guarantee you that you do not love your child any more than I do and though your negative judgment would be despicable, I would still never wish on you such pain in my anguish. So if you can’t direct your anger and sadness to the loss of a sweet child into something helpful at the very least remember the golden rule, which I hope you are teaching your children, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all.”