Deliberately Finding Joy Through Yoga
Originally published on LiveJournal, 6.17.07
I think many people are more interesting as children. I was. The world was my oyster: Did I want to be a painter, or an engineer? An inventor, or a musician? All of them would be mine, I thought simply. The future was always open. My parents, who I now realize were merely lower middle-class, protected me enough to make me think that I could get all that I want. All that they wanted for me.
The future is right now, and I’m not someone’s hopes. Ever since I left Israel, eight years ago, and came to America, I’ve been changing. In some ways I’ve broadened, using my English-speaking persona as an excuse to be new and to experiment. In college in rural Massachusetts I was surrounded by people younger than me, much more sheltered than I ever was, all experimenting on their own terms. It was an especially leisurely environment to consider the future. Being a 24-year-old freshman was a rare blessing. Y’all should be jealous of me for it.
But I’ve also shrunk in these eight years. I’ve devoted myself entirely to anthropology at the expense of most everything else. It’s necessary to be “dedicated” if you want to go far, and I do. But I also don’t want to be dedicated. I want so much else. It wasn’t entirely calculated, though: reinventing oneself in a new language is a challenge in itself, perhaps a bigger challenge than I expected. Success in such things is always at a cost, of certain boundaries that one has to place around oneself. Boundaries transpose, in everyday life, to anxieties. And anxieties are the flag waved by caged creatures. I’ve lived from deadline to deadline: final papers, program applications, theses, grants. All correlating with living from dead end to dead end: rules of conduct, “personality,” relationships with others, ever foreign. The correlations were too strong, I think, such that they fed on each other. Though free, I was paralyzed by the possibilities.
Eight years. It’s time for another change.
I want to be that child again, who wanted to be everything. I’m no longer sheltered by parents, and I know that there are limitations, but I also know what I need to do to break them down. So, I’m taking a break of sorts from academia, at a realistically good time, in which I’ve finished most of my tasks and can wander off on my own. I’ve always been the boy wandering off on his own. I’m getting a job as a software architect: I love tinkering with Turing machines, building structures that behave over time, like organisms in a limited sense. I’m writing songs: I love the sound. I’m drawing: I love the sigh. Working with software will give me the money I need to do much else. There will be no serious deadlines. There will be more meandering, more contemplation, more vibration. And, in time, a dissertation will write itself out, and it will be one of my masterpieces.
And my body correlates. Or, more precisely, my hamstrings correlate. Before I came to America, I practiced Taekwondo. Here, I dedicated myself to running. Though I gained much endurance, I lost flexibility. My body clenched itself, as surely as did my mind. Now, I’m practicing yoga, and regaining the length and breadth. I’m relearning how to breathe. My hamstrings go places, and my life follows. Literary types would call it a metaphor, and think that it’s pretty deep. To the Freudian me, it’s just the over-determination of the symptom.
I’m not sure if any of this would interest any of you. I can try to generalize, though, and say something about how “freedom,” especially as the American Dream defines it, is hypocritical, undignified, degrading and ultimately evil. The worship of the Self, in terms of “if you only believe, you can,” is a slap in the face of all those who don’t have what it takes to make money. What a fucking lie we live in our neurotic middle-class lives! If you believe in what you believed when you were a child, you most probably would end up homeless, insane, and alone. That true faith must be crushed in order to “ascend” to the cesspool of two-faced “responsible” adulthood. “Responsible” in the sense of honoring deals, being true to your word, being “dedicated” and “diligent,” being one with the team: in short, doing good business. If you don’t care about business, you’re pretty much fucked. And if you believe you would become a businessman as a child, I’d say your childhood was pretty much fucked. The Dream is a Nightmare for the human soul.
In “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” Max Weber describes a strong correlation between Protestant, and especially Calvinist-Puritan, Christianity and capitalism. The embodiment of the “spirit of capitalism” turns out to be none other than old Ben Franklin, who advises us to be frugal and hardworking. Franklin is most eloquent: to follow one’s Lutheran “calling” is to honor God; every cent we make is proof that God is happy, assuming that we chose the right calling. In other words, for a Protestant, honorable business is the path to heaven. The calling is a personal issue, between a man and his God, and every man has the freedom to choose between listening to God and ignoring Him. The saint, idealizing this moral decision, was said to wear his calling like a “light cloak,” in that his essential choice between order and chaos was based entirely on faith, with no external pressures. Now, capitalism shares in much of this ethic, except that it does away with all its rationality. First, in that we don’t think that money is the way to heaven. And so, we follow an arbitrary calling for arbitrary reasons. Waitress? Why not. Professor of history? Sure thing. Drug dealer? It’s what life dealt me. Hardly what Ben Franklin celebrated. Second, in that our choice of calling is nowhere as light as the cloak of the saint. It is not based on faith, but on the cold hand of poverty lurking at our elbow. Poverty, degradation, sickness and loneliness. When Weber famously calls capitalism an “iron cage,” he means it in contrast to that saint’s cloak. We don’t choose our calling according to faith, irrelevant to capitalism, but according to this sorry excuse for “reality,” a reality that we create in order to replicate this experience for everyone. Is this irrational reality “freedom”? Or are we being fucked?
I don’t want to be fucked. But I also don’t want to live life with a clenched anus. And so, I’m about to take a deep yogi’s breathe and embark on a journey to find a joyful center. It will require some lessons, in humility and in compromise, two realms which I have difficulty with, but the fruits will be succulent. I’ll make some money. I know what I need to do, as I’ve studied the enemy for a long time. And then I’ll surround myself with a wall of cash, behind which I will be a real person. In an iron cage, with a supply of food, the nightingale learns to sing most sweetly.
Hear me sing.