Meditation on the Make

When did the ancient practice of meditation become the hot topic tool in the toolbox of stress reduction and weight loss, a push-up for the brain, and the credit card of getting ahead in the world?

When did it morph from keeping the mind fixed on the self in order to unite with the divine to a way of improving scores in schools, as was recently reported by the journal Health Psychology?

When did meditation veer from a practice meant to quiet the mind of the world’s noise in order to attain enlightenment to a means of mitigating the common cold, so demonstrated in a study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison?

It probably happened the minute Vivekenanda began his speech “Sisters and brothers of America…” on the main stage of the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893. A key figure in bringing yoga to America, and the man who helped catapult Hinduism to the status of a major world religion, Vivekenanda assumed Americans were intensely religious.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Even though more than 80% of Americans, even today, describe themselves as being religious or very religious, spiritual or very spiritual, the American soul is not found in any church. It is found in the American workplace because the American character is bound up with materiality and wealth.

Alexis de Tocqueville had it right when he wrote in Democracy in America that Americans were more practical than theoretical.

“As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?”

The last of America’s three Great Awakenings, religious revivals characterized by sharp increases of interest in religion, was over by the time Vivekenanda arrived in the United States. There was no fourth awakening after he returned to India in 1899, nor have there been any more to the present day.

Vivekenanda was considered an expert in meditation, what is called a dhyana-siddha. Introducing meditation to the West he defined it as a bridge connecting the soul to God.

“When the mind has been trained to remain fixed on a certain internal or external location, there comes to it the power of flowing in an unbroken current, as it were, towards that point.”

Both of his approaches to meditation, whether the practical approach through yoga or the philosophic approach through Vedanta, had the same objective, which was illumination through the realization of what he called the Supreme, more commonly known as God.

One hundred years later God has been marginalized, if not swept into the dustbin of history, by the emerging culture of the United States and meditation has been re-defined as mindfulness meditation. The difference is that in the 21st century, unlike all other centuries, no one has to sit quietly in lotus position for hours.

All they have to do is train the brain to be mindful and mindfulness then becomes a state of mind.

In the past mindfulness was known as awareness. Today it’s called focus, as in sharpening your focus. It used to be if you were paying attention to what you were doing you were being mindful. Now you need to meditate in order to learn how to be engrossed in what’s going on.

Or, in modern parlance, it teaches you to live fully in the moment.

A new set of meditation benefits have been formulated, implicitly guaranteed to make everyone happier and healthier. The benefits include: better memory; performing at a high level; losing weight; lowering stress; boosting immunity; improving decision-making; and coping with anxiety and depression, among others.

Some studies claim it speeds recovery from heart disease and psoriasis.

Vivekenanda would probably be astonished at how widely meditation has spread in the past one hundred and twenty years since his groundbreaking appearance in Chicago. It is no longer just the pursuit of quiet yogis seeking a spiritual breakthrough.

Dan Harris, ABC newsman and co-anchor of Nightline, who after self-medicating with cocaine and Ecstasy and crash landing on Good Morning America, turned to meditation as an alternative.

“When I say meditation, I’m talking about mindfulness meditation. It’s completely secular,” he explained.

“It’s like doing neurosurgery on yourself,” he added.

The Marine Corps has begun teaching its troops how to be even tougher on the battlefield by teaching them mindfulness meditation. The military’s pilot program began at Camp Pendleton in 2013 and is being duplicated at other bases.

“It’s like doing pushups for the brain,” said one enthusiastic general.

“Meditation used to have this reputation as a hippie thing for people who speak in a particularly soft tone of voice,” said Jay Michaelson, author of Evolving Dharma: Meditation, Buddhism, and the Next Generation of Enlightenment.

“But, samurai practiced meditation to become more effective killers,” he pointed out.

On Wall Street stock market traders and bond managers have taken up the mantle. Hedge-fund manager David Ford credits his newfound serenity and recently bulging wallet to the twenty minutes he spends every morning meditating.

“I react to volatile markets much more calmly now,” he said. “I have more patience.”

Another hedge-fund manager, Paul Dalio of Bridewater Associates, who is worth $14 billion according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index, claims meditation has been the biggest factor in his success.

Even congressmen have gotten on the meditation bandwagon.

Congressional job approval in December 2014 stood at 15%, close to that year’s record-low of 14%, according to the Gallup Poll. The 86% disapproval rate in 2014 was the worst ever measured in more than 30 years of tracking the rating. And that was a century after Mark Twain said, “Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress. But, I repeat myself.”

Henry Kissinger, former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, once pointed out that 90% of politicians give the other 10% a bad name. He did not say who the 10% were.

Nevertheless, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan recently published A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit. In it he touted the perks of mindfulness, pointing out improved school test scores and workplace job output.

As far and near as meditation has spread, it’s newfound fame is not limited to U. S. Marines and the wolves of Wall Street. Even Mob assassins, at least the noir crime novel kind, are taking advantage of mindfulness meditation, although not in the sense of overcoming delusion in pursuit of enlightenment, but more in the sense of overcoming delusion to make sure their aim is true.

In Walter Mosley’s The Long Fall the implacable hit man aptly known as Hush has a reputation of always getting his man, to the point that when you know he’s after you the only thing left for you to do is get your affairs in order. He practices zazen, a form of meditation at the heart of Zen, in order to stay at the top of his game.

Commanding a five-figure fee the assassin meditates to make a killing.

The rub about meditation is that there are moral principles embedded in it. Some teachers are concerned that those moral principles are being ignored.

“You can train people with meditation to be sharpshooters,” said Joan Halifax of the Upaya Zen Center in Santé Fe, New Mexico. “Are they trying to get smarter so they can exploit more people?”

Meditation is elastic in the sense that it has been practiced for millennia and there are many forms of it. The classic sense of it is the Buddhist notion that everything is impermanent and all anyone has is the here and now.

The modern brain hacking or on the make sense of it is that it imparts an edge to the practitioner. As Paul Dalio, the $14 billion dollar man, explained in a February 2014 panel discussion on meditation: “It makes me feel like a ninja in a fight.”

Vivekenanda may have thought he knew what he was doing in 1893, but he might have been better served reading Tocqueville first, getting ready for the U. S. Marines and Paul Dalio’s of the New World.

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Chaturanga Chatter

There are some constants common to all yoga classes, from beginner instruction to the push and pull of Ashtanga, from the ease of gentle restorative classes to the drumbeat of Bikram. One of them is ‘setting your intention’.

What teachers mean when they say ‘set your intention’ is to practice with a purpose, such as quieting your mind, or developing greater awareness, or simply nailing the poses. It is the same as setting a goal, or defining what it is you want to do so you can do it. Your body, mind, and spirit then become open to change and transformation.

“Every time that I begin a yoga class, I make sure to allow my students time and space to set an intention for their practice,“ said Dana Marie, a CorePower yoga instructor in Illinois.

Intentions are a way to ground the mind, so that when one’s mind wanders there is always the original intent to return to.

“When my mind goes somewhere else, I just remember my intention and I come back,” said Jenniferlyn Chiemingo, Director of Yoga at hauteyoga in Seattle.

A second constant is that the teacher will emphasize, no matter what the rest of the class is doing, that it is up to you to practice in such a way that it benefits you. There is a steady stream of reminders across approaches that it is fundamentally an individual pursuit that moves at an individual pace.

“You create your own experience,” said Greg Gumucio, founder of Yoga to the People. “You are responsible for your body. You are your best teacher.”

What they mean is that regardless of the instruction, and no matter what the rest of the class is doing, what you do in class and what you accomplish is up to you. The outward shape of the yoga pose, or asana, is not what matters so much as what you put into and get out of it

“The most important thing to remember is that yoga is all about you, it’s your practice and nobody else’s,” said Linda Schaar of Vibrant Life Yoga in Horseheads, NY.

Yoga posture classes are about tuning into your body. They are about taking yourself as deep as you are willing to go, but at the same time being able to stay within the perimeters of what is going on, to be able to recognize and respond to consequences.

“I can always choose to rest in child’s pose, chill out with my legs up the wall, or completely opt out of today’s fancy pose,” said Rebekah Grodky, a university administrator and yoga teacher in Sacramento, California. “Yoga is about self-love and acceptance of where we are right now.”

A third constant is that teachers will talk about going inward, of wedding your breath with your movement. An awareness of one’s breath sets you in the present moment. It is thought the more you go inward the more fully you can be present.

What teachers are talking about when they recommend going inward is the fifth aspect of the classical eight-limb system of Patanjali. This fifth limb is known as pratyahara. It is generally thought of as learning to lessen reaction to the distractions of the world around you, although it actually counsels withdrawal from the senses, or introversion.

“The journey of yoga is a couple of hundred miles up a mountain, but it is a millions miles inward,“ said Lilias Folan, best known for her PBS series Lilias! Yoga and You. “There is a lot more to yoga than a ten-minute headstand.”

The last constant of most yoga classes is, as soon as they actually start, after the homilies and theme-setting are over, teachers will do their best to thwart your intention, break your resolve to make the practice your own, and shatter whatever commitment you have made to go inward.

The first thing many yoga teachers do when class starts is plug in their iPods and twirl up their personal play lists, from MC Yogi to Bob Marley, from Krishna Das to Norah Jones. If it’s a Bikram Yoga class, they climb onto their platforms and clear their throats.

When did yoga teachers become DJ’s? Or DI’s as the case might be in the world of Bikram Yoga?

Music seems to have become an integral part of Vinyasa classes, the most popular form of yoga. Sometimes musicians will even play live during classes. It’s entertaining, but it begs the question of what does it have to do with the practice. Does the Billboard Hot 100 enhance breath and awareness? Does it help focus attention on the internal?

Or is it just more noise, just another way of avoiding silence?

“The musical classes, if I wanted to dance, I’d go to Zumba, ” William Auclair of Monterey, California, pointed out,

The next thing yoga teachers do is start talking and not stop until the class is over. If it’s a Bikram Yoga class, they talk twice as loud and twice as fast as other teachers.

Some teachers even talk during Shavasana, or Corpse Pose, in the guise of what they describe as guided meditation. If it’s a Bikram Yoga class, Corpse Pose is the only time teachers don’t talk. They leave the hot room the minute class is over, leaving the sweat lodgers to chill out on their own.

When did the front of the room become a soapbox? Is yoga now a blank page for an editorial? When did yoga teachers start going center stage, like conductors of a symphony orchestra?

Conductors are meant to get their musicians to play all together for an audience. Yoga teachers are supposed to get posture students to pose for themselves.

How much talking should a teacher do during a yoga class?

There is a range of approaches.

Beginner classes are necessarily composed of a steady stream of instruction. Iyengar Yoga, since it focuses on body alignment and is largely about basic principles, involves precise verbal guidance. Bikram Yoga, hell-bent on obedience, is an unchanging and unending litany of commands.

Bikram Choudhury claims his patter is to keep everyone on track, or is it in lockstep? When a Bikram teacher recites the script in an empty hot room, with no one to hear it, was there any yoga to be had?

All yoga involves a certain amount of instruction from the instructors, or teachers, beyond just mechanically sequencing the class. That’s what they’re there for: a paramount concern of yoga exercise classes is that poses be practiced safely.

This is true from beginner classes, where instruction is vital, to intermediate classes, where it is complementary, to Ashtanga and Bikram classes, where it is rote.

Many yoga posture students appreciate the instruction they receive in class.

“If I didn’t want to hear my instructor teach and lead me I wouldn’t bother with a class,” said Amber Rose of Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho. “I want them to talk me through it, to help me reach a deeper level. When I want quiet time I’ll practice at home on my own.”

Some wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I love the talk,” said Alicia Allen, an Assistant Professor at University of Minnesota Family Medicine. “Words of encouragement and relevant stories are always helpful to me.”

Others, however, going to class for instruction and physical adjustments, believe there should be some space for them to experience the poses on their own.

“Chit chat and personal stories are very different than cues and directions,“ said Emily Callison Heilbraun of Charleston, South Carolina. “I don’t need to be asked twenty times what my intention was when I started the class.”

Even at big studios in the middle of big classes people are often looking for opportunities for stillness and self-observation.

“When people come to do yoga, they come to empty,” said Cyndi Lee, founder of the former OM Yoga in NYC. “If the teacher is filling up too much space with talking, too much music, or too many stimuli, it makes it difficult to empty.”

Yoga teachers need to stop talking so much, according to YogaDork.

“It may be because they love telling stories, or making oodles of verbal adjustments, or hearing themselves speak yogic poetry, but some yoga teachers just don’t know when to shut up!”

The question has even been raised if teaching poses in class has become secondary to other considerations.

“The instructor offered little to no guidance about how to actually do the poses,” Leslie Munday, a former yoga teacher, wrote on the Recovering Yogi website about an asana class she attended.

“She was practically turning herself blue in the face telling us how to live our lives.”

As a strategy for yoga classes dispensing advice has it problems. Benjamin Franklin observed wise men don’t need advice and fools won’t take it. Everyone else in class, for the most part, only wants to hear it if it agrees with what they were going to do anyway.

Listening to advice is not without its pitfalls, either, including the misstep of ending up making other people’s mistakes.

Although most don’t talk until they’re blue in the face, some teachers talk “way too much,” observed Kimberly Johnson, an international yoga teacher trainer based in Southern California.

“A lot of teachers say that their goal is for students to feel ‘better’ or ‘happier’ after class. Where it gets tricky though is at what point in your teaching trajectory do you deem yourself ready to teach philosophy or wax poetic?”

But, ready-made knowledge isn’t the role of yoga, at least not beyond beginner classes. It is rather a practice whose dynamic is fostering conditions for invention and re-invention. The best teachers aren’t the ones who try to tell you everything, but the ones who inspire you to teach yourself.

“You have to grow through the inside out,” said Swami Vivekananda, a key figure in the introduction of yoga to the Western world. “There is no other teacher but your own soul.”

Silence and speech are like yin and yang. Each depends on the other. Speech explains the mystery and silence brings us closer to it.

Who listens to anyone who yammers on and on about the ‘deeper lessons’ of the practice? Who can focus on the intricacies of headstand when Elton John, the Liberace of my generation, is on the play list, hamming it up about his Rocket Man?

Yoga isn’t about texting, tweeting, and talking, talking, talking. It’s about stepping back, absorbing silence, and being in the moment.

“It is to quiet the fluctuations of the mind,” said Patanjali about the purpose of yoga.

That can be hard to do when your teacher is yakking it up.

“When we’re constantly chattering, it’s a distraction and brings students into their heads,” said Karen Fabian of Bare Bones Yoga in Boston. “A great way to create presence is to allow for silence.”

Although some teachers talk too much, many of them, based on my own admittedly unscientific tally, talk just enough, sprinkling advice, observations, and encouragement in with instruction.

There are some who might even not talk enough.

A few years ago I was in a workshop given by Naime Jezzeny, a nationally renowned teacher from New Jersey who specializes in biomechanics and its application to yoga. We were all in Bridge Pose when Mr. Jezzeny walked over to our side of the large room. After looking over a few other poses and briefly commenting on them, he stopped at my mat.

He looked my pose up and down, chewed on his index finger, and said, “Hmmm…”

Then he walked away to the next mat.

I’ve always wondered what he meant by what he said. Or meant by what he didn’t say.

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Bye Bye Babs

When the court jesters known as the Babarazzi, a site that was devoted to criticism of modern commercial yoga culture, called it quits in January 2014, after a two-year run, they announced their closing by saying “we have decided to finally set the monkeys who write out pieces free.”

They were being unduly modest. It’s well known monkeys refuse to read and write so they won’t be forced to work for a living.

Starting with their first posts during the debacle that became the end of John Friend and Anusara Yoga, the Babarazzi raised a pirate flag, firing broadsides at a yoga community they saw as a “silly cocktail party.”

Their TMZ approach targeted what they called yogilebrities, or ”those who trade in the likes of such stupidity as yoga image, yoga fashion, and yoga lifestyle.”

Reader reactions to the site from the beginning ran the gamut. One respondent wrote, “I don’t understand this blog or the writer’s intention.” At the same time another wrote, “It’s high time someone shone light on the turd-fest of shameless, salivating self-promotion that has infiltrated the yoga world.”

The tag line of the blog was “giving contemporary yoga the star treatment.” Sometimes it might as well have been Richard Pryor’s gag line, “I ain’t no movie star, man. I’m a booty star.”

But, behind the trash talk and cutting edge sarcasm was an earnest attempt to point out the many disconnects between the principles of yoga and the actual practice of yoga in America.

“What goes on behind the scenes in yoga studios is the stuff daytime soap operas are made out of,” said Aghori Babarazzi, the unofficial spokesperson of the group.

“Students who have never crossed that line in the studio have no idea how pig-ish some of the more fame-oriented teachers can be. And I’m not talking about the nice piggies that live on farms.”

No sooner had the Babarazzi gotten their feet wet than they ran afoul of Sadie Nardini and Elephant Journal by posting an article on EJ’s site titled ‘Is YAMA Talent More Harmful to the Yoga Community Than John Friend’s Penis Pursuits?’

YAMA Talent is a New York City-based management consultant and booking agency for teachers and brands seeking to be relevant in the yoga marketplace.

Sadie Nardini saw the piece as a below the belt slight against her, YAMA Talent cried foul – “How dare we waste time criticizing our fellow yogi’s?” – while Elephant Journal disappeared the piece from its site, protesting its lack of attribution, arguing that the Barbarazzi was not a person, so could not have an opinion.

This was before the Supreme Court ruled in the recent Citizens United case that corporations are people.

“What we do here at Babarazzi HQ is intentionally provocative,” the collective answered.

For the next year-and-a-half they posted, every three or four days, stories like ‘Whatever Western Yogi’s Touch Turns to Gold (Or Pooh?)’ about the big money leanings of bigger-than-life yoga events; ‘What’s More Boring than Athletic Wannabee Yoga Companies Suing One Another?’ about companies like Yogitoes and Lululemon keeping their steely eyes firmly on the bottom line; and ‘Snowshoeing and Yoga: Obviously You Need to Do This in Order to Be a Better Person’ about the endless proliferation of hybrids as subjects for yogic workshops.

The tabloid deconstruction of the Babarazzi writing raised the ire of many in the American yoga community, from Colleen Staidman Yee to Tara Stiles, from Off the Mat Into the World to YogaNation. It is difficult to take criticism without resentment. It can be painful, but it serves the same function as pain, calling attention to something unhealthy.

“The Babarazzi is a great asset for yoga in this modern world where concerns for what yoga is are increasingly tempered with concerns over what yoga isn’t,” said Paul Harvey of the Centre for Yoga Studies.

Although the Babarazzi seemed to reject the notion that there is one, pure yoga, they also spurned the cult of personality, the sideshow of yoga raves, and the endless merchandising of a practice for which stuff ultimately is valueless.

In the commercial world it is a truism that men exploit men for the supposed greater good of everyone. In the world of yoga self-awareness is the same as doing good.

“The Babarazzi does a good job at pointing out the hypocrisies of so many self-proclaimed gurus,” said Jacob Kyle, a philosophy graduate student and yoga teacher in New York City, “and reminds us, in its own way, that the true teacher lies within each of us.”

For all its wit and whistle blowing the Babarazzi were tilting at windmills. The imperative to exploit yoga in America is too strong. Bikram Choudhury, for example, thinks he owns 35 Rolls Royce’s, but isn’t sure of the exact number. Other than the YogaLife Institute few, if any, yoga companies are Certified B Corporations, or for-profit companies certified as being motivated by more than just a hunger for profit.

Yoga Journal, notwithstanding its endless proselytizing, is not one of them. It is an arm of Active Interest Media, a privately held company. After B. K. S. Iyengar died in August 2014 Yoga Journal celebrated his long life by immediately e-mail blasting advertisements selling Iyengar DVD’s.

When Helen Hunt gave credit to Mandy Ingber, a popular LA yoga instructor, for getting her body “Oscar-ready”, out came ‘Yogalosophy’. “It’s truly cool!” gushed Glamour. Emma Watson and Ryan Kwanten have become certified yoga teachers, completing the circle of yoga teachers becoming celebrities to celebrities becoming yoga teachers.

The Babarazzi’s announcement that they were publishing their last blog post and desisting from further antagonizing celebrity yoga teachers and organizers of national yoga events snarked of the status quo: “The Babs is Closing Up Shop. Everything Must Go. Crazy Sales and Deals.”

Even though it is uncertain whether the Babarazzi had a bunch of monkeys pecking away on keyboards writing their material, it is certain they never sold out to buy peanuts for the monkeys, since they never had anything to sell other than their iconoclasm, which is not a commodity.

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Bunko: 26 Not Copyrighted Problems

1) Bikram Teacher Training Guide: “Do not wear green.”

According to Bikram Choudhury green is an unlucky color and is banned from all his studios. “Please try to avoid the color green. Don’t ask, just try.”

Problem: Green signifies rebirth and growth. The “Green Man” of pre-Christianity was a symbol of fertility. Among Muslims it is a holy color. In Ireland it is a lucky color. However, circus and traveling showmen in Australia do consider green to be bad luck.

2) “How many Rolls-Royce do I own? I don’t know. 35?” said Bikram Choudhury.

Bikram Choudhury owns many Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, and Howard Hughes’s Royal Daimler, as well, with a toilet in the back.

Problem: Non-indulgence and non-acquisitiveness, or Aparigraha.

3) Bikram Yoga classes are taught in Hot Rooms heated to 105 degrees and 40% humidity, reaching a heat index greater than 120.

Problem: The risk factor of moderate activity in a heat index in excess of 115 is considered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to be “very high to extreme.”

A common reaction to one’s first Bikram Yoga class is, “Man, this might be a mistake, I don’t think I’m going to make it.”

4) “I am a product of Beverly Hills,” said Bikram Choudhury.

Problem: Bikram Choudhury is a product of Beverly Hills.

5) Bikram Choudhury often refers to his studios as “torture chambers.”

Problem: Torture is inflicting severe pain on someone as punishment or to force someone to do or say something. That has nothing to do with yoga. Neither does chewing glass, lying on nails, nor being buried alive, performances often given by 19th century yogi fakirs.

However, this does not obviate the torture many have felt in a Bikram Yoga class.

6) “They are all a bunch of clowns,” Bikram Choudhury told Yoga Journal, referring to other forms of yoga exercise, such as Kundalini and Ashtanga. “Nobody knows what the hell they are doing.” He claims to teach the only true and pure hatha yoga.

Everything else is “shit,” he explained on another occasion.

Problem: Honesty and truthfulness, or Satya, as well as non-harming in deed and word, or Ahimsa.

7) In a sworn legal deposition Bikram Choudhury claimed that Harvard University was constructing a “Bikram building in their campus.”

Problem: “We checked with our capital-projects group and can confirm no new building in the usual sense of the term is under construction funded by Mr. Choudhury or by a donation in his name,” said Kevin Galvin, spokesperson for Harvard University.

8) Bikram Choudhury professes that Eagle Pose is rejuvenating. “It is good for sex. Cootchi, cootchi. You can make love for hours and have seven orgasms when you are ninety.”

Problem: According to the Journal of Sexual Medicine yoga can improve some aspects of sexual function. Wide-angle seated forward bend and other hip-openers are cited; the Eagle Pose is not mentioned.

9) “I’m not dressed like a guru, am I? I dress like a gangster!” said Bikram Choudhury.

When he is wearing clothes Mr. Choudhury flashes in shiny white suits, diamond-studded wristwatches, crocodile shoes, gangster fedoras, and designer accessories.

Problem: Restraint, or Brachmacharya.

10) Bikram Choudhury has claimed that he and his yoga regimen are able to cure cancer and multiple sclerosis, among other serious medical conditions.

Problem: There are treatments for cancer and multiple sclerosis. There are no cures, yogic or otherwise.

11) For more than 10 years of contentious lawsuits Bikram Choudhury claimed copyright protection for his 26 yoga poses.

Problem: Bikram Yoga’s claims were overruled in 2012. The U. S Copyright Office said that sequences of yoga exercise are not the equivalent of a choreographed work.

Bikram Yoga is protected by trademark, not copyright.

Yogis worldwide were relieved to learn they could again touch their toes without fear of subpoena.

12) “I’m in show biz,” said Bikram Choudhury. “I entertain people.”

Problem: When did yoga become a Lady Gaga song and dance?

13) “A warm body is a flexible body,” says Bikram Yoga, explaining that heat softens muscle tissue. “Then you can reshape the body any way you want.”

Problem: About 5 minutes of cardiovascular work is sufficient to warm up muscles, according to Ben Ballinger of Athletic Performance. “The claim that Bikram Yoga allows for deeper stretching due to the heat is untrue.” Overstretching can even compromise joints and ligaments, causing instability and hypermobility.

14) “Did you pay to come here and listen to me?” said Bikram Choudhury “Wow! I am lucky. I go shopping tomorrow!”

Problem: Paying good money to listen to Bikram Choudhury so he can buy more Rolls-Royces.

15) Bikram Yoga offers up many testimonials of metabolisms made new and excess pounds shed. Warm muscles are said to burn fat more easily as the heat flushes and detoxifies the body. Fat will turn into muscle is the mantra.

Problem: According to the Health Status Calorie Counter power yoga burns 594 calories an hour. Bikram Yoga burns 477 calories an hour. Ballroom dancing burns about 250 calories an hour, while running a 10K in under an hour burns about 1000 calories.

“The benefits are largely perceptual,” said Dr. Cedric Bryant, chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise. “People think the degree of sweat is the quality of the workout, but that’s not reality. It doesn’t correlate to burning more calories.”

16) Bikram Choudhury’s home in Beverly Hills is an 8,000-square-foot mansion seemingly built entirely of marble, gold, and mirrors.

Problem: Non-indulgence and non-acquisitiveness, or Aparigraha

17) Bikram Yoga argues that exercising in a heated and humidified room strengthens the body, resulting in greater endurance, internal organ conditioning, and a stronger heart.

Problem: “The human body is designed to tolerate temperatures between 97 and 100 degrees,” said Fabio Comana, exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise. “It is not designed to go outside those numbers. Core temperatures can go up very quickly. Over 105 degrees you will start to damage protein.”

18) “An Iyengar class looks like a Santa Monica sex shop with all those props,” said Bikram Choudhury.

Problem: What was Bikram Choudhury doing in a Santa Monica sex shop sizing up the props?

19) Bikram Yoga proclaims itself the detox practice extraordinaire because it induces profuse sweating. “When you sweat, impurities are flushed out of the body through the skin.” Detoxification may be the most touted benefit of the practice, said to “cleanse and purify the system.”

Problem: “That’s silliness,” said Craig Crandall, director of the Thermoregulation Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Center at Dallas. “I don’t know of any toxins that are released through sweat.”

The liver and kidneys filter toxins from the blood. Sweating too much and becoming dehydrated could stress the kidneys and actually keep them from doing their job.

20) “I should be the most honored man in your country,” said Bikram Choudhury.

Problem: Ahead of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Helen Keller, Thomas Edison, Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., William Sloane Coffin, and Edward Snowden, among many others, both men and women?

21) The heat and humidity of Bikram Yoga are often explained as replicating the heat and humidity of India, where Bikram Choudhury learned yoga.

Problem: In India yoga was and is traditionally practiced in the early morning to avoid the heat of the day.

22) Bikram Yoga says its practitioners derive aerobic benefits from the practice. “You can derive these benefits [i.e. aerobic] from practicing Bikram Yoga.”

Problem: In a study published in 2013 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research one group of young adults practiced Bikram Yoga three times a week for eight weeks while another group did nothing. By the end of the study researchers found no differences in either group in terms of maximal aerobic fitness or cardiovascular measures.

23) Bikram Yoga studios are required to outfit their Hot Rooms with carpet flooring.

“Don’t throw up on the carpet,” said Bikram Choudhury. “It’s new.”

Problem: Carpets are nearly impossible to clean thoroughly, much less sanitize. Allergens are particularly adept at hiding among carpet fibers. Sweat-soaked carpets are breeding grounds for bacteria, fungus, and pathogens.

Vomit may be the least of anybody’s concerns in a Bikram Hot Room.

24) “Oxygen deprivation is a major cause of sciatica,” says Bikram Yoga, encouraging the use of breath to “break through the fear of pain.”

Problem: The causes of sciatica are varied, including degenerative disc disease, isthmic spondylolisthesis, lumbar spinal stenosis, piriformis syndrome, and sacroiliac joint dysfunction.

Oxygen deprivation is not one of the causes of sciatica, although it can be a cause of death.

25) “Because I have balls like atom bombs, two of them, 100 megatons each. Nobody fucks with me,” said Bikram Choudhury.

Problem: All eight limbs, or aspects, of yoga from the Yamas & Niyamas to Samadhi.

The yoga master confessed he only has two bomb balls, which is fortunate. The world’s nuclear arsenal is big enough.

26) “The whole Bikram class is one big brainwashing session,” said Bikram Choudhury.

Problem: No problem, as long as you believe applying systematic and forcible indoctrination is the way to advance yoga.

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Mammon Goes Mantra

Tim Feldmann and Kino MacGregor met in India, studied Ashtanga Yoga with Sri. Pattahi Jois, married and moved to Miami, and co-founded the Miami Life Center in 2008. Tim Feldman is an accomplished teacher much in demand for workshops in Asia and Europe, while Kino MacGregor is the author of books and producer of videos about the practice,

When they were asked by one of their yoga studio employees, who doubled as front desk man and janitor, if they would be interested in his take on their financial performance, it is to their credit “Mind your own business” wasn’t the first thing they said.

“I was the guy who took out the garbage,” says Matt Tashjian. “But, it was perfectly fine with me. I never thought about it.”

What he did think about was the yoga center’s bottom line.

“There’s some down time during classes when you sit behind the front desk. I started poking around the computer, looking at their numbers, and one day I sent Tim an e-mail suggesting there were a couple of things they could do to improve their numbers.”

Over tea at a local coffee shop he shared his thoughts with them. “We never thought about that, that could be of great value to us,” they said, and for the next year they met monthly, talking business. As they did Tim and Kino began to suspect Matt was someone who knew exactly what he was talking about.

For good reason.

After graduating with a degree in economics from Arizona State University Matt Tashjian worked at and then led a wealth management group at Citi in Hartford, CT, and since 2009 has been the chief advisor, and founder, of the Tashjian Group of Merrill Lynch.

But, before leaving Hartford and moving to Miami in 2008 two things happened: he ran out of steam and had a falling out with a close family member.

“My moving was a result of what can happen in the banking world, which is you get burned out,” he said.

“I was in my late 30s and very focused on professional success and money and got pulled into a cycle of achievement and striving.” As the liquidity crisis of 2007 became the global financial crisis of 2008 he withdrew from the economics world almost entirely. “I went from working 90% of the time to working 10% of the time.”

He found relief by doing more yoga, which he had been introduced to some years earlier, and sought advice at a Buddha Sangha.

“I was looking for a way out of the suffering. It opened my eyes,” he said.

“I reconciled with my sister and realized my life was more important than just work, and I needed to meet those needs. It so happened Miami could fill some of them and that was the impetus for me to start a different life.”

While shopping at lululemon for yoga shorts a sales clerk recommended Miami Life Center to him.

“I started taking classes and eventually asked if I could work there, behind the desk and mopping the floors. I went from being one of the top 500 financial advisors in the country to making sure the bathrooms had toilet paper.”

His personal practice started one day in the mid-1990s when he took a yoga class at a local gym instead of lifting weights.

“I didn’t have any predisposition to yoga or spirituality,” he said. “What piqued my interest was our instructor talking about the breath, patience, and being in the body. I got into it a little bit, started studying yoga, and then Buddhism.”

Sometimes one will go to a yoga class and get the exercise they need to get through the day. Other times they will start thinking about connecting to a higher energy.

“I would say my gym’s yoga class led to a transmutation of how I think about the world. Before yoga I experienced the world through the external, but now I experience it through the internal self. The primary takeaway to my practice is that ultimately all yoga leads to being more compassionate and empathetic to everything around us, and more sensitive to how we’re all connected.”

Compassion and empathy are not common benchmarks of stockbrokers and financial planners. Ambition and desire are the normative ideals, rather, as well as a dollop of greed.

In the modern world making money justifies any behavior. The incentives against financial crime are nominally zero. Almost no one, literally, has been arrested for the banking and market meltdown of the past seven years.

“Is it any wonder that we as a nation seem to be in search of spirit?” asked Kino MacGregor. “What else is left for America to invent than an authentic self in the midst of such rampant materialism?”

If yoga is mixed into the cauldron of capitalism the brew can begin to smell sweeter.

“When you’re deeply ingrained in the yogic path you relate to people differently. What I attempt to do with my clients is infuse the virtues of a balanced life,” said Matt Tashjian. “What’s the sense of having all the money in the world if you’re miserable?”

Sometimes a transformation of motivation can lead to healing and redemption.

“I now try to take a more holistic view with respect to how I interact and counsel clients.”

When Tim Feldmann and Kino MacGregor restructured their yoga center in 2013 they invited Matt Tashjian to join them as a partner.

“There are distinct pros and cons to running a yoga studio,” he said. “The pros are you are surrounded by thoughtful people who care not only about themselves, but other people, too.

“But, like any small business, there are many moving parts every day. Who’s going to change the air conditioning filter or update the holiday schedule on the web site? It’s death by a thousand paper cuts,” he laughed.

The Miami Life Center business model is to employ integrated tools, assimilating reiki, arurveda, as well as life coaching, reflecting Kino MacGregor’s approach to supporting people’s paths holistically. “There is a magic there that can’t be expressed in words,” said Claudia Borges about practicing at the studio.

At the heart of the practice is Ashtanga Yoga.

“Ashtanga is definitely very physical in nature,” said Matt Tashjian, “but it really speaks to more of a spiritual practice. Ashtanga studios like ours, by their nature, put their emphasis not only on asana, but on the other limbs of yoga, too.”

But, at most yoga studios it is exercise, not introversion or meditation, that is the de facto breadwinner.

“We’ve Americanized yoga, made it into an exercise,” said Matt Tashjian. “Asana is certainly a component of it, but asana is really to keep the body healthy so we can comfortably sit in a meditative state.”

Sitting and meditating don’t pay the bills, however.

“Studios that are more spiritually oriented face economic dilemmas that exercise-centric studios do not.”

To further their aims he has incorporated economic compromises into Miami Life Center’s mission statement.

“We’re committed to the Ashtanga lineage and we’re committed to the idea of bringing forth something that is more than just vinyasa,” said Matt Tashjian.

“It may not be for everyone, and it’s conceivable that we will make less money, but we want to be the kind of business in the business world that not only does good economically, but more importantly does good, all rolled into one.”

It is the financial advisor in Matt Tashjian that makes him understand it is spiritual snobbery to believe we can be happy without money. It is the yogi in him that reminds him to make sure there is money in his wallet, not in his heart.

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Revenge on Race Point – A Vera Nyberg Mystery

Vera Nyberg tugged on her floppy bonnet, scrunching it down to the tops of her ears. She had braided her hair into a high bun earlier in the day, and reaching into her back pocket found the silver-plated Alice Teapot hatpins she had brought with her, pushing them though the hat and bun.

The wind was blowing hard, gusting off the ocean, and the fine Race Point sand stung her bare calves below the black Capri’s she was wearing.

Looking ahead she broke into a trot to catch up with her friends. The bonnet stayed in place.

She had ridden her bike to the beach after finishing her late afternoon holiday class at Yoga East, past the Province Lands Visitor Center, and walked the surf to the near side of the lighthouse and Hatches Harbor. Race Point was the only beach on the east coast on which you could stand and see the sun set over the ocean in the west behind you. Twilight was close, but dusk was still more than an hour away, more than enough time to fly kites, if she could get hers off the ground.

“I haven’t flown a kite since I was a kid,“ said Vera as she came abreast of her friends.

“It’s just like riding a bike,” said Caleb. “Here, I’ll show you.”

Her three friends were year-round Provincetown residents who operated an inn and guesthouse on Washington Avenue between the main thoroughfare, Commercial Street, and Bradford Street. Caleb had been flying kites the past two summers on Race Point Beach.

Four kites were laying flat in the sand.

“Yours is the delta,” said Caleb, pointing to a purple, blue, and bright green kite with streamers off the back points. “The sled is mine, and the two diamonds, that’s Elliott’s, and the one with the Tasmanian Devil on it is Bruce’s.”

A Looney Tunes cartoon of the Tasmanian Devil was emblazoned on a yellow field bordered in black. The gaping mouth of the devil was red and lined with gleaming, white fangs.

Vera turned to look at her kite and asked, “How do I make it go up?”

“There’s nothing to it,” said Caleb “Delta’s are easy to launch, they fly no matter what, and almost always sit at a good steep angle. But, they’re unpredictable in gusty winds, so watch out.”

Caleb tossed a handful of sand up to see which way the wind was blowing and then turned his back to it. He held the kite in one hand and unwound several feet of string onto the sand. He gave the kite to Vera.

“Hold it over your head as high as you can with the tow line facing you,” said Caleb. “Let the kite go as soon as it fills with wind and starts to pull. Unwind the string as you go, but make sure to hold the spool and not the string itself.”

Vera released string from the spool and the kite darted higher and higher, its streamers snapping in the wind. In a few minutes all the kites were flying high and spread out above the sand dunes. When Vera’s kite slid downwards and she struggled to turn it parallel to the wind, Caleb came close enough to her to be heard.

“Kites fly highest against the wind, not with it.”

Vera pivoted towards the gloaming ocean and let out string, watching the wind take the kite. As she did she wondered who was flying the kite, her or the wind.

“There’s a saying that those who fly a kite live a long life,” said Elliott as they walked back to the parking lot in the falling darkness.

“Flying a kite lifts my spirits,” said Bruce.

“It’s a little bit yogic, too,” said Caleb. “As you look up following the kite near to far, your neck opens. It’s a counterbalance to looking down or at eye level all the time. You have to pay attention. It keeps you in the moment.”

“And it’s fun, like happiness on a string” said Vera.

They walked side-by-side along the surf. Gray seals played peek-a-boo just outside the line of breaking waves. Ahead of them several large gulls were dive-bombing something rolling in the surf.

“It looks like they’ve found dinner,” said Bruce.

“Herring gulls,” said Caleb.

“No, those are the black-backs,” said Elliott.

The surf was heavy and the water foaming. The gulls let the wind take them away as Vera and her friends drew nearer. They soared across the beach and hovered along the ridge of the sand dunes.

“What is that?” asked Caleb as they approached the bulk the gulls had been attacking. A gang of sanderlings skittered past them, their skinny legs a blur, racing after the receding waves.

“Oh, my God, it’s a person, a man,” exclaimed Bruce, who was in the lead, stopping short.

The others crowded around him, but then en masse ran into the crashing surf, grabbing what they could of the man, and dragged him out and onto the backwash-rippled sand. In the tumult they pulled him facedown as they had found him. Quickly rolling him over on his back they recoiled from his lacerated face, pockmarked with slashes. His scalp was mottled.

The gulls had pecked his eyes out.

Time stopped for a moment and at the end of it was embossed on the memory of the four friends looking down on the man in cargo shorts, his stomach bloated by the ocean and features ravaged by the birds.

Vera looked across the expanse of Race Point to the dunes and then across the open, endless water. She thought as far as death is concerned we all live in a world without walls that are always falling down.

Caleb broke the spell by asking if anyone had brought a cell phone, but no one had. Elliott volunteered that his was in the car and sprinted to the parking lot. As he grabbed his Samsung out of the glove compartment of his Ford Fiesta the idling engine of a Cadillac Esplanade parked on the far side of the lot purred.

Vera and Bruce sat down on the sand a short distance away from the surf, waiting, while Caleb stood guard over the dead man. The black-back gulls circled overhead, angry, cawing and squealing.

In the distance Vera heard the wailing of a siren.

The Cadillac Esplanade slid out of its parking spot and skirred towards the Provincetown Municipal Airport.

A hard rain fell the next day, Tuesday, the day after Labor Day and the unofficial end of summer on Cape Cod. It turned roads into rivers and all afternoon cars on Route 6 were compelled to pull off to the side, unable to see through the watery white-out. In the middle of town at Bradford Street beneath High Point Hill Road, at the bottom of Pilgrim Monument, sewers clogged and the street flooded. A Fire Department pumper was brought in, creating wakes as it slowly plowed to the middle of the road.

A minivan stalled halfway through the deep water. The driver clambered on top and sat beneath his multi-colored umbrella, watching the volunteer firemen, their hoses snaking away to MacMillan Pier, while a highway crew worked on the snarled drains. The rain turned to drizzle, but the sky stayed dark and threatening as the storm rumbled northeast towards Maine.

Wednesday morning dawned clear and bright, the sky a cerulean blue. Vera tidied up her room, showered, meditated on her mat for a half-hour, and then, not finding her friends anywhere, either in the guesthouse or the inn, found her way to the backyard enclosed by cypress hedges. She watched tree swallows and hermit thrushes darting in and out of the bird feeder.

Stretching her legs out, she slipped her feet into a pair of flip-flops and walked up Commercial Street to the Portuguese Bakery, where she ordered eggs on a papo seco and Darjeeling to go. She walked to a bench at the far end of MacMillan Pier and ate her sandwich while looking out over the flat water. A black-and-white Provincetown squad car made its way slowly up one side of the pier, turned, and began to make its way back. As it approached her bench it stopped and a policewoman poked her head out the window.

“Hi, Vera,” said Patrol Officer Rachel Amparo, and stepped out of the car, its flashers blinking. Vera and the policewoman had become acquainted over the course of the summer at the twice-weekly primary series Ashtanga classes Vera taught and Rachel Amparo struggled at.

“Hi, Rachel, nice day,” said Vera. “Especially after that storm we had.”

“You bet. Hey, I heard you discovered the drowned man on Race Point the other day. That must have been a shock.”

“It was, but we couldn’t help him. We pulled him out of the water, but it was too late. Have you found out who it was?”

“We did. He had a record and we were able to match his prints, lucky for us, because his face was a mess.”

“He was a criminal?”

“No. In fact, he was one of the Stoddard’s, maybe you’ve heard of them, the Boston fishing and shipping people.”

Vera had never heard of the Stoddard’s, or their company, and since she was a vegetarian didn’t give fish much thought.

“Some vegetarians eat fish, you know,” Bruce had told her when she moved to Provincetown.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” she said, wondering what he was talking about.

“Stoddard was arrested two years ago at an Earth Day demonstration on the Commons. It wasn’t much, the way I saw the report. He pushed a policeman into the Frog Pond, but they processed him, so his prints were in the FBI database.”

“What happened? How did he drown?”

“We don’t know, but there was water in his lungs, so we know that’s what happened. We don’t know how it happened. We’re thinking he fell off a boat, the way the tides work there, but no one has reported anything, and the Coast Guard hasn’t spotted anything adrift.”

The radio on the policewoman’s vest squawked and she stepped back and to the side, speaking into it.

“Vera, I’ve got to go, fender bender on the Shore Road,” said Officer Rachel Amparo, walking quickly back to her squad car. “See you in class tomorrow.”

“Bye, see you then,” said Vera, waving.

She finished her tea, tossed the sandwich wrapping and paper cup into a trash can outside a trap shed showing large-scale photographs of Cape Cod schooners, and walked to Commercial Street. But, instead of turning right, back to the guesthouse, she turned left and walked to the Provincetown Bookstore.

The bookshop was in a weathered white building with black-framed windows. A small sign beside the door said “Since 1932”. Inside, stacks of books, most of them best sellers, romances, and self-help tomes, but with an offering of poetry and mysteries, as well, overflowed thick tables and disorderly floor-to-ceiling bookcases.

On the far side of the counter was an autographed photograph of John Waters, who had worked at the bookstore before departing for Hollywood.

A trim middle-aged woman manned the small front counter. She glanced at the door with an expression of mild exasperation, pushing her reading glasses up her nose with two fingers. A just opened cardboard box of books squatted on the counter.

“Oh, Vera, I was just thinking of you,” she said, breaking into a smile.

“Hi, Hattie, something good, I hope.”

“The UPS man was only now here and gone. I think maybe that Charles Bukowski you asked for might be in this shipment.”

She pulled hardbound books out of the box one at a time, glancing at the covers. “Here we go, I was right.” She handed the book to Vera.

The cover was in black and lurid yellow. The title Women was scrawled in jittery capital letters on the black background, while in the yellow field above the title a woman in a tight dress and stiletto heels imaged from the waist down bent over to scratch one of her ankles.

“I don’t know what you see in him,” said Hattie.

“He was an alcoholic, a postal worker, and probably a misogynist, too,” she added. “That book,” she said, pointing at it with her chin, “is about every sexual penchant of every woman who ever dared to sleep with him after he got famous. Most of them were mad as hornets after the book was published.”

Ham on Rye might be the best American novel ever written,” said Vera. “ I know he could be simplistic and disgusting, and even narcissistic, but he was honest, maybe to a fault. He was always honest.”

“Vera, he was crazy honest, or honestly crazy,” said Hattie. “He never worried about what to say or how to say it, or how it could affect others, he just said it. That can’t be right. And you call yourself a yoga teacher.”

“He makes me laugh,” said Vera, abashed, but unwilling to abandon her recent enthusiasm for the writer. “It’s the truths he tells, it’s like you’re hearing them for the first time, and they can be very funny, even when they’re serious.

“Anyway, like Bukowski said, great writers are indecent people. They live unfairly, saving the best part for paper. You should know that, being a bookseller,” added Vera, and they both laughed.

“Oh, I heard you and the boys found that man on Race Point,” said Hattie, suddenly changing the subject. “What happened? Who was it?”

“I don’t know, he drowned. That’s how we found him, drowned, rolling in the surf. He was from Boston, one of the Stoddard family, but I don’t know who they are, although I heard he was an environmental activist.”

“Aidan Stoddard? I can’t believe it. He’s been on the Outer Cape most of the summer. He was living down in Wellfleet. He was here just a few days ago. He was always buying something, especially about the oceans and climate change, that kind of thing. He was friendly with Bruce, did you know? But, how could he drown? He was a champion collegiate swimmer. I heard he was good enough to try out for the Olympics, even though he didn’t make the team.”

“Oh,” said Vera Nyberg, the hair on the nape of her neck standing up.

World-class swimmers don’t sink to the bottom of the pool or wash up on Race Point in a pair of cargo shorts.

Walking back to her room, the book under her arm, Vera thought about Aidan Stoddard. How had he died? It didn’t seem to make sense.

“We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that death will tremble to take us,” was something she remembered Charles Bukowski had written. Had Aidan Stoddard laughed at the odds, or had death been forced on him somehow? She would have to talk to Bruce.

“That couldn’t have happened,” said Bruce that night when Vera told him, the two of them sitting in the backyard.

“He could swim for miles, I mean, the man was like a seal. Really, there is no way he could drown. Once he told me that they used to practice underwater breath holding until it felt like you were drowning. He said the sensation makes you remember everything you ever knew about swimming and he knew everything about it. He was really strong and in the water he was weightless and even stronger.”

“But if he didn’t drown,” asked Vera, “and the police say he did drown, what happened?”

“What I mean is, he couldn’t have drowned unless something, or somebody, drowned him,” said Bruce. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was that Tyler boyfriend of hers. I wouldn’t put it past him. He looks like he would do anything for money.”

“Who are you talking about?”

“Aidan’s wife, Emily, and her boyfriend. I forget, you didn’t know him, I mean, Aidan, or any of that.”

Bruce was quiet for a moment. Vera watched the late season lightning bugs in the twilight. She thought of how when she was a girl she and her friends would catch them and holding one between their fingers pretend it was a diamond ring.

“Aidan was one of the Stoddard’s, the Boston fishing family that goes back more than one hundred and fifty years. You know how Cape Cod in the 17th century was named for the near-miraculous shoals of cod that were in the waters. Back then you could catch them as fast as you could bait and haul in line.”

A process of seagulls soared overhead toward the bay.

“A hundred years ago hooks gave way to draggers and the boats got bigger and bigger. Then the fishermen started using echo finders and satellite positioning and by the 1980s the fisheries around here collapsed. There were almost no more cod left. The government closed down 8000 square miles of ocean, but even though scallops and haddock have come back, the cod still haven’t. The Stoddard’s were one of the fleets that emptied the ocean. They were the biggest and most modern, and not only that, they were so powerful and connected they worked hand-in-glove with the New England Fishery Management Council, which meant that every decision the council made favored the fishermen, at least in the short term.”

“Didn’t the Stoddard business collapse when all the fish were gone?” asked Vera.

“No, by that time they had diversified, not just into banking and shipping, but they were still in the fish business, processing the catch of floating factory trawlers out on the Atlantic. They had finished off the fish here and were hoovering it up out of the rest of the ocean.”

“What about Aidan?”

“He was groomed to take over the family business, went to Harvard Business School, and married a Hampton’s girl, but then things started to change with him. He was taking lessons at the Boston Old Path Sangha, like me, which is where we met.”

“How was he changing?”

“We had lunch one day last year. Oh, yeah, he had become a vegetarian, like you.”

“It’s better all around, you know.”

“Right, anyway, he said civilization was a conspiracy to keep us comfortable. One natural disaster, he pointed out Hurricane Sandy, and you can see we’re at the mercy of nature, not the other way around.”

“Sometimes it’s a mistake to not be in awe,” said Vera. “Mother Nature’s teeth can be sharp.”

”When he showed up here this summer he told me his father had died and left him eight million dollars, he was divorcing his wife, and had enlisted with Greenpeace. I wasn’t surprised about his wife. Emily is a harpy. And she was having an affair behind his back, although he knew about it. What I wouldn’t be surprised about is if she had something to do with this.”

“Why?

“Because he was giving a lot of his money away to Greenpeace and to Coastal Studies here in P-town.”

“What are you going to do?” asked Vera.

“I think I’m going to talk to Ralph in the prosecutor’s office tomorrow and see what he can tell me.”

The next morning as Vera was rolling up her yoga mat in the backyard where she had been practicing Bruce barged through the gate with his car keys jangling.

“Vera, come to Sandwich with me.”

“Sure, but why?”

“They’re issuing a death certificate today,” said Bruce.

The Chief Medical Examiner’s office in Sandwich was a one-story building with a high, sloping gray roof, gray clapboard, and a brick entrance. Parked to the side of the front door was a Cadillac Esplanade.

Inside at the front counter Emily Stoddard and Tyler Bullock were talking to a tall bulky man with thick gooish lips. As they came up to them the man handed Emily Stoddard a manila envelope, shook her hand, and turning on his heel walked away down a disappearing hallway.

When Emily Stoddard saw Bruce she scowled, but then composed her face.

“Hello, Bruce, what a surprise to see you,” she said.

Bruce looked down at the manila envelope in her hand and back at her.

Emily Stoddard smiled pleasantly.

“They’ve ruled Aidan’s passing was an accidental death and issued a death certificate,” she said. “It’s all so very sad, but now we can go on with our lives.”

She smoothed the front of her skirt, glanced at Vera, and back at Bruce.

“Goodbye,” she said.

“Wait for me in the car, I’ll just be a minute,” said Tyler Bullock.

As Emily Stoddard walked out he asked Vera, “Haven’t I seen you somewhere, riding a bicycle, maybe?”

“Maybe,” said Vera.

“Bicycles are for little girls,” he said, and followed the Medical Examiner’s steps into the building.

“What was that all about?” asked Bruce.

“I don’t know,” said Vera.

As they walked along the front of the building to their car a sharp gust of wind blew Vera’s bonnet off her head. It somersaulted along the side of the building and came to rest in the thorns of a Rugosa bush at the far rear corner. Vera jogged to the bush and disentangled it.

She could smell the spicy clove fragrance of the white flowers.

As she straightened up she saw the Medical Examiner walking to his car and Tyler Bullock standing at the rear door.

What were they doing, she wondered?

As she made to go Tyler Bullock suddenly turned in her direction and glared, surprised and suspicious.

“What do you want?” he asked, loud, coming towards her.

“Just my hat,” she said, stepping back with it in her hand. Tyler Bullock was a large man.

“Go find your bike,” he said.

In the car Bruce asked, “Did you forget your hatpins?”

“Yes, I’ll have to make sure not to do that again.”

Later, circling through the Eastham-Orleans rotary, Vera asked, ”I wonder if the folks at Coastal Studies would tell us anything about the money Aidan was giving them?”

“They might,” said Bruce

“I’ll go see them tomorrow.”

The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies was on Bradford Street across from the Pilgrim Monument. As Vera came through the front door Kathy Neves da Graca, the executive assistant, turned from the filing cabinets she was stuffing with file folders toward the sudden breath of air.

“Hi, Vera, long time no see.”

“Teaching the tourists to twist and turn,” said Vera.

“Which reminds me…”

“I know, I’ll see you in October. But, that’s not why I stopped in.”

“I didn’t think so. What is it?”

“Have you heard about Aidan Stoddard?”

“Oh, my God! We couldn’t believe it. He was such a great kid.”

Kathy da Graca was in her mid-50s with two children in their mid-30s. Everyone 30-and-under was still a kid to her.

“He worked with us all summer, was a big help, and had signed on to Greenpeace. He was leaving for New Zealand next week. He was so excited. They had found a place for him on the new Rainbow Warrior. It’s such a loss.

“On top of that he was going to contribute a large amount of money to us. Now nobody knows where that stands”

“That’s what I wanted to ask you about.”

“I don’t know much about the details. You should talk to Ran Olds. He’s our development officer. He’s out on the pier today, cleaning up our kiosk. He would know everything about it.”

As Vera walked onto MacMillan Pier Rachel Amparo waved from the front of Outermost Kites and joined her.

“You’re on foot patrol today?” asked Vera.

Rachel Amparo pointed to the Pier Parking Permit Required sign.

“The boss was cranky this morning and I rubbed him the wrong way. This is my reward,” she said.

“I’m going over to the Coastal Studies kiosk to talk to Ran Olds about Aidan Stoddard. Kathy told me he was handling the money Aidan had pledged to them. I just have a feeling there is something not right about what happened to him.”

“What do you mean?”

“He was a world-class swimmer, but he drowned. How did he get out there? No boat, does that mean he paddled out on the spur of the moment wearing cargo shorts? He was leaving his wife and giving some of his inheritance to Coastal Studies and some of it to Greenpeace, but he ends up dead. What happens now? Does his wife inherit everything? There’s just something fishy about it.”

“I’ll tell you something really fishy,” said Rachel Amparo. “The Plymouth County District Attorney got a copy of the death certificate from the Medical Examiner in Sandwich this morning.”

“What’s fishy about that?” asked Vera. “Did it say someone killed him?”

“No, it basically said accident, or death by misadventure”

“What’s fishy about that?”

”The Medical Examiner’s office in this state is a mess. They’re underfunded and understaffed. I mean, that office in Sandwich, they built it in 2009, but it was unused until it opened in 2012. They couldn’t afford the staffing. They have long, long delays in producing death certificates. We’re talking a year-or-more. Homicides get missed and court cases delayed. Time is not your friend when you’re investigating a case or prosecuting it. But, here we’ve got Aidan Stoddard, it’s not exactly cut and dried, and we get a death certificate inside of a week.”

Vera thought suspicion was often recouped by finding what we suspected. She was not herself a suspicious woman. But, what had Tyler Bullock and the Medical Examiner been doing behind the building in Sandwich, she wondered again?

The door of the Coastal Studies kiosk was open. A man stepped out with a banker’s box and set it on top of two others. He was trim with thick salt and pepper hair, wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

“Mr. Olds?”

“Yes.”

“Hi, I’m Vera Nyberg, and this is Rachel Amparo of the police department. I wonder if we could ask you a few questions about Aidan Stoddard?”

Rachel Amparo gave Vera a sharp look. She ignored it.

“Sure, how can I help you?”

“It’s about the money he had pledged to Coastal Studies. Can you tell us how much it was going to be, and are you still getting it, now that he’s died?”

“It was a substantial amount.”

“How much?” Vera persisted.

“There’s probably no harm in telling you, now that we’re not going to be getting it.”

“No?”

“No, we got a call from Mrs. Stoddard’s lawyer yesterday afternoon that the offer was being rescinded, and a letter would follow to that effect. It was very disappointing.”

“How much are you not getting?”

“Mr. Stoddard had pledged three million to us and the same amount to Greenpeace. I doubt they will be getting theirs, either. We’ve been looking for funding to study the gray seals, but it looks like it’s going to have to wait.”

“The seals?”

“Yes, the hue and cry about culling them. Fishermen blame the seals for eating all the cod. Some call them wolves that go into the water.”

Ran Olds gave them a thin smile.

“They say they attract sharks, too. They probably do, but the cod aren’t coming back because they were overfished, not because the seals are federally protected. But, many people on the Cape believe they’re overabundant. There is even a group calling itself the Seal Abatement Coalition. Aidan didn’t agree and had earmarked some of his pledge to study the issue.”

“That’s too bad,” sad Vera.

“Yes, it’s too bad.”

In the backyard later that night Vera grilled balsamic vinaigrette tofu for herself and beef patties for Bruce’s hamburgers. As they ate she looked at Bruce’s flowerbeds. The fragrance of the asters filled her with nostalgia. Vera’s mother had vigilantly tended flowers when she was a child. Her knees had always been green at the end of the day.

After eating they lingered over bottles of Harpoon IPA.

“Did you know burning aster leaves keeps snakes away?” Vera asked Bruce.

“No,” he said. “What brought that on?”

“Tyler Bullock,” she said.

“Oh, right.”

“There’s something about the Medical Examiner that rubs me the wrong way. He was talking to Tyler Bullock behind the building before we left. It just makes me think there’s something not right about the death certificate. If only there was something we could do.”

“I could talk to Ralph tomorrow and check if his office can ask for a second opinion on the autopsy.”

“Do you think he might do that?”

Bruce took a pull on his Harpoon.

“We’re friends, so it doesn’t hurt to ask.”

Vera slept well that night, her breath beery and her window open wide to the cool breeze off the bay. The next day she did laundry and borrowed Elliot’s Ford Fiesta to get groceries from the Stop & Shop before jumping on her bike to go teach her classes at Yoga East.

She was sitting on a bench outside the studio waiting for her early evening class to assemble when her iPhone rang.

It was Bruce.

“Vera, Ralph called down to Sandwich, but it’s not good news. Aidan’s wife had him picked up that same day and he’s already been cremated.”

“Holy moly!” Vera exclaimed.

“It’s like a dead end, water’s edge,” Bruce said.

Vera put on a brave face for her hot flow class, practicing along with the students to stay engaged, mixing in more sun salutations than she ordinarily would have.

“Great class everybody, namaste,” she said after corpse pose, the class dispersing to their cars, scooters, and bikes.

When the parking lot had emptied a Cadillac Esplanade pulled quietly up to the Garden Renovations Nursery on the far side of Yoga East. Tyler Bullock let the engine idle.

“Don’t be long,” Emily Stoddard had said when he dropped her off at Race Point Beach.

“Save some of that for me,” he said pointing to the bottle of Dom Perignon dangling from her hand.

“I’ll try, sweetheart. Just don’t be long.”

When Tyler Bullock saw Vera in his rearview mirror with her back to him locking the front door of the yoga studio he stepped out of the black SUV and briskly crossed the parking lot to the sidewalk Vera was descending to her bike.

“You’re quite the busybody,” he said as he stepped in front of her, blocking her way.

“Your name keeps coming up. I don’t like that.”

His arm shot out and his hand clamped on Vera’s throat. He squeezed when Vera tried to pull back and wagged the fingers of his free hand in her face.

“Don’t,” he said.

“I’ll tell you once and once only. Stay out of my business. Remember the champion swimmer who drowned. You don’t want to be the yoga lady who ended up twisted into a pretzel.”

He lifted her up slightly so that Vera had to stand on her tiptoes to keep breathing. He smiled at her, his teeth showing. Gasping for air, Vera suddenly remembered she was wearing her bonnet. She reached up with her right hand and in a fast underhanded swing drove an eleven-inch Alice Teapot hatpin as hard as she could into Tyler Bullock’s left thigh.

He reacted instantly, jumping back, shouting in pain, spittle spraying Vera’s face, and fell to his knees. When he looked down and saw the silver plated hatpin he grabbed and pulled it out of his leg.

“I’ll kill you,” he screamed, but when he tried to stand up he fell down.

But, it was no matter by then. Vera was at the near side of the yoga studio, on her bike, crossing Route 6 and not stopping until she swerved into the Cumberland Farms gas station on Shank Painter Road, punching 911 into her iPhone.

In the morning Rachel Amparo picked Vera up at the guesthouse.

“I could have walked,” Vera said.

“No, we’re not going to the station. Ralph said it was all right if you heard it for yourself. The fisherman is still out on the beach, although he said he would be leaving by two, three o’clock, didn’t think he wanted to do anymore casting.”

“Can we bring Bruce along? He and Aidan were friends.”

“I think so.”

A park ranger met them at the south access ramp of Race Point and they crossed onto the beach, following the vehicle tracks, surprising terns hiding in the ruts. On the backshore side of the beach were scattered a half dozen RV’s.

“They’re self-contained vehicles. We call them SCV’s,” the ranger explained. “They carry their own water and toilet holding tank. Folks camp on the off-road corridor and fish, some of them for two, three weeks. There are families that come here every summer.”

He made a line for a white RV with blue trim and a slide out awning. The tires looked almost flat. A jolly roger was flying from a plastic pole stuck in the sand. The skull on the flag sported a red bandana and black eye patch.

A stocky middle-aged man met them outside the shade of the awning in the mid-morning sunlight.

“Bob, this is Rachel Amparo, Provincetown police, and these are the interested parties, Vera and Bruce,” said the ranger.

“The wife is watching the news. Maybe we could talk down by the fire pit,” said Bob.

“You have TV out here?” asked Bruce.

“Sure, satellite,” said Bob.

The fire pit was round with a flat donut mound in the middle littered with charred firewood. Bleacher seating had been dug out of the sand in a circle around the donut.

“I was taking a walk,” said Bob once they were all seated.

“The wife was making dinner and I had an hour. She said to make myself scarce since she was making something special. I thought I’d work up an appetite.”

He grinned, but without mirth.

“I never did have that dinner.”

He got a flip-top pack of Marlboros out of his breast pocket and lit a cigarette. He threw the match on the dead fire.

“I didn’t see her at first. I was watching the seals as I walked, there were so many of them, close in to shore. You don’t see that many around here, not like down in Chatham. When I did see her I wasn’t sure of what I was seeing.”

“What was it?” asked Bruce.

“There were seven or eight seals, I think, on the beach. The lady was lying on the sand, her legs stretched out to the breakers. She had a bottle in her hand. They had her penned in. At first she wasn’t moving, none of them were. Not her or the seals. When she tried to get up is when all hell broke loose. One of them clamped his mouth on to her ankle and pulled her down. She was hitting him with her bottle, but then the others got her by both legs and started pulling her into the water.”

He took a drag on his Marlboro.

“It all happened so fast. I didn’t know they could move that fast. They use their flippers, and sort of wiggle. By the time I got close enough to maybe help her, they had her in the water and there wasn’t anything I could do.”

He stubbed his cigarette out in the sand and put the butt in his pants pocket.

“She was trying to keep her head above the water, but they had her by both legs and one of them was biting her face. She was screaming something awful and the seals were making a crazy high crying, like a dog howling. Then, just like that, it was all over, and it got real quiet. They pulled her down into the water and I didn’t see her or them again. When I looked up all the other seals who had been watching were gone, too.”

The man stood up and brushed sand off his pants.

“That’s what happened. At first I couldn’t believe it, but when I saw blood on the sand and the broken bottle I called the rangers,” he said.

Vera looked out at the horizon.

“I’ve got to go. We’re packing and leaving, going home. Oh, yeah, one other thing I forgot to tell you folks,” he said, looking at Rachel Amparo.

“There was a man who came down the beach, yelling, and lurching, like one of his legs hurt. I think he saw what happened, too. He fell down after the seals took her and started to slap the sand. He kept saying damn, damn, damn, but when I tried to get close to him he gave me an eye that made me stop. After that he got up and dragged himself back towards the parking lot. He wasn’t walking too good, but it didn’t seem like he wanted my help.”

“Thanks, Bob,” the park ranger said.

“Sure,” said Bob, nodding at the others before he turned and walked away.

“I’ve never heard anything like it,” said the park ranger.

At Fanizzi’s, a restaurant on the quiet side of Commercial Street, Vera, Bruce, and Rachel Amparo sat at the bar, staring through the windows that made up the back wall of the bar onto Provincetown Harbor. The policewoman worked on a plate of fish and chips, Bruce nursed a bottle of Magic Hat No. 9, and Vera played with the straw in her glass of ice water.

She wasn’t hungry or thirsty, just lonely.

The bar would begin to fill up soon, but she didn’t want to be there when it did.

“I don’t hate people. I just feel better when they’re not around,” Charles Bukowski had once said. Maybe Hattie was right about him, Vera thought. Or maybe she was all wrong.

“Are you thinking the same thing I am?” asked Bruce.

“Probably,” answered Vera.

“So, tell me.”

“The seals knew it was her.”

“That’s a relief. I’m glad I’m not the only one.”

Rachel Amparo, twisting towards them in her seat, a forkful of cod almost in her mouth, said, “That’s crazy talk. Seals are just, you know, seals.”

“Don’t let the cod hear you say that,” said Vera, and leaned sideways as Bruce spit up a noseful of beer, sputtering, and the policewoman clapped him hard on the back.

“Oh, Vera,” said Rachel Amparo, sliding a thick, clear plastic bag marked ‘Evidence’ in black capital letters across the polished bar to her.

“I found this last night. I thought you might want it back. You never know when you might need it again.”

Inside the plastic bag was an Alice Teapot hatpin.

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Ask the Yogi

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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