By Ed Staskus
“We don’t get fooled again.” The Who
The difference between policies and principles is the difference between Santa, saviors, and savasana, or what is known as corpse pose in yoga practice. Santa and our many saviors, ranging from Islam to Christianity, much like our Messiah-like political leaders, have a heavy hand. They lay down policy like train tracks.
It’s my way or the highway. They enjoin the carrot and stick approach to order the reality they’ve carefully resolutely ruthlessly constructed. It’s often the kind of reality that even when you stop believing in it, it won’t go away.
Savasana is practiced at the end of yoga exercise classes. It’s a simple thing. You lie down on your back on the mat with your arms at your sides, close your eyes, and breathe naturally. When you surrender to Santa and the Savior you agree to live by their rules. When you surrender to savasana it’s just you as you are, not as what anybody else says you should be, not surrendering to somebody else’s magic kingdom.
Savasana only works when you’re being honest about it.
You don’t have to be an honest man or woman to live in the world of Santa and the Savior. You only have to do what you need to do to get along and get what you want. It’s playing hardball with a wiffle ball. It’s OK to lie to yourself. Who cares about the spirit of the thing?
“Next to a circus there ain’t nothing that packs up and tears out faster than the Christmas spirit,” said Kin Hubbard a hundred years ago.
You have to be an honest man and woman to dive into the ocean of yoga. Otherwise, what would be the point? It’s sink or swim. There’s no one looking over your shoulder. There’s no lifeguard.
In the making of the modern age of mass media, mass merchandising, and mass more-of-everything, Claus and Christ are staples from about the beginning of November until the Big Day. The Savior once had pride of place, since Christmas used to be about celebrating his birth, but Santa is the Top Dog in the 21st century.
“Christmas is a baby shower that went totally overboard,” Anthony Borowitz has pointed out.
Sometimes it seems like the celebration is more about the birth of Santa Claus than Jesus Christ. Even though he doesn’t exist, Santa is everywhere during the holiday season, selling jewelry electronics cars, whatever. Besides cash checks credit cards, there are even Christmas Club bank accounts to pay for last year’s presents.
A capitalist is someone who loves his fellow man and woman in groups of a million-or-more. The Money Markets and Scrooge never had it so good. They are laughing all the way to their McMansions, golden arches and all.
Santa Claus is a portly red-clad man who brings gifts to good straight arrow well-behaved children on Christmas Eve, or the morning of Christmas Day. He spends most of the rest of the year supervising elves in his workshop and making out a list of kids who have been naughty or nice. You don’t want to be on Santa’s shit list.
Children who have been on the up and up get gifts. Children who have stepped off strait is the gate and narrow is the way do not get gifts, unless it’s a lump of coal. Santa Claus can be judgmental. There are some roofs he won’t land on.
Santa Claus is everywhere, in California in shorts, in Nigeria shooting off knockouts, which are like firecrackers, and in China playing the saxophone. Most Chinese reenactor Santa Claus’s, ubiquitous on street corners and at the entrances to shopping malls, are almost always jamming on a sax.
No one, not even the Chinese, seems to know the reason why. The Beijing-based Helen Gao thinks it might be because “the saxophone is portable so Santa can make Christmas music anywhere.” Santa Claus used to have the right idea, which was to only visit people once a year.
Not anymore – he’s all over creation nowadays.
You don’t want to be the only one who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, because then you’d ruin everyone else’s Christmas. Some black people are on the fence about him because they don’t believe a white dude would ever come to their neighborhood after dark. If he did dare, they ask, what’s in that pipe he’s smoking?
In any event, nobody shoots at Santa Claus.
Many children believe in him, up to a point. Shirley Temple’s faith was shaken at the age of six when her mother took her to a department store and the bearded legend asked her for an autograph.
Christmas was once the first step to getting safely home to your Loving Father in Heaven. It was the start of the story, the starting gate in the stable. Over time it became more a state of mind, a tradition of good cheer for communities, retaining most of its original values. Today it’s a mash-up of visiting family and friends, of the economic miracle of gift giving “Make It a December to Remember With a Lexus,” and the NBA national broadcast on Christmas Day.
The Cleveland Cavs stormed back late in the 4th quarter in 2016 and beat the Golden State Warriors by a point in the last seconds. Some broadcasters said it was a miracle. It was The Miracle on the Corner of Ontario Street in Cleveland, Ohio. Other broadcasters said what Cavs forward Richard Jefferson did to Warriors forward Kevin Durant on the sidelines at game’s end was a sin.
But, when it comes to professional sports, and many other professions, sins don’t matter, one way or the other. They don’t actually affect the reckoning under the tree as long as you believe whatever works is what works. Who soldiers on when there’s no hope of a payoff?
The problem with Christmas has always been God the Old Testament at the front and center of it, not just Christ, the New Testament third arm of God the Father, God the Holy Ghost, and God the Son. If Santa is a judgmental old man, then God is an infinitely more judgmental, eternally older man. Santa Claus may not give you a gift this year, but there’s always next year. When it comes to Heaven and Hell, however, we all get one chance at it and the outcome is forever. There are no last-second miracles.
To accept the Savior, or any savior, into your fibre being life is to accept the belief that God has a plan for you. Hearing from him about the big picture is vital, the cog in the wheel of life. Listening following obeying the plan is everyone’s own personal decision. That’s why God grants us Free Will. Many people believe it’s in their own best interest to stick to the game plan both chapter and verse.
Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician, proposed a bet about God. Sensible folk should live as though God exists. If he doesn’t exist you lose very little, maybe a roll in the hay and some good times on this earth. However, if he does exist and you live by his rules, you stand to win the Grand Prize of Heaven. You also avoid the Big Bust, namely eternity in Hell.
In the end, if you bet against God you bet against yourself.
Like it says in the Bible, “Whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” You can say no to God’s way of doing things, but, come hell or high water, God will have his way, one way or the other.
The snag in this approach is inherent in the story of the angel walking down a road of good intentions with a bucket of water in one hand and a torch in the other. When someone asks the angel what he is going to do with them, he says that with the torch he will burn down the mansions of Heaven and with the bucket of water he intends to put out the fires of Hell.
“Then,” the angel says, “we’ll see who really loves God.”
Santa and the Savior rule from the top-down. They don’t necessarily care if you love them, or not. They didn’t get to where they are with a ho, ho, ho or a free ride. Santa Claus’s doppelganger is Krampus and God has many millennia of the Old Testament behind him, not just some forward-looking centuries of the New Testament.
The consequence of breaking the rules is dire risky consequential. The naughty are denied the sparkly magic of Christmas and sinners are turned away at the Gate of Heaven. “He who breaks the law goes back to the House of Pain,” said Dr. Moreau to the Beast-Men in the “Island of Dr. Moreau.”
Students follow rules. They have to please their teachers. Until recently women followed the rules because men made the rules. Dogs follow the rules. That’s why they’re man’s best friend. Women have recently been changing the rules, getting out of the dog pound.
There’s only one rule worth following. That’s the Golden Rule. Treat other people the way you want to be treated. It’s a homespun peg to hang your hat on, outside of school outside the workshop outside the law courts.
Santa Claus and Saviors, like everyone who has ever wielded power, are puppet masters pulling the strings. God is all-loving, but he’s all-powerful, too. A bag full of loot coming down the chimney is one thing. The power to fill the bag is another thing. “If you must break the law, do it to seize power,” said Julius Caesar a long time ago. Like Jesus Christ, Julius Caesar was worshipped as a God.
From then until now the love of power has more often than not trumped the power of love.
However, there are no puppet masters in yoga, no Santa Claus and no Savior.
The reason the practice is puppet master-less is that the power of the practice doesn’t flow from the top-down. It’s not just another kind of trickle down from on high, economic or otherwise. It flows from the bottom-up.
“You cannot believe in God until you believe in yourself,” said Vivekananda, a key figure in the introduction of yoga to the western world in the late 19th century.
Power lives and dies in a hierarchical tradition. There is no hierarchy in yoga, no Wizard of Oz. Power is like the Trump Tower. There is a penthouse at the top and a mailroom at the bottom. The Great Wizard is in the penthouse and the monkeys are in the mailroom. Yoga is more like a 5000-year-old tree with many branches. Power never stops blowing its bugle. Yoga quiets the body and mind.
The fly in the ointment of top-down power is when was the last time anyone at the top had a good idea? When was the last time Tim Cook Bill Gates Jay Y. Lee wrote computer code? When was the last time Barrack Obama Vladimir Putin Xi Jinping reduced their country’s armed forces? When was the last time Mark Cuban Dan Gilbert James Dolan sank a three-pointer from the corner office with time running out?
Savasana is sometimes thought of as the most important pose of yoga practice on the mat. It comes at the end of class and no one needs a teacher at the head of the room to tell them what to do. It is the nonpareil bottom-up posture, since you have to lie down on your backside to do it.
Corpse pose is about the self, and the non-self, and self-discovery. It’s about letting go of rewards and reincarnation and an afterlife in Heaven or Hell. When you’re in dead man’s pose nobody, not even the Downpresser Man, can boss your better half. You’re not doing something that somebody else told you to do. Nobody can tell you what to do because there’s nothing to do.
Letting Santa and the Savior read the riot act is a backwards way of living life, from the outside in, rather than from the inside out. Yoga is a practice of learning who you are by exploring yourself, not by reading the manual written by The Man. Marching in the ranks is fine on a parade ground, but who wants to be marching to a drill sergeant’s drumbeat all day and night?
“The question of whether or not there is a God or truth or reality, or whatever, can never be answered by books, by priests, philosophers or saviors,” said Jiddu Krishnamurti. “Nobody and nothing can answer the question but you yourself, and that is why you must know yourself.”
Be your own hero, not a moving part in the puppet show.
Anybody can do hero pose, even though it’s on the challenging side of the practice. You just have to have faith in yourself. It’s better to challenge yourself than be dogged by gods and monsters and the ruling class always trying to cut you down at the knees.
It’s never question and answer time in corpse pose, because it’s the end of yoga class, and you’re tired, and everybody and their brother is just going to have to wait while you and your breath take a break and recharge.
Putting Santa and the Savior and all the self-appointed Messiahs and their sticks and carrots on the back burner is to be up front, at the front of the class, knowing and being your own self, yourself as you are from the inside out.
Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”