Tag Archives: yoga and violence

Devil’s Right Hand

By Ed Staskus

   For half a century, from 1916 to 1966, until Charles Whitman, an ex-Marine, shot and killed 16 people, wounding 31 others, shooting from the top of an observation deck at the University of Texas at Austin, there were just 25 public mass shootings in the United States in which four-or-more people were killed. The young ex-soldier redefined homegrown massacres. He brought to bear a Remington 700, a .35-caliber Remington, a M1 carbine, a Sears semi-automatic shotgun, a .357 Magnum, a Luger, and a .25-caliber pistol.

   During the rampage a police sharpshooter in a small plane circling the 27-story building was repeatedly driven back by return fire. The first person killed was the eight-month-old not-yet-born baby of an 18-year-old pregnant student when she was shot in the abdomen leaving the Student Union.

   Finally, two policemen stormed the observation deck, one firing his revolver, but missing, and the other killing Charles Whitman instantly with two blasts from his shotgun. The policeman with the revolver emptied his gun into the body at point-blank range, making dead sure. He ran to the parapet yelling, “I got him, I got him.” He was almost shot himself by police on the ground, who didn’t at first realize he wasn’t the shooter.

   It remains to this day one of the deadliest mass shootings in the United States.

   My parents grew up in Lithuania. When they were still teenagers, they saw plenty of guns. Between 1940 and 1944 first the Russians invaded, then the Germans, then the Russians again. When they fled to Germany in 1944, they saw even more weapons during the furious last months of the collapse of the Third Reich. By the time they emigrated to Canada they had seen enough guns to last them a lifetime, more than most people ever see in a lifetime.

   During the Second World War the United States fabricated 2,679,840 machine guns and 11,750,000 infantry rifles. Twenty-nine other countries were a part of the deadliest war in history. Only God knows how many guns, and mortars and cannons and tanks, they manufactured, among other things, resulting in 70 to 85 million military and civilians done in for good. 

   In the 1980s, the FBI defined mass shootings as four-or-more people, not including the mass murderer, being killed in a single incident, typically in a single location. Since 1966 there have been thousands of them. Before 1966 there was a mass shooting about once every 100 weeks, Today, there is a mass shooting about once every day.

   Between 1999 and 2013 there were 31 mass murders per year on average. In 2015 there were 220 days of mass shootings and only 145 with none. In the first ten months of 2018 there were 307 mass shootings, almost as many as there were days.

   It doesn’t bode well for the 2020s with the Grand Old Party still chock full of crazy people, the National Rifle Association still rampant with crazy people, and millions of crazy people still armed to the teeth. The NRA, with reasoning crooked as a corkscrew, has re-interpreted the 2nd Amendment, disappearing some of its language and all of its intent, to suit their agenda. They and their supporters equate success with goodness.

   It doesn’t matter that rightness ends where ammo begins. They are all in with Mao, who said, “Power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Wayne LaPierre, the Grand Dragon of the NRA, says “We need national carry.”

   It would be like giving AK-47’s to monkeys.

   There are more guns than people in the United States. There are almost 400 million guns in the country. There are 12 million guns in Canada. There are 3 million guns in England. There are fewer than half-a-million guns in Japan. US citizens own 40% of all the guns in the world, more than the next 25 countries combined. 

   When I grew up in Sudbury, Ontario, the only people who had guns were the police, hunters, and folks who lived on the outskirts. They kept shotguns near their back doors to fend off marauding bears. My parents didn’t have any guns. After the war my father never owned a gun.

   “Guns kill people,” he said. He was a miner and saw things in black and white terms. If it looks like a volcano, blows its top like a volcano, it’s a volcano. He knew since he was a dynamite man a mile down, before he saw the light and started using his head instead of his hands.

   Yoga studios seem immune to gun violence. Whoever saw a security guard at the front door of a yoga studio? At least, not until two years ago, when a man walked into Hot Yoga in Tallahassee, Florida, and shot to death Nancy Van Versen, a faculty member at Florida State University, and Maura Binkley, a student at the same university.

   The young woman’s father said his daughter had planned on becoming a teacher. “She truly lived a life really devoted to peace, love, and caring for others,” said Jeff Binkley. She didn’t live long. She was 21 years old.

   It doesn’t take long to go packing in Florida. There is no waiting period to buy an assault rifle or anything else. In Iowa no one needs a license to sell guns online. If you plan on selling lemonade in Iowa, however, even if you’re a 7-year-old and your storefront is your front yard, you need a business permit. In Texas, if you want to sell guns, go right on ahead, partner. It is the most heavily armed state in the country.

   But, if you want to cut hair in Texas, you have to log 1,500 hours at hairdressing school. Scissors don’t kill people, people do. It’s best to beware Texans bearing gifts.

   Buying a gun almost anywhere in the United States is easier than getting a license to drive, filling out your tax return, or talking to tech support. It’s harder to pay off student debt, which typically takes about 21 years, than it is to buy a gun, which typically takes about 10 minutes. Anyone can walk into a gun store, pass a background check in record time, and walk out with a persuader. In some states no one has to even do that. They can buy a gun from a private seller, no background check needed.

   In Lithuania there isn’t an arsenal in every basement. In order to own a gun an exam and license are required. They keep a lid on the bubbling stew, at least. The murder rate is 9 times higher in the United States than in Lithuania. You are 128 more times more likely to be involved in a gun related crime in the United States than Lithuania. The USA has gone gun crazy since the 1960s. It’s not just mass shootings, either. It’s one bullet at a time. In 2016, there were hardly any people murdered with a handgun in Japan, England, Canada. and Lithuania. All their coffins put together were a fraction of the 11,004 murdered in the USA.

    Mass shootings have happened at casinos, nightclubs, hotels, music festivals, libraries, factories, airports, shopping malls, courthouses, sorority houses, apartment buildings, Waffle Houses, backyard parties, Planned Parenthood clinics, movie theaters, churches, synagogues, the Empire State Building, nursing homes, baseball fields, grade schools, high schools, community colleges, and universities. In Dangerfield, Texas, a man walked into a church and killed 5 people and wounded 10 others after members of the congregation earlier declined to be character witnesses for him at a trial.

   Besides the mortally wounded at Hot Yoga, four others were shot and one of them, a young man who, among others, resisted the murderer, was pistol-whipped.

   “Several people inside fought back and tried to not only save themselves but other people,” said Police Chief Michael DeLeo. “It’s a testament to the courage of people who don’t just turn and run.” One of them who didn’t turn and run, even though unarmed, was shot nine times.

   The killing spree broke out on a Friday night as the class was starting. Scott Beierle pretended to be a student, then pulled a semi-automatic handgun from his duffle bag and started blasting anybody female in sight without warning.

   When the gunfire momentarily stopped, Joshua Quick took action.

   “I don’t know if it jammed, or what,” he said. “So, I used that opportunity to hit him. I picked up the only thing nearby to hit him with, which was a vacuum cleaner, and I hit him on the head.” The shooter was staggered, but recovered his footing, pummeling Joshua on the forehead with his gun. The yoga student fell to the floor, bleeding bad, but got back up.

   “I jumped up as quickly as I could, ran back, and the next thing I know I’m grabbing a broom, you know, anything I can, and I hit him again.”

   “Thanks to him,” said Daniela Albalat, “I was able to rush out the door, slipping and bleeding.” She was shot in the upper legs. “I want to thank that guy from the bottom of my heart because he saved my life.”

   Joshua Quick did what the Dalai Lama would have done, except the Dali Lama would have gone heavy. He wouldn’t have used a broom. Arguably one of the most peaceable men on the planet, when asked by a child at the Educating Heart Summit in Oregon what he would do if someone came to his school with a gun, he replied without hesitation, “If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun.”

   Three minutes after the first 911 call, sirens were wailing, and police were showing up. The killer cleared the gun’s chamber, turned it on himself, and shot himself straight to hell.

   He lived in Deltona, Florida, about 250 miles from Tallahassee, and had no connection with the yoga studio or anyone he gunned down. He had been a substitute teacher at the Volusia County Schools, even though he had a master’s degree in public administration from Florida State University. He was arrested several times for groping women on the FSU campus. He was fired for unprofessional conduct, feeling up teenage students not being in his job description. 

   The gunslinger was an amateur musician who posted his songs online. On “American Massacre” he sang, “If I cannot find a decent female to live with, I will find many indecent females to die with. I find that if I cannot make a living, then I will turn, I will make a killing.”

   Mass murderers are all different, except most of them are men. It’s a man’s world. They have their reasons for doing what they do, although none of them are good reasons, and many, if not all, mass murderers suffer from psychological problems. Mental health is not compatible with murdering people.

   Although they and their reasons are variable, the one constant among them is the fast fire weapons they deploy. None of them carries a cap and ball Colt. It would knock them off their feet, anyway. They bring the blessing and imprimatur of the NRA, the gun champions who have successfully lobbied one Congress after another for decades to limit research by the Centers for Disease Control into gun-related violence.

   A few days after a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in March 2018, House Speaker Paul Ryan said his ruling Grand Old Party planned on keeping restrictions on gun research in place. “We don’t just knee-jerk before we have all the facts and the data,” said the longtime opponent of gun control laws.

   As long as his kneecaps weren’t getting popped, he’s wasn’t going to knee-jerk it.

   “We are saddened and angered by the senseless shooting at Hot Yoga Tallahassee,” said Tasha Eichenseher, speaking for Yoga Journal. “Studios are sacred places where we go for self-care and to feel safe.”

   After Sandy Hook and Tree of Life Synagogue and First Baptist Church, it is doubtful there are any safe places left. It is undoubtedly true there are no sacred places left. If even Fort Hood, the biggest active-duty and most secure army base in the United States, couldn’t prevent Nidal Hasan, an Army major, from going postal and fatally shooting 13 soldiers, while wounding more than 30 others, there might not be safe and sacred and secure anywhere.

   “You have a whole generation with this being more and more normal,” said Jeff Binkley. “That cannot happen.”

   When I was a kid in Sudbury our mom never bought us toy guns. “No,” she said whenever we asked. We stayed busy dodging the trains hauling ore and wailing on all sides of town. It wasn’t until we moved to the United States that I found out all kids had toy guns. After that there was no going back.

   In any event, as long as the politicians we elect to rule our state and national legislatures, and the politicians we elect to our state and national capital houses, are the same vote-stuffing wallet-stuffing puff ‘n’ stuffers allied hand-in-hand with gun manufacturers and Second Amendment agitprops, no-nonsense gun-reform legislation and public-health funding are not going to happen.

   The gunrunners don’t give it a first thought. They don’t give it a second thought, either. The devil’s right hand is all right with them.

   The silk stockings perform to the grass roots who believe they need guns to make it in this world. Their faith is in the ruling class’s Punch and Judy show even though the second estate’s grass roots are fertilized at a thousand country clubs where a thousand lobbyists dine and drink. Their security guards carry sidearms, since they no more believe in responsible gun owners than they believe in the Constitution and aren’t taking any chances. No 2nd Amendment-toting mob is getting through their country club doors.

   Two-and-a-half centuries later we don’t live in 1780s buildings anymore, we don’t travel in 1780s horse and buggies anymore, and we don’t turn on the lights with 1780s whale oil anymore. We don’t read one-page pamphlets and the penny press anymore. We don’t use 1780s medicine, like arsenic and leeches, anymore. There is no reason why a 1780s amendment to the Constitution, written to enable a militia in a time of crisis, should enable everybody to buy whatever guns whenever and wherever they want for whatever reason.

   But that’s the world we have made and the world we live in. Carrie Lightfoot and Yosemite Sam guns a-blazing aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Americans love their guns, guys gals and the movies.They don’t believe liberty gets handed to them unleaded. They believe it will get stripped away the wrong way around if they aren’t vigilant. It’s been said fences make for good neighbors. Locked and loaded makes for tried-and-true neighbors.

   It’s like the Lithuanian proverb says, “When you are in the devil’s wheel, you must learn how to spin.”

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com. Click “Follow” on a site to get its monthly feature in your in-box.

Walk of Life

i_want_you

By Ed Staskus

“War is hell.”  William Tecumseh Sherman

Wars are armed conflicts. We have been marching off to them for the past 14,000 years. Since the rise of the nation-state as we know it tens of thousands of wars have been fought, costing more than 3.5 billion human lives. Other deaths, like those of horses, mules, and camels are incalculable.

The Confederate cavalryman J. O. Shelby had 24 horses shot out from under him in two-and-a-half years during the Civil War. He survived every warhorse he ever rode. General Shelby died of old age in 1897.

Nearly all people all societies all states have gone to war with one another. 95% of all known societies have either fought wars or fought wars constantly. In the past 14,000 years there have been only approximately 300 years of non-raising Cain.

“The condition of man is a condition of everyone against everyone,” said Thomas Hobbes some 400 years ago. When it comes time to taking care of business it’s about banging heads with iron and blood, no matter what century it is. “Force and fraud are in war cardinal virtues.” In other words, no one gives a hoot for the other man, woman, or child. It’s every Man for himself and God against all.

It’s every horse mule camel for himself, too.

All faiths beliefs persuasions have crossed swords, from Jews to Buddhists to Christians. The European Wars of Religion in the 16th and 17th centuries cost more than 15 million souls. Islam has been at it since just about Day 1. In Sri Lanka the Tamil Tigers and hard-line Buddhists have been fighting tooth and nail for several years.

They were and are fighting for their beliefs, their beliefs being a ball and chain. Non-violence can be a disaster when it doesn’t work. The only bigger disaster is violence when it works.

More than 230 million people died in the wars of the 20th century. “It was a beastly century,” said Margaret Drabble. It’s impossible to say how many were injured displaced disappeared. At the end of the day, at the end of the century, who’s to say who was right and who was wrong? Whoever is left is who says.

The verdict is still out on the 21st century.

In the 5,000-year history of yoga, however, there are no recorded battlefield deaths of any man or woman true-blue to the eight limbs of the practice. There are no war stories of getting off the mat and duking it out with someone across the street who doesn’t see it your way. Even though there is a standing pose called Warrior, there are no thrust and parry, no AK-47’s, no nuclear arsenal. There are no bronze memorials of stern men on horseback sword in hand in any yoga studio anywhere.

Wars are fought for many reasons, but those reasons can be boiled down to nationalism, revenge, and material gain, both economic and territorial. The wages of war are swinish dark bottomless. Yoga is practiced for one reason, uniting body spirit mind. The wages of yoga are breath light energy.

Going to war may be the easiest thing to explain and the hardest thing to do. “Battle is an orgy of disorder. There is only attack and attack and attack some more,” said George ‘Old Blood and Guts’ Patton, who commanded the U. S. Third Army during WW2. Yoga may be the hardest thing to explain and the easiest thing to do. “Just do,” said K. Pattabhi Jois, the man who originated Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.

General Patton often said battle was the “most magnificent” undertaking known to man. It can be one hell of an undertaking. A chest full of medals sparkles when you’re successful. Six feet of loose dirt covers up your failures.

“The real trouble with modern war is that it gives no one a chance to kill the right people,” said Ezra Pound.

Old Blood and Guts died in an automobile accident. The Army private chauffeuring his Cadillac limousine was uninjured. K. Pattabhi Jois died of natural causes. “He was fearless about combining the path of yoga with the path of the participant “ said David Life, the co-founder of Jivamukti Yoga.

Since yoga doesn’t self-identify with any nation-state, doesn’t live by the eye for an eye of the tiger, and isn’t interested in looting all your stuff, it doesn’t issue declarations and ultimatums. It doesn’t blow its stack, launching smart bombs, armed drones, and coming to your world soon, fully autonomous weapons systems.

Practicing yoga is practicing getting your hands on freedom, no matter how elusive it may be. It’s not about getting your hands on the other guy’s cargo, no matter how bright and shiny and phenomenal it is. More cargo more loot more territory means keeping your nose to the grindstone in order to keep it all in your corner of the world. Yoga means sloughing off the wet dream of more glory more prizes more pride in victory.

Freedom isn’t about riding the merry-go-round and grabbing grasping snatching at the brass ring. Hell, what would you do with it anyway?

The Totenkopf military hat features a human skull, mandible, and two crossed long bones. The black-clad Hussar cavalry of Frederick the Great were the first to wear them. The death-head hats scared the hell out of the other guys, making it clear what was at stake.

Even though the Dalai Lama has said, “Awareness of death is the very bedrock of the path,” death-head hats are never worn by anyone at any time anywhere in any yoga class.

If Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II had taken off his skull and crossbones hat in 1902, put his hair up into a bun, and gotten on a yoga mat instead of scowling all the time, he might not have walked off the plank right into WW1. But, he didn’t, and 12 years later it was Time for Trench Warfare. Since WW2 was a direct consequence of the War to End All Wars, maybe that wouldn’t have happened, either.

In 1938, just before the start of WW2, French biologist Jean Rostond said, “Kill one man, and you are a murderer. Kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror. Kill them all, and you are a god.”

What a difference a hat can make, not just in fashion, but in what determines the fate of birds on the wing, too. The last German Emperor abdicated in 1918, grew a beard, and spent the rest of his life chopping wood and hunting birds. He bagged tens of thousands of them in the next twenty years. The neighborhood flocks thought he was an avenging angel.

Only one man has ever returned Uncle Sam’s Medal of Honor.

Charlie Liteky, a combat chaplain, without a weapon, flak jacket, or helmet, dragged 23 wounded soldiers out of a Viet Cong ambush in 1967, evacuating them to safety. He later opposed the war, and other wars, such as the invasions of Iraq. “I think it’s more of a patriotic duty of citizens of this country to stand up and say that this is wrong, that this is immoral,” he said.

But, one man’s immorality is another man’s morality, especially if those men are Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. The three largest defense companies in the world are USA companies. “You fasten all the triggers, for the others to fire,” sang Bob Dylan in ‘Masters of War’.

The United States controls more than 50% of the global weaponry market. Yoga controls 100% of the global yoga mat market. Only you control whether the world that’s always trying to make you something else gets its way.

Violence is the bread and butter of war. Warfare is a dangerous world filled with rough men, and lately, rough women, too. It is a world where the end justifies the means. Ahimsa, or non-violence, is the bread and butter of yoga The practice does not abjure self-defense, but it doesn’t propagate violence as a means, no matter what the end might be.

Non-violence is the first article of the first limb of yoga. Ahimsa in action is not doing harm. It’s simple enough, but easier said than done. The first step is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Unless you’re a psychopath, the doing will be non-violent. The next step might be to not march in ideological lockstep with anybody’s army. It doesn’t matter if it’s President Trump or President Putin or President Xi Jinping. Their interests are not necessarily in your best interest.

It’s pointless to complain about the weather. War is a longtime turmoil as old as the weather, as old as our gods. “May God have mercy on my enemies, because I won’t,” said George Patton. Sometimes it seems like there is no resisting the winds of war. It would be like trying to win a hurricane. When the Junior Bush and Elder Cheney administration wanted to invade Iraq over nothing Iraq had done, there was no stopping it.

If it all sounds like a shell game, that’s because it is. The shells of rockets’ red glare, the litter of shells the damage done, and political military industrial hacks shelling out pipe dreams of heroism. When you’re dead as a doornail it doesn’t matter who won the war.

The side of the moon facing away from the earth is the far side, the flip side. It is the side facing out to the cosmos. The bright side is what makes some moonstruck, making them go crazy when there’s a full moon.

John Bell Hood was a General in the Civil War on the Confederate side. He was notoriously brave and aggressive, and a madman. His troops routinely suffered staggering losses staging frontal assaults they were routinely ordered into. During the Seven Days Battle in 1862 every single officer in his brigade was either killed or wounded. In 1863 at Gettysburg Hood’s left arm was severely injured and he lost use of it for the rest of his life. In 1864 at Chickamauga his right leg had to be amputated just below the hip.

For the rest of the Civil War he rode into battle with his left arm tied to his body and his body tied to the body of his horse. “He has body enough left,” one witness remarked, watching Johnny Reb lock horns with the Yankees again.

The macabre spectacle of the one-armed one-legged Hood, trailed by an orderly carrying his replacement cork leg, was not his alone. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers on both sides of the Civil War lost arms and legs. That’s the damage all wars do, civil or not so civil, lopping off limbs, scrambling brains, filling up cemeteries.

Yoga, on the other hand, is not only a practice intent on keeping your arms and legs attached to your body, it is a practice that conjures additional limbs to those willing to take up the mantle of the mat. The discipline in the classic sense is an eight-limb practice. The limbs are restraint, observance, posture, breath control, sense withdrawal, concentration, meditation, and samadhi, which means standing inside of.

The walk of life can be hard enough with two arms and two legs. It’s much harder when missing an arm or a leg, or both. It’s much easier with eight extra limbs.

“When we talk about war we’re talking about peace,” said President George W. Bush. In the world of doublespeak slavery is freedom and war is known as peace. In the world of yoga freedom is freedom and non-war is known as peace. No fooling. Only fools try to fool themselves.

The masters of war would have you believe that taking up the gun will solve all the problems of taking up the gun. “The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over,” said William Tecumseh Sherman. General Sherman is known for the Savannah Campaign of 1864, slashing through Georgia and South Carolina, innovating what is now known as scorched earth warfare. “Yoga is not easy!” said K. Pattabhi Jois. “But, it leads to freedom.” He is known for inspiring and influencing the way yoga is taught and practiced all over the world.

Warrior pose on the yoga mat is about fighting the good fight, not fighting the other guy. It’s about challenge strength fortitude.

Standing on one leg in a yoga class may be cruel and unusual punishment, but at least you’re standing. Not only that, the standing is getting you somewhere. Getting anywhere in the Fog of War is up for grabs, at best, and on a collision course with Hell, at worse.

When it comes to getting on the good side of the Pearly Gates, war doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

A version of this story appeared in International Yoga Journal.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com 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.”