Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dogs, Downward Facing and Otherwise

I struggled horribly with that downward facing dog thing, feeling so much pain and discomfort in so many parts of my body at once despite the fact that my back was still in more of a “cat tilt” and my heels were nowhere near the floor. Then I saw my three year old niece playing Twister. As a cousin called out commands, she moved her little feet and hands until...there it was, without flaw, effort, or knowledge. Picasso said “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child” and I believe him. But how much longer would it have taken him to paint like a dog?

The best thing about dogs is that you can be as dorky as you want around them. I find myself speaking in high pitched voices like an idiot, making absurd gestures of affection, and of course talking about all kinds of things the dog could never possibly understand, and, no matter what, her tail keeps wagging I like you I like you I like you.

Of course, the burden of trying to be cool is always a bit ridiculous, like Sisyphus carrying his rock up the hill, except that the hill in this case doesn’t exist—he just stands there looking at that imaginary mountain, expecting he’ll climb to the top as the rock forms from his expectations, becoming bigger and heavier until it crushes him.

I was a dork for most of my formative years—not a nerd; nerds have their own culture, their own networks, their own language—as far as I can tell, some strange mixture of Middle Earth, Klingon, and Weird Al Yankovic—but dorks are on their own. Except I had a shrink to talk to. Once I was telling him about the new puppy we’d gotten—really the only good point in that awful year called seventh grade, and so seemed a safe, positive topic to bring up instead of whatever uncomfortable shit he wanted to talk about. I mentioned we’d taken the puppy to be fixed. “That must be very upsetting for you,” he said. “Ummm...” I replied, “no. Why would it be upsetting?” “Oh come on, now, you know why! Your puppy was just castrated, and that’s something that worries you very much!” “Oh. What’s ‘castrated’ mean?” “You know what castrated means! It’s something you’re extremely concerned about!” “Ummm...I do?” “Of course you do! It means they cut his balls off! You’re terrified of that at this point in your life! You think they’re going to do it to you!” “Oh...okay.” Later that day, I took a look between the puppy’s legs as he ran around the backyard, seeing that there was, in fact, something still hanging there that, though I didn’t inspect it closely, looked a hell of a lot like balls. I mentioned that the next time I saw the shrink. “Ummm...y’know what you were saying about the puppy’s balls? I think they did something else to him. They’re still there.” That really made him hit the ceiling. “Of course he was castrated! And it’s so upsetting for you that you’re in denial about it!” As it turns out, veterinarians generally leave the scrotum, then remove it later. You’d think a medical doctor, and dog owner, would have known that. This may have something to do with why I had so little interest in Freudian theory in grad. school.

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you; that is the principal difference between a dog and a man.
Mark Twain

I’ve spent time working with prisoners—maximum security prisoners—i.e. not people who failed to report a bit of income, got caught with a bag of weed at a rock concert, or made an illegal turn in front of a cop after one two many drinks at a cocktail party—and at times I’ve been dumbfounded by what I hear from perfectly nice people when I mention that—how can you want to help those animals?! Why the hell should I care about what happens to them?! Who cares if they get raped?! They deserve to be tortured to death! Let ‘em choke to death on their own genitals...—though it’s not too hard to understand why. Many of us know people who’ve been victims of violent crime, and we all, to some degree, live in fear it (though, admittedly, the sensationalist news media is at least as much to blame for that as actual criminals). At the same time, isn’t it just a bit ironic that a person can say “violent criminals are a different species from myself” while simultaneously demonstrating just how untrue that is by expressing the most cruel and inhuman of sentiments? Is it really possible to deny someone else’s humanity or worthiness for compassion without sacrificing at least a bit of our own? Of course, many will go to the opposite extreme, pleading that those who commit unspeakable acts are helpless pawns of capitalism or fascism or communism or Christianity or Islam or Judaism or Hinduism or Buddhism or atheism, or whatever, but that's just another form of dehumanization, suggesting that the people are like dogs—without moral agency, only misbehaving if mistreated by their masters. If we’re really going to confront violence and try to move beyond it, I think we need to begin by acknowledging, like Walt Kelly’s Pogo, that we have met the enemy and he is us.


Anonymous said...

This is a great blog. I do yoga too and struggle with the downward dog thing too. I also worked with pregnant women and sex offenders in a maximum security prison for the past 4 years. I've just now gone back to public school. Phew!

Anonymous said...

Hehe, you know... eventually you might just come to view downward dog as a 'rest pose'. Somewhere to relax in between sun salutations or other more intense asana!
I was never thrilled with Frued, thank god for Jung and Viktor Frankl and other such pioneers. Or I'd be in trouble!
Its easier for most people to think the "bad" people are "over there" - not us. By definition that makes themselves "not bad". Or is that "not as bad"? In any case, those with the karma to be in prison or any other kinds of appalling life experiences need as much compassion as we can muster. Most of those finger pointing folk you mentioned probably wouldn't recognise themselves under duress. They would like to think they would never do anything that could warrant a prison sentence, but how can they be so sure? Remember the famous (but I can't recall the name) uni experiment with 'prisoners' and 'prison guards'? And how, after a very short period of time, the students taking these roles changed significantly?
They are us, we are them.

gabriel LSD said...

about the 'losing your own humanity while fighting others inhumanity' thing, there's people who need to do pretty bad shit to realize this kind of thing, you know, to be on the "other" side and to be in need of forgiveness, acceptance and all. anyway, great writing!

gabriel LSD said...

about the 'losing your own humanity by fighting others inhumanity' thing, there's people who need to do pretty bad shit to be able to realize this kind of thing, you know, to be on the "other" side and in need of (self)forgiveness, (self)acceptance and all. anyway, great writing!