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by Morris Sullivan
I saw the most amazing thing this past March.
I attended a talk by a world-famous yogi at a university near my home. About 80 people attended the talk. They represented the sort of cross section one would expect to see: college students from a comparative religion class; students, teachers, and devotees from area "yoga for health"-type classes; curious folks interested in hearing what this well-known holy man had to say; and at least one journalist. I couldn't identify a single bona fide weirdo.
I was there as sort of a half-human, half-journalist. On a personal level, I was interested in hearing what the guy had to say. While I wasn't assigned to give the event coverage, I was working on another story in which I thought a quote or two from a famous yogi might fit.
He started by leading those assembled in chanting "Om" and some other mantras. It was quite lovely, really. When he began speaking, he made pretty good sense. I wrote down some of his more quotable comments. I even started thinking maybe I should start practicing yoga again, something I'd not done regularly since shortly after the Beatles' disenchantment with the Maharishi.
The yogi then performed a demonstration: He asked us to sit quietly and watch while he relaxed somewhat melodramatically (I know--that sounds like an oxymoron, but if you were there you'd know what I mean), followed by a deep slow breath, which he released with a drawn-out, staccato huh! huh! huh! huh!
He opened his eyes and gazed beneficently at his audience, letting it all sink in, before asking, "When I did that, what did you feel?" Apparently, most of the audience thought that was a rhetorical question, because no one answered until he prodded a little, asking us a couple more times what we felt when watching him breathe. (I felt a little silly, by the way).
Finally, a woman answered, "Calm."
The yogi prodded her for more: Did she feel calm, or was she saying he seemed calm? He led her into a sort of admission that watching him made her feel calm, whereupon another woman in the audience said she felt "warm" while watching him breathe. Pretty soon, people all over the room were one-upping each other, each claiming a groovier experience than the last. The yogi helped them out, suggesting that while he breathed, "waves of energy" may have emanated from him and moved through the crowd. By the end of this weird little episode, people were actually beginning to claim out-of-body experiences.
I'm not making this shit up.
Now, these were fairly ordinary people, most of whom probably had dinner before attending and a good sleep the night before. If the holy man had an opportunity to use some classic mind control techniques--deprive the audience of sleep and food, for example--he probably could have gotten them to convince themselves he'd flown around the room on a magic carpet.
Heck, if he'd wanted to, I'd bet he could have gotten them to convince each other they could justifiably invade a Middle Eastern country.
This transition will be an abrupt one. I apologize. You see, when I started writing this column, we were not yet (officially) at war in Iraq. I was planning to talk about that dramatic example of groupthink, then draw parallels between the relatively harmless little mind control exercise I'd witnessed and a much more sinister one, perpetuated by our own leadership as we hung on the border of Iraq, waiting for the missiles to fly and the tanks to roll.
I was going to make a lot of jokes poking fun at human foibles, laughing at how Americans have allowed themselves to be sold on "Operation Iraqi Freedom," and even laughing at the incongruous "title" of this war. "I admit, it sounds less Madison Avenue than 'Desert Storm' or 'Desert Shield,'" I would write, "but the idea that we're going to 'liberate' people by bombing the shit out of their country is a public relations maneuver of unexcelled absurdity."
I could still do that, I suppose. But my heart's just not in it.
I was going to talk about how the professor that set up the yogi's visit had told me later, "These guys are all part holy-man and part con-man." And I was going to make some clever comments about Hindu holy men and American Presidents.
I still could, I guess. But my heart's not in that, either.
I thought I might present a hypothetical scenario in which other countries ganged up against us. Some world leaders are accusing ours of felonious intent, you know. These world leaders could probably build a case--maybe not a great case, but a convincing one to those who already want to believe--that our government is run by a cruel madman who managed to seize power through a dubious election. They could add that America is a danger to the world--that we thumbed our nose at the international community over global warming, for example--and that America has tried to justify the invasion of another country and overthrow of its government with dubious claims of "weapons of mass destruction" and "evidence" fabricated from plagiarized thesis papers more than a decade old.
They could pile on charge after charge, arguing that the American people now routinely have their civil rights threatened, that the gap between the haves and have-nots grows larger by the day as those at the top amass more wealth at the expense of those at the bottom, that the people of our country have lost control of our government, our natural resources, and our environment.
I would probably have mentioned how Mao, Ho Chi Minh, and Stalin had all "liberated" people by killing a bunch of them. I'm not sure exactly how far out on a limb I'd have gone--I was only half-finished with the column, so hadn't completely organized all my thoughts--but I was thinking I might suggest we impeach the president and about 52 percent of Congress. Or I might have suggested we all work our asses off to ensure that, at the next available opportunity, they get voted so far out of office that none could get elected dogcatcher in Podunk.
But my heart's just not in that, now.
You see, I interrupted my composition of this column by leaving Florida for a family get-together in Texas. I would leave behind a Bush state, one in which southern slash pines struggle out of the soil to shade the palmetto scrub with their anemic branches and wispy needles. I would fly into the heart of another, one in which stunted, bony mesquite trees hang buzzard-like over the thick carpet of prickly pear cactus that clings tenaciously to the hard red clay. Each is beautiful in its own stark, naked way.
I was en route to the airport when the announcement came that the invasion of Iraq had officially begun. Hours later, I would sit in an airport watching the first war footage on CNN. I would share that experience with a number of other travelers who endured layovers while waiting to board airliners that would take them to their business engagements, their spring break parties, and their family get-togethers around the country, or to take them home to their loved ones.
"I love Americans," I thought, as I watched countless Americans struggle to process the images they saw. "But goddamn, I hate this war."
Later, I drove along a midwest Texas highway into a barbed-wire laced countryside. A late winter front had moved through, and an uncharacteristic mist shrouded the mesas that rose from the usually sere, griddle-flat landscape. The sun broke through the haze; it gilded the timeworn edges of the mesas and made the dewdrops that hung on the barbed wire glisten like rough-cut diamonds. A rust-red pickup crawled slowly down a farm road in the distance.
"Goddamn, I love this country," I thought.
I turned off the radio, shutting off news of the war, but the fighting kept playing in my mind. And it dawned on me: I sincerely hope my opinion of this war is wrong.
I got out of the car in a little town called Buffalo Gap and stood by the barbed wire facing the distant mesas. I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, quietly singing "Om" to myself while searching the vast flatness for the ghosts of the buffalo that once grazed there. And I spoke softly to any god that might be listening.
I prayed that our armies are in Iraq for all the reasons the President says, not for the more cynical reasons I suspect. I prayed that we'll win like he says we will and that the war will end soon with few casualties and few civilian deaths--and not turn out, as I expect it will, to be merely one in a series of battles.
And I prayed that when all the chips are counted, America's cause will have been proved right and just, and I'll turn out to have been just another a paranoid idiot. God help us if I don't.
Contributing Editor Morris Sullivan has written for IMPACT for more than five years. A freelance writer and former high school teacher living in DeLand, Florida, Sullivan is also a playwright. His most notorious work, Femmes Fatale, contained the infamous "Nude Macbeth," which has been covered by diverse news media from the BBC and NPR to Playboy, HBO's "Real Sex," and Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."
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