Do Activists Retire? Two Yogis Walk Into a Bar…

My friend, Joshua, peered through wire-rimmed spectacles, smiling sadly beneath a bald head muttering, “I have no lips. Have you noticed? I mean, in the last five years they’ve disappeared.” He coughed leaning back in his chair while the late morning light filtered into the room slowly turning into an early noontime. “It’s because I’m old.”

“Sah Aham,” I said. “Sah Aham.” This bit of ancient Sanskrit, meaning “eternal or immortal spirit I am,” I hoped would cheer him up.

Joshua scratched at water spots on restaurant utensils, staring at worn fingers and dried cuticles. “I never noticed it, but someone went out of their way to mention it to me. Now, every morning I’m self-conscious.” He leaned in across the table. “I shave like a condemned man. I find my blood depressing. And, I’ll tell you something else: I’ve been doing a lot of work with Amnesty International.” Joshua stared at me as though he were about to break government secrecy. His jaw ground silently against our Los Angeles landmark, Jinky’s Studio Café’s high-energy background with its clattering dishes and clanging pots from the kitchen. He worked hard pushing words over his tongue. “I’m seeing the worst of inhumanity,” tapping his fingers on the table, “No lips. Huh. Do you think we possesses inherent goodness? I don’t.” This being the bone of contention brought to lunch, he settled back, disillusioned in his autumn. At 80 years of age, he stared into space thinking and fading.

I sat stunned. For the record, I believe my friend’s lips appear as they should: noble, experienced, and obviously intense. I also believe humankind evolves as the conscious product of inherent goodness considering itself. Walking Eden hand-in-hand, transcending each challenge, tossing nothing aside, using everything, growing the garden a bit more and a shade different than it flourished as humanity working together during any previous moment. Miniature stage lights and movie posters hung on Jinky’s dining room walls. The Ten Commandments staring Charlton Heston as Moses caught my focus— =he was a statesman, the leader of a troubled people, the kind of president we’re hard-pressed to find these days.

If humankind is an expression of the transcendent evolutionary spirit, and our kind borrows its steam from goodness—not always pleasant, but good—then Joshua, my dear friend, I silently thought, you are entitled to inquire, and politically he did.

“Why such torment, such inhumanity toward man?,” Joshua laments. “Youngbear, people vanish in the night in what country, headed for what rat-infested prison? I’d like to know. Women are being mutilated and raped, children incarcerated in cages along the border, and to what end? I’d like to know. Adolescent desert dwellers are shooting guns before they are old enough to proclaim love! This sadly I know. And I’ll tell you something else. What the hell are we doing spraying ammunition like dropping cigar ashes on shoes? Why am I paranoid about the gold fillings in my teeth? Eden? Please, I’m too old for those metaphors. Youngbear, the universe is too old and people are pandemically dying!”

Joshua, a yoga friend, appeared to shrink before my eyes. He pulled his head down between his shoulders staring up at me like a basset hound. “My work with Amnesty doesn’t make a dent.”

“The subject,” I countered, “is more than lining up ducks. We’re discussing a universally broad relationship, the human condition in constant flux. Grab a handful of definition, squeeze, and it slips through your fingers like water because the human ailment breeds from so many, yet unexamined, questions. What motivates an intelligent animal, hero, or terrorist, to give his life as part of a human bomb? We sit here over glasses of ice speaking in metaphors like criminals and wise men, and if we’re lucky this style allows us enough maneuvering space to touch infinite relationship with finite words.

The answer to why there exists crises and torment in this world flies in the face of our Judeo-Christian perception of good and evil, that good and evil are separate opposing qualities. We have God and we have the Devil, or so we believe.

Coffee and pie arrived.

“Do you want to stop and savor this?” I asked my friend.

“Naw. We’re saving the world. Who needs pie?” Joshua—who celebrates his autumn days building 20-foot boats and riding bikes, flying kites, hiking, and practicing yoga with his wife—laughed until a lifetime of sunlight poured from his eyes. “You’re just a kid,” he said. “Not yet 70! What can you tell me? You have lips—speak!”

“To discover the answer, to save the world, we need to understand the garden’s basic truth upon which all creation rests.”

“Yes! Yes! ‘…all creation rests.’ Excellent! But, my young friend, what the hell are you talking about?”

“Homeostasis—the universe balancing itself within limits—is born of metaphysical divinity speaking to us in silent moments. However,” I shook my finger in Joshua’s face and his eyes grew, “homeostasis,” I ventured hearing my own voice brilliantly pontificating, “is not ultimate goodness. Goodness is a culturally contrived benchmark quality offering civilization the ability to judge itself. Culturally defining goodness is one of the ways the universe has of looking at itself and actively steering a conscious transcendent course. Goodness is not a concrete reality, yet it is required.”

Joshua’s head shot up. “There it is then, don’t you see? I can never really be good, achieve good, because goodness doesn’t exist! It’s crap, all my efforts. Crud, shit. Amnesty International is a total waste of my time.”

I studied Joshua, the set of his shoulders, the cast of his eyes. It dawned on me that at his age he searched for two things—something valuable to leave behind and a reason to continue living. I wanted to grasp his hand and reassure him that he was goodness itself, but man to man the words wouldn’t come. I felt through the background din growing louder by the midday moment that I must speak though my declarations would fall short. “If we observe goodness as not good or evil, but as just being what it is, it becomes our combined definition of good with evil, a homeostatic balancing act of acceptability. Goodness, in this specific sense of balance and limitation is that inherent need within humanity, within the universe else,” I grabbed my fork and stabbed my pie, “we have no universe. It’s inherent in you.”

We ate for some time in calm, surveying the passing parade of humankind outside a huge picture window overlooking Ventura Boulevard. Buses squealing their brakes billowed black exhaust. Lights changed. Senior citizens pushing aluminum walkers edged across the wide traffic thoroughfare. An upscale gourmet market called to the youthful rich arriving from a point in space and time they didn’t give much thought to and headed for a point in space and time they knew not and could not give much credence. Sweaty kids peddled by on bicycles. A jumbo jet flew overhead. It took a long time traveling from a great distance away, then casting a shadow and again traveling a great distance away. No one looked up because our kind lives on faith within limits. We would not be plane-bombed today.

Joshua studied my face. Our eyes met. The roar of jet engines diminished. Speaking, he gazed out the window. “I’d like to know, when one loses another loved one in a tragic act of unspeakable cruelty, the next war, a claim of inhumanity against mortality, are you going to throw such a word as homeostasis at the surviving soul? Does this word of yours hold comfort or solace? No! You claim to be using words that can touch the infinite. What of infinite pain? Do words exist that can begin the profound process of chipping away at grief? I’m afraid, my friend, a lot of people are shaking their fists. I find myself joining the crowd. I once knew a man who bore his pain in acceptance of crises in the garden and he never shook his fist at God. Youngbear, I’m not that man.”

Joshua lowered his eyes, ashamed. “I don’t believe I care anymore. Let the world destroy itself. I’m tired and I don’t want any part of it. I’m supposed to attend an Amnesty meeting tonight.  The hell with it.”

Responsibility is an excellent word,” I offered, “and so is understanding. As far as shaking your fist, if humanity is the face of God, we should shake our fists at God, shouting blame and swearing oaths of retribution.”

Kicking his legs, my friend shoved his chair away from the table. “You can’t be serious!”

Swearing for a time. Then we pray. Or if we are yogis we consider our three words, the widest meaning of our yoga practice: I am that. Our bodies tremble out of loss. Then we demand to know who is responsible. And it’s a fair demand.

Individuals are born to take a stand for good or evil, as we define those qualities, and each individual goes into making up the face of the garden. As each exercises their free will, so Eden evolves. We grow through Eden and Eden grows within us. That we have the ability to exercise free will is the inherent good in humankind. Perhaps with some distance it’s a political stand. A beginning. A point of grassroots recognition.

“The Amnesty meeting? The hell with it! But,” I stated, “don’t be unconscious, pretending others won’t notice your choices.”

I pounded my fist on the table. “Yes, you are going to die. Your choices are your teachings. That’s what you leave behind. Do not worry about goodness; it takes care of itself. You can be something more. Your actions are timeless eternal spirit.”

Joshua placed his spoon on the edge of his plate. Attacking his lips with a paper napkin, he stood shoving his left arm into his sport jacket. Hurrying, he checked his watch once and then twice. “Sah Aham, Youngbear. Sah Aham!”


Youngbear Roth has published essays on touch therapies and energy healing for Massage Magazine and the peer-reviewed Journal of Health and Caring and the diversity of yoga theory and philosophy for Crescent Magazine, Mystic Pop Magazine, LA Yoga Magazine, and Tathaastu Magazine. Youngbear’s research papers are in the databases of the International Association of Yoga Therapists and the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis.

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