January 24, 2013

War, Drugs & Buddhist Yoga. ~ Mel Johnson


“If You Try To Win The War With Your Mind, You’ll Be At War Forever.”

~ Arvis Joen Justi

I recently read an elephant journal article on yoga morality and it reminded me that I am the ex-wife of a Gulf War II veteran.

Wow, right. Honestly, it’s an identity I’d never really embraced and had completely forgotten. Because, in the aftermath of my marriage, I was more obsessed with healing from another war in my lifetime—the Reagan administration’s war on troubled, scared kids masked as the ‘war on drugs.’

When my husband returned from a nine month deployment to the Middle East, our marriage didn’t survive. It didn’t occur to me that my husband might have some intimacy issues stemming from a system that refused to acknowledge the mental atrocities of war. Instead, I blamed my own intimacy issues, having survived an ’80s-era, Reagan-endorsed drug ‘concentration camp’ for teens.

When my marriage turned to shit in 2003, I became obsessed with yoga. Yoga went from being my sexy side-habit to a full-time, all-encompassing, mental scourging and purging. I was a failure at marriage and wanted to know why. Even my grandmother, when I called her with the news, scolded, “Every divorce is a failure.” I figured I must be the weakest of women. After all, I was a third generation Navy wife and this was my second failed Navy marriage.

So, I did what the yoga t-shirts and bumper stickers told me—I began to look inward. And the things I unearthed were horrific. I realized, that these things had been running my ‘intimacy show’ for years.

The more times I twisted my emotions out of my calcified abdomen, stumbled out of various balancing poses into a pile of exhausted ego, and eventually crumbled into a silent lotus, the more flashbacks I had. Flashbacks of—shit, even as I write this a huge sigh escapes me—of being closed off in a room surrounded by teenagers who were screaming and spitting at me about what a ‘druggie shit bag’ I was.

The Reagan administration believed in ‘tough love.’ As a result, parents were dumping their scared, confused and rebellious teenagers into a federally funded chain of drug rehabilitation centers that employed POW torture techniques administered by ‘peer counselors,’ and not by licensed professionals.

No shit. My ‘counselors’ were other scared, confused and reformed teenagers who militantly bullied the newcomers into admitting they were pieces of shit who needed to be stripped of everything—including their dignity. Almost two years of my teenage life was spent just in just this way.

So, why did I date Navy men? Besides my weird compulsion to carry on the female family legacy? There was something about the Special Forces men in particular that I subconsciously identified with—hence my Hurt Locker husband. Yet neither of us knew how to communicate through our mental scars. And neither of us felt we had the permission to do anything but accept full responsibility.

But now, I know better. Nothing is ever that simple. There’s never just one cause.

Since I was such a ‘shit bag’ and ‘failure,’ I decided to go back to college to try to become a success at something. My obsession with Yoga as a healing process eventually brought me to a study of Eastern philosophies. My fabulous undergraduate program afforded me the opportunity to focus on Buddhist studies where I learned about such things as, pratītya-samutpāda and the importance of cultivation and practice. I had unearthed all these issues, but discovered that in order to keep them from ‘running the show’ that I needed to emote, to find balance between emoting and rebuilding, and most importantly, to develop a practice for seeing things just as they are.

During my undergraduate years, I investigated the inner-workings of my cultural and mental programming. After over 13 years of abstinence from drugs and alcohol, I went haywire—Hunter S. Thompson style. I traveled, tripped and wrote my brains all over the pages of this world. Mark Singleton writes about the Yoga fakirs, tricksters and charlatans pointing out that Yogis came in many different shapes, sizes and mental modifiers. I definitely wasn’t your holier-than-thou Yogi in a diaper on a mountain. I was embracing my inner freak in an effort to make sense of my weird-ass culture—one that had been sending me confusing messages about what’s right and what’s wrong.

I’ve come to the conclusion that morality is relative.

When people wage wars—whether on drugs or the Hyatt or the inner workings of their minds—what they’re trying to do is solve problems. And, often the quickest and easiest way to drum up support for one’s war is to posit a moral position and insist that people choose sides. I would argue that often times the problem with waging wars is that we don’t slow down enough to realize that sides are never that simple. Our propensity to make snap decisions is a problem that’s inherent to human nature.

The good news?

Cultivation and practice can afford us the abilities to transcend our sense of urgency. As I’ve allowed myself to slow down, I’ve been able to reflect on and analyze situations just as they are, and in all of their complexities. There isn’t any one solution because there isn’t ever just one cause.

So, instead of focusing on morality, I will do my best to focus on reality—always choosing to pay close attention to it.


Mel Johnson: As a student of some fabulously—and sometimes brutally—honest girlfriends, world travel, my awesome adviser, various yogis and yoginis, yogic philosophy runs through my veins and lungs. I am a graduate teaching assistant at George Mason University, teacher of critical thinking and writing, yoga entrepreneur, paddleboarder, hiker, Buddhaphile, oenophile and smartass.



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Ed: Brianna Bemel
Assistant Editor: T. Lemieux

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