“Your thoughts and your actions are fixed forever in their terms. That is slavery. I, on the other hand, brought you freedom. Freedom is expensive, but the price is not impossible. So, fear your captors, your masters. Don’t waste your time and your power fearing me.”
Carlos Castaneda

Tales of Power

Choking on my past?

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I wrote this partial post back in mid-January 2021. When I started it I had a feeling I may never finish it, and indeed I haven’t. Shortly after aborting it I did write a letter to my family on the same subject. But this post stayed with me. I have no desire to resume writing it. I do not even wish to review what is written before publishing. I do have a desire to make it public. I don’t know why. But here it is. Unedited. Incomplete.


Shortly after posting my last practice review my breath collapsed. It seemed inevitable to wonder if somehow COVID had reached me. I can’t really tell, but I suspect that is not the case. The focused blockage that was manifesting in my nostrils seemed to “get loose” and spread down into my chest. It became a cough and a tension in the diaphragm … the place where my asthma lived (lives?). This went on for ~10 days after which I felt a subtle shift for the better. I arrived at a comfortable ujjayi breath of 10.2.15.5. Now is the time of day I am usually on the mat, and I am not there because the last 3 days have seen another wave of deterioration.

During this time I’ve been re-listening to the podcast series Fear & Loathing in the New Jerusalem. Daryl Cooper has been like a close friend whispering harsh truths in my ear. He tells a story of my history. I was told this story in school when I was a teenager. But I was told an incomplete and broken version of the story. Daryl doesn’t hide or cover anything up.

If you wish to better understand what I am talking about I recommend listening to the podcast. There is a good chance it is one of the best history-story-telling podcasts you will hear. Any attempt I make to describe that story will fall far short of Daryl’s offering. The chronological “newsflash” version is:

  • 2000 years ago Jews living in modern-day Israel piss off the Romans and the Romans come down hard on them and send them into the wind … a 2000 year diaspora.
  • Basic tribalism keeps the Jews isolated in most of the societies they inhabit. Tribalism seems to be a fundamental source of “us and them.” Tribalism is eventually refined into racism.
  • Jews learn to live under threat for thousands of years.
  • ~150 year ago nationalism comes into fashion and the Jews join the party.
  • ~120 years ago waves of Jewish migration (motivated by different social forces) start to arrive in Palestine fueled by a wish to make it into Israel.
  • ~100 years ago the era of the two world wars begins and all the flux creates new potentials and opportunities.
  • ~80 years ago the 2nd world war arrives and lands hard on the Jews.
  • The Jews embrace the de-facto normalized strategies of “vengeance and attrocities” and turn them against everyone in Palestine who is not Jewish. The British are driven out of Palestine and the Arabs are driven into the ground (they have nowhere to go).
  • ~70 years ago, on foundations of violent attrocities (receiving and giving), the state of Israel is corrupted into existence.
  • ~50 years ago, just before one of its historical “survival wars” I was born.

Most of the modern world was built on violence and exploitation. Yet it feels to me like my, relatively recent, history is spiked with an excessive share of it.

Exploiting the Holocaust

My mother’s parents were German and Polish. They left Germany in the 30’s, they escaped the 2nd world war. My father’s parents were Romanian. They lived in a city ~80km from where I currently live. They did not escape and were Holocaust survivors.

The Holocaust is celebrated in Israel. It is fundamental to maintaining the national Israeli identity. If I am not mistaken both of my sisters went, as teenagers on school-organized “Concentration camp tours.” I was spared this ordeal because flights and tourism were not as developed. In the decades since these tours became more affordable and more common and became a regular part of many (if not most) young Israeli’s. We must never forget and we must never let it happen again. That comes in very handy when real military service is mandatory and you will be asked to subjugate other human beings. Young Israeli’s are sent to war as soldiers and when they die they come back as fallen (mostly) sons and (maybe a few) daughters!

The Holocaust was celebrated in my family. My paternal grandfather was once ceremoniously interviewed on video. I wasn’t there. I hated that this was happening. I had a feeling that what was taking place was deeply disrespectful. That this horrifying personal and collective history was being used not honored. Now, in retrospect I know that is was being used to set the stage for more horrifying history. When I left Israel to move to Romania (back to the place from which my grandparents were taken to German concentration camps) my fathers reminded me that “Everyone hates the Jews!”

Sheep & Men

I am a foreigner in Romania. I am also a stranger. I bury perfectly good firewood to make raised beds! I build strange stoves with barrels! I refuse to cultivate my land by plowing it with tractors and I feel compelled to protect it from overgrazing by sheep.

That last one almost got me in trouble. My neighbors, on one side, rent their land for industrial farming (and wonder why I don’t do the same … easy money!). My neighbors on the other side rent their land to a herd-owner for grazing his sheep. There is a lot of pressure on grazing land in Romania. I have tried allowing some controlled grazing on my land, but it didn’t work. I end up having to police my own land and policing leads to arguments … so I just don’t allow grazing on my land.

One time, I found the sheep grazing all over the raised beds. I ran out and demanded (asking was worn out by then) of the human being guiding them to get them off my land. He (naturally?) got angry at me and told me I should build a fence. I decided to hold my ground and to allow an aggressive energy to pass through me. There was anger in me but I was not angry. He also decided to hold something .. but not the ground … my shirt … in his fist against my chest.

This is the closest I’ve ever been to violence. I felt the anger swelling in me. I wanted to subdue him, to hurt him. Fortunately, I have neither the skill nor the inclination for it. But I remember the anger. The vibration was alive in me for a couple of days.

I realized that there was no good outcome for me. I am the foreigner and the stranger. I don’t drink in the bar (with the policemen?). I felt, in my bones, the fragile thin-ness of the veil society. I can imagine that under the right conditions … a bit more land stress, a bit more economic hardship … that the social threads could easily tear and I could become “The Jew.”

I am remembering now, applying years ago, to get my Romanian drivers license (administered by the police in Romania). The request was based on my Israeli drivers license and so there were some “unique bureaucracy” involved (my recurring “luck”) and so the commanding officer was involved. He made some comment about “the Jews taking over again” … its right there!

I am Jewish to the extent that I was born to a female human being who other male human being deemed to be Jewish. I do not practice Judaism and I most certainly do not congregate with other Jews. I am not afraid. I am however aware of the potential for other (probably male) human beings to decide that, for their reasons, I am Jewish.

Violence

I am very sensitive to violence. To this day if I am around two adults who are angry at each other (having nothing to do with me) there is a child inside me that wants to hide.

Exploitation is, in my mind, a subtle and insidious form of violence. I am sensitive to being exploited. In school, I rarely collaborated with other kids (I can only think of one time where I willingly collaborated, all the other times were probably forced upon me). I was usually thorough and rigorous and hated the feeling of being used … taken advantage of … by others.

It is also challenging for me to receive. I need to feel that the giving is clean, that there are no strings attached. My grandmother, the Holocaust survivor, took care of me a lot when I was young. We were each other’s “favorites” … she my favorite grandmother and me her favorite (and for the record: first) grandson. But when I became a teenager I started sensing that her giving was not clean … that there was an accounting going … I was expected to be ” a good grandson” … and I distanced myself from her.

Expectations … I also experience expectations as violence. I am allergic to “expectations of me” … both when they are inflicted upon me by others and when I inflict them on myself.

Violence is a war that Israel, as a nation, has lost. I felt it when I was still there. I felt it, even more, when I withdrew from it (perspective). I gave up so much (how much is becoming apparent as the years go by) to withdraw myself from the violence. When the shepherd grabbed me by the shirt … I was so angry because he brought violence back to my doorstep … he reminded me that violence is present in him … and in me.

Weeds & Rigor

I don’t garden because of weeds … and allergy. The default story of weeds that lived inside me evoked violence … I was called to fight the weeds. I don’t want to fight the weeds.

My Holocaust surviving grandparents had bad teeth … supposedly caused by nutritional deficiencies. My grandmother had a deep fear of dogs … from guard dogs in concentration camps. To what extent such ripples persist across generations?

I have, for as long as I can remember myself, been and felt like a rigorous individual …. thorough … thinking things through … trying to make good choices … aspiring for better. This does not feel like a choice I make … I don’t feel like I can choose not to be this way.

Over recent years I have become more conscious of my two younger sisters as human beings that are getting older alongside me. We are very different beings. But it has been interesting for me to recognize that rigor is a shared trait. We have very different priorities but whatever they are we approach them with rigor. Recognizing this as a shared trait has made me wonder about it? I believe this rigor comes from my father and his parents.

Rigor can be a tough quality to live with. It is demanding both of myself and of others around me. It can become escalating … leading to too much intensity. It can inhibit movement (for better or for worse). It can be demanding on others. It can feel and be alienating. It can make me seem uncompromising and it can make me seem arrogant … not a very attractive social being!

Observing my sisters it is interesting to see how rigor itself, though common, has morphed in different directions through us. The older of my two sisters is mind-rigorous. The young is heart-rigorous. I think I am somewhere in between.

But I believe that rigor is a critical piece in … life … in facing the complexity of the world … in recognizing past failures and in avoiding repeating them.

Social Void

Violence doesn’t work for me. This is NOT an ideological statement. It is a biological one. I don’t feel good around violence. I shrivel and shrink … I can’t breathe … I can’t think clearly.

Placing myself in historical perspective through Daryl’s storytelling has jarred me. I felt shaken and moved to tears at the end of every episode. So much violence has gone into … me! So much violence against “my people” and so much violence perpertrated by “my people” … so much violence required for me to be.

Distancing myself from violence was and is, in its own right, a sensible move. Yet doing so has left a dark void. I feel physically intact. I feel spiritually intact. But there is NO social fabric.

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