Pathologies of Los Angeles • 30 May 2009

People aren’t afraid to merge on the freeways in Los Angeles, actually. They merge like fast little fish made smart by evolution. Especially on the weekends and at night, because it’s no longer about getting to work; and especially in June, when the cool cloudcover from the bay makes for perfect driving conditions. People deplore this town for its car-ness, and the atomizing socio-environmental catastrophe we have created here because we insist on driving. But there is something nobody admits: driving here is great. We go as fast as we like on the freeways at night, listening to trip-hop or bad Britpop, windows down, exiting smoothly on to thoroughfares made for the rich countryside that sat here 50 years ago.

The bad word on the city is that we spend absurd proportions of our income on high-end cars because it’s socially normative to drive a Porsche even before you make it big. That’s true. But also, it’s just nice to have a fast car on roads built for sport driving. At night when it’s empty out and a little bit humid from the gloom, I’ve been taking the long way home on the Sunset hairpin curves, the ones immortalized by the Beach Boys and mortal for many daredevils since. I understand that this way of living is actually a choice to do environmental violence by staying unconscious, but it feels so right! We need new bass-driven ballads for this dirty guilty pleasure. Los Angeles, I need to get over you, forget it could be good like this. I love you for the wrong reasons…

Anyway, Friday evening. Alone after-hours in the art school café, leaning back in a wooden folding chair. The dashing professor for whom I graded Ancient Greece exams years ago just trammeled through on the way to the hilltop parking lot, looking increasingly like Johnny Depp-as-historian-of-the-esoteric. June gloom, eucalyptus, sycamore and pines outside the wall of 20-foot windows before me. This morning when I taught a client about the relationship of the arches and the adductors, asking he root down in to the earth to draw some kind of strength up, he scrunched up his nose and said, “So like… I am getting this… but what would be, like, the next logical step?” Seriously? Ok, forget trikonasana, do you want to learn about a place called the pelvic floor? A few minutes later I heard myself say the words "second chakra" to a soccer jock.

Well, he asked for it. But… here’s another pathology of Los Angeles: the world of anti-form that tries to compete with the world of hyper-materialism. In my mind, secretly I used to call it kundalini gulag. The KG is the tendency in some of us to get hyper-reactive to LA materialism—the worship of cars and youth that forms the spiritual center of this town. In trying to be anti-materialistic, we buy straight in to spiritual materialism, for a yoga that’s all about feeling energetically superior. A practice that’s about coming off as the most psychically gifted, and sexually potent, and “humble” person in the room. Ok. This is still power yoga! It’s still all about proving oneself and being better than other people, just this time on a post-material level. Spinoza said somewhere in the Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect that there is no one more arrogant than the one who is caught up in his own humility. And this is the essence of the kundalini gulag—a display of humility that barely masks energetic elitism. Too bad you can't have aura contests and chakra-offs down on Venice beach. That would take care of all of this craziness.

I have gone in for some of the metaphysical arrogance too. Caught myself making a harsh joke about the “superficial” OCD factor of Iyengar the other day. Hmmm. Am I starting to believe the pseudospiritual pablum numero uno— that the “world of form” is an "illusion"? That lived experience is “all in the mind”? Riiiiiight.

So I’m thinking some Iyengar this weekend. Hopefully as OCD as I can find. Thing is, the class that works schedulewise is one of the only advanced sessions in the city, and it’s taught by a SCARY little German man who, with his jaunty grin and spiky hair, is just adorable enough to get my guard down before he kicks my ass. But I need to remember that there is nothing adorable about an advanced Iyengar teacher, not even this Mr. C with his funny shorts and strangely beatific expressions. I wonder how mad he’ll be at me for showing up at class with nothing but a lot of the other guy’s yoga under my skin. And under the wings of my kidneys and the eyes of my elbows too.