In Pune, India where I was living just a few short months ago, every well-to-do neighborhood is surrounded by a ring of slums that provides the labor to make upper-class life possible.
A walk of any distance brought me into contact with children living on the streets and rag collectors going through trash piles, which no doubt included my refuse as well.
In my new hometown of Detroit, Michigan – although the distance from Pune is halfway round the world – the poverty and devastation is similarly profound.
Here in Detroit, we’re flanked by vacant houses. Detroiters get used to the burnt out buildings and shattered glass.
And many, including myself, are doing the Detroit hustle – scrambling for a few hours of paid work, doing a little of this or that to get by …
…. a couple hundred to rent a room, another hundred for food to share with our intentional community, gas money if there’s a car …
The Western equivalent to the hard scrabble life in India.
As a yoga instructor, I’ve found it helpful to view this devastation in terms of two Sanskrit terms.
The first being purusha – the eternal infinite and the spirit within all things.
And then there’s prakrti, everything else that is impermanent.
The world is so much prakrti – crumbling, burning up, decaying – everywhere impermanence.
Especially in us.
So if we accept our own constant state of change, no other impermanence shocks or upsets us.
Indeed, places like Detroit and Pune, India stand as reminders of our own mortality.
If we recognize the sacredness of all creation, human-made and otherwise, crumbling sidewalks to 100-year-old trees, instead of seeing death, we could see transformation and new forms of life.
As Detroit’s renown 98-year-old activist Grace Lee Boggs points out, you can look at a vacant lot and see devastation or you can see possibility.
And in that space of impermanence, the divine spirit of purusha emerges. So as the Packard plant in Detroit crumbles, stone spirits are released from shattered glass and crumbling brick.
Rain and snow water spirits wash over it all, and wind spirits scatter it.
I think this is why humans have always been attracted to ruins.
They serve as altars of sorts, shrines of human effort, once again proving to be impermanent, fleeting manifestations of prakrti, yet revealing what remains: infinite and eternal purusha.
If we recognize purusha at the Packard plant, we can recognize it in each other.
We see the endurance of the human spirit, and tap into that as a renewable, sustainable resource.
We see the endurance of the earth itself, how she endlessly renews herself.
We see creativity, manifested through ways of living, making art, and relating to each other, as expressions of purusha.
Here in Detroit, knee-deep in crumbling prakrti, I am recreating myself in community, opening myself to the wisdom and brilliance of purusha.