Why Detroit and YOU Are so Much Alike

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.

Pune streets

A street and housing in Puna, India


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.

Detroit blighted houses

The blight in Detroit can be viewed in another way that goes beyond the obvious


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.

Packard Plant in Detroit

Packard Plant in Detroit – a shrine of human effort, once again proving to be impermanent

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.

Peggy Hong sliderWe 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.




Photo credits: Pune, India by anaru,  Detroit blighted housing by JasonParis,  Packard Plant by Josh Walker, painted house by TaraDSturm


About Peggy

Peggy Kwisuk Hong's life is all about creating opportunities for transformation and social change. Pursuing her work and passions in Detroit, she works both "on and off the mat." On it, Peggy teaches Iyengar Yoga and off it, as a poet and essayist, she teaches body-centered writing. She volunteers with the Boggs Center and Cap Corps Midwest. She was born in Seoul, South Korea and grew up in Hawaii and New York and then spent 25 years in Milwaukee before moving to Detroit to, as she says, "join the Revolution" to grow our souls (in the words of the renown Detroiter Grace Lee Boggs). Peggy is a devoted parent and mother of three grown children. You can find her writings at: stillinsirsasana.blogspot.com

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