I’ve been in Detroit for a week now, and it is all it’s cracked up to be. Like India, where I was living and studying for the past month, everything is in-your-face-real. While oppression and exploitation exist all over the planet, here in the USA, we can choose to live in the delusional state of “free-est nation in the world.” We can stay in our bubbles and pretend democracy works for everyone. In both Detroit and India, poverty and devastation slam us in the solar plexus every single day. In India, every well-to-do neighborhood is surrounded by a ring of slums that provide the labor to make upper class life possible. A walk of any distance brings you into contact with children living on the street and rag collectors going through trash piles, which no doubt includes your refuse.
Here in Detroit, we are flanked by vacant houses. You get used to the burnt out buildings, shattered glass. You pull up to a CVS at midday and a security guard inside waves you off—the store is closed for no apparent reason. Everyone is doing the Detroit hustle—scrambling for a few hours of paid work, doing a little of this or that. We don’t need much to get by. Couple hundred to rent a room, another hundred for food to share in your intentional community, gas money if you have a car….
The macro task of yoga study is to discern between purusha—the eternal infinite, and prakrti—everything else. The world is so much prakrti, crumbling, burning up, decaying, so much impermanence. As our Vipassana teacher, Goenkaji, reminds us: anicha, anicha, changing, changing. If we accept our own constant state of change, no other impermanence shocks us or upsets us. Detroit reminds us of our own mortality.
But in that space of impermanence, purusha emerges. If we recognize the sacredness of all creation, human-made and otherwise, from crumbling sidewalks to 100-year-old trees, instead of seeing death, we see transformation and new forms of life. As Grace Lee Boggs points out, you can look at a vacant lot and see devastation, or you can see possibility. You choose.
One thing I love about India is that in a tropical climate, the nature forces are so strong. That is, if my apartment building in India was abondoned by humans for a month, plants, rodents, insects and other forms of life, would overtake it completely. Nature consumes, then recreates.
Many spiritual teachers acknowledge that everything is imbued with spirit, 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, 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.