c54413c0d2a06f18743e8ad014a31eaeManhattan broke down my identity; in south India I was more or less confident that I could accomplish anything I set my mind on. I was popular, well-known in certain circles, and could have launched myself into a lucrative creative career had I wished to. Instead I suffered a deep dread of never leaving home and so I finagled my exit to a foreign country that I admired for many reasons. Yes, I loathed the deep-rooted misogyny, caste and class system I was surrounded by and longed for the freedom I hoped to find in America. But I was unprepared for the shocks to my system in the land of the brave and the free. Indeed, nothing was as I had expected it to be and I had to literally reinvent myself, alone, since my husband and in-laws were no help, and instead actively wanted to shove me into a box, lock me up, and throw away the key. You see, they had not expected an Indian woman to be feisty, independent and outspoken about her rights, and so they lashed out in me in a variety of inventive ways until I was deeply miserable despite abundant material comforts. My husband had promised that I could study creative writing and film at NYU, but now he ruthlessly nixed that idea and I found myself temping on Wall Street and in posh law firms, making a lot of money but still a prisoner of my new family and my husband in particular, who insisted on controlling our finances as well as the trajectory of our lives.

One evening after work at a law firm on 5th Ave (close to Trump Tower, incidentally!), I was walking cross-town back to my apartment when it began to drizzle. I stopped for shelter close to Saks Fifth Avenue and saw an old woman, probably Polish, sitting on the ledge outside a display of expensive furs. Rain was falling on her tired seamed face and rivulets of grime ran down her cheeks. Beside her stood a shopping cart piled with all her earthly possessions. The expression on her face gripped me like a murderer’s hand to my throat—it was so sad and helpless that I began to cry. I stood watching her from a distance, she was unaware of me, and my mind restlessly sought out ways I could help her. I could give her ten dollars and flee, or I could invite her home for a bath and a meal before sending her out on to the streets again. But I knew the latter option would not work—my husband would throw a fit and perhaps the doorman would not even let her into our building.

bbaebe0d0ccdab812458065c2b8f90baI walked home sadly in the rain and immediately called a wise friend. Sobbing, I told her how I was feeling—that poverty in India was so endemic that it did not strike one so brutally, but to see this poor old woman sitting before a showcase of luxury furs that must have each cost thousands of dollars was obscene in this rich country. How could such a thing happen in America, I cried?

She was quiet for a while, and then she said, okay, now listen to me carefully—you are a student of eastern philosophy and know that what we see is not reality, just the relative aspect of it. That woman has karmic lessons to learn and so have we all—which is why we all play different roles. Who’s to say the fat cat billionaire in his penthouse romancing a supermodel right now has a better shot at eventual happiness than this homeless woman? Suffering is breaking down her ego, but he is only building up a façade that will dissolve the instant he dies. The truth is, sweetheart, every one of us has a higher power, and you are not that woman’s higher power. Love her as much as you can, pray for her wellbeing, but stay centered. Remember too that if you achieve the goal of moksha or liberation that you are seeking, despite all your ups and downs, the time will come when you will be a great light in the cosmos and millions will be helped. Think Buddha.

That conversation has stayed with me; when now I am moved by the suffering of humans and animals I see all around me, I remind myself that there is a deeper story embedded in the situation that my mortal human eyes cannot see. Still I do whatever I can to ameliorate suffering, but I keep my focus on my inner practice of turning into light. Yes, everyone has a higher power and I am not it.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, who vows to destroy all the blinders from our human eyes so we can merge into our true nature, which is no less than pure existence, awareness and bliss!

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  1. I found your talking with your friend a little thought provoking, but I do also look forward and understand, that we can’t save the world, only do our little part, each of us.
    We have our own karma to work out, Mira.

  2. LOTS of food for thought here, Mira. I had a similar response to your description of your controlling family circumstances as you had to the discrepancy between that homeless woman and the expensive furs. In many ways she had a great deal more freedom than you did in the supposed “land of the free.” Perspective, right?

    And even as I realized there was nothing I could really do or say to change your reality – and probably could not have even had I lived next door to you at the time – I hope I never become complacent about the importance of what the shrinks call “agency” to both mental and physical health to the extent that I stop talking about it.

    HOW we intercede to change the world differs, of course. Some of us advocate in one form or another, some step up to build shelters and create food banks, etc., some pray or meditate as a sort of vibratory intercession, and still too many take advantage and make things even worse (many of our political “leaders” it seems to me).

    Change must begin with identify what’s so, but I think that’s different from *accepting* what’s so. Who knows but if our higher power is encouraging us to be change agents? And my belief is that our emotional reactions are a big hint. Finding some way of “looking away” because we feel better when we do is always a choice – and there are as many ways of calming ourselves as there are human beings. But is that a good thing or a bad thing?

    I am NOT suggesting that we do not use these ways to feel better. Remaining miserable about it is not very helpful or life affirming. But I AM suggesting that we can also choose to DO something about what upsets us, and that doing so my be why we’re here. Your last sentence seems to indicate that you agree with me.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to transform a world!

    • Thanks for your deep and thoughtful response, Madelyn, However, while the average Indian woman in a similar situation often gets trapped in it, I was given a great education and the resources to escape. Who knows the Polish woman’s story? From looking at her state, I feel she had neither.

  3. Thank you for this blog. So much here to think about. I’ve lived in NYC for many years and it took me many years to understand that many homeless people are not looking for help or money just kindness and the freedom to live in their own reality.

  4. Thank you Mira. I had been feeling rather weary and down about events in this world of illusion, and the fragile physical body we deal with. You are always an inspiration, and truly a beacon of light that shines from your beautiful mountain of fire. A blessing dear one on many levels.

    • But you know it is all illusion – and how blessed is that??? Most are steeped in the “unreal” and don’t even know it. I too go through emotional ups and downs but keep going by clinging to the teachings. Love and thanks!

  5. This has been the most troublesome thing for me to deal with and accept, Mira. How can we know if intervention isn’t also an aspect of our and/or someone else’s karma? Were you and that woman meant to be ships passing in the night, or concentric circles that left a mark on each other’s souls? If you were living alone at the time, would you have intervened? I’ve asked myself similar questions so many times. Am I following my intuition or my raw emotions? If I can still my emotions long enough to hear my inner voice – the guiding voice of The Divine – then I follow it. Nothing is as it seems in this relative world. Knowing the next right step to take is often obscured, unless we step aside and get out of our own way. This post stirred me deeply ❤

    • My subjective answer: you do what feels right in your heart and don’t second guess it. If your Inner Guru is awake, trust it. As long as your intentions are noble, you can do no harm. What is bad is to worry about it later – analysis paralysis feeds monkey mind and paralyzes Spirit. Love!

  6. I was intrigued by this experience you had in Manhattan, Mira. You were indeed blessed to have the right guidance following observing the woman on the street. We do not know what another’s destiny is. The world is filled with so many painful scenarios. There are also those who seem almost obscenely blessed with everything their hearts’ could possibly desire. Then again… who’s to say the billionaire is happier than that homeless lady? We have seen misery even among those who are described as privileged. Suicides even. Inner fulfillment has very little to do with our station in life. We can only pray for all beings to be free from suffering. It is not in our scope to understand the external world, nor to grok the lessons we are here to learn. That is my take, anyway. Love!

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