Her name is “Chooch”, (“tsjoots”), she spells it out for me and says, “that’s Italian slang for a(xx)-hole”. She laces the story of her life of abuse and disappointment with expletives, her face weathered under the woolen hat. Leaning on her cane, she seats herself next to me. “I have to sit this way”, she says as she turns away from me, leaving her left leg outstretched on the grass. She must have something wrong with her hip. Eyes blue, and cracking a smile, she asks me what brings me to the temple. I tell her my story. While we’re chatting, people serve an Indian lunch after morning chants. My conversation with a man across from me ends. He has expressed his doubts about the world, his insecurities about going anywhere besides around town. A large woman with an unusual name mills around with an older Indian man, calling him her “honey” for offering to get her food. I’ve met her a few weeks ago and notice that she is a regular. “This is the only hot meal I get, during the week,” she told me.
The perfection of social services
Is this the homeless hand-out, I wonder? I see the perfection of a well-off minority helping a struggling minority. A Hindu temple in Northern New Mexico is an unusual sight, and I have questions about its function. For me, visiting the temple is a return to the early 70ties when I was traveling in India. The heart-opening chants, the clanking of bells, the offerings, the pictures of a guru long ago passed away. Now Indian families pay their respects, prostrating themselves in front of a Hanuman statue. White people with matted hair and hippie clothing sit in silent meditation or clap along with the chants. It is a throwback to days long gone. Who maintains this place? Chooch has an answer: the 70ties famous hippies are gone, she says, the current board means nothing, the Indians have taken over and are doing their religious duties, there’s enough money to feed everyone. It sounds perfect!
Seeing the perfection of things
When I stayed at the ashram of Mahara-ji (the man in the pictures in the temple hall) in India, he told me: “feed people.” Here at this temple they still practice the tradition of handing out Prasad, or blessed food; volunteers prepare food for anyone that comes. A church, a social service, where society fails the poor and the mentally unstable. Perfection? Ram Das said in one of his talks, when we achieve the state of eternal love-joy, and embrace the destruction, suffering and death in this world with empathy, we will see the perfection of things.
Perfection in nature
I have trouble seeing that things in Ukraine are perfect, and for that matter in Sudan, Jemen, Syria, Afghanistan- do I need to continue? My heart aches, my brain shuts off. I walk to rid myself of my anger, my hopelessness in a greening desert landscape with twisted dry sage bushes and hard rocks. This thirsty ancient land has suffered under the sun, wind, and snow. Gnarly and dry the bushes sprout new green twigs, the rocks are a host to beautifully patterned lichen. Lichen break down the rock into sandy soil that provides shelter to prairie dogs, rabbits and other small critters living in holes under the ground. Big ravens soar over the canyon, finding food and water. Big-horn sheep clamber down the steep ravine to slake their thirst in the river. A balanced eco-system. Perfection!
Life is a balancing act. Much goes wrong from the start of life to its fulfillment. Much goes right and life offers beauty, balance, and new creations. A Pasques flower lifts its fuzzy purple head to open its inner white petals. The white reflects the warmth of the sun onto the yellow heart, warming the stamens and attracting bees to this tucked away corner near a rock in the desert. Perfection. I’m between homes I can call my own, but have a comfortable place to live. I can’t do what I intended, but I have time to re-design my life, step out of ruts that no longer serve me. Perfect! Adversity can be an opportunity.
The perfection of a pendulum swing
I don’t wish the horrid adversity we’re witnessing every day on the news. But the violence in Ukraine offers the Western world an opportunity to do better, to lift the veils of apathy, slough of indulgence and inertia. I am no starry-eyed idealist, but I see the perfection of a pendulum swing. It’s not too late to change direction, and create a better, more balanced world.