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Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States
Karen is a yogini, writer, student, teacher and meditator. She founded Garden Street School of Yoga in 2000. Karen lives with her husband Chris. They have two amazing sons, Eli and Leo (both of them young men).

Feb 12, 2009


This morning I was at a cafe that had a little balcony over the I sat outside in the shade. We are having a cold snap here. It's 80 degrees F. in the shade. That's good for me but very chilly for the Indians. The mothers have their kids in woolen knit caps. I watched a lot of those freeze-proof kids go by and then I began to notice a young woman and her child who appeared to be full time residents of a little piece of roadside. I didn't get there early enough to see her rise from her cement bed. She was dressed in a very tattered sari. Her little girl - who looked to be about 2 years old - was dressed in a dirty but bright orange dress.

When I started watching, the mother was brushing her teeth. She really worked at it, spending about 5 minutes. All the while her little girl was trying to mimic her - except she didn't have a toothbrush. After the oral hygiene, the young mother salvaged a piece of newspaper from the garbage heap nearby and used it to pick up a pile of poo -- probably her morning business that she would have had to do before dawn. I couldn't see where she deposited the package but I do know it contributed to one of what I have started call "the smell zones".

[Every time I go walking or bicycling my nose moves through a multitude of "smell zones" which range from jasmine, to sour urine to wonderful curry to feces to chai spice to deisel -- and so on].

The mother -- by the way she was very pretty -- came back from the deposition and went over to a pile of sand that seemed accidentally left behind by some road job. In fact it's the communal dishwasher. She scooped up a handful and brought it over to the dirty dishes from last night's dinner. I could almost see in her body expression the same sort of attitude that I have when I get up to dirty dishes in the morning. She squatted down next to her dishes, the sand and a bucket of water and went to work. Her little girl of course tried very happily to do exactly what her mother was doing.

By then I was wondering where Dad was. I speculated that he might be one of those "bad husbands" like Laksmi is stuck with. I saw a sleeping form under a ragged blanket and wondered if it was the husband. and he had drunk himself into a stupor and couldn't get up -- which would be better for the wife and child anyway. The sleeping form gave me no clues as it was motionless and completely covered (that's to protect against mosquitoes, a tremendous amount of road dirt and freezing cold temperatures!).

I turned my attention back to the young mother. She and her daughter were sitting under a tree and cracking open nuts which, I assumed, came from the tree. All of this was happening in the midst of a huge amount of noise and traffic. They were surrounded by parked cars, rickshaws, scooters, bikes, cows, bullocks, garbage, dogs, and other homeless people. I marveled at how well the little girl knew not to wander too far from her mother's side as if she were attached by an invisible bungee cord.

An older man who looked quite kind, came over to the nut-cracking project, said something to the young mother and she laughed and laughed. She had a beautiful smile and I saw that she was even prettier than I thought - and younger.

A white woman and her 2 year old daughter pulled up on a new scooter. Suddenly the young Indian mother and her daughter seemed to recede back into an even dustier and grayer background.

I decided that I would like to give her some money. That's awkward. I didn't want to transform the dignity of the scene into a "poor beggars" scenario. So I planned to ask if I could take her picture and then pay for the privilege. Eli is even more hesitant - and for the same reasons - about taking people's pictures but he agreed with my plan and in fact decided to be the camera man. He's so good at it. The young mother was very open and sweet. And as soon as we asked permission to take a picture, the husband appeared and he seemed OK - his eyes seemed clear and he smiled in a way that seemed "real". All 3 of them laughed and laughed at the instant review they could do of the digital pictures.

There's not much I can really do about any of all this suffering and poverty. I travel through "emotion zones" which range from "close to tears" to "guilt ridden" to detached. I would like to become more and more able to look at life squarely, "as it is" - not as I would have it be or as I would imagine it to be, and then act with a good heart. But that is a hard practice for me -- insists that I push the sharpness of paradox right into an undefended, vulnerability of heart.

Later that same day I was back in the neighborhood and saw that the sleeping green bundle was a very old woman. She would officially be classified as "bed-ridden" in the States. But here she was slowly and painfully pulling herself along the pavement.....going where I wondered? I also wondered how on earth she manages to find food, how she manages her toileting, how she even manages to get water to drink. But I didn't do anything about it - I just rode my bicycle on by. I had to hurry or I would miss my appointment to have a facial.


  1. Such a touching story.

    I responded to your description of "emotion zones" and what the heart must learn to do with suffering and inequities. Beautiful words.

  2. Karen, you are an amazing writer - reminds me of sutra 1.33 - I wish I could have gone with you on this trip:)