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Navigating The Grays, 2016

Seeing the Soul of Someone

Hari Prasada Das


I was sitting in Tompkins Square Park where I tend to go for refuge from my 7th St. and Avenue A shared studio apartment.

I pop out of my door and I’m landed beneath the shade of a lovely tree under which my teacher’s own teacher used to sit and perform musical meditations many, many years ago. Ironically, I’m usually the only meditator beneath my favorite American Elm, and I confess that the cast of characters intrigues me and distracts nearly every time…

On this occasion, I was the opposite of enamored of a punkish circle who appeared more diverse than I could have anticipated and equally rough around the edges.
There was a woman who looked to be in her early thirties with half-shaved head and half long hair, accompanied by a large tattoo sprawling from her left ankle to the top of her calf.

The tattoo: siamese mermaids with bare busts and wry grins.

Immediately, a hunched-over old man came up behind her puffing a cigarette and muttering incoherently through a damaged larynx. He hunched over further to examine the provocative sea maidens on the lady’s leg and she gladly showcased them while tending to her Alaskan husky.

I set my meditation aside to marvel at the moment – its own unique meditation...
As she wrapped plans to have her husky, “Gus”, babysat for by a Hispanic friend who was missing teeth and hobbling about as if high on all kinds of illegal goodies, she began to engage in conversation with a young but weathered ruffian who had wild, long hair.

The man promptly blasted out how he was “screwed” out of $400 worth of drug money and how he never puts up a fight, but this one time, he “beat the crap out of” someone…

“I don’t beat people, you know… I just, it was this guy, he thought he could get away with cheatin’ me out of a deal, and I just pounced on him! All my friends said, I’m not payin’. And I was like, ‘You guys are bastards’! But this guy, I wasn’t gonna let him get away. I never did this… I just pounced on him! And I beat him and beat him! And the whole time, he’s tellin’ me, “I’m sorry!” And I’m like, ‘What the f-! You’re sorry?!’ It made it worse. So I kept beatin’ him. And he kept tellin’ me, ‘You’re right! You’re right! I’m sorry!’ And I knew I was right! But I told him, ‘Fight, damn it! Fight!’ And he wouldn’t fight…”

I saw this man was for real – he actually did not have it in him to fight.
He was triggered.
Caught by surprise.

And his friend repented for a grievous mistake - a mistake so many had blithely made, but which he just happened to have to pay for…

His repentance didn’t get him anywhere… It was too late. Two souls caught in the fray of ego webs.

And I thought to myself, barring the circumstance, how foreign are these people? When I first sat on that park bench, I was convinced they were all from the wrong side of the tracks and I had nothing to do with them.

But I didn’t like that feeling. I wanted to see the soul of the persons, not their jagged exteriors. It was important to me to truly see, and yet it was beyond me. Through the course of his outpouring, I started to see something…

I get caught by surprise all the time.
I get triggered on a daily basis.
I try to keep myself in check is the main distinction.

I’ve got resources that help me, from loving parents to good education to a spiritual practice to friends who make my life meaningful. Were any one of these stripped away, where would I be, facing the same triggers?

This world is a minefield. I’m not immune to its detonations even today.

The woman with the mermaids and husky heard him out. She didn’t offer tender love and care, but she heard him out. And the Hispanic man watched her husky in between going to take care of his mother. Before departing, he spoke of a giant hawk who makes her home in the park and how much he likes to watch her feed her chicks.

I saw something I couldn’t see initially.

The man with the long hair continued, “I used ta speak in tongues… I don’t know if there’s a God or not. But it was a powerful experience. I mean they hype you up and all that in my Pentacostal church when I was little. You can’t be sure that there’s anything to it. They really hype you up. But when you get into it, you get into it. And it’s powerful. I’ll never do it again obviously, but it was interesting…”

The separation between us all was fading. I did not fall in love with them. I didn’t even want to talk to them. But there was beauty there in the unlikely humanity between the lines. And my prejudices on the platform of body and mind dulled enough to see a glimpse of the soul in each of these antiheroes of Tompkins Square Park.

Beneath my grand-teacher’s tree, I prayed for them and for myself.
…It would not likely be a wonderful influence on my life to spend time with such persons. They were a little grittier than me...and I have learned to care for my limited resources of time and energy as well as the sanctity of my company.

Still, is it not possible to at least see such persons as souls like me?

This day shifted something internally that I’d been aching to shift, and I had to ask something so important, which I now ask every day of my life:

What is stopping me from seeing the soul of someone?

Hari Prasada Das

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