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Yoga, Compassion and Taco Bell

Just the other day I was in between teaching two classes and had a tiny window of time to eat dinner. I went to a local health food store, grabbed food to go, and then sat in my car to eat. In the middle of shoveling rice, mung dhal, and steamed veggies down my throat, I saw a shady looking homeless guy lurking around my car. Living in Santa Monica you get used to homeless people but something about this guy had me on guard. It didn’t help that it was dark, he was yelling gibberish and hitting a wall.

Out of nowhere he spun around and caught me looking at him. For a moment, I was like a deer caught in headlights. He then jumped in front of my car wild eyed and ragged. For a few seconds, we locked into each other’s eyes like two vigilant tigers in the jungle. Unlike being in the jungle I was feeling grateful that I was inside the safety of my car. But the fearful part of my brain reminded me that my doors were unlocked, driver side window was rolled down, so I was PARTIALLY in the jungle.

He then startled me as he angrily blurted out, “WHAT TIME IS IT?!” After taking a couple of seconds to compute his question, I looked down at the clock, and then carefully responded, “It’s 6:50.” His head swung erratically to his left, and then swung erratically back facing me and venomously yelled, “WHAT?! WHAT DID YOU SAY?” It felt like he was testing me. I was partially scared. But my yoga practice kicked in, although some fear was there, greater than that was a feeling of strength and courage. Oddly enough, I felt a deep compassion for this human being in front of me. I couldn’t help but feel all the tremendous pain and suffering this soul must have endured. I felt a loving-awareness flood through me like royal purple dye clouding a vessel of water. Whatever this energy was took over, it tripled the volume of my voice, and with a dignified command repeated, “IT’S 6:50PM.”

In a flash, all the rage and violence of the homeless man had been erased. He transformed from a seething tiger to an innocent tiger cub. For a few moments we both existed together, inseparable, in a mysterious state of wonder. We were two humans, on the same plane and same level, having a weird but magical moment.

A light gleamed from his two eyes, and a smile manifested itself on his face. This then initiated a slight smile on my face (thank you limbic resonance for that one!). In a voice, sweet and pure, this beautiful man said, “Oh, thank you.” After a short pause, like an abandoned child reunited with a long-lost parent, he asked, “Hey, would you like to go to Taco Bell with me?”

To say that I was caught off guard is an understatement. Nobody had even invited me on dinner date to Taco Bell!!! Once I composed myself I said, “Thank you for the offer but I have to go to work.” Maybe if I had been more evolved I would have said yes but the truth was I did have a teaching obligation. We waved goodbye, and as we parted ways I couldn’t help but think how this man was isolated, broken and alone. He just wanted a friend, somebody he could go to share a meal with at Taco Bell. Taco Bell for him, might be like going to The Ritz-Carlton for me or you. How many thousands of people must have looked at him as a disgusting homeless person as opposed to the beautiful soul he is? He just needed somebody to look him deep in the eyes with non-judgement and make a real connection. The loving-awareness and compassion that we gain from our yoga practice has the tremendous power to spin the micro-moments of life from suffering to beauty and joy.

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