Archive for October, 2011

In keeping with my last post I wanted to give a quick reblog of Michael Stone’s blog post “Remaining Human: A Buddhist Perspective on Occupy Wall Street.”  His reflection has been really interesting to read and reflect on, and one I really quickly wanted to share, please though click on this link for the original post so that he also gets the hits.

Remaining Human: A Buddhist Perspective on Occupy Wall Street.

By Michael Stone

A man stands on a bench in Zuccotti Park on Wall Street and chants a phrase from a meeting last night: “We don’t want a higher standard of living, we want a better standard of living.” He’s wearing a crisp navy blue suit and typing tweets into his iPhone. Next to him, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, wearing a red t-shirt, is surrounded by at least a hundred people as he makes his way onto a makeshift platform. Since the protesters aren’t allowed to use megaphones or amplifiers, they have to listen carefully to the speaker’s every sentence, after which the speaker pauses, and those close enough to have heard repeat the sentence in unison for those farther away. When Naomi Klein spoke three nights ago, some sentences were repeated four or five times as they echoed through Liberty Park and down Wall Street, passed along like something to be celebrated and shared, something newborn.

Slavoj Žižek said:

They tell you we are dreamers. The true dreamers are those who think things can go on indefinitely the way they are. We are not dreamers. We are awakening from a dream which is tuning into a nightmare. We are not destroying anything. We are only witnessing how the system is destroying itself. We all know the classic scenes from cartoons. The cat reaches a precipice. But it goes on walking. Ignoring the fact that there is nothing beneath. Only when it looks down and notices it, it falls down. This is what we are doing here. We are telling the guys there on Wall Street – Hey, look down!
We are awakening from a dream. When the Buddha was asked to describe his experience of awakening he said, “What I have awoken to is deep, quiet and excellent. But,” he continues, “People love their place. It’s hard for people who love, delight and revel in the fixed views and places of absolute certainty, to see interdependence.”

Over and over, the Buddha taught that what causes suffering is holding on to inflexible views. The stories that govern our lives are also the narratives that keep us locked into set patterns, habits and addictions. The same psychological tools that the Buddha cultivated for helping us let go of one-track rigid stories can be applied not just personally, but socially. Enlightenment is not personal; it’s collective.

The media love a good fight. In Toronto during the G20, those not involved in the protests were eventually distracted by the images of a burning police car in front of the banking sectors. With burning cars and young men breaking windows, there was suddenly a more entertaining target than the real issues of coming austerity measures and avoidance of policies that deal with climate catastrophe. With violent images prevailing, the protests lost momentum because the issues were forgotten in the media. This time, even though there is a massive police presence at most protests, the movement is not giving the media the images of broken windows that they love. Instead we are seeing a blossoming of creativity and hope. 
We need a language now that allows us to reimagine what a flourishing society looks like. Any meditator knows that there are times when the thoughts that stream endlessly through awareness can eventually grow quiet. But it’s only temporary. The stories come back. But they return differently. They have more space and they are –more fluid, less rigid. We need stories to think and make sense of a world – now an ailing world that needs us. A more convenient way to apply the Buddha’s message to the social sphere is to remember that viewpoints never end or dissolve altogether, rather we learn to shift from one story to another, like a prism being turned, so that the possible ways of looking at our lives can constantly change. It’s time we adapt to our economic and ecological circumstances – uncomfortable truths we’ve been avoiding for far too long. This awakening is not just about economics, it’s about ecology and our love for what we know is valuable: community, healthcare, simple food, and time.

This process of dislodging old narratives is the function of both spirituality and art. Both ethics and aesthetics ask us to let go in a way that is deep enough that we find ourselves embedded in the world in a new way. If we think of this emerging movement as a practice, we’ll see that as it deepens and we let go of habitual stories, our embeddedness in the world deepens. Intimacy deepens. Relationships deepen. In the same way that moving into stillness is a threat to the part of us that wants to keep running along in egoistic fantasies and distraction, those with the most to lose are going to try and repress this outpouring of change. They’ll do this with police, of course, but they’ll also use subtle measures like calling us communists or anti-American, anti-progress, etc. Our job will be to keep a discerning eye and watch for this subtle rhetoric that obscures what we are fighting for.

In the Lotus Sutra it is said that the quickest way to becoming a Buddha is not through extensive retreats or chanting but through seeing others as a Buddha. If you see others as Buddha, you are a Buddha. You remain human. You no longer try to get beyond others.

A student once asked Zen master Shitou Xiquian, “What is Buddha?” Shitou replied, “You don’t have Buddha mind.” The student said, “I’m human; I run around and I have ideas.” Shitou said, “People who are active and have ideas also have Buddha-mind.” The student said, “Why don’t I have Buddha-mind?” Shitou said, “Because you are not willing to remain human.”

This student wants to transcend his life. He imagines that being a Buddha is something outside of himself, beyond his everyday actions. If you have to ask what awakening is, you don’t see it. If you can’t trust that you have the possibility to do good, to see everyone and everything as a Buddha, then how will you even begin? Our Buddha nature is our imagination.

These protests are reminding us that with a little imagination, a lot can change. We are witnessing a collective awakening to the fact that our corporations and governments are the products of human action. They aren’t serving anymore, and so it is in our power and in our interest to replace them. We are not fighting the people on Wall Street, we are fighting this whole system.

Žižek, the protestors, the Buddha and Shitou share a common and easily forgotten truth: We cause suffering for ourselves and others when we lose our sense of connectedness. We are the 99 percent but we are dependent on the 1 percent that control forty percent of the wealth. Those statistics reflect grave imbalance in our society.

Of course people are taking to the streets. In the U.S. 44.6 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for over six months. Long-term unemployment at this level is unprecedented in the post second world war era, and it causes deep strife in communities, families and people’s health.

This movement is also showing the power of non-violence. Non-violence, a core precept in my own Buddhist practice, is not an ideology. It’s the power of facing what’s actually going on in each and every moment and responding as skillfully as possible. The depth of our awakening, our humanness, has everything to with how we care for others. Our sphere of awareness begins to include everything and everyone. The way we respond to our circumstances shows our commitment to non-harm.

In meditation practice we can experience gaps between the exhale and the inhale, between one thought dissolving and another appearing. The space between thoughts is the gentle and creative place of non-harm. The meditator learns to trust that quiet liminal space with patience because from it, new and surprising ways of seeing our lives emerge. This is the inherent impulse of non-harm in our lives. It begins when we bear witness to the fading of one thought and the emergence of another.

These protests are exposing the gap between democracy and capitalism. The way democracy and capitalism have been bound is coming to an end. We want democracy but we can’t afford the runaway growth economy that isn’t benefiting the 99 percent. And if the 99 percent are not benefiting, the truth is, the 1 percent feel that. If there’s anything we’re all aware of these days, it’s that it’s not just twitter and email that connects us – it’s water, speculative banking, debt and air, as well. When the 1 percent live at the expense of the 99 percent, a rebalancing is certain to occur.

If we can trust in the space where, on the one hand, we are fed up with economic instability and ecological degradation and, on the other, we value interconnectedness, we are doing the same thing collectively that the meditator does on his or her cushion. We are trusting that something loving and creative will emerge from this space that we create. It’s too early to say what that may be. It won’t just be a rehashing of an ideology from the past. These are new times and requite a new imaginative response.

The people of Occupy Wall Street and now Occupy San Francisco, Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Copenhagen and 70 other cities are trying to do both: take over a space that’s being wrested from the people, and also hold the possibility of a new way of living. What’s been stolen from the people is not merely a physical space (their foreclosed homes, for example) but space to rethink how our society operates and what to do about the bottom dropping out. Even the media, looking for a hook, can’t find one. “What are your demands?” the media keep asking. The answer: “It’s too early to say.” Let’ s see how much space we can hold, let’s see what our power is, and then we can begin talking about demands.

If we are going to fully express our humanity and wake up as a collective, we need to replace our youthful ideas of transcendence with the hard work of committing to the end of a way of life in which our work is not in-line with our values.

We’re demanding a fundamental change of our system. Yes, we all need to work through our individual capacity for greed, anger and confusion. This is an endless human task. We also have to stop cooperating with the system that breeds greed and confusion as it shapes our lives and our choices. This movement is the beginning of bringing that system to a halt. From here, anything is possible.

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Harrisonburg has been Occupied!  After the meeting tonight in Court Square I left feeling very excited.  I saw generations working together, people of different ethnicities, orientations, backgrounds, and class all coming together to begin a conversation mirroring the ones happening all over the United States, and now all over the world.

This is a very exciting time in our country’s history.  Conversations are happening right now that have not been happening in a wide-spread manner: people are talking about capitalism in honest ways, looking at oppression and privilege, seeing intersections, identifying their own privilege and their own simultaneous oppression.

But my larger question remains what do these #occupy movements aim to accomplish?  I think that providing a forum for people to address concerns and to have honest conversations is absolutely important!  God knows that the Democrats aren’t talking to Republicans, and vice-versa.   In so many ways the “liberal party” has abandoned so many: students are left with rising costs of education, despite what was promised by Obama, there is a huge unemployment problem, and oppression of the not-super-rich is still alive and well within our society.  And I definitely feel like there are problems with the GOP, for my most recent rant you can see my last post, but I did want to put it out there that I definitely have problems with the Democrats.  As an aside, I often joke with my mom that I’m more conservative than she is…jumping as far to the Left as I have can sort of do that.

But, still, is that conversation the only thing which #occupy has to offer?  I feel as if there is so much more.  And while I respect the decision of different #occupy movements to not come out with asks or a statement of purpose, and while I think that a huge part of the #occupy movement’s power is in the process; I think that asks and solutions are immensely helpful.  How else can we frame the solutions we want to offer, the problems we see, how can we affect change effectively if we don’t even clearly define what it is we want to work against and what we want to work towards?

My dear friend Lou and I are facilitating the second general assembly of Occupy Harrisonburg tomorrow, so I have been asking myself these questions.  Again, I want to be clear, I don’t want to disregard the importance of the process exhibited in #occupy–I think it is itself a huge step towards creating the society which so many of us want to see– and I know that, as time progresses, this conversation will definitely evolve; but for now these are the questions rolling around in my head.

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Two posts in one day!  WHAT?!  Well this is important.

So I’m really trying to see past political divides.  Constantly hating on one party–the Republican party usually–just seems like a ridiculous waste of energy, and also really misleading.  It’s not like the Democrats necessarily do a bang-up job either.

With that said: WHAT THE HELL GOP?!?
Please take moment to read this post on Jezebel, take a deep breath, and then come back.
*To summarize the above post, the bill passed was one which would allow Hospitals to refuse women life-saving abortions.

Okay, so, sure Obama would veto this; but that’s not really the point.  The point is the fact that this bill actually passed the House.  This is the justification (not logic) representative Foxx expresses (initially quoted in the Jezebel article), and probably the justification of so many Republicans:

For my colleagues across the aisle who say that this is a misogynist bill, nobody has ever fought more for the rights of women than I have. Fifty percent of the unborn babies that are being aborted are females. So the misogyny comes from those that promote the killing of unborn babies. That’s where the misogyny comes in, Madame Speaker.

What the hell?  Yeah, sure it’s totally not misogynist to condemn women to die on the off chance that the cells living in her utuerus might one day, maybe, become a human being.  Never mind the fact that if it is a life-saving abortion chances probably are that those cells wouldn’t be possible to save, much less develop to a human being.  And never mind that you’re just using population statistics and nothing really meaningful; if you want to tell me that the fetuses abortions “kill” are 51% women then bring me some damn sonograms (or at least something definitive), not world population statistics.  This is simply obvious pandering to the so-called moral majority using vague statistics so that when re-election time comes around they can say something like:
I was part of passing the biggest pro-life bill in the history of the United States.

They’re not going to say that they condemned women to death, no, they will blame Obama for furthering the liberal agenda and fighting against family values, and they’ll somehow bring in the budget.

You would think that with all their double-talk about “family values” they might value women’s lives (who else will cook the meals for the man and children???); but apparently women who would seek abortions don’t fit into their view of who can embody good family values.  Neither do immigrants, or queer people, of course; but now they’ve stepped it up.

In response the only thing I can say is: Let Women Live.
And people in general for that matter.

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This summer has been a weird, busy, and very transitory one.  My sister is off to college, I graduated and found a job, my other sister has colleges talking to her, and my brother is going into high school.

There used to be days when I was younger where my friends and I would spend the whole day in the woods: discovering tunnels, building forts for no reason, and living entirely in our own world until it was time for dinner, and after dinner we would go play some game like kick-the-can or capture the flag.  That’s what life feels like right now, like one long game of make-believe, like I’m still waiting to become an adult–whatever that means.  It’s weird, which is a word I don’t really like to use because it is so vague; but that is exactly why it is so perfect to use right now.

Mary Fons really sums up a lot of my feelings in this poem:

I feel like I should be reaching some sort of mile-stone: I should be in a job where I use my degree, going to dinner all dressed up and knowing exactly which wine will go perfectly with my too small serving which looks pretty, I should be reaching some sort of space of spiritual enlightenment and recalling how I used to know that I can be part of changing the world.

But I’m still that little boy playing in the woods all day and catching fireflies at night while playing kick-the-can with the kids on the block.  It’s weird; but also nice.

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