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Oct 21
Friday
Scene and Heard
Being Present: Meditation at Occupy Wall Street

Guest article by Patrick Groneman, currently the Interim Executive Director of the Interdependence Project. This past Sunday, the Interdependence Project helped organize a mindfulness meditation at Zuccotti Park, site of the Occupy Wall Street demonstration in Downtown Manhattan. In coordination with the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, sits were happening across the country at the same time.

I arrived a little before three o’clock p.m. along with several friends who had just finished an intensive weekend of meditation teacher training in the East Village. Together we scouted around inside the crowded park, looking for a place to sit. Eventually we settled on “the shrine tree” – located in the northwest corner of the park. Around its base were statuettes of the Buddha, a Christian cross, and Ganesh among other precious objects. In the center of the objects sat a framed print, an image of symbols from twenty or so spiritual traditions creating a circle, as a sign of spiritual unity. The earthy-sweet smell of incense paraded up into the leaves and out over the crowd.

Our cushions were laid out right onto the concrete. By the time we finished our first twenty minute period of “Being Present”, our group had grown to around eighty folks. I sat, watching my breath as the activity of the park became more vivid.

“Go Inside or Keep Moving!” the policemen yelled at the passersby who slowed on the sidewalk.

“Legalize Weed!” came a roar a few minutes later, as a group with a drum gathered behind us.

In line with my view, a young man with rosy brown skin in a zip up print hoodie squatted around the shrine tree, organizing the sacred objects, re-lighting the incense, watching the smoke dance with the wind.

I kept thinking about my own place in all of this. A young, well-educated white male, with a full time job, and supportive family. Why am I here in this occupation?

Then I noticed my habit of over-thinking, and let my thoughts float away and returned to the feeling of my breath.

This wasn’t about me – I came to this sit to listen, to let the energy of the occupation infuse my presence. By sitting in solidarity with the occupation, we were hoping to help to lay a foundation of mindfulness beneath a social movement with far-reaching implications. The way protesters in NYC inter-act with the police has the potential to become a model for all the protests and occupations happening all over the globe. That’s Interdependence in a nutshell. The potential for things to spin out into nasty territory is already evident, as reports of violence filter back from the outgrowth in Rome.

So we sat, watching our breath, being present with the tides of change around us, swelling and distant, still and moving, and right there with all of it.

We’re planning to host meditations daily at Zuccotti Park. If you’re interested in attending or helping to organize, please e-mail [email protected]

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10 responses to “ Being Present: Meditation at Occupy Wall Street ”
  1. Sarah Lipton
    Feb 14, 2012
    Reply

    There is a Shambhala Center in London – check it out: http://www.shambhala.org.uk

  2. Mac McKenna
    Feb 14, 2012
    Reply

    Can you please keep your religious beliefs to yourself – at least whilst talking about the benefits of meditation and more specifically being in the ‘present time’. Religion gets in the way and is actually a regressive influence for atheists like myself. Paradoxically being in the present time enables you to access other ‘times’ more easily as well as being able to cope in the present and – for myself at least – be more cheerful whilst going about my everyday chores. ‘God’ in whatever form has nothing to do with it. Incidentally anywhere in the UK (and more specifically London and the south east) that groups like yours meet?

  3. Interdependence depends on itself but whole systems have to change by themselves… not by force of war but believing is seeing…

  4. Was the police officer offering encouragement for the practioners when he said, “Go inside or keep moving!”?

  5. I think what these protestors were trying to do is bring about awareness of how a warrior takes her/his/ze’s seat in the world. If we as Buddhist, protestors or educated humyns don’t address the way we want to move forward as a society we are already lost. Trungpa one of Pema’s teachers states that, “The principle of nowness is very important to any effort to establish an enlightened society. You may wonder what the best approach is to helping society and how you can know what you are doing is authentic and good. The only answer is nowness. The way to relax, or rest the mind in nowness, is through the practice of meditation. In meditation you take an unbiased approach. You let things be as they are, without judgment, and in that way you yourself learn to be.”
    At first I was having trouble with this article. Things changed as I got a glimpse at this person’s basic goodness. When the author was asking ze’s self where they stood in the whole occupy movement because as they put it ze is a, “a young educated white male with a job and supportive family”. I felt that ze understood that this movement is not about them; I wish others could see this. This movement is about moving forward, not about separating or creating an Us vs. Them mentality. If we want a true revolution we need to help the oppressors become present and live in the now to understand what they are doing and how they can fix it. We can not start oppressing the oppressor, for if we do that we are no longer a warrior in the world that sees basic goodness in others or ourselves, we become less awake and stuck even more in our cocoon. As cliché as it is Gandhi was right when he said “Be the Change you wish to see in the world”.

    Just my thoughts…

  6. Jim Tolstrup
    Oct 23, 2011
    Reply

    Here in Fort Collins we’ve been meditating at the Occupy site every day at 5:00 p.m. For me personally, sitting on the sidewalk while the hectic world speeds by has invigorated my practice. I also feel that for people driving by it can be a powerful invitation to wake up; like the first time you walked into a Shambhala Center saw a gatekeeper sitting at the door of the shrine room and just their posture was a teaching in itself. I am by no means an expert on the topic but it’s my understanding that Buddhist practice began on the street, in parks and in grave yards. People are suffering a lot right now. Meeting them right where they are is very powerful and it flows both ways. Last week I was sitting at the site at 7:00 a.m. a cold rain began to pour down and a homeless Viet Nam vet wrapped a blanket around my shoulders. Another person knelt down in the rain to re-light my incense. For me, that kind of immediate feedback from the world takes everything out the theoretical.

  7. Edmund Butler
    Oct 23, 2011
    Reply

    Practicing mindfulness, whether in meditation, while protesting or in military uniform is still just working with our inherent wakefulness. I salute everyone who shows up to Occupy the truth of egolessness and unity as the foundation of an Enlightened Society. The potential for emotions to run wild is of course vivid and we all, often appreciate reminders about avoiding being triggered and acting mindfully. So when a fully uniformed US Marine Sergeant with medals shimmering, a distinguished military career and a fire in his gut can singlehandedly pacify the paranoia of Riot Police in support of OWS, alongside meditators and thousands of the less greedy disenfranchised, desperately searching for words of their own, it seems clear that all of this is touching the core of Basic Goodness in which everything rests. Way to go IDP!!
    Warm wishes to all ;)

  8. I totally see your point Travis. I had similar thoughts. But I feel like these guys are doing something right, with all the ideas floating around and all the talking and yelling and protesting going on, I think Occupy needs a direct example of how to act, that is more noticeable than someone who standing amongst the protestors. I think this is a good way to put out into the community an energy of sanity. These protests must not get out of hand, if people can only keep their seats during all this they can have great power. But a large aggressive force won’t do anything but stir up the police. Great job Interdependence Project and Buddhist Peace Fellowship!

  9. Sort of reminds me of a You Tube video of meditators in the subway during rush hour. I didn’t think meditation was about doing something out of the mainstream in order to bring attention to yourself. Nor did I think it was practicing in an environment not conducive to peaceful abiding. Maybe I’m wrong, but it strikes me as pretentious self-indulgence.

  10. I don’t think there is anything “bad” or wrong with this, and it is probably contributing some measure of benefit, but it also seems a little strange. We’ve started a book club at our center recently using Pema’s book When Things Fall Apart. In reading this the other day I was reminded that, “We don’t sit in meditation to become good meditators. We sit in meditation so that we’ll be more awake in our lives.” The point of having times set aside to practice mindfulness meditation is that when we engage in something like Occupy Wall Street we will carry the mindfulness we’ve cultivated in our sitting practice into the activity we’re engaging in- to act skillfully, speak & listen mindfully, not get swept away by thoughts & emotions, etc. You don’t practice mindfulness meditation when you’re driving a car; you apply your heightened mindfulness & awareness to the activity of driving! Am I right, or am I not seeing this correctly?


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