Saturday, October 29, 2011

Occupy Together!

An odd thing happened while I was busy living my life. The rich became richer.

Between 1979 and 2007, the average after~tax income for the wealthiest 1% of Americans rose by 281%, with these folks now controlling 42% of the financial wealth in the U.S. The gap between this 1% and the rest of us has tripled~~yes, tripled!~~over the last three decades.

The top 10% of Americans now control 93% of our country’s wealth. Taxes on the richest Americans are the lowest in decades, and Congress, beholden to lobbyists and their own interests, seems intent on dealing with our financial difficulties by gouging social programs.

I had not followed the Occupy Wall Street movement very closely, yet I jumped at the chance to participate during a recent visit to New York.

En route to Zuccotti Park, we were passed by a large group marching to Chase Bank. Soon another left on an anti~racism march to the African Burial Ground National Monument located a few blocks away.

So began my education on just how dynamic this movement is, an awareness that grew as I discovered the diversity of those within the park. Certainly there were lots of 20~somethings, but there were many with lined faces and gray hair. Truck drivers. Parents with children. Construction workers from nearby Ground Zero.

This motley group was unified by a profound concern for our country. While the movement has been criticized for lacking a coherent message, political columnist Charles Pierce believes this broad brush approach is appropriate and represents the movement’s unique strength. In an Esquire essay, Pierce states:
“…the wealth of the country is being swindled and gambled and frittered away by so many people in so many ways that to sharpen the focus on one of the long cons is to let a dozen others reach fruition.”
Historian Eric Foner offers a different perspective. In a CNN interview, he reminds us that throughout history “the role of protest (has been) to galvanize public opinion…to pose a moral question.” As an example, he points out that the Abolitionists of the 1830s “didn’t put forward a plan to for getting rid of slavery. They said our job is to convince people slavery is wrong.”

So, Americans come from far and near to stand their ground in a little park in Manhattan, just one block from where the World Trade Center once stood. And they come to various cities and towns across the country and around the world. In the latest incarnation of a tradition that is both honorable and sacred, they protest to pose a moral question, to galvanize public opinion, and to strongly state their view that the current situation, economic and otherwise, is wrong.

At Zuccotti Park, also known appropriately as Liberty Park, many make personal statements, some on hand~lettered signs. On that day two weeks ago now, these were the signs that spoke most dearly to me...

One 60-something carried a simple placard,

A more conciliatory somebody wrote,
99% + 1% = 100%

A sign obviously conceived, lettered, colored, flowered and glittered by the hand of the 7~year~old who carried it, instructed on one side,
with the other stating,

And in a play on a classic exhortation, one hopeful soul quietly held a sign that said,

What moved me most, though, was an auditory event. I was standing at a makeshift shrine, enthralled by swatches of cloth, crosses, prayer beads, candles, sacred icons and mandalas spilling one over the other.
Mic check, ” a young man 3 yards away suddenly called out.
MIC CHECK,” those nearby replied in robust unison.
We need some volunteers,” he continued.
WE NEED SOME VOLUNTEERS,” the crowd echoed.
To walk a few blocks from here.”
To get some cardboard for making signs.
With electronic amplification banned, protesters have developed this system, dubbed the human microphone, to communicate basic information, as well as the philosophical and political views a particular protester may wish to express.

And it brought tears to my eyes. For me, this adaptation embodies the essence of the grassroots movements that are spreading like wildfire around the world. So many individuals, each with a unique story, coming together, supporting one another, speaking with one voice.

There’s another metaphor here, too. Of all the various forces within us and around us, which ones will we amplify? To which will we give our precious voice?

Right now, mine sings out prayers...
for the protesters…
for the police...
for hostile others…
for our whole bewildered and bewildering species…
and for this beautiful little planet we call home.
Blessings on us all.

Loanne Marie

Addendum: The momentum for this movement continues to build. Earlier today, my husband and I were in a small mountain community, population around 5,000. Walking down the street, we were suddenly swept up in the first Occupy protest march there. Fifty or so folks, most with gray hair, organized the event and plan to meet every Saturday to demonstrate their concerns.

The number of these groups seems to grow daily. To find out how you can help, to see what's going on near you, or to begin something yourself or with a few like~minded folks, you can find helpful information here at Occupy Together.

This is truly an exciting time. Yet, change seldom takes a smooth or simple trajectory. Let's keep those prayers and/or simple good vibes flowing...
...for the safety and clarity of the protesters;
...for the greatest wisdom for our elected officials and for the police who have been given such a difficult task and who are, any way you look at it, truly part of the 99%;
...for an increase in the ability of human beings to listen respectfully to and care about one another;
...and for the best possible outcome for all concerned.

And this just amazing reaction from across the globe. Click here to read about how Egyptians are supporting Occupy Wall Street from Tahrir Square. Amazing times these are!!!

And something else just sent to me~~an ad for Occupy Wall Street. It's short~~only 33 seconds!

Oh, c'mon! Here's another thing just in (today's 11/1) that I really just gotta give yas the link to~~a poll about who is supporting the Occupy movement.

11/4/11 Addendum~~Check out this aerial view of the numbers in Occupy Oakland! Something very big is afoot!

11/6/11 And a very inspiring, hopeful, powerful (and short) video here!

11/27/11 This one's the best~~here!!!

Blessed be!

Saturday, October 15, 2011


As any parent knows, when a child’s behavior is rewarded with attention, that behavior grows. A similar process occurs within our own consciousness.

We can attend to what is lacking in ourselves and our world. We might catalog our resentments. Or we could devote ourselves to our worries. As we do, each will grow in importance and assume a place of honor in our awareness. Of course, for we are lending them our precious energy.

Luckily, however, we can choose our focus. We can direct our attention to peace or beauty or the oneness of all life. We can choose trust over fear and acceptance over the push to have it our way. And with practice, these will be the qualities that will grow and begin to inform our experience of life.

Bhava is a Sanskrit word meaning “attitude” or “feeling”. It can also refer to a general mindset. In her beautifully~titled and exceedingly helpful book Meditation for the Love of It, Sally Kempton describes how “we look at the world through the glasses of our particular set of bhavas and imagine that what we see is the way things really are when actually we are seeing only the reflection of our bhavas.”

So, whether a tendency to worry has us seeing problems everywhere, or our propensity for anger leads us to hone in on slights and wrongs done, we see what we expect to see. The fact that others respond quite differently to similar situations only confirms that our responses are, indeed, ours.

The good news is that since these bhavas underlie all our interactions, any shift in them will lead to a significant change in our experience. The practice of consciously working with our internal bhavas is called bhavana, a method employed by many eastern spiritual traditions. Bhavana translates as “cultivating” or “calling into existence.”

Isn't that a beautiful phrase? Calling into existence. What is it that we want to call into existence? Certainly not fear or mistrust or selfishness. Yet these may be the very qualities we unconsciously nurture. No surprise there. We all have bugaboos. The point is that they needn’t be set in stone.

If we relate to life from a distance or with a certain harshness or negativity, for example, techniques which soften the heart are gifts beckoning. Following sage bumper sticker advice, we could practice random acts of kindness. We might chronicle our gratitudes before bed each night, or say an authentic and heart~felt grace before meals.

We could engage in specific meditative practices designed to open us~~consciously breathing with a feeling of love, visualizing our breath swirling into and out of our heart center, or extending goodwill from ourselves to others in ever expanding circles as in lovingkindness meditation. We could envision meditating at the feet of the Divine and greet everyone we meet as though he or she were Jesus in disguise.

And when our favorite bugaboos rise up to greet us~~as they most certainly will~~we could interact with them kindly, holding them in our hearts and surrounding them with the compassion they desperately seek.

It’s not easy to alter an ingrained approach to life. How exciting, though, to try. As a wise parent, we can nurture the life~affirming capacities of our own evolving consciousness~~ and delight as they expand.

“If you practice a particular bhava long enough,” Kempton writes, “it will become natural~~it will actually become real for you. That’s because your consciousness is so creative that it can shape itself completely around any feeling you hold and recreate itself in that image.”

Bhavas clothe our spirits. Surely we want to choose our wardrobe with care, especially because the gala event we’re attending is nothing less than our very lives.

Blessings on each of you and your own bhavana practice!

Loanne Marie

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Of Trees and Arrows

Tasks appear on your to~do list faster than you can cross them off. Time vanishes. Pressure builds as deadlines draw near. Or maybe you’re struggling with something far more critical. Perhaps you’ve been diagnosed with a serious illness or have had a recent heartbreak.

Whether our difficulties are mundane or profound, how do we manage them? For starters, we can choose to not make things worse.

At a recent retreat, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh shared a teaching of the Buddha’s known as The Second Arrow that speaks directly to this issue. A person is hit by an arrow that pierces the skin. It is removed, but immediately afterward, a second arrow strikes the same spot, intensifying the pain and complicating the healing process.

Metaphorically, this is often what we do with our own difficulties. Story~making creatures that we are, we take our original hurt and embellish it. Using our considerable creative powers, we expand the wound.

In the first example above, I may tell myself that I’ll never get it all done and spin a tale of being incompetent or helpless. I may unwittingly convince myself that I am a victim of a deadline or that finishing the task to perfection is a reflection of my worth. In more serious situations, I might tell myself that my anguish is more than I can bear. I may blame myself or others for my misfortune or conclude that I’m jinxed or powerless.

I can, in other words, shoot myself with a second arrow. Heck, I’ve been known to shoot myself with a whole quiver full of arrows, each one furthering the original distress and limiting my ability to respond appropriately and effectively.

The wise person stops with the first arrow.

This teaching encourages us to stay with the original experience, simply as it is. It warns against both exaggeration and avoidance. It advises against spinning into anger, despair and blame. It urges us to attend to our difficulties without complicating matters further by piling on additional layers. In this way, our wound remains just what it is. Nothing more. We are then better able to take constructive action.

This teaching is often used to illustrate the subtle distinction between pain and suffering in Buddhist thought. Pain is a reality of this world. Suffering comes from how we relate to that pain. Looked at in this way, pain may happen to us, but suffering is what we do to ourselves. For most of us, our pain turns into suffering automatically.

Another image offered at the retreat has helped me interrupt this habitual response. The branches of a tree blow wildly in fierce winds. The trunk, however, is unmoving, particularly as it nears the ground. When we are in crisis, we are like the branches of the tree, flailing around to beat the band. But when we move down into our trunk, into our root even, we touch stillness.

I find this image instantaneously helpful. When my thoughts and emotions are running amok, I remember the branches. And I choose instead to identify with the trunk. While it’s difficult to describe, I energetically pull out of my mind and move down into my torso. Feeling the rise and fall of each breath in the abdomen can have the same effect.

Immediately I am calmed. Not happy perhaps, but no longer thrashing about. A much wiser choice, indeed. And besides, while I’m busy makin’ like a tree, I won’t be shootin’ myself full of arrows!

So to all you magnificent trees out there who may, in certain situations, believe yourselves to be branches alone, get ye to your trunk! And leave the quiver full of arrows on the ground!


Loanne Marie