What Is the Spiritual Meaning Behind Occupy Wall Street?

I've always had the sense that the fundamental ailment in our world is not just economic or political, but to do with this underlying feeling of separation.
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By now, looks like everyone with a keyboard and a mouse has offered up something to the blogosphere about the Occupy movement. I don't think that fellow in Canada ever imagined in his wildest dreams that his call to action would have this kind of global response.

Still, I keep getting email asking me, "So what's your take on it, Arjuna?"

Ok, they asked. So here it is.

My first response is "Yeah!"

I can follow that up with, "Yeeeehaw!"

And if you still want more, I'd say, "About time."

Many years ago (visualize me stroking my gray beard as say those words) when I was a young man at Cambridge University, all my friends were becoming Marxists. Demonstrations, protests, sit-ins and strikes were the thing to do if you wanted to be cool (and get laid). Back then, I took a slightly different route. All my friends were focusing on the enormous injustice that a huge percentage of the world's wealth is controlled by a tiny percentage of the world's population. How can anyone argue? Of course there's something wrong with that picture, when a few people have access to the absolute best of anything, more than they can possibly enjoy, and there are children dying from lack of food and clean water.

The question that nagged at me all those years ago was, "What is it that creates this situation?"

It would never happen, for example, in your family. Imagine sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner where you and your closest ones get the best of everything, and the distant cousins at the end of the table eat dry bread and contaminated water. Couldn't happen, right? When you're with your family, you share because you feel close, you feel connected. The sense of "us" is greater than the sense of a "you" and a "me" as separate.

I've always had the sense that the fundamental ailment in our world is not just economic or political, but to do with this underlying feeling of separation.

When I was living in Bali many years ago, I got to hear about a Japanese company clear cutting large areas of old growth teak forest. The trees were loaded onto boats, supposedly headed for Japan. It seemed like a shame, as these were very old trees, but the real shocker came when I heard that the boats weren't actually taking the trees all the way to Japan. Halfway there, in the middle of nowhere, they were getting dumped off into the ocean. The motive? By buying up old-growth teak in Indonesia and keeping it off the market, the company was able to maintain their high price for the rare teak already available in Japan.

When you hear a story like that (and of course we could supply an endless number of similar stories today of senseless greed), you've got to ask yourself, "What causes someone to make a decision like that?" Some people might call it a savvy business decision, but what is the state of consciousness underneath it? How do you have to feel about yourself, and about life, to make such a decision? I'd say it is all coming from a feeling of being separate: separate from the earth, separate from other people, separate even from your children, who are later going to have to deal with the messes we are creating today. So early on, I developed a keen interest in discovering what creates this feeling of separation, and what, if anything, can cause it to dissolve.

Whenever any localized society has created the kind of imbalance of wealth we have today, it has eventually resulted in destabilization and revolution. The Roman Empire collapsed as the rich and powerful in Rome never ran out of greed for dominating the less fortunate. The French revolution, the Russian revolution, right up to the fall of Colonel Gaddafi a few weeks ago: People will only tolerate greed and abusive power for so long.

There has always been a problem, however. Revolutions change the balance of power, but generally don't get rid of the feeling of separation which created the imbalance. Under the Czar in Russia, for example, working people were starving while the aristocracy lived in palaces. But the Bolshevik regime that took over simply replaced one form of elitism with another. When Yeltsin and Gorbachev ended Communism in 1991, again, it just rearranged the players on the board. The dynamic of separation, greed and corruption remained just as strong.

So here are some things that I love about the Occupy movement, and which inspire me to repeat that passionate "Yeehaw!" and to raise my glass that this might be an upgrade to revolution-as-usual.

  • It doesn't orient around any particular leader, dogma or ideology. This is brilliant. When a movement is not centrally organized in this way, it's appealing to basic common sense and human decency more than allegiance to dogma.

  • There are no specific demands or calls to action. Political analysts say that this is a weakness, but I disagree. It would be a weakness if this was a new political movement, but by avoiding a particular action plan, it calls upon all of us to recognize that opposing corruption and hoarding by a few wealthy people is not something you need to take any position on. Like the sexual abuse of children, you don't have to think or align yourself with an ideology to know its not okay.
  • The movement is, for the most part, peaceful and even humorous. Putting Rome and Tottenham aside, the demonstrations elsewhere all around the world have been well-behaved. The reports of violence (pepper spray in New York, rubber bullets in Oakland) were initiated by the police rather than by the demonstrators.
  • This is not the same old aging baby boomers beating their dusty battered drums again. This is mainly the generation we sometimes thought was too wedded to XBox, texting and iPods to even care or notice. They do care, they are kicking b*tt, and they are doing it with more care and compassion that their predecessors in the '70s.
  • My hope and prayer is that this could be a different kind of a revolution. A revolution in the way we have revolutions. In other words, not just the same old, "You guys are greedy and rich and you stink, and we're going to take you down, yaaahh! Here's a bottle in your windshield, you b**stard." We can be, and we are being, more revolutionary than that, by moving beyond separation. This is a bold step. To ask ourselves, "What's the state of consciousness that causes someone to behave the way they do?" "What would somebody have to be feeling (or unable to feel) to have an insatiable lust to have more of everything, and to not care about other people's needs?"

    When we sit with these questions, we realize that we are actually ALL victims of the economic system that is now collapsing around us. The factory worker who just lost their job, who is paying 28 percent percent in credit card interest, who is in foreclosure on their house, is an obvious victim. It takes a leap to see that the banker in his private jet, mansions on every continent, and the best of everything, is, in a more obscure way, also a victim. Whoa, Whaaaaat? Yes, think about it. You ever hung out with someone living this way? Selfishness and isolation is not a fun way to be. It's often accompanied by rampant substance abuse, broken marriages, an inability to feel gratitude, to feel good about yourself or that you've made any real contribution.

    The way that the Occupy movement can be a revolutionary revolution instead of a run-of-the-mill ordinary revolution is if we start with ourselves. We can start by dropping our attention deeper than thoughts, rigid beliefs, reactive emotions and prejudice. We can start by discovering the dimension within each of us, not so far away, which is limitless and free, which needs nothing, but offers everything. Then you become a spiritual activist, an empowered mystic. You take a stand not against something or someone, but for something. You take a stand for life, for celebration, for generosity, for values that make everybody stronger.

    So for those of you who asked, that's my answer. I thoroughly support occupying everything in sight, and lets start with yourselves.

    Occupy the limitless space, free and open like the sky, which is your true nature.

    Occupy the unclaimed love which you always knew was there, waiting to be owned.

    Occupy your capacity to forgive, to find common ground.

    Occupy the place where you move beyond blame and differences, and find empathy.

    Occupy Yourself, Occupy your true nature, and then whatever else you choose occupy will naturally become a better place for everyone to be.

    To me, that's revolutionary revolution.

    So there's the story of why, instead of becoming a social activist, or a film maker, or a political commentator like many of my friends back then, I have developed the Awakening Coaching Training. Today I train coaches to become facilitators of awakening, to guide people to move beyond separation, and to start with themselves. We need a good political or social revolution from time to time, and I believe that there first needs to be a Translucent Revolution within.

    I'm going to be hosting a free tele-seminar about Awakening Coaching this Friday, November 11th at 10am PST. Feel free to join us. It will last 75 minutes, and so will include the magical moment, never to be repeated, of 11:11 on 11-11-11.

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