How Occupy Wall Street Demonstrates the Power of Meditation in Action

Look closely at the components of a meditative attitude, and you'll see them all reflected in the Occupy movement.
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How did the Occupy movement end up with such an enormous cross-section of the world identifying with them? Consciously or not, they did something truly radical: From the beginning, they followed the principles of meditation. Look closely at the components of a meditative attitude, and you'll see them all reflected in the Occupy movement:

  1. Right intention;
  2. Full attention;
  3. Letting go of knowing;
  4. Cultivating unconditional friendliness;
  5. Committing to the truth.

These can sound like abstract principles until we start to see them in action, and the attitudes that prevailed in the launch of Occupy Wall Street demonstrate the power of the meditative attitude to make a difference in the gritty, real world. What follows are five lessons from Occupy Wall Street on how to manifest the meditative attitude in real life:

1-Right intention: Stand by what we value.

How could a little group of people have any impact on something so massive as the world economy? Why even bother trying? Occupy Wall Street's first lesson: Stand by what we most value, even if it looks like our action will be too insignificant to make any difference. All any of us can really do is use our lives to create an example that we'd like others to follow. When the Occupiers stood peacefully firm in their values while the media initially dismissed and ridiculed them, they gave others the courage to do the same, and soon had people all over the world standing shoulder to shoulder with them.

2-Full attention: Stay focused on what matters.

The people who first occupied Wall Street didn't go home after the initial rally. They let go of all their previous priorities and set up a vigil in a city plaza. When something is really off and we don't have a solution, it can feel easier to ignore the issue than face our own uncertainty, but distracting and focusing on less important things doesn't cure the bad feeling gnawing at our gut. The meditative attitude means staying with what is, however uncomfortable that can be. At times it is the equivalent of sleeping out overnight in a cold New York plaza without any assurance of a good outcome.

3-Letting go of knowing: Make no demands.

Many in the media have ridiculed the Occupiers for making no demands, but this is exactly the place to start if we are taking a meditative attitude: We drop all our demands and all our knowing, and just look clearly. The Occupiers defied a strong American value when they didn't claim expertise in a culture that so admires experts -- a culture that sees not having the answer as a sign of weakness. Instead they did as meditators do: They found their strength in beginner's mind -- the mind of not knowing.

4-Cultivating unconditional friendliness: Be respectful and inclusive of those you disagree with.

By focusing on what joins people rather than what divides them, the Occupiers brought together a cross-section of supporters from all sides of the political and cultural spectrum. With no position papers and no party line to adhere to, it wasn't necessary to have 100 percent agreement. While people may disagree on the possible solutions, many can agree in general terms on what the problem is, and that is a great starting place for respectful dialogue.

5-Committing to the truth: Be willing to stay with not knowing for as long as it takes.

With all the criticism being lobbed at them, it would have been understandable if the Occupiers would have rushed out a list of half-baked demands and stuck by them, just to quiet their critics. But they didn't. They insisted that it wasn't about demands, but about dialogue; they didn't want an argument, they wanted a discussion. In our culture of argument, this is a radical stance and a great lesson: We don't need to rush to solutions just to escape the discomfort of not knowing. Taking the meditative attitude creates fertile ground for something genuinely new to emerge, however long it takes. Uncertainty is transformed into creative possibility if we don't cover it over by grasping at answers before they are truly there.

What does all this add up to?

Here we can call on the wisdom of one indigenous leader who, when asked how his tribe made decisions, said that they don't actually make decisions. Rather, they keep talking and wait for the obvious truth to emerge. The hopeful lesson of the Occupy movement in its infancy calls on us to try on this radical stance, both individually and collectively, by cultivating our own meditative attitude: standing by our values, staying focused on what matters, dropping our demands, cultivating friendly respect for those we disagree with and committing to seeing the truth -- not a provisional truth colored by our unexamined biases, but a truth so real that when we finally see it, we might have to call it obvious.

As reports come back of more violence from police in breaking up encampments, and as more and more commentators try to polarize this movement back into the more familiar world of left vs. right, we can only hope that this original, inspired attitude will prove resilient enough to withstand the pressure.

I welcome your feedback and thoughts. For more reflections and practices to help us occupy deeper, more creative parts of ourselves during challenging times, see my website:

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