When I heard that the Occupy Wall Street protestors had been kicked out of Zuccotti Park, that their utopian camp had been dismantled and destroyed, I felt sad, deflated and wondered what it would mean for the whole movement. I had a fleeting thought that it was the beginning of the end. Clearly though, this movement is already more powerful than one encampment. The day of the eviction, one of the protestors spoke to NPR and said: “It’s gonna take whatever form – it’s like water. It’s gonna take whatever form it’s got to take to get to where it’s got to go.” He was right, of course. With tremendous resilience, the movement has already manifested at the New York Stock Exchange, Foley Square and celebrated its 2-month birthday on the Brooklyn Bridge in a matter of days. Occupy Movements all over the country are getting stronger, addressing their internal and external struggles and building momentum.
When the physical space of OWS was dismantled, the movement had been functioning for 59 days. Let’s compare 59 days of the occupation to 59 days of spiritual practice. You get up every day for 59 days and practice yoga and/or meditate. When you do that, you build momentum and something shifts. You start to change energetically; you are creating new samskaras. A new you begins to take form. Nobody knows exactly how it works, but as my teacher says, “a little mystery is nice.”
But, let’s say that on the 60th day, you don’t practice. Maybe your child gets sick or maybe you just don’t feel like it. And then, you feel like you’ve screwed up, like you’ve really blown it. The voices in your head say – “see, you can’t do this” or “you’re lazy, you’re never going to change.” But, on the 61st day, you find yourself doing your practice, in spite of yourself.
A zen teacher of mine used to say, “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” Another one used to say that the secret to spiritual practice was to keep doing it. I have more experience with starting and stopping regimens of spiritual practice than I care to admit. But, at some point I finally did get it – I had to ignore the voices and just completely believe in myself. And, once the momentum was there, barriers lifted and my path became obvious.
OWS is not going away; it has a life of its own. The movement has already profoundly changed the individual lives of protestors, and it is awakening a new social consciousness. The Occupations are unprecedented in their ability to hold public spaces and they will continue to manifest in novel and surprising ways. New channels of creativity will allow more successful, heart opening actions. Mistakes will be made, but the direction is clear. As the occupiers have said, “you can’t evict an idea whose time has come.”
Loretta Pyles, Ph.D., is a yoga teacher and scholar-activist-educator. She is an Associate Professor at the School of Social Welfare at the State University at New York at Albany and author of the book, Progressive Community Organizing: A Critical Approach for a Globalizing World (Routledge, 2009). She has worked as a community organizer and engaged scholar on issues of economic justice, gender-based violence, and disaster recovery (in New Orleans and Haiti). She has also been involved in various aspects of the Occupy Albany movement. Loretta began practicing zen meditation in the Korean tradition in 1999 and has also practiced dzogchen and vipassana meditation. Her practice today is traditional hatha yoga and tantra. She has studied the yoga of sound with Russill Paul and completed yoga teacher training with Senior ParaYoga teacher, Lauren Toolin. Her dharma is to explore how spiritual practice can advance social change endeavors. She lives with her husband, dog and two cats in rural upstate New York.