Occupying ExperienceNovember 23, 2011 Leave a comment
Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,
overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way
to get from here to there.
–Elizabeth Alexander (From “Ars Poetics #100: I Believe”)
Let me start by saying that I am well aware of the inherent irony of posting a piece with this title in the blogosphere and furthermore tweeting about it to my “followers.” That said, I offer this in the same spirit of the saying, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill the Buddha.” In other words, thanks in advance for reading/sharing, and then let’s get back to the work of being our own lights.
As I turn thoughts to this week’s holiday, I am thankful for so much: for health, for family, for friends, for the opportunity to do the work I do, where and with whom I get to do it. And I am also grateful to be living in these uncertain, trying, and exciting times. If we would believe history and the views of certain amateur and professional philosophers, we might see our current circumstances as the makings of a great age and evolutionary leap forward. Perhaps this is that much more believable as we watch and/or participate in the unfolding of the Occupy Movement, standing as it does on the shoulders of so much important foundational work by so many. For all of the confusion or noble certainties expressed by observers about what the movement stands for, I am most compelled by and grateful for the invitation I hear to occupy direct experience.
At the end of October, I had the great fortune to be able to see Zuccotti Park with my own eyes, and share in this experience with my colleague Melinda Weekes and my brother Eric, a photographer who lives in Brooklyn who had not had occasion to visit the site until that evening. We participated in the people’s mic, and wandered through the encampment, taking in the makeshift library, kitchen, and department of sanitation. We exchanged greetings with recent college grads, veterans of our armed forces, senior citizens. As chance would have it, we arrived just as people were preparing for a march to City Hall as an expression of solidarity with the Occupiers of Oakland. And so, being card carrying members of the 99%, we joined in. The next hour unfolded in fascinating fashion as we walked with hundreds up Broadway, drumming and chanting and singing – “Who’s streets? Our streets!” – and then twice around City Hall before our trio exited. The NYPD was on the scene, with some officers jostling and pushing those who strayed into streets (“No, our streets!”), others carrying those large orange nets as threats to corral those who got “out of hand.” The crowd was for the most part peaceful.
As we made out first turn toward the front of Tweed Courthouse, the sidewalk and street narrowed, and I felt my heartbeat accelerate. Seeing the congestion ahead and the more pronounced orange netting, a few people stepped out of line and I heard a few say, “I’m not getting arrested!” I realized I’d lost sight of Eric. Melinda and I pushed on, amidst the escalating tension, strategizing where we might want to position ourselves vis-à-vis different players. Our pass in front of the building ultimately occurred without incident, and as we neared the far corner, I saw Eric. He was smiling and I could tell we shared the feeling of relief and invigoration. Though we had done nothing “wrong,” there was a sense of having stepped out of bounds, and the result was indeed a rush. As I looked around at those parading by, the details of their diversity and humanity were somehow magnified. Given the need for rest before our training session the next morning, Melinda and I pulled ourselves away and soon were arm-in-arm with my brother, singing and laughing as we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. Exhuberant. Alive.
Over the years many have made the call for re-formation, to reclaim the God, the spirit, the nature, the truth, the “other,” the wholeness that lives within. Whether nailing theses to a church door or poetically pointing out our neglected animal natures, these ancient and modern day prophets have asked us in essence to cut out the middle man and reclaim what is our birthright. This can be a scary proposition, for it can mean leaving the safe confines of institutionalized life. And, as D.H. Lawrence tells us, it is also the opportunity to reconnect with “unlying life,” in a way that brings new power and insight to our individual and collective well-being. Occupy reminds me that we are in desperate need of a closer encounter with our deepest longings, one another, and the larger story of which we are a part, and not to rely on mediatized messages about what we should value and who others are.
Each day I am more aware of the stories I have inherited that are the lenses through which I view the world, some of which do not serve the aims and vision of with my life’s work. And I am looking at this holiday season as a continued opportunity to sit with others in the call of the poet Elizabeth Alexander who invites us to rediscover the poetry that is the human voice and experience – “Are we not of interest to each other?” Occupy curiosity and the wisdom of our senses. Occupy love and the empty spaces that separate us. Blessings to all!