October 15, 2011

Why I Won’t Occupy Any Street.

I was once in a workshop with celeb-yogi extraordinaire Sadie Nardini, and she asked us a question that really stuck with me. I’m going to paraphrase here:

“If you could tell the world one thing—just one thing, and it would be up there in the sky in every city trailing behind a huge jet or something, and every single person in the world would look up and really, like really read it, what would it say?

What one thing would you tell the whole world?”

Think about it for a minute. What would you tell the whole world? What is your one true intention? Your core message, as Sadie calls it? Your truth?

She was speaking to a group of yoga teachers, and we stand up in front of people all day long and teach them about where to put your knee in this pose and how to move your hip over there to do that pose, but she was asking us what we really wanted to teach. And whether you are a teacher in any literal sense of the word, I think it’s still a good question–maybe the most important question–for all of us. What’s your truth? What would you scream from the rooftops?

The room was quiet for a few minutes. But my head wasn’t. I knew mine right away. I waited and listened to the responses–“Inner Peace.” “Love Yourself.” Sadie’s, in case you are interested, was “Know Thyself.” Mine was (and still is): “Think for yourself!”

Now here’s the part where I tell you all about my core message and why I think it’s important. But that doesn’t mean you should agree with me. Remember, you should think for yourself here.

When I was little, my dad taught me one really important lesson. I’d get mad about some bad guy on a TV show or I’d ask why my brother insisted on tearing off my barbie heads or something like that, and I still remember him saying, “Well, nothing is really black and white, Julie. It’s all in shades of grey.” A cliche, I know, but my five year old brain really got that.

Then, when I was in high school, I remember finding myself standing outside of Queen’s Park in Toronto, protesting Bill-160something because my friends were all there protesting Bill-160something. It occurred to me all of a sudden that I had no idea what Bill-160something actually was, and how could I be standing here in the cold yelling in resistance to something I didn’t know the first thing about? I dropped my little protest sign and got the hell out of there, vowing to never stand behind something unless I really felt like I understood it.
Later, in school, I was taking a course in Eastern religion. I grew up Anglican, so I knew the basic rules of being good and what ethics generally meant– you know, don’t kill people or steal or covet, whatever coveting was. But my teacher–a little ex-Zen monk who changed my life in so many ways that semester, asked us the following question:

“You know that it’s wrong to kill people. But do you really know why it’s wrong? Have you really taken it deeply into your heart and thought about it to the point that you know the only true answer to that question? If not, you are not an ethical person. You are just a sheep following the rules like everyone else.”

So five year old me and teenage me and young adult me had a little revelation in that moment. An ethical world is one in which people think for themselves, and really do think, not just follow. And it’s hard. But I vowed, again, to always, always try.

Which is why I will not be participating in the Occupy Thecityyoulivein movement. Even though it inspires me to see so many people caring and trying, and I think it is potentially powerful. But ultimately I don’t know what the purpose is. I don’t know the plan or the intention or what specifically is supposed to happen after sitting in the cold yelling about something you don’t really understand. I see its necessity, and I think it’s amazing when people just rise up because they are powerful, and I believe as individuals and as communities we can create change. But standing around yelling vaguely (or respectfully communicating, which I hear is what’s actually happening) is not my form of social revolution.

See, I’ve been doing it all along in all the ways I know how to, in the places where I can see it working. That’s why I left school–I care so deeply about injustice and pain and all the shit that’s going on, and I felt like all my ideas and thoughts were doing nothing behind institutional walls.

So here I am in the real world, with finance analysts and psychotherapists and women with babies who have cancer and teenage boys suffering depression, doing my absolute best to teach. Not where your knee should go or how your hip should move or what you are supposed to look like. But to get to know your own body, your ego, your brain, your own complicated mess of a self, your healing. To get powerful because your mind and body are connected and communicating and can then tell you what your strengths are and where your calling is to create real change. In my mind, there is nothing more revolutionary than poetry and yoga.

But your calling doesn’t have to look anything like mine–it might be through making music, or engineering safe drinking wells in Africa, or being at the forefront of the environmental revolution through researching clean alternatives to fossil fuels, or documenting the real lives of women in countries that refuse their right to vote or get educated, or yes, occupying Wall Street, but follow that calling because you’ve thought about it, and you understand it, and you know it’s going to do something meaningful, if not something black and white.

But, you know, don’t take my word for it. Think for yourself, right?


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