November 9, 2011

Waking Up From the American Dream: Buddhist Reflections on the Occupy Wall Street Movement. ~ Madrone Phoenix

Photo: truth.org

“If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution.” ~ Emma Goldman

As I walked back into my place in providence, I was flooded with expectation of how to bring what I just saw, felt, tasted and touched back with me to the world I know here.

While joining the masses at Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park in downtown lower Manhattan, I had one question in mind “How do we keep this grassroots momentum moving?”

As I lay in the tub, bathing off the dirt and dust of the city, I realized I’m already doing it. I was simply doing it by being there. By being here. By being.

Photo: Nadine Wills

When I first got wind of the growing Occupy Wall Street movement, I felt excitement for what this could mean. I began to feel something in my bones reawaken. Something that has been a bit afraid to surface since I began walking down the Buddhist path several years ago.

Before I had a practice steeped and infused in this tradition of compassion and kindness, I was an angry activist; a very angry activist with a very specific agenda.

There I was, yelling at the Buddhist folk sitting and meditating:

“Get off your asses! Get up and do something.” And by something, I meant, “Do something that really pisses off the ‘Them’, stand up against the Police State.”

I was angry and I didn’t know how to funnel my anger towards something healthy, towards something inclusive, towards something fertile.

The toxins of separation were the value system I nourished then. In my world, I was either going to die or end up in prison for my beliefs. Not only that, but anyone who stood outside of those commitments was not a ‘real’ activist, they were not truly committed to revolution.

Flash forward three years, three cities and a stint at Zen Center later, and there you’d find me: meditating, in lower Manhattan at Zuccotti park, with the same folks I would have been calling on, just a few short years before, to join us in our misdirected anger towards the police.

Towards the state.
Towards ourselves.

Photo: Steve Rhodes

As I sat there, at Occupy Wall Street, in front of an alter with the offerings of those who came before me, tears streaming down my face, goose bumps occupying my body like they long to do, I felt more productive than I ever had at any of the protests from my past.

As I bowed to the myriad deities on that alter, moving into walking meditation as I made my way thru the crowds, I discovered that the American Dream is not the only one waking up.
I stumbled upon the truth that we don’t need to smash Burger King windows to dismantle the system of oppression.

I opened to that anger I felt in my past and saw it was simply an energy that longed for liberation.
I realized that Emma Goldman was right when she said “If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution.”

I woke up to the notion that to occupy a place–to infuse it with kindness, consideration and deep love for all–is the place where liberation truly occurs, whether in our minds, or in our streets.


I saw that there really is no separation–that his story is connected to her story is connected to their story is connected to the whole. I realized there is no story. There is just this. And us.

I realized that Occupy Wall Street is a reflection of our ever-expanding hearts, our ever-deepening concern for all…even that 1% we’re calling on for accountability.

I realized that this is our movement. That this is our heart. That this is our time.

Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha: gone, gone, gone to the other shore, very well gone.

Here’s to our future…

…and our past.


Madrone Phoenix lives to find her voice through the written form. She says she is often unsure of the totality of her experiences until she can sit down and write them out. She is currently working as an assistant to the Dharma teacher and activist Fleet Maull (Founder of Prison Dharma Network and Peacemaker Institute).

Madrone discovered her love of all things Dharma during her time as a resident at the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, NM (Joan Halifax’s place), where she also took refuge vows in March of 2010. She hopes to contribute to building a world accessible to all. These here are some of her most recent reflections of her time spent at Occupy Wall St. Check out her blog at http://cultivatefearlessness.blogspot.com/.

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