I visited Occupy London’s Tent City in November 2011.
The area outside St Paul’s Cathedral was alive with tents, a kitchen area, a library tent, an information tent, a welfare tent. Next to the welfare tent was a drumming tent. Three men sat outside drumming. A homeless man with a can of lager in his hand was drawn to the drumming and he stood in front of the drummers smiling.
In other areas of the camp, tourists were getting their photos taken; volunteers with masks on were giving out free hugs. There was a powerful energy and much synchronicity that day.
I had been emailed three times by a lady asking me to come down to Occupy and volunteer my time as a Reiki Master and Healer. It took me a while but finally I listened to the call.
I sat on the steps of St Paul’s and asked, Spirit, why was I being asked to be here. I was shown large circles at St Paul’s. I was shown the land was powerful here, the energies needed harnessing; this space needed community and this community was to be heart led.
This was to be a new way of connecting in an urban setting.
These circles would not be any one way of being or connecting, but people from all disciplines, beliefs and practices coming together to share their knowledge, to lead circles and heal each other and the city.
This was the work to do now. To bring spiritual connection out of the perceived confines of workshops and over subscribed events and into the very core of where it was needed. All beliefs joining in circle for spirit-led political change.
The Movement had now reclaimed a building close to St Paul’s and Finsbury Square named the Bank of Ideas. So I booked a slot there for a Saturday afternoon and asked a dear friend to come with me. She travelled down from Brighton, still ill from a hospital procedure, to take part. We held our first circle on December 2.
I walked into the Bank and felt overwhelmed. There was rubble on the floor, the walls on the stairs had been papered with slogans, people were constantly coming in and out of the building. It was a free for all. The energy was powerful, energized, loving and at times lacking focus. It felt like it needed to find a place in the heart as well as travel through the mind.
The room we were in was cold, with no lights, and debris on the floor. People walked through it to get to other rooms. As I set up the space and drummed to clear the energies, my friend went round the building telling people about the circle.
The first circle involved us singing and drumming to connect to this land and to all that had brought us here.
Our parents, our parents’ parents and on. To find that connection in us too. As we neared the end of the ceremony a man came in and asked me to step outside the room.
When I came out he told me our singing and drumming was disturbing them downstairs as they watched a film on social change. I told him we were in the middle of ceremony, people were opening their hearts. Right now in the empty room, nine people were standing in circle, eyes closed, connecting.
I asked if he could wait 10 minutes—he said no. I didn’t expect this. I had thought work like this would be afforded a space and some respect, especially in a movement like this. Instead he took me round the building trying to get me to find another room—there were no other free rooms. I felt terrible. I had left the circle just standing there. After about 15 minutes of me looking for a room and getting more and more worked up, I headed back to the room. My heart sank; I expected they would have got bored and left.
I went into the room and there was utter silence. The whole circle was still stood, eyes closed. I asked everyone to sit down and was amazed and how deep people had gone. At how strong they had stood their ground in this space where people came in and out of the room and where there was disruption.
In a movement like Occupy one of the biggest learnings from Spirit that day was in holding one’s connection, one’s ground.
Allow Mother Earth to hold you, support you, guide you amidst the chaos. The circle taught me that as I rejoined them. It showed me that one leaves a circle and another steps in to hold the space, and so the space is forever held.
The circles became weekly. By this time the weather was harsh and very cold. The Bank was now a pretty challenging place to be. The room we were in led to other rooms, so every circle had people walking in and out as we drummed. Camera crews sometimes came in and filmed us. Pet dogs joined us and sometimes those high on drugs or alcohol came to the circle. In the third circle, as we closed the space, we were joined by a man in pain, high on something. I worried about including him, worried how it would impact, yet the circle led the way. Just like that he asked if he could join, took off his gloves and the circle opened and held him. The circle led the way.
The fourth circle was made up of seven men, all homeless.
That afternoon was one of our hardest circles. The experience of homelessness can leave people with a sense of distraction. Thoughts can go from one to the next quickly. It’s hard to keep focus or stay in place, space for too long. So people kept getting up and leaving and others joining.
We opened the space by drumming to release what we no longer wanted to hold onto. We then set our intentions for what we wanted to manifest in the coming year and placed our intentions into a small stick of sage to be burned and released to the elements later. We would then sing to our intentions. I asked people to stand to do this, but unlike the other circles, this circle did not want to stand. One by one they lay down.
The room was icy cold; it was so hard drumming in this space as people kept coming in and out. This was like walking through mud. One by one people came into the room and just lay down. My friend was half drumming and half stopping, he was cold. My hands were numb with the cold, but something kept pushing me.
We drummed and drummed and sang and drummed and then all of a sudden we were all on this wave, those lying down were chanting, releasing primal sound, the one circle member standing was singing and clapping his hands, we were as one in that powerful light filled, heart led moment. It was beautiful and will stay with me always.
The Bank, over the weeks, went from a place of community and oneness to a place of the mind, and eventually fear and aggression.
The Movement grew tired of the constant media and court battles, of the cold and of the increasing number of those in need of healing and help, with fewer people around to help with their care. Political movements have a fire about them, that can eat you up if there is nothing there to balance, harmonize and diffuse. The very passion and energy that births the new can also destroy those who carried the seed. Fear was growing and community was lacking a strong core.
I was also seeing how challenging it could be for some men to be in a circle led by a woman. Especially those not used to being in circle. And how strongly that balance is needed. To have the male and female energies in harmony—to lead and organize, and to surrender and hold. For we were all being asked to step into a new way of connecting. This would be a change that was heart led.
What was needed, it became clear, was daily circles.
Was circles of elders. Was a safe space for all to sit and share and play out, drum out, sing out the differences and in so doing, find the community inherent in us all. Was the balance of the heart and mind, the male and female in us all. What we cannot accept in Circle we cannot accept in ourselves, in our World. What we heal in Circle we can heal in ourselves, in our Worlds.
At St Paul’s on a rainy afternoon we set up space amongst a stack of books, a wet floor and the sounds of traffic and police sirens in the background. We held the circle the day the movement was in court. The High Court Judge was due to visit that afternoon.
As we set our intentions for the coming year—those who had sat with their laptops, those who were high on something, those who came in and out of the tent, those who had been in previous circles said later they were drawn to the sound of singing and drumming from the Uny Tent—heard through the traffic noise on the street. As we sang to the intentions we wished to seed, people came in off the streets and, unable to use a drum, used stools, their hands anything they could find.
By the time we were at the final round of offering and prayer we had over 25 people in the tent. We were joined by young and old, by those who had never done this work, and those who had and then had lost their way and by a member of the clergy from St Paul’s. He said he wanted to be more open to new ways and he stood and sang with us. It was beautiful.
In the midst of the last round, we were stopped mid-ceremony, mid-prayer by a man who said the Judge was arriving and could not see sage or drumming in the tent!
What was incredible was no one in circle wanted to stop. He was ordered to leave our sacred space and we closed the circle singing and holding hands.
The Judge did arrive, and the place was sanitized of anything that could be deemed too “Pagan”. He did grant them a stay of execution. Yet it was obvious to us then that the seeds of disunity and fear were growing strong in the movement and it would be this that would dismantle the movement, not any injunction. For the very system they were seeking to bring down they were seemingly recreating in the tent cities.
The reason for this I believe was, and has been, lack of Spirit led community. For in the pursuit of ideals, in the forceful movement of taking over buildings, the connection to Heart, to each other and to Spirit can be lost. And circle work serves to reconnect.
I held a circle every week for two months at Occupy until the space finally became too hard to be in, without a very strong tribe.
When the Movement resurfaces I shall be there again with my drum. And I hope there shall be more there this time with their drums, their rattles, their sage and heart led offerings.
When St Paul’s went through the final throes of its eviction, a friend sent me photos from a BBC website of those being forced out by the police. Amongst the faces, I saw many who had sat in circle with us. My prayer is for the beauty, love, community and Spirit led connection that we shared in those circles to hold us all strong in these times of immense change.
It has been known for a very long time that this period would arrive and it would herald a new way of thinking, relating and living. Yes some say Occupy was flawed and broke from the inside first, but its’ intention was heart led. And these are the times of following the still guidance of the heart. In circle, the heart beats as one, the drum takes us into one heartbeat, one unified rhythm. The drum for me is the heartbeat of any movement of change. Before we had built up cities and division we had the drum, community and connection to our surroundings.
This can and should happen anywhere, in nature. In a city. For each building, each pavement slab, each bollard has spirit too with which to guide us, educate and heal.
Amber Agha initially studied Law at Cambride University. She then trained as an actress at RADA and worked in TV and theatre successfully for 10 years. After a series of life changing events, she was propelled to find her own healing and this led her to become a full time Reiki Master and healer. She is now nearing the end of her one year training in Shamanic Healing. Amber runs regular circles at St Mungo’s, and in the Camden area working with local communities. Her circles focus on empowerment, connection to self and others and the freedom to express and celebrate our song of life. You can follow her on Facebook, or follow her writings on www.healingreiki.org. She is a published poet and her next collection of channelled verse is being recorded for radio.
Editor: Ryan Pinkard