Political Perspectives #5: Thoughts on Meditation and Revolution
This is the fifth in an occasional series of posts on the various political perspectives of those involved in activism in the Bath/Bristol area. The views expressed are those of the respective authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of Standing Stone.
Thoughts on Meditation and Revolution
by Simon Jilley
At Saturday’s Starbucks demo, vibrancy-activist ‘G. Rilla’ along with some of the Bath Love Police sprawled a large banner across the pavement by the side of the Free Shop and sat in silence. Questions were raised at the time, such as: ‘The…..real…change..is…here…and…….now….?’; ‘What is this all about?’; ‘Is he asleep?’; ‘How long are you going to stay here for?’; ‘Does he want a banana?’; and many more. This blog entry, which has been specifically requested by Standing Stone, will seek to tell stories about these questions whilst also, perhaps, answering them. Through this exploration of these questions and those answers, it is anticipated that you, the reader, will formulate your own idea of what it is that has happened. Firstly, a bit of context will be given.
|Vibrancy-activist G. Rilla
The NUS #demo2012 was due to be another big one, whereby the students would be kettled again and, due to Bath Spa University and UCU’s Chris Jury breaking his promise of providing the tea and coffee, there would once again be the feisty violence and unclear anger that were so prominent in both 2010 and 2011. Rilla, a Gandhian in style, decided to prepare something of a special civil disobedience stunt just for the momentous occasion. A plan was thus drawn together: we would get to Big Ben, which is where the main confrontations could be expected to happen due to the route going off away from Parliament Square to a far more secluded location from this spot. At Big Ben, flyers would be distributed and, soon enough, people would be sitting and meditating in a prominent position, and refuse to move no matter what would happen. This would be kind of like what that naked guy did in central London two days later (see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-20466764
), but without being naked and on top of a statue and rather using the power of meditation as our weapon. What actually ended up happening, though, was absolutely remarkable.After cracking a few in the line of police blocking the road to Parliament Square into smiles, G. Rilla found himself in a group of people chanting ‘What do we want? BANANAS! When do we want them? NOW!’. (see here for videos: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151097393836813
) The chant was rewarded well: after just a couple of minutes of chanting, which is much faster than the Soka Gakkais normally take, a banana was given as an offering to Rilla, and Rilla subsequently did many rituals before consuming half of it with the other half ending up on the floor. A passer-by obviously saw this for he then produced another banana, more rituals were performed, and this banana was carefully consumed. Bowing was then given before the banana skins, which were now both on the ground alongside the lost half-banana, before a stamping ceremony was performed, and then Rilla sat down in a kneeling meditation posture. Some incense was lit and stuck into the banana skins, and the banner that was being carried on the day saying ‘The Real Change is Here + Now’ was placed on the ground in front of Rilla. This is where the first question comes in.
|Bath Love Police demo, December 2012
‘The real change is here and now’ is a slogan that could be related to Ram Dass’s book ‘Be Here Now’, or to the Buddhist mindfulness concept of ‘present-centredness’, and many other possible ideas. What’s more relevant, though, are the philosophies behind such a demonstration. This is where the second question comes in.
A true demonstration to do with ‘being here and now’ should transcend the craving for an explanation behind the purpose of such an act. However, as this can only truly be experienced by physically being a part of the demonstration, some kind of an explanation can be given to those who, for whatever reason, cannot possibly be a part of it. There could be many different reasons, some of which may be extremely personal, and so it is very difficult to pin down some set characteristics. This shows about how important the personal, or the individual, is in this all, and it must be said that meditating is definitely one way of getting in touch with yourself. Therefore, the first characteristic of this demonstration is to invoke/inspire people to keep in touch with their deeper selves, especially within a potentially scatty situation of a political demonstration. What is the point of a revolution, after all, if you’re still caught up in the same psychological troubles as ever before?
Secondly, this demonstration holds within it a call for a change in direction. Rather than aiming towards the economic revolution that so many speak of in the media, we have got to see the plausibility in the transcendent qualities of a spiritual revolution. You can have a spiritual revolution anywhere: in a jail, on a toilet, in your sleep…anywhere. It can happen at any time, too. There is no doubt that some of those who have been involved in this demonstration have had their own spiritual revolutions whilst being involved in these demonstrations.
The point is to be stepping out of the box that you associate with being ‘how things are supposed to be’, aka ‘the comfort zone’, and to rather allow everything to naturally unravel. Allow yourself to become ‘mad as hell’ just to enjoy being ‘mad as hell’. Likewise, don’t be put off by the situation around you. People have found life-affirming ‘spiritual truths’ whilst in jail cells, which have completely transformed their lives (see this story on American serial killer ‘Son Of Sam’, for example https://www.cbn.com/700club/scottross/interviews/SonofSam.aspx
). No matter where you are, there you are, and I bet that ‘you’ are always wanting more freedom. Give yourself that freedom.
Thirdly, demonstrations like this are beyond the media-constructed bullshit of scandals and more scandals. To sit down in front of a banner saying ‘the real change is here and now’ is like giving the spiritual middle finger to the media, who will normally construct exactly what we will be protesting against next. With the one completely empowering message of saying to the world that change isn’t in the future and is neither in some obscure location somewhere, we are creating an entirely new scope not only to protest dynamics but also to voicing what we want and how we will attain it without their help. We are completely free.After that long answer, it may be useful to come back again to the context that we were focusing on. In front of Big Ben in Westminster, with perhaps over a thousand demonstrators gathered, G. Rilla had sat down meditating with incense burning in banana skins and the banner on the ground in front. People had asked if Rilla was asleep (‘no…he’s meditating’ came the answer from others who were gathered); people had said about giving him a banana but, for whatever reasons, decided not to disturb him; and, after a while, a policewoman started coming over as a liaison officer to try and negotiate a deal with us. Alongside Rilla in this were about 10-15 students who became actively involved in talking to the police and the media as well as 50-100 other onlookers. Here is where the next question came in.The police liaison asked how long we were going to be staying around for. Each respondent stated that they were staying with G. Rilla, that the demonstration was being performed as a group and that Rilla was not an individual on his own in it all, and that no-one could tell how long he would be meditating for. One such reply was: ‘Well, he’s meditating on all of the problems that are in the world. As there are so many things wrong at the moment, he might be meditating for quite a long time…’. For some reason, the policewoman took this to mean that Rilla would finish meditating when the incense had burned down. She even tried interrupting the meditation in saying directly to Rilla, ‘So we have agreed that you will leave when the incense has finished burning, okay?’. Fortunately, Rilla had not traveled too deeply into meditation and so was able to shake his head in order to give his firm answer, which was understood. Rilla was not moving.
Meditation should not ever be given a time limit. A lot of deeper meditation, after all, goes through timelessness. What may have seemed to have been half an hour of meditation, for instance, could have actually been two hours, or even two days or two weeks. In deeper states, also, the physical body can be put into a hibernation state, not unlike the hibernation states that colder-climate animals go into, but in meditation a form of consciousness will constantly be maintained through mindfulness. So it must be acknowledged that these demonstrations may last two hours, as in London, an hour, as at Starbucks, or anything hugely longer or shorter. Things should not be presumed, and that is a huge strength to the demonstrations. One of the greatest weaknesses to political demonstrations is often their time limits. This is where Occupy Bath almost stumbled: people had assumed, including some of those actually camped out at the time, that the occupation would only last for 10 days. What actually panned out over the following 32 days of camp was somewhat magical. Occupy Bath, and definitely the Bath People’s Assembly, may not be still around if it wasn’t for taking the camp to as far as it could be taken.
The final question, which is somewhat irrelevant now, is if G. Rilla wants a banana. This is like asking a Hindu if they want arthi, or a Christian if they want communion. The idea of ‘wanting’ any of these is a bit besides the point, really.
So, lastly, a little bit of advice will be given for those who will be involved in future ‘here + now’ demonstrations. Firstly, with the real change being here and now, allow that change to take any form. It needn’t be about meditating, but I suspect that meditators will receive much less confrontation with authorities due to meditation being viewed as ‘religious practice’ and, ya know, the authorities are weird about anything considered to be ‘religious’.
Secondly, for those aiming to meditate, bring something that can be sat on (a bag with clothing in often is sufficient) and plenty of warm clothing. Find the best posture for you and sit comfortably with a straight back (it is especially important to straighten the lower back). For those with arthritis or hip problems, sitting with hips highly elevated is especially important. For me (I have a dodgy hip), sitting on my knees with a big mound to sit on, and something cushioning underneath my knees, seems to work best. Once you are comfortable, calm the fuck down and give your mind something incredibly simple to focus on. I like focusing on bodily sensations and to meditate on different parts of the body, changing my focus to another part of the body from time-to-time, and working on shifting the energies around my body. Others often meditate on the breath, or on something religious. Choose whatever suits you best. The point is to just be with whatever comes up – be it thoughts, bodily sensations, or revolutions, and to stay in meditation until it is time to go. Everyone has their own time to go out of meditation, so just stay in meditation for as long as is meant to be, and be persistent if need be.You will probably see a lot more of us in the future. Please, join in in making the change be NOW rather than some unknown time in the future. These streets are ours and so are ourselves: we’re taking back what they stole!