MEDITATION AND ACTIVISM: PART 2
In last month’s blog I reflected on whether and how social and political activism could, or even should, be a part of the mindful life. I think it is important to be very careful with the ‘should’ actually but it still seems to me that this area needs at least to be considered thoughtfully. And as I mentioned in that blog, I had been wondering whether to join in with the climate protests in London organised by Extinction Rebellion. I realise there will be different views on this particular activism but I thought it might be of interest to hear about one meditator’s experience, since I did, in the end, decide to go having loosely convened a group of other meditators as a support group.
So, here quite simply are my three journal entries following my three visits to the protests.
Tuesday 16th April
Yesterday was the first day of the Climate protests in London organised by Extinction Rebellion and a small but significant group of us ‘meditators’ walked quietly through Hyde Park to our designated meeting point at Marble Arch. I had had mixed feelings about joining in these protests and, indeed, one meditator friend decided not to come with quite legitimate questions of the ethics and efficacy of the action – which involved blocking roads and junctions throughout London for possibly up to two weeks. Also the meditation teacher I learned from last week offered a checklist for any protest which ought to include: right intention; right action; and right result.
And I have been thinking all these points through but then realising that even having tried to consider all possible angles and eventualities actually it is not always possible to come to an accurate view on them ahead of time. So I went at least with right intention and right heart with the hope that things might become clearer as we went.
It was a peaceful day on the whole with police taking an initial strategy of hands off and just managing the traffic. The policeman at our junction was very easy and friendly and only once – and quite gently and in response to our questions – letting us know that what would be at stake for him would be time with his family over the bank holiday weekend if it carried on. This felt hard – as did the inconvenience for Londoners trying to get to work. But we tried to keep reminding ourselves that the climate crisis we were trying to draw attention to was really on a completely different scale.
So we spent the entire day blocking and ‘holding’ junctions around Marble Arch – peacefully, joyfully and, on the whole, reasonably litter free. But our group had decided to just stay for the one day and so we all headed home around 6 or 7 in the evening with some considering whether to come back again – possibly to stay – later in the week.
On the news later last night and today, though, we read of our fellow protesters on Waterloo bridge being arrested as the police decided to move in later on and in the early hours of this morning. I felt a powerful emotional pull watching the clips of these people (more than 100 so far) being carried off by police. It felt hard (in some ways) being here at home and not being there in support – as well as hearing the criticisms of those who think that all this is at best a waste of time and at worst really damaging both to ordinary human life and even to the cause itself. My wife couldn’t sit at home any longer and has headed back up to London. I have commitments here for a couple of days, though am wondering whether to go back on Friday – Good Friday. ‘Would Jesus have been there?’ – is a question Christians ask themselves when wondering about an action. I feel the spirit of his challenge to institutional power in his turning over the tables of the money changers in the temple just before he too was arrested, tried and executed.
Thankfully we have less to fear but still is it the right action? I still don’t know and perhaps won’t know in the short term. For the moment I think that there is at least a good chance it will turn out to be part of what brings change – which will have to be enough for me for now. But at the moment I am simply caught up in solidarity with those who are still there. There was a bonding of like minded intention with those who were present on the first day. It will be difficult to break this.
Our meditators group in quiet reflection before joining the protests later that morning
Saturday 20th April.
Yesterday (Good Friday) I spent another day and evening in London at the climate protests. And I am finding myself increasingly convinced that this is the right kind of action, for the right reasons and at the right time. The main message is very simply for us to ‘wake up’ to a much greater sense of urgency about this issue than we currently have. And this is so consistent with what I think meditation practice is all about (i.e. waking up to awareness) that it also feels entirely integrated with my own sense of my inner life. It feels more and more as though inner and outer are united in this action.
I wanted to go up on Good Friday as this has always been a very moving and profound day for me. But I have to add now that I have never felt so moved or possibly as close to the rebellious spirit of Christ as I did yesterday when I spent almost the entire three hours when Jesus is traditionally thought to have been on the cross, sitting on Waterloo bridge alongside people who were, one by one, being carried off to prison cells for ‘breaking the law’. There was no violence on either side and no resistance to arrest – only a singer leading us all in gentle spiritual chants to keep courage up and a sense of support and solidarity with those who were willing to be arrested. At one point she also asked us to keep silence for a while as we felt a sense of reconnection with the grounding of our bodies and the grounding of the earth – language I so often use myself when leading others in meditation. But it felt especially poignant – and necessary here.
So, after tentative feelings to start with about how right this activism is it seems only to be growing stronger in me, perhaps for two key reasons: first the urgency of the cause and the failure of other methods to wake people up; and second because of the high levels of both the organisation and the non-violent and democratic ethos of the movement. There were constant appeals to alcohol-free and drug-free non-violence, and all decisions were made through consultation, listening and consensus. The kindness, generosity and non-judging compassion of my fellow ‘rebels’ was very moving indeed.
More will unravel over time I’m sure, but for the moment this just feels very deeply the place to be and the thing to be doing.
Me and Susie looking like we are enjoying ourselves a bit too much at one of the blocked junctions. Come on, this is serious!
Wednesday 24th April.
A final entry (for the moment) on the Climate Change protests since we decided to go up again on Easter day and to camp over till Monday or Tuesday.
It was strange but it just seemed the thing we wanted to be doing for Easter this year so we shifted the family Easter lunch to Easter breakfast and headed up with minimal camping equipment to join the other ‘Rebels’ who had been holding the bases for the whole week up to that point.
It turned out to be a different experience again this time: firstly because we arrived just as three of the four places in London we had been occupying were finally cleared by police – so there was a sense of sadness and loss around; secondly because we were now in a bit of a hiatus as we started to plan where to go from here; and thirdly because my experience of sleeping (or trying to sleep) was really just an experience of it being bloody cold and uncomfortable – so I was also beginning to experience the hardship which others had been experiencing all week.
I rallied a bit on the Monday morning though as I came on the early shift at our junction. As people came and went we sat and drank coffee and talked about ideas, ideologies and shared discomfort. This, of course, was very much part of the experienced as I found myself bonding deeply with new people in this context. And then at the end of Monday a major meeting of everyone who was now gathered at Marble Arch rallied us further with sense of purpose & direction.
We (me and my wife) did decide, however, that we needed to call it a day and return home at the end of Monday evening leaving what was now a very large crowd to continue the protest, and we have tried to give ourselves space at home to reconnect with ourselves and our inner life through our meditation and to see where all this has left us. And where it seems to have left us is that this has been a life-changing experience. I think we were ready for it which is why we went up to London at all but this has confirmed one of those vital shifts in perspective which seems to change everything.
And this is what I think meditation practice is really all about – supporting the process of profound change in perspective – coming to see differently. And this is so hard, for so many reasons. But it must happen if we as individuals and as a species are to make the very best and most valuable use of our time here on this planet. And if all those who are calling for radical change are right (including scientists, politicians and activists) then this profound shift in our perspective is absolutely vital at this point in our history.
And if this is true, then I feel a renewed calling both to deepen my own meditation practice and to link it more and more with right action in the world.
So – meditation and activism – these feel as though they are where my life has led me to in the last few years. And the events of the last week have brought them together in an extraordinary way.
On our way home on the first day. Still flying the flag.