Bored at a bar waiting for a friend. It’s always birds or squirrels with me.
There is a certain hollowness to life in a Big City. The famous, the rich and powerful, are equal to the lowliest with the passage of time.
“The birds chirp endlessly seeking and fending off potential mates. The people have their Spring plumage as well.”
“An honest bar with only an inkling of the pretense that has come to signify a Brooklyn bar. Tickets epoxied into the clear bar and the lights making the bottles glow provide just enough contrast to make it feel genuine.”
“The trucks squatted in the dusty yard anticipating the work of the week ahead. Some, their wheels angled coyly, ready to pounce.”
“The lobby’s soft lighting and chandeliers signaled its opulence. The warm glow of the tray ceiling and the wood panelling were aspirational, the mirrors decadent.”
“The sunlight struggling to make itself known, spilling onto the fireplace, reminding us that Spring is near.”
This missive is inspired by the wonderful essay by Paul Weinfield which can be found at http://tamlinmusic.wordpress.com/2011/12/17/heartwood/
The most striking thing about these words for me is the issue of boundaries. This is the crux of the matter. All things aside I refuse to believe that we do not each have a desire to connect deeply and richly with others. The pair bond in particular, and our social nature in general, is deep in our DNA or whatever you think is at the root of our behaviors. From the Buddhist perspective our desire to be known and to know ourselves is based on an illusion about the solidity of the “self.” I’ve come, after years of exploring and teaching Buddhism, to have found a particular, personal, perspective on this issue. While I agree the the solid “self” is an illusion, the ever-changing, fluid self is very much real and needs certain things. The problem arises when we become fixed in our perception of what these things are. This is a particular danger in relation to other selves.
There is a popular, and I believe extremely useful, concept in psychology called Object Permanence. It is the ability or willingness to have, let’s call it faith, in the reliability of another. This is complicated in light of the fluidity of self but is critical in any relationship that hopes to have some sort of longevity. The roots of our sense of connectedness, of belonging and being “let in” are in our childhood. Damage there resonates throughout our lives and colors our adult relationships. This is not to suggest a fait accompli but it is important to acknowledge this influence on us. Clearly, we can not look to the world to satisfy our needs the way a child does but it is important to acknowledge the handicaps, the insanity, that each of us carries into our relationships. Yet, there is something to be learned from the child’s ability (often, maybe always, crippled by the failures of our parents) to connect on a deep and meaningful level. Object permanence suggests the ability to have faith in our partners even when they are not there, physically, psychologically, spiritually or emotionally. This ability to know that we are not alone is at the core of all successful relationships, not to mention all religions. This is not something that comes easy. It requires an enormous amount of work and an even greater amount of trust. In my experience I have often failed at both.
This is where the issue of boundaries becomes crucial. If the walls are too inflexible then one can never know another well enough to create the necessary bond. A lack of boundaries leads to symbiosis (the healthy state of a baby, the fragile dissolution of which being the place where parents fail.) In the merger of two selves there is no object to be related to and the whole thing collapses into a sort of mushy singularity. It is worth noting here that this is why I distrust relationships in which there is no conflict. A good fight is the way we re-establish boundaries that may have become blurred. Sadly, the Hollywood notion of romantic love does not understand or leave room for this necessity. It is the careful maintenance of this balance that is the crux of the matter.
Furthermore, in our decidedly individualistic modern world, there are many styles of relating and many levels at which we connect with each other. The historic notions and patterns of relating are perfectly wonderful for some people, two people who both crave the same degree of relatedness in their daily lives. While, for others,something more immediately connected may be the ticket. I’ve known both types of couples. The ones who have very separate lives and are comforted to know their spouse is there on the rare occasions when they come together and the ones who proudly proclaim that they’ve never been apart for more than a few hours in forty years of marriage. One of the blessings of the modern world is that it can accommodate many different modes of being. The one thing that the above examples have in common is a profound and abiding confidence that their partner is there for them, will be there for them in some fundamental way if not every moment.
All of this is only possible if utilizing the three pillars of successful relationships: communication, compromise, and trust. The art therapist Judith Levy recently suggested these to me and they have really stuck. I’m not sure where they come from but they speak directly to the issues at hand. They are elegantly intertwined. They speak to the enormous risks we take in attempting to “know” another, to the honest work required and to the ever changing nature of all relationships. They apply equally to all relationships and properly applied can not only lead to longevity but also soften the blow of separation. These three things allow us to honor our “selves” and the truths of others. They allow us to create and maintain the fluid boundaries that are necessary if we chose to share our lives with others. Not to suggest that we must all pair off and go about our lives as couples. But, we must, we are driven, to live our lives in relation to others in many beautiful ways. We are after-all social animals and there is little we fear more than complete isolation.
As some have suggested the physical Occupation may be getting in the way of the movement. Discontent between the Occupiers and those who do not actually camp in the park was hindering the progress of the movement and distracting from the primary mission. With that in mind it is possible for us to see the tragic approach of the NYPD and law enforcement agencies around the country as a good thing. A reminder that this is not about camping or organizing kitchens or security. The movement has made its voice heard and it has shown that there are alternate ways to organize societies. While the occupations have been an important way to get the world’s attention the current trend toward coverage only when the encampments are threatened is ultimately not productive.
What we need to do now is to find creative, non-violent, ways to keep the conversation going. Daily marches, social/viral marketing, and posters are just a few of the things that I can think of. Imagine what the combined minds of all these brave and daring souls can envision for the future of this social awakening. For those who have tired of the predictable complaints from our detractors we can change the conversation. Let us force Fox News et al to chase our story and make fools of themselves inventing new criticisms of ever more creative forms of protest and expression. The Occupations have done more than we could even have hoped for to bring the conversation to the fore. New pop-up occupations can bring the message and start dialogues in places where it has yet to happen. There are already a number of films that have been made and these can be presented (guerrilla style) throughout the city. The money that has been collected can be used on outreach rather than infrastructure. The key is to continue the process of dialogue and change. Teach-ins can be held anywhere, anytime. The internet allows us to have a central (if not physical) presence twenty-four hours a day worldwide without the risk of being shut down by police (well, in theory). The violent reaction of the state to the encampment has been a striking example of just what the movement is concerned about but we do not want to perpetuate violence, even if it is at their initiation.
Their toolbox is small and shallow, ours is infinite. We can continue to find creative ways to challenge their authority that they are not prepared for and they will be at a loss to utilize the same immature, reactive stances that those in power have used throughout history.
Just as refusing to make demands has allowed the movement to disarm and derail politics as usual, inventive ways that do not directly confront them in the manner they expect will change the conversation. Just as many at OWS have expressed concerns about issues like trademarking and permitting as asking “them” for permission. Creative ways of confronting inequality and injustice will force all of us to rethink traditional understanding of power and authority. It is worth noting that AdBusters has already suggested that the occupations have served their purpose and that protesters should declare victory and decamp. I don’t fully agree as we are far from victory but it may well be time for a fundamental shift in strategy. In theory occupation of Zuccotti park can continue, just no tents, no sleeping. Shifts? More importantly there is no reason that there cannot be a presence from dawn to dusk continuing to educate the visitors, businessmen, tourists and police who are constantly passing by and through the park.
I think it is vital that General Assemblies continue and in fact they should be expanded. Neighborhoods need to have them, cities that don’t yet, schools, forward thinking offices. We all need to continue the conversation and while more opportunities for people to participate may run the risk of splintering the movement they are just as likely to lead to the creative solutions we need.
The bottom line is that the wave of police actions against occupations does not signal the end of the movement just a change in the way it must proceed. And isn’t change what this is all about anyway?