People mobilize around simple, compelling things: an image, a story, an idea. My sister sent me a YouTube clip showing the flashmob meditators on Wall Street.
The image: the meditators are a medley of ages, colors, fashion preferences and meditation styles.
The story: they are all sitting down together to practice in a place of protest, where people are being arrested.
The idea: they make Wall Street into a place of practice, a bodhimaṇḍa.
The flashmob meditators send a clear and simple message. It is not the kind of simplicity that appeals to fundamentalists left and right. Launching the Cultural Revolution in 1966, Mao Zedong mobilized a small group of students, who called themselves the Red Guards, to attack the "Four Olds" (old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas). This triggered five years of intense violence that ripped China's social fabric and cultural heritage to shreds. After another five years of instability the Cultural Revolution finally ended, but it shaped the China we know today.
Closer to home and Wall Street, shock jockeys on airwaves and campaign trails pump people up with fear and hatred, and then focus that energy into simple reflex reactions: anti-tax, anti-government, anti-regulation. (And worse, but let's not go there.) As most of us have noticed, those whom these mantras benefit the most are people who would never show their faces at a Tea Party rally. In the long run, the effects of the Cultural Revolution may pale in comparison to America's Cultural Civil War.
The flashmob meditators were no doubt derided as hopelessly naive by the Wall Street Olympians who looked down at the motley bunch challenging their mountains of glass and steel. Absorbed in playing with the lightning-fast cyberspace synapses of the global economic body, why would they even bother to look?
But according to Buddhist cosmology, the gods are to be pitied. Having no incentive to understand the impermanence of their eminence, they fall quickly, and far. Bruno Latour, one of my favorite sociologists, says:
The world is not a solid continent of facts sprinkled by a few lakes of uncertainties, but a vast ocean of uncertainties speckled by a few islands of calibrated and stabilized forms. Do we really know that little? We know even less. Paradoxically, this "astronomical" ignorance explains a lot of things. Why do fierce armies disappear in a week? Why do whole empires like the Soviet one vanish in a few months? ... We have to be able to consider both the formidable inertia and the incredible fluidity that maintains their existence: the latter is the real milieu that allows the former to circulate. ("Reassembling the Social," p. 245.)
The incredible fluidity that maintains existence is what Latour calls "plasma" and is also, I would argue, what Buddhists call "interdependence." Each seemingly separate thing, action and thought is a nexus of un-chartable mutually conditioned interconnections. This unbounded ocean of conditions and potentiality is entangled but has no intrinsic existence. In practice, this means: things aren't real, but consequences are.
Matter matters. What we do with our impermanent, continually reassembling bodies and minds has effects that shape the uncertainties we call self and other. This is a pivotal time: Our minds, extended by our beloved "quasi-objects" like the Internet and global economic interdependence, appear to be outgrowing our bodies.
Yet in these struggling bodies that fall so short of our imaginings, we can sit down and connect with what can't be grasped by imagination. Meditation brings together -- mind and body, simplicity and complexity, self and other. The flashmob meditators mobilized as a group, and words can be said about what they were doing. But meditation also resists enclosure into a single idea. Meditators sit down and cease feeding the cycles of fear, anger and desire. Instead, they sit quietly with fear, anger and desire. They sit with all beings, each other, the Wall Street bankers, the protester, and the moment.
The time has come, and it always will.