What Would Gandhi Do?

[caption id="attachment_80" align="alignleft" width="460" caption="Mahatma Gandhi"][/caption] "Mahatma Gandhi's life achievement stands unique in political history. He has invented a completely new and humane means for the liberation war of an oppressed country, and practiced it with greatest energy and devotion. The moral influence he had on the consciously thinking human being of the entire civilized world will probably be much more lasting than it seems in our time with its overestimation of brutal violent forces. Because lasting will only be the work of such statesmen who wake up and strengthen the moral power of their people through their example and educational works.

We may all be happy and grateful that destiny gifted us with such an enlightened contemporary, a role model for the generations to come."

Albert Einstein



For many years, I have been working shamanically with the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi. He is not a teacher I see often, but go to him with deep reverence when I am in need of a teaching about living with more compassion and to learn about non-violent non-cooperation (NVNC).

Gandhi empirically proved NVNC worked by using it to free India from England’s rule. He did it without anger, without raising a fist. When the people of India became violent he would protest their actions by fasting until the turmoil stopped. By using NVNC, India gained her freedom against impossible odds.

I have been thinking long and hard about the Occupy Wall Street movement, and wondering what Gandhi would think of it.

I am not sure the Occupy Wall Street movement will evoke the change we want. And I believe this for one simple reason: people are expressing anger at the current state of the world, and that is both human and entirely understandable; however, venting anger will not necessarily bring pressure to bear in a way that will provoke real and lasting change. Anger has power and energy, and I wonder if that anger were being used to fuel grass root meetings around the world -- to discuss ways that the status quo could be fundamentally changed -- if we would all have a better chance of moving in unity and actually changing our culture.

Gandhi was clear: when you are involved in nonviolent non-cooperation, YOU are in charge. Actions taken are STRATEGIZED to provoke a specific response. Until that response is achieved, you stay committed to the action, regardless of the anger, pain and violence directed at you.

I do not see an endgame for the Occupy Wall Street movement. What is the goal? To express pain and frustration and anger over the way in which our world is crumbling? Again, this is a very human response to suffering, but as anyone who has a child can tell you, tantrums are simply exhausting. Do we all want to exhaust ourselves? What will change as a result? What is the specific reaction we are trying to provoke?

What we are going through is a fundamental spiritual and moral crisis caused by one undeniable, cultural value. The whole culture spins based on this one tenet:

We value money more than life.

The financial instability, the political in-fighting, the ways we are abusing the planet and her peoples – all of these things are SYMPTOMS of the real illness.

This is such a deeply held cultural belief that we are all mirroring it to each other every day. We battle over bank bailouts, but are we really willing to completely accept the ramifications of an entire system collapse? This questions seem key to me. Can we recreate a culture without complete collapse? What suffering will collapse mean, not only for us, but for seven generations? Are there ways to change radically and morally through NVNC?

I don’t know about you, but personally, I can think of so many ways that I am manipulated by this cultural ethos, actions that I unconsciously take that reflect, and support the ethos. I am cooperating with a fundamental value of our culture that I want to see dismantled. I am trying to pick apart the hundreds of strands, to understand how my simple actions fuel and perpetuate a way of life I know causes suffering. It is very complex and difficult work, and surely compassion for oneself is needed to undertake such a deep and thorough inventory.

Being a child of the 1960s, I know the power of protest. And the protest to stop the Viet Nam war ultimately worked. The reason why it worked was because it was the goal of the movement (yeah, this is a simplification, but there is a kernel of truth here so stay with me). What is the goal of the Occupy Wall Street movement? What specific response is required by protest?

It is so tempting to try to cure the symptoms of the illness (no jobs, homelessness, money mismanagement, abandonment of our seniors, starving children, political paralysis, environmental degradation, etc.), but as any good core shamanic practitioner can tell you, you don’t treat the symptoms because that does not cure the illness. You treat the spiritual cause of the illness. Then the symptoms will abate. And there is no question that we are in a spiritual crisis.

Gandhi did not free India with one protest. Many, many NVNC actions had to be undertaken before the British gave up India. A good, first NVNC act would be to invest time in spreading the word about the national protest being held on November 5th  -- to remove money from commercial banks and join local credit unions.

I can't help but wonder if every person who is involved in the sit-in devoted their time to educating 10 people about this protest if there wouldn't be a powerful affect. Bank of America seems to be the biggest target for this movement (for understandable reasons), but I think the movement should be encouraging change from ANY commercial bank to a credit union. This kind of protest is smart. It literally tells all of our misguided legislators that we CHOOSE to do things differently and to value the life of our communities more than the just numbers on a profit and loss statement. Of course, as we enter the banks to withdraw money, it is crucial to treat the tellers and local employees of the banks with compassion knowing that they, too, are struggling to feed their children and save their homes.

Meanwhile, what is the next strategy? What is the NVNC move? Complete change will not happen overnight, and we will need to strategize many targeted actions, and develop a way to communicate. But with every action we take, we need to first examine the action, be certain we are unified and in agreement about what "success" looks like even as we commit to acting with compassion.

How do we address the broken political system? It is clear that the senate and house will not work toward the common good, but are using possible solutions as weapons to attack “the other side.” How do we address homelessness? Are we committed to reestablishing a “middle class” or is that very idea obsolete? How do we remodel education so that respect for every child’s potential is the determining factor for the necessary support and change our schools so desperately need?

Yes, the list is staggeringly long, but for each of these problems there surely is a NVNC action we take. It is interesting to me that when I pose many of these questions to Gandhi, he always – before anything else -- heals me. His first answer to every question is to cure my anger. Eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. It’s time to open our hearts and minds to addressing the real problems we face -- in unity and with such clarity of intention that we know we will not fail because WE are in charge, working toward a common truth. Respecting life in all its forms is more important than money.

Are we adult enough? Are we smart enough? Are we compassionate enough? Can we govern our own passions? Can we understand and use the power that we have en masse and personally? Can we all, in this one (admittedly huge and momentous arena) keep our intention clear? As for me, I will keep journeying to Mahatma. And remember than anger is always met with anger, hate is always met with hate. I believe we can elevate and change the conversation to what we really want to talk about. And once that happens, change, no matter how long it takes or how painful it is, will be inevitable.