The Material is the Spiritual: Occupy


I listen to the rain and crows outside my window and feel thankful. Thankful as I always am not only to have a home and employment, but thankful also for all of the people gathering in the rain by choice. There are many who are out in the rain not by choice, year after year after year. Some of us try to offer them food, or safe haven, but it is not enough. The cultures we make together have too many bricks fired with greed and inequality. It is time now, to rebuild.

These are times of bright lights and large shadows. Brightness and shadow are in each of us, and in the cultures we create. It is up to us to notice when things have become out of balance, and try to redress. This isn’t, for me, about force fighting force, this is, for me, about reaching out to join hands in the realization that we have been separated for far too long. It is time to come together and create something new. We must stand for something. We must stand for what we love.

Years ago, as a young anarcho-feminist, I took a job on the Pacific Stock Options Exchange in order to try to accomplish two things: I would pay my rent while getting an education in how the US economic system worked. See, I dropped out of high school to go to college, and then dropped out of college because it was too large a struggle to work full time, study, pay my bills, and pay for school, when I wasn’t sure what getting a degree was useful for. As a working class/working poor kid, I had no knowledge of the ins and outs of student loans, nor did my family have the funds or knowledge to help me. So I decided, as usual, to educate myself. Working in the “belly of the Beast” I would hopefully learn about a system I thought I hated, while buying the food I needed to survive.

On the Options floor, I saw people who were scared, people who were angry, and people who were kind and coined a phrase to express the dichotomy I felt: “He’s a nice guy, but he’s an asshole.” I figured out that no money in our system was clean, that the bike messengers outside still delivered packages to Shell Oil, and that our economic system was rooted in gambling. Huh. I never knew before then that my father, who struggled with addiction his whole life - first alcohol and then gambling until his life’s end - was part of a larger system of economic theory. Too bad it never helped him. My carpenter father wasn’t a high stakes player like the traders I worked with. The traders I worked with, however, were mixed bags, just like my father. Just like me.

I recall one man who treated me well, recognized my intelligence and was amused by my blue, flattop mohawk and motorcycle boots, who’s face grew purple with frustration when I refused to buy South African Krugerrands in that mid-1980s Apartheid time. Word spread like wildfire around the trading floor and the one African American trader came up to shake my hand and thank me. On another day one trader quite proudly stated to me, “Commerce should be free of politics” when I, at nineteen, knew that was impossible and argued so. Commerce and politics were inextricably linked, but we humans, in our quest for clean compartmentalization, tried to pretend it was not so. That was a key moment for me - an epiphany on the cold grey trading floor lit by glowing green screens - that realization that we purposefully dis-integrate ourselves, and therefore dis-integrate all of the systems that we build, separate ourselves from our environment, from our monetary and political systems, and from each other. We had forgotten that spirit and matter are one being. We had forgotten that we could be whole.

I thought of this while sending a shipment of rain ponchos to Occupy Wall Street last week. The people on the streets see imbalance and are trying to speak to it. The ponchos were asked for, and needed, yet I have no idea how they were made. Were they made by people working in dreadful conditions somewhere? This is likely. Does my action in sending them do more harm, or more good? I do not know. Every action requires a willingness to risk. There is a light and corresponding shadow everywhere. Nothing is clear, and clean, and in a little compartment. Life is messy and intertwined. Light and shadow are not discrete beings, but bound to one another. Within us, they can make friends, and we can learn to see things in a different way.

The Occupy movement is a movement about material things: jobs, food, housing, money. For me, this makes the Occupy movement about spiritual things. There is spirit in the movement, and the spirit moves through bodies of flesh in a world of matter: concrete, grass, buildings. There is no separation between the spirit and the matter, only our minds make it so.

pic taken by me in Baltimore MD

I see large patterns at play on this planet as in country after country, people rise up. Perhaps it is all random, but it doesn't feel that way to me. Nor does anything feel fated. Change is in our hearts and hands. Change is in my heart and hands. Change is in us all.
Can we come together?

Changing culture is up to us. Tomorrow I will march with Occupy San Francisco as an act of solidarity and hope, and as a sign that my lot is thrown in with my brothers and sisters. I do not think for a moment that my marching will change our systems overnight, but I do think it is one small action toward that end. I teach and write in order to help change culture and I change myself first, to facilitate this work. Marching tomorrow is a symbol that what I hope to help bring together is so much larger than I can ever do on my own. It takes us all, each of us, to look inside and say, “Where can I begin?”

21 Responses to “The Material is the Spiritual: Occupy”

  1. Jonathan Korman

    “Commerce should be free of politics”?

    It occurs to me that one of the key themes of Occupy is that we need a politics free of commerce ….

  2. Lori F - MN

    Having just watched something on TV about Occupy, from the government employee perspective, it would be better if those there could consolidate into fewer issues with more people. or maybe as Jonathan said – politics free of commerce. I would like to add – and free of religion.

  3. Memory

    Powerful post. Relating your education on that cold floor of the Pacific Stock Exchange to an audience (I’m guessing) who’ve mostly lived outside that sphere of power weaves an inspiring analysis and call to action with what the majority outside that sphere yearns for: creating culture(s) that benefit all. What does creating new culture look like? What does it act like?

    I keep thinking that the longer these protests continue, more and more people will begin to resonate with the messages and energy coming through the protesters. How many of us will choose to be “on the bus,” becoming the change we seek, together? Hope and despair. Shadows and light. Fusion. Change. Healing. Life.

    While listening to a live recording of David Bowie’s “Cygnet Committee” yesterday, I cried into my chicken and rice, feeling that profound 1969 anthem rising up, reaching out to bless & inspire this time called now.

    “And I want to believe in the madness that calls now
    And I want to believe there’s a light shining through somehow
    And I want to believe, and you want to believe
    And we want to believe, and we want to live”

  4. Rick Loftus, MD.

    Thorn, this was an amazingly personal and powerful message today. Thank you. Even here in the alternately glitzy and hardscrabble Coachella Valley, I see messages about Occupy Wall Street on the street corners, scrawled in rainbow colored chalk on the sidewalks near my medical practice. Maybe we’re seeing the first contractions of the birth of that new world the Maya supposedly prophesied… Sending you a shield of protection for the march tomorrow, blessed be.

  5. Madelon

    Thorn, thank you for this post.

    Every action requires a willingness to risk. There is a light and corresponding shadow everywhere. Nothing is clear, and clean, and in a little compartment.


  6. futhark51

    Thorn, thank you for posting your thoughts and for taking action. I can see the Peacock stretch in the Hand of Love and I can see the Great Spider Woman weaving a new web around the world to stabilize and to protect it.



  7. Jane Hansen

    Thank you! Although I haven’t been able to take time from my work to join those who are Occupying MN, I have a little placard in my mind that says: Occupy Your Life – the personal is the political. Live consciously and responsively. I think for many of us that sign is in our minds, but it’s illuminated a bit more brightly right now.

  8. IpMan

    I was asked: ‘what do they want, in one short sentence please’, and i was speechless.

    Politics can never be free of commerce or religion, because the politicians are humans.
    Neither you nor i am free of commerce, religion or politics.

    The monetary system needs a crash, war, catastrophe every some decades.

    In the tarot the pentacles are really coins and they belong to earth (imho).
    And everything on earth has a limited lifetime.
    Then it begins to decay and become the compost for the next flowering.

    And one of the really bad things is the dream implanted in our minds, that everyone can become rich.
    If you see this planet from the universe, you see that it is a closed ecosystem.
    If one get richer, others have to get poorer.
    And the gamblers on the finance markets make it worse.

    One thing we can do is to help each other.
    That does not require politics.
    That does not require a finance market.
    And if we help each other, everyone get richer.

    And that is the time to come.
    This planet gets smaller because we can communicate over continents by the blink of an eye.
    And if i know what problem you have, maybe i can help you out, even if i am thousands of miles away.

    Who needs the wall street?
    Occupy it!

    • Thorn

      We really can help one another. Today in Oakland Local, Richard Wright says:

      “Trust your struggle. and let’s usher in a new age, an Age Of Alliance.” – Richard Wright

      May our practices to know ourselves, shift culture, & live with greater balance bring us to a time where alliance trumps divisiveness.

  9. Shannon Moore

    +1 to both Jonathan And You. I am reminded of A quote of John Adams;

    “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”

    I NEVER had any intention in learning commerce, finance, monetary policy until I knew that I must understand it to understand politics. And I had interest in none of these until I understood their roll in my duty to secure a better future.

    Hope to see you there!

  10. Henry

    ” ‘Tapa is innocent, study is harmless, the ordinance of the Vedas
    prescribed for all the tribes are harmless, the acquisition of wealth by
    exertion is harmless; but when they are abused in their practices it is
    then that they become sources of evil.’ ”

    MahaBharata, Book 1, Adi Parva, section 1-Ganguli translation

  11. Illiezeulette

    I am always so, so nourished spiritually by your writings! You are by far my favorite author and visionary.

    Unfortunately I am not very well versed in politics or economics, but I am definitely learning it since I it such a significant part of the way the world works. Thank you so much for your inspiration to keep me learning!



Comments are closed.