by James C. Henderson

At the beginning of the Occupy movement, people often asked, what is Occupy? The answer was not forthcoming then, and it is still not clear to most. This is because Occupy is something new in politics, at least American politics. As a species that learns through analogous learning—I can understand this because it resembles that—people struggled to define Occupy because they had trouble finding a point of reference for the nature of Occupy.

The media never really gave the movement a chance to express itself; rather, it sought to define it by what it was not. It was not and still is not a political party. It does not seek to elect a leadership or send representatives to the existing political structure, which it feels is irreparably corrupted and represents only the interests of the plutocracy, which has bribed it with its money and intimidated it with its power. It is a movement based on participatory or direct democracy. No one speaks for Occupy, yet everyone speaks for Occupy.

The media and other curious people alternately attempted to understand Occupy by what it wanted. Simply put—and by no means am I trying to be flippant or coy—Occupy wants everything. Occupy wants everything to change for the better. Skeptics and opponents said, “Give me a list of two or three things. Can’t you prioritize?” The problem with this is that, to the Occupy movement, there are too many things that need to change for the better, that it cannot simplify the list to two or three things without giving short shrift to the rest. Everything is of equal importance. In an ecosystem, the success of each individual member depends on the health of the others. So too, the wants of Occupy live in symbiosis. In the direct democracy model, the members of Occupy rely on each other’s health and happiness for his or her own. Such unselfishness and communal perspective is unfortunately uncommon in American political life, and thus has proved hard to understand.

Just as it is a mistake to try to define Occupy as a political entity, it is futile to fix it into an existing economic model. Some claim it is anti-capitalist. It is true that one of the main concerns of the Occupy movement is that the richest 1% of the population has an unfair advantage over the 99% through its vast, inequitable accumulation of wealth, but what Occupy opposes is that the 1% so dominate the economy and, therefore, the economy is so dependent on them that the government bails them out at the expense of the rest of us. Occupy advocates no specific economic course, except to remedy this dependence and injustice brought on by this disparity in wealth.

Occupy is also not supported or sponsored by any existing party, group, or organization. A minimum of planning went into creating Occupy. Occupy sprang into existence mainly as a spontaneous reaction to global inequities and injustices.

So, if Occupy is not a political party, is not easily defined by its wants, and does not advocate a specific economic system, what is it? Occupy can be best described and understood as a consciousness.

This said, what kind of consciousness is Occupy? Doesn’t every living thing have consciousness? What makes Occupy different as a consciousness? In several Eastern religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, consciousness is described as chakras. Typically, seven major chakras are used to define ever-increasing levels of consciousness in the human using anatomical points in the body to represent each. These start from the base of the spine and progress to crown of the head.

The first chakra, the most elemental state of consciousness, is located at the anus. It represents the basic function of life: survival, the very process of being. The second chakra is located at the sexual organs and represents sexual desire, lust, and the biological imperative to reproduce. The third chakra, moving up the spine, is found in the stomach. This chakra represents hunger or greed, the desire for power. The stomach, selfish, insatiable, is the burning furnace of ambition.

These three chakras are the basic, dynamic trio where the everyday necessities of life are worked out. They are characterized respectively by ignorance, lust, and malice—the animal passions—and are symbolized by the sun and by the heat their burning desires generate.

Above these three, we find the fourth chakra, residing in the heart. This charka is significantly different that the preceding. It is not characterized by meeting the immediate needs of survival but by reflection on the meaning of action and a concern for the other. As such, it is symbolized not by the sun, but by the moon and its cool, reflected illumination. It is the seat of empathy, compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness. It is where love flourishes. The heart chakra is the chakra of marriage, the concept in which the self is sacrificed to the union of two people or to the group—to the family. This is where civilization is born. This is where the Occupy movement is founded.

The rest of the chakras, five through seven, are devoted to confronting and quenching the passions of the lower three, referred commonly as ego, anger, and fear, until one’s consciousness has developed sufficiently to the point where one achieves nirvana, the eternal unison with God, free from the body, far beyond the duality of our temporal world. God, the elemental idea Joseph Campbell calls, “the transcendental mystery of the universe.” Few achieve such an elevated level of consciousness; the best that most of us can hope to attain is consciousness at the level of the heart and to remain fully functional there.

An awakening or enlightenment takes place at the heart chakra. After one’s physical birth, one may undergo a spiritual birth. If one does, it is at the level of the heart. A physical birth is involuntary, it is given; a spiritual birth is a choice, voluntary, an awakening into a higher consciousness. Mythology is replete with heroes who were born at the level of the heart. Buddha, called “the awakened one” and “the enlightened one,” emerged from his mother’s side at the level of the heart. The virgin birth of Christ is a metaphor for this kind of non-corporeal commitment to a higher calling. Occupy is an awakening from the passions of ignorance, lust, and malice that afflicts our society into a higher consciousness of empathy, compassion, and love.

This is not to say that that there is anything wrong with living one’s life in the lower three chakras, in pursuit of shelter, food, sexual satisfaction, money, a modicum of control over our lives—most of us are involved in these pursuits the majority of our waking hours—but without the informing qualities of empathy and compassion, concern for others and self-sacrifice, society does not work well. This is what Occupy suggests and realizes, a faith that the goodwill of each person, through his or her own embodiment of the consciousness of Occupy, with love and the goodness of human nature that accompanies it, will join together with others of like-consciousness and create a better world for all.

There is nothing new in this. Throughout history, many have manifested these emotions into the ideals of freedom, justice, democracy, and peace—some with success more permanent or more transitory than others. It has been a hard row to hoe. Ask Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. Ask Jesus.

The challenge of the Occupy movement is how it will manifest the ideals of its consciousness in society. The act of doing so can limit and erode the movement. Values and principles prioritized for political or economic expediency can discourage or alienate those who hew to the purity of consciousness, as anyone who has worked in the Occupy movement can attest. Everyone comes to Occupy with excitement, then is often discouraged by the work it takes to keep the ideal of an egalitarian movement based on consensus not just going but growing in the partisan and extremist political and economic climate of America enacting the characteristics of the lower three chakras. Threatened by the active opposition of a powerful hierarchical system intent on preserving its privilege and domination through political repression and police oppression, many drop away, overwhelmed by work and family and the other demands of everyday life. Those of us who remain struggle on. Is it enough, this kind of devotion to an idea of devotion to our fellow humans, of seeing through to reality a world of tolerance and love, free of ignorance, lust, and malice? Is this enough to define Occupy and outline in the broadest terms its goals? Will the curious understand and accept Occupy, hopefully join it, and help move it forward? Is Occupy a concept people can grasp and incorporate into their lives? I don’t know.

I do know for me, right now, to be associated with Occupy is to be in a good place. For years I had been waiting for something like Occupy to come along, so I could join it, so I could be swept up in a movement of change like those throughout history that I have read about, to fight the good fight. For me, it is enough, right now, to be able to explain what the Occupy movement is and what it is not, to describe what it wants and how we in Occupy see the world and its challenges, and how we would like to transform the world into something better. It is enough for me to have found in Occupy people of like-consciousness, good companions. It is enough to want to move forward in peace and love to a more fulfilling future for all.