Rally in Victoria - Saturday Feb 23, 2002
by Harreson Sito
An opportunity to participate in social action as a socially engaged Buddhist presented itself in the BC Federation of Labour organized rally to protest against the proposed extensive cuts by the current Liberal provincial government to childcare, education, health, housing, welfare, and other social programs. The BC Fed organized free bus and ferry transportation from the Lower Mainland over to Victoria and had organized the rally agenda. I quickly booked a spot for myself after a friend told me about it.
No one else was available to come with me on such short notice, so I mentally prepared myself for a solo sit. Being an optimist on some level, I had hopes of other socially engaged Buddhists joining me on the spot. I had planned to do walking and sitting meditation, holding compassion, non-duality, and loving-kindness for all parties as an intention.
On the bus and ferry trip there, people from all walks of life and with all sorts of different intentions were packed together. Some signs had a demonizing "us against them" flavour and I knew in my heart for myself, that I did not want to get into that space.
When we offloaded from the bus in Victoria and marched towards the large gathering, I felt some uncertainty of what to do next. I initially mingled among the gathering of thousands before I decided the massed group energy was not where I wanted to hang out. I had a prior picture of sitting in a grassy area and found that space by the side, where trees blocked the view of the main speakers so not very many people were in this area.
I unfurled my thermarest which was going to be my meditation rug. Beside me was a family - a mother with her two young daughters and their grandmother. The youngest looked at me in curiosity as I puffed up my cheeks and blew air into the thermarest. After I placed the inflated thermarest down on the ground, I staked the four placards that I had made and brought with me around me. A second small thermarest was doubled to act as my meditation cushion. I invited them to sit with me and the two young girls sat beside me.
The oldest daughter, who was perhaps 4 years old, stayed with me while her younger sister got up and ran around. We looked at each other and smiled, and after some chatting, to my delight, she reached over, and playfully touched my hand and said "I got you!" We proceeded to play a game of "handsies" where we would take turns trying to touch the other person's hands, while the other person evaded our attempts. I gave her positive feedback of "You are good!" when she got me, and she replied "I am good! (referring to herself)" It was heartwarming to know that she had a good self-image.
Then another lady came around and offered a balloon to the children. The grandmother accepted the gift and tied it onto the oldest's wrist. Still sitting beside me, she then put the balloon up to my face and said something which I couldn't make out or hear. When I asked her to clarify, she said "I see you!" I was puzzled, not sure what she meant and she directed me to look through the balloon. I looked through the balloon and saw her two eyes, nose and face pressed on the other side of this transparent balloon.
We then proceeded to press our noses and faces against the balloon, and roll our faces around. Such simple joy and beauty!
After a while more, the mother and grandmother decided to take their leave. I said goodbye to the oldest daughter. The youngest was perhaps a bit sad to be leaving me as she looked back at me in her stroller for the longest time. They walked off together to continue their journey after these moments of interbeing.
Placard says "A core service of government is to reduce suffering."
And the words "loving-kindness, compassion,
mindfulness, understanding" feed the roots of the lotus.
Now it was time to focus. My attention went to the speakers in the rally. One particular speaker brought up some possible future scenarios which made my mind and heart race, and I felt sense-impressions which I would associate with anxiety and fear. I turned my attention away from the speaker's words and to my inner experience. First, I began mantra recitation to rein in my racing mind, but that was not enough. My intuition guided me to touch the earth with my right hand. When I did so, I felt a surge of energy go up my spine and that anchored me back into the present moment.
Being by myself, I felt self-conscious to close my eyes (the ego rears its head!) and also I wanted to be available if people had questions. Thus, it was difficult to practice with all the visual input of people walking by. However, there were split seconds of loving-kindness practice and feelings of compassion, both to the people present in the rally and towards the politicians in the Liberal government.
The reaction of people was varied from bemusement and curiosity to clear agreement, thumbs up and big smiles. Some people with Buddhist involvement asked for the BASE brochure that I had brought along. I was surprised initially when someone asked if it was alright to take my picture. I felt the heat of ego self-consciousness in my body while I settled myself for the picture. Several people took my picture - I didn't realized that a person sitting by themself, surrounded by placards with images of Buddha and words relating to the protest was quite a strange sight worthy of a picture. After more than a few photographers came by, I decided that I'd better ask for a copy so that I have some record of this sitting. These photos are courtesy of Ms. Deidre Kelly of Victoria.
I sat for about 2 hours. Looking at the thousands gathered, I thought to myself "This solidarity is fragile. Should there be some civil disobedience that escalated into police/security action, then it would dissipate very quickly." That's when I recalled the viewpoint of Joanna Macy. She believes that what is needed at this time of Great Turning is for small groups of people to gather together, to get to know each other, and to form a common framework to move together in. And then I also realized that the BASE group fits that format perfectly.
I noticed a few glances my way from the security guards, and I imagine more from amusement and a good laugh than from fear.
As the crowd peacefully disassembled and I gathered up my gear, I felt it was a successful mission. I had sat with the intention of non-duality, compassion, and loving-kindness. I experienced some of the challenges of doing a solo sit, and would preferably have other BASE sangha members to sit with so that at least some people could close their eyes and practice more deeply. I had some nano-seconds feelings of compassion and loving-kindness practice. I experienced what is necessary to balance engaging in suffering - my contact with the young girls was a form of, as Thich Nhat Hanh would say, cultivating the seeds of joy and watering the garden.
And I didn't yell at anyone, punch anyone, or get arrested!
May all beings be happy!
Updated March 4, 2002