If you want to be a rebel, be kind

Pancho Ramos-Stierle’s words, actions and state-of-being have touched my heart. I recently read an interview in which Pancho shared his thoughts on Occupy Oakland and his arrest. The interview left me hopeful, and pushed me to deepen my understanding and practice of love and non-violence.

Here is a short excerpt:

“On Mondays we practice silence, and the police officer who arrested us thought that we were deaf because we were not speaking. So he got a notebook and a pen. It was very considerate of him, and I could feel his energy shift a little, and so when he gave me the notebook I wrote, “On Mondays, I practice silence, but I would like you to hear that I love you.” When he read that, he had this big smile and looked me in the eye and he said, “Thank you. But, well, if you don’t move, you’re going to be arrested. Are you moving or not?” So I wrote back, “I am meditating.” He said, “OK, arrest them one by one.”

And here is a short excerpt from another article on Pancho in prison:

“As Pancho is shackled up in solitary confinement, he creates a makeshift cushion with his shoes and starts meditating.  The guards themselves start taking photos to post on their Facebook walls!  Moved by his equipoise under conditions of extreme stress, some guards even inquire about the specifics of meditation.  One of them befriends him and gifts him an extra “package” — a toothbrush, a toothpaste, a piece of paper and a pen.  Pancho then cleans up his cell of all the litter, toilet paper and other waste; on the piece of paper he writes, “Smile.  You’ve just been tagged with an anonymous act of kindness!”, and leaves that extra toothpaste and toothbrush next to it.  “I wanted to beautify the cell for the next person after me,” he would later say.  Jails didn’t have any vegetarian food, so he smilingly fasted — having two oranges in four days.  He gifts away his ham sandwiches to other inmates, and connects with them in the spirit of generosity too.  In transit, when he has more contact with other prisoners, he educates them about their rights.  With the ICE agent who shackles him, he smilingly says, “Sister, your soul is too beautiful to be doing this kind of work.”  To which she smiled back and responded, “Thank you.””

I hope you read both the interview of and the article on Pancho. But remember, more important than reading Pancho is being Pancho: Serve, Reflect, Love.

What Occupy Wall Street and Gandhi have in common (and what they don’t)

A friend recently forward to me an article from The New York Times on Gandhi in NYC. It’s an excellent article, well written, and I agree with Mr. Desai’s assessment of what Gandhi would’ve thought about Occupy Wall Street. I’d highly recommend the article to those interested in Gandhi and how he continues to influence the world. The article is a refreshing reminder of a life changing experience I had in India, which I’d like to share.

After a few months into my Indicorps Fellowship, I began questioning my social conditioning, my biases and, in general, my way of looking at the world. During this turbulent, introspective phase, I came across a short book which had exerts from Gandhi’s writings. I found Gandhi’s words inspiring and relevant to my inner journey. I was so moved that I put together a constructive study of Gandhi and his writings. Just before starting this self-study, I met a Gandhian (one who adheres to Gandhi’s way of life), and excitedly shared with him my academic plan. What he said in response rocked me to my very core, and has changed me ever since.

He said, “All this is good and I’m glad you want to learn more about Gandhi. But, more important than reading Gandhi is being Gandhi.”

Gandhi’s life was his message. For Gandhi, life was service and service was joy. And service was his path to self-purification. In his autobiography, Gandhi writes, “What I want to achieve–what I have been striving and pinning to achieve these thirty years–is self-realization,” which here can be taken to mean self-purification. So, to really understand Gandhi, one has to walk Gandhi’s path of self-purification, which is tougher to follow than his words and requires one to constantly grope in the dark.

Therefore, I’d humbly like to add to Mr. Desai’s article that for Gandhi, the ultimate goal of non-violent protest is to heighten the moral stature of the protesters through self-purification, which is rooted in humility, non-violence, love and truth expressed in word, deed and thought. This is the most basic yet toughest part of Satyagraha (loosely translated as “non-violent and truthful protest” or “truth-force”). Occupy Wall Street would benefit from incorporating Gandhi’s ideals of self-purification into their movement.

We’re quick to point fingers but hesitant to notice our flaws. We internalize our successes but externalize our failures. We judge others by their actions but judge ourselves by our intentions. Self-purification is therefore a path to help us build our characters and become better people. It’s through bettering ourselves that we can better the world around us, and this is as true for the avid non-violent protester as it is for you and me.