RE:CONVERSATIONS :: OCCUPY LOVE :: WE ARE THE HUNDRED PERCENT :: AN INTERVIEW WITH VELCROW RIPPER
ExSt: How can we as artists work with the information that we’re given? Why is non-informational media so crucial in making this movement really work?
Because activists so often think that, you know, the facts will be enough. And they really aren’t.
Because we’re bombarded with facts. And the facts are really depressing, too, if you just look at the statistics. If you want to know how bad things are, they’re bad. They’re worse than you actually know. You want to talk to someone who’s depressed? Talk to a scientist.
So, the facts are really bad.
But at the same time, there’s the idea of hope and the human heart.
And art can really reach the heart.
And the hope, I think, for humanity and the planet, lies in a paradigm shift,
a consciousness shift — because all actions begin as thoughts.
We need to affect people on a deep level — dare I say a spiritual level —
and that’s what art can do.
Editor’s note: this is the transcript of an audio interview conducted with Velcrow Ripper in late April 2013, in anticipation of the theatrical release of Occupy Love. An earlier article about the film, in which the trailer is available for viewing online, is available here. You can listen to the full audio of the interview below. Premiere dates are listed above and as May 3 the full film is now available at a gift economy rolling scale (no one turned away for lack of funds) for sharing, viewing and community screenings at the website.
LDJ: The schpiel that I always start out with when I’m giving an interview is who what when why how where. So: what is this film who are you what are you doing, and then I guess to sort of reiterate the question I asked [in an earlier conversation]: What is / our potential role, as people in the creative arts, as people accessing the types of languages that are existent and persistent in music and art / non verbal language ; how in this moment that we are having, how can we turn this crisis into the greatest love story ever told? so much of that comes from transcending the problems of miscommunication that we have and not being able to talk to one another. how are we becoming able to talk to one another and what do you hope your film is going to be able to do in making those connections and aligning?
VR: What do you want me to start with, the Who What When Where Why and How? [LDJ: Sure] Ok. Occupy Love is a feature documentary and it’s the culmination of a 12 year journey, which started with Scared Sacred, in the year 2000, with my journey to the ground zeros of the world, looking for hope in the face of crisis.
I went to places like Hiroshima, Afghanistan, NYC during 9/11, Cambodia, Bhopal, and in all of those places I met with the survivors, and I looked at what was it in their… how was it that certain people were able to get through with their spirits not only intact but even transformed in the face of these crises. What is it…?
So that journey… I learned that there were two things that really got people through crisis. And that the first thing was having a sense of meaning — some form of meaning. Something that — it could be different for each person, but they needed a meaning to really get through with their spirits intact. And the second was really taking action in some way to transform the situation. Perhaps to make it better, perhaps to try to create a world in which what happened to them would not happen to others.
And these are some of the great crises of our time where I met these people, and I was left with this understanding that originally really was from Victor Frankl, who wrote the book Man’s Search for Meaning, that
everything can be taken away from a person except for the ability to choose the way they respond to whatever comes along.
So that led me to Fierce Light, which is the 2nd in this trilogy. And Fierce Light from meeting those survivors I got the sense that there were these two things, meaning and action, and I kind of translated those into the idea of Spirituality and Action, Depth and Action.
Spirituality for me actually means Depth. And so put those together and you have spiritual activism. So I started looking for stories of Spiritual Activism in the contemporary times. And the film is called Fierce Light. And it’s sort of that balance between the fierceness of doing and the light of being, so bring doing and being together. because so often I found in my own life that there’s kind of a schizophrenia between doing and being, this fierceness and this light.
And so I started looking for stories in the vein of Ghandi or MLK all over the world. And as I was shooting that film I got the sense that there was a kind of movement of movements bubbling up. That around the world there were people who maybe didn’t even know it about each other but they had a common set of values that they shared, and that they were working to create this more beautiful world that they know is possible #00:04:41.8#
LDJ : And I feel like, in maybe a subtle way, that people who haven’t come around to being comfortable with the word “spirituality,” and I know so many people in that situation, and also people who don’t think of themselves as activists and are also uncomfortable with the word “activism,” because of the things it brings up in their minds and the negative connotations, especially for people whose parents came from different traditions, I think that this “movement of movements,” and the way that it is engaging with social media is bringing it into an audience, and into a cultural place where it affects and is personally interactive with more people than ever before.
So, I guess another question that I would have is, given that we know that we are accessing all of these people, what is something that we can do in terms of our use of language and media, to try to make that moment, that golden moment, in which the things we have created are going to reach these people, who perhaps in simply by being near by the foment are sort of picking up on it, but may not know where to begin. how do you make that person a) feel like there might be meaning or, b) feel like they should or could take action that would be meaningful. because you know it’s amazing, even people I know who’ve grown up around this, and have gone to amazing school are so often so stultified by the scale of what they feel is wrong that they do nothing in response because they feel like they can’t even begin to really change, so they do nothing. So how do we create things that in some way make an invitation and make comfort and make people feel like they can enter that sphere.
VR: that’s really what led to the next film, the current film, Occupy Love. After I shot Fierce Light, where I was really looking at the schizophrenia between people who might be more spiritually focused, and then people who might be more activist focused, and often the one side was sort of afraid of the other side: “Activists are angry!” or “Spiritual people are navel gazers!” but somehow both dimensions seemed almost incomplete without the other, so you need to bring that doing and being together.
So with Occupy Love, I threw out the word “spiritual” altogether, because no two people seemed to have the same understanding of what that word means, and I replaced it with the word “love.”
And, of course, no two people seem to know what the word “love” means, either, but I will say love is not a hallmark card.
LDJ : no it’s not, and I was really excited to see that one of the people that you talk to is bell hooks, because All About Love — literally, I found it on the street in Toronto at exactly the right moment in time when I needed it and since have given it to probably several dozen people over the last 5 or 6 years. It’s really that and then some stuff from Krishnamurti that I tend to prostelatize but… certainly not a hallmark card.
VR: Definitely. So that led to Occupy Love, Fierce Love is what I’m talking about. And a deep love, a public love really, is what the film is about. Not romantic love, love that is interconnection, interdependence, and comes out of compassion.
And so the question that drives the film, which has driven me for the past three years, is ‘how can the crisis on the planet become a love story’ – that’s the core of the film. And when I started asking that question, 3 or 4 years ago, most people thought I was nuts, including the president of Bolivia — who I asked it to at a press conference on climate change in Bolivia (and the film actually begins with me asking that question). But in the middle while making that film, suddenly there was the Arab Spring, followed by the European Summer, with the M15 movement with the indignados in Greece and Italy, and then on September 17th, Occupy Wall Street birthed into life.
And I was there, from day 1, at Occupy Wall Street. And when I started asking my question there people were like: it is a love story, without a doubt. This is a love story. And there was this feeling, like I was saying before, that there was this movement of movements waking up and discovering itself.
And what was so exciting to me about that moment in history is that these were not activists. These were just everyday people, many who had never been involved in anything like that before, waking up to the fact that something is very very broken in our dominant paradigm, that we need a new model, and that’s I think the shift that now is becoming more and more evident.
As we move into the new phases of whatever emerges and is still emerging —I think that right now we are moving into a phase that is more about finding solutions, about creating alternatives, creative solutions. It’s not just about protesting, it’s about creation and that to me is Occupy 3.0, things like Occupy Sandy.
LDJ : Exactly. and that was exactly the next thing I was going to say. In Occupy 3.0 — and we can talk a little bit more about the difference between what Occupy 2.0 and 3.0 is — I think for the average person, we see someone becoming more and more familiar that in response to disaster, that in response to immediate crisis that there is sort of this growing ability – that we are using network tools and that people are really responding faster, with more sustained resilience, and being able to re-use and rely on the patterns, networks, and infrastructures that we’ve set up, which is terrific.
How on a daily basis, when crisis becomes such a norm — which it is, for us, you know — when something like the debt crisis, or the environmental crisis, when people are so stultified — I used the word stultified, and it’s right — when someone is so overwhelmed by the scale of the number of crises that they face that they’ve become one of the number of people who are frozen, how do you, how does one — and, does one — approach that person on a daily basis and / or how does one change whatever we are making to make it more approachable. How do we reach those people?
And I do think that in a situation like Occupy, where it’s something that’s so naturally reaching people in terms of their own personal finances falling apart, there’s this sort of thing that is a connector of “I have that problem, I’m able to connect, I see that in my life,” right, you know — but with something that’s become so normative, let’s say with the environmental crisis. We’re all so used to it, and people are just – it’s amazing to see earth day, now, try to re-build itself because earth day in the 80’s was so giant and then people gave up.
VR: it’s interesting, because we’re in a situation you could call the “long emergency” – that’s what climate change is. It’s a long emergency — and that’s the real challenge, how do you sustain things for the long haul. And that’s why when people are like, “Oh, Occupy’s over, blah blah blah, whatever,” it’s like — whereas corporations think in terms of quarterly profits, quarterly cycles, you know, movements and humanity have to think in the long term. And yet, we are in a state of actually… this is a decisive decade. So, we are in this moment — people are waking up. They are more conscious than ever before.
I’ve been an environmentalist my whole life and — you know, if you weren’t aware of the crisis that’s been building it’s because you weren’t paying attention. It’s been here for a long time. The effects that we’re experiencing now are the effects of a long-term pattern of dysfunctional consumptive fossil fuel behavior. So we’ve been in this long emergency for a long time. But that’s why I focus on compassionate activism, as opposed to anger based activism. Because anger or fear will burn you out — but my work is all rooted in hope, resilience, and creativity. And the fact that this moment in history – and we are here at this incredible moment in history — is an opportunity for us to really find deep meaning in our lives, because what we do right now IS meaningful, and I think the best thing you can do to be of service, and to have a meaningful life, is to unwrap your own gifts: find out what you’re good at, what makes your heart sing, and bring that to the table. Align that with the service to the community and the planet, and you’re going to have the deepest path of meaning you can find. And it’s going to bring you happiness, too.
LDJ: Absolutely. I think that’s really interesting, and I absolutely agree — and yet, I think there’s a subtle moment where that starts to stroke and get involved with ego. Because sometimes — and I see this happening so much, even in the creative entrepreneurship communities that I’m part of — people are like, “this is my thing, I’m really good at it, I’m learning how to make my heart sing, I’m learning how to tell my story,” and then, you know, even though maybe three people you know may have already started something very very similar to the thing that you are thinking of, you start a new one. So something that I’ve been thinking about is how to teach us to be a little less private-property, a little less “my idea,” and a little more willing to reduce redundancy even in our good ideas, because we’re creating this sort of mandlebrot pattern in which we’re starting to expand our resources and use them, but the efficacy of that gets reduced when then so many people are trying to start something.
So whereas before, there might have been no charities, and then there were 5, now there’s like, 200, trying to do the same thing, and everyone is getting barraged with, you know, the “friend tax,” which is what people call crowd funding, because everyone is doing it, and because people are still really attached, I think, in a way, to “I have this great idea and I want to do it” — you often don’t do the research first to see if someone else is doing it and if you can help them, because so many people are still really attached to the fact that it’s “theirs,” and I think that for people in spiritual practice, where we talk about this all the time. For people in spiritual practice, there’s that real talking to your ego and admitting that you WANT to be the teacher, or the leader, or the guru… are you willing to not be the guru, for the ultimate cause? What’s your real goal, and how ready are you to give up the personal goals, life goals, often, that might be necessary to give up in order to achieve the end goal.
And that goes back to something we were talking about in a conversation we were having earlier about the economy, and about how when we enter this space where perhaps I leave our job to go do this thing and think, “Oh I actually can make this work,” and then, you see someone else is doing is, but you’re still thinking, “oh, but I’m still trying to make money off of this because I have to survive, and I’m doing a great job,” and so even for people who’ve done a great job of being hopeful and compassionate — the fear which is related to the scarcity economy comes crawling up the back of their spine and into their head and it says, “do it yourself,” as though you’re not doing good to your self or your family or whomever it is that you need to make money for if you don’t sort of go out on your own. If you were to let’s say just sort of offer help to someone else, or join forces, you worry about if you’ll be able to make it. Which is legitimate.
So how do we start to …create narratives or documents or resources or databases, or better create non-redundant systems so that people can really use our personal, emotional, social, cultural capital — which is what we do have in spades — more efficiently?
VR: Well I actually see that in the movements that are happening — things like Occupy Sandy. Occupy Sandy is an excellent example of pretty much selfless service. The Occupy movement in general — no one’s getting famous. The odd person like Timcast, or whatever, but it’s not really what it’s about. And yet, they’re doing a lot of amazing work and there’s a lot of creative energy. Same thing with the movements in Europe, too. They’re really not about charismatic leaders or vanguards or elites, creating new elites — so I think that’s a great example of where that’s happening.
But, I would say, in general, if you look at the overall dominant society, most people don’t follow their dreams. Most people actually are not part of that – what you’re talking about is a fairly small majority of a fairly type-A, maybe New Yorkers. But you know in general if you look at the general society, people are trapped in a situation — they are taught, over and over again by society, that they are not … that your role as a citizen is to work hard and make money so that you’ll be able to buy things, which will help grow the economy, and then you’re a good citizen. Colin Beaven says that — No Impact Man says that — in Occupy Love.
Work, Buy, Consume, Die.
And that’s a very limited model of how to exist.
So, that to me is a greater problem than having too many people creating things. But that’s an interesting problem that you’ve mentioned. I do think that collaboration is not something that we’re good at in the west. We are really taught to be individualistic. And, ultimately, we have a very selfish society. So I think that it’s really a step forward when we learn to collaborate in so many different ways. And that’s the power — there’s so much more power when we collaborate.
And for me, with releasing the film, which has been so exciting, you know we just put it out there, we said, “anybody can release this film – if you don’t charge for a screening, it’s free. If you charge, sure the door with us.” That’s our basic policy and it’s very simple — and so, all over the world people are showing the film. Over 100 cities so far, and more, and we get new countries every day: the Philippines, Liberia today — today it’s been the Philippines, Switzerland, Liberia, I don’t know, like 10 different countries have come on stream. And these people are taking the film and creating events.
And what I love about these community screenings is that people come together and discuss… we’re hearing stories of people, you know, like in New Zealand screening the film and they’re up until 2 in the morning talking about it. Some of these are house parties, and some of these are giant screenings, like at the site of the Occupy Camp in Porto Alegré, Brazil, where there were 1,500 people in a giant free outdoor screening.
LDJ: So, you know, when people don’t have money to do a screening — the thing that happens is… well, similarly. I’ve been working with 100,000 poets for change and they realized that they opened this banner and then invited people to do things under this banner and they didn’t really have the resources to deal with the number of people who were then doing something [VR: who want our support] Yes. And then I realized that they had really lost or missed and opportunity for documentation in a way that could be found and used by the general public *of* those stories. And there’s sort of a byzantine archive on their own website but it’s impossible to navigate and no person who’s not already part of that organization would ever go there or ever be able to find it. So I sort of said, “oh let me help you,” but then I don’t really have the resources either.
So the question for you, then, in terms of modeling for future how to do something like that — if we do allow our things to be freely shared, what sort of exchanges can we ask for from people in order to help us really make the most out of that.
Did you ask people to create media, to document it, to have conversations afterwards…?etc…
VR: we asked them to take a picture of the group, with the heart symbol, so we’re collecting those. We have an app, as a matter of fact, called Found Love, and so the app is like a mapping of found hearts from around the world, but then there’s also the community in there, so we’re mapping these community screenings from around the world with tags, and then that tags to notes and things about the events. So we are documenting the screenings, and we have a report back form, as well.
LDJ: That’s great to hear. I think for me that’s becoming the conversation that I feel like I carry like I torch to a lot of people, asking “how are you creating value after,” i.e.: is there going to be lasting value. Because we’re having this amazing conversation and the conversation that you had — which often is sometimes audio or sometimes you get video or something — but just as often it disappears into the ether. And then, that conversation can be so valuable for someone reading it after the fact. Even if it doesn’t have, you know, framing, or it hasn’t been editorialized. So frequently if you read the minutes from a dialogue or a panel, it’s so incredibly edifying — so that was going to be my question, are you having people do that, are you collecting it or recording it in some way.
VR: The Porto Alegré people are creating a video for us, which will be at occupylove.org. Yeah, I agree — what Occupy Love is doing is that it is reigniting a spark for people. Tying them into the fact that the dominant media does not connect the dots. They want to see the latest spectacle, they want to constant spectacle. They don’t see Occupy Sandy in the trenches right now, every morning, this morning, out there on Staten Island, in Far Rockaway, working really hard to do this kind of rebuilding work, where a lot of the agencies have just moved on — the cameras have turned away.
They don’t see the kind of ground work of what movements do.
And movements can get seduced by the media into the need to constantly create spectacle. But that’s not what movements are about.
That’s an aspect of movements, and it’s fun — but it’s not the only thing, and it’s not the most important thing. What’s more important is what’s happening at the community level. In terms of movements, we need to connect the dots, and a lot of that energy from Occupy is now going into the Keystone XL Pipeline struggle, or the Climate Justice movement, which is interlaced with that. As well, in Canada we have the Idle No More movement, which is this massive indigenous rights revolution, and we have not seen anything like that before.
It’s different from the American Indian movement. It’s not so top down and it’s led by women, so it has a different energy — it’s definitely related but it’s a new thing, and that’s really exciting to see. You know, we have the M15 movement, also known as the Indignados in Spain, that are now really deeply integrated in the neighborhoods of a collapsing economy, offering new models. In addition, we’re seeing people really getting creative with looking at the entire system and how can we rebuild it at every level.
We have the restorative justice movement, which is moving behind punitive justice to actual healing and transformation. Let’s get people out of prisons and start healing them, instead of creating this retribution system. We’ve got permaculture and alternative currencies and the transition town movement. I can connect the dots between all of these, and I see that all is coming from the same source — which is that people want to have a way of living in community that’s in harmony with life itself, and the processes of life.
LDJ: I think, you know, again, to use 100,000 poets for change as an example, it’s been interesting to watch how in other countries, where we’re using music, art, poetry as a medium for change, it’s been very powerful — people organizing these events have spots on national tv, they’re in major newspapers… but in the United States, it’s amazing… last year in NY there were just a few events and very few people in the poetry community even knew they were happening. So it’s interesting to hear what happens when we bring something like Occupy Love or 100,000 poets for change to other countries where there’s less noise —
VR: they’re so excited about it, [LDJ, in agreement: they’re so excited about it] and they have not heard the story of Occupy told.
LDJ: so it’s very interesting because, when we take what our story was able to affect in another country, and bring it back here, something about the legitimacy of the impact it was able to have makes people take note. Because there’s so many stories about what’s happening here, but then it’s like, “how many thousand people came to the thing, in this other country…? oh, that’s interesting,” and yet you might not be able to get ten people to an event in New York City.
It speaks to a larger question which is,
how do you sustain interest, and how do you sustain attention, not by becoming a spectacle, but just in a landscape that is constantly in an avalanche of media noise.
Good stories and bad, not only bad stories — in a general day, even though people laugh about it — you’re getting a mix. I know that what my feed looks like on Facebook is a mix of inspirational quotes, things from Pema Chodron, various spiritual communities I’m involved with, people trying to circulate better information than the misinformation — it’s amazing.
You know, but I try to think about how unusual my life is, and how unusual what I’m getting is. So I try to think about your average soccer mom in, like, Ohio, and I try to think about what she’s seeing, and know how different it is from what I’m seeing.
VR: there is a high signal to noise ratio. And yet there’s a hunger for a new vision. You know the other day – yesterday – I posted a picture from a documentary filmmaker in Afghanistan that said, “Love from Kabul to Boston,” and it was all these different people in Afghanistan holding up this sign. And from my page, 270,00 people saw that post. And that shows to me that there’s a real hunger for — to move outside of this fear-driven, anger-driven mentality into something that’s love-based. And I think that’s across the board. I think everyone’s hungry for it.
So, there is a high signal to noise ratio, but we also have a potential — it’s not so much which different vehicles there are, but how many of these vehicles are connecting to this new paradigm. It’s certainly a challenge to cut through the noise of the dominant media, but with social media more and more that’s people’s source of information.
I don’t watch television, I don’t hear about things through television, I don’t listen to the radio, I hear about things from television and radio [LDJ: me too, me too] and I trust it way more than television or the news.
LDJ: The other day I was at work when the Boston thing happened and everyone was on their phones trying to look at news sources and I was like, “really?” They’re all freaking out but I was trying to say, give it some time, pay attention if you must, someone go check Al Jazeera. Has anyone checked Al Jazeera? And of course someone’s like, “I’m going now!”
I was just trying to say, don’t do it. Don’t get taken by the spin. You know, I teach, and this morning I asked them this question — we’re talking about attention and intention — “one might say that considerations of attention and intention, and code-switching, are particularly critical in times of crisis or emergency. What is your place on the critical-to-reactive scale of receipt and repeating of information, and what kind of practices of attention, intention, and critical thinking can aid you and society in this process?”
I’ve been talking to them a lot about being intentional about the way that you deal with language, and the way that you deal with language in your world, and how much you’re conscious of the codes that are being used, and how much you’re conscious what the intention of the language is, whether the narrative masks the intention or shows the intention. And so many of them admitted to themselves that they get swept up in it, emotionally react, and that they don’t really think about where it’s coming from.
So, do you have any intentions in terms of working with schools or educational programs? Do you want to talk a bit about that?
VR: With the film — people are starting to reach out from schools for the film. I think of it as a great university film, and next year we’ll be with Cinema Politica Network, which is a network of film screenings that happen in universities all over the world, so they’ve picked it up as a distributor, they’ll do some free screenings of Occupy Love at Universities, self-organized, all over the world. I will probably do a speaking tour of universities this fall, and I also have this workshop that I teach called Love in a Time of Crisis, and so I directly teach, outside of just making the films.
I really believe in the importance of that. I also have taught teenagers, as well – I set up a film school for teenagers, a kind of transformative film school. I’m also working with helping out with the Paul Robeson Freedom School, which is a school that Occupy set up that’s running this summer, here in NYC.
It was a school that was shut down, and the people from Occupy went in and asked, if you could have your ideal school what would it look like, and the students came in and created their own summer school, and they ran it last year and are running it again this summer, in Brooklyn. Justin Wedes is spearheading it.
VR: We’re doing the theatrical release on May 3rd, opening at Cinema Village on May 3rd, running for a week or longer, and we’re touring with the film to LA, San Francisco, Seattle — we keep adding dates. We’ll keep going on to Europe. But the big thing in New York is May 3-9.
LDJ: Are you hoping for a wider theatrical release in NY?
VR: I don’t know that it’s going to go into a wider theatrical release, that’s probably going to be good enough. It has so many other channels, I’m not really relying on that model which is kind of a dying model anyways. It’s really dominated by a few films. Independent films, they have their run — big life is going to be online and at the community screenings (it goes live online at the same time).
It will be available at our website, at Occupy Love dot com or dot org, and we do gift economy — we’re asking people to pay if they can, because it really helps us, and it helps us make the next film if we ever get out of debt. So if you can pay, excellent, if you can’t there’s a gift section of the site, and we just send you one. We’ve never said no to anyone — same thing with the workshops. No one turned away for lack of funds with anything we do.
LDJ: That’s wonderful. So, what can people in the community, if they’re interested, do to help with the film, with the message. Is there something that artists or musicians or people who do film, or do various mediums — a lot of writers, for instance — is there something that they can do?
VR: Lots of things. Immediately, of course, talk about it on Facebook, talk about it on twitter, go to the Occupy Love Facebook page, and if you’re in NY go to the page and invite all your friends. But we’re really relying on social media to get people out to the theaters.
And it’s a beautiful cinematic film — if you get the chance to see it in the theatre it will blow you away. It blows people away in an audience setting. Every screening I’ve been to we get standing ovations. And people come up to me in tears, consistently, after the film: tears of joy, of inspiration, and of being moved. So I’ve seen the power the film has on people. It lights your spark.
LDJ: Talk to me a little more about that, how as the filmmaker you use cinematography and music, and what inspires you and how you make the choices that you make in terms of that –
VR: I do art, right? I do transformative films, so they’re not information driven. They capture the heart of the story, and they have a story arc. I come from an experimental film background, so they will surprise you, and they will visually delight you. And sound is really important. I’m also a sound designer, so I do sound design for other films as well. So there’s a very rich sound scape and music scape – the whole thing together creates a transformative experience. My films have been known to be transformative in that way, as art — as really only art can do. I don’t think a film that just gives you the fact transforms you in the way that a film that’s actually a piece of cinema can.
LDJ: No, I don’t either – I just returned, actually, from a pair of Chamber Operas that were done in California and the source for one of these operas were a series of interviews done by this poet, Dan O’Brien, with Paul Watson, the photojournalist, and it was about his experience after Mogadishu, when he was experiencing all these hallucinations of the soldier that he had taken the photo of. So he’s been experiencing all these auditory hallucinations for a long time now, and this amazing composer (Jonathan Berger) who also happens to be a researcher, designed the music for the chamber opera around the way he experiences these hallucinations, transformed the concert hall into the way the brain works — the way he receives the sound — and in the conference afterwords it was amazing to hear Paul Watson say how he felt that between the music and the poetry, that they had been able to express what he was experiencing better than he ever had in over a decade. He felt more that he had been understood by receiving their transformative, non-information, evocative, way of depicting and translating his story. And it was so comforting to him.
And I guess that goes back to the question of
“how can we as artists work with the information that we’re given.” Why is non-informational media so crucial in making this movement really work?
Because activists so often think that, you know, the facts will be enough. And they really aren’t.
Because we’re bombarded with facts. And the facts are really depressing, too, if you just look at the statistics. If you want to know how bad things are, they’re bad. They’re worse than you actually know. You want to talk to someone who’s depressed? Talk to a scientist. So the facts are really bad. But at the same time, there’s the idea of hope and the human heart.
And art can really reach the heart.
And the hope, I think, for humanity and the planet, lies in a paradigm shift, a consciousness shift — because all actions begin as thoughts. We need to affect people on a deep level — dare I say a spiritual level — and that’s what art can do.
LDJ: I totally agree. I feel like we have such an interesting onus, in trying to talk to people whose ears close down when they hear words like “paradigm shift,” and I think getting people to show up is so much of it. …I showed someone the trailer earlier who normally wouldn’t watch it, probably — it’s just not in his world, at all. Not a bad person! It’s just not in his world, at all — and he was like, “that was amazing!” So it’s like, if you get that toe in, it really works.
VR: [laughs] I had somebody from the one percent watch the film, at a conference on consciousness and science, in Kansas, called Council Grove, and he told me this story after. He told me he watched the first ten minutes, and he stormed out of the room, and went back to him room, started brushing his teeth, and was thinking “ohh, grr, I can’t believe they’re saying this stuff,” etc. and then he’s like, “why am I so upset? I’m going to finish watching the film.” So he came back in and watched the film, and by the end of the film, the dude was transformed. He was literally transformed.
And he came up to me afterwards and said, ‘I’m in the one percent, I’m part of that scene, what can I do?” So that was amazing.
Because this is one of the messages of the film —
let’s get this straight: we are the 100%.
We are in this together.
You’re not going to live in a bubble on mars, we’ve got to figure this out together, we’ve got to wake up together. This is about moving beyond us and them.
LDJ: I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say “we are the hundred percent.”
VR: It’s kind of the Occupy Love slogan.
LDJ: I love “the beginning is here,” which I’ve probably posted myself so many times and totally agree with, but “we are the hundred percent” I love, and I think that’s so crucial.
VR: It upsets some activists when you say that. I had someone in England, in Occupy London, who got so mad at me about that – “No, we’re not!” and it’s like, look – not only am I the hundred percent, I am the bomber who hit the button, I am the person who is being bombed. This is interdependence. This is the whole understanding of interdependence. The line of good and evil runs through the landscape of every human heart. That’s real enlightenment.
That’s real awakening.
To recognize and understand at a deep level where you came from — this creative source — then it’s all you.
So, own it, and let go of this good and evil thing, because it’s not really very helpful. And it’s about healing, to recognize that wholeness.
To recognize the shadow, as this vast human organism. That shadow is part of who we are.
The new age “love and light, put a pink bubble over everything, that’s not me that’s them,” that’s just as dangerous.
LDJ: Absolutely, that’s dangerous. And a good question, I think, for the activists here, is what sort of daily practices, what kind of group practices, can we institute and become disciplined in in really learning that compassion for people that we don’t understand, that make us so angry. In a very practical way, how do we — like, Mindful Nation — how can we get people to be open to some of the things that we might call Buddhism, or know as Buddhist practice, or things like that. How do you get your average person to really be ready — or even an activist, who really is so angry at someone else — to realize that the real step to healing is loving that person who makes you so angry.
VR: As I say, you can love somebody, but it doesn’t mean you have to like them.
VR: But when you hate somebody, you’re actually giving them your power. I find though that the movements of today, and the younger generation coming up is really open to this kind of stuff. I’ve been a media activist my whole life and I was really in the closet with my spiritual stuff until Fierce Light, when I was determined to come out of the closet and say, “this is who I am, and it’s an important part of who I am.” Now, you know, this is just not an issue. People really are comfortable with it.
And in terms of practice, it’s very simple, don’t make it complicated, keep it simple. And the simplest thing is really just being present. Really showing up. Mindfulness. Nothing religious about it. Return to the breath. I do something very simple. I have three deep breaths before each meal. I sometimes don’t remember until I’m halfway through a meal, but I always remember at some point, and it changes everything! It changes my digestion, for one thing, but it also gives me a moment to really center myself.
The practices need to be simple, but for me, the core is just showing up, being present, and letting go of the contraction. Being in an urban setting it’s so easy to be contracted. Here’s another thing: a walk in the park. Getting into nature.
LDJ: I guess the thing is: how do you get those simple things to someone who’s not actively looking for them. One of those tough things in spiritual practice is, “don’t teach people who aren’t ready,” and that’s such a hard thing — you make it available to people, but to what extent do we, should we, can we really sort of actively address and reach out to people who really are rejecting that sort of learning.
VR: I put this kind of stuff out into the world all the time. And how far it goes or who it hits… maybe I don’t get directly to that person, but maybe I get to someone who gets to that person. And so, that’s what I do in life. I’m a communicator. That’s my role in life, to try to pass on helpful, inspiring, and transformative methods and understanding and wisdom — not just my own, but those of other people that I interview as a filmmaker. So that’s what I do.
A lot of it now is Facebook and twitter.
LDJ: It’s funny that you say the thing about coming out of the closet because I also had that moment, realizing that dichotomy, and I don’t know if you have seen these [palm tattoos of the all-seeing eye and a radiant heart] but these came from a moment where I realized that I want, in the most public place, for myself and for anyone I talk to, to have this constant reminder of my energy channels, of the work that I’m doing – and of the real work that I’m doing, because I really think of it as the real work. And all the time, I’m personally triggered, and other people are triggered, and I’ll totally forget. I work at a restaurant, and people will ask me to show it to them, “what’s that?” and then we’re suddenly in conversation. So it is interesting how you can just trigger people by changing something in their environment. It makes it part of my daily conversation in a way I wasn’t forcing myself to do before.