A simple lap around Chapman Square one evening turns into an extended meditation on rhythm, global resistance, and the discovery of meaning in the monotonous.
Friday night. Freshly ejected from work and suffering from a serious case of the Digieye. You know what I’m talking about—dry, cloudy portals glazed over, fighting to readjust to the outside world after extended periods buried alive in brick and mortar coffins, fake-n-baked by commercial fluorescent lighting, swallowed by ethereal electronic matrices. A digital drunk, I spill out onto downtown city streets wondering:
Where in the hell did the day go?
Still genuinely feeling good about the work I do, low-grade guilt surfaces for accepting this digital medium as a centerpiece to my life’s professional rhythms. I get home and claw for an antidote. The demands are simple: Space. Solitude. Movement. Exposure to elements.
It’s late December, and I seem to be particularly stuck on the recent people’s movements igniting all around the world. Egypt. The Middle East. Latin America. Africa. Russia. Occupy Wall Street. I am consumed with this illustration of global congregation, millions mobilizing around the world, the reverberations of a recalcitrant choir exhausting vocal chords by shouting from the rooftops: this isn’t good for us, this isn’t good for the planet. I follow this collective chemical synapse firing around the planet, this orchestral disassociation with our addiction to profit and to ourselves.
So, I decide to take these thoughts and myself on a run.
Chapman Square, the retired site of the Occupy Portland camp, sleeps. For two months this camp served as an urban settlement for modern miners panning the muddied creeks of capitalism for truth. In solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, the camp served as one of the largest occupations in the U.S. outside of New York City.
Discussions. Idea-sharing. Public demonstration and protest. Workshops and seminars. This was the home for a collective decision to uncover the casualties of our government’s dirty affair with profit. To put into question our illusory binding contract owing allegiance to a shortsighted corporatocracy directing how we treat the earth and ourselves. The encampment was a distribution center of smelling salts to an unconscious populace waking up from a fitful nightmare, to break away from the subservient zombie and towards the wild wolf.
I wonder what is happening there tonight, so I decide to take my run downtown and check on the state of Chapman Square, post-eviction. Pinning an orange Go Collective Occupy patch to my jacket, I head out into an evening of octopus ink, guided by the faint flickering of city lights.
Downtown is buzzing. Urbanites abound, all decompressing from a week overworked and unfulfilled. Happy hour gives way to lavish meals, more alcoholic lubrication and uninhibited social games. I feel feather-light in stride but weighed heavily by this sort of judgment. Whisking past a young, drunk couple playing dress-up—corporate playboy and frail girl balancing her bones upon the highest of heels— I wonder if these two ever fumble with our catastrophic global condition or engage in their own personal agencies of change, to review the ways they are governed, how they live, consume, treat others, themselves, the planet. Might they aspire less to the affluent than to the activist?
Foot to sidewalk, I return to my breath and continue.
Approaching Chapman Square, I notice huge fences around the perimeter of all three blocks. To avoid stoplights, I decide to take a one-lap tour around the central Chapman park block. On this first revolution, I pass by two police officers in yellow jackets guarding the park.
“Passing on your left.” I announce, approaching them from behind. No response.
Peering through the chain-link fortress, my mind navigates nostalgically through the communal kitchen that once was, peering into the library tent where books and workshops were available. I float above the labyrinth of tents and tarps, the crazy eyes and animated conversations. My nostrils recall the filth and dirt, the panhandling parades of grime. Though I never slept a night there, I find myself curiously homesick for the void of such a raw, inclusive, community gathering-place.
After a full lap around Chapman, I begin a second. Then a third. How about 99 laps, to pay homage to the 99%? Quick arithmetic makes this task achievable in a few hours, so the decision is made.
The night is serving dinner ice-cold. Older couples walk the streets after enjoying holiday performances downtown, holding each other close as the warmth from Shnitzer Hall flees quickly from their thick coats. I wonder how these elderly view the state of things. What inhabits the frontal lobes of such weathered minds, those having potentially experienced a World War, Nazism, nuclear deployment, the Great Depression, Korea, Vietnam, the Khmer Rouge, the civil and environmental movements of the 1960’s and 70’s? I become obsessed by all their eyes have seen and their hearts have navigated, while curious about their responses to the recent revolutionary surges.
I find this urban lap to be flat and uninspiring, as running repetitively around a 1/8-mile square of cement is demanding less on the body than on the mind. I begin to understand how such monotony offers some interesting meditations in movement. Sure, the unpredictability, irregularity and aesthetic of mountain foot travel are much more preferable, but I realize here that a flat road, track or even treadmill (yikes) certainly has some benefit, if only for cultivating mental fortitude. “Everything is practice.” To work on finding peace in rhythm, anywhere you are. 24-hour races. Sri Chimnoy’s 6 and 10-day Transcendent Races. Satish Kumar’s 8,000 mile walk protesting nuclear proliferation. My 99 laps certainly pale in comparison to such accomplishments, but I begin to understand the power of finding meaning in the monotonous.
Returning to breath, I continue.
I have to pee. I take this opportunity to visit the Occupy Candlelight Vigil at City Hall, to ask where they go to relieve themselves. I find five street kids sitting with their dogs, bandanas and face tattoos, all laughing and smoking. Wary of a runner approaching them, their eyes wander to the Occupy patch pinned to my chest and tensions ease. Still confused.
“You guys know of a public bathroom around here?” I ask.
“Yah, there’s one in the parking garage,” the larger one responds. “Probably closed though, man. One about six blocks away that might be open, likely not though. Honestly, I would just hop in them bushes right there and go for it.”
Pudgy, greasy fingers point towards park bushes across the street, then he retreats quickly behind dark glasses. I strike up conversation with the others and mention my impromptu experiment of running 99 laps around Chapman tonight, paying tribute to civil disobedience and contemplating the future of this movement. They are barely impressed. As though my words had to first ricochet off nearby buildings to reach their ears, one guy finally responds:
“Shit, I may be able to run 99 feet!”
They all laugh and twitch nervously, and I join them. The laughing, not the twitching. I tell them my idea to complete 33 laps one way, then turn around and do 33 more the opposite direction, then a final 33 the original way, just to mix things up.
“Wait a damn second!” says another kid, cigarette limply parsed between cracked lips.
“Wouldn’t that be like only running 33 laps? ‘Cause once you turn round and run 33 the other direction, it’s like going backwards, like goin’ right back to zero. Then if ya turn round and do 33 the original way, your total laps run would only be 33!”
He was impressed by his math, and I equally amused by his imagination. The street kids wish me luck and promise me they’ll call 911 if they look over to see someone on the ground crawling or crying. I thank them for their kindness and cross the road to relieve myself, into the darkness of the park’s dying urban flora.
Then I return to my breath, and continue.
Fog infiltrates the city, shrouding the surrounding skyscrapers. The haze joins an eerie blue-green light on top of the Wells Fargo Building to create a severe laser beam effect, an authoritative eye scanning its subjects below.
The two young policemen return to again walk the parameter and, this time, I am running towards them. As I do, I catch one officer taking a glimpse of my Occupy patch. Finally! Only takes 50 laps to get some attention around here. Excited by an opportunity for dialogue, I begin to formulate an answer for any interrogation, but after passing them three additional times over the next five minutes, I realize they still have no interest in me. I however, develop an interest in them and, in each passing, I tap into their conversations, dominated by two topics: Girls and Music. One of the guards holds his head up to an iPhone blaring bad hip-hop to pass the time.
I realize here that, despite our glaring differences, the officers and I both share a common rhythm of repetition, monotony and humanity as we venture into this cold night of Mystery together.
Returning to breath, I continue.
Over two hours circling Chapman Square, legs begin to feel heavy from the impact on unforgiving cement. I disrupt my urban orbit and begin running the opposite way for the last remaining 33 laps. It is 11pm and several policemen now filter out of Central Precinct for their night shifts, orange shotguns and riot gear in tow. To Serve and Protect Profits.
I wonder, despite some of the good work they most certainly do, why these policeman agree to blatantly suppress peaceful demonstrations which raise awareness for wealth inequality, corrupt banks and corporate interests running U.S. politics, all of which undoubtedly affect them? I try hard to cultivate empathy for the police, as Plato points me in the right direction:
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
They too are good-natured humans, like us. Full of veins and brains. Blood and guts. Anxieties. Family or none. Victims of abuse. High cholesterol. Car payments. Mortgages. They could be full of love or empty entirely of it. Regardless of their personal narratives, I still expect them to inquire about whom they are actually serving and have the courage to reject such a blatant repression of expression.
Returning to breath, I continue.
Low point. Tired of this cold, boring loop. Want to go home. Wondering why I decided to do this. No one cares. Nothing changes because of this, not that that was even the goal. What was the goal anyway? Right, to meditate on the current waves of civil unrest around the world. To pay homage to past efforts locally and contemplate new possibilities for the future. Our future. The human and the non-human. All of us. A recalibration of responsibility to stand up for what’s best for the Earth. To conduct a small, human-powered experiment of endurance for a bit more insight into our potential. Nearly three hours of running city squares begins to mirror the perseverance needed in our fight for global justice, trudging relentless forward through times of darkness and uncertainty.
I am reminded of the initial discomfort appended to any experience pregnant with change. Traveling from womb to world. Growing pains. Confronting an enemy. Moving past old relationships. Quitting a job to pursue your passion. Confronting death. Waking up to a system that’s required absolute submission and saying, “Nope. No way. Not anymore.” Dropping old habits, products that poison the Earth. Food and clothing produced from the sweat of the forgotten. Exploit Other. Exploit Earth. Exploit Yourself.
I gather this loose kindling and set it ablaze, regaining control of the fire that burns inside me. Any temptation dissolves to return home early, to feel silly for this experiment or wonder what anyone thinks as I complete my 90th revolution around Chapman. This contemplative exercise is for me, for everyone, for all things and for no one at all.
Resting blissfully in this realization, I return to my breath…and continue.
Reaching the final lap, I playfully imagine something tripping me, a fleeing rodent or missing sidewalk chunk. Perhaps the sprinklers will turn on, signaling some celestial cheerleader applauding my effort. Maybe I’ll get speared by one of the officers dressed in yellow, clandestinely counting my laps only to foil the experiment at its last possible moment. Nothing so dramatic unfolds as I take four familiar lefts and make it back to my starting point.
Then I stop running.
With little hesitation, I find myself moving yet again, destined to complete one final loop for the remaining 1%. After all, no one is left out of this revolution. No one escapes the challenges we face. There’s no division. No Other. Just a floating vessel of blues and greens and browns, all traveling into the vast Mystery together. Together. Together. Together with the greedy CEOs and child sex offenders. Together with Chinese, Chileans and Canadians. Together with lovers and loathers, bodhisattvas and border patrol. Together with devastating earthquakes and radiant sunsets, great blue herons and scorpions, the Serengeti and the Sierra Nevada. To think our minds and hearts separate from anyone and everything is our Supreme Illusion. We are one singular unit making this work…or fail. A great revolving system taking deep, collective breaths together. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
Fiercely empowered by this thought, the last lap feels like the first.
Hobbling the remaining 3 miles back home, I return hungry, tired and irritable. It’s past midnight when I get back. I plop into my chair after preparing a simple quesadilla and with zero ambition to process the evening, return to the womb of my warm bed, haggard and deeply satisfied with the effort.
The 99 Revolutions.