"Are they praying to a Sears god or something?" asked one confused man at the sight of fifty meditators sitting in a circle in Eatons Centre outside Sears at six pm Friday, at the height of Black Friday.
The Facebook invitation for the flashmob event, attended by some former Occupy Toronto residents, asked participants to come out to the pre-Christmas shop-a-thon with their cushions to "break the spectacle of consumerism and help raise the vibration of this city.''
The idea, according to co-organizer Shawn Jason, was to inject some one-ness into the retail madness.
"We're not necessarily anti-consumerism; people have the choice to buy as much stuff as they want. The idea, rather, is to bring some peace through meditation into the hectic nature of the holidays," Jason said.
The group reflection lasted about 30 minutes and ended with the all-important "om" chant. The sound escalated, driven specifically by one woman in the middle.
"I got really into it because I could feel the love. The whole shopping gig is just a substitute for love; you can be satisfied without it," said Kathryn Winton.
Afterwards, there was talk and music. A woman with a shaved head and various piercings addressed the crowd in an open mic to reject the act of buying and defining oneself through the superficial ownership of belongings. Shortly after, a Kurt Cobain look-a-like, accompanied by a shoeless trumpet player, strummed a red ukelele and sang refrains against consumerism: "I care, not what you wear, I care, not what's in your bags."
Reactions to the meditating mob were mixed.
Some were less than thrilled. A pop-up phone booth right next to the group was full of surprised and somewhat angry sales reps, frustrated that the spectacle was taking away from their business. "Why don't they take their crazy Buddha performance elsewhere?" one asked.
Similarly, sales reps from other stores in the mall were apprehensive.
"I work in the mall, are they against me making money? I don't think there is anything wrong with meditating but you should meditate for yourself, not for others," said Umit Soltani.
A young marketing student, Scott Abousawan, declared the event illogical.
In the end, a mall security guard shrugged and said that the meditators should be allowed to do what they want, as long as they weren't in the way of others.
And for the most part, shoppers agreed. One guy in a dark blue tie and grey peacoat quipped, "It could be worse, at least we aren't in Montreal."