I had the opportunity to teach yoga over the weekend at a fundraiser for a local farm animal sanctuary. It was an experience I’ll never forget. I had my toes nibbled on by a pig. I pet a horse named Rebel who follows people around like a dog. I did the yoga “table-top” pose while being watched by a chicken with no fear of slaughter – like, he was seriously just enjoying life with the feeling of safety we all desire. We all long to live our lives freely if not faced with “others” who think our lives are meaningless.
I stopped eating animals over seven years ago after attending a half-day compassion retreat at my Buddhist meditation center here in Atlanta. I had gone back and forth about eating animals after doing a case study on the “meatpacking” industry in 1999 when I was working on my MBA. It took a really long time for me to change. It wasn’t that I couldn’t find delicious vegetarian food if I looked for it. Changing my food wasn’t the challenge. Changing my mind was the beast.
I realize that throughout my entire life a multi-billion dollar conglomerate had been working on my mind, telling me what was healthy and what to believe. Milk does a body good. The incredible edible egg. A chicken in every pot. In my Brooklyn elementary school luke-warm cartons of milk were handed out like leftover candy. A Happy Meal showed love. I wanted to find the toys at the bottom of the sugary cereal box and splash cow’s milk all over it while watching Saturday morning cartoons with commercials telling me to get more. These messages were received in my formative years. It took a long time for me to understand it wasn’t by accident – It was a meticulously calculated strategy.
I worked in marketing in my twenties and learned that commercials are designed to bypass our conscious mind. We find ourselves wanting things without even realizing that we’ve been sold. I remember thinking commercials didn’t influence me even as I purchased what they had programmed within me.
Media is intensely powerful.
Remember The Matrix?
I don’t feel responsible for being brainwashed. We all have been. I just want to fall short of Stockholm Syndrome. Don’t fall in love with the perpetrator of the crime.
When I first went vegetarian I became acutely aware of our meat-laden culture. And, honestly, I hate the word “meat.” A cow or pig or chicken isn’t any more meat than me, you or my sweet pup, Cooper. (You can follow him on Instagram at vegan_cavachon.) Virtually every eatery is pushing death – the burger joint, the chicken place, the steakhouse, the seafood restaurant. I know for me, growing up, if there wasn’t a dead animal on my plate it wasn’t a meal. Now, after 51 years on this 3rd planet from the sun, I wonder about the word. Who decided what is “meat?”
How do we take a sentient, living, breathing person and convert them into an inanimate object? Meat, bacon, pork, sausage and beef are all inanimate “foods.” Animals, people, you and I are REAL. We all MATTER, even if some folks don’t think so.
Human beings have been objectified countless times throughout history. Women and men are still reduced to our body parts when an oppressor believes it’s fitting. Nobody wants to be oppressed. But how can you ask for FREEDOM if you are also an oppressor? This question was a part of the dichotomy of the civil rights movement of the sixties when black women wanted freedom from their men while still supporting the efforts of emancipation from the white establishment.
I remember working up my compassion to the point where, instead of killing a bug, I would slide a paper under it, put a cup over it and take it outside. One day I did this, then I sat down next to my beloved miniature Schnauzer, Digby, and ate a chicken dinner. Thankfully, I had a breakthrough, and this stopped making sense to me. I saved the bug, loved the dog and ate the chicken. Cognitive dissonance at its finest. I could have ignored it, but it was years in the making – I felt ridiculous.
Even when I gave birth to my own daughter at the age of 32, I had to fight to make sure she got milk from me and not the mother of an abused, unknown calf. I didn’t care about the calf then, but I had a glimpse of the health benefits of babies drinking the milk of their own mothers, of their own species.
My thought today is, who has programmed you? Do you like the Matrix? Do you have Stockholm Syndrome? Do you even care? And, of course, are you happy? Is your head in the sand? It’s really hard to be self-actualized, that level of profound personal happiness and self-realization when you’re oppressing others, even a chicken.
I’m going to see the film, “Harriet,” on Friday. I wonder who are the abolitionists of our times?
When I go to sleep at night, I believe I’m on the right side of history, and I still don’t always sleep well. Pharmaceutical companies are making billions of dollars on our restless minds, poor health and cognitive dissonance. Are you an enabler?
You are separate from the machine. You are thoughtful and beautiful. Let your inner light shine on others, even the least of us.
I wish you all Freedom, Alignment and Effortless Abundance!
P.S. If you’re curious about a vegan lifestyle, I highly recommend, “The GameChangers,” available on NetFlix. It highlights world-class athletes who subscribe to a plant-based lifestyle. If you want to visit a really fun animal sanctuary and experience the incredibly grounding power of connecting with other species, visit freedomacresrescue.com. It’s called “animal therapy” for a reason. You have to experience it to believe it. The photo is from my yogis at Freedom Acres on Saturday. Namaste folks!