David went to the last conference on Sunday. The Baby was sleeping and so I stayed at home. It turned out to be about ahimsa and vegetarianism
I became vegetarian on my 8th birthday. I am blessed with very patient and understanding parents and they spent the rest of my childhood cooking extra tofu or beans on the side for me. When I went to university, I began eating meat again. I stopped when I moved back to Toronto. Interestingly enough, I think of my university days as some of the most unhappy times in my life. I was away from my family, a little sad and lonely – trying to figure myself out, and I ate meat, drank and smoked.
I do really believe that the reason I fell into Ashtanga – and not say Bikram, where eating meat and wearing leather is Ok – was to put me in touch with other vegetarians and create a vegetarian community. Being vegan is the single most important lifestyle choice I have made. It is also easily the most important part of my practice.
There are many parts of the practice that can make it challenging for my body and my ego. Waiting in the vestibule to be called in sometimes really bugs me. I often feel itchy and irritated when I don’t get new poses that I think I deserve. And then there is the usual thought garbage that comes up during practice: envy, competitiveness, anger, weird mat-territorialism, self-pity. I can make these feelings about the teacher: Why doesn’t he notice me?; the students around me, “How come she gets that pose and I don’t.”; or myself, “I just had a baby, my body is so broken.” Sometimes these feelings lead me to thinking I should quit, get up and leave and take up running or something where I don’t have to deal with other people in the room, the teacher, the tradition blah blah. I do truly believe that this is part of the process and an integral piece of the practice.
In this blog, I like to explore the things that come up in my meditation – and I know it is about me, my own issues, and not about Sharath or the person practicing next to me.
I have been thinking about this a lot in terms of veganism, because the tradition advocates dairy consumption as well as the practice of ahimsa (non-violence), and I don’t feel the two are compatible. This is one instance where after some reflection – I don’t believe it is about my own neurosis getting in the way of my practice or listening to my teacher.
Sharath told students at conference to eat ghee as part of a healthy vegetarian diet. He said that calves were given the milk first and the rest was used for human consumption. He also mentioned an organization in India that is working towards having no cows slaughtered in the country. I had several conversations with friends in India, who told me that drinking milk in India is different than drinking milk in the West because the cows are treated fairly and can roam the streets, eat what they please and generally be free.
To be totally honest, those conversations and the teachings from Sharath really aggravate me. There are a billion people in India. If you seriously believe that there are no factory farms in that country then you are, frankly, deluded. I think it is one thing to drink milk and say, “Yeah I drink milk – I participate in this.” It is another to pretend that the few cows you see wondering around Mysore are supplying the milk in your chai. They aren’t. And before that milk was extracted, it certainly wasn’t given to a calf. As lovely a story as that may be. Having had some personal experience with this, mammals tend to give birth to males as well as females. And while I see quite a few mama cows around town in Mysore, I see very few grown boys. Whether you sell the male cows to Muslims or Christians to slaughter them in India, or take them out of the country and slaughter them in Pakistan or whereever – it seems the outcome is pretty much the same. The cows are not free, their lives are short and brutal if they had the misfortune of being male; long, confined and painful if they are female.
Often people complain to me that fake meat or soy is not healthy for your body and that it would be better for you just to eat butter or free-range chicken or whatever. And while I am obsessed with digestion, and I know that those fake meats and margarine are pure garbage (and I choose not to eat them most of the time), I would rather eat garbage than participate in the industrial farming of animals.
The separation between animals and us is dangerous because it leads to other “us” and “them” thinking. I believe it changes the level of compassion and understanding we have towards other humans. If there are a group of living things that don’t deserve to be happy or free why should that be limited to the non-human variety of beings?
My type of animal activism is certainly the Farm Sanctuary variety. I like to pet the cows and make the connection to their sentience from their heroic rescue stories. I choose veganism because I can only imagine the hideous and brutal treatment animals receive in factory farms. I usually can’t watch insider footage of those farms because it is much worse and more inhumane than I can even fathom. It makes me feel hopeless and angry, but I know it works for some folks.
Here is the link to Earthlings, you can click and view if you are interested. The movie documents the way we use animals as pets, clothing, food, and entertainment. The site streams the whole movie as well as the trailer. I personally couldn’t make it through the trailer without crying, shrieking and hiding my face in my sweater. It is extremely violent and disturbing. It is probably a good view if you do decide to eat or use animal products. Ultimately, this is a personal choice and knowing what you are supporting is an important part of that choice. I choose to drive a car and buy plastic, and knowing some of things happening in Libya make this decision pretty uncomfortable for me. I suppose it is mine to live with and hopefully I can strive to make better choices in the future.