Three days of mostly driving are over.
It's amazing and slightly sad for me to realize that only three days ago I was in Portland, OR, where the mountains and volcanoes intertwine in the landscape and citiscape.
These long driving days are days and nights I spend thinking, writing, and listening to audio books. I spent much of the country heading Westward listening to a book on the art of rhetoric (debate, and how to win people to your point of view). But the way back, I started with some John Muir, which inspired me to no end.
If you have ever stood in a forest, on a mountain, at the tongue of the ocean, you know what it is to have words so utterly fail you. While there are half a million words (the smaller of estimates I have seen) in the English language, none of them can truly describe such a scene. It takes full paragraphs, full books even to try to present how it feels to stand in nature.
John Muir has an ability to describe the scene of mountain hikes in such wonderful ways as to bring up every memory I have had of being in the woods and mountains.
Somewhere in Nebraska I switched over to a book called Some We Love, Some We Hate, and Some We Eat. A book about our relationship to animals. I had not researched it much before putting it on (I found it at the library). I can't say I agreed with with author on some of his points, though I could at least appreciate his point of view. Mostly it was a book about logic.
He looked at our society's bizarre attitudes towards animals. How we can have a pet and still eat meat. How we can be animal-lovers, and kill mice or bugs, or other "pests." There were a number of interesting statistics and personal stories shared.
Several studies were presented showing that a majority of people who identify or claim to be vegetarian, actually eat meat, and some quite often. These folks are not vegetarian, obviously, but they think of themselves as animal-lovers enough to say they are. We are complex creatures that can label ourselves something that we are not. But these sorts of contradictions are all around us. And within us.
I do not present this statement to judge. We all have some level of hypocrisy and confusion in us.
One statistic though has been disturbing me ever since hearing it.
There are more ex-vegetarians, than vegetarians.
This is a difficult idea for me for grasp. The idea of compassion is such a deep thread that once pulled upon slightly, unravels many other things. This can be an overwhelming time, indeed! Yet, how, once one has seen a wondrous light, can one turn back and reside in a darkness? When one is freed from a cage, to give up the open field, once again for that cage?
Yes, the cage is easier. It is familiar.
But to know and experience the open field, how can a cage ever be satisfying?
Even the Bible warned the spirit may be willing but the body is weak.
I suppose many folks turning to vegetarianism can return to omnivorism because they have not looked beyond the shallowest waters of the act of not eating meat.
This is a journey. And it is easier to change course early on.
My journey is different, as is my personality, I suppose.
I came to veganism after watching my father battle pancreatic cancer.
Once I decided upon living my life as a vegan, I could never go back. To me, I have watched that other possible future play out, watching my father sit in the chemodrip, and be doubled over in pain, and finally drifting into a wraith-like shell.
I don't think any taste is worth that fate.
I also don't think that saving fifty cents more for food is worth that fate.
People talk about diets and food and use the term "cheating" when saying they have a candy bar, or a hamburger, or some cheese, etc. I feel perhaps this is the muddy swamp that can lead the weak of heart back astray. However, the damage even one hamburger does to a body is frightening. And I would like to give heart disease and cancer as little fuels as I can in my body. There was no way I could ever cheat or "indulge." I had no desire to sip strychnine once in while because it tastes good or is convenient.
For a while, this is what veganism meant to me.
All about me.
There is nothing wrong with this. However, the thread of compassion will, if tugged enough, start unraveling much deeper and bigger spaces.
As the words and life of Gandhi and Tolstoy began to be a part of my life, I had another large realization.
We must be the change we want to see.
I wanted to see a peaceful world.
That peaceful world starts with me. Sure, we are not perfect, any of us. Yes, I am not some haloed saint. I try my best to live by compassion and peace. Sometimes what I have been taught by society is hard to unlearn. Sometimes I dont realize I learned things in the first place.
But if I don't make a serious and all-encompassing effort, how can I ever expect anyone else to do so?
If I would ever have a hamburger, or a cheese pizza, then that would mean I personally believe it is ok for people to murder other beings. For I can't say murder is bad if I myself am participating.
If I believe life is Divine, and that God is truly in all beings and in all of Nature, do I have any choice but to love all beings fully? Can I really say one life is more sanctified than another? I feel this is the basic root of injustice in our world - that man says one life is more sanctified than another.
Gandhi's brilliance was in his notions that to create a better system, you have stop participating in the old one, and at the same time build a new one. A better one.
This is what, at it's very best, veganism is. And can be.
Now, this is all about compassion, justice and nothing less than the very end of man-made suffering.
I have no choice but to continue along. Forever.
With each step, attempting to purify and cultivate ahimsa in all I am.
These are my personal experiences and revelations. I can only judge myself by them.