“It is not that we love to be alone, but that we love to soar, and when we do soar, the company grows thinner and thinner until there is none at all. …We are not the less to aim at the summits though the multitude does not ascend them.” ― Henry David Thoreau
I grew up in an alcoholic home. It also dabbled in food addiction, depression and anxiety. Gratefully, my parents decided to seek out recovery and shifted the tracks and changed the trajectory of all of our lives.
The first generation that make changes to better their lives usually don’t see the real impact of their actions for many generations to come. Both my grandfathers began a recovery process later in their life, and then my dad stopped drinking when I was 6. Our house was full of recovery, yet the insidious nature of addiction reached it long arms into my adult life. I did not become an alcoholic myself, but most of my painful teenage memories had something to do with the consequences of alcohol. I stopped drinking before I lost the power of choice, yet food quickly tightened its grip on me once again.
We do not all begin life at the same place. We who have grown up with dis-ease have to fight harder to see who we are. We have to push through what we think we know to be true, embrace the expansive discomfort that is not pacified by entertainment, addiction or ideas of the future. We need to slow down enough to cultivate that fire within us that has been smothered by disease and then do even more.
I have to continue to remind myself that there is no one right or perfect direction, yet I have the power to make many solitary spiritual decisions that have the possibility to send healing ripples first through my soul and then out into the world. Each of these choices lessens the pain, strengthens my joy, and fills up that place where the symptoms of the disease used to cry out from for something real. It is now filled with purpose, love, courage, resilience, and the principles that help me slip back into my own Denise shoes and stand up tall. When I am full of that slowed down place where I can see what really matters to me, I no longer suffer, crave, or seek to simply entertain myself. It fills me up so fully that I finally see what it is to want to serve with no strings attached.
My daughters are not fat, and have no interest in alcohol and have a healthy relationship with food. They care about where their food comes from, and believe that all sentient beings have the right to not suffer needlessly. They are conscious of their actions and the impact that it has on the health of the planet, and all those living on it.
My heart swelled last night when my daughters tried to postpone going to bed by engaging me in conversation about The China Study , a (must read) book I just finished and have probably (most certainly) over talked. “Oh come on. I’ll discuss Colin Campbell and his scientifically significant studies on animal protein and it’s negative effects on cancer. We can talk about that Caldwell Esselstyn guy, the surgeon, who finally pushed the steak that was placed in front of him away, and became a vegan”. Laughter ensues…
I can laugh at myself because I know… food is my fire and it burns with me all day. It started as the thing I was addicted to, obsessed about, that disfigured my body, and held me back from finding out who I really was, but no more. It is one place that I can honor all beings through art, political action, compassion, mindfulness, education, love, and a reverence that connects us all.
I am 30 pounds lighter since leaning into a whole food plant-based way of life. No effort at all except being willing to re-learn and be awake.
I no longer worry about how much I eat.
My cholesterol has gone from 216 to 165
My anxiety is greatly reduced.
I hurt less.
I have purpose.
I feel connected.
I am at peace with food.
It just keeps getting better.
It is no longer just about me and my health. Instead it is becoming we, and what is best for us all.
“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”
― Albert Schweitzer
The last pictures will be ours. All of us, doing the thing we love that truly leaves the world a better place.
I know I am adding my name.
It is not despite our problems, but because of them that our hearts hold everything we need to be joyful.” Taro Gold
After spending sometime with the goats and chickens yesterday, I began feeling like a disgruntled corn crib owner. All I could see were all of the problems, and began picturing everyone else’s perfect barns. I don’t really know who these perfect barn owners are, but I know their barns are better than mine. My thoughts quickly spiraled off into images of Animal Welfare folks coming down the driveway with their take-em-away truck because they had gotten wind of the goat turds that are intermittently found floating in water buckets and hiding in baking soda dispensers.
I suppose it could be all of those farm magazines I read… If someone was coming to my house to write a story about my farm, I guess I would scrub that sucker down too, put diapers on all of the chickens and goats, and maybe replace the chicken feed bags that keep the wind out with a real tarp. My barn would probably look pretty darn good, in kind of an Ozarks- hillbilly sort of way.
Now, let’s rewind things a bit, to an important memory.
I could barely take it all in when my daughters and I drove up the long driveway to the old farmhouse on 1500 acres of land, and there it was… the little red barn within walking distance of the house. At the time, I knew nothing about corn cribs, so it was a barn to me. We looked at the house and I was giddy, but not as giddy as when the gentleman told me that the corn crib was apart of the agreement. He slid open the heavy old door and I could do nothing but grin. It was a real old barn with its rafters full of spider webs and the sun shining and wind blowing through the broken panes of glass of the four square windows. My senses overloaded with joy. It’s almost like I could see the chickens roosting in the rafters and the goats bedded down together in the golden straw. It was perfectly imperfect.
This memory began flickering as I was contemplating my barn dilemma at the kitchen table. At that same moment, the mailman drove up our driveway, and hopped out with a package. In that package was a book from a friend titled, Living Wabi Sabi by Taro Gold. There sat in front of me a book about an ancient Japanese Buddhist philosophy centering around “…the oddities, the perfectly imperfect uniqueness of you and me and everything…the value of objects, events, and the entirety of life “as is” unpolished, unpredictable, and natural.” It is a book about the empowerment of imperfection.
The book begins with the author’s grandma telling him, ” You will grow to be even happier than you can possibly imagine today.” She was right. After reading the book that same morning, I felt tremendous joy about who I am and the life that I am living.
There is so much beauty in everything that is imperfect, including you and me. The broken window at the peak of barn is like my anxiety, or the open slats that have to be covered to keep the wind out are like my imperfect body, or the never-ending shit that is everywhere, and I mean everywhere (please be careful where you put your hand) is like the poo of life that just won’t go away no matter how much you try to scrub it. Scrape away one giant pile of frozen shit one day, undoubtedly there will be a new one soon there after.
I guess the more I love and accept my Wabi Sabi corn crib, the more I can love my Wabi Sabi self.
I am including a video of a group of people in Paraguay, South America that seems to embody the Wabi Sabi philosophy. It’s so beautifully imperfect.
“What is the nature of this degeneration in our civilization and why has it come about? . . The disastrous feature of our civilization is that it is far more developed materially than spiritually. Its balance is disturbed . . . Now come the facts to summon us to reflect. They tell us in terribly harsh language that a civilization which develops only on its material side, and not in the sphere of the spirit . . . heads for disaster.
The ethic of Reverence for Life prompts us to keep each other alert to what troubles us and to speak and act dauntlessly together in discharging the responsibility that we feel. It keeps us watching together for opportunities to bring some sort of help to animals in recompense for the great misery that men inflict upon them, and thus for a moment we escape from the incomprehensible horror of existence.
I must interpret the life about me as I interpret the life that is my own. My life is full of meaning to mc. The life around me must be full of significance to itself. If I am to expect others to respect my life, then I must respect the other life I see, however strange it may be to mine. And not only other human life, but all kinds of life: life above mine, if there be such life; life below mine, as I know it to exist. Ethics in our Western world has hitherto been largely limited to the relations of man to man. But that is a limited ethics. We need a boundless ethics which will include the animals also.
A man is really ethical only when he obeys the constraint laid on him to aid all life which he is able to help, and when he goes out of his way to avoid injuring anything living. He does not ask how far this or that life deserves sympathy as valuable in itself, nor how far it is capable of feeling. To him life as such is sacred If he goes out into the street after a rainstorm and sees a worm which has strayed there, he reflects that it will certainly dry up in the sunshine if it does not quickly regain the damp soil into which it can creep, and so he helps it back from the deadly paving stone into the lush grass. Should he pass by an insect which has fallen into a pool, he spares the time to reach a leaf or stalk on which it may clamber and save itself.
The man who has become a thinking being feels a compulsion to give every will-to-live the same reverence for life that he gives to his own. He experiences that other life in his own.
The thinking man must oppose all cruel customs no matter how deeply rooted in tradition and surrounded by a halo. When we have a choice, we must avoid bringing torment and injury into the life of another, even the lowliest creature; to do so is to renounce our manhood and shoulder a guilt which nothing justifies.
It is the fate of every truth to be an object of ridicule when it is first acclaimed. It was once considered foolish to suppose that black men were really human beings and ought to be treated as such. What was once foolish has now become a recognized truth. Today it is considered as exaggeration to proclaim constant respect for every form of life as being the serious demand of a rational ethic. But the time is coming when people will be amazed that the human race existed so long before it recognized that thoughtless injury to life is incompatible with real ethics. Ethics is in its unqualified form extended responsibility to everything that has life.”
Dr Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) 1952 Nobel Peace Prize Winner
I was once a little girl who woke on rainy days thinking of the worms that needed to be saved. I also spent a great deal of time feeling ashamed of those thoughts and my deep suffering for the mistreatment of animals. If I were to speak of the atrocities of Auschwitz or the horrifying slaughter of Rwandan’s, that would be deemed culturally acceptable to be grieved and protested. Yet, if I brought up the topic of factory farming, and my unrelenting grief for all of the tortured and suffering animals, I would be called extreme. How dare I even compare the human suffering of concentration camps with those of pigs, cows and chickens? How dare I? I dare today because I believe with all of my heart that it is all connected and if we can justify one atrocity, then we can justify another. Until we take a closer look at how each of our actions or inaction profoundly affect all living beings, we will stay stuck in a world that accepts the harassment and murder of innocent black men, underpaid women in the workforce, rich and poor schools, technology that infringes on morality or religion as a justification for war.
In our culture today, being conscious takes effort, sacrifice and a willingness to be inconvenienced. Yet as our collective consciousness continues to grow, it will become much easier to be awake to all of the lives around us. Our choices in commerce, agriculture, education, government, etc.. will be simplified by our common commitment to the respect of all living beings.
“. . . .how and what we eat determines to a great extent the use we make of the world–and what is to become of it. To eat with a fuller consciousness of all that is at stake might sound like a burden, but in practice few things in life afford quite as much satisfaction.”
― Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
A few weeks ago, I checked out a vegan cookbook from the library called The Oh She Glows Cookbook. I have never been a huge fan of cookbooks, until now. My family has followed several of the recipes in Angela Liddon’s book, and have been delighted with the results. Our first was the Taco Fiesta Potato Crisps. Yum, yum, yum. The Cashew Sour Cream that topped the potatoes and the walnut taco meat was amazing.
Last night, I made a vegan double-layer chocolate coconut cake. Being that it was first cake I had ever made from scratch, it was surprising to hear my daughter and husband proclaim it was one of the best cakes they have ever had…ranked a 9 out of 10! My husband would have chosen to skip the avocado chocolate frosting, but it was worth the feeling of culinary adventurism. It was so satisfying to see it all come together, sit down with my family, a good British saga and enjoy a slice of conscious cake.
Cooking has become mindfulness, politics, art, love, redemption, spirituality, acceptance, knowledge, and compassion. Each time we sit down to a meal, we are given the opportunity to affirm our deep connection to all living beings and the Earth. It is the place where all of us can become one, if we choose to be awake. It doesn’t matter if we are sitting down to a meal as a vegetarian, vegan, or omnivore; what matters are the stirrings of compassion and love being recognized and embraced for the millions of lives that are touched from farm to plate.
We are metaphorically and sometimes literally taking the body and blood of the souls who live on this planet each time we bring food to our mouth. Are we eating pain, suffering and greed or equality, love, fairness and compassion?
Let us take us stand for being awake, sometimes inconvenienced, and always connected to the power of the pain and the love that surrounds us. We can make this a better place for everyone.
“We are not unlike a particularly hardy crustacean. . . With each passage from one stage of human growth to the next we, too, must shed a protective structure. We are left exposed and vulnerable — but also yeasty and embryonic again, capable of stretching in ways we hadn’t known before. These sheddings may take several years or more. Coming out of each passage, though, we enter a longer and more stable period in which we can expect relative tranquility and a sense of equilibrium regained.”Gail Sheehy
“To be kind, honest and have positive thoughts; to forgive those who harm us and treat everyone as a friend; to help those who are suffering and never to consider ourselves superior to anyone else: even if this advice seems rather simplistic, make the effort of seeing whether by following it you can find greater happiness.”
― 14th Dalai Lama
There really is something so magical about planting a seed. Such a simple act that can have such a profound impact. That tiny plant that breaks it way through the darkness, searching for the light of the sun has the ability to nourish both our bodies and our souls.
Each new year when I find myself kneeling in the dirt, patting the earth around a newly transplanted seedling, I am struck with a tremendous sense of awe. I dropped that tiny seed into the dirt months before in the warmth of my kitchen, gently covering it up with soil, sprinkling it with water and again… not quite believing that it will really come to be. Yet just after I have busied myself enough to forget that I was waiting, I receive my first glimpse of renewed hope and inspiration emerging from the dirt.
“NEVER GIVE UP
No matter what is going on
Never give up
Develop the heart
Too much energy in your country
Is spent developing the mind
Instead of the heart
Not just to your friends
But to everyone
Work for peace
In your heart and in the world
Work for peace
And I say again
Never give up
No matter what is going on around you
Never give up”
― 14th Dalai Lama
“Society does not want individuals that are alert, keen, revolutionary, because such individuals will not fit into the established social pattern and they may break it up. That is why society seeks to hold your mind in its pattern and why your so called education encourages you to imitate, to follow, to conform” ~ Krishnamurti“
This past week, I made the decision to become a vegan. I have always dabbled in the idea of letting go of animal products, but I never quite got there. There were times that I called myself vegetarian, but continued to eat fish, eggs, and a ton of dairy products. Most recently, I was trying to make sure that I only consumed dairy products and meat that were from organic farms that cared about animal welfare.
It just so happened that the same week I was contemplating why I felt bad every time I ate cheese, drank milk, or occasionally dabbled in flesh, I was sent a link to something called The Food Revolution Summit. For the past week I have listened to doctors, lawyers, nutritionist, celebrities, and activists that believe that what we put on our fork is one of the single most important decisions that we make everyday. Everything that I heard resonated with me and filled me with a new conviction to quit putting my head partially in the sand, and stand up for my health, our children’s health, animal welfare and world health. Our food choices reach into every part of life as a whole, and so many answers to suffering begin and end with what we choose to eat.
Did you know that there are places in the world where cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes are almost non-existent? I didn’t until this week. I have heard many say that veganism is extreme or fanatical, but when I look at our culture, I ask, “What is extreme?”. Simply taking out animal products, or reducing them significantly and being mindful of where our food and the animals come from and how they were treated seems a lot less extreme than the doctor’s visits, pills, emergency rooms stays, surgeries, stints, bi-pass surgeries, etc….
I believe so whole heartedly in balance and connecting with what is good in the world, which can be a very difficult task to manage. To slow down enough to really take a look at what is going on, embrace being inconvenienced, feel proud of being a little less individually rich because we pay what we should for ethically grown and sourced food, to not waste the great privilege some of us have to be a mindful consumer and then to find out how we can best stand up for all of us, including those who do not have the privilege of choice.
I grieve for the state of our world right now, but I feel such hope after joining hundreds of thousands of others souls during the food summit who are also taking action to heal themselves and the world.
Peace be with all of us.
“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
― Benjamin Franklin
Some days, trying to be what I want the world to be in my own little world does not quite feel like enough. Some days, I believe we need to be al little more like Senator Sanders, and stand up and be outraged by the inequity and corruption that are among us. This video below makes me grateful for those people who choose to truly serve the people instead of the corporations.
Oh, and if you decide to watch the video, are you as embarrassed for those folks on the panel (except for that one guy) as I am?
“It’s easy to get lost in our own heads. It’s easy to allow the thoughts and worries and plans and hopes to take on their own lives and control our minds in such a way that we lose sight of all that’s around us in any given moment. It’s difficult to allow those thoughts and problems to take a back seat in our lives in order to be completely aware of what’s right here, right now. Perhaps there’s a person who really could use you to take a couple of moments to pay attention to him or her; perhaps there’s a cool autumn breeze that’s going to calm your spirit with its amazing touch–but only if you actually notice it.”
― Tom Walsh