The holy season of Lent begins today. This season holds great meaning for some, and no meaning for others. For me, I grew up with no observance of Lent. As a child, I don't even remember going to church as a family on Easter morning. So I definitely get people who don't get Lent. Since those days, I have grown in my spiritual life and now experience Lent as a 40-day period where I can create meaning, come closer to my true Self, let go of blocks, and embrace my honest purpose. That is actually what Jesus did during his 40 days in the wilderness before he committed to his ministry (which is what Lent is patterned after).
During Lent we enter into our own wilderness to be in honest inquiry. Who am I? What is my purpose? What temptations of the world block or don't support my beliefs, values and life purpose? Who am I willing to commit to being? These are some questions to ask yourself. Take as deep a dive as you can.
Perhaps not all of us are meant to do grand things that will dramatically impact the world, but we can all be kinder and better versions of ourselves. Last Sunday, I invited my spiritual community to commit to being kinder people during Lent - to do the most good and the least harm to the best of their abilities. I invited them to look at how they treat themselves and other people, what words, thoughts and behaviors they employ. I then went further, encouraging them to also look at their consumer habits -- what they eat and what they wear. It's important to look at these things, because the choices we make every day are a reflection of what we really believe. And every day, most of us choose to engage (consciously or unconsciously) in unnecessary violence, when we could make other choices that do far less harm. Our souls yearn to break free from this vicious cycle.
People predictably react defensively when I bring this up because it stirs up all sorts of inner conflict. In their hearts they want to do the most good and least harm, but not if it calls into question a culturally accepted (and enjoyable) habit, or asks them to look beyond a culturally accepted boundary. When it does that, I look like the weird one imposing a personal diet or lifestyle on them. I am very familiar with this response, so I reminded my community that I don't have a vegan agenda. Rather, my agenda is everything that we already embrace as spiritual journeyers – Oneness, Universal Love and Peace. When we refrain from all forms of exploitation and violence, we more fully express these values. We do the most good and the least harm.
Unfortunately, it’s a far cry from how we live. We have become miserably addicted to consuming the bodies and excretions of animals, which come to our plates by cruel and exploitative means, not by Compassion, Love, and the Golden Rule that most of us want to live by. Our culture has hypnotized us into believing that violence against some victims is okay, and that nothing too bad could be happening because we can't (or don't want to) see it. Our inner most vulnerable and kindhearted nature was relegated to the shadows long ago and is desperately trying to wake us up and restore our sensibilities.
I have no idea how my invitation landed in the hearts of my community members, but I trust Spirit. Spirit works in subtle and mysterious ways and will germinate some of the seeds that I planted. They may sprout today or in a few years; it’s not my concern. In the meantime, I keep planting, which is the most good that I can do.
For those with ears to hear, I invite you to join this Lenten journey and come closer to your authentic expression. Do some deep inner inquiry and find those thoughts, beliefs and habits that no longer reflect the best version of yourself, then let them go. Commit to doing the most good and the least harm in your life and in the world. Together we can create a world that works for all beings who share this beautiful planet.
I offer some considerations below.
© carol saunders 2019
During Lent people often give something up as an act of penance, and it is usually something that is dearly loved, like chocolate or coffee. Then after Lent, everyone goes back to status quo. What was it all about then?
Another approach is to take an inventory of the thoughts and beliefs that limit or don't accurately express our lives, and let them go. It is also good to release habits that no longer serve who we authentically are. Then stay with it.
Here are some thoughts to consider releasing:
I have a right over anyone else's body.
It's too hard to change my eating habits.
It's okay to exploit animals, just not people.
Animals are here to serve us.
Eating animals is okay because we've always done it.
What only matters is how I treat other people.
I'll change when the rest of the world changes.
The difference I make is too small.
Here are some habits to consider releasing:
If you are a meat eater release meat from your diet or reduce your meat intake by declaring meat-free days. Here's a good place to start. I am also happy to support you.
If you are vegetarian try giving up eggs and dairy. There are so many plant-based dairy alternatives available today and your digestive and immune systems will love you for it. So will the cows, calves, hens and chicks who suffer mightily by this business. Most of us don't know about the cruelty and exploitation involved with dairy and eggs. Learn about it.
If you are vegan there may be something you need to release that you haven't yet considered. Some of us may need to give up hostility toward abusers, because ultimately our movement is one of Love. Some of us may need to give up feelings of futility, hopelessness or despair because the challenges we face seem insurmountable. Be in inquiry on this. Wherever you are, you are making a profound difference and the world is changing.
Check out your wardrobe. For the next 40 days, consider not purchasing goods made with leather, feathers, fur, wool or cashmere. Animals like to keep their own skins (and nature's insulation), just like we do. The process of taking this from our animal brothers and sisters is very cruel. Also look for the leaping bunny label on the household and cosmetic goods you purchase. There's no need to use animals in product testing and this label will help you identity cruelty free products.
And here is an affirmation to embrace:
I AM a powerful being, not limited by my past or culture. I choose to make life-affirming decisions and to be Kind and Compassionate toward ALL beings. I treat all others how I want to be treated. I AM Love.
May all beings have Peace.
The holiday season evokes within us the spirit of Hope and power of Love. Hope exhorts our courage to move boldly toward a better world. Love is the limitless activity in us that sees beauty, value and quality in whoever or whatever is before us, just as they are, with no boundaries or conditions. The stories we tell during this season reflect these themes and remind us of humanity’s highest potential.
In the original Christmas story, a baby comes into the world as the embodiment of Love Itself and the promise of a new Hope for all of humanity. We tell this story over and over because we revel in its beauty and simplicity, and at some level we see ourselves in it.
We are also Love Itself and the promise of a new Hope for humanity, if we choose to be.
We also tell other stories during this season that bring promises of Hope and Love, like The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. As we witness characters who dramatically transform themselves from contracted, self-focused loners to generous lovers of Life, we see ourselves in these stories too. That is what the season calls us to do – to wake up and find ways to expand ourselves as Love.
In the first Christmas story, we find the Christ baby in a cradle, visited by shepherds and Zoroastrian Magi, and surrounded by all kinds of animals. Everyone was invited and included in the celebration. It was a first century diversity fest that crossed boundaries of social class, ethnicity, religion and species. What better place for such a promising Light to come into the world! The animals added their unique energy to the celebration. Nurturing, down-to-earth and utterly free of ego, they are the perfect energetic container for a new promise of Hope and Love. If we dared to let our hearts grow, we would be able to see their inherent value, independent of our projections.
Art by Simon Mendez
Sadly, we have taken another path – a contracted and self-focused one. We could appreciate and live in harmony with other species, but instead we live in a domination system based on the mistaken belief that their purpose is to serve us. This belief created a world where every year trillions of animals suffer to meet the desires of a single species – humans. For animals it is a loveless world, certainly not one created by Love Itself. We rarely stop to question this world, but it is deserving of inquiry, because the days when we needed animal flesh and skins for our survival passed long ago. We have lost our way, forgotten our place in Creation, and allowed greed to take hold in our hearts. We are playing the parts of the miserly Scrooge, who exploits everyone for his own gain, or the greedy Grinch, who takes everything for himself because he can. We could choose instead to play the part of the baby – unconditional Love and inspiring Hope.
Like Scrooge and the Grinch, we must transform, because our current animal-using paradigm is not only egregiously violent; it has placed us on a trajectory that is not sustainable. Our global meat-eating habit causes excessive water use, destruction of forests, degradation of habitats, extinction of animal species, hypoxification of ocean dead zones, and is the third largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. It also prevents us from being able to feed our growing human population, since the majority of the crops we grow are used to feed the animals we eat.
At some point we will find ourselves in a very precarious position, not unlike that of the Grinch who found himself being pulled off a mountaintop by a hugely over-packed, gluttonous sleigh, or not unlike Scrooge who found himself being forced into his own dismal grave by the ghost of Christmas yet-to-come.
Had the Grinch remained unchanged, he would have been doomed on that mountaintop. And Scrooge would have fallen into to his dark, loveless grave. But they both opened themselves to a new birth of Hope and Love within, and their hearts grew. Love gave them the ability to see with greater clarity. With expanded hearts they could see that those they spent a lifetime resenting or debasing had inherent value. The greed that once controlled their hearts completely vanished. They found new Hope for themselves and new Love for the world. That is the gift of Christmas and the promise of the babe born in the manger.
Can we learn from these stories?
We can and we must. The Light that came into the world at the first Christmas grew up to teach us that we are the Light. We are creative beings, unencumbered by any thought system we've inherited. We have within us the ability to create a world of Peace, Harmony and Love. That is our highest potential and possibility! We just have to surrender a bit and allow the power of Love to grow our hearts beyond the narrow boundaries we have set for them. We will then be able to see the Truth – that those we have spent a lifetime debasing have beauty and value unto themselves. We will include them in our circle of Compassion and be generous lovers of ALL forms of life.
This Christmas, may the power of Love fill our hearts and may the spirit of Hope give us the courage to boldly move toward a new world that nourishes and sustains us all.
© carol saunders 2018
Note to readers: I am well aware that these are not perfect stories. The Grinch was still unkind to his dog Max, even after his heart grew. And Ebenezer Scrooge bought the town's largest turkey for the Cratchit family after he awakened from his visitations. The stories reflect the consciousness of the time they were written. I would like to think that more enlightened versions will be written that depict an animal-sensitive Grinch and a vegan Scrooge. I used these stories for this post because their themes of awakening (albeit imperfect ones) resonate with our hearts.
I recently returned from the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto. This year’s theme was “The Power of Love and the Promise of Inclusion.” It was my first time attending and I was surprised by how much I liked it. Even though both my ordaining organizations (Unity Worldwide Ministries and One Spirit Interfaith Seminary) were represented there, I went with the express purpose to staff the Interfaith Vegan Coalition booth. The Interfaith Vegan Coalition helps faith traditions bring their ideals of nonviolence and loving kindness to fruition by promoting vegan living. Being vegan is far more than a diet. It is a way of living that makes it possible for all beings to thrive and be free from harm. It is an essential step for anyone who wants to live non-violently and create a sustainable future for everyone. It is a spiritual practice consistent with the ideals of all the world’s faith traditions. This is the work that called to me because I believe it is the most important work on the planet right now.
The Interfaith Vegan Coalition booth was rarely without people gathered around it. Over the course of the week, hundreds came by gathering information and asking questions. There were many who already recognized the connection between spirituality and vegan living and were delighted we were there. Some represented seminaries and asked if we could teach a class to their students on "Veganism As a Spiritual Practice." Many more were vegetarians who told us they just hadn’t been able to make that final step to give up dairy or eggs. We engaged these people gently with probing questions, because most vegetarians don’t know (or prefer to not know) the inherent cruelty in dairy and eggs. Others came who knew nothing about us or vegan living, and we provided support and resources. These were the kinds of interactions we would have – supportive, engaging, encouraging and questioning. We were there to plant seeds and help or inspire in whatever way we could. For me it was a sacred service to the world.
I think the most amazing thing about the Parliament is that I sensed a tipping point on the horizon. Were members of the world’s many religions starting to wake up from their deep slumber and recognize that oppression is oppression and exploitation is exploitation regardless of who the victim is? The conversation seemed to be opening. With an estimated 300 religious leaders and 8,000 people attending from 80 countries, seminar themes were predominantly focused on topics like Equality, Sustainability, Inclusion, Non-violence and Compassion. These are aspirations that we know will make a better world. But they are usually presented by people who are blind to the normalized violence we participate in daily when we sit down to eat. If we were to look at our aspirations for Equality, Sustainability, Inclusion, Non-violence and Compassion through social, scientific and spiritual lenses, we would be forced to see that all roads lead back to the need for humankind to fundamentally change the way we live, eat and relate to other beings (not just human) with whom we share our planet.
I sensed palpably that this message was starting to land in people’s ears. The heavy interest in the Interfaith Vegan Coalition booth, coupled with other significant happenings at the Parliament, made me hopeful that in time, it would land in their hearts too.
Perhaps the most prominent way this showed up was at the opening banquet. For the first time in the Parliament’s 125-year history, an all-vegan meal was served. Unlike most banquets, where someone like me could request a vegan meal, this one served gourmet vegan food as its only option to everyone. The all-vegan banquet idea was conceived by Frank Lane of UnitedVegan.com who brought all the players together. It was hosted by the Charter for Compassion and sponsored by Good Dot and In Defense of Animals' Interfaith Vegan Coalition. Good Dot is an Indian food tech start-up, whose purpose is to bring plant-based proteins to India (and eventually to Canada and the U.S.) that are affordable for everyone. They provided the food that was prepared by Chef Sandra Sellani, author of The 40 Year Old Vegan. Good Dot Co-founder and CEO, Abhishek Sinha, gave a short speech at the banquet. He said, “We cannot expect the power of love and the promise of inclusion to succeed if we continue to cause unbearable suffering to billions of animals and to the earth. That is why we are grateful to the Coalition for allowing us to provide a vegan meal.” Banquet attendees left having experienced just how delicious plant-based food could be, and making the mental connection between their plates and their spiritual ideals, beliefs and values.
I was grateful to meet Abhishek personally. He shared space in our booth to showcase samples of his tasty and shelf-stable vegan food products with Parliament attendees. I found him to be a delightful and engaging visionary. He shared with me his vision of making palette pleasing, plant-based foods accessible for people of every economic level – “as cheap as McDonald’s.” He envisions Good Dot’s vegan products being distributed in the U.S. via food trucks, with a focus on accessibility to low-income communities. He and I made plans to team up and potentially create a similar banquet at a future Unity convention. I’d love to see every denomination do the same.
I also made meaningful connections with some extraordinary spiritual and religious voices in the world. Rabbi David Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland and Honorary President of the Jewish Vegetarian and Ecological Society, came by our booth with his wife. His energy was magnetic. He spoke with a direct and confident style, instantly conveying that he was an accomplished man. He is also a vocal and staunch vegan, believing that religious/spiritual people have a religious obligation not to be party to the mistreatment of animals. He shared with me that when he presents on the topic, he clearly points out that animal products in global industrialized food production are all in violation of Jewish ethics regarding tza’ar ba’alei hayim (the suffering of living creatures). While at the Parliament Rabbi Rosen gave a talk on Inter-religious Understanding and participated in a panel alongside New Thought minister, Rev. Michael Beckwith, another committed vegan spiritual leader, where they discussed the ethics of veganism.
Another absolutely amazing person I connected with was Sailesh Rao, Executive Producer of Cowspiracy and What the Health. Sailesh (who incidentally dedicated 20 years of his life to help make the internet happen for all of us) shared our booth space to promote Climate Healers’ Vegan World 2026, which is fundamentally about creating a culture of normalized non-violence. This new culture will require the establishment of a new economy based on completely different spiritual, ecological, social, economic and political principles than we have today. It’s an intriguing idea, and one I have to delve into more deeply.
Sailesh is also the Executive Producer of the new spiritually-focused documentary, A Prayer for Compassion. He held two screenings of the film in Toronto during the Parliament. In it, Director Thomas Jackson asks the question, "Can compassion grow to include all beings? Can people who identify as religious or spiritual come to embrace the call to include all human and nonhuman beings in our circle of respect and caring and love?” He then interviews a variety of people representing faith traditions from Hindu to Muslim to Jewish to Unity to Evangelical Christian, who each speak about living spiritually aligned lives as vegans, and creating a world that works for all. It’s a must-see film for spiritual communities and I would love to see it shown in every religious and spiritual center.
Sailesh Rao being interviewed after a screening of A Prayer for Compassion
Every day during the Parliament, the Ontario Sikhs and the Sikh Gurdwara Council offered a beautiful plant-based lunch to all attendees. While veganism is not a tenet of Sikhism, abstaining from the meat of a slaughtered animal is part of their code. This lunch wasn’t your typical dining experience. There was a process we each went through that began with taking off our shoes, then sitting in a chair and having someone wrap an orange scarf on our heads, then heading for a buffet line where we were each personally served by Sikhs. All diners then sat on the floor to partake in their delicious meals while the Sikhs walked up and down the aisles offering us more. The food was abundant and provided to everyone every day at no charge. It was a fabulous experience. The holy energy of sacred service was palpable. I walked away each day feeling divinely loved…and with a very happy belly.
There were more activities at the Parliament that focused on restoring our relationship with animals, vegan living, and how they both relate to sustainability and religious/spiritual responsibility. Dr. Neal Barnard, President of the Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine, which promotes a strictly vegan diet and stands against animal testing and vivisection, participated on a panel called, “Role of Religion as Injustice Healer.” Lisa Kemmerer, author of Animals and World Religions, gave a talk on “Integrated Justice,” showing how nonviolence to animals is critical to justice for all. She also participated on a panel titled, “Justice for Just Us? – Extending the Moral Circle to Include Animals” along with Candace Laughinghouse, Charlotte Cressey, and Dr. Alka Arora. Lisa shared our booth space with her beautiful traveling art exhibit, “Animals and World Religions.”
In every way my experience at the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions was mind-blowing, and I wanted to share it with you to give you a feel for the wave that is coming. It’s a Vegan Wave. It’s not here yet. In fact, it may still be far off the shore. And yes, maybe most people can’t see it. But it is there and building momentum. It’s coming. Ask yourself if you are ready to be on it. Because riding it is much more fun, more kind, and better for the planet and humanity than being on the other side of normalized violence and planetary destruction. I am predicting that many of the world’s religions will ultimately be on it. Because Compassion, Non-violence and Justice are bigger than just us.
© carol saunders 2018
I am grateful to Lisa Levinson, Campaign Director of In Defense of Animals and Founder of Vegan Spirituality, and Judy Carman, author of Peace to All Beings - Veggie Soup for the Chicken's Soul, for inviting me to participate in the Interfaith Vegan Coalition booth at the Parliament. I am excited about future opportunities to co-create together.
I wanted to share a letter I recently wrote as part of an exchange I had with a speaker I met at a conference last year. You will discern the points he put forth to me from the content of my response. I offer this as one way to share with another how essential our relationship with animals is to co-creating a world that works for all, and how our speciesist worldview upholds exploitation, the very thing we all want to eradicate.
As evolved human beings, we have a choice to live in the kindest way possible, or not. I fundamentally believe that people on the spiritual path seek this way of living, whether they know it or not. That is why I am here to do all that I can to awaken the loving spirit within.
I added images to support my message, but they were not in the original letter. Here it is:
Greetings to you!
Thank you for your complete and thoughtful answer. I appreciate learning your beliefs and understanding how you heard mine. It gives me the opportunity to make myself clearer and to hone my communications going forward. My purpose is to create a kinder world. You may remember that my original question to you at the conference was about speciesism because you had centered your presentation on eliminating racism and sexism. All of these 'ism's' are interconnected and rooted in the same thought. So, it’s not a matter of prioritizing one over another, or putting human concerns ahead of animal concerns (or vice versa). It’s a matter of transforming the thought under the ‘ism’s.’ If we don’t do this, we won’t make our way out of the mess we are in and evolve into a kinder world. I hope that you are willing to read my complete response below.
To start, I am not someone who believes that vegans or vegetarians are more peaceful just because of their diet. There are mean vegans/vegetarians out there who hate or hurt people, including the horrific examples you provided [Hitler and Sri Lankan soldiers]. Charles Fillmore would certainly have been wrong if he had written, “If we stop killing animals, we will have peace.” But that’s not what he wrote. In the Statement of Faith (the quote I sent you), what he basically put forth was, “Man should not kill animals – because as long as we objectify and kill animals, we will objectify and kill each other.” I believe that is a true statement. Because as long as objectification is in our consciousness, it will be in our world.
The Sri Lanka killing fields documentary you asked me to watch is horrific and I am certain that the vast majority of humans would agree. But the vast majority of humans justify horrific actions (abuse, maceration, bodily mutilation, confinement, separation of children from mothers, starvation, brutal killing, rape, and more) toward animals – who are sentient – every day. If you are skeptical, I am happy to refer you to tons of literature and videos. In the US alone we do these things to billions of animals, and we kill over 1,000,000 of them every hour for food when it’s not even a need that we have.
We won't have peace as long as we systematically exploit animals in these ways because systematic exploitation is what needs to be eradicated - in every form - in order to have peace. We don't want any killing fields of any kind.
Killing fields that exist today in Nepal - an mass ritual sacrifice of an estimated 250,000 animals
'Killing fields' in USA slaughterhouse lines
Right now we are immersed in a speciesist culture, to the point where your response about killing with mindfulness almost makes sense. But it’s important to recognize that we would never say the things you mentioned about human beings. That’s how we know we are immersed in speciesism. For example, we would never say, "To live we have to rape and separate children from their mothers, so it's just a matter of the consciousness with which we bring to the act." Nor would we say, "To live we have to kill babies or young people, so it's just a matter of the consciousness with which we bring to the act." But we do say these things about the animals we eat because their needs and desires are made secondary to our wants. If our lives truly were at stake maybe they would be secondary. But our lives aren't at stake because we have alternatives. The thought – that another's needs and desires are secondary to what I want – is incredibly damaging to its victims and to the world. But it's also frighteningly familiar. It is the thought under all practices of moral superiority, greed, abuse and exploitation. Regardless of who it is directed toward, this is the core thought that needs to be transformed
This is a very difficult awakening process. It is so ingrained in our social fiber that it can be nearly impossible to see. But there is hope because we are morally evolving. Human slavery was also once similarly ingrained – something that seemed 'necessary' (from the perspective of the dominating population) for thousands of years in our history. No reasonable person today would ever think that slavery was okay as long as the slave owner did it consciously. Slavery, as all human exploitation, is considered an abomination today, thanks in no small part to abolitionists who could see beyond the accepted view of their culture and speak out up about it. Animal exploitation will similarly be considered an abomination at some point in our future, thanks in no small part to today’s abolitionists.
Yes, we need to eat to live. And yes, life consumes life. But it comes down to these questions:
If we can live well without harming another sentient being,
then why wouldn't we? Why would we choose to harm
someone if we didn't need to?
In today's world (or at least our western world) there are plenty of healthy, plant-based alternatives readily available to us. We just have to walk down the street to the store. Choosing to kill an animal is far different from choosing to kill a plant. There is nothing similar in the experiences of a broccoli and a pig (or cow, chicken, turkey, lamb, fish, etc.) when they meet death. Plants lack a central nervous system and brain, which are required to feel pain. In stark contrast, we know animals are sentient. Like us, they have personalities, personal interests, and feel pain, happiness, and suffering. Like us, they want to live, fear death and run away when threatened. This is probably why in Genesis, God established a plant-based diet for humans. “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” (Genesis 1:29)
To be the highest ethical form of ourselves, why not make the choice that benefits the most and causes the least harm? The choice of what to eat is not really a personal one, because there are many, many others involved. For example, if we stopped eating animals we could feed four billion more people with the plants that we currently feed to livestock. Our planet would be cleaner with significantly less environmental destruction (air, water and land). Many of our communities would be healthier, because as it is now, low-income people who are situated near large-scale animal farms are devastated by massive feces and urine pollution. We would end the systemic suffering of trillions of fellow sentient beings who have done nothing to harm us. And we would actually destroy a lot fewer plants! I would think that spiritually-minded people – or those who truly want a kinder world – would want to do this, and then advocate for it.
If we don't include animals in our circle, then the idea that we are "co-creating a world that works for all" has no real meaning. Instead we are co-creating a world that works for those who look like us. Or co-creating a world that works for some. This is why I approached you at the conference. I believe this understanding is consistent with your message and vision.
One last thing, for 37 years I also thought that milk, butter and eggs did not involve the taking of life. I wish I had known earlier just how egregious the violence is in the dairy and egg business. It causes enormous suffering. For milk it entails rape, endless cycles of pregnancy and birth, newborn babies being taken from their mothers shortly after birth, female calves being raised without a mother, male calves being imprisoned in veal crates, and more. And for eggs it entails confinement or crowded conditions, complete depletion of the hen's body to produce eggs beyond her body's natural design, forced starvation, maceration or suffocation of newborn male chicks, babies being raised with no mother, and more. And even if hens and dairy cows are raised in the best of conditions (which some are, but relatively few), they are all killed when their 'production' no longer economically justifies their existence. Think about that. This is domination of the Feminine – the exploitation of female bodies – in the worst way. It is also complete obliteration of family structures. When I awakened to this, I knew I didn't want to be any part of it. It was a challenging transition for me, but it was very freeing, because our souls yearn to live in congruence with who we say we are.
I appreciate the opportunity to be in dialogue with you on this. Thank you.
Have a wonderful week.
© carol saunders 2018
A few weeks ago, I was privileged to be interviewed by Vegan Spirituality on an online live webinar, broadcast to over 1,300 participants and shared on Facebook and YouTube. Judy Carman, a remarkable soul and author of Peace to All Beings – Veggie Soup for the Chicken’s Soul, led our conversation. It was a great opportunity for me to share my journey to becoming vegan, and my experience being a vegan minister. I was also able to share the fascinating history of Unity and its co-founders’ practice of ethical vegetarianism. In the early 1900's, Unity took a stand on the way humans used animals, going so far as to say, “Unity opposes the use of any product that necessitates the taking of life, whether it’s food substance, wearing apparel, or general utility.” Co-Founders Charles and Myrtle Fillmore established the Pure Food Company to provide the public with healthy alternatives to meat and animal fats, including butter. They opened The Unity Inn, Kansas City’s first vegetarian restaurant, to demonstrate that people could live well on a meat-free diet. Unity bibles were bound not in leather, but in a plant-based alternative called Keratol. They published a "Vegetarian" column in their weekly magazine, and they openly taught that our treatment of animals was connected to our ability to express Universal Love and manifest World Peace. As an ordained Unity minister, I am gleefully proud of this heritage, even though today’s Unity has sadly fallen away from it.
Opened in 1906, the Unity Inn of Kansas City served 10,000 vegetarian meals per week.
On the webinar I also shared my view that veganism is the inevitable result of living our spiritual beliefs. Unity Co-Founder Charles Fillmore asserted, “In the matter of animal slaughter, who countenances it or defends it, after his eyes have been opened to the unity of life?” Like him, I believe that people on the spiritual path will release flesh from their plates and take up a more nonviolent way of living once they awaken to the unity of life. How can it be otherwise?
But what struck me most coming out of this webinar was my own personal awakening. Recently, I’ve shifted my morning ritual to include thanking Spirit in advance for the person(s) who will awaken that day and lay down their practice of harming animals. I know people are making this change every day. Somewhere there is a farmer who will choose to no longer send his pigs to slaughter and instead take up plant-based farming or sanctuary work. Somewhere there is young person who will choose to not sell her precious 4-H ‘project’ lamb whom she raised and cared for from infancy. Somewhere there is a person who will discover the cruelty of factory farming and consumer product testing and will today choose to no longer eat animals or use products that test on them. And somewhere there is a worker who will choose to leave his slaughterhouse job to pursue new, life-affirming work. I give thanks for every awakening that is taking place on this day. The world changes one soul at a time.
During this prayer time, I also sometimes open myself to awakening, and I ask Spirit to show me what I have not yet been able to see and teach me what I have not yet been able to know. It’s a bold prayer and I only recommend it if you are ready to have your eyes opened. Because Spirit will show you something that will inevitably cause your priorities and commitments to change. It's a blessing with responsibility.
This prayer was answered in part during the Vegan Spirituality webinar, because through it, my eyes opened to the realization that spiritually-minded animal advocates/activists are often in great need of encouragement, as well as a spiritual structure for living that will support and lift them out of sadness and even depression. Smack my head, but this had not been clearly on my radar prior to this experience. The people who showed up to participate in the webinar came to be inspired by a vegan pastor, because when it comes to spiritual matters, a vegan pastor is who makes sense to them. They have all experienced the stunning disconnect in church, synagogue and temple settings between religious talk about Compassion, Peace and Love, and actual behaviors. On one hand, they hear:
"Let there be peace on Earth and let it with me" (The Peace Song), or
“Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31), or
“Blessed are the merciful” (Matthew 5:7), or
"Blessed are the Peacemakers" (Matthew 5:9), or
“Put yourself in the place of others and harm none nor have them harmed” (Dhammapada 130).
And on the other hand, they experience sanctioned violence at pig roast fundraisers and meat-centered potlucks. They may also hear meat metaphors and jokes about vegans from the pulpit (yes, this happens). There is a huge blind spot in religious organizations when it comes to seeing the intrinsic value of ALL sentient beings and including them in the golden rule and the quest for World Peace and Love Universal. It’s no wonder that so many animal advocates have completely given up on religion.
Spiritual vegans are merciful Peacemakers. They are also mighty warriors because they face an acutely cruel world with courage. They don’t turn a blind eye like most people in our society who aren't willing to or can't face the fact that they are participating in cruelty to animals. Instead they bear witness to their suffering and deeply empathize with animals who are trapped, beaten, confined, skinned, mutilated, and slaughtered. And they fight for their liberation. Every day, they stand up boldly, undeterred, in staunch opposition to a majority view that can look overwhelming by its sheer immensity and ubiquity, and they advocate for a kinder, gentler world. It’s hard to keep one’s bearings and stay positive when the cultural tide of socially accepted violence is so enormous.
To put this in perspective, since you started reading this, 17,000 innocent animals have been slaughtered, and we don't even need to eat meat. This can be depressing, and spiritually-minded vegans need pastors who can lift them to a place of Hope while supporting the efficacy of their advocacy work. Today's vegans would pour into yesterday's Unity Church.
It is my life’s work to awaken people to widening our circle of Compassion to include ALL beings. And now it is also my life’s work to support the Ahimsa/Vegan movement in staying focused on the Good they are doing, and the Truths that God is Love, cruelty is not of God, and God as Love will ultimately prevail. A kinder, gentler world is coming into manifestation now through those who have the vision and are committed to manifesting it. Love, Freedom and Peace for all includes everybody. And it’s on our horizon if we work together and keep our intentions focused.
If you share this vision and want to accelerate its fulfillment, here are some things you can do:
If you are a vegan pastor, please make yourself known. You can add your name and ministry to a listing on all-creatures.org by emailing email@example.com. That's an easy step that will help spiritual vegans find you. The next step is admittedly harder. I encourage you to boldly teach Universal Kindness and Compassion from the pulpit – not the specific form that only includes humans. You can speak directly about it by making it a topic, or just be sure to include ‘all sentient beings’ whenever you talk about Oneness, Love, Peace, Nonviolence, God’s Creation, etc. Additionally, consider centering your community gatherings around plant-based foods versus flesh foods. You can promote it as a spiritual practice, encouraging everyone to reduce the suffering of animals and people, be more considerate of communities, improve the health of our bodies, and be good environmental stewards. These are all things we teach already! There will likely be resistance as your congregation comes face to face with an incongruity. They may experience cognitive dissonance. But ministry isn’t about retaining a complacent congregation. It’s about challenging people to live God-centered (aka Love-centered) lives, and to become the best form of themselves. It’s about being a living demonstration of Love and Peace for ALL, and inspiring others to do the same. With these few actions you wouldn't be forcing anyone to become vegan. You would be helping them awaken to living their beliefs. You would also potentially be creating a church, synagogue or temple that will attract a new set of very committed people, and one that your current congregation's grandchildren might want to attend.
Celebrating Earth Day with a plant-based potluck at my Unity spiritual center in Deerfield, IL, 2016
If you are a vegan activist and you sometimes needs support, or have no church/religious center where you feel comfortable, I invite you to consider joining with like-minded people in prayer and meditation to further your goals of Compassion and Nonviolence for ALL. The Ahimsa/Vegan movement will be even more successful when its vibration is high and when individuals and groups within it are consistently practicing Forgiveness, creative visioning and affirmative prayer. Judy Carman posts wonderful weekly prayers on the Vegan Spirituality Facebook page. I have some prayers on this site too. But there is power in focused group prayer and holding a sacred intention together. I’m not sure how this would look, but it’s an idea worth trying. I currently lead a weekly prayer call on Tuesday mornings at 7:30 am CT focused on animals and the awakening of humanity. This may not be convenient for a lot of people, so I would be happy to establish another call time, or support you or a group in getting one started. We could create multiple prayer, meditation and/or intention circles (via phone) with the purpose of supporting each other and advancing the movement in consciousness. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in partnering on this.
Together we are creating a new world. It will take all of us keeping our spirits high, our attention focused, and our consciousness expanding as we guide and inspire others to awaken to the unity of Life and enter a new relationship with all beings. I am grateful for my new awakening and happy to be in greater service to the vision and manifestation of a kinder, more compassionate world.
We are ALL One.
“’God is love.’ It is His love seeking expression in and through you that makes you question the advisability of killing animals for the provision of man, either for food or for raiment.” Unity Co-Founder Charles Fillmore
Note: If you are unfamiliar with the term, Ahimsa, it is a Sanskrit term used in the Hindu/Buddhist/Jain traditions. It is the practice of compassion and non-violence toward all living beings.
© carol saunders 2018
Recently our nation has been witnessing the separation of children from parents who had attempted to illegally cross our southern border. We didn’t like it. There was a huge emotional outcry from the American citizenry. The images of children – even babies – being separated from their parents were jolting. We empathized. The emotional bond of a child to his or her mother is sacred, and breaking it is simply cruel.
It’s good to notice what provokes our ire. Sometimes it startles us. When we get really outraged it usually a sign that something inside us is personally affected. Some of us have agonizing memories of being separated from our parents when we were little, whether we got lost in a store or were homesick at camp. Some of us experienced trauma in our past and when we witness a triggering event we re-experience the pain. Healing can be a long road. I am a firm believer that complete healing is possible because I’ve witnessed it many, many times.
We also have to take a long, hard look at ourselves and recognize that what happens in the world is a reflection of our personal and/or collective consciousness. It’s not that we directly cause what happens. But what we are most reactive about points us to some aspect of ourselves that may be hidden, yet seeks transformation and healing. This isn’t about blaming or shaming ourselves or anyone else. In fact, it is the complete opposite. Looking inside ourselves is our path to wholeness and the only chance we have at evolving beyond the cycles of violence that we repeat over and over again. We must wake up and change ourselves if there is any chance for us to someday live in a world free of violence. We must become non-violent people in all facets of life.
Let’s take that long, hard look inside. Here is the raw truth.
Most of us actively participate in stripping young ones – newborns – from mothers every day of our lives. Let that sink in, because at first it seems unimaginable. But every day most of us are cruel in this way, and it causes us no emotional distress. In fact, we don’t give it any thought. We may be completely unaware of the impact of our actions because we simply don’t know, or haven’t asked the right questions. But that doesn’t make us innocent. We’ve built a wall in our consciousness between what we choose to see and what actually happens – a wall that we simply don’t want to look over. And one place that wall exists is between our plates and the real lives of the sentient beings we use to get what we want.
Art by Sue Coe
Here are a couple examples. When we look at our plates, we may be delighted seeing and tasting butter, ice cream, milk and cheese. But over the wall are desperate mothers bellowing and weeping as their babies are stripped from them shortly after birth, all so that we can have their milk. On our plates, we may see and taste freshly cooked omelettes, souffles, scrambled eggs or egg salad sandwiches, but over the wall are billions of babies who are born with no mothers to care for them, half of whom (males) are cruelly extinguished as newborns (ground up alive) because they are economically useless. And that’s just the beginning, because on that side of the wall, the parents are killed too - long before they’ve grown to be what we would call adults.
Living quarters of calves separated from their mothers
Newborn chicks before males are separated and destroyed
Are we not also agents of systematic separation of babes from parents? How are we different from those we condemn?
If there is a difference it lies in the belief that violence toward animals is justified while violence toward our fellow humans is evil. Why would we see it that way?
When it comes right down to it, the emotions of animals aren’t that different from those of humans. Animals and humans both experience joy, fun, play, friendship and connection, have likes and dislikes and mourn their dead. The ways that animals and humans experience suffering aren’t different. Both feel anxiety, seek comfort, get depressed, reel against confinement, feel pain and fear death. Both sets of moms and babies feel deep anguish when they are separated from each other and yearn to be reunited. And the desires of humans and animals to live full lives aren’t different. All of us just want to be happy and will fight for our lives when we're threatened.
Can we justify violence toward those who mean us no harm, yet feel, suffer, bond and want to live just like we do? If we can, we are not the superior species.
So, here’s something to think about one more time.
When we look out into the world and find ourselves reacting with extreme fervor about the behaviors of others, at some level, we might be seeing ourselves in those we condemn. This is our shadow and facing it is our greatest leverage to becoming the loving and compassionate people we were created to be. We are not doomed to repeat cycles of violence over and over again. We can change who we are and what we do. We can peer over those walls we firmly built – walls that were likely designed to protect ourselves from reality – and honestly see the consequences of our choices, the impact we have on other beings. We can then let go of the violent behaviors we currently engage in, and find all the ways that we can be kinder.
We have the power to break free of our cultural conditioning. And when we do, we will change the world. It will slowly bend to our new, kinder way of being.
Let’s create a future where all babes and moms stay together. We are ALL One.
© carol saunders 2018
Every Earth Day I hear about the three R’s – reduce, reuse, recycle – as steps we can take to care for our Earth. Children learn about it in school. Nature parks teach it. Waste management companies promote it. It’s everywhere on the internet. While these are effective and well-intentioned actions, the R’s have always seemed a little vapid to me. It’s definitely good to reduce, reuse and recycle the tons of plastic, paper, glass, electricity, oil, paint and aluminum that we use in our lives. But for me, Earth Day calls me to go deeper, beyond committing to better manage my waste. It calls me to challenge myself (and those in my spiritual community) to reflect on and contemplate who we are in relationship to Earth and how we can honestly live in reverence.
Since the beginning of time, our ancestors told stories that illustrated the ideal human-Earth relationship and our fall from it. The creation story in the Bible is one of myriad creation stories from cultures around the world, each explaining how things came to be – the skies, the waters, vegetation, the flying animals, the swimming animals, the land animals and humankind.
In the first chapter of Genesis, all of Creation was spoken into existence by Elohim (commonly translated as God). Humankind was the last to be spoken into existence, created in the image of God – both male and female – with the ability to reflect, and with responsibility to care for Life Itself (Genesis 1:26-27). Humankind was given “every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth and every kind of fruit-bearing tree” as food, and all beings lived in harmony with each other (Genesis 1:29). Elohim declared it all to be good (Genesis 1:31).
Painting by Dan Reidel
It’s no accident that this story has been told and retold for hundreds of generations. It’s our story. An Eden-like state, where all beings live in harmony, may seem like an unrealistic and unattainable Utopia. But it’s actually a distant and vague memory. It resonates inside us like a faint melody playing under the layers of our psyche – layers that hold tight to entrenched, inherited beliefs in our separation/domination/superiority regarding the rest of Creation. These beliefs are what keep us outside the gates of Eden. Yet despite our beliefs and the corresponding actions we take against ourselves and nature, the faint melody continues to whisper deep within us, unceasing. At some unconscious level, we know it is our Truth. We know Eden is a place in our consciousness from which we feel cut-off, as if we’ve strayed too far and are simply unable (or forbidden) to return.
Eden calls to us.
I believe there is a way back to ourselves and to living as One. I certainly have no road map for it. I’m just as enmeshed in our separation culture and as befuddled about where we find ourselves today as the next person. But I know solutions don’t work when they come from the same level of consciousness that created the problem. Solutions rooted in separation won’t solve separation! I also know that what we see in the world is a projection of what is inside us – the good, the bad and the ugly. So, the only honest leverage we have to produce lasting change in the world requires us to change ourselves. This is a very personal journey to a higher level of consciousness for each of us. It’s a hero’s journey, back to ourselves.
To guide us on our hero’s journey I’d like to offer a few new R’s for consideration:
Recognize the spiritual meaning of the story. Whatever our views of God are, there is an animating force under all of Creation – some metaphorical ‘breath’ that brought It into existence. Whether it took place in one fell swoop as creationists believe or over eons as evolutionists believe, it doesn’t matter. There is a brilliant Life-force under all that is. It is creative and Good. We can call it whatever we want, but in this story, it is called God. The Earth and all life forms, including us, were brought into existence in Balance and Harmony. And we hold that potential within us.
Remember our Truth. We are created in God’s image and likeness. God is not a being separate from Creation, but the energy of it – the energy out of which everything came into being; the power that reflected upon it and declared it to be Good. As image and likeness, we are not separate from Creation, but of it. We hold the power to ensure its Goodness, not because the rest of Creation needs us, but because we are gifted with the capacity to reflect upon it and know it to be Good. Our truth is Oneness.
Restore ourselves as Love, Compassion and Kindness. Somewhere along our evolutionary road, we became uncaring and even cruel. Our belief in separation allowed fear, scarcity and the need to have power over others to take over our minds and hearts like a cancer. We neglected Love, Kindness and Compassion. Or we held them tightly and gave them life only within our personal spheres. But Love, Kindness and Compassion – all expressions of the Infinite Divine – desire to reach far beyond our personal selves, beyond our families, friends and neighbors. They call us to be loving, kind and compassionate toward all of Creation, with no boundaries, indiscriminately – beyond our species.
Refrain from harming any living being. Our separation consciousness wreaks havoc everywhere. We have invented all sorts of ways to inflict harm on others including oppression, exploitation, abuse, confinement, enslavement, torture and killing. Most of us believe ourselves to be vehemently opposed to all that, and most of us don’t harm each other in these ways. But most of us do harm animals – God’s Creation – for our daily wants, not even for our needs. We mass produce them in unnatural conditions so we can eat their bodies. We take their babies so we can drink their excretions. We take their skins for our shoes, purses, belts and coats. We pull out their feathers for our fashion and décor. We use their eyes and skin to test the toxicity of household products, medicines and cosmetics. We force them to perform for us. We destroy their natural habitats. We discard garbage that maims or kills them. We have the erroneous thought that their bodies are ours to use or are inconsequential. They are not. They have inherent value independent of us. Harmony and our original nature will always elude us while we are hurting and killing others.
Revere Creation. Merriam Webster defines reverence as “profound adoring awed respect.” Reverence demands alertness. Most of us are preoccupied with our own life dramas, the allure of electronic devices, the lives of celebrities and political leaders, and the events taking place in our minds. We walk around essentially asleep to the impacts of our own actions and to the wonder of Life Itself. When we awaken to the wonder of every being, we can see the value in every being. We can see that everyone wants to live and sing their song in their own way. From the magpie to the oak tree to the honey bee to the salamander to the lilac to the elephant to the pig, cow, lamb and chicken, we are profoundly blessed when we stand in awe of who they each are and what they are here to teach us. Every being is a gift.
Resolve to live a life of prayer. Prayer is something that has been misunderstood for eons. If we pray at all, we usually pray in a beseeching way pleading for God to make something happen. That is what separation consciousness does. It puts God outside of us. If we practice praying from Oneness consciousness, it’s a whole different ball game. We elevate our consciousness to align with God Mind, or Oneness, and know, realize, claim and declare what is spiritually true but not yet manifested. This is also called believing before receiving or faithfully holding an intention. We can know together that humanity is awakening. We can know together that Harmony is being restored. We can know together that solutions are being made known to us. This is how healing happens. From a consciousness of Oneness we can also be in powerful action – signing petitions, demonstrating, supporting sanctuaries, etc. – without condemning or judging others. No matter what we do, it is essential that we act as Love, Kindness and Compassion. Hate, disgust and fighting separate. They never heal or move us forward. And the world doesn’t need another ounce of it.
Recreate our world. Every day that we wake up to our Truth, and move from separation to Oneness consciousness, we recreate our world. Even if the rest of the world hasn't budged an inch, the change within us matters because we are all connected. When one of us rises in consciousness, we impact the whole. By our example we also encourage others to join the journey. And as more of us join this inner journey, a tipping point will be reached and we will see a new world begin to emerge.
The faint song of Eden is calling us to return. Can you hear it?
“God spoke: ‘Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.’ God created human beings; he created them godlike, Reflecting God's nature. He created them male and female. Then God said, ‘I've given you every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth And every kind of fruit-bearing tree, given them to you for food.’ God looked over everything he had made; it was so good, so very good!” The Message Bible Genesis 1:26-27, 29, 31
Note: I will write more extensively in later posts about the Hero's Journey and affirmative prayer and how we can use both these tools to heal our relationship with Creation. Thank you for reading.
© carol saunders 2018
Easter morning met me with a gorgeous Wisconsin sunrise. Bright orange and pink hues lit up the horizon. I am blessed to have tall pines in my back yard and a lake in the distance. There’s no prettier sunrise. After taking in its magnificence, I did what I do every Sunday morning - I readied myself for The Spiritual Forum and drove 100 miles to Deerfield, Illinois to lead it. I planned for my spiritual community to be in dialogue on the Easter themes of Hope, Resurrection and New Life.
We had a thought-provoking dialogue on the meaning of Easter, the transcendent power of Love and the different ways Resurrection shows up in our own lives. At the end of our gathering, I invited people to join me for an Easter lunch at a nearby vegan restaurant. I was excited to have a willing group. As usual though, I got caught up in conversation with a lingering crowd, and my lunch companions left before me. By the time I gathered my things and was ready to go, I was running late.
I got in my car and made my way to a heavily trafficked road that would take me to my destination. As I was driving, I spotted a large robin plopped down in the middle of the oncoming lane. It was a strange sight. He was upright, but motionless, and clearly didn’t belong there. As I passed, I looked for signs of life in him in my rearview mirror. He was still slumped on the ground. It just took a second or two for my mind to race between the thoughts “He’ll be fine – I’m late and need to keep going,” and “There’s a helpless robin in the middle of the road and a lot of cars are coming!” Thankfully, the helpless robin voice won my heart. I had to get to him before the oncoming cars could, so I made a rapid U-turn and headed back his way.
As I approached, I slowed my car down, then stopped in the middle of the road and put my emergency lights on. My little Mini Cooper would now be the protective barrier for both of us as I did what was mine to do. Multiple cars behind mine started backing up and drivers were honking and gesticulating at me. I guess that’s normal anywhere but it’s very normal in Chicago. Whatever. I had a mission. I reached down and cupped my hands around the seemingly lifeless bird. I held him for a brief moment; then his wings started to flutter! I tightened my hold a little, concerned that he might stumble into oncoming traffic on the other side. But I could sense that he was ready for freedom, so I gently opened my hands. The little guy woke up and flew off to perch on a bush on the side of the road. He was alive! And safe for now. I waved to all the angry drivers and got back on the road to meet my friends for lunch.
I felt good. In just a few moments, one small life was saved from impending doom. While I know he was probably stunned from having flown into a windshield, his limp body – which regained life in my hands – had taken flight. It was a resurrection of sorts – the power of New Life. And it happened on Easter!
It reminded me of a scene from a movie I had seen two days earlier - the 1999 production of “Jesus” starring Jeremy Sisto. In it, the child Jesus brings a dead bird back to life. It’s an endearing scene and not an event you will find in the New Testament gospels. But I like to think that the man who grew to embody the Love of God so purely and become the Master teacher that he became, was awake to our connection with all beings as a child. I was. Why wouldn’t he have been?
The Easter message is about Hope, Resurrection, New Life and the power of Love that transcends everything. The message continues to ring out today. Can you hear it? When you look for it, you will see the power of Resurrection at work in everyday life. It can show up as a second chance at life, like it did for my robin, or a rebirth of our consciousness to a new and higher level of awareness. Every day we have the opportunity to give a second chance at life to animals who are slated for death. We can exclude ourselves from the act of hurting them by eating a plant-based diet and not buying products that use them in other ways. We can die to an old way of thinking/doing/being and rise up to a new awareness of our Oneness with ALL Life. Love will lead us. The Easter message reminds us that there is indeed Hope for the awakening of humankind.
At the end of the day, I took my 100-mile trek home and as I pulled into my driveway, the sun was beginning to set with the same magnificence as it rose. I was grateful that I was clear-hearted enough to turn my car around earlier that day to bring a little more Love to the planet. Yes, I ended up being late for lunch, and I probably made the people who had to stop a little late for wherever they were going. But the robin lives another day to sing his song of Hope.
“I am the resurrection and the life.” John 11:25
© carol saunders 2018
Of note, I did not take photographs of this event while I was holding up traffic! I found images that approximated my experience. Thank you for reading.
Last week I lost one of my cats, Ben. It was sudden and premature. He was just 3 ½ years old. Ben was one of five kittens I spotted off the Interstate highway one brisk October afternoon while speeding by at 75 miles per hour. “Kittens!” I exclaimed while pointing off the road to the right. My husband, who was a little skeptical but willing to appease me, pulled off the exit and we ventured down the feeder road in search of what I thought looked like kittens. And to our surprise there they were, out in the open with their tiny heads poking out from the recently cut wild grass. I leapt out of the car and rushed toward them. Right away I was able to scoop up three tabbies (all with big feet!) while two tiny black ones started to venture into the deeper thicket. I grabbed one of them and stuffed him in my coat with his brothers. His twin had another idea and successfully evaded capture. But with a great deal of tenacity (and willingness to put my arm into what seemed like a badger hole) I ended up grabbing him too -- 24 hours later -- and we gave them all a “temporary” home in our garage.
What a gift these little guys were! Having just left our youngest daughter at college that fateful October morning, we were in the throes of figuring out how to live as empty nesters. We had successfully raised three human daughters. Now I was blessed with five new sons. Needless to say, we ended up keeping them all.
Ben was the adorable little grey kitten who grew to be the big, loppy, laid back cat. He outweighed each of his brothers by two pounds and was a friendly one -- not over-the-top, gushy-friendly like his brother George, but also not shy like John, elusive like Schrodinger, or skittish like Ross. He was just a likable guy. Every morning before breakfast, I would sit with the boys. And every morning Ben would be the first to come up to me, put his big front paws on my legs, pause there for a bit, and then roll on the ground for a belly rub. He was the only one who did that.
It’s heartbreaking to lose a companion animal. We lost Schrodinger over a year ago when he mysteriously escaped in the middle of winter, never to return. Schrodinger was always a free spirit. He was the one who evaded me for a day, preferring to hole himself up in the brush and attempt to survive on his own as a six-week-old kitten. He was a smart, independent and savvy cat, so he probably found his way to a new kind of home. But it’s been difficult for me every day not knowing if he was okay. Now with Ben’s passing, my heart broke open to fully mourn them both.
Most people understand the hole that a pet leaves in the heart. Most of us have experienced that helpless feeling of raw heartbreak. I was grateful to receive many condolences and sweet messages from friends and family who understood my loss. But I couldn’t help but wonder, if our humanity calls us to reach out and empathize with a fellow human who has lost a pet, why doesn’t our humanity also call us to honor the lives and mourn the passing of all animals?
Cats and dogs -- which we in the United States consider to be pets and dote over -- are food animals in other countries. Tens of thousands are slaughtered and eaten every day. We find that to be an abhorrent practice, but we do the same thing to chickens, turkeys, goats, sheep, pigs, horses, ducks, rabbits and cows. These are the nameless and faceless ones. They hold no meaning to anyone beyond their utility for human consumption.
But what is the difference really between my beloved Ben and the unfortunate hen who is killed so that her breast can be consumed by one of us in a matter of minutes? They both want to live. They both have inherent value. They both deserve a kind hand and heart.
All beings do. My heart breaks for all of them.
Unfortunately, I didn’t understand what was wrong with Ben until it was too late. His kidneys ended up failing and he passed in the night at the vet's office. It felt awful that he was alone. I wasn’t there and I wasn't able to save him.
I am also not able to save the millions of animals who, every hour of every day, are senselessly killed by the hands of my fellow humans in this country alone. And how much I want to save them all. If only I could break open the hearts of people -- so that we could all wake up, feel the genuine depth of our humanity and remember that we are all connected and we ALL deserve kindness, appreciation and love. That is my dream, my prayer, my work and my soul’s sincere desire.
The morning after Ben died, I sat down with my remaining three boys. I was exhausted from grief. Strangely, John -- the shy one who would rather rub his body up against an inanimate object 10 feet away from me while I love on his more extraverted brothers -- came right up next to me. He purred and rubbed his body against mine. Then he put his big front paws up on my legs, just like Ben. He had never done that before and he hasn’t done it since. Was it Ben’s spirit telling me he was okay? Was it John sensing I needed comforting? Or maybe John was feeling that there was now more space for him to be affectionate. I don’t know. But there’s more going on in the hearts and minds of animals than we know. They each have something to tell us, something to share, some sense of meaning to activate in our hearts.
A summer morning with the boys.
I miss my two boys. And every day I mourn the loss of the billions of animals who suffer at the hands of humans and are faceless and nameless to most everyone in the world.
We ALL deserve to live in the heart of someone.
Thank you, dear Ben, for living a good life and breaking my heart open with your parting. My broken heart connects me deeply with the suffering of others. And that’s a good thing.
© carol saunders 2018
Today marks the beginning of the Season for Nonviolence - 64 days between the dates that memorialize the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi (January 30) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (April 4). This season was established in 1998 by Arun Gandhi, son of Mohandas Gandhi, as a yearly event celebrating the philosophies of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Both of these men boldly used the power of Nonviolence in their movements toward Freedom.
For both men, the people they led faced horrific oppression by the forces in power. Oppression is a violent activity, and the human response to violence is normally to fight back or surrender to it. But Gandhi and King led their respective populations in a different way, calling them to a higher level of conscious action – nonviolent resistance.
Today we applaud the leadership of these great men and hold them in high esteem for what they were able to accomplish through nonviolent action. We seek to emulate what they taught and practiced. Through them, we know that the road to Peace begins with seeing no ‘other.’ It then calls us to overcome our tendency toward retribution, make nonviolent choices, and ultimately act in loving ways. It’s not an easy path. Gandhi and King both knew that any expression of violence perpetuates more violence; it is counterproductive. Its ugly energy compounds itself whether its underlying motivation is hate, greed, domination, fear, anger, lust or power.
But if we truly want to live in a peaceful world, we have a long road ahead of us. There are widespread forms of oppression and exploitation - which we do not see or want to know about - rampant on the planet today. In fact, we want so much to pretend they don’t exist, we have established comprehensive systems to keep them entirely out of sight.
An immense population today suffers horrific oppression and exploitation. They are not a minority. There are 70 billion* of them. At the hands of their oppressors they are marginalized, abused, exploited, oppressed and murdered. This population has no voice, and isn’t wired for violent retaliation in the same way we humans are. In fact, they are generally quite docile and completely innocent of any wrongdoing.
They are our animal brothers and sisters who we use for food.
These 70 billion animals suffer mightily at our hands simply because we like the taste of their their bodies and the look and feel of their skins, fur and feathers. If you don’t believe it, take a look here, here and here.
Most of us would be appalled if we witnessed humans being harmed and exploited in the same way that we routinely and nonchalantly harm and exploit animals. But since birth, we have been fed propaganda about animals. Propaganda is underneath all oppression and exploitation. It serves to help us feel okay about ourselves when we harm, exploit and kill others, because it convinces us that the lives of our victims have little or no value. The propaganda that we have been fed includes these ideas: ‘Animals are stupid,’ ‘They were created for us,' 'Their purpose is to feed us,' ‘They don’t suffer,’ ‘They aren’t as important as we are (so what happens to them doesn't matter),’ ‘Our bodies need their meat for protein and their milk for strong bones,’ ‘Humans are designed to consume animal products,' ‘Humans have always eaten animals and always will,’ ‘The spirits within animals offer themselves to us as a sacrifice,’ 'When we eat meat it's no different from what Native Americans did,' 'Animals live on happy farms (so killing them is okay),' and ‘Killing animals is just a part of life because we have to live.’
None of these are true statements. They are simply beliefs or ideas that were fed to us by our parents or culture.
Because we've accepted these beliefs, we have culturally normalized egregious violence against innocents. And as our human population has grown, the scope and number of victims is beyond what any of us could ever imagine. It is estimated that 60 billion land animals and one trillion** sea animals are killed as food on our planet every year, all while there is an abundance of healthy, plant-based alternatives readily available. That's an astounding level of completely unnecessary violence. It amounts to 33,612 lives taken every second. But it is much bigger than even that, because so many deaths aren't even counted.
Every violent act impacts the planet and all of us living here. How could it not? We are interconnected, and the energy of violence doesn't just disappear.
It is time to take a look at ourselves and seriously ask:
If we can live well without harming other beings, why wouldn’t we?
As we enter the Season for Nonviolence, now is a good time to begin making new choices. Allow the next 64 days to open your eyes, mind and heart and lead you to the path of nonviolent action. Gandhi taught, "Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind." It is. It is also the greatest and most noble way to live.
You can begin by taking steps to be kind to yourself and extend Mercy and Compassion to ALL others. Awaken to your interconnectedness with all Life. Withdraw your participation in unnecessary violence of any form. Diligently work on breaking the habit of using animals for food, clothing and entertainment, and being cause in any way of their endless suffering. Remember they are sentient beings, who desire life the same as you and I. Know that any action you take in this direction has a direct and profound impact on the world. You will single handedly bring the worst forms of violence on our planet down a notch. The world will edge closer to Peace. You will influence others. And you will love yourself for it.
So will your animal brothers and sisters.
Thank you Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. for showing us the power of Nonviolence. Now let's take the step we've been avoiding.
May all beings know Peace.
© carol saunders 2018
* Compassion in World Farming Strategic Plan 2013-2017
** "Why We Must Respect the Rights of All Sentient Animals" by Gary L. Francione and Anna E. Charlton, January 28, 2018
Note from the author: If while reading this post your mind has gone to the question, 'What about plants? If I eat less meat I'll be killing more plants...they also want to live," here are a couple sites to check out:
Rev. Carol Saunders
I am an ordained minister, speaker, writer and lover of all life. In 2010 I founded a spiritual community in Deerfield, IL, a suburb of Chicago, and have recently transitioned it to a weekly interactive gathering and podcast called The Spiritual Forum. Being a voice for the animals and a light for the spiritually-inclined who are willing to seriously examine the self and begin to awaken, are what Spirit has called me to be. I am here to support anyone who wants to move toward living in closer alignment with their deeply held spiritual values. Our world needs more Love, Peace and Kindness. We can make that happen. But we won't be able to until we transform some of the violent and unkind ways of living we inherited from our culture. Be Love. Be Peace. Be Kind. Today.