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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 email@example.com 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.
It’s that time once again when we greet each other with the celebratory words, “Happy New Year!” When a new year dawns, we get to let go of the past and begin again. Of course, we have that opportunity every day, but there is something about the New Year that gives us pause. We stop and consider what we want our lives to look like going forward. We make resolutions and set new intentions.
What do you want your life to look like? What are you willing to do about it? What new beginning is calling to you?
Those who are on the spiritual path are always interested in creating a more peaceful and loving world, personally and collectively. A sure way to create a life of greater Peace and Harmony is to take steps toward living in integrity - undivided - with who we say we are and what we say we believe. There is no faster path to inner Peace.
It’s quite simple. If you value Peace, refrain from violence in every possible way. If you value Compassion, strive to be compassionate to all. If you value Kindness and Love, strive to act in kind and loving ways. If you value family, do all you can to support keeping families healthy and together. If you believe in Oneness, honor the golden rule and live as One.
This seems like a no-brainer. We all know this! But every day, many of us make choices and engage in practices that are in direct opposition to our values and beliefs. These choices often show up in our relationships and cause friction with family members, co-workers, neighbors or strangers we don't even know. When this happens, we can see that we are out of integrity and make kinder choices next time.
But there are other ways we live out of integrity that are extremely harmful, completely hidden and pervasive. Yet they are right in front of us on our plates and in our wardrobe.
Living in integrity with your values and beliefs is the kindest thing you can do for yourself. When your behaviors align with your values and beliefs, your life expands in extraordinary ways. You are fundamentally happier with yourself. You are far less bothered by the craziness of the world. You may even stop feeling victimized and petty about situations that are out of your control. Once you dispel the inner dissonance between who you say you are and what you do, you stop projecting what you unconsciously don’t like about yourself onto others. You become much less annoyed with yourself, so you become less annoyed with the world. That is the enormity of the gift of living in integrity.
Is it time for you to commit to a life of spiritual integrity? If it is, let Spirit know that you are willing to see what you have blocked from your view up to now so you can get back in alignment.
Start by looking at your everyday lifestyle. This is something you have complete control over. Learn the truth about the way your food gets to your plate. Learn how industrialized farms (which are required to produce the sheer volume of meat we eat) treat animals as if they were machinery, not sentient beings with personal interests. Learn the truth about the lives of chickens, pigs, turkeys, cows and fish (yes, fish) that we choose to eat. Learn the truth about eggs and milk, leather, wool and down, foie gras and veal. Learn how in most cases we are actually killing and eating babies. Learn about the myth of free-range, humane and organic labels. Take an honest look at the violence of the slaughterhouse. Learn about the intelligence of our animal brothers and sisters, who are so much more like us than they are different from us. Learn how we don't need meat for protein. Learn about the debilitating impact of the animal using business on slaughterhouse workers, sanitation crews, rural communities and the environment. And learn about the connection between world hunger and our meat addiction.
Open your heart and mind and be willing to see how all this is way out of integrity with who you say you are and what you say you believe.
(As a side note, your ego will come up with all sorts of reasons why you shouldn't look at these links. Did you notice? There's always enough time to awaken. Do your own research if you are skeptical.)
There is another path to be on that is aligned with your truth.
Awaken to all the amazing ways you can eat healthy, plant-based foods that cause much less harm, and tread much lighter on the planet and on the hearts of humans and animals alike.
Then make the choice that is aligned with Peace, Compassion, Kindness, Love and Oneness.
If after all that you still find thoughts inside you like, “But it’s just a chicken,” remember that we create with our thoughts. As we look out at the world, what we see is a picture of our collective thoughts – the good, the bad and the ugly. When we see marginalization, oppression and exploitation, it is because they exist in our consciousness. The thought under all marginalization, oppression and exploitation is that the "other" is in some way "less than" we are. And under that is likely “I’m not good enough.” We’ve seen the effect of these destructive thoughts in the horror of concentration camps and in the unthinkable justification of human slavery. We see it today in racism, sexism and ageism.
Watch your thoughts as they relate to others. Are they in line with your beliefs about Oneness and Universal Love? You may think they are, but nearly all of us have been trained to draw a stark line at the human animal interface. Our circle of Oneness has traditionally stopped at our own kind - our own species - with animals (unless they are our household pets) being placed outside our moral consideration. What gives us license to exploit animals for our own desires?
Nothing but a thought.
The thought, "It’s just a chicken," justifies our choice to hurt her and deprive her of freedom, her family and her life. The same kind of thought has been used to justify marginalization, oppression and exploitation of human brothers and sisters for millennia. We inherit these kinds of thoughts from parents or culture, and are trained to believe them.
But we are creative beings, not bound by the past or what we have been taught to think and believe. We can change that thought as well as many others, and consequently change the world - because the thoughts we hold about others are the building blocks of our society. Marginalization, oppression and exploitation of any group keeps those energies alive in the world. And that fundamentally isn't what we want or who we want to be.
Once again, a New Year has dawned. A new beginning is calling. You have the opportunity before you to grow in consciousness, awareness and right action. And you have within you all the Strength and Wisdom to do it.
Resolve this year to live in spiritual integrity. Look for new ways to align your behaviors with your values and beliefs. Be open to seeing what you have not yet been able to see about yourself. Be willing to change your thoughts. Be in action – in all ways and to all beings - as Peace, Compassion, Kindness and Love.
You will be richly rewarded. We are ALL One!
This photo was taken from a documentary film called, "The Last Pig."
THE LAST PIG is a feature length documentary that follows the remarkable story of Bob Comis, a humane pig farmer and his journey beyond the slaughterhouse.
"Then God said, '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
© carol saunders 2018
If you are on the spiritual path, you know it is not an easy path. The spiritual path takes you into your dark corners. It demands that you give up being a victim and take responsibility for your life. It calls you to live in integrity and forgiveness. It challenges you to love outrageously, live fearlessly and trust radically. It is the path of the peaceful warrior, the road less traveled.
Most people don’t choose this path, preferring instead to live in victimhood or domination. Certainly, not all vegans are on this path! But all of us who are on the spiritual path – if we are truly on it – are destined to choose veganism at some point, just as we have chosen the paths of civil rights and gay rights. You can fight it, but it is just a matter of time until you encounter the place in your psyche where you can no longer ignore your inner conflicts.
Inner Conflict by Christine Ogden
Veganism is a spiritual practice. Plain and simple. It puts into practice everything that the spiritual journeyer believes and professes. It is living what we already believe.
We believe in Oneness. We believe that everything is interconnected and of God. All living beings have a spark of the divine within! This compels us to not draw boundaries between others and ourselves and to not bring unnecessary harm to any being. It calls us to live the golden rule and honor and respect all of Creation. We do our best to do unto others as we would have them to unto us, because we know that what we do to another, we do to ourselves. That is because we are One.
We value Compassion and Kindness. We spiritual journeyers are people who strive to be loving, compassionate and kind. We do not want to bring harm to others, particularly the young and innocent. We tend to be passionate about social issues where oppression and exploitation are rampant, desiring instead freedom and respect for all. Our hearts are open, especially to those who need our mercy, care and compassion.
We are continually called to be Love. The love that we are called to express is Universal, not specific to those who are close to us or to those we choose to love. Jesus commanded us to “love God with all your heart and to love one another.” He stretched us to “love your enemy” and “love your neighbor.” Loving in greater and greater ways was at the root of his teaching. Buddha’s eight-fold path is grounded in Universal Love and compassion for all living beings (right conduct and right living). The first two statements in the Tibetan Buddhist Four Immeasurables are: May all sentient beings have happiness and may all sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. As spiritual journeyers, we are continually challenged to expand ourselves as Love to include more. We accept everyone for who they are, especially those who have been ostracized, minimized, objectified, exploited or maligned by our society. Real Love knows no boundaries! It is unconditional and infinite!
We understand the Law of Giving and Receiving. We normally apply this spiritual law to our finances. When we give of our supply, we open ourselves to receiving Good back. When we withhold our giving, we withhold our ability to receive. We can also apply this law to Life itself. When we give life – through our support and stewardship of and care for it, we open ourselves to receiving Life. When we take life away – for personal wants or whims, not needs or defense – we withhold our ability to receive Life. So we naturally want to not only do no harm to our fellow beings; we want to be supporters and nurturers of their lives in every way!
We value non-violence and do not want to instigate or participate in violence (unless we need to defend ourselves). We know that violence causes great harm to others and impacts the collective consciousness. When we violently take the life of another who wants to live, we give life to the energies of anxiety and fear. Where does that energy go? It doesn’t just disappear. It comes back to us. We spiritual journeyers admire and seek to emulate the nonviolent approaches of Jesus, the Buddha and leaders such as Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. They showed us the true spiritual power in choosing nonviolent options. We too are Peacemakers.
Our interpretation of the Bible is spiritual, not literal. We don’t believe that Creation was made for humankind to control and dominate for our own purposes and desires. We believe the word dominion in the creation story refers to stewardship, or it metaphysically refers to our ability to have dominion over our thoughts and beliefs. All of Creation is animated by God and all creatures have their own purpose. Our greater complexity does not give us license to dominate, exploit or oppress others. Rather, it gives us the capacity to be caring, respectful, kind and in wonder of it all. In this way we love God.
We know that with the power of our minds, we can change beliefs, thoughts, habits and patterns that no longer serve us. Spiritual journeyers are committed to transformation and evolution. We know we don’t have to stay stuck in beliefs and cultural structures that we inherited or made decisions about in the past. Whatever we learned from our past – especially beliefs and habits that limit us or cause suffering – can be changed. In fact, when we put our minds to it we can overcome anything!
All of this is who we say we are or who we are on the path to becoming.
So how is it that we find ourselves participating nearly every day in violence? We need look no further than our plate or shoes to be reminded that we do. Our food and clothing choices can cause enormous suffering to fellow beings who have personal interests and want to live. We confine and dominate them, cut their throats, eat their corpses and take their skins when there are many nonviolent alternatives readily available. We don’t want to look at this, but the hardcore truth is we oppress and kill others simply to satisfy our daily desires. It seems that we have succumbed to an unconscious habit that does not coincide with who we want to be.
When we choose eggs, we choose gassing or grinding up baby male chicks alive.
We can’t profess our beliefs in Universal Love and Oneness and sing, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me,” while also exploiting and exterminating other beings without experiencing inner dissonance and discord. That is why it is just a matter of time before we make the choice to take up the spiritual practice of veganism.
A colorful plant-based meal
Veganism puts into practice everything that we spiritual journeyers already believe and value: Love, Peace and Harmony for all. It calls us to draw our circle of Oneness wider and withdraw our participation in systemic cruelty and exploitation. Simply put, it is the spiritual practice of minimizing harm and maximizing the expression of the heart.
It is also perhaps the most significant action step we can take to bring Peace and Harmony to our world, because it is actually something we can do today. We don’t have to have to manipulate another person, group or government. We don’t have to wait for others to do it before we do. We have complete control over the decision to withdraw our consent to using animals, and we can save a life – many lives – today.
For those who have ears to hear, today I invite you to awaken! Open yourself to a new perception and make the decision that you no longer want to participate in unnecessary violence. You don’t have to change overnight, although many do. Just as with the spiritual practices of prayer, forgiveness, gratitude and meditation, you can choose to take baby steps toward full engagement. You can start by living one day each week free of animal products and expand from there. There are many resources to support you.
A Peace that passes understanding awaits! We are ALL One!
“We believe that all life is sacred and that man should not kill or be a party to the killing of animals for food; also that cruelty, war, and wanton destruction of human life will continue so long as men destroy animals.” Charles Fillmore
© carol saunders 2017
Mother’s Day is a time when most of us do something to recognize our moms. It’s a big day for brunch, flowers and cards. But is it also an opportunity acknowledge and celebrate the power and wonder of mothering itself. Every one of us came into this world through a mother. The mere fact that we were each incubated and nurtured in the biological miracle of the womb is something to be completely in awe of. Birth - while the most common activity on the planet - is also the most spectacular. With each birth a new life of infinite potential emerges into our world.
Mother’s Day is also a good time to honor the feminine and reflect on where our masculine and feminine energies are out of balance. Whether we are biologically male or female, each of us holds both masculine and feminine energies within. Clearly we live in a culture that rewards and encourages masculine energy. Our culture is all about being in action, having power and control, achieving goals and conquering new territory. As a woman who once strived for 20 years to be successful as a chemical engineer in the oil business, I have been fully immersed in this experience.
It isn’t a bad thing. But there is room for balance.
When we fully appreciate and integrate the feminine - as a society and as individuals - we will be on the path to authentic expression, unbridled creativity and inner peace. And as long as we undervalue or denigrate the feminine, our world will be out of balance – and in a very destructive way.
The opportunity to establish balance is before us. And it goes much deeper than we think.
Many of us consider ourselves feminists, or we support the feminist cause, and almost all of us deeply appreciate the role of mother. So there is some irony in the fact that most of us also - whether we are conscious or unconscious about it - participate nearly every day of our lives in the objectification, sexualization, confinement and exploitation of females. And the denigration of motherhood itself.
You may wonder how this can be.
We do it every day. It’s so prevalent and culturally accepted that it is invisible to us. Whenever we put milk in our coffee or cheese on our sandwich, we are a part of a process that egregiously denigrates mothering and the feminine. It’s hard to get this since we are conditioned to seeing milk being promoted to us like this:
I used to believe in happy cows too. In fact I spent decades being completely unconscious to what dairy really was. When I woke up, I was shocked by the reality. And yet it was so obvious all along.
All those products that I had trained my taste buds to love were derived from the milk of a mom. Not my mom, but a mom whose milk was intended for her baby. Like all of us, I had been brainwashed to believe that milk was good for me, even something that I needed for calcium and protein. Moreover, I thought that no one was hurt in the process.
But the truth is, I don’t need milk. I only needed milk for a very short period of my life – when I was a baby myself. And the milk that I needed was from my own mom – not from a mom of another species.
I had no idea how much I was hurting other moms and their babies with my simple glass of milk.
When we wake up and see the truth, we come to the realization that a mama cow is able to produce milk only because she has a baby. The first step to producing milk is ensuring that she is pregnant. This rarely happens the old-fashioned way. On large-scale farms where 86% of our milk comes from, she is impregnated over and over like this:
Female cows are inseminated by restraining her on what is called a 'rape rack' while a human arm is placed in her anus and 'insemination gun' is placed in her vagina to inject bull sperm into her uterus.
If she were a human, we would call this rape.
Once pregnant, the gestation period for her calf is about nine months, just like us humans. Like most moms, our cow mama is wired to nurture her baby when he or she is born. This extraordinary animal instinct - mothering energy - is perhaps the most remarkable and important activity that exists, because it determines the health and wellbeing of us as individuals, as families, and on a macro level, our entire planet. It is an animal instinct. And it is beautiful.
When I gave birth to my firstborn, I remember being overcome with the feeling that I would do anything to ensure her survival. Anything. I didn’t know a single thing about who she was or what she might become. But I could feel that the life force within me was wired to keep her safe, and I knew that I would throw myself in front of a truck to save her if I had to. She was just hours old and this was the clearest feeling I think I have ever had in my life. It was that way with each one of my babies.
Our mama cow is no different.
But since we humans want to consume her baby’s milk, her baby is taken from her typically within hours after his birth. The separation is traumatic. Devastating. Mama will get aggressive. She will wail and cry, as she yearns to be united with her baby.
I would get aggressive and wail and cry too (at a minimum!) if someone took my baby from me.
If her baby is a boy he will soon show up on someone’s plate as cheap beef or veal after a miserable short life of extreme confinement. If she’s a girl, she will likely be put in a very small lonely hutch, fed milk replacement and raised to grow up to be just like her mom. At the age of 13 months she will enter into the cycle of forced impregnation (can we say rape?), pregnancy, birth, and then have her babies torn from her, as she produces milk for humans. Milk that we have no biological need for.
This calf who was recently separated from her mom, will live the next few months in a small hutch shown in the background.
Can this story get any worse? Unfortunately it does.
The conditions these moms live in on the factory farm are unnatural with 90% of them being confined primarily to indoor operations and 60% being tethered by the neck. Practices such as tail docking and the use of growth hormones to induce greater milk yields (four times more than in 1950) are common.
But it gets worse, because this mama, in just five short years of life gave virtually everything that there was for her to give. Everything. And when her udders are spent and she no longer produces milk at the level that is economical to keep her alive, she is rewarded with an early and violent death. She would normally live to around 20 years old.
Goodbye sweet one.
About 10% of dairy cows sent to slaughter are too weak to stand.
When we choose milk, we are part of a machine that devalues, dominates and abuses the feminine and mothering in the most atrocious way.
We may excuse our behavior by saying, “It’s just a cow.” But the cow is a she. And just like us she has her own interests and desires to live and create family. It would be just as easy for someone to say, “It’s just a woman,” or “It’s just a girl” to us humans. And we know the devastation that can bring. This is the way we give ourselves license to do whatever pleases us with another.
It is time to stop. It is time to stop putting arms in anuses and insemination guns in vaginas for our own wants. It is time to stop confining moms and robbing them of their own children. It is time to stop declaring that a life holds no value because she no longer produces what is useful to us.
It is time to start living in alignment with our values of Love and Kindness, and our desire for Peace for all Beings. We are all God's creatures.
Today, let us rise up and make a pledge to honor the feminine, not just those of our own species but of all species. Celebrate motherhood in the myriad ways it shows up. Today let us lift up all mothers, all ladies and all girls and free those we are able to free. And let us honor and revere the power and wonder of the feminine on this Mother’s Day.
© carol saunders 2017
There are so many good options to replace dairy these days. Here are a few resources to guide you in your transition:
For a comprehensive look at the dairy industry you can learn more here: http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/farm/hsus-the-welfare-of-cows-in-the-dairy-industry.pdf
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.