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.
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
It is the season of Advent, a time of soul preparation. The term Advent is derived from the Latin word adventus, which means "coming." At Christmas we celebrate the coming of a new life who brought a higher vibration of Light and Love into the world. The world was changed forever, but that was just the beginning. The baby whose birth we honor at Christmas grew up to proclaim for us: “You are the Light of the world.” And he went on to tell us not to put our light under a basket, but like a city on a hill, we are to shine our light brightly so that others may see the Good that we do.
Each year at this time, Christian faiths light candles representing Hope, Peace, Love and Joy. But they are just flickering candles if we are not doing anything to bring Hope, Peace, Love and Joy to the world.
As we look at the current state of our world – particularly as we bear witness to the egregious suffering inflicted upon our animal brothers and sisters by our human brothers and sisters - we know that there is still so much darkness desperately seeking Light. It seems almost hopeless until we remember that we are that Light. When we demonstrate Kindness and Respect toward ALL beings, choosing Compassion over killing, our Light shines brightly, high on a hilltop.
A new world and a new awareness is coming. We are creating it by our vision and compassionate action. We are creating it through our purposeful commitment to awaken the world to a more loving way of being that includes everyone. We are creating it by being an example of non-violent living in the world. Our numbers are growing. Our message is growing. Consciousness is shifting. The slumbering giant of normalized animal exploitation is beginning to wake up.
Together we are actively bringing Hope, Peace, Love and Joy not just to humans, and not just to animals. But to ALL beings.
As we walk mindfully this holiday season, I offer this Advent prayer to lift up our vision for a new, kinder world:
HOPE: Our Hope is for ALL of humanity to awaken to the Truth of their Spirit, which is authentic Kindness and Compassion, and see each other and animals as sentient individuals deserving of moral consideration. Our Hope is for ALL beings to be free; free from harm; free from oppression, experimentation, exploitation, mutilation and all other forms of violence; free to move and express themselves naturally and authentically; free to live full lives.
We know that Spirit is active and alive now, awakening Hope for a new world within all beings.
Hope by Iskander 1989
PEACE: We pray that ALL humans find inner Peace, and make peaceful, non-violent choices, aligned with the Truth of their Spirit, and in Divine partnership with all Creation. We hold the intention for ALL humans to experience healing through forgiveness of self and others, so that they may fully know the blessings of Peace and create a peaceful world that cares for ALL.
We know that the Peace of Spirit is active and alive within us now. May ALL beings be free from harm and truly have Peace.
LOVE: We pray that ALL humans awaken to the power of Love within them, that they learn to love themselves fully, and generously extend that Love to ALL beings. We hold the intention for ALL humans to awaken and dissolve the veil of separation, so that they may fully know the bliss of Universal Love and Oneness.
We know that the Love of Spirit is active and alive within us now. May all beings know the warm Presence of Divine Love within, and feel Kindness, Compassion, Respect and Devotion from others.
JOY: We pray that ALL humans be activated by inner Joy and moved to live in delight, deep cheerfulness and gladness of heart, so that they are free of self-restriction, withholding and domination of others. We hold the intention that our animal brothers and sisters teach humanity the art of contentment and play, which they so naturally exude when free.
We know that the Joy of Spirit is active and alive within us now. May all beings know the Divine wellspring that dwells within, and be free to express themselves fully as Joy.
Joined together, we are the Light, co-creating by our thoughts, words and actions, a world of Hope, Peace, Love and Joy for ALL beings. We are grateful in advance for its manifestation.
Have Faith! A new Light has come into the world. A new world is coming!
We are making it so.
His Peaceable Kingdom by Nancy Conent
“Those of us who have the light should display the light and offer it so that the world will not sink into total darkness.” Thich Nhat Hanh
© 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
When Valentine’s Day comes around it can prompt us to pause. Even though it has become a commercial holiday that unashamedly sells millions of cards, flowers and expensive dinners, there is value in reflecting on the love in our lives. And most of us - even if just for a moment - stop and reflect on who we love, who has loved us and who loves us now. We may also choose to venture into pondering Universal Love, the unconditional Love of Spirit that is under all of Creation. “God is Love,” penned the author of 1 John. The Beatles said it another way: “Love is all you need."
But sometimes we don’t feel the love, do we? Sometimes we feel lonely, abandoned, neglected, abused, betrayed or hurt. That can be universal too, a part of the human condition. Or more broadly, it is part of the sentient condition since all beings with sentience have the capacity to suffer and feel pain.
We human beings are uniquely gifted with the ability to change our world. We can raise (or lower) the consciousness of the planet simply by the choices we make, the thoughts we hold, the amount of kindness and love we are willing to give. We are that powerful.
We all want a better world. We all want Love. We all want to experience Kindness, Understanding and Compassion. We all want to feel connected. In spite of our different ideas and solutions to the world’s challenges, and in spite of what appears to be a divisive political and social climate, these are universal Truths.
The first thing we need to get through our hearts and heads is, in reality, we simply cannot control anyone ‘out there.’ We can make our desires known. We can complain. We can make requests or even protest. But we can’t make any ‘thems’ or ‘theys’ do or be what we want them to do or be. When we try to, we are looking for ways to make our world better in the completely wrong places. The world will change when our hearts change. So we simply must turn within. We simply must love more. Especially if we want more love in our lives.
It’s simple. A simple Love.
Be Love. Give Love. Accept Love. Expand as Love.
I invite you to ponder these questions:
Most of us can grasp the idealization of loving others when it comes to people who are like us. (“Love your neighbor.”) Some of us expand our love to include people who are marginalized by others, but we withhold our love from those we see as marginalizers. Some of us are remarkably able to move beyond that and grasp the idea that we must include every person in our circle of compassion, even those we dislike or who act against us. (“Love your enemy.”) But as we grow in consciousness and widen our circle of compassion to include more and more, we almost always stay within the confines of the human family.
Why do we stop there?
Why do we draw a boundary between us and the other sentient beings with whom we share the planet? Like us, they also can feel lonely, abandoned, neglected, abused, betrayed or hurt. Why do we choose to use their bodies for our food and clothing and be the cause of their constant suffering, when we no longer need to do so for our health or survival? They have done nothing to harm us. They only yearn for our care and protection.
Can we stretch ourselves and love them too?
The Buddha said, “Radiate boundless love toward the entire world!”
Just exclaiming that makes me feel lighter. Joyous. Bouyant. Try it.
The truth is, we are radiant beings capable of radiating boundless love. It is the limited ego that draws lines between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and gives us permission to inflict harm on 'them.' But there are no lines with real Love. Real Love is truly without bounds. Again, our work is to turn within and simply love more.
Be Love. Give Love. Accept Love. Expand as Love. Love yourself. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Love all beings. Do this and you will find that your personal world will blossom as Love and an abundance of Love will come back to you. And the world will become a better place.
During this Valentine’s Day week, I celebrate along with musician, songwriter and activist Moby, the love for all animals and our inner desire to protect and care for them. Watch and enjoy his new video “A Simple Love” featuring some amazing Love beings and footage from Farm Sanctuary, an animal rescue, education and advocacy organization that I fervently support.
"Just give me kindness. Just give me hope. A simple Love." Moby
© carol saunders 2017
Every Christmas, we celebrate the birth of a tiny baby in Bethlehem. Babies are born all the time! But this one’s birth narrative has been told over and over again for hundreds, even thousands of years. Whether you accept the story as literal or symbolic, it holds deep meaning. A new vibration of Love came into this world in the form of a human being… and he was born among the animals.
Art by Simon Mendez
Where else would perfect Love be so welcomed? It’s an ideal setting for such a birth. Animals are real. They have no pretenses, no ulterior motives, no images to project and no hidden agendas. They don’t blame, shame, hate, envy, lie, cheat or express impatience, arrogance, self-loathing, selfishness or judgment. They don’t hold grudges, but quickly forgive, even the most egregious of offenses. They live in the present and handle their own emotions. By their nature, the animals - who lovingly surrounded the Christ baby - exemplified the very teachings that he was to grow up and convey to all of mankind - teachings of Peace, Universal Love, Forgiveness, being true to one’s authentic nature, and the nearness of God. Most of us completely ignore these teachings today. But the animals remember.
Art by Simon Mendez
In the Christmas story, the Christ child was laid in a manger – a feeding trough likely for cows or sheep. It is interesting to note that this young one grew up to be the man - thirty years later - who boldly challenged the commercial activities of the Temple and its animal-selling marketplace. He drove out the moneychangers and freed the sacrificial cows and sheep; innocent animals used to vicariously hold the sins of human beings before being slaughtered. These were animals just like the ones who surrounded him at his birth. It ultimately cost him his life.
If we were to turn ourselves to our Light within, we too would free the animals - free them from our plates, our wardrobes, our product testing and our entertainment. Like the animals in the Temple, they are without blame, having done nothing to harm us. They are beings created by God with their own interests, not ours to do with whatever we want. “Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the peacemakers.” (Matthew 5: 7 & 9)
My daughter Madeline and Dawn Cow at the Orland, CA Farm Sanctuary.
This Christmas let us remember that the vibration of perfect Love, which came into our world over two thousand years ago, lives in us today. We hold within us all we need to create a world of Love, Peace, Compassion, Kindness and Mercy. We must start with ourselves and be what we want to see in the world.
Let us also remember the gifts of the animals - their authenticity, quickness to forgive and simple being-ness. Perhaps we will be moved to bring ourselves closer to the Presence that they themselves reveal all the days of their lives.
May the Love and Peace of Christmas bless you today. And may the animals also be so blessed by your own merciful hand.
© carol saunders 2016
Art by Simon Mendez
On the eve of Thanksgiving Day, I am moved to express how deeply grateful I am for all the people who work tirelessly for the freedom of animals. You are the angels on this planet. Unsung heroes.
For those who are on the front lines working undercover in factory farms and slaughterhouses, under the most demanding circumstances, thank you. You are doing such important work exposing one of the darkest shadows of our culture. You reveal to the world how the animals we use for our own purposes are treated. You give us the opportunity to see reality for ourselves, hold our society accountable and make better choices.
For all who are engaged in the rescue of the fortunate few animals who escape their dark fates, thank you. You are doing such important work by giving these blessed beings a free and natural life. You give the rest of us an opportunity to experience their gentle natures, individual personalities and endearing qualities. You help us to become aware and make better choices.
For all who help the animals in need who cross your paths - giving them food, comfort, shelter or a home - thank you. You are doing important work. You are showing the best of human nature to animals who may have never before experienced compassion from a human being. And your compassionate action is ringing loudly through the world and blessing us all.
For all who financially support the animal education, advocacy and rescue organizations, thank you. You are doing important work. Your generosity of Spirit and willingness to share your prosperity is what supports the movement and contributes to the evolution of humanity and the world.
For all who blog and post on Facebook or Twitter, who table at events, write books, publish YouTube videos or communicate by whatever means is available to you about the plight of our non-human animal friends, thank you. You are doing important work. Because of you our message is spreading into the world. And you give the one person who is ready to listen that day the opportunity to awaken.
For those who have heeded the call, awakened to the plight of the animals and are in the process of taking practical steps to live in alignment with your values of non-violence and compassion, thank you. You are doing important work. We all know how hard it is to change deeply rooted life patterns. It challenges us to move beyond our comfort zones. It can also challenge our relationships and sense of culture and community. But through your integrity and by your actions, you save the lives of so many animals, set an example for others for what is possible and give us all hope.
For every person who plants seeds in your daily conversations with people, encouraging them to widen the circle of compassion to include all sentient beings, thank you. You are doing important work. By gracefully and compassionately giving voice to this, over time, we will awaken the world.
I feel deep gratitude today for all the boys and girls and men and women who are a part of this movement that is actively breaking through the next moral barrier. You see the Truth - that our non-human animal friends are divine expressions of Creation with their own interests, not things to objectify for our own desires. You are in action helping our animal friends live freely and also helping people to see the Truth for themselves. You are angels. And even if the majority of our world rejects our message at this time in history, there will be a time when it will be otherwise, because of your courageous actions and powerful voice.
Ours is a movement of Love, Kindness, Compassion and Peace. It is fundamentally Good. Good for all. There will always be violence in our world as long as it is okay to hurt animals. And any move toward more kindness and less violence on our planet is good for all. Thank you to all who are tirelessly at work to make our world a kinder and gentler one.
© carol saunders 2016
"I want to thank you show my gratitude
My love and my respect for you
I want to thank you."
from Kind and Generous by Natalie Merchant
“Blessed are the peacemakers.” Matthew 5:9
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.