Recently our nation has been witnessing the separation of children from parents who had attempted to illegally cross our southern border. We didn’t like it. There was a huge emotional outcry from the American citizenry. The images of children – even babies – being separated from their parents were jolting. We empathized. The emotional bond of a child to his or her mother is sacred, and breaking it is simply cruel.
It’s good to notice what provokes our ire. Sometimes it startles us. When we get really outraged it usually a sign that something inside us is personally affected. Some of us have agonizing memories of being separated from our parents when we were little, whether we got lost in a store or were homesick at camp. Some of us experienced trauma in our past and when we witness a triggering event we re-experience the pain. Healing can be a long road. I am a firm believer that complete healing is possible because I’ve witnessed it many, many times.
We also have to take a long, hard look at ourselves and recognize that what happens in the world is a reflection of our personal and/or collective consciousness. It’s not that we directly cause what happens. But what we are most reactive about points us to some aspect of ourselves that may be hidden, yet seeks transformation and healing. This isn’t about blaming or shaming ourselves or anyone else. In fact, it is the complete opposite. Looking inside ourselves is our path to wholeness and the only chance we have at evolving beyond the cycles of violence that we repeat over and over again. We must wake up and change ourselves if there is any chance for us to someday live in a world free of violence. We must become non-violent people in all facets of life.
Let’s take that long, hard look inside. Here is the raw truth.
Most of us actively participate in stripping young ones – newborns – from mothers every day of our lives. Let that sink in, because at first it seems unimaginable. But every day most of us are cruel in this way, and it causes us no emotional distress. In fact, we don’t give it any thought. We may be completely unaware of the impact of our actions because we simply don’t know, or haven’t asked the right questions. But that doesn’t make us innocent. We’ve built a wall in our consciousness between what we choose to see and what actually happens – a wall that we simply don’t want to look over. And one place that wall exists is between our plates and the real lives of the sentient beings we use to get what we want.
Art by Sue Coe
Here are a couple examples. When we look at our plates, we may be delighted seeing and tasting butter, ice cream, milk and cheese. But over the wall are desperate mothers bellowing and weeping as their babies are stripped from them shortly after birth, all so that we can have their milk. On our plates, we may see and taste freshly cooked omelettes, souffles, scrambled eggs or egg salad sandwiches, but over the wall are billions of babies who are born with no mothers to care for them, half of whom (males) are cruelly extinguished as newborns (ground up alive) because they are economically useless. And that’s just the beginning, because on that side of the wall, the parents are killed too - long before they’ve grown to be what we would call adults.
Living quarters of calves separated from their mothers
Newborn chicks before males are separated and destroyed
Are we not also agents of systematic separation of babes from parents? How are we different from those we condemn?
If there is a difference it lies in the belief that violence toward animals is justified while violence toward our fellow humans is evil. Why would we see it that way?
When it comes right down to it, the emotions of animals aren’t that different from those of humans. Animals and humans both experience joy, fun, play, friendship and connection, have likes and dislikes and mourn their dead. The ways that animals and humans experience suffering aren’t different. Both feel anxiety, seek comfort, get depressed, reel against confinement, feel pain and fear death. Both sets of moms and babies feel deep anguish when they are separated from each other and yearn to be reunited. And the desires of humans and animals to live full lives aren’t different. All of us just want to be happy and will fight for our lives when we're threatened.
Can we justify violence toward those who mean us no harm, yet feel, suffer, bond and want to live just like we do? If we can, we are not the superior species.
So, here’s something to think about one more time.
When we look out into the world and find ourselves reacting with extreme fervor about the behaviors of others, at some level, we might be seeing ourselves in those we condemn. This is our shadow and facing it is our greatest leverage to becoming the loving and compassionate people we were created to be. We are not doomed to repeat cycles of violence over and over again. We can change who we are and what we do. We can peer over those walls we firmly built – walls that were likely designed to protect ourselves from reality – and honestly see the consequences of our choices, the impact we have on other beings. We can then let go of the violent behaviors we currently engage in, and find all the ways that we can be kinder.
We have the power to break free of our cultural conditioning. And when we do, we will change the world. It will slowly bend to our new, kinder way of being.
Let’s create a future where all babes and moms stay together. We are ALL One.
© carol saunders 2018
Every Earth Day I hear about the three R’s – reduce, reuse, recycle – as steps we can take to care for our Earth. Children learn about it in school. Nature parks teach it. Waste management companies promote it. It’s everywhere on the internet. While these are effective and well-intentioned actions, the R’s have always seemed a little vapid to me. It’s definitely good to reduce, reuse and recycle the tons of plastic, paper, glass, electricity, oil, paint and aluminum that we use in our lives. But for me, Earth Day calls me to go deeper, beyond committing to better manage my waste. It calls me to challenge myself (and those in my spiritual community) to reflect on and contemplate who we are in relationship to Earth and how we can honestly live in reverence.
Since the beginning of time, our ancestors told stories that illustrated the ideal human-Earth relationship and our fall from it. The creation story in the Bible is one of myriad creation stories from cultures around the world, each explaining how things came to be – the skies, the waters, vegetation, the flying animals, the swimming animals, the land animals and humankind.
In the first chapter of Genesis, all of Creation was spoken into existence by Elohim (commonly translated as God). Humankind was the last to be spoken into existence, created in the image of God – both male and female – with the ability to reflect, and with responsibility to care for Life Itself (Genesis 1:26-27). Humankind was given “every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth and every kind of fruit-bearing tree” as food, and all beings lived in harmony with each other (Genesis 1:29). Elohim declared it all to be good (Genesis 1:31).
Painting by Dan Reidel
It’s no accident that this story has been told and retold for hundreds of generations. It’s our story. An Eden-like state, where all beings live in harmony, may seem like an unrealistic and unattainable Utopia. But it’s actually a distant and vague memory. It resonates inside us like a faint melody playing under the layers of our psyche – layers that hold tight to entrenched, inherited beliefs in our separation/domination/superiority regarding the rest of Creation. These beliefs are what keep us outside the gates of Eden. Yet despite our beliefs and the corresponding actions we take against ourselves and nature, the faint melody continues to whisper deep within us, unceasing. At some unconscious level, we know it is our Truth. We know Eden is a place in our consciousness from which we feel cut-off, as if we’ve strayed too far and are simply unable (or forbidden) to return.
Eden calls to us.
I believe there is a way back to ourselves and to living as One. I certainly have no road map for it. I’m just as enmeshed in our separation culture and as befuddled about where we find ourselves today as the next person. But I know solutions don’t work when they come from the same level of consciousness that created the problem. Solutions rooted in separation won’t solve separation! I also know that what we see in the world is a projection of what is inside us – the good, the bad and the ugly. So, the only honest leverage we have to produce lasting change in the world requires us to change ourselves. This is a very personal journey to a higher level of consciousness for each of us. It’s a hero’s journey, back to ourselves.
To guide us on our hero’s journey I’d like to offer a few new R’s for consideration:
Recognize the spiritual meaning of the story. Whatever our views of God are, there is an animating force under all of Creation – some metaphorical ‘breath’ that brought It into existence. Whether it took place in one fell swoop as creationists believe or over eons as evolutionists believe, it doesn’t matter. There is a brilliant Life-force under all that is. It is creative and Good. We can call it whatever we want, but in this story, it is called God. The Earth and all life forms, including us, were brought into existence in Balance and Harmony. And we hold that potential within us.
Remember our Truth. We are created in God’s image and likeness. God is not a being separate from Creation, but the energy of it – the energy out of which everything came into being; the power that reflected upon it and declared it to be Good. As image and likeness, we are not separate from Creation, but of it. We hold the power to ensure its Goodness, not because the rest of Creation needs us, but because we are gifted with the capacity to reflect upon it and know it to be Good. Our truth is Oneness.
Restore ourselves as Love, Compassion and Kindness. Somewhere along our evolutionary road, we became uncaring and even cruel. Our belief in separation allowed fear, scarcity and the need to have power over others to take over our minds and hearts like a cancer. We neglected Love, Kindness and Compassion. Or we held them tightly and gave them life only within our personal spheres. But Love, Kindness and Compassion – all expressions of the Infinite Divine – desire to reach far beyond our personal selves, beyond our families, friends and neighbors. They call us to be loving, kind and compassionate toward all of Creation, with no boundaries, indiscriminately – beyond our species.
Refrain from harming any living being. Our separation consciousness wreaks havoc everywhere. We have invented all sorts of ways to inflict harm on others including oppression, exploitation, abuse, confinement, enslavement, torture and killing. Most of us believe ourselves to be vehemently opposed to all that, and most of us don’t harm each other in these ways. But most of us do harm animals – God’s Creation – for our daily wants, not even for our needs. We mass produce them in unnatural conditions so we can eat their bodies. We take their babies so we can drink their excretions. We take their skins for our shoes, purses, belts and coats. We pull out their feathers for our fashion and décor. We use their eyes and skin to test the toxicity of household products, medicines and cosmetics. We force them to perform for us. We destroy their natural habitats. We discard garbage that maims or kills them. We have the erroneous thought that their bodies are ours to use or are inconsequential. They are not. They have inherent value independent of us. Harmony and our original nature will always elude us while we are hurting and killing others.
Revere Creation. Merriam Webster defines reverence as “profound adoring awed respect.” Reverence demands alertness. Most of us are preoccupied with our own life dramas, the allure of electronic devices, the lives of celebrities and political leaders, and the events taking place in our minds. We walk around essentially asleep to the impacts of our own actions and to the wonder of Life Itself. When we awaken to the wonder of every being, we can see the value in every being. We can see that everyone wants to live and sing their song in their own way. From the magpie to the oak tree to the honey bee to the salamander to the lilac to the elephant to the pig, cow, lamb and chicken, we are profoundly blessed when we stand in awe of who they each are and what they are here to teach us. Every being is a gift.
Resolve to live a life of prayer. Prayer is something that has been misunderstood for eons. If we pray at all, we usually pray in a beseeching way pleading for God to make something happen. That is what separation consciousness does. It puts God outside of us. If we practice praying from Oneness consciousness, it’s a whole different ball game. We elevate our consciousness to align with God Mind, or Oneness, and know, realize, claim and declare what is spiritually true but not yet manifested. This is also called believing before receiving or faithfully holding an intention. We can know together that humanity is awakening. We can know together that Harmony is being restored. We can know together that solutions are being made known to us. This is how healing happens. From a consciousness of Oneness we can also be in powerful action – signing petitions, demonstrating, supporting sanctuaries, etc. – without condemning or judging others. No matter what we do, it is essential that we act as Love, Kindness and Compassion. Hate, disgust and fighting separate. They never heal or move us forward. And the world doesn’t need another ounce of it.
Recreate our world. Every day that we wake up to our Truth, and move from separation to Oneness consciousness, we recreate our world. Even if the rest of the world hasn't budged an inch, the change within us matters because we are all connected. When one of us rises in consciousness, we impact the whole. By our example we also encourage others to join the journey. And as more of us join this inner journey, a tipping point will be reached and we will see a new world begin to emerge.
The faint song of Eden is calling us to return. Can you hear it?
“God spoke: ‘Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.’ God created human beings; he created them godlike, Reflecting God's nature. He created them male and female. Then God said, ‘I've given you every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth And every kind of fruit-bearing tree, given them to you for food.’ God looked over everything he had made; it was so good, so very good!” The Message Bible Genesis 1:26-27, 29, 31
Note: I will write more extensively in later posts about the Hero's Journey and affirmative prayer and how we can use both these tools to heal our relationship with Creation. Thank you for reading.
© carol saunders 2018
Easter morning met me with a gorgeous Wisconsin sunrise. Bright orange and pink hues lit up the horizon. I am blessed to have tall pines in my back yard and a lake in the distance. There’s no prettier sunrise. After taking in its magnificence, I did what I do every Sunday morning - I readied myself for The Spiritual Forum and drove 100 miles to Deerfield, Illinois to lead it. I planned for my spiritual community to be in dialogue on the Easter themes of Hope, Resurrection and New Life.
We had a thought-provoking dialogue on the meaning of Easter, the transcendent power of Love and the different ways Resurrection shows up in our own lives. At the end of our gathering, I invited people to join me for an Easter lunch at a nearby vegan restaurant. I was excited to have a willing group. As usual though, I got caught up in conversation with a lingering crowd, and my lunch companions left before me. By the time I gathered my things and was ready to go, I was running late.
I got in my car and made my way to a heavily trafficked road that would take me to my destination. As I was driving, I spotted a large robin plopped down in the middle of the oncoming lane. It was a strange sight. He was upright, but motionless, and clearly didn’t belong there. As I passed, I looked for signs of life in him in my rearview mirror. He was still slumped on the ground. It just took a second or two for my mind to race between the thoughts “He’ll be fine – I’m late and need to keep going,” and “There’s a helpless robin in the middle of the road and a lot of cars are coming!” Thankfully, the helpless robin voice won my heart. I had to get to him before the oncoming cars could, so I made a rapid U-turn and headed back his way.
As I approached, I slowed my car down, then stopped in the middle of the road and put my emergency lights on. My little Mini Cooper would now be the protective barrier for both of us as I did what was mine to do. Multiple cars behind mine started backing up and drivers were honking and gesticulating at me. I guess that’s normal anywhere but it’s very normal in Chicago. Whatever. I had a mission. I reached down and cupped my hands around the seemingly lifeless bird. I held him for a brief moment; then his wings started to flutter! I tightened my hold a little, concerned that he might stumble into oncoming traffic on the other side. But I could sense that he was ready for freedom, so I gently opened my hands. The little guy woke up and flew off to perch on a bush on the side of the road. He was alive! And safe for now. I waved to all the angry drivers and got back on the road to meet my friends for lunch.
I felt good. In just a few moments, one small life was saved from impending doom. While I know he was probably stunned from having flown into a windshield, his limp body – which regained life in my hands – had taken flight. It was a resurrection of sorts – the power of New Life. And it happened on Easter!
It reminded me of a scene from a movie I had seen two days earlier - the 1999 production of “Jesus” starring Jeremy Sisto. In it, the child Jesus brings a dead bird back to life. It’s an endearing scene and not an event you will find in the New Testament gospels. But I like to think that the man who grew to embody the Love of God so purely and become the Master teacher that he became, was awake to our connection with all beings as a child. I was. Why wouldn’t he have been?
The Easter message is about Hope, Resurrection, New Life and the power of Love that transcends everything. The message continues to ring out today. Can you hear it? When you look for it, you will see the power of Resurrection at work in everyday life. It can show up as a second chance at life, like it did for my robin, or a rebirth of our consciousness to a new and higher level of awareness. Every day we have the opportunity to give a second chance at life to animals who are slated for death. We can exclude ourselves from the act of hurting them by eating a plant-based diet and not buying products that use them in other ways. We can die to an old way of thinking/doing/being and rise up to a new awareness of our Oneness with ALL Life. Love will lead us. The Easter message reminds us that there is indeed Hope for the awakening of humankind.
At the end of the day, I took my 100-mile trek home and as I pulled into my driveway, the sun was beginning to set with the same magnificence as it rose. I was grateful that I was clear-hearted enough to turn my car around earlier that day to bring a little more Love to the planet. Yes, I ended up being late for lunch, and I probably made the people who had to stop a little late for wherever they were going. But the robin lives another day to sing his song of Hope.
“I am the resurrection and the life.” John 11:25
© carol saunders 2018
Of note, I did not take photographs of this event while I was holding up traffic! I found images that approximated my experience. Thank you for reading.
Last week I lost one of my cats, Ben. It was sudden and premature. He was just 3 ½ years old. Ben was one of five kittens I spotted off the Interstate highway one brisk October afternoon while speeding by at 75 miles per hour. “Kittens!” I exclaimed while pointing off the road to the right. My husband, who was a little skeptical but willing to appease me, pulled off the exit and we ventured down the feeder road in search of what I thought looked like kittens. And to our surprise there they were, out in the open with their tiny heads poking out from the recently cut wild grass. I leapt out of the car and rushed toward them. Right away I was able to scoop up three tabbies (all with big feet!) while two tiny black ones started to venture into the deeper thicket. I grabbed one of them and stuffed him in my coat with his brothers. His twin had another idea and successfully evaded capture. But with a great deal of tenacity (and willingness to put my arm into what seemed like a badger hole) I ended up grabbing him too -- 24 hours later -- and we gave them all a “temporary” home in our garage.
What a gift these little guys were! Having just left our youngest daughter at college that fateful October morning, we were in the throes of figuring out how to live as empty nesters. We had successfully raised three human daughters. Now I was blessed with five new sons. Needless to say, we ended up keeping them all.
Ben was the adorable little grey kitten who grew to be the big, loppy, laid back cat. He outweighed each of his brothers by two pounds and was a friendly one -- not over-the-top, gushy-friendly like his brother George, but also not shy like John, elusive like Schrodinger, or skittish like Ross. He was just a likable guy. Every morning before breakfast, I would sit with the boys. And every morning Ben would be the first to come up to me, put his big front paws on my legs, pause there for a bit, and then roll on the ground for a belly rub. He was the only one who did that.
It’s heartbreaking to lose a companion animal. We lost Schrodinger over a year ago when he mysteriously escaped in the middle of winter, never to return. Schrodinger was always a free spirit. He was the one who evaded me for a day, preferring to hole himself up in the brush and attempt to survive on his own as a six-week-old kitten. He was a smart, independent and savvy cat, so he probably found his way to a new kind of home. But it’s been difficult for me every day not knowing if he was okay. Now with Ben’s passing, my heart broke open to fully mourn them both.
Most people understand the hole that a pet leaves in the heart. Most of us have experienced that helpless feeling of raw heartbreak. I was grateful to receive many condolences and sweet messages from friends and family who understood my loss. But I couldn’t help but wonder, if our humanity calls us to reach out and empathize with a fellow human who has lost a pet, why doesn’t our humanity also call us to honor the lives and mourn the passing of all animals?
Cats and dogs -- which we in the United States consider to be pets and dote over -- are food animals in other countries. Tens of thousands are slaughtered and eaten every day. We find that to be an abhorrent practice, but we do the same thing to chickens, turkeys, goats, sheep, pigs, horses, ducks, rabbits and cows. These are the nameless and faceless ones. They hold no meaning to anyone beyond their utility for human consumption.
But what is the difference really between my beloved Ben and the unfortunate hen who is killed so that her breast can be consumed by one of us in a matter of minutes? They both want to live. They both have inherent value. They both deserve a kind hand and heart.
All beings do. My heart breaks for all of them.
Unfortunately, I didn’t understand what was wrong with Ben until it was too late. His kidneys ended up failing and he passed in the night at the vet's office. It felt awful that he was alone. I wasn’t there and I wasn't able to save him.
I am also not able to save the millions of animals who, every hour of every day, are senselessly killed by the hands of my fellow humans in this country alone. And how much I want to save them all. If only I could break open the hearts of people -- so that we could all wake up, feel the genuine depth of our humanity and remember that we are all connected and we ALL deserve kindness, appreciation and love. That is my dream, my prayer, my work and my soul’s sincere desire.
The morning after Ben died, I sat down with my remaining three boys. I was exhausted from grief. Strangely, John -- the shy one who would rather rub his body up against an inanimate object 10 feet away from me while I love on his more extraverted brothers -- came right up next to me. He purred and rubbed his body against mine. Then he put his big front paws up on my legs, just like Ben. He had never done that before and he hasn’t done it since. Was it Ben’s spirit telling me he was okay? Was it John sensing I needed comforting? Or maybe John was feeling that there was now more space for him to be affectionate. I don’t know. But there’s more going on in the hearts and minds of animals than we know. They each have something to tell us, something to share, some sense of meaning to activate in our hearts.
A summer morning with the boys.
I miss my two boys. And every day I mourn the loss of the billions of animals who suffer at the hands of humans and are faceless and nameless to most everyone in the world.
We ALL deserve to live in the heart of someone.
Thank you, dear Ben, for living a good life and breaking my heart open with your parting. My broken heart connects me deeply with the suffering of others. And that’s a good thing.
© carol saunders 2018
During a recent board meeting of the spiritual center I lead, we were discussing having a potluck luncheon after a special event. There was concern that it might be difficult to get community buy in if I wanted it to be vegan. I understood that and responded by assuring everyone that I did not have a vegan agenda. As soon as those words left my mouth, I started reflecting on them. Was I telling the truth?
Yes, I was being true. I don’t have a vegan agenda. People may think I do, but my agenda goes way beyond that. Mine is an agenda of Oneness, Peace, Kindness, Universal Love, and their sister, Nonviolence. That’s the world I want to live in. That’s the world I am co-creating.
It’s also true that I am unapologetically vegan. Being vegan is an expression of Oneness, Peace, Kindness and Universal Love. It is a key part of my spiritual path – the path to becoming an authentic, integrated human who lives in alignment with her beliefs and values. It is a huge step toward compassionate and nonviolent living.
As a minister, there are many times when I want to shout out to my spiritual community (in the same way that Unity co-founder Charles Fillmore unabashedly did), “This is the way to live!” But I refrain, because I know most of them are so attached to their culturally inherited lifestyles that they are simply not yet able to hear. Instead I look for openings within people – especially those who say or think they want Peace and Love. When I see an opening, I say what I can to shine light on some of the ways they may be living contrary to their stated desires. These ways show up in many forms – how they project their shadows onto others, how they live in blame, resentment, worry or unforgiveness, how they hold onto shame, are self-critical or gossip about others. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but people get it. To have Peace and Love, we must be Peace and Love. We are all doing this important spiritual work.
But misalignment also shows up in other daily habits, like what we actually eat and wear, which largely come from taking the lives of animals. Light needs to shine there too.
Almost everyone is blind to this. As a species, we’ve lived with using and abusing animals for so long it is nearly invisible to us. We prefer it that way, because if we don’t see or think about it, we avoid facing our own contributions to violence. Even the most highly conscious peace lovers and social justice warriors have a hard time seeing this. But it is in plain sight when we do the difficult work to look.
Animals are sentient. They experience fear, suffering, anxiety, joy and empathy.
In today’s world, everything about meat eating is contrary to all that we spiritual journeyers value and hold dear. Everything. Yes, we may lovingly gather with family and loved ones around a traditional meal (which has meat at its center). We may be grateful for the food and thankful that it brings us together and nourishes our bodies. We may even say grace to express our appreciation. All this looks like Peace, Kindness and Love…what could be contrary about it?
What makes it contrary is the fact that there is a victim of violence on our table, a someone we choose to not see. In this case, our culture has taught us that the someone is a something. We may call it roast, pork, chicken fingers, or hamburger, but in reality, it is the body torn from a being who had her own value, feelings and social structure, and she desperately wanted to live. While alive she was also likely confined, mutilated, abused, and raped (what else do you call repeated forced ejaculation of males and insemination of females?). Nothing about her own innate nature was respected or allowed. Even if she was in the 1% who are not subjected to horrific factory farm conditions, she undoubtedly experienced suffering, fear and anxiety as she was killed in the slaughterhouse. No one is calm in a death line. And if that isn’t enough, she faced her slaughter while she was still a child or adolescent at best.
Broiler chickens are slaughtered at the rate of nearly 300 per second in the USA when they are just 47 days old. They would naturally live 10-15 years.
Pigs used for pork or bacon are slaughtered at the age of 4 months to a year.
They would naturally live 15-20 years.
Turkeys have been bred to be so large they can no longer mate naturally. 100% of turkeys are inseminated, as are 85% of pigs and 75% of dairy cows.
We have so many food choices today that are healthy, readily accessible and do not cause this suffering. We could choose these.
The hard truth is, we choose meat (killing) simply because we want to. We aren't hunting for basic subsistence like our ancestors did. We aren't living in balance with nature like native peoples did. We don't need meat for our health. It is a habit and a pleasure. And our pleasure matters more to us than their lives.
Think about this. Whenever and wherever it happens to people, we condemn oppression, exploitation and killing, unless it’s in self-defense. People who kill because they want to are called terrorists, murderers or psychopaths. Are we that different from them?
There’s an important human element too. The widespread use of antibiotics in farmed animals creates antibiotic resistant bacteria in our bodies. This poses a significant risk to our health. Low income communities situated near large scale farms are devastated by massive feces and urine pollution. These people are unable to go outside their own homes because of the stench, and they suffer from chronic health problems, not to mention severe property devaluation. The slaughterhouse worker and his/her family suffer from the psychological impact of constant killing, incurring four times the national average of violent arrest, with significantly higher rates of alcoholism, domestic abuse, child abuse and suicide. That just names a few of the impacts that meat consumption has on our fellow humans. There are many more. If we used our land to feed people instead of animals we would have enough food to feed the whole world. We are not taking care of ourselves, our non-human animal friends or our human brothers and sisters.
Feces and urine waste from hog farms in North Carolina
To create the world we desire and to have the inner freedom that comes from walking our talk, we must look at the ways we are out of alignment, and then change. That’s the spiritual path.
Yes, I have an agenda. My agenda is Peace, Kindness and Universal Love. In light of that, I do my best to live in line with those values. I consciously choose to not exploit any sentient being. And hopefully I inspire others to do the same. Because knowing that I am causing the least harm possible in the world is an utterly fabulous way to live.
As for our potluck, I will bring some delightful plant-based food. Even though most people will think it is just my thing, I will know that it is spiritual action - an expression of all that we value and hold dear. Peace. Kindness. Love. And I trust that the light of Peace, Kindness and Love will land in someone’s heart and stir them to awaken. It always does.
© 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
I remember my childhood vividly. I grew up in northern California and had the good fortune of being able to play outside nearly every day. My childhood took place back the 60’s, way before parents were concerned about their kids being gone all day playing. So that’s what we did. We played in the hills and creeks and rode bikes everywhere…all day.
How far back can you remember?
As young children, we were so vulnerable. We were all born into a world that we knew nothing about. Our lives were a constant experiment, with our carefree natures often being shut down, reframed or fit into a world that already existed. That's the nature of socialization. When things happened that hurt our hearts or didn’t make sense, we would hear someone bigger, older or wiser tell us things like: “The world is a tough place,” “You have to be strong,” “Life is hard,” “That’s the way it's always been,” or “That’s just what we do.”
Can you remember having innocent thoughts and feelings – thoughts untainted by someone else’s view or perspective? Can you remember that first feeling of loss when your own thought or feeling was in contradiction with that of a group or the adults in charge?
I remember as a young child barely being able to breathe when I found out that our next-door neighbors (parents) were shooting blue jays with BB guns from their back porch. I couldn’t fathom why they would do such a thing. It seemed so deliberately hurtful. What could those birds have possibly done to them? I felt deeply distressed and looked for ways to stand up to the big grownups. Needless to say, I failed. Despite my best small child efforts (which were actually pretty substantial for a kid and possibly a topic for another blog) there was an adult explanation: the blue jays were eating the robins’ eggs and the robins were a preferred species.
I was heartbroken. But the case was closed. What power did I have against adult reasoning...or preferences?
Pretty much everything we have learned about life came from the adults in our world. We looked up to them. Or we were afraid of them. Either way, they taught us how to live - the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.
© Jasmin Merdan 123rf.com
When my first daughter was just two or three years old, I’ll never forget witnessing one of those indoctrinating moments. Sitting in her high chair, her grandmother placed a plate in front of her and said, “Here’s your fish, honey.” My young daughter immediately looked behind her where an aquarium stood - the aquarium that she loved to watch as she pointed and named the fish. The mental connection going on in her brain was transparent on her face. If there is such a thing as toddler confusion, that's what it was. To her young mind, she could see that there were “fish” swimming in the fish tank. She always loved watching those fish. Now “fish” was being introduced to her as something she was supposed to eat. How does that compute to a young and fragile mind?
None of us come into the world as violent beings. We are wide-eyed and eager to take in all of life. As children we reach for life. We want to touch it and feel it and get close to it. Killing in any form is not natural for a child. So never in a million years would my young daughter have reached into the fish tank and grabbed a living fish to satisfy her hunger. Nor would she have taken a knife to the throat of a pig or chicken or cow. The adult world had established this for her. We eat animals, period. We always have. It’s what we do. We kill for our food or pay someone to do it for us. She had no real choice in the matter.
None of us did really. Most of us had no clue that what we were eating was once a live animal who was killed against his or her will - the same kinds of animals we loved in storybooks. When we did learn this, it had already become an established pattern in our own lives. Over time we hardened ourselves and simply accepted the violence of life. And we lost our innocence.
Going forward, the easy path is to just keep doing what we’ve always done - accept the way of living that we were indoctrinated into. Don’t dig deeper. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t question. Don’t think too much. By all means don’t look back. Rationalize and defend. Marginalize those who think or act differently. Buy into all of it and pass it on to the next generation telling them, “That’s just what we do.”
When we accept “that’s just what we do” we accept human nature to be what it is, not what it could be. To be what it could be, we would have to take the much more difficult path of the spiritual journeyer and reclaim the parts of us that we lost along the way.
Deep inside us - maybe deeper than we can fathom - there is a piece of our innocence that was chipped away, but not destroyed. It is held in the heart of our inner child, who generally prefers to be in hiding and may even be afraid of being remembered. The inner child knows it is not safe to be so vulnerable. The outer world seems much too harsh to survive out in the open. So she (or he) stays in the dark. There may be momentary glimpses of her, when a flicker of light betrays her clever hiding spot in the form of a distant and vague memory or fleeting feeling. But the child remains hidden, safely in the depth of the soul.
Discovering and integrating our inner child into active adult living is a key to transforming human nature and consequently our world. When we bring our innocence to the light - truly love it, accept it and integrate it into our entire being - we will become much more whole. We will love ourselves more. We will be less serious and judgmental, and more open and kind. We will reignite our wonder for life and once again want to reach for it, touch it, feel it and bring it closer to us. We will choose ways to live without hurting and killing
This is what Jesus spoke of when he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
The kingdom of heaven is not some faraway place where we go after we die. It is a place in consciousness where Peace, Love and Harmony are fully expressed and Oneness is truly experienced. It can only be fully entered into with the innocence of our inner child because without it, we are less than whole.
This is deeply important spiritual work – to question our inherited beliefs and reclaim our innocence. It is also an ongoing process. Thankfully there are some enlightened children on the planet right now who, at a very young age, are standing up to patterns/habits handed to them by their parents which run counter to their hearts (see their videos below). But for the rest of us, until we engage in that same process of questioning and do the work to reclaim our innocent natures, we will continue to cause needless suffering for hundreds of billions of our fellow beings on the planet and not realize genuine Peace within us or in the world.
I am not a psychologist, but I am happy to support anyone who is interested in doing this important spiritual work. And I bless your journey to authentic integration.
“The wolf and the lamb will live together… and a little child will lead them.” Isaiah 11:6
© carol saunders 2017
Please watch these sweet souls and let them inspire you..There are other videos of similarly hearted children which are far more heart-wrenching. I am choosing not to display them here.
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
There are so many issues and concerns plaguing our world today. There’s the Syrian refugee crisis, the rise of ISIS, the pervasiveness of opiates in our nation, election fallout, human trafficking, abortion, nuclear testing by North Korea, the national debt and on and on. Given all that is going on in the world, why do I bring attention to the plight of animals?
I am not going to argue here that animals are more important than any of the above issues. It’s not about what you feel is the single most important issue to you, but what is the single most important issue before you – one that has great impact and one you can actually take action on today. No other issue offers the same opportunity for you to concretely take positive personal action on today (except possibly abortion, but only if you happen to be pregnant today).
You can sit around and talk about the issues of the world with your friends, relatives and co-workers and think you are solving them. But you’re not necessarily solving anything because you don’t have that much control. You can staunchly hold your political viewpoint, support your candidates and vote when the opportunity presents itself. You can also decide to be more active and sign petitions, attend activist marches, call your representative or send money to support your causes. You can do all these things in hopes of - or with the expectation that - other people eventually will do what you want them to do to make the world a better place.
But today, you can make the world a better place. You can make the choice to inflict less harm, be kinder, and save a life. You can do all of this by deciding what to eat and what not to eat. That choice is completely in your control and has a deep and broad impact on your life, your society and the world at large.
In the United States alone, we kill animals for food at the rate of over a million an hour. I wish there was a way to make this humongous number sink in and have meaning.
Let me try this:
If we killed human beings at that rate, the people inhabiting the entire United States would all be dead in less than two weeks.
If that’s still too abstract, how about this:
At that rate of killing, if you live in the city of Chicago, you and your fellow Chicagoans would be dead in less than three hours.
But it doesn't stop. Because every three hours another population the size of Chicago is mercilessly decimated.
Does that give some perspective?
I hope you can see that this level of violence is staggering. Think of the energy that goes into that much killing. Think of the immense level of unnecessary, unwarranted and traumatic suffering of animals, who fight for their lives because just like us, they experience emotion and want to be free to live. Think of the shameful hardening of all those human hearts that are paid to be the fastest killing machines on earth. Think of their families who surely feel the effect of all that killing, or at least the hardened heart. You have to wonder, where does all that energy go?
It is a dark shadow looming over our lives. It is certainly not out there spreading good cheer in the world. Violence begets violence. And a good bit of it comes right back into our bodies when we eat the flesh of the beings who suffered and whose lives were blamelessly cut short. It is no wonder we are so anxious, hurtful to each other, and ill.
All of this begs the questions: Are we really the kind and thoughtful people that we think we are? Who are we that we would willfully cause so much suffering and inflict so much violence toward sentient beings who have done nothing to harm us? Where is our mercy? Are we not image and likeness of God? Is God not the power of Love Itself? Isn’t Love our true nature?
I believe that Love is our true nature. We learned this killing behavior from our parents. And they learned it from theirs, and so on. It is not natural behavior. No small child on her own would take a knife and slit the throat of a living animal standing before her. Rather, she would likely be curious, grin, and move closer to pet him. The innocence and curiosity of this child still lives within us and yearns to lead us to a more harmonious and light-filled life.
When we let the inner child lead us, we can instead direct our energies toward something much more enlivening and empowering, like authentic Kindness and Compassion. Think of how different our world would be if we stopped all this violence and replaced it with authentic Kindness and Compassion. The kind of Kindness and Compassion that respects every living being’s right to be treated like a some-one, and not a body with which we can do whatever we want.
Today you have an issue facing you that at first glance may not seem that important compared to all the other concerns of your day. But it is in fact the most important issue facing you today, because you have complete control to choose non-violence and make a difference now. When you choose Kindness and Compassion over killing, you bring greater peace to your life, to other beings, and to the planet.
Keep animal flesh off your plate and out of your body. Eat healthy plant-based food. And who knows? Maybe if enough of us make the choice to be Kind and Compassionate – bringing about a radical reduction in today’s suffering and violence - we will as a species regain our sense of value toward Life Itself. And the other issues just might take care of themselves.
© 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
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.