It’s that time once again when we greet each other with the celebratory words, “Happy New Year!” When a new year dawns, we get to let go of the past and begin again. Of course, we have that opportunity every day, but there is something about the New Year that gives us pause. We stop and consider what we want our lives to look like going forward. We make resolutions and set new intentions.
What do you want your life to look like? What are you willing to do about it? What new beginning is calling to you?
Those who are on the spiritual path are always interested in creating a more peaceful and loving world, personally and collectively. A sure way to create a life of greater Peace and Harmony is to take steps toward living in integrity - undivided - with who we say we are and what we say we believe. There is no faster path to inner Peace.
It’s quite simple. If you value Peace, refrain from violence in every possible way. If you value Compassion, strive to be compassionate to all. If you value Kindness and Love, strive to act in kind and loving ways. If you value family, do all you can to support keeping families healthy and together. If you believe in Oneness, honor the golden rule and live as One.
This seems like a no-brainer. We all know this! But every day, many of us make choices and engage in practices that are in direct opposition to our values and beliefs. These choices often show up in our relationships and cause friction with family members, co-workers, neighbors or strangers we don't even know. When this happens, we can see that we are out of integrity and make kinder choices next time.
But there are other ways we live out of integrity that are extremely harmful, completely hidden and pervasive. Yet they are right in front of us on our plates and in our wardrobe.
Living in integrity with your values and beliefs is the kindest thing you can do for yourself. When your behaviors align with your values and beliefs, your life expands in extraordinary ways. You are fundamentally happier with yourself. You are far less bothered by the craziness of the world. You may even stop feeling victimized and petty about situations that are out of your control. Once you dispel the inner dissonance between who you say you are and what you do, you stop projecting what you unconsciously don’t like about yourself onto others. You become much less annoyed with yourself, so you become less annoyed with the world. That is the enormity of the gift of living in integrity.
Is it time for you to commit to a life of spiritual integrity? If it is, let Spirit know that you are willing to see what you have blocked from your view up to now so you can get back in alignment.
Start by looking at your everyday lifestyle. This is something you have complete control over. Learn the truth about the way your food gets to your plate. Learn how industrialized farms (which are required to produce the sheer volume of meat we eat) treat animals as if they were machinery, not sentient beings with personal interests. Learn the truth about the lives of chickens, pigs, turkeys, cows and fish (yes, fish) that we choose to eat. Learn the truth about eggs and milk, leather, wool and down, foie gras and veal. Learn how in most cases we are actually killing and eating babies. Learn about the myth of free-range, humane and organic labels. Take an honest look at the violence of the slaughterhouse. Learn about the intelligence of our animal brothers and sisters, who are so much more like us than they are different from us. Learn how we don't need meat for protein. Learn about the debilitating impact of the animal using business on slaughterhouse workers, sanitation crews, rural communities and the environment. And learn about the connection between world hunger and our meat addiction.
Open your heart and mind and be willing to see how all this is way out of integrity with who you say you are and what you say you believe.
(As a side note, your ego will come up with all sorts of reasons why you shouldn't look at these links. Did you notice? There's always enough time to awaken. Do your own research if you are skeptical.)
There is another path to be on that is aligned with your truth.
Awaken to all the amazing ways you can eat healthy, plant-based foods that cause much less harm, and tread much lighter on the planet and on the hearts of humans and animals alike.
Then make the choice that is aligned with Peace, Compassion, Kindness, Love and Oneness.
If after all that you still find thoughts inside you like, “But it’s just a chicken,” remember that we create with our thoughts. As we look out at the world, what we see is a picture of our collective thoughts – the good, the bad and the ugly. When we see marginalization, oppression and exploitation, it is because they exist in our consciousness. The thought under all marginalization, oppression and exploitation is that the "other" is in some way "less than" we are. And under that is likely “I’m not good enough.” We’ve seen the effect of these destructive thoughts in the horror of concentration camps and in the unthinkable justification of human slavery. We see it today in racism, sexism and ageism.
Watch your thoughts as they relate to others. Are they in line with your beliefs about Oneness and Universal Love? You may think they are, but nearly all of us have been trained to draw a stark line at the human animal interface. Our circle of Oneness has traditionally stopped at our own kind - our own species - with animals (unless they are our household pets) being placed outside our moral consideration. What gives us license to exploit animals for our own desires?
Nothing but a thought.
The thought, "It’s just a chicken," justifies our choice to hurt her and deprive her of freedom, her family and her life. The same kind of thought has been used to justify marginalization, oppression and exploitation of human brothers and sisters for millennia. We inherit these kinds of thoughts from parents or culture, and are trained to believe them.
But we are creative beings, not bound by the past or what we have been taught to think and believe. We can change that thought as well as many others, and consequently change the world - because the thoughts we hold about others are the building blocks of our society. Marginalization, oppression and exploitation of any group keeps those energies alive in the world. And that fundamentally isn't what we want or who we want to be.
Once again, a New Year has dawned. A new beginning is calling. You have the opportunity before you to grow in consciousness, awareness and right action. And you have within you all the Strength and Wisdom to do it.
Resolve this year to live in spiritual integrity. Look for new ways to align your behaviors with your values and beliefs. Be open to seeing what you have not yet been able to see about yourself. Be willing to change your thoughts. Be in action – in all ways and to all beings - as Peace, Compassion, Kindness and Love.
You will be richly rewarded. We are ALL One!
This photo was taken from a documentary film called, "The Last Pig."
THE LAST PIG is a feature length documentary that follows the remarkable story of Bob Comis, a humane pig farmer and his journey beyond the slaughterhouse.
"Then God said, 'I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.'" Genesis 1:29
© carol saunders 2018
If you are on the spiritual path, you know it is not an easy path. The spiritual path takes you into your dark corners. It demands that you give up being a victim and take responsibility for your life. It calls you to live in integrity and forgiveness. It challenges you to love outrageously, live fearlessly and trust radically. It is the path of the peaceful warrior, the road less traveled.
Most people don’t choose this path, preferring instead to live in victimhood or domination. Certainly, not all vegans are on this path! But all of us who are on the spiritual path – if we are truly on it – are destined to choose veganism at some point, just as we have chosen the paths of civil rights and gay rights. You can fight it, but it is just a matter of time until you encounter the place in your psyche where you can no longer ignore your inner conflicts.
Inner Conflict by Christine Ogden
Veganism is a spiritual practice. Plain and simple. It puts into practice everything that the spiritual journeyer believes and professes. It is living what we already believe.
We believe in Oneness. We believe that everything is interconnected and of God. All living beings have a spark of the divine within! This compels us to not draw boundaries between others and ourselves and to not bring unnecessary harm to any being. It calls us to live the golden rule and honor and respect all of Creation. We do our best to do unto others as we would have them to unto us, because we know that what we do to another, we do to ourselves. That is because we are One.
We value Compassion and Kindness. We spiritual journeyers are people who strive to be loving, compassionate and kind. We do not want to bring harm to others, particularly the young and innocent. We tend to be passionate about social issues where oppression and exploitation are rampant, desiring instead freedom and respect for all. Our hearts are open, especially to those who need our mercy, care and compassion.
We are continually called to be Love. The love that we are called to express is Universal, not specific to those who are close to us or to those we choose to love. Jesus commanded us to “love God with all your heart and to love one another.” He stretched us to “love your enemy” and “love your neighbor.” Loving in greater and greater ways was at the root of his teaching. Buddha’s eight-fold path is grounded in Universal Love and compassion for all living beings (right conduct and right living). The first two statements in the Tibetan Buddhist Four Immeasurables are: May all sentient beings have happiness and may all sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. As spiritual journeyers, we are continually challenged to expand ourselves as Love to include more. We accept everyone for who they are, especially those who have been ostracized, minimized, objectified, exploited or maligned by our society. Real Love knows no boundaries! It is unconditional and infinite!
We understand the Law of Giving and Receiving. We normally apply this spiritual law to our finances. When we give of our supply, we open ourselves to receiving Good back. When we withhold our giving, we withhold our ability to receive. We can also apply this law to Life itself. When we give life – through our support and stewardship of and care for it, we open ourselves to receiving Life. When we take life away – for personal wants or whims, not needs or defense – we withhold our ability to receive Life. So we naturally want to not only do no harm to our fellow beings; we want to be supporters and nurturers of their lives in every way!
We value non-violence and do not want to instigate or participate in violence (unless we need to defend ourselves). We know that violence causes great harm to others and impacts the collective consciousness. When we violently take the life of another who wants to live, we give life to the energies of anxiety and fear. Where does that energy go? It doesn’t just disappear. It comes back to us. We spiritual journeyers admire and seek to emulate the nonviolent approaches of Jesus, the Buddha and leaders such as Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. They showed us the true spiritual power in choosing nonviolent options. We too are Peacemakers.
Our interpretation of the Bible is spiritual, not literal. We don’t believe that Creation was made for humankind to control and dominate for our own purposes and desires. We believe the word dominion in the creation story refers to stewardship, or it metaphysically refers to our ability to have dominion over our thoughts and beliefs. All of Creation is animated by God and all creatures have their own purpose. Our greater complexity does not give us license to dominate, exploit or oppress others. Rather, it gives us the capacity to be caring, respectful, kind and in wonder of it all. In this way we love God.
We know that with the power of our minds, we can change beliefs, thoughts, habits and patterns that no longer serve us. Spiritual journeyers are committed to transformation and evolution. We know we don’t have to stay stuck in beliefs and cultural structures that we inherited or made decisions about in the past. Whatever we learned from our past – especially beliefs and habits that limit us or cause suffering – can be changed. In fact, when we put our minds to it we can overcome anything!
All of this is who we say we are or who we are on the path to becoming.
So how is it that we find ourselves participating nearly every day in violence? We need look no further than our plate or shoes to be reminded that we do. Our food and clothing choices can cause enormous suffering to fellow beings who have personal interests and want to live. We confine and dominate them, cut their throats, eat their corpses and take their skins when there are many nonviolent alternatives readily available. We don’t want to look at this, but the hardcore truth is we oppress and kill others simply to satisfy our daily desires. It seems that we have succumbed to an unconscious habit that does not coincide with who we want to be.
When we choose eggs, we choose gassing or grinding up baby male chicks alive.
We can’t profess our beliefs in Universal Love and Oneness and sing, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me,” while also exploiting and exterminating other beings without experiencing inner dissonance and discord. That is why it is just a matter of time before we make the choice to take up the spiritual practice of veganism.
A colorful plant-based meal
Veganism puts into practice everything that we spiritual journeyers already believe and value: Love, Peace and Harmony for all. It calls us to draw our circle of Oneness wider and withdraw our participation in systemic cruelty and exploitation. Simply put, it is the spiritual practice of minimizing harm and maximizing the expression of the heart.
It is also perhaps the most significant action step we can take to bring Peace and Harmony to our world, because it is actually something we can do today. We don’t have to have to manipulate another person, group or government. We don’t have to wait for others to do it before we do. We have complete control over the decision to withdraw our consent to using animals, and we can save a life – many lives – today.
For those who have ears to hear, today I invite you to awaken! Open yourself to a new perception and make the decision that you no longer want to participate in unnecessary violence. You don’t have to change overnight, although many do. Just as with the spiritual practices of prayer, forgiveness, gratitude and meditation, you can choose to take baby steps toward full engagement. You can start by living one day each week free of animal products and expand from there. There are many resources to support you.
A Peace that passes understanding awaits! We are ALL One!
“We believe that all life is sacred and that man should not kill or be a party to the killing of animals for food; also that cruelty, war, and wanton destruction of human life will continue so long as men destroy animals.” Charles Fillmore
© carol saunders 2017
It was a huge celebration for me when an article that I had written, “A Call to Awakening,” was finally published in the Unity Leaders Journal, an online magazine. The Unity audience is comprised of spiritually minded people who already value Love, Peace & Harmony. On top of that, its co-founders, Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, were ethical vegetarians at the turn of the twentieth century. They believed there was a connection between how we treat animals and our ability to achieve peace and harmony in the world. Getting published there should have been easy.
But it ended up being a long, long journey.
Over 18 months, I persevered and eventually succeeded in putting my ideas before this audience. For me this was a monumental personal accomplishment! It also demanded patience and turned out to be a journey of personal inquiry and spiritual growth.
The first article I submitted was deemed to be too judgmental and was consequently rejected. I had a hard time seeing this for myself. From my perspective, I had turned myself inside out to drain it completely free of judgment. I even asked several people to read it just to make sure it had the right tone before I sent it in.
The rejection email I received was accompanied by commentary that they “would be able to run with it if it were written more from the personal perspective of your own practice and why you do what you do ...and open up the possibilities of others to adopt what they feel resonates for them to consider without judgment.” Hmmm. That would be difficult, maybe impossible. How could I stay “open to the possibilities of others to adopt what they feel resonates for them” when those possibilities included killing my friends? I felt frustrated, hurt, and I wanted to walk away - not just from the article, but also from the organization that had been a foundational inspiration in my life.
After dwelling in this hole for a while, I raised myself up and decided to look at my article again. I did the usual ego-protection move of showing it to friends and family to seek validation of my position. I simply could not see judgment in it and neither could they.
I finally came to the realization that what I saw held absolutely no relevance if I was unable to successfully convey it. The only thing that mattered was being heard.
Not exactly sure of my next move, I went within and asked, "Is this mine to do?" My answer was a very clear yes. This is my calling. This is my audience. Keep at it.
But I would need to find a way to be heard while also staying true to myself and true to the plight of my animal friends.
I took another look at the article I had written. I clearly posed a challenge to my potential readers. That seemed fair and authentic because that is who I am. I am a person who empowers and challenges people to live in spiritual alignment and to be their best selves. I couldn't wimp out on that. I had to stay true to who I am.
But did the tone in my challenge hold a tinge of sarcasm? Or did I sound like I was exposing hypocrisy?
It was possible.
If I wanted to be heard, I would have to do my best to make sure there was none of that. Maybe there was room to reframe my message in kinder ways. After all, I wanted the world to be kinder.
Ultimately, everything begins with me.
With this thought under my belt, I mustered up the energy to do a rewrite. I rewrote, and rewrote and rewrote. I would leave my writing alone for long periods of time, then come back to tweak it a little here or there, then leave it alone again. After many months, I felt that it was in really good form. It touched on all the essential information while also being gentle. It was clear and revealing while also being understanding. I surrendered very little content, but compromised on approach. I resubmitted it under a different title and with a different slant and perhaps a softer tone.
I had done my work. It was Spirit’s job to take the final step.
Thirteen months after my initial submission, I received the good news that my article would be published the following spring.
I am writing about this because it is just one small example of how those of us with the passion to free our non-human brothers and sisters from a culture that normalizes their killing must persevere in finding ways to successfully be heard. And we must adapt to our audience because the best ways to be heard may be quite different from our normal methods of persuasion.
If we are honest about it, our message hits our fellow humans so deeply that it is nearly impossible to get traction right off the bat. Our audience will swiftly defend, rationalize and deflect. They will bring up every argument possible to support their personal choice to kill animals for food when it is simply not necessary. We have heard them all. Most people have great difficulty fathoming that something so deeply ingrained in our culture and everyday lives can be morally and spiritually questioned. What would that mean about them?
At some unconscious level, I believe that people experience shame when they get a true glimpse of the conditions and violence that farm animals endure as they are made into food and clothing. Not wanting to deal with this feeling of shame, it is projected onto the messenger - in essence, blaming us for shaming them. All listening is off when shame takes hold.
From our perspective all we are doing is desperately trying to give attention to a very important issue, because we are acutely aware that what our culture is blindly participating in is horrific, unspeakable violence. So many innocent, sentient beings are suffering every moment of every day at our expense and for our desires. We want to see drastic change, and we want to see it now.
But change happens in the heart. To have any chance at affecting change, we have to find ways to be heard by the heart. And we must never give up.
From start to finish, it took 18 months for my article to be published in the Unity Leaders Journal. There were so many times I could have given up and walked away. I certainly thought about it. But something deep within called me to persevere, be patient and grow myself.
In the end, an article was published, and hopefully it will serve to inspire those who are moved by it to dig deeper, do some self-inquiry and possibly shift to plant-based living. For many others it might just be one seed among hundreds that will eventually serve to awaken them. And others will defend, rationalize and deflect.
But as it turns out, the journey was less about getting my article published and more about my own evolution as a messenger. Through it all, something shifted within me. Having surrendered to the process of discerning how to best be heard, I find myself now strengthened and emboldened, but also humbled. My voice feels stronger. I am more aligned with my true Self. And I am open to continually evolving so that my message rings with increasing clarity and lands deftly in the hearts of those who are ready to hear...
...all in service to my animal friends and an emerging world of Kindness, Compassion and Peace. We are ALL One.
“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” Mark 4:9
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.