Joaquin Phoenix Wakes Up the Woke
By now nearly everyone has heard or read Joaquin Phoenix’s acceptance speech at the Oscar’s. It was a wonderfully crafted speech that inspired with a vision and avoided the usual pitfalls of condescending or shaming. He delivered his words with a raw, openhearted grace, rarely seen in our world of image and punch-counter-punch debate. There’s a lot to be learned from his approach.
His speech was broadcast to 23.6 million viewers, and viewed by at least that many via YouTube (shown below) and TV network web videos. While tens of millions watched or read about it, the people he was mostly speaking to were social justice fighters, those who already were in action (words or deeds) to widen the circle of inclusion.
We’ve all heard speeches by Hollywood celebrities about racism, sexism, workers’ rights and climate change. These are all human-centered concerns (yes, most are primarily concerned about humanity when it comes to climate change). But Phoenix used his three minutes to highlight the plight of a dairy cow and her calf, as they are torn from each other so we can enjoy milk in our coffee and cereal every day. He didn’t even go into the repeated inseminations of females and slaughter of male babies and low producing teen moms. He spoke a single sentence about the anguish of a mother when her baby is taken from her. And in that sentence, he moved the goal from taking care of our own (humankind) to taking care of all kinds - all beings who suffer by the hands of a larger system.
It takes guts to bring to light something that practically no one can see and that if seen, would disrupt our everyday lifestyles and sense about ourselves as being compassionate and fair people. It opens the messenger to an extraordinary amount of push back in its myriad forms including misrepresentation, misunderstanding, conflation, projection, mockery and disdain. And of course, that’s a lot of what Phoenix got, after his words soaked in a bit. It’s what any consciousness pioneer gets. It’s the price we pay to awaken humanity to its next moral frontier. But the price is worth it, because some people do wake up, and the world gets a little bit kinder.
I’ve been crafting my own message for years, succeeding at times and failing miserably at others. The message of Compassion for All is nearly always met with resistance because we live in a culture of normalized violence toward animals. We like our food, entertainment, medicines, cosmetics, accessories and clothes, even if animals are exploited in the process. The biblical edicts, “Thou shalt not kill” and “Love one another” are assumed to only pertain to our human family. But some of us see further than that, and are called to deliver a more inclusive and compassionate message, searching for those who might also come to see. And when we do, we are often tempted to don psychological armor to protect ourselves from the slings and arrows that might get launched before we even start. We may puff ourselves up, get rigid, defensive or even offensive. We may take a superior stance on the high ground, slinging our own arrows as we look down at the one facing us with a different view. It takes a lot of practice (and moral defeats) to learn that the armor never works. It tells our audience we are up for a fight. It hides our true nature. Our message is one of Nonviolence after all, so the armor must come off. The raw, authentic and vulnerable self is up to bat on this one. And it is scary.
Phoenix came to the stage with no armor. That’s why it was so beautiful. Even if people resisted or misunderstood his message (did his Hollywood audience get it?) most were moved nonetheless. Because it is rare to see someone’s honest heart, and a privilege to bear witness to one.
I don’t know if he had a deliberate plan, but he took the listener through steps that were quite effective. He started with humility, then established commonality. While reminding his audience that they all share the same values, he also masterfully tapped at their awareness, stretching them to see beyond their woke boundaries.
The most confronting part of his message had a punch to it. But rather than beat that drum, he chose to deftly move on, allowing the image of a crying mother to quietly burrow itself in minds and hearts. He didn't point fingers and make people wrong, but chose instead to gracefully pivot to the amazing nature of humankind and our ability to create. Change is scary to us, but we are at our best when we get about the business of creating something new -- with Love as our guide -- that works for everyone. It’s a universal and optimistic message that we can all get behind if we believe in our highest nature.
He concluded his short address by reminding us that we are not at our best when we stand against and cancel each other. There is so much of that in today's world and it advances nothing. Instead he encouraged us to support and give each other grace, to be each other’s educators and guides as we find our way to a better world. And that, he said, is the best of humanity.
Thank you Joaquin Phoenix for three beautiful minutes of authenticity, awakening and inspiration. And for the grace you showed the following day.
We can do this.
© carol saunders 2020
The Speech Broken Down
In a nutshell, Joaquin Phoenix offered a blueprint for any of us who yearn to be more effective messengers. Let’s take a look.
1. Start with humility.
This is always a good place to start. It helps make the speaker approachable and non-threatening. Phoenix opened by putting himself at the level of his audience – not talking up or down to them. It created a very effective opening. He also started to make a connection with his audience right away, focusing on what he shares with them.
“God, I'm full of so much gratitude right now. And I do not feel elevated above any of my fellow nominees or anyone in this room because we share the same love, the love of film. And this form of expression has given me the most extraordinary life. I don't know what I'd be without it. But I think the greatest gift that it's given me, and many of us in this room, is the opportunity to use our voice for the voiceless.”
2. Establish and grow a connection. Speak to the interconnectedness of common goals.
Next, he spoke more deeply to commonality. No matter who we are trying to bring new information to, it’s important to first find the space where we intersect. What do we both (or all) love or care about? What values do we share? Even with the most unlikely ‘others’, there is always some commonality. In this case, the commonality was social justice and fighting against the dominater principle. With another audience, it might be more of a stretch, like sharing a love for family, life or sustainability. Without this common vision, the listener feels distant at best and condescended to at worst.
“I've been thinking a lot about some of the distressing issues that we are facing collectively. I think at times we feel, or we're made to feel, that we champion different causes. But for me, I see commonality. I think, whether we're talking about gender inequality or racism or queer rights or indigenous rights or animal rights, we're talking about the fight against injustice. We're talking about the fight against the belief that one nation, one people, one race, one gender or one species has the right to dominate, control and use and exploit another with impunity. I think that we've become very disconnected from the natural world, and many of us, what we're guilty of is an egocentric world view — the belief that we're the center of the universe. We go into the natural world, and we plunder it for its resources.”
So far no one in his audience would take exception to any these statements. Everyone is with him, and he kept everyone connected to him through his use of ‘we.’ No one is sensing he’s on a soapbox preaching. His heart is wide open and he has successfully opened everyone else’s.
3. Present something new (the core idea) that connects to common goals.
This is where his boldest statement is so far. It is carefully sandwiched in the middle after everyone is nodding in agreement about their common values and goals. But no one is expecting him to bring up the plight of a dairy cow, because that is outside what is normally included in the social justice advocacy circle. For me, I wanted to hear more, but I’m already on this wagon. For his audience, it was just enough. These two brief statements ended up being the focus of attention in the days to come.
“We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow, and when she gives birth, we steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable. Then we take her milk that's intended for her calf, and we put it in our coffee and our cereal.”
4. Inspire with a vision.
With the prior two sentences reverberating in our collective psyche, he next inspires with a vision. Human beings are not wired to be excited about or even welcoming of change. When our comfort is threatened, we either go to cognitive dissonance or resistance, because change and seeing what may be true can be just too dang hard. Phoenix eloquently speaks to the idea that we are the best versions of ourselves when we leave systems of oppression behind and create new ways of living that are loving and compassionate. He inspires us with our own divine potential because somewhere deep down in the consciousness of each of us, we remember that we are all One.
And I think we fear the idea of personal change because we think that we have to sacrifice something, to give something up, but human beings, at our best, are so inventive and creative and ingenious. And I think that when we use love and compassion as our guiding principles, we can create, develop and implement systems of change that are beneficial to all sentient beings and to the environment.
5. End with humility and grace (and with a splash of inspiration).
The speech concludes with Phoenix vulnerably laying out his own shortcomings and expressing his gratitude for the grace people granted to him throughout his live. We’ve all been scoundrels in our lives in some way. Being willing to expose that and say, “Yep I’ve messed up and I’m grateful for a second chance,” takes any audience to a place of vulnerable acceptance. No one likes someone who ignores their faults and only sees faults in others. Phoenix did neither. Instead he humbly spoke to what is possible for humanity. He reminded us that when we are at our best, we take care of each other and seek to guide each other, even if we are on different sides. Only then can we go through the gates of redemption. In other words, we must be our best selves and use Peace to bring about Peace.
Now, I have been, I have been a scoundrel in my life. I've been selfish. I've been cruel at times, hard to work with, and I'm grateful that so many of you in this room have given me a second chance. And I think that's when we're at our best, when we support each other, not when we cancel each other out for past mistakes, but when we help each other to grow, when we educate each other, when we guide each other toward redemption. That is the best of humanity.
And so it is.
© carol saunders 2020
To learn more truth about dairy, here are some resources:
Once again, it’s Mother’s Day. As we celebrate motherhood, our own mothers, our mothers’ mothers, mothering, being a mom, having a mom, being in relationship with a mom – all things mother – my message is short and sweet this year.
Don’t eat your mother.
Don’t eat anyone else’s mother.
Don’t eat or harm anyone who has a mother.
Don’t take babies away from mothers.
Don’t injure or take anything that belongs to your mother.
Don’t injure or take anything that belongs to any mother.
I know, it’s generally considered not nice to say, “don’t.” “Don’t” statements can shut people down. None of us like being told what we can’t do. But there are times when “don’t” is the best – maybe the only – way to effectively and accurately convey a message.
When I was a little girl and my mom said, “Don’t touch the stove,” right as my hand was about to touch said stove, it was actually helpful. It made me see something I hadn’t seen before. It stopped me from doing harm to myself. She didn’t take the time to lay out all the things I could touch without getting hurt. Had she done that, we might still be there, and my hand would have been burned. I would have suffered. “Don’t let a boy convince you to [fill in the blank]” was also very helpful advice to a young girl, as was “Don’t lie to people,” “Don’t cheat,” and “Don’t hurt others.” These were boundaries that didn't carry judgment, but when honored, yielded a satisfying and self-possessed life, and when not, yielded suffering.
“Don’t” statements provide clarity. The kinder and gentler ”do” statements are vulnerable to interpretation and rationalization – activities of the mind that we humans excel at. I’ve sat around thousands of tables where people (including me) celebrated Love, Family and Motherhood while the bodies of babies and excretions of mothers were passed around and apportioned to plates without thought. I’ve participated in thousands of conversations about the importance of Freedom and Family, while the flesh served up on the table was there only through the denial of another's Freedom and the breaking up of another's family. We unconsciously draw lines that cause enormous harm to others – harm that we simply do not want to see. “Don’t” statements help us see those things. They help us grow and as a result, mitigate suffering. How much I wish someone had said to me when I was a child, “Don’t eat your mother or anyone else’s.” I would have been stunned into awakening much earlier, caused much less harm to other beings and suffered much less myself. Because when I bring harm to others, I'm out of alignment. And when I'm out of alignment, I suffer.
Turkeys are born without mothers to care for them and are slaughtered at just 4 months old. Dairy cows are slaughtered when their milk production is economically insufficient, around 6 years old (after giving birth and being separated from their babies multiple times). Mother pigs are confined in gestation crates, unable to comfortably move, and are slaughtered at 3-5 years old. Her babies are slaughtered at just 6 months.
As we celebrate mothers today, let us genuinely celebrate all moms. Let us take an honest look and appreciate the wonder of the body that nurtures an unborn baby and labors for hours to give birth. Let us revere the spirit of the one who commits her life to the life of a being who comes through her! Moms literally make the world go ‘round. Moms are everything. No one can do what a mom does. Any mom. ALL moms.
And that is something to celebrate.
So, this Mother’s Day, don’t eat your mother…or anyone else’s mother...or anyone who has a mother. Because we choose to lift all moms up in every way.
Happy Mother’s Day.
© carol saunders 2019
Most Good, Least Harm
The holy season of Lent begins today. This season holds great meaning for some, and no meaning for others. For me, I grew up with no observance of Lent. As a child, I don't even remember going to church as a family on Easter morning. So I definitely get people who don't get Lent. Since those days, I have grown in my spiritual life and now experience Lent as a 40-day period where I can create meaning, come closer to my true Self, let go of blocks, and embrace my honest purpose. That is actually what Jesus did during his 40 days in the wilderness before he committed to his ministry (which is what Lent is patterned after).
During Lent we enter into our own wilderness to be in honest inquiry. Who am I? What is my purpose? What temptations of the world block or don't support my beliefs, values and life purpose? Who am I willing to commit to being? These are some questions to ask yourself. Take as deep a dive as you can.
Perhaps not all of us are meant to do grand things that will dramatically impact the world, but we can all be kinder and better versions of ourselves. Last Sunday, I invited my spiritual community to commit to being kinder people during Lent - to do the most good and the least harm to the best of their abilities. I invited them to look at how they treat themselves and other people, what words, thoughts and behaviors they employ. I then went further, encouraging them to also look at their consumer habits -- what they eat and what they wear. It's important to look at these things, because the choices we make every day are a reflection of what we really believe. And every day, most of us choose to engage (consciously or unconsciously) in unnecessary violence, when we could make other choices that do far less harm. Our souls yearn to break free from this vicious cycle.
People predictably react defensively when I bring this up because it stirs up all sorts of inner conflict. In their hearts they want to do the most good and least harm, but not if it calls into question a culturally accepted (and enjoyable) habit, or asks them to look beyond a culturally accepted boundary. When it does that, I look like the weird one imposing a personal diet or lifestyle on them. I am very familiar with this response, so I reminded my community that I don't have a vegan agenda. Rather, my agenda is everything that we already embrace as spiritual journeyers – Oneness, Universal Love and Peace. When we refrain from all forms of exploitation and violence, we more fully express these values. We do the most good and the least harm.
Unfortunately, it’s a far cry from how we live. We have become miserably addicted to consuming the bodies and excretions of animals, which come to our plates by cruel and exploitative means, not by Compassion, Love, and the Golden Rule that most of us want to live by. Our culture has hypnotized us into believing that violence against some victims is okay, and that nothing too bad could be happening because we can't (or don't want to) see it. Our inner most vulnerable and kindhearted nature was relegated to the shadows long ago and is desperately trying to wake us up and restore our sensibilities.
I have no idea how my invitation landed in the hearts of my community members, but I trust Spirit. Spirit works in subtle and mysterious ways and will germinate some of the seeds that I planted. They may sprout today or in a few years; it’s not my concern. In the meantime, I keep planting, which is the most good that I can do.
For those with ears to hear, I invite you to join this Lenten journey and come closer to your authentic expression. Do some deep inner inquiry and find those thoughts, beliefs and habits that no longer reflect the best version of yourself, then let them go. Commit to doing the most good and the least harm in your life and in the world. Together we can create a world that works for all beings who share this beautiful planet.
I offer some considerations below.
© carol saunders 2019
During Lent people often give something up as an act of penance, and it is usually something that is dearly loved, like chocolate or coffee. Then after Lent, everyone goes back to status quo. What was it all about then?
Another approach is to take an inventory of the thoughts and beliefs that limit or don't accurately express our lives, and let them go. It is also good to release habits that no longer serve who we authentically are. Then stay with it.
Here are some thoughts to consider releasing:
I have a right over anyone else's body.
It's too hard to change my eating habits.
It's okay to exploit animals, just not people.
Animals are here to serve us.
Eating animals is okay because we've always done it.
What only matters is how I treat other people.
I'll change when the rest of the world changes.
The difference I make is too small.
Here are some habits to consider releasing:
If you are a meat eater release meat from your diet or reduce your meat intake by declaring meat-free days. Here's a good place to start. I am also happy to support you.
If you are vegetarian try giving up eggs and dairy. There are so many plant-based dairy alternatives available today and your digestive and immune systems will love you for it. So will the cows, calves, hens and chicks who suffer mightily by this business. Most of us don't know about the cruelty and exploitation involved with dairy and eggs. Learn about it.
If you are vegan there may be something you need to release that you haven't yet considered. Some of us may need to give up hostility toward abusers, because ultimately our movement is one of Love. Some of us may need to give up feelings of futility, hopelessness or despair because the challenges we face seem insurmountable. Be in inquiry on this. Wherever you are, you are making a profound difference and the world is changing.
Check out your wardrobe. For the next 40 days, consider not purchasing goods made with leather, feathers, fur, wool or cashmere. Animals like to keep their own skins (and nature's insulation), just like we do. The process of taking this from our animal brothers and sisters is very cruel. Also look for the leaping bunny label on the household and cosmetic goods you purchase. There's no need to use animals in product testing and this label will help you identity cruelty free products.
And here is an affirmation to embrace:
I AM a powerful being, not limited by my past or culture. I choose to make life-affirming decisions and to be Kind and Compassionate toward ALL beings. I treat all others how I want to be treated. I AM Love.
May all beings have Peace.
The holiday season evokes within us the spirit of Hope and power of Love. Hope exhorts our courage to move boldly toward a better world. Love is the limitless activity in us that sees beauty, value and quality in whoever or whatever is before us, just as they are, with no boundaries or conditions. The stories we tell during this season reflect these themes and remind us of humanity’s highest potential.
In the original Christmas story, a baby comes into the world as the embodiment of Love Itself and the promise of a new Hope for all of humanity. We tell this story over and over because we revel in its beauty and simplicity, and at some level we see ourselves in it.
We are also Love Itself and the promise of a new Hope for humanity, if we choose to be.
We also tell other stories during this season that bring promises of Hope and Love, like The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. As we witness characters who dramatically transform themselves from contracted, self-focused loners to generous lovers of Life, we see ourselves in these stories too. That is what the season calls us to do – to wake up and find ways to expand ourselves as Love.
In the first Christmas story, we find the Christ baby in a cradle, visited by shepherds and Zoroastrian Magi, and surrounded by all kinds of animals. Everyone was invited and included in the celebration. It was a first century diversity fest that crossed boundaries of social class, ethnicity, religion and species. What better place for such a promising Light to come into the world! The animals added their unique energy to the celebration. Nurturing, down-to-earth and utterly free of ego, they are the perfect energetic container for a new promise of Hope and Love. If we dared to let our hearts grow, we would be able to see their inherent value, independent of our projections.
Art by Simon Mendez
Sadly, we have taken another path – a contracted and self-focused one. We could appreciate and live in harmony with other species, but instead we live in a domination system based on the mistaken belief that their purpose is to serve us. This belief created a world where every year trillions of animals suffer to meet the desires of a single species – humans. For animals it is a loveless world, certainly not one created by Love Itself. We rarely stop to question this world, but it is deserving of inquiry, because the days when we needed animal flesh and skins for our survival passed long ago. We have lost our way, forgotten our place in Creation, and allowed greed to take hold in our hearts. We are playing the parts of the miserly Scrooge, who exploits everyone for his own gain, or the greedy Grinch, who takes everything for himself because he can. We could choose instead to play the part of the baby – unconditional Love and inspiring Hope.
Like Scrooge and the Grinch, we must transform, because our current animal-using paradigm is not only egregiously violent; it has placed us on a trajectory that is not sustainable. Our global meat-eating habit causes excessive water use, destruction of forests, degradation of habitats, extinction of animal species, hypoxification of ocean dead zones, and is the third largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. It also prevents us from being able to feed our growing human population, since the majority of the crops we grow are used to feed the animals we eat.
At some point we will find ourselves in a very precarious position, not unlike that of the Grinch who found himself being pulled off a mountaintop by a hugely over-packed, gluttonous sleigh, or not unlike Scrooge who found himself being forced into his own dismal grave by the ghost of Christmas yet-to-come.
Had the Grinch remained unchanged, he would have been doomed on that mountaintop. And Scrooge would have fallen into to his dark, loveless grave. But they both opened themselves to a new birth of Hope and Love within, and their hearts grew. Love gave them the ability to see with greater clarity. With expanded hearts they could see that those they spent a lifetime resenting or debasing had inherent value. The greed that once controlled their hearts completely vanished. They found new Hope for themselves and new Love for the world. That is the gift of Christmas and the promise of the babe born in the manger.
Can we learn from these stories?
We can and we must. The Light that came into the world at the first Christmas grew up to teach us that we are the Light. We are creative beings, unencumbered by any thought system we've inherited. We have within us the ability to create a world of Peace, Harmony and Love. That is our highest potential and possibility! We just have to surrender a bit and allow the power of Love to grow our hearts beyond the narrow boundaries we have set for them. We will then be able to see the Truth – that those we have spent a lifetime debasing have beauty and value unto themselves. We will include them in our circle of Compassion and be generous lovers of ALL forms of life.
This Christmas, may the power of Love fill our hearts and may the spirit of Hope give us the courage to boldly move toward a new world that nourishes and sustains us all.
© carol saunders 2018
Note to readers: I am well aware that these are not perfect stories. The Grinch was still unkind to his dog Max, even after his heart grew. And Ebenezer Scrooge bought the town's largest turkey for the Cratchit family after he awakened from his visitations. The stories reflect the consciousness of the time they were written. I would like to think that more enlightened versions will be written that depict an animal-sensitive Grinch and a vegan Scrooge. I used these stories for this post because their themes of awakening (albeit imperfect ones) resonate with our hearts.
I wanted to share a letter I recently wrote as part of an exchange I had with a speaker I met at a conference last year. You will discern the points he put forth to me from the content of my response. I offer this as one way to share with another how essential our relationship with animals is to co-creating a world that works for all, and how our speciesist worldview upholds exploitation, the very thing we all want to eradicate.
As evolved human beings, we have a choice to live in the kindest way possible, or not. I fundamentally believe that people on the spiritual path seek this way of living, whether they know it or not. That is why I am here to do all that I can to awaken the loving spirit within.
I added images to support my message, but they were not in the original letter. Here it is:
Greetings to you!
Thank you for your complete and thoughtful answer. I appreciate learning your beliefs and understanding how you heard mine. It gives me the opportunity to make myself clearer and to hone my communications going forward. My purpose is to create a kinder world. You may remember that my original question to you at the conference was about speciesism because you had centered your presentation on eliminating racism and sexism. All of these 'ism's' are interconnected and rooted in the same thought. So, it’s not a matter of prioritizing one over another, or putting human concerns ahead of animal concerns (or vice versa). It’s a matter of transforming the thought under the ‘ism’s.’ If we don’t do this, we won’t make our way out of the mess we are in and evolve into a kinder world. I hope that you are willing to read my complete response below.
To start, I am not someone who believes that vegans or vegetarians are more peaceful just because of their diet. There are mean vegans/vegetarians out there who hate or hurt people, including the horrific examples you provided [Hitler and Sri Lankan soldiers]. Charles Fillmore would certainly have been wrong if he had written, “If we stop killing animals, we will have peace.” But that’s not what he wrote. In the Statement of Faith (the quote I sent you), what he basically put forth was, “Man should not kill animals – because as long as we objectify and kill animals, we will objectify and kill each other.” I believe that is a true statement. Because as long as objectification is in our consciousness, it will be in our world.
The Sri Lanka killing fields documentary you asked me to watch is horrific and I am certain that the vast majority of humans would agree. But the vast majority of humans justify horrific actions (abuse, maceration, bodily mutilation, confinement, separation of children from mothers, starvation, brutal killing, rape, and more) toward animals – who are sentient – every day. If you are skeptical, I am happy to refer you to tons of literature and videos. In the US alone we do these things to billions of animals, and we kill over 1,000,000 of them every hour for food when it’s not even a need that we have.
We won't have peace as long as we systematically exploit animals in these ways because systematic exploitation is what needs to be eradicated - in every form - in order to have peace. We don't want any killing fields of any kind.
Killing fields that exist today in Nepal - an mass ritual sacrifice of an estimated 250,000 animals
'Killing fields' in USA slaughterhouse lines
Right now we are immersed in a speciesist culture, to the point where your response about killing with mindfulness almost makes sense. But it’s important to recognize that we would never say the things you mentioned about human beings. That’s how we know we are immersed in speciesism. For example, we would never say, "To live we have to rape and separate children from their mothers, so it's just a matter of the consciousness with which we bring to the act." Nor would we say, "To live we have to kill babies or young people, so it's just a matter of the consciousness with which we bring to the act." But we do say these things about the animals we eat because their needs and desires are made secondary to our wants. If our lives truly were at stake maybe they would be secondary. But our lives aren't at stake because we have alternatives. The thought – that another's needs and desires are secondary to what I want – is incredibly damaging to its victims and to the world. But it's also frighteningly familiar. It is the thought under all practices of moral superiority, greed, abuse and exploitation. Regardless of who it is directed toward, this is the core thought that needs to be transformed
This is a very difficult awakening process. It is so ingrained in our social fiber that it can be nearly impossible to see. But there is hope because we are morally evolving. Human slavery was also once similarly ingrained – something that seemed 'necessary' (from the perspective of the dominating population) for thousands of years in our history. No reasonable person today would ever think that slavery was okay as long as the slave owner did it consciously. Slavery, as all human exploitation, is considered an abomination today, thanks in no small part to abolitionists who could see beyond the accepted view of their culture and speak out up about it. Animal exploitation will similarly be considered an abomination at some point in our future, thanks in no small part to today’s abolitionists.
Yes, we need to eat to live. And yes, life consumes life. But it comes down to these questions:
If we can live well without harming another sentient being,
then why wouldn't we? Why would we choose to harm
someone if we didn't need to?
In today's world (or at least our western world) there are plenty of healthy, plant-based alternatives readily available to us. We just have to walk down the street to the store. Choosing to kill an animal is far different from choosing to kill a plant. There is nothing similar in the experiences of a broccoli and a pig (or cow, chicken, turkey, lamb, fish, etc.) when they meet death. Plants lack a central nervous system and brain, which are required to feel pain. In stark contrast, we know animals are sentient. Like us, they have personalities, personal interests, and feel pain, happiness, and suffering. Like us, they want to live, fear death and run away when threatened. This is probably why in Genesis, God established a plant-based diet for humans. “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” (Genesis 1:29)
To be the highest ethical form of ourselves, why not make the choice that benefits the most and causes the least harm? The choice of what to eat is not really a personal one, because there are many, many others involved. For example, if we stopped eating animals we could feed four billion more people with the plants that we currently feed to livestock. Our planet would be cleaner with significantly less environmental destruction (air, water and land). Many of our communities would be healthier, because as it is now, low-income people who are situated near large-scale animal farms are devastated by massive feces and urine pollution. We would end the systemic suffering of trillions of fellow sentient beings who have done nothing to harm us. And we would actually destroy a lot fewer plants! I would think that spiritually-minded people – or those who truly want a kinder world – would want to do this, and then advocate for it.
If we don't include animals in our circle, then the idea that we are "co-creating a world that works for all" has no real meaning. Instead we are co-creating a world that works for those who look like us. Or co-creating a world that works for some. This is why I approached you at the conference. I believe this understanding is consistent with your message and vision.
One last thing, for 37 years I also thought that milk, butter and eggs did not involve the taking of life. I wish I had known earlier just how egregious the violence is in the dairy and egg business. It causes enormous suffering. For milk it entails rape, endless cycles of pregnancy and birth, newborn babies being taken from their mothers shortly after birth, female calves being raised without a mother, male calves being imprisoned in veal crates, and more. And for eggs it entails confinement or crowded conditions, complete depletion of the hen's body to produce eggs beyond her body's natural design, forced starvation, maceration or suffocation of newborn male chicks, babies being raised with no mother, and more. And even if hens and dairy cows are raised in the best of conditions (which some are, but relatively few), they are all killed when their 'production' no longer economically justifies their existence. Think about that. This is domination of the Feminine – the exploitation of female bodies – in the worst way. It is also complete obliteration of family structures. When I awakened to this, I knew I didn't want to be any part of it. It was a challenging transition for me, but it was very freeing, because our souls yearn to live in congruence with who we say we are.
I appreciate the opportunity to be in dialogue with you on this. Thank you.
Have a wonderful week.
© carol saunders 2018
A few weeks ago, I was privileged to be interviewed by Vegan Spirituality on an online live webinar, broadcast to over 1,300 participants and shared on Facebook and YouTube. Judy Carman, a remarkable soul and author of Peace to All Beings – Veggie Soup for the Chicken’s Soul, led our conversation. It was a great opportunity for me to share my journey to becoming vegan, and my experience being a vegan minister. I was also able to share the fascinating history of Unity and its co-founders’ practice of ethical vegetarianism. In the early 1900's, Unity took a stand on the way humans used animals, going so far as to say, “Unity opposes the use of any product that necessitates the taking of life, whether it’s food substance, wearing apparel, or general utility.” Co-Founders Charles and Myrtle Fillmore established the Pure Food Company to provide the public with healthy alternatives to meat and animal fats, including butter. They opened The Unity Inn, Kansas City’s first vegetarian restaurant, to demonstrate that people could live well on a meat-free diet. Unity bibles were bound not in leather, but in a plant-based alternative called Keratol. They published a "Vegetarian" column in their weekly magazine, and they openly taught that our treatment of animals was connected to our ability to express Universal Love and manifest World Peace. As an ordained Unity minister, I am gleefully proud of this heritage, even though today’s Unity has sadly fallen away from it.
Opened in 1906, the Unity Inn of Kansas City served 10,000 vegetarian meals per week.
On the webinar I also shared my view that veganism is the inevitable result of living our spiritual beliefs. Unity Co-Founder Charles Fillmore asserted, “In the matter of animal slaughter, who countenances it or defends it, after his eyes have been opened to the unity of life?” Like him, I believe that people on the spiritual path will release flesh from their plates and take up a more nonviolent way of living once they awaken to the unity of life. How can it be otherwise?
But what struck me most coming out of this webinar was my own personal awakening. Recently, I’ve shifted my morning ritual to include thanking Spirit in advance for the person(s) who will awaken that day and lay down their practice of harming animals. I know people are making this change every day. Somewhere there is a farmer who will choose to no longer send his pigs to slaughter and instead take up plant-based farming or sanctuary work. Somewhere there is young person who will choose to not sell her precious 4-H ‘project’ lamb whom she raised and cared for from infancy. Somewhere there is a person who will discover the cruelty of factory farming and consumer product testing and will today choose to no longer eat animals or use products that test on them. And somewhere there is a worker who will choose to leave his slaughterhouse job to pursue new, life-affirming work. I give thanks for every awakening that is taking place on this day. The world changes one soul at a time.
During this prayer time, I also sometimes open myself to awakening, and I ask Spirit to show me what I have not yet been able to see and teach me what I have not yet been able to know. It’s a bold prayer and I only recommend it if you are ready to have your eyes opened. Because Spirit will show you something that will inevitably cause your priorities and commitments to change. It's a blessing with responsibility.
This prayer was answered in part during the Vegan Spirituality webinar, because through it, my eyes opened to the realization that spiritually-minded animal advocates/activists are often in great need of encouragement, as well as a spiritual structure for living that will support and lift them out of sadness and even depression. Smack my head, but this had not been clearly on my radar prior to this experience. The people who showed up to participate in the webinar came to be inspired by a vegan pastor, because when it comes to spiritual matters, a vegan pastor is who makes sense to them. They have all experienced the stunning disconnect in church, synagogue and temple settings between religious talk about Compassion, Peace and Love, and actual behaviors. On one hand, they hear:
"Let there be peace on Earth and let it with me" (The Peace Song), or
“Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31), or
“Blessed are the merciful” (Matthew 5:7), or
"Blessed are the Peacemakers" (Matthew 5:9), or
“Put yourself in the place of others and harm none nor have them harmed” (Dhammapada 130).
And on the other hand, they experience sanctioned violence at pig roast fundraisers and meat-centered potlucks. They may also hear meat metaphors and jokes about vegans from the pulpit (yes, this happens). There is a huge blind spot in religious organizations when it comes to seeing the intrinsic value of ALL sentient beings and including them in the golden rule and the quest for World Peace and Love Universal. It’s no wonder that so many animal advocates have completely given up on religion.
Spiritual vegans are merciful Peacemakers. They are also mighty warriors because they face an acutely cruel world with courage. They don’t turn a blind eye like most people in our society who aren't willing to or can't face the fact that they are participating in cruelty to animals. Instead they bear witness to their suffering and deeply empathize with animals who are trapped, beaten, confined, skinned, mutilated, and slaughtered. And they fight for their liberation. Every day, they stand up boldly, undeterred, in staunch opposition to a majority view that can look overwhelming by its sheer immensity and ubiquity, and they advocate for a kinder, gentler world. It’s hard to keep one’s bearings and stay positive when the cultural tide of socially accepted violence is so enormous.
To put this in perspective, since you started reading this, 17,000 innocent animals have been slaughtered, and we don't even need to eat meat. This can be depressing, and spiritually-minded vegans need pastors who can lift them to a place of Hope while supporting the efficacy of their advocacy work. Today's vegans would pour into yesterday's Unity Church.
It is my life’s work to awaken people to widening our circle of Compassion to include ALL beings. And now it is also my life’s work to support the Ahimsa/Vegan movement in staying focused on the Good they are doing, and the Truths that God is Love, cruelty is not of God, and God as Love will ultimately prevail. A kinder, gentler world is coming into manifestation now through those who have the vision and are committed to manifesting it. Love, Freedom and Peace for all includes everybody. And it’s on our horizon if we work together and keep our intentions focused.
If you share this vision and want to accelerate its fulfillment, here are some things you can do:
If you are a vegan pastor, please make yourself known. You can add your name and ministry to a listing on all-creatures.org by emailing email@example.com. That's an easy step that will help spiritual vegans find you. The next step is admittedly harder. I encourage you to boldly teach Universal Kindness and Compassion from the pulpit – not the specific form that only includes humans. You can speak directly about it by making it a topic, or just be sure to include ‘all sentient beings’ whenever you talk about Oneness, Love, Peace, Nonviolence, God’s Creation, etc. Additionally, consider centering your community gatherings around plant-based foods versus flesh foods. You can promote it as a spiritual practice, encouraging everyone to reduce the suffering of animals and people, be more considerate of communities, improve the health of our bodies, and be good environmental stewards. These are all things we teach already! There will likely be resistance as your congregation comes face to face with an incongruity. They may experience cognitive dissonance. But ministry isn’t about retaining a complacent congregation. It’s about challenging people to live God-centered (aka Love-centered) lives, and to become the best form of themselves. It’s about being a living demonstration of Love and Peace for ALL, and inspiring others to do the same. With these few actions you wouldn't be forcing anyone to become vegan. You would be helping them awaken to living their beliefs. You would also potentially be creating a church, synagogue or temple that will attract a new set of very committed people, and one that your current congregation's grandchildren might want to attend.
Celebrating Earth Day with a plant-based potluck at my Unity spiritual center in Deerfield, IL, 2016
If you are a vegan activist and you sometimes needs support, or have no church/religious center where you feel comfortable, I invite you to consider joining with like-minded people in prayer and meditation to further your goals of Compassion and Nonviolence for ALL. The Ahimsa/Vegan movement will be even more successful when its vibration is high and when individuals and groups within it are consistently practicing Forgiveness, creative visioning and affirmative prayer. Judy Carman posts wonderful weekly prayers on the Vegan Spirituality Facebook page. I have some prayers on this site too. But there is power in focused group prayer and holding a sacred intention together. I’m not sure how this would look, but it’s an idea worth trying. I currently lead a weekly prayer call on Tuesday mornings at 7:30 am CT focused on animals and the awakening of humanity. This may not be convenient for a lot of people, so I would be happy to establish another call time, or support you or a group in getting one started. We could create multiple prayer, meditation and/or intention circles (via phone) with the purpose of supporting each other and advancing the movement in consciousness. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in partnering on this.
Together we are creating a new world. It will take all of us keeping our spirits high, our attention focused, and our consciousness expanding as we guide and inspire others to awaken to the unity of Life and enter a new relationship with all beings. I am grateful for my new awakening and happy to be in greater service to the vision and manifestation of a kinder, more compassionate world.
We are ALL One.
“’God is love.’ It is His love seeking expression in and through you that makes you question the advisability of killing animals for the provision of man, either for food or for raiment.” Unity Co-Founder Charles Fillmore
Note: If you are unfamiliar with the term, Ahimsa, it is a Sanskrit term used in the Hindu/Buddhist/Jain traditions. It is the practice of compassion and non-violence toward all living beings.
© carol saunders 2018
Recently our nation has been witnessing the separation of children from parents who had attempted to illegally cross our southern border. We didn’t like it. There was a huge emotional outcry from the American citizenry. The images of children – even babies – being separated from their parents were jolting. We empathized. The emotional bond of a child to his or her mother is sacred, and breaking it is simply cruel.
It’s good to notice what provokes our ire. Sometimes it startles us. When we get really outraged it usually a sign that something inside us is personally affected. Some of us have agonizing memories of being separated from our parents when we were little, whether we got lost in a store or were homesick at camp. Some of us experienced trauma in our past and when we witness a triggering event we re-experience the pain. Healing can be a long road. I am a firm believer that complete healing is possible because I’ve witnessed it many, many times.
We also have to take a long, hard look at ourselves and recognize that what happens in the world is a reflection of our personal and/or collective consciousness. It’s not that we directly cause what happens. But what we are most reactive about points us to some aspect of ourselves that may be hidden, yet seeks transformation and healing. This isn’t about blaming or shaming ourselves or anyone else. In fact, it is the complete opposite. Looking inside ourselves is our path to wholeness and the only chance we have at evolving beyond the cycles of violence that we repeat over and over again. We must wake up and change ourselves if there is any chance for us to someday live in a world free of violence. We must become non-violent people in all facets of life.
Let’s take that long, hard look inside. Here is the raw truth.
Most of us actively participate in stripping young ones – newborns – from mothers every day of our lives. Let that sink in, because at first it seems unimaginable. But every day most of us are cruel in this way, and it causes us no emotional distress. In fact, we don’t give it any thought. We may be completely unaware of the impact of our actions because we simply don’t know, or haven’t asked the right questions. But that doesn’t make us innocent. We’ve built a wall in our consciousness between what we choose to see and what actually happens – a wall that we simply don’t want to look over. And one place that wall exists is between our plates and the real lives of the sentient beings we use to get what we want.
Art by Sue Coe
Here are a couple examples. When we look at our plates, we may be delighted seeing and tasting butter, ice cream, milk and cheese. But over the wall are desperate mothers bellowing and weeping as their babies are stripped from them shortly after birth, all so that we can have their milk. On our plates, we may see and taste freshly cooked omelettes, souffles, scrambled eggs or egg salad sandwiches, but over the wall are billions of babies who are born with no mothers to care for them, half of whom (males) are cruelly extinguished as newborns (ground up alive) because they are economically useless. And that’s just the beginning, because on that side of the wall, the parents are killed too - long before they’ve grown to be what we would call adults.
Living quarters of calves separated from their mothers
Newborn chicks before males are separated and destroyed
Are we not also agents of systematic separation of babes from parents? How are we different from those we condemn?
If there is a difference it lies in the belief that violence toward animals is justified while violence toward our fellow humans is evil. Why would we see it that way?
When it comes right down to it, the emotions of animals aren’t that different from those of humans. Animals and humans both experience joy, fun, play, friendship and connection, have likes and dislikes and mourn their dead. The ways that animals and humans experience suffering aren’t different. Both feel anxiety, seek comfort, get depressed, reel against confinement, feel pain and fear death. Both sets of moms and babies feel deep anguish when they are separated from each other and yearn to be reunited. And the desires of humans and animals to live full lives aren’t different. All of us just want to be happy and will fight for our lives when we're threatened.
Can we justify violence toward those who mean us no harm, yet feel, suffer, bond and want to live just like we do? If we can, we are not the superior species.
So, here’s something to think about one more time.
When we look out into the world and find ourselves reacting with extreme fervor about the behaviors of others, at some level, we are 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 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 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
Beyond the R’s of Earth Day
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
Resurrection and Life
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
Rev. Carol Saunders
I am an ordained Unity and Interfaith minister, speaker, writer and lover of all life. In 2010 I founded a spiritual community in Deerfield, IL, a suburb of Chicago, and led it through mid-2021. In my current ministry I host a 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 - i.e. sovereignty, freedom, love, peace and kindness. We have the power to change our world by changing ourselves. A first step is identifying and releasing all the cultural conditioning that normalizes cruelty and violence. Be Love. Be Peace. Be Kind. Today.
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